I pride myself on getting things done.
Heck, people often congratulate and compliment me about how hard I hustle.
Yep, I'm productive. I'm a “do-er.” I make sh*t happen. I check off just about every box one would expect to have checked off as a metric of corporate and professional success in life. I'm like a friggin' robot—I wake, I buffet my body, I crush the day, I digest a massive amount of information, and I produce a ton o' content.
Not only that, but I'm a man's man. That's right: I'm hardcore, I'm macho and I'm muscular. I can brag about a bio that champions me as a guy who has traveled the globe for decades proving my manhood in some of the most masochistic events known to humankind. I can post flex shots to Instagram that publicly portray my chiseled body in all its fleshly glory. I swing heavy kettlebells, swim in icy cold water, and defy aging. Heck, in a display of skills that society deems highly noble and honorable, I've shown that— from bowhunting to spearfishing to barbecuing to lovemaking—I can protect, provide, and procreate with the best of 'em.
Oh yeah, by all definitions of the word, I'm yang, baby.
Yay me, right?
You'd never have guessed that I grew up as president of the chess club, a violin virtuoso, a watercolor painting enthusiast, a devourer of every fantasy fiction book I could get my hands on, and a kid whose idea of a fantastic Sunday afternoon was to get symphony tickets and go sit in the balcony with my eyes closed making up princess and dragon stories inside my head while smiling and tapping my feet to the reverberating orchestral tunes.
Screw that. Long ago, in my teenage years, I left all that tomfoolery behind. After all, artsy-fartsy boys don't get the girls, aren't hard to kill, and bear no resemblance to the Rocky Balboa macho warrior I spent hours watching in my bedroom while pumping iron and flexing in the mirror—all the while quietly convincing myself that's the hero the world needed, wanted, and expected me to be.
So yep: I traded in my violin for the electric guitar, my watercolor brushes for a barbell, and all my fiction books for hardcore science manuals. Rigid, rational, logical, unemotional, productive, take-no-prisoners mentality ruled the day, and—as I describe in detail here—served to fuel my seemingly successful rise to the top.
But along the way, I lost something—something very important and something that, as I look around me at all the other “successful” men and women, I think that many others have lost too. In this article, I'll tell you exactly what that is and how to become a more complete and happy human by rediscovering and reclaiming that missing element.
When Did You Stop Dreaming, Singing & Dancing?
My friend, and former podcast guest Paul Chek, has a little song that he likes to sing to his patients when he is doing emotional healing work with them. It goes like this:
“I am happy
I am healthy
I am Whole
I take my love wherever I go.”
Thing is, as Paul details in this article, when he asks his clients to sing along, many seem held back due to some kind of internal fear or blocking factor. The three questions he then proceeds to ask them are:
1. When did you stop dreaming?
2. When did you stop singing?
3. When did you stop dancing?
Interestingly, the time that a person stops dreaming (and this could include elements such as, say, reading fiction, storytelling, or even watching funny movies instead of all, say, non-fiction and documentaries), singing (including sacrificing podcast and audiobook time to instead listen to a heart-warming or soul-exciting new album from your favorite band, or perhaps nostalgic songs from your youth), and dancing (which does not necessarily mean taking formal ballroom dance classes or playing Dance Dance Revolution in the basement, but could arguably include everything from ecstatic raving to wild acts of lovemaking)…
…often correlates to a specific time and/or event(s) that disrupted that person's natural state of inner-harmony and led to the injury or illness they are experiencing.
“When we grow to the point that we finally realize that our body and relationships mirror our mind, we can look back, and typically we see that it was during stressful and often unresolved transition points in our lives that we lost our authentic harmony and creative impulse.”
Paul then encourages those of his clients who feel blocked in their ability to join in his little ditty because the voices in their head are judging, or telling them how silly this is, to be brave enough to give this harmless practice a try, citing the old saying: “Being happy may not make you sing, but singing will make you happy!”
