The Search For Real Life

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Painting by Taguchi Yuka

“Psychologist Carl Jung believed that all desires have a sacred origin, no matter how odd they may seem. Frustration and ignorance may contort them into distorted caricatures, but it is always possible to locate the divine source from which they arose. In describing one of his addictive patients, Jung said: “His craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst for wholeness, or as expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

— Brezney


When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, ‘Stay awhile.’
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, ‘It’s simple,’ they say,
‘and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.

Mary Oliver — When I am Among the Trees.

Being ourselves without distortion is almost impossible for humanity. Animals and plants obey inner commands without question. We rely on external forces passed down through culture and history that is so weighty we are both shaped and overwhelmed. It’s easy to get lost in all the energy streams coming from outside us and coursing through us from society and unresolved family history. Sorting it all out so that we can be free to express our innate originality is complex.

But that originality wants to engage with the world. It’s not going to shut up as long as you live in a body. It’s up to you to listen to it urging you in certain directions, regardless what received wisdom says. Learning to hear inner promptings of the soul that contradicts all the other clamorings is a skill that isn’t taught in school. We have to teach it to ourselves, but first we need to recognize we need it and that it’s generally missing in our civilization.

It’s up to us to construct our own vision quest, often, and we don’t have a lot of help from our systems of education and acculturation. We have to seek out contrary voices, which come via artists and thinkers, usually. Bankers and politicians can’t help with this project. If you’re interested in having a life that means something, you can expect resistance far and wide, but help is available from a few quarters, mostly eccentrics who have fashioned their own way forward. The arts are full of those people.

Some ancient cultures believed we are born with a spirit called a “daemon” (not a demon) that has a purpose for manifesting in the world. If you refuse to hear it calling, you have missed living the meaning of your life.

We don’t hold such fanciful ideas in our modern world. We’re a practical people. I have lived with people who deferred their dreams until it was too late to get started on them. It’s a sad sight. Money won’t satisfy the soul. Comfort won’t buy peace of mind if life lacks inspiration.

The way our life is constructed, with all its vaunted freedoms, limits us in invisible ways. If we’re going to find our truest life, we’re going to have to question it and not accept easy answers.

Written by

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

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