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Simple Settings for Spiritual Growth – Part 3: Grief, Calling, & Vocation

InVocation Spiritual Guidance currently has a workshops on these subjects under development:

(1) navigating the Ten Touchstones of Grief and (2) defining your Soul Saga – finding and following your callings, in terms of work, relationships, and more!

Until those launch, this article and series can give you a preview of some of the underlying ideas.

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We all experience suffering. Many times throughout our lives, each one of us is thrust into sacrifices we weren’t ready to make, into hurt and harm’s way, anguish and abandonment, loneliness and loss and lostness. Anger and sorrow – grief – accrue from these trials, and they need to be released if we are to heal and find our way back to zest for life.

dandelion growing in parched desert

But often these emotions linger on in us, their pressure building and sublimating into other forms. Or sometimes grief runs so deep, different layers of it needs to get released over many years or decades. Whatever the case, our wounds constantly call us back to them. It takes great courage to respond to that call, and we always resist it. But we need to enter and re-enter grief. And it’s not just because that’s what our health and healing requires. It’s because within our greatest griefs lie the secrets of our greatest gifts, and thus the seeds of our greatest joys.

beautiful, lush waterfall with broken logs all around - Marymere Falls, Olympic Peninsula, Washington, USA

Have you ever noticed how, even when you suffer alongside someone in the "same struggle," each individual still experiences it in a unique and original way? One person feels one facet of the pain acutely, the other person a different facet. This is because each person’s Soul is unique and original, and is having a unique, original kind of conversation with the experience. Each Soul also bears gifts it must give in order to be fulfilled – there’s a question it must answer for the world, a problem it must solve, a message it must carry. When suffering occurs, the Soul immediately tries to learn from it, even without our conscious awareness. It’s like the Soul says, “This pain just shattered what I expected to happen, but I need to give these gifts – how do I adapt now? Maybe this experience itself even holds the answer, the solution, the message.”

By paying attention to how grief is showing up, we get clues about our gifts. It’s like a mirror or a magnet, or a well, where if we dig and wait at the bottom, nourishing water springs forth. Grief can thus become a teacher, a companion, a friend, and whenever it is present is an especially tender, enlightening, Sacred time. When we learn what the grief has to say, we learn about our gifts. And when we know our gifts and know how to give them, we find the deepest kind of fulfillment. What does knowing and giving our gifts look like?


To know and give our gifts is to live out our callings and vocations. There can be lots of confusion around what these two words mean, so let’s alleviate some of it.

hiker venturing into mysterious canyon

When you’re “following a calling,” it means you’re trying to attune to messages communicated by Spirit, your Soul, and the Sacred in your life, regarding finding your true identity on a deep Soul level. Harkening back to the article on what the Soul is, this true identity can also be called your destiny, dharma, essence, or genius, your truest particular place and your truest particular purpose.

Callings are about much more than “work” in a narrow sense of the word. Again, they’re about your greatest gifts and your very being, which are expressed in every area of your life. These are general invitations to fuller Soul embodiment. When you accept these invitations, you can recognize and internalize them as the broad "vision statements" of your life, the why's of your existence. No matter who you are, we all have these why’s and experience callings all the time, whether we’re aware of it or not.

How do we experience callings? Where is the Divine communicating these messages? Most often it’s via the other 7 simple settings outlined in this series of articles: Nature, ritual, story, relationship, grief, creativity, and mystery! To follow our callings, we need to be skilled in attuning to Spirit, Soul, and the Sacred in these contexts.

gardener getting hands dirty

As we develop these skills, we can then come to understand our vocations. When you’re “in your vocation,” it means you’re trying to fulfill the visions illuminated in your callings. Vocation is where the voice of the Divine meets actionvoc-ation. You have accepted the invitation to enact your destiny, dharma, essence, or genius, to cultivate your truest particular place and your truest particular purpose, to give your greatest gifts. You are developing particular kinds of artistry, and using them to shape and serve the world around you. From the “vision statements” of your life, you have distilled more concrete "mission statements," the how's of channeling your why’s into reality each day.

kids handing seedlings to each other

Whereas attuning to callings is an orientation of seeking and learning, implementing your vocations is an orientation of crafting and teaching. Calling precedes vocation – we need to follow the former in order to find the latter. But even once we’re in our vocation, we need to keep listening for elaborations on or reframings of our callings. We are always in process, never done seeking and learning. Everyone has many dimensions to their overall capital-C Calling and capital-V Vocation, and nobody gets the whole big picture of their Calling all at once, nor knows the full scope of their Vocation. We only get lower-case-c callings, sporadically, and are thus constantly adjusting our inklings of Calling, Vocation, and vocations.

Because callings are directly from Spirit, Soul, and the Sacred, they are cryptic and intangible, and we actually need to allow them stay to mysterious. That way we don’t forget to keep learning from them, and keep our egos from projecting so much onto them that we end up losing a bigger-picture view of our life.

kid running through grass

On the other hand, when it comes to vocations, it can be helpful to tease out multiple, distinct mission statements, even while keeping them open-ended: to be "X" kind of parent or friend; to advocate "Y" kind of cause; to draw people into "Z" kinds of conversations. Still, we shouldn’t let these ideas of vocation become too entangled with a particular role, and certainly not a career or job or title. Our Soul is far larger and more holistic than we can even imagine, and it is short-sighted to over-identify with one part at the expense of the rest.

For instance, men tend to misconstrue their vocations as existing in an individualistic vacuum, while women can often cede their own authentic vocations in the interest of roles that fill others’ needs – in either case abetted by social pressure and norms. Vocations are always a matter of Souls communing with other Souls. And these days, everyone is prone to mistaking a "profession" for a vocation (the former is always subsidiary to the latter), or doubting that the term “vocation” applies to their life at all.

Earthrise, first photo of Earth from the Moon, emphasizing beauty and fragility of out planet

All of us are already living out forms of noble service. And all are called to maximize what we give to Spirit, other Souls, and the Sacred.

We need to internalize this ethic now more than ever if we are to rescue our planet from catastrophe. Never before has our entire species faced challenges so great, nor stakes so high. In order for life on Earth to evolve and avert destruction, as many of us as possible will have to respond to the calling, devote to the vocation, and enlist in the project of Creation.

If you’re looking for more inspiration around how to integrate grief, calling, and vocation into your life, you can find more resources here on the InVocation blog!

Along the way, I offer you some reflection questions:

  • How have you been releasing, anger, sorrow, and grief?

  • How have you found secrets of your greatest gifts and the seeds of your greatest joys in grief?

  • How have you been treating grief as a teacher, companion, and friend?

  • How have you been attuning to your callings, finding your true identity?

  • How have you been developing your vocations, shaping and serving the world?

  • How have you been holding a bigger-picture view of your life?

  • How would you like to?

Image credits: #1; #3; #4; #5; #6; #7



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