And while I fully agree with Paul that the absence of dreaming, singing, dancing (and any other element of creative, free, artistic flow) in one's life does indeed often manifest in an overall unharmonious imbalance and eventually an injury or illness, I'm not quite convinced there needs to be a single factor such as an intense trauma, a broken relationship, or a horrific accident that sparks that loss of creativity. I instead think that for many people, including myself, the fading away of our youthful, happy, and carefree dreaming, singing, and dancing can occur gradually over an extended period of time as we become more and more mindful of fulfilling the basic survival elements of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (find food, make money, start a family, get a home, etc.) and more and more obsessed with and satisfied with doing, accomplishing, and producing to the ultimate and sad sacrifice of being, savoring, and creating.
The Hypnotic Rhythm
So, in addition to our gradual tendency as we become full-fledged “grown-ups” to shove free, artistic, creative flow and elements such as dreaming, singing, and dancing to the side in our relentless pursuit to instead climb the mountain of success (which, as outlined so well in the book The Second Mountain we often tend to look down from to realize we weren't really climbing the most fulfilling mountain in the first place)…
…what else keeps us from dreaming, singing, and dancing?
I would argue that it is the “hypnotic rhythm.”
That's right: the hypnotic rhythm. Although he's perhaps better know for his book Think & Grow Rich, American self-help author Napoleon Hill (born October 26, 1883, died November 8, 1970) also wrote a lesser-known but, in my opinion, just as life-changing a book titled Outwitting The Devil. In the book, Hill describes what he calls the hypnotic rhythm, which is a law of subconscious human nature that tends to slowly solidify our habits and make them a permanent part of our lives, often without us even noticing how powerful and addictive those habits may have become.
These rhythms are the things we do that we don’t even tend to think about: the daily automatic actions we take that are built into our existence—everything from brushing our teeth to checking our e-mail to scrolling through a set number of social media feeds (e.g. the vicious loop of Instagram to Twitter to Facebook to Slack to the e-mail inbox and then 20 minutes later back through again) to even more time-consuming OCD-like tendencies such as performing a set, specific workout on a designated day of the week (come hell or high water), eating a specific way no matter what, or becoming locked into a certain manner of living, working, or interacting with people—that can indeed become long-lasting habits that lend the structure and order that can create success. But, these habits can also bring about misery and permanent failure or unfulfillment, particularly as we become resistant to any semblance of change or the ability to be able to embrace free, creative flow that rips us out of the rhythm we've grown to associate with control, safety and survival.
In other words, it is the hypnotic rhythm that dictates you must listen to that 30-minute financial news podcast on your daily commute, even though every shred of your soul is craving is to crank up the radio with rock music like you did when you were a carefree teenager; you must hit the weights at the gym even though all those guys and girls out playing noon ball look like they're having way more fun and that's what you would have done in college; or you must be the responsible person at the party engaged in polite conversation in the corner instead of ripping moves on the dance floor like nobody's watching.
Hill describes how this hypnotic rhythm becomes a built-in, automated part of our lives via a three-step process of 1) action; 2) habit; 3) rhythm. Actions, including our thoughts, are the things we do that we have complete control over. We consciously decide whether or not these actions come into being. When we repeat the actions long enough, they become habits, the things that we do to give us our daily momentum and help us feel safe and comfortable as we navigate life. It’s possible for us to stray from these habits, but as they become more and more solidified in our lives, we tend to repeatedly return to them.
If those habits are repeated long enough, they then become —you guessed it—a hypnotic rhythm. This is when the habit becomes a part of what we are on a phenomenological level. In other words, those habits become linked to our identity and how we define ourselves. For example, I simply am that person who gets up at 6 am to go on a morning jog, vs., God forbid, occasionally staying in bed and making love to my spouse. I am that person who drinks black coffee every morning so that I maintain my strict intermittent fasting protocol day-in and day-out, though that matcha green tea with coconut oil and stevia recipe looks like a fun little change-up. I am that person who slips away after dinner to read a book in my office, though my kids really want to go outside and stargaze. These habits eventually get put on subconscious autopilot, and at that point, the actions associated with each habit require basically no willpower at all. At this stage, we may find that we have almost no control over those very actions, whether they produce good or bad fruit in our lives.
Related to Hill's ideas of the development of a scarcity mindset and our tendency to be able to think and manifest what it is that we eventually become—whether that be abundance or scarcity—a concept Hill explores in Think & Grow Rich, he says:
“Nature uses hypnotic rhythm to make one’s dominating thoughts and one’s thought-habits permanent. That is why poverty is disease. Nature makes it so by fixing permanently the thought-habits of all who accept poverty as an unavoidable circumstance.”
