Higher Living Reflections

The Individual Life

The apple tree never asks the beech how it should grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he should take his prey. – William Blake

How many times have you said or heard another say at a moment of personal triumph, “I can’t believe this” or “This doesn’t happen to me.” Yet, because it has, she is suspended in disbelief.

A good friend recently accepted a position, one that he had ached to pursue his entire life yet resisted because of what others might think.

I recall the day when he shared his dream with me. In the telling, he was quite nervous, expecting for me to reply with something like, “You crazy? At your age? Get real.” To his surprise, I said, “What are you waiting for? Do it.”

The power of that exchange still sits with both of us.

For him, as it is for anyone pursuing a worthy goal, the journey was arduous. It took steadfast determination and persistence, picking himself up, dusting himself off, and setting up for another swing at a potential bean ball. But in the end, he made it, placing among the crème de la crème.

The power of a group or organization—e.g., family/tribe, corporation, religion, sports team, army—rests on the willingness of the individual to submerge her uniqueness to conform to the strictures of the whole. The propensity for many, then, is to allow themselves, readily or grudgingly, to be shaped and molded into the group’s proscribed norm. The reason is the consequences for resistance can be life-shattering: Ostracization, shunning, firing, excommunication, or court martial.

A popular misconception is that diamonds are formed from coal. I understand that over time, with enormous pressure on coal, diamonds could possibly be formed, but they’re likely to be poor diamonds. In human terms, diamonds-from-coal are those often heralded, the ones who conform and successfully advance the cause of the group.

Conformity and coursing the safe and narrow without risk-taking or adventure ensure a safe life. Joseph Campbell compared such to a dog that is fed, walked, and played with. “But it’s a dog’s life,” he commented.

In “Secularization of the Sacred,” Campbell writes, “The confessional, the heretic’s death, and eternal hell were established, like the cherubim and turning sword at the gate of Paradise, to keep men out of the garden of the individual life.”

It’s the difference between waiting for revelation and pursuing discovery. Safe inside Eden or the hero’s path.

The enormity of a life accomplishment, the fulfillment of a life dream for one who, like most people, has led “an ordinary life” cannot be overstated. It took considerable courage for my friend to look soulfully at his life and accept the fact he was living as others had proscribed.

Thought for reflection in the season for reflection: Which diamond type am I? Do I prefer the safety and comfort of Eden or waving ta-ta at the guardian angel? Mundane or extraordinary? Everyone chooses.

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  • Melanie Mulhall
    December 6, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    Many years ago, I dropped out of corporate America, became apprenticed to a shaman, successfully completed that apprenticeship, wrote a book, and eventually became a writing coach and book editor. This was not a path that got a heckuva lot of approval from more conventional types. To his credit, my late husband just joined the flow of it. I make a fraction of the money I made in the corporate world, but I’m pretty sure that world would have killed me before now. I’m alive and a thoroughly happy woman. We all need to follow our destiny path, whatever it is.