I’ll never forget an interview with Jillian Michaels (of Biggest Loser fame). When asked why she became a personal trainer, she answered (I’m paraphrasing here): I noticed that overweight people were shut off from many areas of their lives. I want to help them live life fully, and weight loss is one doorway to that.
That’s bang-on with my experience. Losing almost 100 pounds has blown my doors way open. However, they weren’t the double-doors of Destiny guarded by a Butler of Truth wearing white gloves and checking for dust. No, I’ve come through a wormhole of sorts, squeezing through and going where I hadn’t planned. Sure, I wanted to lose 100 pounds, but I had no idea that I’d have to root out the cause of those pounds. Jillian Michaels would probably say, “Of course!” Actually, she’s witnessed enough psychological breakthroughs to know it’s always about more than the weight. For me, those added pounds were tangled up in finding my purpose.
I’ve been searching for purpose most of my life. There are worse things to go OCD over — and everyone wants to be special — but I needed a purpose to feel my specialness. I created tons of pressure for myself, and that’s where I got into trouble. I ate and ate just to relieve my burden, so it’s not hard to understand how something as promising as purpose can become a 100 pound problem.
There’s another problem, though (one uniquely tied to purpose). It’s a closed loop of sorts, setting purpose up as both my drug and my cure. When food didn’t relieve the pressure, I’d get down and dirty with all my unanswered dreams, as if mud-wrestling with my angst would earn me a victory, and the prize was my purpose. Often, nothing gelled, so I became even more desperate. How convenient, then, when a new prospect supplied fresh desire (“Ooh, shiny!”) The cycle rebooted. I was an addict addicted to rehab.
I’ll admit, this routine became a delicious distraction. It’s more fun to dream than to actually do the work of making those dreams come true. Plus, I wasn’t alone. Most everyone wants to align their work with their passion, and many people think they need to find their purpose before they can be happy. We get lots of help forming that idea. Experts admonish us to follow our passion, but here’s the rub: they’re usually already passionate about something, and they’re usually talking to people just like them. To be clear, I see nothing wrong with setting goals or achieving dreams, but words like “passion,” “parachutes,” and “out-of-the-box” have become as sour as summer bed sheets to me. These are things that come after, not the things themselves. (Full disclosure: my first email address started with “outta_d_box.”)
What do I mean by “after?” After the wormhole. After the work. Unfortunately, I’ve not found any easy way around either. The only way I’ve found is through. Purpose hasn’t validated my life. It came already embedded, and I was always in it. It took going through the wormhole to see that. Even when I’ve tapped out, I was still just recouping on the couch – living off a trickle-charge of hope – until I could get up and go again (“What’s next, Kemo-Slobby?”)
My cycle of escalating desperation came to a head in 2006. I got off the couch (Actually, the couch was more like a cliff, and I jumped off.) I quit my full-time job with benefits to make myself “available.” I wanted my willingness to attract fate to my feet, where she would scoop me up in her arms and let me ride that stallion of destiny across the sand dunes of life. Well, the last day of work, I remember thinking, “I don’t care. Even if I go down in a ball of fire, I’m doing this.” Six months later, I smelled like smoke. I hadn’t found anything. Nothing found me. Instead, I grew angry. That’s when I made fiery speeches to the Heavens. They went something like…
“No, seriously, this is not what I meant.”
“Great. What am I supposed to do now?”
“Fine. I quit.”
“We’re going inside.”
“Uh, yeah, I think you misunderstood me. I’m going out, not in.”
“We’re going inside.”
“Inside? Heck no! I’ve seen the inside. I’ve had enough of what’s on the inside.”
Eight years later, inside is exactly where I’ve been. I sank into that place — reluctantly, furiously, and bitching the whole way – at least until I started to see real answers there. (Learn from my mistakes in my weight loss eGuide, “I Want My Outside to Match My Inside.”) For sure, the idea of going inside is scary – no one wants more pain – but what I discovered is that all my avoidance was more painful than actually sinking into the hurt. And there was hurt, lots of it. Once I looked at what was there, though, it was a relief. Plus, the hurt did not stay. It didn’t go away, either. Rather, it decayed on a curve. In its wake, healing happened. I relearned that I could affect my world. I owned my pain, and I was doing something about it. I became the healer of my own wound. That was more satisfying than any purpose I could have claimed.
Is searching for purpose a worthwhile endeavor, then? I still say “yes,” but if I skip over the obvious, then the search can be more of a hindrance than a help. On this side of the wormhole, more than having a purpose, I practice purpose. I plan. I do. I dream and make goals. I still want my life to have meaning, but how can it not? That’s what I ask now, and that’s the difference. My core desire remains active, but I’m not driven by it. This is a good thing. I am happier.
I don’t have to be all fixed up to practice purpose, either. My wound is still healing from the inside out, so I walk through life with a limp. However, I’m slower to judge and quicker to listen. Otherwise, I’d probably become like those experts, only more annoying (“Hold my green tea and watch this.”)
I recently discovered the German poet Rilke. He described what I’m trying to explain when he wrote:
“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees…This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.”
Being overweight is a symptom, but it’s so much more than that. Big bodies can become gateways to healing. Every wound is an invitation to live life large. The hurt won’t disappear, but it will transform into an entry point for joy. The tenderness left behind becomes a safe place. That kind of recovery is contagious. It seeps out the sides, and purpose can’t help but gush from it.
For sure, the idea of going inside is scary – no one wants more pain – but what I discovered is that all my avoidance was more painful than sinking into the hurt.
100 Pounds weight loss eGuide, “I Want My Outside to Match My Inside.”)
The Myth of Finding Your Purpose, by Kris Carr
“Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God” translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy