I walked right into it. At an Institute of Noetic Sciences Conference this month, an audience of some 800 people was asked to choose a person in the audience nearest to them and do an exercise. The exercise was to find the issue in the world today that breaks your heart and talk about it with your partner. I had been out of the room and when I returned there was a white-haired gentleman about 76, standing alone at the very back of the room near where I had been sitting. I asked him to tell me what the exercise was and asked whether he would be interested in working with me.
He agreed, and I offered to let him go first. As he began to talk his voice started to shake.
“I am a doctor,“ he said, “and I go to Nigeria or Darfur three or four times a year to work with the children there.” He caught his breath and continued, “You have no idea the shocking filth, the lack of clean water and lack of food that they endure. Every child is emaciated, devastated by famine or illness. Everywhere in Africa you see in the eyes of mothers holding dying children the demoralizing fear and disbelief that we are not stopping it. Here we sit in this fancy air-conditioned hotel, sleeping on clean sheets and fluffy pillows and eating great food while they have nothing. They are grateful for anything and everything.”
He had to stop as he began to sob. After he composed himself he went on to tell me the extent to which he felt unbelievable guilt and sadness at what was happening.
The pain most often endured by the heart on the way to the fulfillment of one's life's purpose is an experience most people cannot find the courage for and dare not go through. As he wiped his eyes I looked around the room at a sea of people who all had the courage to speak of what breaks their hearts. They were crying, holding each other and adding to the hum of quiet, soft talking that filled the room. When he was finished, I too now in tears, shared with him my utter despair about the extent of child abuse in this country and around the world, child trafficking, abductions and child labor. I talked of the years, the hours and courage it took for my clients to heal their horrific pasts. We took deep breaths. We held each other. We understood each other.
At the end of this exercise, the facilitator said to each of us, “This is where your passion is. This is where your purpose is. This is where your work is.”
In that moment I realized that finding one’s purpose and passion was as simple and going to the places where our hearts break. Willa Cather said, “Miracles…seem to rest not so much on faces or voices or healing power coming to us from far off, but upon our perceptions being made fine, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what there is here, about us, always.” The opportunity for a miracle is everywhere. The opportunity to fulfill our purpose is right in front of us—it is living deeply in our true passion.
It’s no great news to anyone that we are on the edge of defining who we are as human beings—one way or the other. If ever there was a time to check inside and find the passion, it is now. However, it won’t be found in the writing of a check, the sending of an email or in the reading of an article. It won’t be found in anything even a breaths distance from the pain in this world. The truth is that our hearts must break open in order for us to evolve. That means we must get in it, up close and personal. It must cost us something emotionally. It must remind us in unrelenting, searing experiences that what happens to any one of us, happens to all of us.
No one on this earth, living today, will ever have this opportunity again. This particular moment in which we stand on the edge of greatness or greed will never come again. It is clear that you and I are creating our future —or not. If not, no one is likely to be here in the not too distant future to know the difference. The opportune time to find your passion is now. The opportune time to make a difference is now. The opportune time to fulfill your purpose is now. Find the thing that breaks your heart and gratefully embrace it. It’s your key to enlightenment.