Emily’s Quest

June 11, 2009

A Great, Big, Philosophical “Wheeeee!”

What has travelling taught you?

When I first arrived, I acted like a tourist.  I was attracted to the beautiful landscape.  I took tons of pictures and wrote my dairy every day.  Later, I found that life is just the same no matter where I am.  It is always the people I meet that make the difference.

~ Shuk Fan Ip (quoted in TNT backpackers magazine, Issue 524)

 “Life is just the same no matter where I am”.  I cannot think of a more perfect sentence to sum up where I find myself in life at the moment.

So I embarked on my travel adventure last month, at the last minute actually landing in Brisbane rather than Sydney.  I had decided – with the blank slate of life before me and truly nothing written on it, total freedom in my backpack and very little else (besides a change of undies or two) – that I was just going to follow my whim in every decision.  I was travelling utterly alone and unencumbered and nothing mattered but what I felt the pull to do next.

I had a friend once, a blocked creative working in an office job, who told me about how he had one day gone for a walk through town and decided that he was just going to follow wherever the urge or pull took him.  Along the path of this walk, he came across an independent magazine which he ended up finding creative outlet in, by doing a lot of design and illustration for them, and I think was an important step on his path to being more true to the voice inside himself.

This was exactly the approach I decided to adopt to my travel plans, just on a slightly grander scale – not “which street shall I turn down next, soul?” but rather “what city shall I travel to next?  What shall I do there?”.  I truly had no idea where I would end up or what I would end up doing.

Shortly after arriving in Brisbane, my good friend was in Cairns for a conference, so I took a train up and met her there, and had an absolute blast.  After that, my whim took me to Darwin, down to Alice Springs, then on a camping trip via Uluru and the Outback to Adelaide.  The plan had been to continue on to Perth, where I would get a job and settle for a bit.

All this happened in the space of about 3 weeks, but I learned an important lesson in amongst it all very quickly: Life is just the same no matter where I am, or in other, oft-quoted words: “wherever I go, there I am” – something everyone knows to be true but really is best learned through experience.  No matter where you go, you are still who you are and you still have to do something with yourself and your life.  Life is not suspended or changed because you are in another country or city.  Life is still sitting there saying: How are you going to use me?  What do you believe in and are you living those beliefs and values in the actions of your life?

I also learned another very important lesson, between being alone in Brisbane, to partying and chatting and hanging out in Cairns with my good friend, to setting off alone again once she went home and I continued on.  I have said this in a very old post once before and I learned the truth of it again: life exists most significantly in the interaction between the self and another.  Cairns was one of the most fun times of my life, not because of the town itself but because of the company I shared and the fun we were able to create together.  The tours and experiences, the memory of which I cherish the most, are those I shared with other people, whether it was my good friend or new found friends.  People are what make life what it is, sharing your experiences and your self with other people is what makes an adventure fun, memorable, meaningful.  The freedom of solitude and independence is a small price to pay for the deeper contentment of interaction and sharing with another person, especially one you care about – even if that sometimes means compromise.

Feeling the truth of these two lessons to the core of my bones, there was another thing adding to my experience of my trip.  I had a cold/flu the entire time.  I arrived with it and it never quite left me.  By the time I arrived in Adelaide, I was feeling very sick, I was running out of money and didn’t feel up to job hunting in my condition.  So, trusting the voice as I had been the whole trip to guide me to the next step, I flew home to Wellington.

So did I come home because I was sick?  It would be a convenient excuse – it certainly was at the time.  But if I dig deep and am really, truthfully honest with myself… no, I don’t believe that is truly why I came home.  I believe I came home because, running out of money, I was also running out of the luxury of ‘running’ – I was going to have to stop and get a ‘pay-the-bills’ job.  I was going to have to stop and re-enter the real world and face life and either answer or continue to try to avoid its eternal questions.  No matter how long I kept running or filling my days with filing and reading, I realised that Life was always there, just beyond my point of focus, asking: How are you going to use me?  What do you believe in and are you living those beliefs and values in the actions of your life? 

The thing with office jobs (or really any job that isn’t your true calling) is that they require just enough concentration to be able to block out that silent whisper much of the time or at least silence it to a dull, irritating background noise.  But they can also be mindless enough (or not engaging enough of your true interest) that every now and then, and far more often than is comfortable, that little voice of Life starts nudging its way into your awareness, tap tap tapping at the edges of your self in ways that make you squirm and desperately seek out something else to file or another spreadsheet that needs updating, as if you could somehow fit Life between cells A1 and D12, insert formula, done.  Ctrl-alt-delete and start again.

I believe physical illness is an outer symptom of a deeper dis-ease, something that manifests when there is a gap between what we are currently doing and who we are being in life, versus who we truly are and want to be and what we truly want do – when there is dis-ease between our soul and our actions, our outer circumstances.  So I don’t believe I was the pitiful victim of a nasty flu.  I believe I subconsciously created the circumstances that would require me to face up to myself and to what I actually want from life – in fact, not just want I want from life, but what I want to give in life.