In this instance, Hill is referring to us being able to think our way into poverty by allowing thoughts of scarcity to become our dominant thought pattern. However, I would propose that in the same way you can think yourself into being poor (again, you can read the entire book Think & Grow Rich to fully grasp this concept), you can think yourself into an automatic habit loop (a hypnotic rhythm) of constantly doing instead of being, and thus think yourself into a habit loop that gradually pulls you out of all the fun, creative things you may have enjoyed to do as a child, such as dreaming, singing, and dancing.
In the book Denial Of Death by Ernest Becker, this type of controlled action that eventually becomes an automated habit is described as a way for us to escape the stressors of life. For instance, many people overwork during periods of anxiety and stress. This habitual pattern of overworking not only distracts us from impending anxious thoughts, but it can reinstill in us a lost sense of control, functioning as a kind of safety net that not only protects us from fear of death, but from fear of life as well. To avoid the uncontrollable lows and the irrepressible highs often experienced during creative free flow or stepping outside our controlled comfort zone, we tend to stick to what we know, burrowing ourselves in routine and complacency.
Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard describes this type of person as an “automatic cultural man,” someone who accepts the reality that culture provides, seeking to actualize their identity within the carefully sketched lines of society—what the world expects them to be (rather than their true, authentic self). Struck by the horror of creative freedom and its multitude of possibilities, we can experience overwhelming anxiety and loss of control, and thus suppress most semblances of freedom whatsoever, eventually descending into—you guessed it—our predictable, controllable hypnotic rhythm. Painting with watercolor is messy and sometimes unpredictable, but reading science is predictable. Dancing is expressive, flowing, and also sometimes unpredictable, but our daily visit to the gym involves a series of rote exercises fully within our control. Dreaming, fantasizing, reading fiction, singing, learning new recipes, and other forms of creative expression, though often what we really want to do in the moment, suddenly pull us out of being able to control or experience predictable outcomes, and it becomes so much less anxiety-inducing or bothersome to instead bury ourselves in checklists of work.
Flow Vs. Function
And now, having just turned 39 years old, as I approach what could very well be the halfway point of my life, I've realized that I've reached that very point myself: often stuck in a daily hypnotic rhythm of control and predictability, operating as an automatic cultural man who is much like what the world expects me to be and indeed congratulates me upon being (a functional hard-charging, hardcore, high-achiever) and much less like what my internal soul at many times craves to be (a flowing, creative, soft, romantic lover of art, fiction, and music).
I give you the full details on exactly how this gradual slide away from creativity happened to me in this article on control and OCD-like tendencies, which I'd highly recommend you read as a companion to the article you're reading right now, but I'll add one additional thought here regarding the common formation of hypnotic rhythm, because much of this process is neurologically based.
As a guy who works, consults, advises, and writes in the realm of health and fitness, I'll give you an example from that specific world, because I tend to see the pattern I'm going to describe to you repeatedly in clients I coach. Take the hypnotic rhythm of a daily exercise routine for example, which is a somewhat laudable effort (the Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8 that physical training is of “some value“), but an effort that can nonetheless lead to selfishness, sacrificing other more important activities for the holy workout, or even ignoring a pull towards creative activities such as painting or playing a musical instrument because the gym must be hit at all costs.
Often, this rhythm begins with food. This train to eat/eat to train cycle can easily pull one into what, from a neurological standpoint, can be a highly hypnotic rhythm.
Allow me to illustrate.
Let's say that you—the privileged modern human living in an environment surrounded by a calorie-rich, highly-palatable abundance of foods—swing open the refrigerator in the evening and are struck with pangs of guilt over the cornucopia of food that spilleth forth, often in addition to the reams of energy bars and superfood powders filling the nearby pantry. So you gorge yourself on a fantastic, tasty, nourishing, calorie and nutrient-dense, rich dinner (after all, it's not like it's fried chicken, pizza, and ice cream for crying out loud—just a bunch of wild-caught fish, sweet potato fries and dark chocolate), then perhaps make yourself a nighttime post-dinner treat of some kind of ketogenic fat bomb recipe comprised of coconut milk, chocolate collagen, and maybe some raw honey. Before you know it, you've stuffed yourself with over a thousand calories, but that's OK because you have a grand, soul-punishing, body-buffeting workout planned for the next morning. In addition, from a neurological standpoint, this feel-good meal has charged you up with a massive hit of dopamine and serotonin.
