Selling my car and moving to a big city means that I now ride the bus and subway a lot. Early in the morning, still half asleep, I greet my fellow commuters in the noise and bustle of public transit. For most people, this would be an everyday occurrence that wouldn’t incite much thought or contemplation. But for me, the morning commute is much different.
As I gaze around at people’s long, pale faces, bags under their eyes, heads buried in their iPhones, three emotions wash over me. First sadness, then anger, then love.
Let’s start with emotion #1. I feel sad because not one of my fellow commuters looks happy. Every single person seems to be dreading wherever it is that they’re going. They want more sleep, more time with their friends and family, and less time on the train. They use their phones to distract themselves from the fact that they are dissatisfied with their lives. Sure, they’re comfortable. They make enough money to get by and have what some would call a “good life,” but they’re miserable. What they really want to be doing on Monday morning is practicing with their band or working on a novel or hugging their kids.
This is the part where I get angry. Why?
Because I believe that it’s a serious injustice to humanity that so many of us are living this way.
Some people get riled up about world hunger or saving the environment or child poverty. For whatever reason, I was put on this earth to get riled up about the morning commute and everything that it stands for. My question is: Why do the majority of us live like this? Why do we spend time every day at jobs we hate when our souls are begging us to do otherwise?
Many people say it’s a money thing. If you don’t work, you can’t live. And while I agree that it can be financially difficult to follow an alternative route (Trust me, I’ve done it, and I’m still doing it!), is it really better to have money but be miserable? What if we tried to live more simply? Instead of constantly accumulating stuff, we could live with less and feel like we have more. Smaller house. Fewer cars. Less brand names. More love. Greater passion. Heightened satisfaction.
I wonder what the world would look like if, instead of worshiping the nine to five, all of us actually did what our souls are asking us to do.
Or, if we don’t know what our souls are asking us to do, we spent time figuring out the answer. Is it possible that humanity might be even further along than we are now? Maybe we would have cured cancer by now because the first year med student who started school with a passion to help others wouldn’t have dropped out based on feeling too much pressure to perform academically. Maybe the American population wouldn’t be suffering from astronomical rates of mental illness, obesity, and a host of other issues because people would feel free.
I think that, as a species, we’ve made amazing progress and innovation. But I also believe that we’ve been focusing way too heavily on our scientific and technological evolution.
We need to start paying less attention to the evolution of our gadgets and more attention to the evolution of our souls.
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So many of us walk around in a haze, just trying to get through the day-to-day details of our lives, that we never stop to ask, “Why am I doing this?” “Do I enjoy what I’m doing?” “Does this work bring out my highest good?” “Does this work help me serve both myself and the world?”
I’ve been reading a biography about Ralph Waldo Emerson that I find absolutely fascinating. Emerson lived during the 1800s, before TVs, computers, and iPhones had a chance to take up so much of everyone’s time. So, what did Emerson do during his free time? He read. And he read voraciously. He studied Plato, Kant, Hume, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Goethe, Marcus Aurelius, Herschel, and more. He read philosophy, poetry, science, religion, and everything in between. And he ended up starting a movement that some consider America’s “Intellectual Declaration of Independence.” Importantly, Emerson started out, as many young men do, by following in the footsteps of his father, who was a minister. Emerson went to Harvard Divinity School and was quite successful as a preacher. But he eventually left the church—much to the disappointment of his family—because his soul was urging him to do something else.
What if Emerson hadn’t had the courage to leave his comfortable life? What if Gandhi had decided to continue practicing as a small-scale lawyer? What if Leonardo da Vinci had never finished the Mona Lisa? What if Nelson Mandela had stopped sharing his message because he was afraid of going to prison? What if Rosa Parks had moved to the back of the bus?
My point here is that living a life that’s true to you takes courage. It requires a constant checking in with your soul. And, it often requires leaving a life that feels comfortable for a life that feels scary. This is how true change happens in the world—by us changing ourselves first. Thomas Carlyle said,
“To reform a world, to reform a nation, no wise man will undertake. All but foolish men know, that the only solid, though a far slower reformation, is what each begins and perfects in himself.”
How many more Gandhis, Mandelas, and Parks would we have if more of us were paying attention to what we were put on this earth to do? Your purpose might not be something as grandiose as curing cancer or leading a revolution, but maybe your decision to stay home to raise your family means that your son or daughter gets the love, attention, and self-confidence they need to one day go on to lead a revolution themselves.
This brings me to the third feeling that I often experience during my morning commute: love. After I’m done feeling sad and angry, love simply starts to pour through me. I look tenderly at the college student who’s stressing out about taking an exam to get a degree that her parents are pressuring her into instead of traveling around Europe, which is what she really wants to be doing. I want to hug the middle-aged man who is glued to his phone to catch the latest stock market numbers. I smile at the working mother who is trying to get her son to preschool on time so that she can make it to work by 8:00 a.m. to deliver a major presentation.
At this point, part of me wants to break out into some sort of a flash mob dance or lecture where I inspire people to spend this day doing something that makes their soul sing. Screw exams, stocks, and presentations. Life is too short. And I can guarantee that if, in that moment, our train was about to collide with another, none of these people would be thinking about school, Wall Street, or work. Musician David Gray put it perfectly:
“For all that we struggle
For all we pretend
It don’t come down to nothing
Except love in the end
And ours is a road
That is strewn with goodbyes
But as it unfolds
As it all unwinds
Remember your soul is the one thing
You can’t compromise.”
So my question to you is this: Where are you compromising your soul? What is the gift that you have that is dying to be shared with the world? Don’t downplay your gifts. They are needed—no matter how mundane they might seem to you right now.
As for me, I’m on a journey that involves listening to my soul and doing what it asks, no matter how scary or difficult. I invite you to do the same.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on the topic of manifesting your dream job, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
*Image courtesy of www.businessinsider.com.