“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver
Talking about living with intention can feel like a deep dive down the rabbit hole of self-help books and easy-fix fads. The words have become so over-used and over-attributed that their pointed and personal meaning can get diluted, lost in a sea of prescriptive, bullet-pointed advice. Don’t get me wrong, I adore a good list, a plan and goals, those are things that I cling to. But I think there is more to living intentionally and creating the life that you want than following a plan and making a list. Living intentionally, to me, means making choices, big and small that lead you to live the life that you truly want, one that is fulfilling and joyous and filled with the people and things that you love. It is about having the strength and confidence to choose to live a life that brings you joy, while also leaving room for the unexpected, surprising kind of joy that can leave us breathless. It is about having a plan but also being in tune enough with yourself and those that you love, that you are willing to throw the plan out the window when there is a shift or a realization. Being intentional is only as good as the self-awareness that is behind it.
I remember the first time, or one of the first times, these sorts of thoughts really crossed my mind. Intentional was definitely not in my vernacular, but I distinctly remember talking to Greg and being concerned with the overall direction (or lack thereof) of our lives. I was feeling a bit out of control and like I hadn’t really taken the reigns of my own life, let alone our life as a couple and a family. I told Greg, full of frustration, that “I didn’t want to just float through life.” At this point, Greg has probably heard me say that phrase too many times for it to carry much meaning, but that is how I was feeling at the time; restless, impatient, and like I was just going with the flow and not having any choice in the life I was living. A bit of intention was what I was craving although my mind could only come up with a picture of a bird being tossed around by the wind.
It is so easy for us to simply allow life to happen to us and the simple, yet enormously complicated answer to this seems to be having the courage and confidence to shed all the pretense, all the layers of expectation and follow our own path toward the life that we want. This is a life’s work that can seem equally thrilling and overwhelming. It is a steady and solid path that can change in an instant. It requires an expansive view of your life while also requiring small actions and resolve day in and day out. It is the work of truly living, not just observing.
So where to start? I googled “how to live intentionally” just for kicks, and was greeted with very lovely pictures of road trips and feet hanging out of windows. There were three-step plans and 10-step plans, lots of good information about setting goals and lots of interesting tips like, “make your home look like a magazine.” The fact that each and every one of us is different, goes without saying but in this talk of living with intention, it is worth saying over and over again. There is no foolproof method for taking charge of your life and living with intention because it is going to look different for every person. For some it may mean putting away a certain amount of money every month. For others it may mean calling on friends more often. Or, like me, it could be something as simple as setting aside time to tend to my plant babies and re-center.
That being said, a breakthrough in my own thinking about how to tackle taking control of my life came when I broke it down into two parts. The big and the little. If I would think solely about what I wanted for myself or my family long term or how I wanted our lives to be in the future, it was exciting to think about but also a bit overwhelming. It is so important to have a vision in mind but it is also good to break that vision down into tangible, manageable tasks; things you can do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis that will contribute to creating that overarching vision; that will allow you to live in a way that feels right while travelling towards some ultimate goals. It is difficult, but you should be happy and thankful with where you are and also excited and motivated towards the future. I am a definite work in progress on this one.
As this new year came and went, I had the urge to get it all down on paper. I was feeling a bit out of control again, in a slump if you will and there is just something about putting pen to paper and really projecting out into the universe your intentions, desires, and goals. Often, I have found that by offering those things up you tend to get the confidence to strive for them in return. One evening, comfy on the couch (our only real piece of furniture 🙂 ), and with the fireplace blazing, Greg and I tackled some of the longer-term visions that we each have for our family. We got through the pulling teeth phase, the” I don’t know what do you think” phase, pretty quickly actually, and managed to talk about some really substantive things that we want for ourselves and our family. The two of us talked about kids and parenting, spirituality, our relationship, finances, careers, travel, putting into words and making concrete the things that we truly find value in, the kind of life we want to live. We still have more work to do on this. It is currently a jumbled list, more collage than cohesive statement but it is such a priceless thing to have. It is a snapshot of where we see ourselves in the years ahead and how we want to live this “one wild and precious life,” as Mary Oliver would say. It is a comfort to me, a planner, that we are on the same page, moving forward towards something, not just staying stagnant or floating through life as my more annoyed self would say.
But the vision isn’t where it ends. For us, we are now going to sit down once again and try to hammer out some concrete, daily, weekly, monthly steps that we can take to be working towards our goals. Often times, we allow the creation of the goal to be the end of the process, but that is truly just the beginning. I think that for me, someone who needs to have a schedule and a to do list to feel like I am accomplishing anything, being able to add in some intentional actions and events throughout our days will really help me to feel and relish in the forward movement and the present tense. At least that’s what I am hoping!
As good as I feel about these steps that we are taking towards being more intentional, I feel even better about the realization that truly creating a life is the work of a lifetime. It is a process and a windy road. There will be times that we will see progress and reach goals and there will be times where we are left floundering. Those are the times where we learn the most about ourselves. Those are the moments that we might just feel the magic if we are open to it; confident enough in ourselves to follow it where it leads.
When its over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
When Death Comes