Saturday, September 08, 2007

In Our Own Element

The following daily meditation was taken from Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening:

"A fish cannot drown in water. A bird does not fall in air. Each creature God made must live in its own true nature."
-Mechthild of Magdeburg

Somewhere in the Middle Ages in a remote part of Germany, this introspective seer came upon the wisdom that living in our own natural element is the surest way to know the inner prosperity of health, peace, and joy.

Her examples are striking; all we have to do is put the fish in air and the bird in water to see the dangers of being what we are not. Of course, it is very clear and obvious for both the fish and the bird where they belong. Not so for us humans.

Part of the blessing and challenge of being human is that we must discover our own true God-given nature. This is not some noble, abstract quest, but an inner necessity. For only by living in our own element can we thrive without anxiety. And since human beings are the only life form that can drown and still go to work, the only species that can fall from the sky and still fold laundry, it is imperative that we find that vital element that brings us alive.

I vividly recall my struggles as a teenager when my mother wanted me to be a lawyer and my father wanted me to be an architect. Somehow I knew I needed to be a poet; something in it brought me alive. The only one to understand was my boyhood friend Vic, who in the midst of qualifying strongly for pre-med studies, realized he needed to be a florist. For something in working with flowers brought him alive.

This is not about being a poet or a florist or a doctor or a lawyer or an architect. It is about the true vitality that waits beneath all occupations for us to tap into, if we can discover what we love. If you feel energy and excitement and a sense that your life is happening for the first time, you are probably near your God-given nature. Joy in what we do is not an added feature; it is a sign of deep health.

-Mark Nepo

*Image from here.

12 comments:

Ancilla said...

here i am... agreeing with you.

just a little note which i think important to be noted. not all people have that "special blessing" to be who they want to be.

some, simply don't have idea about it. some, keep rejecting the intuition because of the adorable brain. some just can't follow their intuition because they don't get supports. and the rest, don't really care about the "calling", they focus on the lump sums.

and maybe there are people who "stay" with me who still wondering the calling :p

b said...

ancilla...i believe that everyone is blessed with the ability to be themselves. we are told at a very young age that we can be anything we want to be if we put ourselves fully into that endeavor. but why aren't we encouraged to simply be who we are, to the fullest? if you look at people deemed successful, often they are just living out who they really are and what talents they were blessed with. in this same sense, i know there are many people demeed successful who are very unhappy with their lives because they are not living out their true selves. the frustration and misery lies in trying to go against who we truly are.

with that said, i think some people have more clearly defined passions than others. i still don't know exactly how or why this is. i believe that most creative people have it easier in this sense, because they deeply feel their passion. but when i'm often told that i'm lucky i fully know that writing is my passion and nature, i remind people how difficult it can be to operate in a society that doesn't really esteem creative individuals until they are published, etc.

i strongly agree that most people struggle with embracing who they really are and that many will reject their true selves throughout the entirety of their lives.

i used to look at in the same way...that discovering my true self meant identifying a calling. and we too often associate that with a career. but discovering our true selves has nothing to do with a career. a career is a job, a way to support our lives and role in society. but it shouldn't be the sum of who we are, even if it does take up a considerable amount of our time.

for me, acceptance is the greatest tool for coming to terms with oneself.

thanks for sharing your thoughts and great insights, as always!

Richard said...

I was lucky in that my parents never required me to be anything other than me (and a decent human being). Other than that, there was no expectation to be anything in particular.

I think you might like The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. I just read it and found it a quite optimistic book.

It begins thus:

The Alchemist picked up a book that someone in
the caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages,
he found a story about Narcissus.

The alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth
who daily knelt beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty.
He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell
into the lake and drowned. At the spot where he fell, a flower
was born, which was called the narcissus.

But this was not how the author of the book ended the
story.

He said that when Narcissus died, the Goddesses of the
Forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh
water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.

"Why do you weep?" the Goddesses asked.

"I weep for Narcissus," the lake replied.

"Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus," they
said, "for though we always pursued him in the forest, you
alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand."

"But..... was Narcissus beautiful?" the lake asked.

"Who better than you to know that?" the Goddesses said
in wonder, "After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each
day to contemplate himself!!"

The lake was silent for some time.

Finally it said:

"I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus
was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my
banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty
reflected."

"What a lovely story," the alchemist thought.

b said...

richard...i just ordered the alchemist and look forward to reading it. i've heard about it from several people now and your comment just reminded me that is indeed a book i want to bump up on my list. what a great excerpt you shared here too.

that's wonderful that your parents did not place expectation upon you. open-minded and supportive parents are a tremendous asset.

Richard said...

I didn't purchase the book, I just borrowed it from the library.

