Amidst the initial lockdown of the pandemic last spring, I spent many evenings perched on my balcony admiring a typical South Florida lightning storm, waiting intently to take the perfect, National Geographic-worthy photo. As soon as I heard a rumble of thunder or detected a flashing light outside my window, I hastily grabbed my phone and told myself I would just give it a few minutes, denying that I had any real vested interest in the outcome. Before long, an hour or two had passed and I had taken upwards of one hundred, mostly unremarkable photos. I even joked with a friend that it was the one instance I recalled exercising any patience in my life. There was something so serene about the scene that it forced me to be truly present in the moment. Tranquility aside, my post-photo shoot evaluation invariably forced me to reckon with the fact that this was a self-imposed game of perfection. I had indeed aspired to capture something extraordinary and when I didn’t score the prize, I was undeniably disappointed.
Upon reflection, this dynamic is an apt metaphor for my present life. As the pandemic fatigue intensifies and the days start to blur together like a recurrent dream, I feel like I am waiting to seize a flash of lightning. In scientific terms, lightning helps the ground and the atmosphere exchange and balance positive and negative energy. In a similar fashion, I am seeking an energetic discharge from this period of stagnation as I begin to grow restless in anticipation of some dramatic climax. I am waiting for someone or something to propel me out of my monotony and direct me on a new path. One of my friends described it perfectly: lately life is like the instructions on the shampoo bottle, “wash, rinse, and repeat.” I acknowledge my privilege in that I am not preoccupied by health and survival concerns, and I also know that I am not alone in my feelings. While my routine can even feel comforting at times, there is a deep inner yearning for a blaze of inspiration and purpose to shake me out of my stupor.
On one hand, I honor the individual path that is finding one’s purpose. For a lucky few, clarity comes at a young age. Yet for most of us, it’s a lifelong journey. In all of my rushing to accomplish my definition of success over the last few decades, I can at least acknowledge intellectually that faster is not necessarily better or more fulfilling. There is a beauty in slowing down to savor the moment –like waiting for the flawless shot. I am learning to allow the manifestation of my dreams to synchronize with the right time and place. Conversely, I also realize that I cannot sit and wait for my purpose or life calling to fall out of the sky and knock me upside the head. Eventually, I have to take action, even at the risk of lost time and energy. I was recently reminded of this lesson as I spoke with a friend whom I admire for his passion and seemingly unbridled pursuit of professional gratification. He reinforced that the process entails following different avenues of curiosity without attaching to any one destination. There are no dead ends, only the revelation of new pathways to the extent that we dare to walk a little deeper into the dark forest of the unknown.
With that perspective in mind, when I recall my quest for the perfect photo, I would be remiss not to recognize the highlight of the season. I was spending the weekend with a friend a few hours from home and our plans to go out for dinner were by all intents and purposes “ruined” by a massive thunderstorm. We resigned ourselves to stay indoors and order takeout when suddenly, after the heavy rain passed, my friend spotted a rainbow out the back window of the house. It was just before dusk and the sky had a muted glow. When we walked out back, our excitement stirred at the sight of a double full rainbow. Immediately, we forgot about our foiled evening plans and simply marveled at the unexpected beauty overhead. I raised my phone to take a picture and, in that moment, lightning struck. If it were not for the “live” photo effect on my phone, I would not believe that it was real. I shrieked with excitement as I captured the most extraordinary bolt of light piercing through the colorful arc.*
As usual, nature leaves clues of a multifaceted explanation for life’s mysteries. Discovering our respective purpose is a journey that indeed involves action. We cannot expect a momentous shift to come from loitering without any effort, or even shooting aimlessly in the dark. Part of that effort does require venturing into the quietude and trusting the inner flame of desire. But it also demands that we go exploring outside; that we get curious, iterate, and be willing to start over without attachment to a particular outcome. Meanwhile, defining or uncovering purpose is so much more enjoyable when we allow ourselves the grace and space for its unfolding; once the right amount of atmospheric pressure builds and we are ready to receive it as a gift, not a prize to be won. Just like my perfect summer photo, my calling will likely materialize when I stop expecting it and enjoy the view today. The divine intelligence of the Universe is unlimited and deserving of reverence – so for now, I choose to appreciate the calm while it lasts until the storm moves in and graces me with its energetic force of awakening.
*Photo posted under “eye candy”