Painting by Catrin Welz Stein

We don’t know all the reasons that propel us on a spiritual journey, but somehow our life compels us to go. Something in us knows that we are not just here to toil at our work. There is a mysterious pull to remember.

— Jack Kornfield


The Acorn Theory was first postulated in the modern era, at least in the public domain by James Hillman. The acorn theory says that there is an individual image that belongs to your soul.

“The same myth can be found in the kabbalah. The Mormons have it. The West Africans have it. The Hindus and the Buddhists have it in different ways — they tie it more to reincarnation and karma, but you still come into the world with a particular destiny. Native Americans have it very strongly. So all these cultures all over the world have this basic understanding of human existence. Only American psychology doesn’t have it.”

In this theory he proposes that our calling is inborn and that it’s our mission in life to realize its imperatives. He has called it the “acorn theory,” the idea that our lives are formed by a particular image, just as the oak’s destiny is contained in the tiny acorn.

Hillman asserts and I quote; “neither nature nor nurture” (neither genetics nor environment) that dictates the outcome of a life. Rather, it is an innate quality possessed by each person, the spark of individuality that, like a master code for a person’s life, determines the direction in which he will pursue his destiny.”

— James Ladd

The idea that before birth you choose the circumstances of your life to aid and abet your character and destiny is an old idea common to almost all cultures except ours. We believe in cause and effect, the influences of environment and fateful accidents that determine your future.

Therapy purports to heal the wounds perpetrated on us by society or our particular family drama. Hillman hints that we are shortchanged by our materialistic society because of its lack of imagination about what a human life entails. He points out how we exclude beauty as we chase a mechanical and materialistic chimera that never satisfies.

How we imagine life can free us or put us in a straitjacket. Some famous person, I forget who, said that life is either an adventure or it’s nothing. There’s something I like about that statement, although in my case the word is probably “misadventure.”

All that coming and going, all those hard lessons and foolish decisions with their “consequences,” looked at from Hillman’s perspective were just what I needed to teach me what I needed to learn. That’s a bit of a relief to look at it that way because it’s hard not to scold myself for not already knowing what I didn’t know.

If it’s true that we are all seeds of a certain kind and that it’s important to grow into a fulfillment of what we were born to be, then we should stay alert to our natural enthusiasms. We should take them seriously and follow them.

Early on, I hesitated between language and a fascination with image. In the end I chose both, but I’m still trying to figure out how to combine them. Medium has given me a forum to play in as I work it out. In my case, sound is an essential ingredient to the beauty of language. The written word has its own attractions but in learning a language, I need to hear a version I want to imitate.

Trying to learn foreign languages in school was frustrating because it excluded natural communication with all its subtleties. I somehow never got native speakers as teachers. It took years to realize what was missing in all those vocabulary and grammar exercises and why they didn’t produce the expected results.

It was no different with art. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, but progress was slow. Finding a way to make images that had any numinosity for me was a hit or miss process. It didn’t happen in school except by accident, and even then I didn’t necessarily recognize its importance. Developing seeing and hearing at a deep level was the task I naturally set for myself. I’m still doing it and don’t expect to ever stop.

That was the acorn that was planted. For whatever reason, that is this particular soul’s code.

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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