I know to some, especially to worshipers at the alter of science, these beliefs sound airy-fairy, written off as new agey, esoterical nonsense.  But the more I get in touch with myself and with life, the more I believe and see evidence of them, and the less ashamed I am to admit to them.  I like to explore all of life, all of its nooks and crannies, I am not content to just sit on the surface of it, and yes, that means exploring spirituality and being open to all the possibilities.  Spirituality has become a dirty word these days and I think that is sad.  Even science is just part of the unquenchable human need and quest to understand life and all its mysteries.  Erwin Chargaff, the biochemist who discovered base pairing in DNA, said of biology: “No other science deals in its very name with a subject that it cannot define.”

What is life?  And how are we best to live it?  That is all any of us are trying to figure out.

So I came home, which was just the next step in the subconscious path I was following; I came home for a few moments of solitude, that I may hear the voice waiting for me in the silence.

I believe that when you are following your true path, things will tend to all just slide into place.  I believe that your true path is like a river and when you surrender to it, it will naturally sweep you along to places you had barely even imagined, and the best thing you can do is just let go of the oars and enjoy the ride.

That is kind of what seems to be happening in my life right now.  Anyone who knows me knows I have always been interested in health and medicine.  I sought my path in allopathic medicine, in doctoring and nursing.  As my ideas and beliefs have developed, I have become increasily interested in natural health and traditional approaches to holistic health and wellbeing.  I have long been drawn to a natural therapies college in Auckland called Wellpark.  I admire their integrative and forward thinking philosophy – they have a vision in which allopathic and complementary medicine work hand in hand, rather than in battle as they seem to be currently.  This is where I truly see the future of medicine and healing to lie – I believe all forms of medicine have important things to contribute and we would do well to work together and learn from each other, so that a more holistic form of medical treatment can arise, one that unites both the art and science of healing.  They are also the first institution in New Zealand to introduce a degree level Bachelors of Naturopathy, to begin next year (2010).

So I made a couple of enquiries and before I knew it, life was sweeping me along.  For the second semester of this year, beginning the last week of July, I will be doing a Certificate of Aromatherapy at Wellpark College in Grey Lynn, Auckland.  I think doing this 6 month certificate will give me enough of a taste of the field of natural therapies to decide whether I want to pursue the study of Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine ongoing – and if that makes me a crazy, tree-hugging, hippy new ager, then I take the title happily :P.  And I am making the move this Tuesday coming!  As I say – life is sweeping me along.  I’m just throwing up the oars and going “Wheeeeeeee!”

I wrote these words in the last post on this blog before I left on my trip, and they are as appropriate to this next step in my journey as they were to that last one:

Emily’s Quest is about living and loving the questions in the faith, hope and trust that I will somehow live my way into the answer.  And so I am going to embrace the unknown and keep asking the question into the darkness, in the faith that one day I will look around and realise I am living the answer already and always have been.

I haven’t stopped asking – I have realised I can’t, no matter how hard and far I run.  So I’m sitting inside the question now, and keep living answer after answer until finally something fits.

It is enough that one surrenders oneself. Surrender is to give oneself up to the original cause of one’s being. Do not delude yourself by imagining such a source to be some God outside of you. One’s source is within oneself.

~ Ramana Maharishi


March 5, 2009

On The Other Hand…

Filed under: Philosophising — Tags: , , , — Emily @ 6:13 pm

When you look at nature, you can see purpose in everything.  To the casual observer it may look as if trees and plants do no more than grow, exist and die.  However, a closer look reveals that they provide habitats for countless animals, birds and insects, and the provide oxygen and food for the planet.  Without them we could not survive.  The trees and other plants make a contribution to the planet; they have a purpose

~ Brendan Nicols in Your Soul Purpose

The contrast between the above book passage which I came across recently and my previous post reminds me of the contrast between two of my favourite quotes:

Do something that makes you happy, that makes you love the day. Life is not a series of tests to pass or fail – life is a delight and an adventure.

~ Anon

(I found this in a magazine once when I was a teenager and have kept it ever since)

Contrast this:

I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.

~ Leo Rosten

I have always loved this pair of quotes because they seem to contradict each other and yet they both speak to some fundamental core truth within me.  I guess the phenomenon was summed up best by another great thinker:

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.

~ Niels Bohr

Despite all my wannabe existential nihilism that I spout from time to time, I just can’t escape the feeling that there has to be a purpose to all of this.  And,  more to the immediate point, a purpose to me.  I cannot be content to just ‘be’ without purpose.  I have this deep sense that I came here to do something, to serve some function, to acheive some end – even if that end is just my own evolution and growth.  And yet even that doesn’t feel right to me, that I should enter this life and this body solely for my own benefit.  I feel that I am meant for something, that I have something to give – to people, to the world.  I just can’t for the life of me figure out what it is.

