Not a single one of us can manifest our aliveness, our soul, entirely free of the confines of reality. I cannot escape that fact in this blog anymore than I can out there in the world. To try to escape it here (or out there) is to retreat into a fantasy land or New Age thinking. That said, learning to live as our authentic selves is a both-and experience: it means being in touch with something greater, yes, even transcendent, and, at the same time, being rooted and fully present in the everyday world. It is not achieving the former by escaping the latter.
But I get ahead of myself. Let me slow down.
The term “reality” is often used in a negative way. We talk about things being “unrealistic.” We talk about coming back to reality, and when we contrast some hope or fantasy with what we think is actually true, we say things like, “the reality is that . . .” We often use it to constrain or quell what we see as fanciful thinking.
Reality does, indeed, impose limits on us. I think those limits are often not as absolute or rigid as we think – we can get trapped in our idea of “reality” – but there ARE requirements and truths that we must live with. We have bills, leaky faucets, traffic jams, meetings, computer crashes, illness, and death. We have spouses, partners, children, parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, bosses, all of whom we are in relationship with and, thereby, beholden to in some way. Whether a relationship is one of devotion, obligation, teeth-gritting tolerance, or hate, it shapes us. It is part of our reality.
What I want to put forth here is that reality acts like a hone for soul. Reality requires us to re-examine, refine, and sometimes even scrap what we envision. We usually can’t just forge ahead unchecked – we have obligations or we have limited funds or we have physical issues or things just don’t pan out as we’d imagined – so we must stop and consider. We have to re-evaluate our direction, actions, goals, and beliefs. And my experience is that, as discouraging, frustrating, or scary as this can be, it yields something else. The thwarted life force must double-back and, in the process, finds another way that is invariably closer to truth.
My most acute experience of this so far has been the work of establishing myself as a therapist. Pacifica Graduate Institute, where I studied, provided me with a solid and also deeply soulful education in counseling. I learned far more than just counseling theories and practicalities – I learned about the intricate depths of being human, mine included, and what it means to be with ourselves in all our humanity and the profound healing that comes from that. I emerged from graduate school feeling that I had something unique to offer.
The world I stepped into has challenged me to dig deeper than that. Clients don’t immediately show up in great numbers, student loans come due, paid internships are difficult to come by, and other therapists abound. I have found that a sublime education isn’t, by itself, enough.
You might be thinking, well, of course, an education isn’t enough. I even think that now, as I sit here and reread that sentence. But when something lights you up or compels you, when you truly believe in or are excited by what you are feeling or pursuing, I think it can be all too easy to forget or deny that more is going to be required, that you will encounter various obstacles or life circumstances that will require you to adjust course. This is true no matter the situation or goal, big or small, whether it’s having children or starting a business or working to be healthy or creating art or just trying to doing something that feels meaningful to you. It will not be what you had imagined and you will be called to dig deeper.
Reality has forced me to shape my therapy career out of my deepest self. I have had to ask myself hard questions, let go of various beliefs, and renew my courage again and again. I have had to search within myself for what I have to offer. It IS something unique, I wasn’t wrong about that, but I am finding it is faceted in ways I hadn’t realized. I would have missed out on these discoveries had I not been forced to birth my work within the confines of reality.
And this is where reality intertwines with the transcendent. Our aliveness in all its forms, that which compels us, is tempered by encounters with reality – just as fire, water, and hammer shape and strengthen a steel blade. If we can bear the disappointments, blows, and obstacles and walk through them with our eyes and hearts open, we shine more brightly, we speak more clearly, we know our truth more deeply. We stand firmly in this concrete world and, at the same time, we find ourselves in touch with something . . . else.
© Amanda Norcross and Learning to Listen to Soul, 2012.