(In my book, The Not So Big Life…) I describe a conversation I had during the writing of the book with my friend, Christi Graham. She was in the process of planning a new type of green building conference—one that went beyond the normal nuts and bolts topics, to an understanding of the value of self-awareness and its relationship to the well-being of the planet as a whole.
Something remarkable happened during that conversation that affected both of us deeply. In our sharing of our respective passions--her vision for a conference, my vision for a book--and by being completely present with each other as we listened, we were able to see without a shadow of a doubt that the pursuit of these passions is our highest calling and provides us with the most nutritious food for our own growth.
The resulting event, the first West Coast Green Conference, was electric. It was deeply inspiring, and it caused quite a buzz in sustainability circles. But how did it happen? It felt so alive because the people who brought it into being were not just going through the motions in order to pay the bills; they were completely committed and passionately engaged in its creation, and they understood that the reason they were doing it was not only, as it might appear, to make the world a better place, but also, and more importantly, to learn everything they could about themselves as they engaged the activity of conference making. You could feel the vitality the moment you stepped through the door. Thousands of people came, when only hundreds were expected, and amazing things happened to almost everyone who attended.
My own experience of amazement occurred as the result of an idea that came to me right before I gave my keynote address. I asked Christi to have someone hand out 3 x 5 cards to those who attended my talk, so that they could write an answer to a question that I would have for them at the end.
As I began to speak, describing an entirely new way of thinking about what sustainability might mean, I could feel the energy of the room building. People were beginning to grasp that there was something huge that they hadn’t previously understood about how change really happens. There was an unequivocal sense that everyone in that room was part of one larger body, and I could feel the collective “aha” just as clearly as if my own body were experiencing goose bumps. We were one form sharing this new understanding, and it was completely intoxicating. Through each other’s presence we had shared something extraordinary.
Picture: Passion Wall
What I said was this: We don’t see something very obvious about our existence as a species. We are an integral part of the planet, and so when our hearts long to do something, that longing is the planet speaking its needs through us. And so, following that longing is the most sustainable act we can do. Even though our particular longing may appear to have nothing whatsoever to do with sustainability, we must understand that we cannot know how it will serve the planet’s needs. Our job is simply to pay attention and to act upon those longings.
At the end of the talk, I asked everyone to write down one passion that they had never pursued because they’d always thought it an indulgence, or believed they didn’t have time for it. I did this for two reasons: 1) If people identify or name and verbalize what it is they're longing to do, they bring it into awareness. It's like setting an intention; and 2) I also wanted people to see each others' visions so that we could see what we're collectively moving toward. I think that both writing and speaking ones passion can be a powerful experience. But if you write it down, it's something you can look back at and remember, whereas you might forget if you just speak it.
Immediately after my presentation, I had to dash off to catch a plane so I was unaware of what happened next until a few days later, when Christi called to describe the events that followed. A passionate outpouring had resulted from the assignment, as attendees eagerly inscribed previously unexpressed longings onto their index cards. The cards were collected, sorted, and posted on the walls of a gathering room, where conference attendees could easily browse through them at their leisure.
Picture: Passion Wall
Over the course of the next two days, a steady stream of people moved through the room, reading, laughing, and sometimes even weeping at the depth of what they felt as they read. People were able to see first hand the raw creativity that longed for liberation and expression, and they were deeply moved by this unexpected glimpse into our collective imaginings. As a result, hundreds of connections were made between people with similar visions, spawning all sorts of new ideas, enterprises, and friendships. It had become a “Passion Wall”—a wall filled with unlived longings—that now, in many cases for the first time, were being acknowledged, articulated, and shared.
Picture: Passion Wall
What happened was that people were inspired. They discovered that there was indeed something they could do to create a more sustainable future and—wonder of wonders—it was something they’d actually been longing to do for ages but hadn’t thought possible. Because the Passion Wall provided such an incredible tool for waking ourselves up to the truth that we do know what to do to begin a rebalancing of our lives and so also the planet’s, I decided to include the same feature on my website: http://www.notsobiglife.com.
The secret is this: By each one of us expressing what we know, by being present in the moment, and by engaging those things we feel passionate about, we are able, collectively, to begin to bring everything back into balance. We’re not in control of how things unfold, and we can’t think our way to fixing all the problems we see in such profusion around the globe today, but when each of us engages fully in our own life and puts into practice what he or she knows, the whole planet changes in ways that are more wondrous than any of us could individually conceive.
I hope you are inspired to share your passion…It’s time for us to share our visions and to see what’s possible when we get out of our own way and start living those unexplored longings!
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Written by Sarah Susanka