How often do we take time to reevaluate the life programs we set for ourselves or the ones that somehow gradually took us over? My Mother, an early student of G. I. Gurdjieff, helped many people move toward their deepest desires by interrupting their usual busyness, asking, “But what do you really want?”
It’s a stop-you-in-your-tracks question that can shake us awake when we become mesmerized by the effort to deal with whatever’s coming next. And we really need to ask it because mostly, although we may have a far-off mountaintop of a wish in our hearts, we remain snagged in the-day to-day demands of our lives, engaged in just trying to make it through the next few hours. Whenever we let “What do I really want?” into awareness, we are invited to fall back and regroup around another, more significant urgency — the call of the heart
I was stopped in my tracks recently by some advice from James Hollis: “Do not perpetuate what is already outlived,” he writes. “…What once provided protection is now restrictive.” Bingo! Here I was, hanging onto the need that’s been with me since childhood to prove myself again and again, when I’m already established in what interests me. I don’t need to hustle for success in the eyes of the world. Yet life’s superficial demands were drawing me on in ways that no longer affirm my heartfelt interests. It was time to ask why. What’s more, to hang onto past drives, to be stuck in my usual ways, contradicts the real person I am beginning to be.
If such a question challenges your interest, but you aren’t quite sure what to do about it, here are some experiments you can make
- At the end of the day, ask yourself what were you doing when you felt good. And when did you feel tired or bored? Then take the time to ask yourself, “What do I truly value?” The answer, which could change your life, may appear like a bolt from the blue, or take a few days of wondering and self-query. However, once you have brought into focus something you really care about, make it a priority in your life.
- But if you have difficulty finding your Real Wish, you might try an exercise Gurdjieff gave one of his groups. Sit still for at least half an hour, silent, without moving, holding this question in your heart. Then write down on a piece of paper what immediately comes to mind. Put that paper in your pocket and take it wherever you go that day. Look at it often.
- Notice during the next day, and write down in a notebook, exactly how much time you give to what you really value. A few minutes here? An hour there? No time for it today? In the evening you might ponder why it has such a small place in your day and resolve to give it a little more time. Beware super-efforts. We give them up too easily. Just allow ten or fifteen minutes more for your True Desire, then build on it as your wish becomes more grounded in reality and you become more needy to spend time in that way.
- Another way to affirm a new direction is to interrupt yourself at unexpected times. Gurdjieff suggested we set alarm clocks to wake us up from sleepwalking through our day, letting life happen to us without really living it. For example, when I sit down at the computer I get so engrossed in what I’m writing that I completely forget I have a body. But because I’m dedicated to staying present to my body/mind and opening to the world I live in, I set an egg timer to ring every so often, as a signal to get up and stretch or walk to the window and see what’s happening in the world beyond me.
- Gradually you will find it easier to devote time to what you really want to do or how you want to be. Habits are always hardest to change at first and you are creating a new habit, dedicated to what matters most to you. To honor it, you might find a place in your house or apartment where you could pay more attention to this other side of yourself. You could store there whatever books or journals or tools or paints that are a part of this other newly-hatched life of yours. Put on the music that you love most. Light a candle and offer a prayer to Mercury, the god of changes or Janus, the god of gates and doorways, who knows how to look in two directions at once.