I’m still processing the experience of returning to California for a few days. Being with family, some of whom I haven’t seen for many years, walking along the familiar sidewalks, catching scents full of memories, and reliving so many times so quickly, some of them good, but many that were quite dark, has left me feeling as if I’ve been battered by too many blows without a moment to catch my breath between rounds.
I’ve gone away and returned before; usually with the same result. Memories best forgotten come flooding back, sometimes serving up a knock-out punch, resulting in my fleeing once again after regaining consciousness. But this trip was different. And it is the elements of the difference from which I’m beginning to draw some insight.
The same people, the same places, the same memories, resulting in the same emotional turmoil, but no knock-out. I survived all 15 rounds, and, although somewhat beaten, not overwhelmed. I attribute a big part of this to having a wonderful companion at my side; one who saw many of these people and places for the first time. In many ways, Demi took on the role of the “objective observer,” which made it much easier for me to view it all from that same perspective. Experiences, and the baggage of memories they bring with them, do not have to be categorized as either good or bad, positive or negative. They simply are what they are.
Another aspect that made this trip different from past ones was the fact that I am a different person today. After a chaotic period at mid-life in which everything was turned upside down, followed by a time of acquiring new life skills to bring some sense of order out of this barrage of internal chaos, the last few years have been a time of peace; a time to step back and consider alternative perspectives.
One of these perspectives was to recognize that some people’s lives go through a series of cycles. In a sense, many of us live numerous lives within a lifetime. For instance, I’ve identified my past lives with the labels of Scapegoat Child, Wild Young Man, Husband and Father, and Priest. I’m not sure what label this current cycle will be given.
One of the early insights while attempting to retrieve some order in my life was about the integration of those past lives into the current one. There is no question that each of these lives, or perhaps “roles” is a better term, remain a part of who I am today. The mistake I’ve made in the past while working towards integration was to too strongly identify with one of these lives, or roles, as my “true” self, and allowing my memories of how that persona functioned to influence the way I responded to current situations. A wild young man is not a very effective father, husband or priest. The result was more chaos, and less order.
The latest insight has been to realize that identifying the past with these various roles may not have been terribly helpful. Each cycle, lasting between 10 to 20 years, was a response to some external reality. It is questionable if any of these identities were connected to my “true” self. They were simply reactions, with little or no pro-active behavior on my part.
In this current time of peace, I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to react. Not every situation requires a response. I can pick and choose my battles. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, however. I’m so used to living a chaotic life, which demands a reaction, that in the beginning of this time of peace, I found myself creating chaos, as that was the familiar, the comfortable, way of existing in this world.
The peace required stripping away almost all my preconceived notion of who I am, what my purpose in life was about, and what the future might hold. In a sense, it meant being willing to stand naked before God and the world, with no defenses, no weapons, and not react to the blows. It meant relearning something I knew as a child, but somehow lost in mid-life; how to simply “be”, and not feel compelled to “do”.
The funny thing has been that I’ve found this to actually be the beginning of this new life; not the end result. Learning to “be” reopened the door to discovering what my unique purpose might be in this world; my own definition of the meaning of this life. Stripping away the baggage of the past has made room to pick and choose new perspectives and new actions to take on. To explain this further, let me quote a bit from James Hillman’s book, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling
Because the “traumatic" view of early years so controls psychological theory of personality and it development, the focus of our rememberings and the language of our personal storytelling have already been infiltrated by the toxins of these theories. Our lives may be determined less by our childhoods than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods. We are, this book shall maintain, less damaged by the traumas of childhood than the traumatic way we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us.
So this book wants to repair some of that damage by showing what else was there, is there, in your nature. It wants to resurrect the unaccountable twists that turned your boat around in the eddies and shallows of meaninglessness, bringing you back to feelings of destiny. For that is what is lost in so many lives, and what must be recovered; a sense of personal calling, that there is a reason I am alive.
Not the reason to live; not the meaning of life in general or a philosophy of religious faith – this book does not pretend to provide such answers. But it does speak to the feelings that there is a reason my unique person is here and that there are things I must attend to beyond the daily round and that give the daily round its reason, feelings that the world somehow wants me here…
“…bringing you back to feelings of destiny…” - that’s the thing this new life, this new cycle, seems to be all about; letting go of some baggage in order to uncover the heart’s desire; to be able to ask the question, “What do you want?” without the answer being hijacked by a reaction from some past life.
There’s some more blatantly spiritual insights involved in this reflection, but this piece has become long enough. Maybe I’ll continue with this another time.