DONíT WASTE YOUR LIFE

Donít waste your life. Whether youíre just starting out, or nearing the finish line, donít waste your life. Itís a gift, a possibility, that deserves to be released into the world. Itís a responsibility, an obligation, that demands to be met head on.

Thereís a thousand reasons not to live, to exist without being you:

The danger of trying to attain a dream and failing, of finding out you couldnít, rather than protecting your self-image with infinite postponement;

loyalty to those who are not in touch with your soul and its imperatives; the desire not to disappoint, offend, or let down the unenlightened;

ideals of self-sacrifice, nobility knocked off course; sometimes fear disguised as nobility, a palatable excuse for hiding from yourself;

fear of rejection, misunderstanding, opposition, hatred, jealousy, ostracism or harm; fear of being trampled underneath the social stampede, drowned in the sea of the beaten multitudes which have been conditioned to pour over any reminder of their own surrender, to wash anyone still left fighting; fear of doing something different, of catching the eye of the hunting lion and being singled out from the rest of the herd;

a dread of the stress of standing on the mountain top - what if you fall, what if someone wants to throw you off?; the ease of living "below yourself", of betraying the soul that no one else has peered into, by pretending its purpose is not there, that you, too, were meant for nothing, born to waste away in the arms of frivolous pursuits; the comfort of vanishing into utter passivity, of accepting someone elseís existential priorities and justifications for living so that you will not encounter social resistance or be challenged to carve out your own place of meaning in the chaos; the exhalation of everything you are, in order to be less; "letting it go", sometimes disguised as wisdom.

Donít waste your life!

A thousand reasons not to be you cannot stand up to a single reason to be you.

Donít deny the fabric of reality the color that you can bring. Others need the beauty you can manifest; and sometimes, they need you to step on their toes. People rise to new heights when others donít bow down to them. Donít discount the little ways and perhaps the great ways you can make the world better; and donít undervalue the importance of your happiness: the kind of happiness that is not anxious with evasion and flight, as it tries to cover over abandoned parts of yourself, but the kind of happiness that is rich and fulfilling with the knowledge that it grows from who you are; the kind of happiness that resonates with your soul, that both motivates and rewards. Donít crush the pieces of your ego that you need to do your soulís work, the little bits of self-indulgence that can give birth to a mountain range, or put a star to see by into the sightless wall of the night. Donít cut yourself off from the joy that feeds the greatest triumphs of human energy; donít freeze the vulnerability that drives you, the trace of self-absorption that builds the temple of concentration where creators of beauty and usefulness worship (even so, donít be afraid to be not useful); donít surrender ambition to enlightenment, unless you have truly become a Buddha. (There is nowhere more dangerous to be than the place that is one notch below enlightenment.)

Donít make excuses for surrendering to the power of the generic life. You are unique. Donít let anybody tell you otherwise. Donít throw away what you were meant to bring!

Donít waste your life!

In his 1996 bestseller, The Soulís Code, psychologist James Hillman seeks to legitimize the concept of a "soul purpose" or a "soul mission" within the context of modern-day psychology. He seeks to transplant the idea of "personal destiny" from spiritual and mystical realms into the realm of Western materialist thought, and to enrich the idea that who we are is but the product of nature (genetics) and nurture (our environment), with the idea that we come into the world with a sort of cosmic quality that both defines us and gives us a unique life purpose. We are not mere offshoots of our parentsí DNA and child-rearing techniques, but beings far more deeply connected to the Universe than that, who come through our parents and forbears, but whose ultimate reality is not determined by them. For Hillman, the mainstream psychological paradigm teaches us to fixate on our relation with our family, at times to turn ourselves into permanent victims of our upbringing; trapped in endless replays of our childhood dramas, and self-limited by them, we distract ourselves from greater callings, shut ourselves off from the potential of forces that are greater and beyond what was done to us. To heal, to be free, to spread our wings, we need to be conscious of those other powers that have shaped us, to find them and reenergize our lives with them.

