Our Direction and Our Destination

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to will myself to be a better person. A new year and a couple of inspirational movies can do this to you, but attempts to improve through sheer willpower always fail rather spectacularly for me.

I fell into this approach partially because I have practiced it for most of my life and partially because I forgot where I’m going and how to get there. In his book The Homing Spirit, John Dunne writes about “living in love as a direction” rather than searching for some experience that will once and for all make everything OK. If love is a direction, then it’s going toward something—we are going toward something.

That something is God. It’s easy to get confused about this, as I have over the last few weeks. It’s easy to think we’re heading toward retirement, a promotion, a new car, a massive failure, or just Friday. But none of these things will satisfy our heart’s longing (or, in the case of the massive failure, destroy life as we know it); none of them will provide a direction.

Only if we’re headed toward God are our direction and destination the same, and perhaps only when we recognize that they are inherently the same can we locate within ourselves that “peace which surpasses all understanding.” Just as the oak tree is inherent in the acorn and the cat in the kitten, so we are already what we are becoming.

When we get stuck in conscious thought or in willfulness, we forget this. As a friend reminded me this week, we cannot live spiritual truths from the outside in. We cannot go in the direction of God—which is always pulling us—by following a set of self-prescribed holiness standards or, as in my case, thinking we must need a longer set of standards since we don’t seem to be living up to the current list.

We can only live in love as a direction by being loving to ourselves and others, by spending time being in love with God and letting God be in love with us. The good news is, this is as easy to do as it is to forget. Every moment of silence, every time we admire the shape of a leaf, smile at someone we don’t know, offer a compliment, or count to ten to avoid yelling at our loved ones—all of these increase our capacity to love, all of them point us in the right direction and make us more who we are.

Where I Am

I experienced a few moments of simply walking across the floor last week. You may not think that’s up there with, say, receiving an Oscar or eating a really good piece of chocolate cake—which for my money is more rare than an Oscar—but I was pretty excited.

Or more exactly, I wasn’t excited, as in, I was not in some self-inflicted state of heightened energy around one thing or the other. Here’s the play by play: I needed to close the curtains because it was dark. I was walking across the floor to close the curtains when all of a sudden, closing the curtains became unimportant.

This is why contemplation is not a spectator sport, not even with a good announcer. She’s walking across the floor, folks. It’s hard to tell whether she’s fully present in the moment or completely distracted by the task she thinks she needs to accomplish. Hold on to your seats. As soon as those windows are covered, we’ll be going courtside for an in-depth interview that will answer the question once and for all.

I spend almost my entire life focused on the thing that comes next—or several nexts down the road—and while I’ve become an expert anxiety creator, I have yet to succeed at being where I am not. Those few steps, on the other hand, were remarkably tranquil. I had no doubt I’d get to the curtains, and at the same time, it didn’t matter whether I made it or not—the moment was sufficient unto itself.

We’ve all had these times of waking up to discover now: new parents marveling over the perfection of their infant’s fingers, awe at the complexity of a flower or the particular electric orange of a sunset. It’s more difficult to see it in the everyday, so I’ve been reminding myself, “The purpose of driving to work is driving,” not getting there and finishing ten projects. “The purpose of washing this spoon is washing this spoon,” not finishing the dishes so I can go upstairs and write a blog and go to bed.

I forget this practice more often than I remember it, and that sense of presence hasn’t returned. But it might.