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Cultivating Clarity

What do you want? This is the simplest question, and perhaps the most difficult. Asking this question can help us live with greater clarity but it’s difficult to conjure up an answer without deeper reflection.

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Harry Roberts was a friend and teacher of mine while I lived at Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm. He was trained as a medicine man in the Yurok Indian tradition, had been a cowboy and a farmer, and was a PhD agronomist who designed the gardens at the University of California, Berkeley. Harry used to say that a key difference between American Indian culture and Western culture is that Indians believed that each person is born with a particular skill and strength, that there is a primary reason for each person to be on the planet. The responsibility of parents is to provide opportunities for each child to discover his or her purpose and mission, to discover the kind of talents he or she was born to express. Indians believed that by careful observation, you could usually see by age three what a person’s lifelong work was likely to be. Harry often said that it was vital for each person not only to discover their song, but also to sing it.

Harry was also fond of saying that being a human being is very simple — all you have to do is ask and answer three questions: 

1) What do you want? 

2) What do you have to do to get it? 

3) Are you willing to pay the price? 

After stating these questions he would usually laugh heartily, saying, “Yeah, real simple; most people don’t ever ask themselves the first question.” 

What do you want? This is the simplest question, and perhaps the most difficult. Asking this question can help us live with greater clarity but it’s difficult to conjure up an answer without deeper reflection. To help you uncover your answer to “what do you want?” consider these additional questions: 

What is really important to you? 

What kind of work do you love doing? 

What do you have to offer?

What kind of impact do you want to have?

Spending time with any one of these questions can be life-changing. There don’t need to be answers. There is power in simply asking the questions – at work, in relationships, in all parts of life.

What do you have to do to get it? If there is an answer to the first question, it is time to determine what you need to do to get what you want. What skills do you need, what training or schooling is required? What steps do you need to take? What do you already have, and what is needed?

These questions make me think of a woman who tells her friend that she really wants to be a lawyer, but she is forty-two years old. Because of her age, she doesn’t think she can fulfill this goal. She says it will take her two years to finish her undergraduate degree and three years to complete law school and that she would be forty-seven by the time she finishes. Her friend asks her, “How old will you be in five years if you don’t go to school?”

Are you willing to pay the price? Harry used to say that everything comes with a price. Choosing something means not choosing something else. Choosing what you want and laying out a plan requires that you then take the steps needed, do the work, and go through whatever difficulties you are likely to confront. Every choice comes with a price that begins with risks. This question puts your resolve to the test — once you know what you want and what you have to do to get it, are you willing to risk failure, and are you willing to give up other paths?

Explore writing the questions and your responses to the following questions, and see what appears: 

  • What do you want? 
  • What do you have to do to get it? 
  • Are you willing to pay the price?
  • What obstacles and barriers might be getting in the way of gaining more clarity around these questions?

I’ve also created a 7-minute guided meditation, called Cultivating Clarity, to help you focus on whatever might be most important for you, now. I hope you find it helpful. 

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