You get up the next morning, perhaps briefly (but ever-so-briefly, because the workout awaits) glance at some kind of devotional or spiritually uplifting book, jot for a few moments in a gratitude journal, then head out to do what you really want to do: burn all those calories that are fresh on your mind from the night before and pat yourself on the back for making your body stronger, fitter, and harder to kill. After all, we've already established that the world deems that type of yang-way to start the morning to be a quite noble and laudable way to launch one's day off to a good start.
So off you rush to the health club or home gym to throw down your daily workout, which fills you with another big surge of dopamine and serotonin—not only for having “checked something off” your to-do list for the day, but also because exercise in and of itself is a positively addicting effort and, as my friend and neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman teaches, any type of physical forward movement or progress can serve as a potent remedy for fear, stress, anxiety, depression, etc. Incidentally, this is why one of the more common forms of exercise for people who are trying to A) excessively control their lives; B) escape pain; or C) both A and B tend to love things like treadmills or jogging, stationary or real bicycles, frequent walking, swimming, or any other forms of chronic repetitive motion. (Dr. Huberman explains that this is because when you face adversity, forward progress suppresses the amygdala and you subsequently secrete dopamine as a response to making steps forward.)
But of course, gosh-darn-it, you must now eat again to refuel. So you rush back to the kitchen or cafeteria to prepare yourself an 800-calorie superfoods smoothie, which satisfies two burning needs: 1) to make a dent in all that food you bought that you don't want to go to waste; 2) to top up your body's energy stores in preparation for the next day's or afternoon's dopamine-surging workout.
Then it's off to work, where you can escape for a while, make some money, check off your checklists, and do a whole lot more “doing.” The next day, and the next, and the next, you do the same thing. After all, God forbid you miss your streak of physical activity you've kept up so well the past several months, or allow your scarcity mindset to allow you to take a break from work.
Do, do, do.
Workout, eat, work, workout, eat, work, workout, eat, work.
Train-to-eat, eat-to-train. Make money. It's great, right? You're staying healthy, paying the bills, and simultaneously enjoying oodles of lovely, calorie-dense, highly palatable food that in any other circumstance would make you, well, fat.
Problem is, by relying upon food and exercise and work as your three primary modes of sparking up rewarding neurotransmitters, you're essentially keeping your brain “satisfied” within a relatively narrow band of the full spectral experience of life—in this case, that narrow band being eating, exercising, and checking off your checklists while making money in your business or place of employment in between all the eating and exercising. Now don't get me wrong: Neither eating, nor exercising, nor making money are inherently bad, nor should you feel guilty about these activities, but I have repeatedly witnessed in both myself and in others (particularly within the fitness and health industry) the tendency to become so myopically obsessed with these three activities that very little character growth or neurotransmitter-sparking occurs outside the context of eating, exercise, and business. Folks seem to get so consumed with nutrition and fitness and work that there's simply little or no time remaining for painting, music, singing, dancing, dreaming, or just lying around reading a thrilling fiction book.
It's a hard cycle to break, too.
After all, even if you do, say, or sacrifice some or all of your planned afternoon workout to instead paint a butterfly, based on your hypnotic rhythm, you still probably swing open the refrigerator an hour later and consume your massive workout-fueling dinner, which makes you feel guilty and/or fat and/or lazy and/or unhealthy immediately after, and so you plan for the next afternoon to skip the painting nonsense and go crush the gym instead. That, or you stay up late at night catching up on all that extra work you “missed” to instead paint. Or you do both the exercise punishment and the work to make up for the lost time spent in creativity.
This can create a quite yang, hardcore, do-do-do scenario that continually pulls you away from anything that can produce a pleasurable response besides eating and exercising. But, as I thoroughly address in this article, nary a soul lies on their deathbed with the satisfying feeling that they were a good exerciser, or managed to eat quite a few calories in their lifetime. The more rewarding deathbed moments come from reflecting upon activities such as meaningful friendships and relationships, good acts done for the world, meaningful experiences often enjoyed with others, or masterful works of art or music one may have created.
