Each of us is one thing and many things at once, but we often spend large swaths of life avoiding our own complexity instead of embracing it as a sign of our uniqueness.
5 minute read
Published: August 3, 2018
I fly airplanes. Not as my job, but as a preoccupation. People pay me to teach them (so as a form or work, too), and I love it. It’s something I’ve been doing for over 15 years now, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
Flying is one of the greatest spiritual acts a human being can engage in. When you climb into the cockpit and you take control of that machine, it’s exactly the stuff of dreams. When I’m cruising along at three thousand feet and the clouds part and the winds ride my tail and the great work of the master craftsman is on full display, I can’t help but feel so privileged to see the world in all its glory.
Like the surf-riders of the sea, I ride the waves of the ocean in the sky — the ocean of wind. Some days the winds are favorable, and it’s a dream. Other days, the wind is angry, and it’s a nightmare. On this majestic surf break, it is always different, and it is always challenging.
But this cloud surfing, while important to my spiritual being, is only one aspect my humanity.
Like everybody else, I am composed of many fibers wound together into the intricate pattern that forms my unique self. Each of these fibers carries a beam of light radiating from my inner essence. When my outer actions match my inner essence, my whole being glows with a great energy that others can sense, and my authentic self is revealed.
Flying is one of these fibers, but there are many others. I’m a writer, an amateur designer, a web designer, a storyteller, a cartoonist. I’m a father, a husband, a brother, a son. I’m a reader, a hockey player, a wine drinker, a beer aficionado. And so many others.
No single fiber defines me. I am a mosaic of light. We are all mosaics. We are all complex beings composed of many different parts. We may have the same universal stuff at our core, but we all have our own unique wants, wishes, histories, and futures. We are all human beings, and what we seek is to live out our lives as our authentic selves. But it’s not that easy.
Where it all goes wrong
I love this quote from Picasso, because it sums up the challenge so well. Each of us is, indeed, an artist. Not necessarily an artist in the cultural definition of the word, as in one who creates paintings, makes music, or writes books. But an artist in our own right. We all have our own sense of style and the capacity to create our one true masterwork: our life.
Children are tightly aligned to their own internal understanding of the world, and create without inhibition. I see this in my youngest son when he gathers a bunch of LEGO characters, mixes them up with his action figures, and gets lost in a world of his own creation for hours. He will be so absorbed by the action between these characters that he will ignore everything else happening around him, including his brother. He’s consumed by flow.
But as we grow older and gain more knowledge and more responsibility, we are also directed to more clearly defined paths. As we are beings that require increasing validation from others that we are doing the right things, we tend to stray from what’s at our core if it doesn’t align with one of the paths. We’d rather walk the “straight and narrow” than carve our own path to our personal vision. Over time, our outer actions become misaligned with our internal essence, and we end up engaged in activities that crush our soul, instead of engaging in activities that feed our soul.
Wealth is a good example. The contemporary view of wealth is that it is connected directly to money and stuff. Gain a lot of money and stuff, and you are wealthy the societal narrative teaches us. This notion is reinforced everywhere in our society — through social media, in advertising, in television programming, in news reporting. We are constantly bombarded with messaging that positions money and stuff as wealth.
So what’s a growing human to do?
Even though that view of wealth doesn’t necessarily fit the individual, we often find ourselves walking the path nonetheless, because we receive great praise and encouragement for our actions. But the path is not really our own.
To break free and begin to understand our own personal narratives around wealth takes a great deal of volition, but it’s the work we need to do so that we can put things in their proper context for our own lives. The worst thing we can do is live out somebody else’s narrative, yet, that’s what we spend most of our lives doing as grown-ass adults. Instead of making up our own minds and beating our own drum, we march to someone else’s beat, always out of rhythm. It’s easier, less painful, and people understand it. But it shouldn’t be that way.
It’s not easy, but you can begin to remove the layers of social programming that layer on like barnacles as we grow older by doing the inner work. When we engage with that which drives us from the core of our being, we open ourselves to all sorts of possibilities, and we, once again, create our own narratives like we did as a child.
But it’s a long journey.
I’ve been engaged in this quest for self-knowledge for a little over 40 years now. Throughout this physical, emotional, and spiritual adventure, I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way, but from the best teacher: personal experience.
Living well is about learning to read the ebb and flow life. Like a great wave, it oscillates, never traveling in a straight line. Some days are good, and it’s easy to read. Other days, it’s fed by turbulent storms, and you have to take great care, because if you’re not, it just may eat you for lunch. Either way, you have to do the work to figure it out.
As Frank Bama said in the novel Where is Joe Merchant?, “The best navigators are not always certain where they are, but they are always aware of their uncertainty.”