As you know I have long sought to elaborate upon the means by which and through which you might come to live a more generative, meaningful, and purposeful life. My daily posts draw on personal experiences, as I feel writing simply from the standpoint of theory on this topic is of little value, though I regularly draw on the thoughts and writings of other like-minded and like-hearted individuals who have managed to clothe the spirit of my intent more eloquently than I perhaps ever will. Yesterday I came across a remarkable piece written by Irish poet, philosopher, and Catholic priest John O’Donohue called “The Question Holds The Lantern” which does exactly this.
Humans have an uncanny ability to domesticate everything they touch. Eventually, even the strangest things become absorbed into the routine of the daily mind with its steady geographies of endurance, anxiety and contentment. Only seldom does the haze lift, and we glimpse for a second, the amazing plenitude of being here. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is suffering or threat that awakens us. It could happen that one evening, you are busy with many things, netted into your role and the phone rings. Someone you love is suddenly in the grip of an illness that could end their life within hours. It only takes a few seconds to receive that news. Yet, when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. All you know has just been rendered unsure and dangerous. You realise that the ground has turned into quicksand. Now it seems to you that even mountains are suspended on strings.
My hope for you is that you awaken to the reality of your soul, of your purpose, by virtue of the exercise of your free will, rather than being forced to face it by virtue of having no other option after some tragedy, illness, or loss rocks your world. You can perhaps recognize the principle which informs this approach in the care of your physical body through right diet, exercise, and rest. You can care for your body on a “preventive” basis, before a health crisis occurs, or you can wait until what should have been fit hits the fan to set about making the lifestyle choices necessary to building a healthy and more resilient body for your soul. The same principles are at work with respect to preparing your mind and heart to awaken to the purpose and longing of your soul.
If you could imagine the most incredible story ever, it would be less incredible than the story of being here. And the ironic thing is that story is not a story, it is true. It takes us so long to see where we are. It takes us even longer to see who we are. This is why the greatest gift you could ever dream is a gift that you can only receive from one person. And that person is you yourself. Therefore, the most subversive invitation you could ever accept is the invitation to awaken to who you are and where you have landed. Plato said in The Symposium that one of the greatest privileges of a human life is to become midwife to the birth of the soul in another. When your soul awakens, you begin to truly inherit your life. You leave the kingdom of fake surfaces, repetitive talk and weary roles and slip deeper into the true adventure of who you are and who you are called to become. The greatest friend of the soul is the unknown. Yet we are afraid of the unknown because it lies outside our vision and our control. We avoid it or quell it by filtering it through our protective barriers of domestication and control. The normal way never leads home.
The fear of the unknown stops more people from realizing their true purpose than just about any other factor. There is a certain leap of faith required here, but handled correctly, this is less of a leap and more of a long, but confident step. Love, the essence of your soul, is utterly reliable. It is not fickle, like human sentimentality, it is eternal and sure. Truth, likewise, is not subject to the whims and fancies of human opinion. Truth is absolute, never in conflict with itself, and despite its many differentiations, is unitary. Realizing this, and seeing the absolute consistency of love and truth in the design of our world and the universe as a whole, you can begin to rely on it more than you might have in the past. On this basis, the unknown, the darkness which lies beyond the short reach of your desperate attempt to control the world around you, is less frightening than you might have imagined.
According to O’Donohue:
Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realise how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. You want your God to be wild and to call you to where your destiny awaits.
You have come out of Plato’s Cave of Images into the sunlight and the mystery of colour and imagination. When you begin to sense that your imagination is the place where you are most divine, you feel called to clean out of your mind all the worn and shabby furniture of thought. You wish to refurbish yourself with living thought so that you can begin to see. As Meister Eckhart says: Thoughts are our inner senses. When the inner senses are dull and blurred, you can see nothing in or of yourself; you become a respectable prisoner of received images. Now you realise that ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’ and you undertake the difficult but beautiful path to freedom. On this journey, you begin to see how the sides of your heart that seemed awkward, contradictory and uneven are the places where the treasure lies hidden. You begin to become true to yourself. And as Shakespeare says in Hamlet: To thine own self be true, then as surely as night follows day, thou canst to no man be false.
Your life will either be filled with living or emptied by dying. Both occur while you are alive. You are either growing in your awareness of your purpose and of your soul’s special longing or you are withdrawing from it. The veil between your inner and outer self is either inspissating or dissipating and you – and only you! – have the privilege and responsibility to make the choices which lead to the thickening or thinning of that veil.
When the veil is in place, you can only know partial fulfillment. When outer and inner are separate, true and complete fulfillment cannot be experienced. Only when inner and outer are unified in purpose and function can what is called oneness manifest. And oneness allows for total fulfillment. Put in Christian terms, heaven and earth must be one before there is salvation.
O’Donohue concludes his remarkable consideration with this thought:
The journey shows you that from this inner dedication you can reconstruct your own values and action. You develop from your own self-compassion a great compassion for others. You are no longer caught in the false game of judgement, comparison and assumption. More naked now than ever, you begin to feel truly alive. You begin to trust the music of your own soul; you have inherited treasure that no one will ever be able to take from you. At the deepest level, this adventure of growth is in fact a transfigurative conversation with your own death. And when the time comes for you to leave, the view from your death bed will show a life of growth that gladdens the heart and takes away all fear.
The letter to the Church of Philadelphia in the Book of Revelation is a message encoded in symbol to those who have just begun to awaken to the purpose of their souls and to reality itself. It states: “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.” The moment you begin awakening to reality, to the magnificence of your inner soul, is the moment you begin to truly live. Until then you are merely treading water on the surface of reality.
Let yourself stay true to the reality of you. Let go of that which has distracted you from this all-important work. Release your hold on shame, fear, blame, greed, and prejudice so that you can be filled from the inside out with appreciation, inspiration, tranquility, assurance and peace. No one can take this treasure from you, but for you to possess it you must be aware of it and you must cherish it.
This is the purpose of life, the intention of truth and the will of love! It is time to stop letting yourself be duped by forgeries and time to start basking in the glory of the real thing!