To wield this concept, Hillman returns to the ancient Greek word "daimon", which refers to a kind of spiritual "soul-companion", or driving force that links the individual with his destiny, leading him towards the place where he fits into the cosmic order; you could consider the daimon to be a form of inner mystical knowledge of oneís capabilities and the openings which exist for those capabilities in the world; an ability seeking a matching need that pushes the individual along through life towards where he is "meant to be", unless he, himself, silences that inner voice through inattentiveness, fear, or overreceptivity to the opposition or indifference of others. Not quite the same as "the soul", the daimon is that part of the soul which recognizes the individualís place in the "grand plan", and drives the individual towards full participation in that plan. The Soulís Code abounds with examples of well-known people who evidenced the presence of this daimon in childhood, including Judy Garland, RG Collingwood, Josephine Baker and Ingmar Bergman. In the same way that Dr. Ian Stevenson considers the strongest claims for reincarnation to come from the memories of children, who have had less time to be socialized and have the raw material of fantasies planted into their minds, so Hillman seeks childhood proofs of calling to support his theory of the daimon: incidents in which young, relatively unshaped minds display a surprisingly powerful vision of what they must do with their lives. It does not come from the parents, says Hillman, but from something else.

Although we are all endowed with, or accompanied by, a daimon of our own, Hillman writes: "A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim. The daimon does not go away." [1] Obviously, the world goes on whether we miss our calling or not; is the Universeís plan amended by our reticence to show up, or is that part of the plan? Are we needed, or only insurance against the failure of others? Arguments on this terrain could go around in endless circles, without ever reaching a conclusion. We simply donít know the answer. The mystery deflects us. Somehow, though, I believe we all lose something precious when a fellow human being chooses not to listen to his daimon. [2] The world loses a color; the weight of its potential drops ever so slightly, though sometimes greatly, in the scales that measure the meaning of our lives. What does seem clear beyond a doubt is that, for the individual in question, disconnection from his daimon and evasion of his purpose, are painful and debilitating experiences. Like many other sources of frustration and conflict which can potentially lead to depression, illness, or neurosis, the avoidance of oneís life purpose may lurk below the surface of the conscious mind, never detected, never explored, yet powerfully hurtful from within its hiding place, strangling oneís sense of worth in secret until one is broken, seemingly without cause; creating a sense of emptiness that no distraction or consolation goal can completely cover over. We come into the world for a reason; when we jettison that reason, we lose our right to be here, and we know it. We feel like parasites (no matter how hard we work for someone who is not God); like traitors, like cowards. This is the poison that seeps into the water of everything else we do and think.

For those who are young, the message is clear: Donít waste your life! It is fitting that you should seek, within yourself, the purpose of your existence, and seek to live in accordance with that purpose. This fervent exhortation, which I give to you from beside the crater of my own unlived life, is not meant to be a "pied piperís call" to self-destructive romanticism. Prudence and care are most often needed to prevent the unique personal impulse we all carry within us from floundering on the rocks of prematurely high expectations; as any strategist, study your environment; donít succumb to it, but donít discount it; sheathe your visions with an understanding of reality; run away with your inspirations, but donít burn the bridges behind you; audacity without stamina is nearly always fatal. I remember once, in a chess match, I had a wonderful attack set up and ready to unfold, I could not wait to make the board blossom with it; but just then my opponent got in the way, by launching an attack of his own! After briefly studying the situation, I realized that he had the advantage in tempo and that, much as it grated on my personality, I must temporarily put my offensive on hold, and carry out a series of defensive maneuvers in order to ward off his assault. I successfully did so, whereupon I was finally able to manifest the (somewhat altered) attack I had so carefully constructed before. In this case, I lived for my desire, but my desire did not cut the tethers that bound it to a working strategy. I give this example, not to glorify my mediocre chess-playing abilities, but to emphasize that meeting your daimon, and following his lead, is not the same as thoughtlessly jumping, lemming-like, into the sea. (Some souls die by running with the lemmings; some, by trying too hard not to be a lemming, perish in a sea of their own making.) Give your daimon armor, itís not an easy world for dreams!

