17 July 2013: Can we control our own life’s journey?

Can we control our own life’s journey?

I cannot recall who said or wrote it, but I love the insight about the ultimate form of control is attempting to control the process of letting go of control.  Of course, control is a fundamental American virtue.  While not directly inculcated, it is goes part and parcel with the rest of the American myth—Horatio Alger, you can be anything you want to be—and real men don’t cry.

That can only be true if in fact one controls every facet of his/her life, for if one thing is left to chance, it demonstrates that we are indeed not masters of our fate, the captains of our ship, and that would be the death knell for the myth of the self-made man, the essential dogma in Ayn Rand objectivism, which in turn serves as the philosophical underpinning of anti-government political types.

It takes a strong type of what society considers a successful person—obscenely wealthy—to admit that he/she did not accomplish it alone in that he/she got a little, or a lot, of help along the way.

That’s a slippery slope for John Wayne types for once one owns up to that, he/she has to then concede that perhaps the success in his/her life might be due as well to a supportive network beginning with parents and teachers and on through employers, society, and even government action.  He/she would have to concede: “Maybe, then, I was just damn lucky.”  No self-respecting Randian would ever confess that.  Chest thumping is requisite.

Mark Nepo, author of “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen,” insists that change and the journey, which is both literal and symbolic, are intricately intertwined.  If one travels through life without changing, he says, the individual is merely a nomad; and if one changes without haven’t truly experienced the journey, he/she is a chameleon.

In his work Nepo references Helen Luke who suggests the journey can only begin “when we lose possession of what we thought were the answers and are left to accept that we are not in control.”

“Being lost on the inner plane,” he continues, “can be understood as a disorientation that is necessary as we are thrust from what we think we know into the vibrant field of all we do not know.”

I liken the journey through life to running the bases in baseball.  Similarly, Joseph Campbell draws on Y.B Yeats’s metaphor comparing the journey to the moon’s four phases.  Same thing: quadrants.    Either way, once one rounds third or notes his/her full moon is waning, he/she truly realizes all that is in store is the end.

Those of us blessed with longer lives are privileged to witness our endings.  Others—soldiers killed in battle, victims of lethal diseases or accidents, et al—are not so fortunate.  Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon each of us, Nepo argues, to honor one’s self, which means one is not permitted “to ignore or hide the parts of [his/her] soul or humanness.”  Further, that means one must “make a commitment to keep the truth of who [he/she is] visible.”

And when one does that, he/she has to acknowledge that he/she is powerless to control how others will perceive his/her expression of truth since no one can ultimately control another unless the one controlled cedes his/her power.

In the section on “Reconciling Our Humanness,” Nepo says, “we are presented with many hints or thresholds in Wholeness.”  In that context, he cites Carl Jung in “Answer to Job” who says we ignore those hints at our own peril for “the process of individuation will nevertheless continue.”  When that happens, we become its victims.

How should one then respond to unpredictable life?  Psychotherapist Erik Erikson suggests we chose one of three ways: creatively, neurotically, or reframing, which, Nepo explains is rationalizing “retreating behaviors as necessary stances in a harsh world.”

Most choose the latter two because to live creatively can put one at risk by putting him/her at odds with the expectations and standards of family, friends, and society.  The influence of the tribe—what will mom and dad or the neighbors think?—is the most powerful factor.  It’s tough to be perceived as “different.”

The difference for the person is to lead an authentic life, true to one’s self, as opposed to surviving, which we falsely associate with those in lower economic brackets.  Ironically, the opposite is true: For what amount of happiness can an ounce of gold buy?

To be continued.

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