Burning Boats and Chasing Rabbits

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Living our calling demands our commitment. Requiring us to step off a comfortable and beaten path to take a new direction, this aspect of the journey can feel very risky and induce our strongest fears and doubts. This is particularly the case when we are uncertain of what the future will hold, and can’t see clearly where this new path will lead. If there was ever a time in our lives when we need faith, this is it. The faith that I am talking about here is not only the faith in the source of our calling (God, spirit or whatever else you might wish to call it) to travel the path with us, but also the faith in ourselves to not wilt, but rather to grow and thrive in our element. Evoking the warrior spirit within as a part of this process, we have to trust that despite whatever obstacles or opposition we may face along this true path, we can fight and persevere to overcome these barriers, and realise the type of life that we only thought possible in our dreams. When I talk about the warrior spirit here and fighting obstacles or opposition, I am referring primarily to the battles that we must undertake within ourselves to transcend the limitations that our small ego self wants to impose on our life. Too often we become consumed with fighting battles with others in the external world, without realizing that getting on the path to our calling is not to be found there. Taking those first steps is an internal movement that is precipitated by the decision that we will no longer settle for a life that is not in alignment with the true desires of our heart.

Here, my mind turns to the powerful story of Alexander the Great, who when he arrived on the shores of Persia to invade that land, ordered his army to burn the boats that they had travelled on. Acutely aware of the reality that his army was overwhelmingly outnumbered, he realised that victory in the forthcoming battle was dependent on his men being fully committed to that end. Not having the boats there to provide an exit strategy, the ultimatum that they all faced was win or die. As history now tells us, Alexander’s bold challenge to his men produced the desired result.

While our life circumstances won’t be as dire as the scenario faced by the Greek army, the reality remains that in many areas of our lives, we lack the commitment to produce the results that we ultimately desire. Instead of holistically focusing our energies on what we are called to do, in our work, family and other relationships, we disperse these energies in an ineffective fashion. Perhaps we spend a lot of time keeping up appearances with acquaintances, without giving the time and care to our true friends or family members whose presence in our life sustains our being; or in the work context, instead of positioning ourselves in work that is aligned with our calling, we may just settle for doing work that we don’t really care for, or only dedicate a small amount of time to this calling, while giving most of our energy to this ‘day job’.

In saying this, I am aware that there are pressures that we all face to pay our mortgage and put food on the table, but this doesn’t mean that we need to neglect our calling to our work, family and other relationships in the here and now. There is never going to be a time in our lives where our calling will deliver to us conditions that are perfect and final. Growing through challenges and responding dutifully to the needs of the moment are a natural part of the spiritual life. As the Buddhist saying so beautifully expounds, ‘Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water’. In this moment, the commitment that you need to make is to get on the path to living your calling. Even if when you do this, not much on the surface of your life looks like it is changing, it soon will if you remain committed to the process. Think of this moment as a building block of your life. With the energy that you possess in it, you can choose which block to use and where to place it, with a view to creating something beautiful that reflects who you truly are and the purpose that your life is meant to serve. None of us are so helpless in this task unless we choose to be by remaining ignorant to the presence of spirit in our life.

One of my favourite sayings from Confucius is that, ‘The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither’. Other than being a lesson in focus and commitment, what I take from this wise saying is that having one of something that we want is infinitely more valuable than the hope of having two of something that we will never possess. As this applies to living our calling, we can learn to adopt a less is more mentality where we can have what we truly want, not by chasing after more of what the world tells us that we should have, but by simplifying our life to preserve what we need to take the only journey that really matters.

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