I catch a glance at myself in the mirror as I get out of the shower and realize with a start that I’m pregnant. My brother teases me about my surprise at my condition when I mention it. And given that I went to a doctor, started a course of hormones that continued for 12 weeks, had the clinic fertilize frozen eggs and implant an embryo in my uterus, he has a point. But for me the surprise is that this idea has made it from conception (pun intended) to reality. I’m almost 50-years-old and already a single mom to a three-year-old daughter so not only is the biology challenging but also that it has survived the gauntlet of self-doubt that my inner longings have to pass through before they become actions. But I’ve finally figured out that much is possible if you keep your nerve up and I have seven quotes that guide me along the path. When I’m disoriented, unmotivated or need some help accomplishing something that feels big, I read these quotes and they give me the hint of what I need to do next.
I. “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” – Anne Sexton
The first intuitive leap in my adult life was deciding to climb Mt. Rainier, the 14,411 foot volcano 60 miles southeast of Seattle. I was driving to work one spring morning in my late twenties and it floated right in front of my windshield as I came around a corner. It happened every clear morning but this particular morning, I felt the Mountain calling to me. It was a memorable moment because it was the first time I decided to do something not because it was something that my family or friends were inviting me to do it or it served to further my education or career but because it spoke to me. What I heard was that I should climb that mountain and it was a voice that kept repeating even though I didn’t know anything about how I would do that.
Whether we say, “it was calling to me,” “it spoke to me,” “my gut was telling me,” or “I just knew,” we are trying to describe the mysterious messages of unknown origin that can drive our choices in inexplicable ways. I still struggle with what to name these oracles in my life, but I’ve learned to listen to them because, logical or not, their messages contain the magical information about hard challenges I need to take on to learn what I need to learn next. I believe ignoring them only means delaying what I’m inevitably drawn to do. Anne Sexton’s quote helped me see that these mysterious messages are yearnings of the soul I can use as guideposts for my choices.
So I researched the logistics of climbing Mt. Rainier and I signed up for a slot to climb with a guide service the same summer I felt it calling to me. I didn’t summit it that year but did the year after that and the next year too. Following that inclination didn’t mean I was destined for any greatness as a mountain climber but it was a decision I owned and I loved it. I summitted about a dozen mountains in the Northwest and around the world, made some dear friends doing it and developed a great deal of internal grit in the process. I learned that listening to that sacred message from the soul was key to discovering what was worth working, sacrificing and bleeding for because it somehow resonated with the essence of me. In mountain climbing I found a sport that was inspiring to me in its beauty, individuality and endurance in a way that my other activities at the time such as playing tennis didn’t. There was a perspective that I gained on something as massive and unbeatable as a mountain that opened me up to the vastness of possibility. It gave me a template for what it was like to try and a story for how life goes – the necessary of the dedication, the rigor of the way up, the inevitable painful moment when I want to quit because I feel small, hungry or tired and the celebration when done of sticking with it all. Religion, philosophy, and art – they all speak of a wisdom of the heart. But then the guidance from there is so individual that it’s hard to trust or bottle into any formula for personal revelation. So when I’m lost or wondering what is next, I just stop and listen to my soul. I stop making plans, to-do lists and stories in my head about the current circumstances of my life, I sit still and I listen to the quiet, insistent voice that won’t go away. Underneath the babble there is a deeper, more authoritative voice that rings true with my inner longings even if they are not logical or previously known to my consciousness. When I was growing up we used to joke that people who talk to themselves were crazy. But what about people who listen to themselves? I have come to believe that when we put our ear down close to the soul and listen hard, we become willing.