In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself within a dark woods
Where the straight way was lost.
~ Dante Alighieri
Here's more from Susan Lesser's "Broken Open" ...
Our own life stories are myths in the making ... we can all find ourselves in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, in the parables of the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and in the shamanic stories of indigenous people, from the Americas to Africa. We can reframe past events and experience our present life as if we too are gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, warriors and wanderers."
And isn't that why we read? To not only find ourselves adventuring in the story we're engaging, but to discover how the story actually echoes a theme within our own life...? Who hasn't experienced that deep "yes!" of excited-recognition when the words on the page cause us to remember an essence of our true self..?
The philosopher William James wrote that there are two kinds of people in this world -- the Once-Born and the Twice-Born. Once-Born people do not stray from the familiar territory of who they think they are and what they think is expected of them. If fate pushes them to the edge of Dante's famous dark woods -- where the straight way is lost -- they turn back. They don't want to learn something new from life's darker lessons. They stay with what seems safe and what is acceptable to their family and society. They stick to what they already know but don't necessarily want. Once-Born people may go through life and never even know what lies beyond the woods -- or that there are woods at all.
Perhaps a Once-Born person wakes up one morning and feels the beckoning finger of fate loosening disturbing questions: "Is this all there is to life? Will I always feel the same? Do I not have some purpose to fulfill, some greater kindness to give, some inner freedom to taste?" And then he gets out of bed and dresses for work, and he doesn't attend to the soul's questions. The next morning, and all the next mornings, he lives as if the soul was a figment of a flighty imagination. This inattention makes him confused, or numb, or sad or angry.
We all begin here ... as a Once-Born. Most of humanity remains here ... it is the consciousness of status quo. Doing What Is Expected. Staying Safe. Living according to the dictates of society's egoic mandates. We are rewarded with a sense of security ... the approval of the masses ... a feeling of "fitting in" ... and, if we are able to master (& maintain) a strong enough sense of denial, we may succeed in suppressing the soul's messages for many years ... and even decades. Ahh, but at what cost ...?
A Twice-Born person pays attention when the soul pokes its head through the clouds of a half-lived life. Whether through choice or calamity, the Twice-Born person goes into the woods, loses the straight way, makes mistakes, suffers loss, and confronts that which needs to change within himself in order to live a more genuine and radiant life.
The journey into the woods of change and transformation is an inner one. The outer story need not be a soap opera [though it can appear to be], since the real drama is being carried out in the heart of the traveler. The most ordinary-looking lives are often being lived by the most extraordinary spiritual warriors -- people who have chosen the road less taken, the road of self-reflection. Twice-Born people use the difficult changes in their outer lives to make the harder changes within. While Once-Born people avoid or deny or bitterly accept the unpredictable changes of real life, Twice-Born people use adversity for awakening. Betrayal, illness, divorce, the demise of a dream, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one -- all of these can function as initiations into deeper life.
Wondering, to myself ... what differentiates a Once-Born from a Twice-Born? Are we just at various stages of readiness to make the inner journey? Do we have differing degrees of tolerance for adversity? Do we have inherent perspectives that enable us to see such adversity as an open door ... rather than a door slammed in our face? Or is it all about the individual souls' journeys... each of us on a unique path, depending on what we desire/need to learn, what we came here to experience...? Is it that we can no longer remember why we came here, and the job of the soul is to awaken us to that which is forgotten...?
The journey from Once-Born to Twice-Born brings us to a crossroads where the old ways of doing things are no longer working, but a better way lies somewhere at the far edge of the woods. We are afraid to step into those woods but even more afraid to turn back. To turn back is one kind of death; to go forward is another. The first kind of death ends in ashes;the second leads toward rebirth. For some of us, the day arrives when we step willingly into the woods. A longing to wake up, to feel more alive, to feel something spurs us beyond our fear. Some of us resist like hell until the forces of fate deliver a crisis. Some of us get sick and tired of filling an inner emptiness with drugs or drink or food [or work, or religion, or achievement], and we turn and face our real hunger: our soul hunger.
I know those crossroads well. I know what it's like to stand at the edge of the woods, seeing no discernible path ... unable to make out the "better way" ... feeling stuck there, at the edge ... miserably uncomfortable, unable to go back, afraid to go forward... treading water in time ... longing with everything in me to feel alive ... not knowing how to get from here to there. Wondering how to trust again ... what to trust in ... how to even take that first step ...
... and yet knowing that I must. My soul's hunger is too ravenous to ignore.
Twice-Born people trade the safety of the known for the power of the unknown. Something calls them into the woods, where the straight path vanishes, and there is no turning back, only going through. This is not easy. It is not a made-up fairy tale. It is very real and very difficult. To face our shadow -- the dragons and hags that we have spent a lifetime running away from -- is perhaps the most difficult journey we will ever take. But it is there, in the shadows, that we retrieve our hidden parts, learn our lessons, and give birth to the wise and mature self. The difficulty of the dark journey is matched only by its rewards. I also know that every single person in this whole world is offered -- over and over -- the chance to take the voyage from Once-Born to Twice-Born wisdom.
Security vs. Freedom. There it is.
The most generous and vital people are those who have been broken open by change, or loss, or adversity [or all three]. And not just broken open on the outside. Indeed, it is the internal transformation that matters most. If there is one thing that has made a difference in my life, it is the courage to turn and face what wants to change within me.
Do I now have that courage?
Perhaps I am in those woods ... and have been. Yes, I can see that's true. Perhaps I couldn't discern the forest for the overshadowing of the closest trees. But perhaps I'm at a stand-still ... perhaps clinging to a familiar tree ... feeling my insecure need for the cozy-habitual playing tug-of-war with the call of my soul to go on ... to face what wants to change within me ... and doubting that I have the courage, the strength, the ability, to continue to go forward in the dark.
Wondering if the darkness goes on and on ... and if, and when, I'll come into some Light.
Loosening my grip now ... on that tree ... knowing I cannot settle for what was ... even though I do not yet know what will be ... so I take a step, and notice that I Am. Here. Now.
Shalom & Namaste ~