This is the last of five posts on finding freedom from roles and life-scripts that interfere with effective leadership and personal fulfillment. If you like, you can hear me read this post.
The other posts are:
“Living into Being” is the phrase I give for life without the hampering effects of subliminal roles. It is a state of openness to life and insight into the fictions of self. Once self has been “seen through,” there is joy and a sense of deepening mastery — and mystery. When negative emotions arise, they can be tracked ever more quickly to a false self, a mask that is still operating from the dim corners of interior shadows, with the goal soon becoming not to get rid of whatever is in shadow but to reclaim as an aspect of that mastery.
Behind the “ferryman,” the “lonely king,” the “weak prince,” “superwoman,” “the martyr,” “the vamp” or “the vampire” are the archetypal seeds of ever more primary roles with which we live our lives — or they live us. Carol Pearson condenses these roles into twelve in one of my favorite books, Awakening the Heroes Within. Her work underscores how important as a human goal it is to appreciate the archetypes but not live them unreflectively. It seems to me the goal is to learn to step out of them, or above them, giving them their due without allowing them to own us.
To both appreciate and move past them is to claim a distinctive human freedom. Carl Jung said it best:
That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.
And so the process of unearthing from unconsciousness the roles we play out is vital, for it is this consciousness that constantly kindles a sense of choice and compassion about our own and others’ lives. There is no inner problem of personality so large that it cannot be placed in the context of a story that is living us — as individuals or collectively as a society — if only we can see it and understand it. If we can see the story for what it is, we awaken as if from a dream. The goal isn’t just to choose a different ending to the story, to rewrite the script or to become another character; it is the process of awakening itself, the act of putting down “the book” from which we are reading in order to go live life as it is meant to be lived, outside the story of our fictional selves. Once this is known, it is possible to see how the self is really just layer upon layer of story, and how others live out their personal fables, too, from the most powerful and wealthy figures who apparently control social institutions such as corporations and universities and governments to the proverbial “lost souls” living beneath the viaduct. And it is also possible to see how we are constantly looking for the perfect story, the one not jeopardized by others and is unassailable by events. Typically, we tenaciously resist the notion of the self’s fictional qualities for fear of facing what appears at first to be an abyss, an abyss on fire (although that is really only beingless being itself). We hold to our identities, our presumed success formulas, with more force and violence than to anything else. We believe they protect us, yet in the end we find they really protect us from nothing.
I could cite a multitude of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics, for he is preeminently a poet of fictional selves, full of the ironies of trying to maintain any identity at any cost against an inevitably dark insight:
I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff,
Everybody said they’d stand behind me
When the game got rough.
But the joke was on me,
There was nobody even there to bluff.
I’m going back to New York City,
I do believe I’ve had enough.
Symbolically, New York City — home — is exactly the old/new awareness that we delusionally create our own identities, and that we are really not able to ever stop the suffering this process causes. That’s Dylan’s dark vision of going from one discovery of ego and its shadows to another. It makes great art, but maybe not such a good life. My own experience is simply that the less we bluff ourselves, the more the world opens up. The more marginalizing roles we see in ourselves, that we understand and begin to dispense with, the more possibilities for happiness that can be realized. Somewhere in his writings, D.T. Suzuki, one of the great Zen masters who brought Zen Buddhism to the United States, says that the ego is as necessary to human beings as wings are to the bird. I take this to mean that our stories are part of our essence like the wings of a bird, but they are not the bird itself. And once this is known the bird directs the wings, not the other way around. In fact, in real freedom, there is finally no separation between the two.
When I think of these moments in which we climb out of our selves, I imagine an immense, unknown, pristine landscape, and seeing at my feet the tiny first shoots of an emerging Spring. There is warmth and light and beside me children’s voices; above me a beckoning blue sky; a cool stream nearby. Nothing has changed and everything has, revealing only moment after moment of pure choice. Bird, wings; experience, experiencer. Not two, not one. And only one question remaining — what now shall I do with the freedom I have been given? (or, perhaps, even more open, what now will happen that freedom is here?) I believe this is the true beginning of a compassionate awareness and the work to lead and to create a better world. It doesn’t come from any “have to” at all, nor any “should,” not a cause, no matter how worthy, but from an ultimately creative choice in the face of an incredibly beautiful universe.