Several years ago, in the middle of a heated conversation about direction and need and how ours weren't exactly aligning, my then-boyfriend asked me a very simple question: "What do you want?" Not "What do you want right now?" or "What do you want from me?", either of which I could have answered easily, since I was pretty in touch with my gimme needs and a fast enough dancer to tap my way out of most corners. No, what he was inquiring after, in that infuriatingly precocious, three-steps-ahead, trick-question way of his, was my motivating force, that goal that all other actions were steps toward, my Ã¼ber-want, if you will.
It's an eminently reasonable question for someone to ask of his or her beloved. The only problem was, while I had done a great deal of cogitating (and squawking) about what I didn't want in my life, I had devoted virtually no time to figuring out what it was I really did want. And this despite shrinkage, bailing on two careers and a marriage.
Let me say this right now: you have not experienced true humiliation until you have had someone 12 years younger and 50 IQ points higher point out that you, the empress, are buck-fucking-naked.
Let me also say this: sometimes a little humiliation is just the ticket. Because with my wits temporarily AWOL, Big Colleen (my name for the chick who should be running the show but who is too smart to try to shout my sorry ass down) stepped up and said, very simply, "to be happy."
It was, surprise, surprise, the truth. And it was out now, never to be hidden away again. And it was most definitely the wrong answer as far as that relationship went. But damned if I didn't know then and there that for as disruptive as it was surely going to be, it was also going to set me free.
You don't even have to wait for a smart ex-boyfriend to put the paddles to your chest; you can do the whole thing yourself. There's a wonderful story a long-ago acting teacher used to tell about Ellen Burstyn getting ready to go onstage in Three Sisters. As the story goes, she was utterly bereft of inspiration and utterly out of her mind because of it. Despondent. Lost. With an audience of hundreds waiting to see her bring Masha to life and no life to speak of inside of her. What we in the trade call an oh-FUCK moment. And in that moment, as the story goes, she let herself sit fully in her despair...then burst into laughter at her predicament and entered laughing. Alive. Masha.
As that acting teacher used to reiterate, "Ask yourself: where am I right now?" Because that is your first truth. And because, as he also used to say, before you can get to the Beverly Center, you need to know where you're starting from.
Once you've identified where you are, of course, you may decide that the Beverly Center is not your ultimate preferred destination. (Frankly, I'd look for something with less congestion and better parking, like an ashram or Disneyland.) But after many years in the field and much experience with excavating truth, I can tell you this: your heart cannot and will not shout its deepest desire over the incessant nattering of your monkey mind.
So distract yourself. Dangle a shiny object to make monkey-mind look the other way. Take a long walk. Every day. For a month. Do whatever you need to do to get out of your head. Your heart will lead the way. It knows what it wants.
And when it wants help, it'll ask...