Carpe diem, goes the old Latin tag. “Seize the day.” My personal mantra is no less proactive, but more conscious: choose the day. By my observation, what we encounter on any day has a great deal to do with what we bring to that day. We draw or repel different events and encounters according to our attitudes and the basic energy we are carrying. We find doors open or closed according to our willingness or refusal to change our expectations and our plans as circumatsnaces change.
We choose every day, whether we are aware of this or not. If we tell ourselves we have no choice, that is a choice we are making. If we tell ourselves that we have no choice because a situation is beyond our control, we forget that we can still choose our response to the world, and that can change everything. Whenever I hear someone – perhaps a voice within myself – bleating or protesting that the world is cruel and can’t be changed, I think of Viktor Frankl in the nightmare of Auschwitz. Reduced to a tattooed number, starved and worked almost to death, liable to be killed at any moment, Frankl chose to project his mind into a vision of an “impossible” future in which the Nazis were an ancient memory and he was again a respected pyschologist, lecturing to an enthusiastic audience on “the psychology of the concentration camps.” In growing the vision of a future beyond the pain and horror, he found the means of survival, as described in his indelible book Man’s Search for Meaning – and throws down the gauntlet to all of us who tell ourselves, under gentler pressures, that we have no choice.
At the close of a beautiful week of soul healing and shared dreaming in my workshop at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, I asked the members of our circle to choose the day, in a personal statement. Here’s a sampling of what they said:
“I choose to be present today with all of my senses.”
“I choose to have Tiger in my heart.”
“I choose to follow my soul’s purpose.”
“I choose to see my waking life as a dream.”
“I choose to travel with the energy of the group.”
“I choose to be compassionate.”
“I choose to be a survivor.”
“I choose to soar with the bird and see my roads from a higher perspective.”
“I choose the fire.”
My own statement for the day: “I choose to live as if everything matters.”
Champagne sparkle in the waters at Hollyhock. Photo by Steve Case.
When I was last in London, I walked down a quiet road off Kensington High Street where I once lived and noticed that there is now a blue plaque marking the apartment building opposite my former home as a place where the poet T.S.Eliot once had a flat. This took me back to even older memories, of listening to Eliot read his own poems on a scratchy old 78 rpm record in my room when I was in my early teens. Eliot read very well, and I can still recite long passages from “The Waste Land”, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and above all, his luminous Four Quartets from memory.
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
One of the most important gifts of our dreams is that they put us in touch with more aspects of ourselves than we have recognized in what Yeats called our “daily trivial minds.” Among these aspects is the famous Shadow, composed of parts of our selves we have repressed or denied (and tend to project on to others in regular life, till we awaken). But we encounter much more than the Shadow. We encounter a whole family of aspects of ourselves, and as we recognize them and bring them together we become much more than we were.
We also meet our conscience. We are introduced to parts of ourselves that have been broken and are in need of repair. We are given clues to parts of our selves that fled from this body and this life because the pain or shame was too great – or because our dominant personality wimped out on a big dream, settled for a little story and ceased to be any fun for a bright spirit to be around. When we discover such things, we are on the road to healing through soul recovery.
I remember a dream that mirrored the relationship between the little self and the Big Self. Here is a brief version:
The artist is at work on a tremendous canvas. It rises as high as the tower, perhaps even above the table.
It seems unlikely that this immense work can ever be finished. But I know, as I merge with the artist and take up the brush, that this is my life’s work.
“Go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company,” counseled Mark Twain. I’ve quoted this more than once in front of church audiences, when I have judged them genial enough to take it in good heart, or in need of genial-izing. It’s an example of the type of one-liner Mark Twain called a “snapper”, or sometimes an “astonisher”. It was his practice never to leave a lecture platform without committing one at the very end, and often it brought the house down.