On Soul Sparks: A Postscript

The concept of “soul sparks” comes from Jon Mertz’s great new book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon defines soul sparks this way: “Soul sparks are those small ignitions of inspiration that fan into big changes, new directions, or fresh works. They come from deep down inside.” At his request, I’m honored to share an example from my life and career.

One soul spark for sure showed up in my senior year of college. I was pretty much wandering in the desert of what to do with my life. I was a history major, the default major adopted by people who had no idea what to do with themselves, and that was certainly me. But somehow, in the midst of papers and readings and writing my thesis on an obscure 19th century poet who exemplified the pre-existential, intellectual angst of that time, I happened to find a little 1967 book called The Politics of Experience by British psychiatrist, R.D. Laing. The book cost 95 cents. I know because I still have (and treasure) the copy. It had a cool psychedelic cover — and I liked that — well, for obvious reasons back then in 1973.

Now I’d always had a certain interest in psychological stories and studies, but I was very good at discounting them for some reason. I think I didn’t quite yet know what it was I was supposed to pay attention to in myself. But as I opened Laing’s book and began reading, I could feel a deep connection. I didn’t know that I was about to refine my life. Here is what I read:

“I see you, and you see me. I experience you, and you experience me. I see your behavior. You see my behavior. But I do not and never have and never will see your experience of me. Just as you cannot “see” my experience of you. My experience of you is not “inside” me. It is simply you, as I experience you. And I do not experience you as inside me. Similarly, I take it that you do not experience me as inside you….”

“…I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience is man’s invisibility to man. Experience used to be called the Soul….”

You wouldn’t necessarily see anything in these particular words that would change a life. But for me, it was like lighting the fuse to an explosion that hasn’t stopped going off over forty some years later. Somehow what Laing wrote banged me on the head, took me out of the drift, shook me by the shoulders and offered this sage advice: “It’s not too late to pursue what you want, what you really love.”

I graduated in history, but it wasn’t history that was the thing. It was psychology, love at first sight.

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