Ask for what you want.
That’s the mantra of many self-help books and mainstream American culture. Get clear on what you want, what you value, and manifest it. There are many tools of manifestation ranging from SMART goals, vision boards, and deep invocation with prayer, dance, and sage. There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you want. In fact, this orientation appears necessary and useful as we seek to create a life that is safe, connected, purposeful, and fulfilled. As a therapist, this is a focus of much of my work.
And, as an orientation for life, I propose “asking for what you want” is partial. One-half of the story.
Sometimes we get what we want. And many times we don’t.
What happens then?
Perhaps we recall the Rolling Stones lyric “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.” Or, more simply, we ask ourselves if we can want what we already have. There is some merit to this question.
Perhaps we drop into self-condemnation assuming we haven’t figured out how to create the reality we think we want. We think if we do more inner work, clear our limiting beliefs, ask harder or pray better, then we’ll get what we want. We double down in our effort. There are tons of programs in the marketplace peddling methods of asking. There can be violence in this approach. Please don’t fall prey to the dangerous new age myth “we create our reality.” As a myth, it’s simplistic and fails to take into account the interdependence of life. We create our experience of reality, but many aspects of our reality are not in our control.
Perhaps we suffer from the Just World Fallacy that says “bad things don’t happen to good people” and, therefore, when bad things happen to us we feel we must be bad, unworthy, undeserving, or wrong. This is a childish belief and one that’s worth kicking to the curb.
At a deep level, the continual focus on asking for what we want can leave us feeling empty, discontent, and even forsaken.
What if we change orientations?
Instead of asking for what you want, consider asking:
What is wanted from me?
(e.g., What is wanted from me in this moment? In this relationship? In this career? In this life?)
Don’t rush in and manufacture an answer to this question! The mind is off to the races with such a question and can generate a million responses.
Don’t confuse this question with self-sacrifice, with over giving or overdoing. Too many of us engage in self-abnegation in the name of selfless service.
Instead, let the question percolate. An element of trust or faith in something larger than yourself is necessary for this orientation. With your whole body being, listen intently, patiently, with nakedness. Let Spirit, Life, God, the Mystery, speak to you. The name doesn’t matter. With a whisper or a roar, instantaneously or over time, you will be given an answer. Likely the answer isn’t what you think you want. As an experiment, try listening to and acting on the answer. You may be surprised. What may be revealed are hidden things about yourself you didn’t know, and paths you’d never dream of on your own.
Ultimately, skillful living involves being able to move between the two poles “asking for what I want” and “asking what’s wanted from me.” There is wisdom in each orientation. Knowing when and how to move from one pole to the other requires practice and discrimination. The work of a lifetime.
Over time, as we move between these two orientations, we live into the realization that asking for what I want and asking what’s wanted from me come together.
This is the place of alchemy where life works in a way that is harmonious, beautiful, seamless. We discover the lack of distinction between the receiving and giving. We become the messenger, the offering, the living expression of a radiance that is greater than ourselves and none other than ourselves. We come into our embodied inheritance.