I have started reading Lumen by Camille Flammarian. I picked this up for a dollar at my local bookstore (either it was an overstock or they were just ridding themselves of slow moving titles). You can find an online copy here. (Although, I find reading online to be nowhere as satisfying as curling up with a book - maybe I just need to be more intimate with my computer.)

The translation is similar to the one I have (which is a more modern one of which you can find excepts here - they are not so dissimilar. Normally, I find century old translations onerous - though, that may only be of ancient Greek and Latin texts).

Older translation: My one desire is to listen to your revelations; speak, therefore, without fear and to the point, and deign to acquaint me with those impressions, as yet to me unknown, which are experienced upon the cessation of life.

Newer translation: I have ears only for you, O Lumen, and no purpose but to understand you. So speak freely without digression. Acquaint me with those impressions I have yet to experience, which follow the cessation of life.

So far, I find it quite interesting. I have only read a few pages, but it is clearly a book with a lot of thought behind it.

Cavalock said...

Very good and timely post for me, in my current situation. Not that I don't know what I want, I think I do. Nah, I know I do. Thanks.

But it did bring back some memories for me. I was 'thrown' into engineering a long time ago. Hated it but everyone was saying that's where the big bucks were. Sure am glad I got out of it.

Tumuli said...

You have no idea how badly I want to believe this...

b said...

richard...i received my copy of The Alchemist and look forward to reading it. i love books and always buy a copy of what i read, particularly classics. books are such treasures for me and really the only thing that i would say i collect or keep. clothes, furniture, knick-knacks...i keep for a short time and then get rid of. but my books...i treasure dearly.

i agree with you about online reading. i just can't do it. if it is an essay or an excerpt, sure. but books must be in print for me. reading is more than the act itself. it is such an experience.

how are you liking Lumen? i like the excerpt here. i am still working on Lost Illusions but it is a great book. i didn't expect there to be such an expository look at the power and manipulation of publishing and the world of journalism. but that has been particularly rewarding, given my experiences and perspective on writing, publication and the press in general.


cavalock...i'm happy the post resonates. knowing what you want to do is the hardest part, really. once you are strong in that conviction of who you are and what you want...the world is yours. and for me, "the world" is simply happiness and fulfillment, feeling a oneness with life and yet appreciating my uniqueness. everything else (money, prestige, etc. become highly secondary).

your engineering story sounds like my business story. it is very freeing and rewarding to follow your true nature, regardless of the financial position it puts you in.


tumuli...do you not believe it or are you skeptical? i think that often in being our true selves, we initially feel some kind of discord with society. but remember, society deems many things estimable that shouldn't be. "society" should never be our barometer.

Richard said...

I am enjoying Lumen, however, I am not so sure you would. It seems to be primarily a space-time thought experiment. It is very interesting for its historical place in ideas about cosmology.

Ancilla said...

richard and b: I read the alchemist. for me it is a good book. inspiring to believe that if we really want something, the whole world (including the nature) will gives (or lends) their powers...


b: it is a fortunate event to have chance to know what we really want to be, to have a chance to live our dreams.

to be honest, it is quite difficult to be applied here (Indonesia) and i guess in many developing countries. even though it is getting better and better, especially in the city.
but, the situation is different in the villages or even the sub-urban. a lot of people even dont know that there are a lot of choices to be make for anything (ex. career).

sadly... but it is true.
the positive thing is, we can learn from those people, how to be thankful for what we have and get.

b said...

richard....Lumen does sound interesting, but yes, i don't know that it could pull me away from the stacks of classic literature that i am so eager to get to. but i am happy to hear that you are enjoying it!

ancilla...i'm glad to hear that you enjoyed The Alchemist. it does sound inspiring and along the lines of The Secret.

i think that knowing what we want to be/do is difficult in itself for many people. social influences in particular make this so. certainly in America we are fortunate to have so much freedom, which allows us to pursue those dreams more freely than people in many other countries. i think that the key to knowing what we want and pursuing it fully is education and even our education in the U.S. needs a considerable revamping.

regardless of where we live, what barriers/access we have to pursuing our dreams, etc., what we truly need is hope above all else. where there is hope, there is freedom. and yes, those of us who do enjoy great freedom and opportunity should want to help provide that same hope, freedom, and opportunity for those in need of such.

you are absolutely right...we need to pause every so often and remind ourselves just how much we truly have and appreciate it.

carra said...

Oh I can relate to this, when I was growing up my mother wanted me to be an architect/interior designer. I was pressurized so hard that I actually started believing that it was meant to be this way for me... I was useless at maths, I was brilliant at literature and yet I didn't see for ages just how happy I was when I wrote. Only recently it came through to my little stupid head, that I can not do things, that people expect me to. I am me and if being me means living in a hut, in the middle of a forest - so be it.