How to Tell When You Get What You’re Asking For

Afternoon, October 14, 2016: My partner and I are rounding the bend on week 3 of a grueling apartment hunt in Madrid. We’ve been living out of suitcases for months already; we’ve been sick, food poisoned, and adjusting to new jobs; we’ve raced through the streets of this unfamiliar city every day this week to beat our steep competition to available apartments. On this day, we’ve seen 2 lackluster options, which we agreed to take if they’ll have us. We climb into the bed of our AirBnB for the 3rd time today, feeling defeated, when I see I’ve missed 4 calls from the consultant who is helping us on our search.

“Where are you? Sarah. Come to Puerta del Sol now!”

We call a cab, which actually comes (a miracle), and ride from the suburbs into the heart of the city as the sun is just beginning to set. The pale full moon rises over the orange tinted skyline of Madrid, and we feel as though it’s the thing pulling us now easily through these neighborhoods we’ve been huffing and puffing across for weeks. For the first time I’m seeing how the fragmented bursts of this city connect into a beautiful whole.

We hold hands and look out the windows of the cab smiling; we haven’t even seen it yet, but we both know we’re on our way to our apartment.

It was only a few days before that I sat outside our AirBnB in the burbs and wrote my prayer to Madrid that I mentioned in a previous post. I remembered the prayer vaguely, but I didn’t read it again until a few weeks after we’d moved into our apartment. I’ll reprint the prayer here, not because it’s a particularly stellar piece of stream-of-consciousness journal writing, but because it so specifically fits into what happened next.

A Prayer to Madrid
Dear new old city,
I am humbly at your doorstep,
please take me in and let me glimpse your magic.
Crack open the tender eggshell of my mindsoul,
transform my body with your food, air, sidewalks,
help me understand and experience
the offerings of this place, these people.
I want to hear your music,
feel the subtleties of your breath and vibration.
I have initially come
liking, not liking.
I will leave that at your city limits.
I want to grow with your help--
with whatever way the great Divine
shimmers through your streets,
the smiles of your statues and residents,
or the tired eyes of the same.
Open up to me and you will find me
the same for you--
for whatever the offering.
I am the guest here.
I am the traveler with something to learn.
And if I have something to offer,
I ask your guidance in how, what, and to whom.
Dear Madrid,
dear deeper order of things,
my plans are put aside,
I submit to yours,
sister in this world,
show me what you got.
My eyes and heart are open from here on.


Now I’m writing from our little studio apartment with an expansive view on two sides of the rooftops of Madrid. I step out of my door each day into the city’s historic Literary Quarter in the middle of everything. The little streets with their old fashioned streetlamps seem to unfold endlessly into each other and away from time itself. We have, undoubtedly, been let in.

It seems pertinent to add, too, that when we got here, our roof leaked and I immediately got a cold, which has lasted all month. Perhaps I was a little too earnest and broad when I asserted to Madrid that I would let her in, too.

Now maybe it is just a coincidence that we arrived a few days after I wrote out my little prayer. But I personally don’t think that’s the most productive way to think about moving through the world.

I am not so egocentric as to think that the infinitely complicated universe brings me everything I want…

(I did not, for instance, want a Donald Trump presidency for America). But I am also not so egocentric as to imagine that I can even begin to fathom how deeply the laws of cause and effect run through the complex connective tissue of everything. And I can’t ignore the fact that I am an active part of that web.

If I hadn’t gone back to reread that prayer, though, I wouldn’t have even noticed that I got exactly what I asked for. I wasn’t thinking when I dashed off those lines in my journal, but when I read back over them, I realized I wasn’t just asking for an apartment, but also for the very specific experience surrounding it that I am now living.

I posit that this happens a lot and not just to me. I think we…

  1. Often don’t know what we really want

  2. Don’t notice when we do get what we’ve asked for.

In regards to #1: I’m far from the first to notice this, but we are prone to misidentify what we actually long for. Maybe we wish for a marriage because we’ve been taught to equate marriage with lasting love and security (which can come in many different packages…and are not necessarily guarantees in a marriage). Or maybe we strive for that promotion, but what we really want is to feel that our hard work and capabilities are moving us forward…not necessarily the added stress and heavier workload of a new position. So we get what we thought we wanted and we feel a little lost. Or maybe we pass by the person or opportunity who really would have been good for us because they didn’t come in the package we thought we were looking for.

In regards to #2: At what age do we get very nervous about the idea of complacency? Where does that come from? I know so many people who run themselves ragged in an effort to stay far away from this perceived trap. So ambition becomes a virtue (and ambition certainly isn’t all bad), and striving becomes a reflex. The result is that the act of wanting becomes so essential that by the time we get what we were wanting earlier, we are already so busy wanting the next thing that we don’t even notice.

I know a lot of people who find some balance in this cycle by keeping gratitude journals. And now it’s November, which often brings out a lot of Facebook posts counting blessings. And I think these are great, but I’d like to offer up a slightly more specific challenge:

Make notes of what you’re asking for—really asking for—and then revisit them.

I was a faithful journaler for decades, and I always knew the writing of them was important to me. It wasn’t until I worked my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, though, that I ever considered the reading of my journals to be anything more than self-indulgent. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. It’s courageous work for me to take an honest look at myself and decide what I’m going to do with the information I find.

So I have a calendar event set on my phone to go back and read my journals every 9 weeks.

Maybe you’re not a journal writer; that’s okay. You could probably make voice memos or lists or vision boards or something else that would do the trick. Regular conversations with a good friend or reflective peer mentor could work, too.

It’s worthwhile to note that we ask for things in many different ways. I used to think I wanted to be an actor, for example, but what I was actually asking for with my daily actions, my words to other people, and the longing of my spirit was something more difficult to name. I can see this when I look back at my journals, which give me enough leeway to ramble and reveal myself to my future self unwittingly. (Still not sure how to name what I want my life’s work to be, to be honest, so I’m working in smaller increments.)

Consider, too, that our sense of timing is so often off. I knew, logically, that I would find an apartment in Madrid eventually, but I was in agony because—somehow—the fact that it wasn’t happening as quickly as I wanted it to made me feel like it would NEVER HAPPEN. And I’ve seen this in my friends, who, while waiting for a much anticipated life event, which from the outside is clearly on its way, absolutely torture themselves as if no one will ever love them, the world will explode before vacation gets here, he’ll never propose even though he said he would, the check will never arrive, and the papers will never go through.

I’m not judging, because obviously I’ve been there. Recently. I think this is a symptom of:

  1. The false assumption that we have to make EVERYTHING happen

    (and I feel ya, movers and shakers, because I, too, work very hard to make A LOT of things happen)

  2. Being out of touch and out of trust with the forces outside of ourselves.

As a culture, I think we’re often more comfortable pointing out the evidence that the world is cruel and chaotic and our individual thoughts, feelings, and actions don’t matter or amount to anything. And, well, especially these days, my assessment is that…um…yeah, the world is cruel and chaotic. But the world is also loving and responsive. Our individual thoughts, feelings, and actions do matter and amount to something toward whatever end of that spectrum we direct them.

At the end of the day, we still don’t know the future.

We don’t know what will happen next or how long it will take. And there’s a lot going on.

So it’s important to leave ourselves as many trails of breadcrumbs as we can. It’s important to be able to trace back and notice how and what kind of change we received in our lives. It’s important to look forward and prepare space in ourselves to be able to receive what we do want next. And it’s important to not be too shy to get really specific and know what we’re asking for every moment of the day.

Because in between wanting and gratitude, there’s a chance for us to enter into a more participatory relationship with our inner and outer worlds.

What have you gotten recently, dear reader, that you asked for?


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