Perhaps the example above doesn't resonate with you.
Perhaps it's a completely foreign concept for you to imagine a person who enjoys eating weird foods and exercising a lot.
But your hypnotic rhythm may be something else. It may be that endless cycle of social-media-feed-checking or online-news-website-monitoring that you find yourself sucked into each day and every day, unable to break your streak of “check-ins.” It may be a constant consumption of non-fiction podcasts and audiobooks, with absolutely no room allowed for music or fiction. It may be the slot machines or the poker table. It may be the full hour you spend every morning on beauty and self-care. It may be golfing. It may simply be slipping away to work and get things off your checklist whenever you have a free moment, even in the wee hours of the evening.
As a matter of fact, you get the same rewarding neurotransmitter release from any of the activities I've just listed as you do from a vicious cycle of excessively eating and exercising or overworking. And, if any of these items are near-automatic, built-in, subconscious, rote activities that require very little creativity, loss-of-control, challenge, discomfort, or even the perception of danger—and if they also do not result in some meaningful act of beautiful, creative creation that requires conscious thought applied to mindfulness, beauty, or the more delicate elements of yin—then it is very likely you have found yourself caught up in a hypnotic rhythm that is keeping you from “dreaming, singing, and dancing” in a way that would ultimately bring more happiness and fulfillment to your life.
For me personally, being a very yang, hardcore, hard-charging, high achiever who works hard, exercises hard, eats hard, and does hard (then rinses-washes-repeats daily) has created a very yang scenario that has pulled me away from alternative activities that can spark a similar pleasurable neurotransmitter response. These alternative activities can also result in highly meaningful acts of creation, a more mindful enjoyment of beauty, or allowing myself to simply engage with being. This includes activities such as painting, making music, lying on the living room floor playing games with my kids, more time in nature, and even engaging in right-brained creative flow to write the type of “slightly dangerous” articles you're reading right now—instead of focusing on pure, left-brained hard science or biohacking. I know deep down inside that these types of activities that pull me out of my hypnotic rhythm are highly rewarding and personally fulfilling, but it hasn't been until quite lately that I've really made a concerted attempt to get out of that rhythm and engage more of my yin side.
And I'll admit: It's been somewhat difficult, primarily because I’ve been defined, and have defined myself, by functional hardcore doing, macho-esque fitness and competitive exercise for so long that it's taking time to “shake that off” and release—as my friend Lewis Howes writes about in his book The Mask Of Masculinity—the “athlete mask” to instead enter into a more flowing, relaxed approach to life in general, particularly one that embraces creativity.
Truly, I believe that it's that very act of embracing creativity that can serve as a potent tactic to pull us out of the hypnotic rhythm of constantly doing.
As I write in my union with God article here, free expression of art and creativity—especially in a spirit that loves others and loves God by both creating things ourselves while simultaneously celebrating His creation—is something we not only derive a great deal of pleasure and fulfillment from, but something that we are actually called to do and something that God, having designed us in the image of Himself the Creator, takes great pleasure in. Indeed, our unique human impulse to create reflects the fact that we were created in the image of a Creator God. As Francis Schaeffer says in his book Art & The Bible, “The lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts…a Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God…the Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”
As I read Francis Schaeffer's quote above, and am inspired to allow my own imagination to fly beyond the stars, I am also reminded of reformer and theologian John Calvin who, despite being a man one might not think of as an ecologist, has a general philosophy on environmentalism, the goodness of labor, creation care, and the duties of cultivating the earth that really resonates with me—particularly the section in the quote below from his commentary on Genesis 2:15 in which he advocates “stewardship” of the planet as something we are called to engage in, rather than simply “consuming life in eating, drinking, and sleeping.” (For more on this topic, listen to my Christian environmentalism podcast with Gordon Wilson.) Calvin explains:
“And the Lord God took the man Moses now adds, that the earth was given to man, with this condition, that he should occupy himself in its cultivation. Whence it follows that men were created to employ themselves in some work, and not to lie down in inactivity and idleness. This labor, truly, was pleasant, and full of delight, entirely exempt from all trouble and weariness; since however God ordained that man should be exercised in the culture of the ground, he condemned in his person, all indolent repose. Wherefore, nothing is more contrary to the order of nature, than to consume life in eating, drinking, and sleeping, while in the meantime we propose nothing to ourselves to do. Moses adds, that the custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition, that being content with a frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain. Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence; but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated. Let him so feed on its fruits that he neither dissipates it by luxury, nor permits to be marred or ruined by neglect. Moreover, that this economy, and this diligence, with respect to those good things which God has given us to enjoy, may flourish among us; let every one regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses. Then he will neither conduct himself dissolutely, nor corrupt by abuse those things which God requires to be preserved.”
