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To encounter the sacred is to be alive at the deepest center of human existence.

— N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)

“…you find your genius by looking in the mirror of your life. Your visible image shows your inner truth, so when you’re estimating others, what you see is what you get. It therefore becomes critically important to see generously, or you will get only what you see; to see sharply, so that you discern the mix of traits rather than a generalized lump; and to see deeply into dark shadows, or else you will be deceived.”

― James Hillman, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling

The religious function is probably the strongest drive in the human psyche. If it is not directed toward its natural goal, it loads up the other areas of life and gives them an unmerited emotionality.”

~Marie-Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales

How do we approach what it means to be alive? How can we live as more than culturally conditioned robots? Is spirituality in our beliefs or is it in our inner experience of living?

Being truly alive implies resisting the pressures to conform to a sick society. Being spiritual implies deconstructing our cluttered mental landscape so that we have room for relationship with the Actual.

I started out as a young man — a boy, really — trying to figure out what to believe. I read constantly, trying to support an inculcated belief system I was mostly unconscious of. I followed a trail of writers who recommended other writers until I stumbled on some recommended Eastern thought that brought me up short.

I used to go over to the American library just off the Etoile in Paris, taking the metro back home to the 14th arrondissement. I read the same passages of Krishnamurti, for example, over and over, trying to fit them into what I already believed. I would finally give up and toss the book across the room in disgust.

But because I couldn’t understand, I kept going back to try again. I was brought up on my father’s injunction to be “great,” to be somebody in the world. To jettison that whole construct was to lose my bearings, my foundations.

I am thankful that I had this experience early in my life. I didn’t realize how much I needed to tear down as I began to build my life. I was full of unexamined values. I had no depth. I was a child lost and wandering, trying to find a worthy path I could follow.

I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who doesn’t want to be a cliche in their life, but who has no idea how to avoid the traps set by the world. It’s practically impossible not to be formed by your environment, try as you might to avoid it. The most you can hope for is to locate your inborn mission and to live as close to that as possible.

That’s easier said than done, of course. The world demands its due, but so does the soul. Medium, for example, affords the opportunity to write your heart out and improve your writing ability, but paying the rent this way remains out of reach for most of us. Putting passion together with recompense is eternally elusive.

And yet, some of us can only proceed by dint of love of the work. Putting money first lets all the air out of the balloon.

We really don’t have a choice if we’re that kind of artist. Staying honest is the first requirement of our metier. We still want money because we want to eat and have a roof against the rain, but creating from a sense of truth and integrity are primary requirements for us. There’s just no way around it.

Everybody will have to fashion their own solution to this dilemma. Each one of us knows what is essential to be able to create anything worthy of the name, but first we must locate our core self and essential mission it’s based on. For me, that was a deconstruction project.

I think that’s where most of us have to start.

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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