Sadness, anger, longing, vexation… who has time for those?
When I started this blog, the familiar smog blew through a few times; “I have an impossibly long way to go.” This frustration, or “The Dip,” as Seth Godin calls it, is a regular companion for visionary people. It can ache and make you give up. It can ache and make you numb, after a few standard repression tactics. It can ache and just be another experience your body is having that you make mean whatever you want.
It’s a heart workout. You’re sore. At some point you said, “I’d like to fit a lot of genius and influence inside this body.” So, there are stretch marks.
Most people in the world get a glimpse of the capacity their heart will need and assume that “the dream” is unreasonable. Here is the villain: The already ready villain. “If I was ready, I would have the emotional strength and this wouldn’t ache. If I was ready, I’d be resilient. I wouldn’t feel much. I would know what to say, I would know what to do.”
Don’t be that guy.
One old arab, 3,000 or so years ago, had it way worse than you.
17 1-2 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God showed up and said to him, “I am The Strong God, live entirely before me, live to the hilt! I’ll make a covenant between us and I’ll give you a huge family.”
3-8 Overwhelmed, Abram fell flat on his face.
Then God said to him, “This is my covenant with you: You’ll be the father of many nations. Your name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham, meaning that ‘I’m making you the father of many nations.’ I’ll make you a father of fathers—I’ll make nations from you, kings will issue from you. […]
15-16 God continued speaking to Abraham, “And Sarai your wife: Don’t call her Sarai any longer; call her Sarah. I’ll bless her—yes! I’ll give you a son by her! Oh, how I’ll bless her! Nations will come from her; kings of nations will come from her.”
17 Abraham fell flat on his face. And then he laughed, thinking, “Can a hundred-year-old man father a son? And can Sarah, at ninety years, have a baby?”
19 But God said, “…Your wife, Sarah, will have a baby, a son. Name him Isaac (Laughter). …
I’ll establish my covenant with Isaac whom Sarah will give you about this time next year.”
22 God finished speaking with Abraham and left.
Genesis 17, The Message Translation
The Biggest Dream in History
In Abraham’s time, the legacy a person left through his lineage and the territory he owned was the ultimate mark of significance on his life. Fathering generations of prospering people, fathering kings and filling nations… this was the biggest dream available to a nomadic, plains-dwelling tribe leader.
In this story, the main character doesn’t just have a nice thought of what he would like to happen one day. He is promised by God. Can you imagine the sting of a promise like that? It would be like Neo appearing in front of you from the future and saying, “You will become the most renowned figure in the history of mankind after Buddha and Jesus, and the scenes of your awe-striking life will make the next era of mythology.”
What? Please don’t get my hopes up like that?
Now, there are three ways to approach this heart-workout.
- The hero can doubt this possibility and dread the pressure of the desire growing inside him. And suffer, basically.
- The hero can ignore the emotions of the doubt and the desire, and eventually forget what a strong desire is altogether.
- The hero can lean into the sensation of a desperately strong desire until his heart is big enough to believe it.
Fortunately, there is a practice rink for pathway #3.
Abraham’s practice rink was hearing the stories of his ancestors, which built a faith in his God. That’s why when God showed up and started chatting with him in the scene above, he didn’t say, “I’VE GONE CLINICALLY INSANE.” He fell on his face (i.e., he bowed, that’s what they did in reverence to holy places) and he laughed.
But, what are the practice rinks for us to lean into desire now?
Here are two unconventional moments to lean in to desire:
1. In the opening credits of a Disney movie when the castle yawns in front of the screen and tinker bell flies over it. It’s like Walt Disney is subliminally screaming, “MAGIC IS @#$&ING REAL KATY WARD” right in my face. I always choke up, like a sap. I can’t help it.
2. In any movie – but, admittedly, in princess movies specifically – when the hero sees their dream in the 15-minute setup sequence at the beginning and then sighs as if it will never happen.
Usually there is a memento they look at or a wistful longing face they make. Or, if it’s a musical, there is a 10 minute song refrain (“A Million Dreams” in The Greatest Showman, “Street Rat” from Aladdin, “Reflection” in Mulan, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” in Cinderella, “Provincial Life” in Beauty and the Beast…)
It’s corny, yes. But when the huge, looming, impossible goal stares at you from every blank square of paper, these scenes are a useful tool.
Fully experiencing scenes like these in a story becomes a gateway to resiliently allow poignant desire to expand your emotional capacity in real life.
The bigger the emotional capacity, the more genius can make its way out.
Because, as we know, showing your genius is a very vulnerable experience, and only strong hearts (emotionally stable and courageous people) can allow a lot of genius out at once without dimming it or sabotaging it somehow to make it less butt-naked vulnerable.
Too Weak to Workout?
So, the smart people who are too smart for stories may as well be too weak for the little emotional-capacity workout that eventually allow genius to come out.
Obviously, this is not you.
There are millions of ways to start feeling the thing you want so much you won’t even say it to yourself.
What wakes it up for you?