How about you? Are you “consuming life” by eating, drinking, and sleeping? Or perhaps you could throw into that self-obsessed mix a bit of over-exercising and over-working? Or are you tilling the field of a garden, or a musical instrument, or an art canvas in an act of creation and stewardship that brings a smile to God's face and makes this world a better place?
Sure, if you're a man reading this who has already read my article about how to be a man, then you know that being a good father, husband, or contributor to society does indeed incorporate hardcore elements that allow us men to provide and protect. I respect guys who can work hard, lift heavy weights, and withstand physical discomfort. At the risk of being sexist (which I define as merely recognizing that males and females are different, both anatomically and psychologically), I would propose that many women seem to, in my subjective opinion, do a little bit better job embracing their artistic, creative, yin side. But, I also think that if you're a woman reading this article—particularly if you're a woman caught up in the fitness craze of training-to-eat and eating-to-train, or only engaged in business and making money, or denying and suppressing any creative urges that you may have—that you too would benefit from more creation.
After all, what would it feel like to have more flow instead of function? To have more being instead of doing? I often ask myself who I want my twin boys to be, both now and when they grow up. Perhaps they can hunt a deer with grit and precision, but also sit in the forest and decide to simply paint that deer too. Perhaps they can carry a heavy sandbag up the driveway and swing a kettlebell, but also sit quietly at the top of the driveway in prayer and meditation. Perhaps they can run their little cooking podcast business and create an income for themselves, but also lounge in the music room for hours playing with their piano, guitar, and drums, without a thought of business or money. I don't know about you, but those are the type of kids I want to raise and that's the type of human being I want to be.
Don't you think the world needs more men and women who can wake up, exercise, eat, and put in a hard day of work, but also spend time in the evening painting or strumming a ukulele? Don't we need more parents who can spontaneously erupt into initiating a pre-dinner dance party with the family? I doubt you'd deny that our world is enriched by the hopeless romantics, the artists, the stargazers, and the dreamers, but don't you have just a little bit of that inside yourself right now, just waiting to be allowed to spring forth?
Isn't part of being a fully functioning human also being a fully flowing human who sings, dances, dreams and creates art and beauty?
At this point, you may be asking yourself…
…but isn't sitting at my desk computer programming or writing a science paper or engaged in an engineering project an act of creation? Isn't making my morning smoothie, or even perhaps sculpting my body also an act of creation? Isn't posting a beautiful photo to Instagram an act of creation? Yes, perhaps to a small extent, but I'd argue that in most cases for most people these activities are rote, repetitive, automated, subconscious and rhythmic, as opposed to what I am encouraging you to do…
…which is to engage in acts of creation and spontaneous, free and flowing singing, dancing and dreaming that actually feels different, non-rhythmic, embarrassing, uncomfortable or even dangerous. These are the kind of acts that engage entirely different neural pathways than those you are triggering with activities that have become subconscious, hypnotically rhythmic components of your routine day-to-day activity. For the watercolor artist, this may very well be woodworking; for the violinist, reading science; for the writer, gardening; or for the Crossfitter, learning the violin. Most of the time, you'll know when you're breaking the rhythm, or just making an excuse to yourself that you're being creative or creating art and beauty, or singing, or dancing, or dreaming, when you're really not.
Love God & Love People
Finally (and yes, I really do promise I'm almost done!) remember to love others with your acts of creation. As I wrote in my article about how to find your purpose in life, a key component of finding your purpose in life is not just creating a single, succinct purpose statement for your life but also going forth and executing that purpose statement in a fully mindful spirit of loving God and loving others, which are the two greatest commandments in the Bible.
Why is this “loving others” caveat to creation important?
