If you ignore your calling, one could say you are not living life but rather going through the motions.
Yet, being gutsy, strong-willed, and driven enough to take that journey can be difficult to muster. This piece is a curation of examples attempting to answer questions about what is free will and what is a calling, how to know the difference and when to get out of the way.
What is the difference between a force driving us and us ourselves making a choice?
In a chapter from the Periodic Table, Primo Levi describes this mysterious force whereby a water diviner feels led by something twisting their divining stick to find the waters.
The same is exemplified in the film of Werner Herzog about Antarctica in which a single penguin keeps peeling off from the group to head in a different direction to a most certain death. Onlooking scientists placed him back with his clan but in the footage you see him at one point, halting, appearing to communicate with the same mysterious wind twisting the stick of the water diviner, ”you must go in this direction,” it whispers, guiding him off into the unknown.
Do you ever find your body doing one thing while your brain still seems to be in the process of making up its mind?
I've always been fascinated by stories where people or in this case an animal, seem driven by some invisible force that takes them off the beaten path for unknown reasons. There is bravery in trusting and following this voice. The will is so strong no one could possibly interfere - interrupt maybe - but to stop the process seems futile. Take Robyn Davidson, who at first glance seems like a loner who went completely mad when she decided to take her three camels and a dog to walk alone through the outback of Australia.
During this six month journey through the quiet but harsh desert, which she chronicled in her book Tracks, she describes her encounters with Aborigines, beer-bellied tourists wielding cameras, and the unfortunate passing of her beloved dog, Diggity. She reluctantly made a deal with National Geographic to document parts of the journey in exchange for dropping barrels of water along the way for some photos. She was so determined to do it on her own, would she have perished if she had not accepted this deal? Despite practical considerations - there was something calling her and through this journey you get the sense she came upon a similar place that Thoreau found at Walden Pond.
Listening to this thing that echoes deep inside of you, what is the thing you can’t not do?
Dance chose me.
I didn't plan it.
Who in their right mind would choose such a tough profession where you are constantly exposed like a nerve on a public stage? Who would want the roller coaster life that goes with it? I did it because I didn't feel I would be living the life I was meant to live if I did otherwise.
Dance also saved my life. There was a language and expression in movement that could only happen through the discipline of the body; sweat squeezing out tensions that used to cripple me with frequent anxiety attacks before I became dedicated to the craft. And although I was never able to make a living from this alone, I am very rich in culture and dance histories.
One dance story I recall is about Anna Halprin. Anna was a dancer and choreographer who also happened to have a morning drawing practice. One day she noticed a mark over a part of her self portrait that kept appearing over several days so she decided to get it checked out. Sure enough, she was diagnosed with cancer. She went home, locked herself in her basement and channeled all her rage and exorcized her demons along with the cancer.
Because she was able to listen to what was guiding her, she created "The Five Stages of Healing”, founded an institute and spent almost 5 decades after she had been diagnosed healing people through these methods.
Some believe in a “collective consciousness” like it’s a giant cloud over us that rains ideas and visions upon us. Others describe it as something we are swimming inside of like a womb we never quite leave.
What do we mean when we say “inside of us''? or “collective consciousness?”
There are other people who have witnessed this state - Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed several artists of various mediums who explained similar experiences: a musician who hears music and lyrics while driving and has to keep a recorder with him at all times otherwise he finds himself shaking his fist at the sky and shouting “Why now?! When I have no possible way to retain this tune!” Or a poet who was working on a farm and would hear lines of poetry trailing by like a slow wind and would have to literally run to the house and write the words backwards to try and compose the line as it had come.
Her argument is about how genius is not necessarily a person but rather a flowing river of collective consciousness which swirls around us; that when we get an idea, it is not our own but something we share and it’s simply a matter of whether or not you do something with it.
“Let the Force be with you” - Obi-Wan Kenobi
Whenever I have ideas in making work, I always wish I could take the credit but in my humble experience I find that my actual job is simply to keep the channel open and attempt to connect the dots. As a choreographer, as well as in all mediums I have attempted to work in, I've spent hour upon hour to make two minutes worth of work. I repeat this process for weeks or months at a time and the moment the performance begins, I simply have to let go and get out of the way.
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