Where Spirit Meets Bone

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel …

the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

-ee cummings

How you walk through the world shapes your experiences, relationships, as well as what you create. How you walk through the world is informed by the”soft stuff,” the heart wisdom that is often skirted around as we reach for the next playbook to follow. Yet, we miss out on a great deal of magic when we opt for someone else’s how-to.

As ee cummings says so potently in the lines above:

“Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel …

the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

To borrow a line from Lucinda Williams, down where the spirit meets the bone is where this all takes shape. This is where your consciousness manifests in the meatsuit you received at birth. The intricate physiology of your particular meatsuit is the lived-in terrain that only you know. From time to time, other authors, poets, and colleagues may put into words the nuances that you perceive, but it’s your particular feelers that know the world as only you know it.

Discovering the edges and excavating the terrain of your lived-in map is part and parcel of becoming an adult. As you venture through life, digging into the heart-mind-body complex that is you is a good investment with immediate and long term returns. It’s a solo gig, however, so consider this your very own perpetual studio space.

There’s no playbook for being yourself. Playbooks are entirely limiting as you set out into this work. This is the path to doing the work of your life.

“Living creatively is really important to maintain throughout your life,” says Matt Groening. “And living creatively doesn’t mean only artistic creativity, although that’s part of it. It means being yourself, not just complying with the wishes of other people.”

Poet John O’Donohue reminds us that “Each of us is an artist of our days. The greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become.”

In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell tells us: “The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going…The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.”

The chiasm of where the inner and outer worlds connect is a space we’re always navigating as humans. It’s the space that we move through moment to moment. They overlap like two circles in a venn diagram. In the middle, the place of overlap, is the sweet spot. There, where the edge of the two worlds meet, is the creative horizon and your ability to dance with it. And, to be clear, that sweet spot can be elusive to find and scary to surrender to.

It’s not always unicorns and rainbows at the overlap. The seat of the soul is where spirit meets bone, where things get really real, and where the burning heat of the pulse under our skin is the tide on which feelings and thoughts arise in response to our situation and environment.  When big questions loom with a sense of impending doom, navigating those edges feels trickier, harder perhaps, or maybe even terrifying. What’s at stake when we shy away from our edges? We lose our connection to that sweet spot.

As Seth Godin notes in this podcast episode, it’s important to distinguish between the feeling in your heart and the feeling in your amygdala. Likewise, there’s no getting around our humanity by using the heart stuff to bypass the amygdala. Sorting through all of that, we arrive at the core of who we are, behind the facades, the who we think we are, and the who we think we want to be. Determining what’s what creates space for something else to find us in the moments when we’re upregulated, when nothing makes sense, and we wish there was a pill for our humanity.

When we reach the edge of our map of the known world with the known knowns and the known unknowns, and are you fortified to handle the unknown unknowns? What do you do when you’re afraid? How do you get your butterflies in order? And, what’s on the other side of that? What happens when we can walk calmly into the places that could scare us?

At our first bootcamp in Tuscany years ago, I was sitting poolside with a bootcamper who turned to me: “I started this company fully intending to do something different, to lead differently and create a company worth working for. But I find myself stuck and feeling worse. I don’t know if I should quit.”

“Sometimes, when you ask for what you want, you get all of the lessons you need to get to where you’re setting out to go, or where you want to end up,” I replied. “Maybe you’re right where you need to be.”

Traversing the way from where you are to where you want to be isn’t always as easy as we envision things in our imagination. Getting to what we’d like involves passing through the parts of us that hold us back or don’t think it’s such a great idea in the first place. Discovering how our psyche works and becoming willingly well-versed in peering at what’s in the shadows of our inner landscape helps us uncover what stops us, where our inner critic lives and what provokes it, what big emotional burdens have we been carrying that keep us from moving forward and aren’t ours to carry.

What happens in “the studio of you” is of utmost importance. As we set out to do work that we’re proud of, or live a life according to our own definition of success, there are those unknown unknowns we face. In that quiet and teeming place where spirit meets bone, you can find your way through at the edges of you don’t-know-what-quite-yet. The edge of you coming together with edge of something else, has the potential to create a third, much greater thing. It’s a new way of being with and in the world.

That process of discovery is an oft-overlooked high art where, over years, mastery happens. It’s where good work happens. It’s where you do the work of your life. What’s moving you and moving through you? What’s informing you in new ways? How can you draw on this when life throws you unseen challenges and boons in brilliant disguises? How might you be ignoring the invitation to dance?