For the young, I say, "know thyself." If you are not yet there, seek to get in touch with your heart, and your soul; knock on the door of the house where your daimon lives, and ask him to show you the journey that awaits you. Do not throw preparation to the winds, do not put the gun of all-or-nothing to your head; but neither lock yourself into the cage of a life thatís not your own. Eighty years of living your life on the wrong road is the same as dying young, though you may not realize it until youíre old.

And what about us, whoíve already stood our daimon up; whoíve limped through the long years alone, secretly knowing that we collapsed along the way, though no one else discerns the real core of our catastrophe? What about us whoíve survived the danger of our glory by being faithless, whoíve eaten the bread of not being ourselves and lived in the house of the Universe without paying the rent of being true to who we really are? Are we doomed, damned, forever lost? Fugitives from God? Ghosts?

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has Brutus say:

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries. [3]

Are we truly defeated, without redemption, because we missed the moment that had our name written on it, gave up the years that were supposed to be ours? Are we out of sync with time, out of step with the rhythm of our dance with the Universe; forever cursed to dance alone with who we might have been and what we might have done; exiled from our destiny, shorn of hope, condemned to die in a foreign land? The whole world is a foreign land for one who has failed himself and God. Are heartbreak and nostalgia all that men such as us have to look forward to?

Make no mistake. It is better to begin young and to never lose your way. And yet, Fate rarely writes history or life without the input of the human Will. Sometimes the value of what has been thrown away is only appreciated once itís gone, and the longing which that rekindles creates another chance. There is rarely one turn of the wheel in a manís life, which means that there is often another opportunity to accept oneís Destiny, after one has learned the bitterness of living without it. What one can accomplish this time around may be altered, it may be diminished, but within what is possible, enough of the original essence remains to excite the soul and give it one last chance to achieve meaning, and to perform its divine duty. It is crucial for those who have reached this point, not to let the wheel go by again without stepping aboard the life that is meant for them.

Sometimes, fixated on the past, frozen in mourning, the wounded fail to notice the offerings of the new day. Sometimes, demoralized by yesterdayís passivity or by the "bad breaks" they could not overcome, they lie down to die, vanquished by themselves, unable to rise again. Sometimes, self-hatred engulfs them, they despise themselves so much for what they did or did not do one day, that every other day grows beyond their reach. The wheel comes back to their soul, but they have nothing left with which to answer the generosity of God. Again they let it go; because instead of recognizing their longing, and empowering it with lessons learned, they struggle helplessly on the flypaper of believing itís all over. The strong can be broken more than once; true lovers of beauty, let beauty give you strength! And what is more beautiful than a human being who is true to himself?

It is important to be kind to oneself when a thwarted life unfolds in oneís mirror. Most often, we are not as worthless as we think. At times, our blunders and our evasions put us more in sync with our lifeís purpose than we believe. They build our frustration to the "breaking point", until the motivation we need to succeed finally pops out of apathy; until fatalism is felled by Will, and pretenses of wisdom are swept aside by the life force which knows better. They save us from premature deployment and hold us in reserve for the day that is really ours; they prevent us from being mauled by our immaturity, and season the dream with failures that turn it into iron. At times, they are not signs of our foolishness or cowardice, but of the genius of our intuition, which knows that our brilliance and our courage are uncommon, and that they need more time to reach the level we have chosen to live at. James Hillman characterizes Manolete, the famous Spanish bullfighter who stunned the world with his fearless style and apparent indifference to the threat of the gigantic bulls which hurtled past him, as a "timid and fearful child" who spent his time at home painting and reading, clinging to his mother, and avoiding the games of other boys, who played soccer and pretended to be famous bullfighters. Strange and melancholy, Manoleteís withdrawal from the world of his peers seemed to be a way of hiding from his Fate, at the same time as he slowly conserved the energy and developed the focus and the gravity he would need to meet it. Although he sensed what was to come, Hillman writes, "How could this nine-year-old boy stand up to his destiny?" [4] He needed time. Sometimes, our apparent flight from our purpose is a way of preparing ourselves for it. Like little ants, some of us are born to carry great loads. No wonder so many of us flee from the weight, seek the refuge of lighter lives, try to "disappear into the crowd." Somehow the daimon always manages to track us down, either with remorse or with renewed commitment. He who would be born again must understand that the Universe is filled with wheels, that beginnings and ends are only moments, and that there are many places and many ways to get back on board, to reclaim what is precious.

