Like most such observations, the title of this chapter is subject to misunderstanding. I suppose it is inevitable that some readers might take the easy way out and prefer the simpler interpretation. But I'm not writing for those people. The idea in this chapter is both subtle and complex.
In order to help navigate the reefs and the shoals that we will most certainly find along the way, I suggest that we employ a guide. In this case, the American mythologist Joseph Campbell would seem to be a good choice. As we proceed on our journey, we will encounter signposts in the form of quotes from Professor Campbell that may prove helpful.
One thing before we get started. It's going to be important that you understand that, within the category of other peoples’ visions of you there resides visions of you by the avatar which you have created and have taken to calling your "self". You may find this idea difficult to wrap your mind around at first. The idea that you are actually two people may generate a sense of vertigo. But that virtual version of yourself in a virtual reality is one of the principal dangers that may keep you from living your life as you might.
So, let's find our first signpost:
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
Campbell isn’t talking about some manifest destiny that inhabits all human beings. His short prescription contains a trap that casual reading might fall into. The key words are “who you are”. Professor Campbel is drawing on an ancient understanding that is found over and over again in human mythology; the idea of a second birth. In those societies, there was the idea that a human is born twice. The first birth is the biological one while the second is the birth of a human into the person that they have become. He is thinking of knowledge of yourself without the trappings of the vision that other people have laid upon you.
Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.
Here it might become a bit clearer. As you grew up, you received lots of ‘descriptions’ of who you are from a wide range of sources. During your early years, these visions coalesced into your personae. You were a ‘good boy’ or ‘rebellious’. You were a ‘quiet girl’ or ‘obsessively organized’. In an important way, this coalesced vision formed your own personal religion – a religion that defined who you are. This vision became your self-definition – your concept of your self. It became your fact.
Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.
But, as you grew older, you became someone that was different – or should be different – from that vision. The second birthing is brought on when the increasing conflict between that vision of self begins to conflict with the needs of you as the person you have become. In my mentoring practice, I see this conflict in various stages that range from an irritating itch to a full-blown internal conflict. For example, a person may have convinced themselves that they should be a businessman only to begin to suspect that there might be another use for their life that would be more fulfilling. In a more advanced state, a full-blown mid-life crisis might lead someone to throw away all that they have become – to wipe the slate clean – and start over. As its base, the cause is almost always the same. At some stage, a person comes to suspect that they don’t really know themselves very well and that the choices that they have made are not leading them to a fulfilling life.
We're so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.
I began mentoring an individual whose internal conflict was rapidly approaching open conflict. During the first session he said, “I don’t know who I really am and would like to meet me before I die.” He went on to say, “I don’t feel really alive anymore. It’s all descended into numbness.”
It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.
The journey we began was one that is common to almost all of my mentoring work. Our project became to introduce him to himself – to find out who he was and then to explore the question of what he should be doing with this amazing gift that was his life. We began the inward journey – into what Campbell refers to as the ‘abyss’. Our travels took us inward – down into the center of the person he had become. As a kind of midwife, my job was to provide support and encouragement along the path. His was to maintain the courage and faith necessary to make the transformational journey to himself.
Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.
The process of this second birth began by looking for those things in past experience that added purpose and zest to his life. We also looked carefully at those parts of his avatar which were not adding to his life. In his case, he had embarked on career in business. Much of what he was doing could be called consulting. To be sure, he was good at it. There was plenty of money and little sense of being at risk. But the life that he had built around that career was not nourishing his life. It felt increasingly empty and lacking of a purpose that served who he was.
I think the person who takes a job in order to live - that is to say, for the money - has turned himself into a slave.
But there were experiences in years past that resonated in his memory. When he relived them, his face lit up and there was a lift in his voice that was hard to miss. We talked about them extensively – trying to understand why they matched who he was. After a while it became clear that there was a direct connection between the man as he had become and those experiences. Later on, it became clear that he could – and should – refocus his life in a way that filled his tank with ‘high-test’ rather than running on regular! We had found the beginning of the path forward.
But all of this was only prelude – merely labor pains – and the second birthing was yet to come. Before that birthing could take place, he had to decide to let it occur. You see, this second birthing is a voluntary event – it must be not only be allowed but willed. Perhaps a short poem might highlight the reason.
The Wind, One Brilliant Day
The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
'In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I'd like all the odor of your roses.'
'I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.'
'Well then, I'll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.'
the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
'What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?'
First came a sense of shame and loss. “I did this to myself. I allowed it to happen. I wasn’t paying attention to who I was and what I should be doing with my life.” It was a difficult time. Working through those emotions was hard going. I knew what a wonderful person he was but he had massive doubts.
Then came a time of reflection. He realized that shame, like remorse, is wasted energy when the balance of your life is at issue. Eventually he passed through the fire of self-recrimination. Then things became easier. We began to work on envisioning that new, more fulfilling life.
The first thing to be thrown over the side was that accumulated pile of trash that was his avatar. All those accumulated visions that he had accepted from other people as necessities were cast away.
Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.
Blame was the final bit to go over the side. Now the second birthing was able to kick into high gear. Hungry to know who he was, he found renewed energy and purpose. “I am going to meet myself at last”, was how he put it.
Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.
It has been a hard slog – the birthing was not without its complications. Many of his friends would ask him, “Who are you and what have you done with my friend?” But now the journey is mostly complete. Eventually most of them came to like the new version better than the old one. And he is a far better friend, father and husband because he can now say with confidence, “This is who I am and I no longer carry the burden of who I am not.”
It is one of the greatest joys of what I do to see someone find their true path and set upon it with zest and growing enthusiasm. The journey starts with the realization that all those accumulated visions from other people – including the one codified in their avatar – are only so many barnacles encrusting the hull. But stay the course and follow your path and it leads to the brilliant sunlight of a new life and a lush garden.
© Dr Earl R Smith II
PJ, Mentoring Client,
Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur,
Mentoring Client, Deloitte,
CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’,
Partner, IT & Telecom, Defense Solutions,