Sunrise over Lake Champlain (RM)
The sun rises from behind the mountains, and golden light bursts over the lake. Though the analogy is too pedestrian for the glory of this moment, it seems to me that an immense light bulb has come on, impossible to miss yet difficult to look at head-on.
The moment before I walked barefoot across the wet grass to wait for the sun by the shore, I was reminded of some lines from Emerson that give exact shape to the sense of illumination and direction that is now with me:
Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There is one direction in which all space is open to him. He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion. He is like a ship in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one; on that side all obstruction is taken away, and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.
This talent and this call depend on his organization, or the mode in which the general soul incarnates itself in him. He inclines to do something which is easy to him, and good when it is done, but which no other man can do. He has no rival. For the more truly he consults his own powers, the more difference will his work exhibit from the work of any other. His ambition is exactly proportioned to his powers. The height of the pinnacle is determined by the breadth of the base. Every man has this call of the power to do somewhat unique, and no man has any other call.
This passage, from Emerson’s Spiritual Laws, gives vital navigational guidance for our life journeys. Every word is as precise as a compass bearing. To read this passage deeply and take it to heart is to turn on the light in a darkened room, or put the sun in the sky.
The talent is the call. When we follow our soul’s calling, and give ourselves to the work, the life Work that is ours and no other’s, our gifts are multiplied, because we draw to us supporting powers from the unseen, starting with our own creative genius.
There is one direction in which space is open to us. This explains why, when we are unsure of or uncommitted to our calling, we find blocks and opposition placed in our paths, doors slammed in our faces, savage reversals of fortune or of health that compel us to ask what we are doing in our lives. Such obstruction isn’t random, and it’s about more than toughening us up. Dead ends and adversity, repeated often enough, can make us aware that we’ve been following the wrong charts. Knowing that we have been misdirected gives us the chance to find our true direction.
On that side all obstruction is taken away. When we follow the soul’s direction, the way ahead is open, and wind and water flow with us. We “sweep serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.” We draw new allies, events and resources to us. Chance encounters and benign coincidence support us and ease our passage in ways that are inexplicable to those from whom the spiritual laws of human existence are hidden.
What we now deliver in our world is unique, yet it springs from the mode in which the general soul incarnates in us. We draw from “that age-long memoried self that shapes the elaborate shell of the mollusc and the child in the womb, that teaches the birds to make their nest”, as Yeats wrote, thrillingly, in The Trembling of the Veil. The poet added that “genius is a crisis that joins that buried self for certain moments to our trivial daily mind..” Yes, but Emerson arouses us to the understanding that the flash of genius can become a steady beacon for a voyage in which the mixed crew of personalities that compose the self are willing to work the ropes together, because the helmsman is unerring.
We have no rival when we follow our one direction and live as creators. To be a creator is to bring something new into the world, the thing only we can give.
Each of us has all of the power to do something unique, and no one has any other call.
Ah. As I write this line, releasing it from gender to become fully the property of all, the sun calls me, laying a path of light clear across the inland sea and through my window, so it shines before me. My pencil, on the table, glows in this brilliant morning light silently inviting me to endless exertion with the talent I am given, the kind of exertion that is no sweat because it is the soul’s delight.
For more on Emerson’s “spiritual laws” for conscious living, please see my book Active Dreaming: Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom (New World Library).