I guess what I’m saying is that any time I harp on optimistically about the joyous meaninglessness of life, I’m actually full of shit.  What I’m doing is overcompensating for my utter sense of desperation in the fact that I ultimately can’t shake the belief that life – my life and all life – does have a purpose and my utter frustration at not being able to figure out what the hell it is. 

Do I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy?  Yes.  But ultimately, I think the truest happiness comes from finding your unique purpose and living it with all you’re worth.  You will never be truly happy until you are giving, being and doing what you came here to give, be and do.

Maybe I’ve just realised that opting for upbeat nihilism is really opting for defeat – it is giving up on the quest.

Emily will never give up on the quest. 

One day, one of these rainbows will lead to the pot of gold.  If it’s not this next one then hell – there will always be other rainbows.

Someone else again summed it up perfectly:

So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

~ Morrie Schwartz

I’m determined to find my own purpose, my own sense of meaning and my own contribution to make.  For now, I identify strongly with one of my favourite song lyrics:

I’m on my feet, I’m on the floor, I’m good to go
All I need is just to hear a song I know
I wanna always feel like part of this was mine
Wanna fall in love tonight

~ Praise Chorus, performed by Jimmy Eat World

November 21, 2008

Can I Have This Dance?

Filed under: Philosophising — Tags: , , , , , , — Emily @ 9:50 am

If you want to catch beasts you don’t see every day.
You have to go places quite out-of-the-way.
You have to go places no others can get to.
You have to get cold, and you have to get wet, too
…Dr. Seuss

If you want to risk an extraordinary life, you have to go the places no one else goes, take the risks no one else will risk, be the person no one else dares to be. Your own extraordinary life doesn’t have to be ‘extra-ordinary’ to anyone’s eyes but your own. You know what feels right for you. You know, deep down, how much you are capable of being. Dare to risk being it.

Who could you be that you aren’t being?
What do you want to do that you aren’t doing?
What ‘places quite out-of-the-way’ would you have to go to be that person and do those things?
What is something (no matter how small) you could do today to move in that direction?

Remember, no matter what circumstances you may feel constrain you or hold you back, you are always in control of who you are ‘being’. If you can change nothing else, you can change that. Just try it and see what else follows.

You may find yourself feeling a little uncomfortable as you move out of who you’re comfortable being, and risk being something else, even if that something else on some level feels more ‘right’, more ‘you’. Becoming all you are capable of being is sometimes very scary. As one of my favourite quotes says:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

– Marianne Williamson

And sometimes you have to get cold and wet on the road to where and who you choose to be. But if you can brave a little dirty weather along the way –

– then ‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’

In the end, you’ll realise that it wasn’t the end you were after anyway. It was the path that got you there that was the point after all. It was the places it took you, it was the cold and the wet and the sun and the warmth, it was the adventure.

Dare to risk going places not because you don’t want to be where you are, but because you want to see what else there is. Explore. You know what it’s like to be where and who you are now. You can keep doing and being that. Or you can play with life.

I’ve made my choice – but largely because for me, there is no other choice I can make. I can’t listen to Life dancing outside my window, calling me out to play, and steadily ignore it. Life is asking me to dance and he has a twinkle in his eye I can’t resist. Sometimes I try to take the lead and that’s when I end up stepping on his toes. The best times, I find, are when I surrender to the flow of the dance, have fun and be in the moment of it.

You can sit on the sidelines if you like. You can shake your head as I twirl and pirouette past, thinking ‘gosh, what tangent is she off on now?’. But you can bet that one day, when that mystery man Death taps me on the shoulder and asks me for the next waltz or cha cha cha, I will smile back at Life and all the crazy dances we had together, and think ‘at least I never sat a chance to dance out’.

And never fall into the trap of thinking that the quest for self-fulfilment or actualisation is a selfish one. Well – in a way it is, in that it requires a focus on the self, a commitment to listen only to one’s own truth and follow one’s own instincts. But if everyone were more selfish, I think we would all be a little more happy. A lot more, in fact. Why do we all go around trying to make each other happy while letting ourselves be miserable? We just end up with a lot of miserable, unselfish people. Why not make ourselves happy first, then you can end up with a whole lot of happy people who get to share their happiness with each other.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
– Marianne Williamson

Dance your dance, follow your road, brave your own wet and cold moments for the adventure of it all, and decide that you’d rather risk who you could be than know who you’re not.

And don’t worry – no one knows the steps. Often we all look quite silly. Sometimes we’re tired. Sometimes we want to give up. And then the band starts up the salsa, and your toe starts tapping and you want to give in to the music but you don’t know the way.

Dance anyway.

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