No doubt, time changes the face of many dreams. Sometimes it is for the better; sometimes something irreplaceable is lost, but there is still gold in the debris. I remember once, when I was very ill, feeling myself sliding down the slippery slope of meaninglessness into complete blackness, towards extinction; my body, unenthused by any sense of worth, was compliant, and I could feel it beginning to come apart. Thatís when, suddenly, in the blackness before my closed eyes, appeared a golden light, and in that light the shining faces of some of the kids I had taught in the school, years before. At that moment I knew that, even though I was far off course in life, I had still made a difference even as I fell out of the sky of my most cherished dreams. Where I had crashed, I had loved, and I had beautified the place of my accident. Thanks to the gratitude that radiated from those shining faces which I had thought were not enough to justify my life, the sickness that preyed upon my sense of pointlessness receded. A man who loves is never pointless. A man who is fair, is never worthless; even if he was meant to save the world, that small part of himself he did not betray or fumble is still worth its weight in gold. Our life purpose is like that, a construct of many layers. Even if we cannot revive the full glory of dreams not known, or not lived in their prime - even if Autumn can never carry the missed Spring on its shoulders - there is still redemption in salvaging that part of our purpose that we can. Our foolishness, the opposition we meet, the gaps between our eyes and hands, the trembling legs which flee instead of stand, until tears give us courage, all of these obstacles and shortcomings peel the layers of our dream away, one by one; and yet, there is never a final layer to us, there is never an end to the pages in the book. It is never too late to be a part of oneself, never too late to rescue the jewel of the soulís crown from oneís mistakes. Whether it is connected to a world or to a single life, it still matters.

The old and the beaten have one more season, if they can learn to forgive themselves.

The daimonís youthful face, now so different from yours, may be streaked with tears, but it still knows the way; and you, and who you are meant to be to us, are still the reason it has not gone.

Young or old, new or aged, confident or wounded, do not waste your life! May no false barrier, inner or outer, kill your joy and keep you from yourself. And never let our prejudices or our ignorance deter you!

Don't waste your life!

The spirit you thought had left you is still nearby. You are closer to being you than you imagine.

Don't waste your life!

We are on your side, even those of us who do not know it.

Don't waste your life!

 

NOTES:

[1] Hillman, James. The Soulís Code: In Search of Character and Calling. New York: Warner Books, 1997. Page 8.

[2] "Ö we all lose something precious when a fellow human being chooses not to listen to his daimon", unless, of course, it is a case of what Hillman refers to as "the bad seed": a man who is driven towards the attainment of infamy, like Hitler, or Escobar. (Then, the question must be asked, can the daimon be diverted towards a positive alternative; can it be guided to choose another path than darkness to express its tremendous energy?) For a contrasting view of the "bad seed", see Alice Millerís For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence, which examines the life of Hitler with the perspective that behavior is far more malleable than the "he-was-born-evil" approach allows. While some find that approach too sympathetic to Hitler, Millerís exploration is actually an effort to help Humanity by preventing a recurrence of future Hitlers, by means of providing a paradigm for understanding his genesis through family dynamics.

[3] Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Act IV, Scene III, Lines 246-249.

[4] Hillman, p. 15-16. I first saw parts of this material on Manolete quoted in "Free Will Astrology" by Rob Brezsny, in The Village Voice.

 

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