Because creation doesn't simply have to be about painting a watercolor portrait or writing a song. Creation can also involve arguably more complex and potentially world-changing or life-altering activities such as inventing new freeway systems, building jet planes, programming complex software or designing vaccines. And thus, if your ability to create also incorporates an ability to be able to drastically affect the world around you for better or worse, you must have some sort of filter to decide whether or not your act of creation is good or harmful.
In other words…
…is the watercolor portrait a nude female objectification painting that may cause a young boy to lustfully ogle as he sees it in a museum?
…is the song you've written chock-full of lyrics that are rhyming and entertaining, but also rife with violence or worldly angst?
…does the new freeway cut through the fields of three different hundred-year old farms and disrupt the income of multiple small farmers?
…does the jet plane pollute the atmosphere due to a poorly though out fueling system?
…does the software enable millions worldwide to be able to spy on each other or access confidential information that violates privacy?
…does the vaccine have the potential to cause more harm than good, or perhaps require abortion of babies or violation of personal freedom rights to produce and administer?
You probably see where I'm going with this. Don't just launch into an act of creation without considering the consequences. Instead, ask yourself if, through your act of creation, you are fully loving God and loving others. Sure, the same software that runs a small church charitable giving platform might also be used to host transactions for a porn website, or an air filtration system you've designed might be used to keep the air clean for greater customer comfort in a casino or brothel. But that's more of an issue of others twisting your creation for potentially sinful activities, and not necessarily your fault, in the same way it's not God's fault that some people enjoy a nice Bordeaux (made from the grape that He has created) with their family dinner, while others get sloshed and engage in domestic violence after drinking two full bottles of the stuff. Ultimately, if, as you create, you foresee potential for your creation to cause harm, then my advice to you is to assess your motives for creating it. If your motive in creating is to love God and love others, and not to make money, make your creation as popular as possible, gain power and prestige from your creation, get someone to like you because of your creation, etc., then I say, go forth and create.
And sing. And dance. And dream.
Then thank God for creating you in His image with the ability to create, to savor life to the fullest, and for giving you the grace to be able to leave the entire burden of your hypnotic rhythms at the foot of Christ's cross.
Last night, our family prepared and ate a holiday dinner together, then gathered for our annual Christmas tradition of “puff-painting” Christmas shirts (here's my personal puff- painting). We then snuggled on the couch for an hour and a half to watch a cartoon about elves. Afterwards, we went up to the boys' bedroom and I read the family this Christmas story (one of the best I've read in quite some time). I played guitar. My wife and I made love. Over the course of those five hours, I did quite a fair bit of being and it felt wonderful.
I commented to my wife as we were falling asleep that for me to devote that much time to simply “chillaxing” is something that would have driven me bat-sh*t crazy as much as a few months ago. After all, I wasn't producing. I wasn't “helping all the people.” I wasn't getting stuff done in hardcore, high-achieving mode. I wasn't producing, helping to make the world turn, or doing, doing, doing.
But you know what else I told her?
I'm learning to be. To simply savor life. To release the reigns on control and production to embrace free, artistic, creativity. To go on a walk and listen to music instead of a podcast or audiobook. Or listen to nothing at all but God's music of birdsong and wind. It's a slow process. And I'm still working on it. But it feels so, so good.
Anyways, when I told her that, Jessa smiled, kissed me on the forehead, and we fell asleep in a lover's embrace. I'm pretty sure an evening like that one I described above is the way God intended for us to spend many evenings, and I personally plan on plenty more evenings like that in 2021 and beyond, along with more time devoted to fasting and fiction, meditation and music, and prayer and painting—even if it does mean those kettlebells out in the cold garage occasionally get neglected.
How about you? Are you learning to be and not just to do?
When did you stop dreaming, singing, and dancing? More importantly, when are you going to start again?
Perhaps you can start simple: such as a pre-dinner family dance party to your childrens' favorite song, or going to a music store to treat yourself to that random instrument you've always wanted to play, or teaching yourself to draw a cartoon dog, or simply turning off the podcast or audiobook on your next commute and instead singing along with the radio at the top of your lungs. Just try it. Try creating. Try being. It's transformative, and I have a strong hunch that it makes our Creator smile and will make you smile a bit more too..
Leave your comments, questions, thoughts, and feedback below. I read them all. Alright, enough for me. I'm off to strum the guitar.