Dani Shapiro
December 12, 2014

On the Path of Possibility

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to put ourselves in the path of possibility.  We’re always either moving towards possibility, or away from it.  I’ve come to envision this as a stream – clear, blue, lucid, always flowing. We know when we’re in that stream – and we know when we’re not.  When we’re off course, life feels like a slog.  We’re impatient, accident-prone, frustrated.  Nothing seems to work out.  We don’t know why, and we blame ourselves, or everyone else, for our woes.  But when we’re in the path of possibility, everything feels suddenly slightly…easier.  Coincidences abound.  Strange, serendipitous encounters.  Overheard conversations.  Signs and wonders.  My friend Sylvia Boorstein tells me the Buddhists call this the effortless effort.   The effortless effort is unmistakable.  Those of us who are writers feel it when we’re deep in the work and the world falls away.  It’s a hard, hard place to get to, and once we’re there, we want to find a way to stay there forever.

My husband and I have spent the last couple of weeks in LA.  In fact, I’m writing this from the middle seat of a bumpy Jet Blue flight on our way home.  My husband is a screenwriter / filmmaker and we made the decision years ago to not to move to LA, which is a bit like an astronaut making the decision to not board the space shuttle.  My husband has  gotten work, because he’s really good at what he does, but he has most definitely not been in the path of possibility.  He’s been a lone wolf on top of a hill in Connecticut.  He hasn’t been running into studio executives at cocktail parties, or in line to pick up coffee at Intelligentsia, or at the gym.  Example: last week, we were waiting for friends at a bar in West Hollywood when two gentlemen offered to buy us a drink.  Out of nowhere. Like, totally random.

“What brings you here?  What do you do?”  My husband asked one of them.

“I have a fund and I invest in independent film,” he replied.  “And you?”

“I make independent films.  And I’m looking for investors.”

That kind of thing doesn’t happen in Connecticut.

Again and again, the universe shouted, hello!  hello, are you getting the drift?

We were getting the drift.

I am always aware of cultivating a witness consciousness.  I want to be awake to my life.  Awake to my family’s life.  To the lives of all those I love.  To the world around me in all its wounded splendor.  If I am wide awake – not anxious, not fearful, not hesitant, not impulsive – through my open eyes I begin to see the paths of possibility, almost as if they were outlined in neon. It’s hard work – paradoxically – to reach that place of effortless effort.  It requires discernment, and a willingness to take risks.  To leap, with no safety net.  To say, yes, we are grown-ups with grown-up lives and responsibilities.  But we are also willing to shift and change in order to align ourselves with what the path presents.  Shoulds are deadening.  Shoulds put us in a box and close the lid.

This week I spent time with a remarkable array of people – friends, old and new.  One in particular is relevant to this essay, a woman who’d had a big, glamorous job in the fashion world, and one day she was in her car, stuck in traffic (this being LA) and she realized she was done.  She no longer wanted to do that kind of work.  And in the space that suddenly opened up in her head where all that noise had been, she came up with a brilliant business idea.  She didn’t stop herself.  She didn’t listen to the shoulds.  She detected that gleam of light that flashed across her own mind – as Emerson writes about in “On Self-Reliance”– and didn’t dismiss the thought because it was hers.  In fact, she ran with it.  And the path unfurled before her.

It’s a little early for New Year’s resolutions, but chief among mine is to continue to seek out that effortless effort, to do the hard work of finding the path of possibility.  Whether we stumble upon it or tirelessly search for it, when we arrive there, it’s unmistakeable.  The signs and wonders light the way.