Lesson 2 is such a deceptively easy lesson that you may hear a complaint from your inner nag. Inner nags have a tendency to say things like: No pain/no gain. As is true in many instances, any inner nag that encourages you to find something more difficult to do, is steering you wrong.
Over the years, I have found this exercise that I learned from Judith Bell, a holistic health nurse, to be surprisingly useful. I have turned to it again and again in times of soul loss.
Quite simply you spend fifteen minutes a day writing, "I want ______." Fill in the blank with what ever comes to mind. On the next line again write "I want _______" and complete that sentence with whatever pops into your mind. Just continue to write down the things you want. Grandiose things like world peace. Small things like a new pair of socks, perhaps with white lace cuffs. And mid size ones like, someone, say Martha Stewart, to come in and just put everything in your house into a perfect order...have everything decorated just to your taste, and have every object you've ever lost right there where you can put your hand on it if you want it, but where it will be out of sight and out of mind when you don't want it. And someone to come in and take care of the kitty litter...without intruding on your privacy. A cup of herb tea to appear on the table there beside your bon bons, so that you my enjoy your cup of soothing tea without having to put down the really fine English novel that you have always wished you could find but that never seems to be the one you brought home from the bookstore.
That's all you have to do. Spend fifteen minutes every day writing down everything that comes to your mind that you might want. Then the next day, you do it again. I have never understood how it works, but by the end of the week, I usually find that from somewhere in my being has come a sense of direction. Something occurs to me that seems to be worth doing.
Finally I took a course from Dr. Robert Maurer. He has a similar exercise. He explains that the reason this exercise works is that it helps us prioritize our unspoken desires. According to Dr. Maurer, a child in a functional family is told no on an average of twenty-five times a day. A child in a dysfunctional family is almost never told no. Either the parental units in the dysfunctional family are so overwhelmed that the kid knows asking for something will lead to big trouble, or the parents are so overwhelmed that they just say yes to avoid the hassle. (This latter probably explains a lot of maxed out credit cards.)
A functional family models prioritizing desires for its children by allowing them to express their random desires. The parent then takes the responsibility of assessing the appropriateness of the desires. By watching the responsible parent's decision-making process, the child learns how to evaluate his or her own desires-which wants to pursue; which ones to let go. All families are in some measure dysfunctional, therefore, a lot of us are unsure of what we want out of life. I think this exercise offers the small luxury of feeling OK to say, "I want _____" and yet knowing that we aren't about to have to deal with the consequences of not having, or trying to figure out how to get the desired object or outcome.
Fifteen minutes is a long time to spend listing things you want. If you absolutely run out of things to write down that even remotely qualify as items for your want list before the fifteen minutes are up, you might want to go back and do some more work on the writing a letter to your heart that we were doing last week. Or, you might want to try this new exercise:
I once heard Billy Collins say that he likes to write down a line, and then have a conversation with that line. I take that to mean play around in subsequent lines with ideas that the first line you wrote suggests. I am going to suggest that you select the most interesting thing you have just mentioned that you wanted, and then carrying on a written conversation with that line.
For instance if I were to decide to have a conversation with the line: I want Martha Stewart, to come in, I would write:
I have just written that I want Martha Steward, to come in.
But no. How could I have written this?
I couldn't stand to hear her despair.
I would feel so badly seeing her faint away on the chaise lounge in shock.
No, Martha. I will not bring you tea.
I never meant to invite you. Really.
And you didn't have to come so I will not look after you.
Nor will I paint the walls lilac and use a sponge dipped in sick apple green paint to smudge on ersatz swans swimming in perfect rows around the roof.