Updated: Aug 15
Sometimes, the best lessons in transformation come from stories.
We're all living out the story of our lives. We're all the hero of our own story. And yet, how are we doing on journey of discovering our purpose and pursuing it?
Personal transformation requires risk, and risk requires letting go of familiar shores and setting out into the great unknown. Our story of becoming is the adventure we’ve been waiting for, but also, maybe, the adventure we’ve also been avoiding. It is what moves us from human-doings and into human-beings. We can often become mindless, asleep to our lives and the reality that we are, more often than not, simply standing still. Don’t mistake movement for progress. We are all certainly busy, but are we really moving forward in our lives. Are we really becoming who we were made to be, and can we even say we have any idea who that person is? Are we in tune with the deeper energy of the universe which holds that vision for us?
Stories are a good place to start to get a taste for that, because they show us what it’s like to live in the space of being and becoming.
The two stories come to mind first are “Frozen 2” and "Beauty and the Beast". The central action in most hero stories is revealed through the call to adventure and self-discovery. The hero makes choices, which sometimes seem foolish and dire, that lead them in an unexpected and new direction. They are guided, it seems, by a higher sense of things than their own common sense. Many of the steps that move the story along, while they seem natural to us in the framework of the story, are quite opposed to how we make decisions in our everyday lives. The characters of these stories choose to following a deeper calling that would never make sense to us in real life.
For Belle it's the decision to take her fathers place, and live forever as a prisoner in a dark, dank castle with a wild, dangerous beast. The story, up to this point, has been spent establishing Belle’s desire to pursue the excitement and adventure of exploring the world. Her heart yearns for wide open spaces, new lands, and more cultured people. She feels trapped in her own quaint, countryside village. Think how much more trapped that castle would be for such a free spirit yearning for adventure. Yet, she casts all that aside in a moment and does what might seem foolish, but what she knew in her heart was right. It's that deep sense of “right” that comes from a deeper sense of being, which can lead us on a path beyond what we can see and what seems good in our own sense of things. It’s a vision of life from a place bigger than ourselves.
For Elsa, in “Frozen 2”, the decision comes in deciding to follow the call of a mysterious voice. Notice, in the first part of the story she’s wrestling with and resisting that voice, because she knows somehow that it is calling her out of the comfort of her familiar life and “into the unknown.” Don’t you wish there was some kind of voice like that calling you to the adventure you were meant for? Maybe there is? The reason these kinds of hero stories resonate with us is because deep down, we know that's what we're meant for as well. We have the ability to live a different life, follow a deeper voice, to step into the adventure of the unknown.
Remember the popular and long runner tv series NCIS? Remember the lead agent of the team, Leroy Jethro Gibbs? Gibbs is the epitome of the guy who always follows his gut. He is in tune with his Body Knowing Center in a way that defies common sense, and it often puts him in conflict with those around him who just don’t see what he sees. But the degree to which that connection works is revealed in how those closest to him have come to trust him. There aren’t too many episodes in a show that’s run 16 seasons where Gibbs gut isn’t a central character of the story. In one way or another, Jethro’s deeper sense is always leading the NCIS team to follow leads and suspects that didn’t, at first, make any sense. And that’s the point. There is a sense that goes beyond common sense, and even defies it at times, but which always turns out to be right. This becomes most evident when individuals like his boss, Director Vance, challenge a direction he’s going and he response with something like, “I just know,” or “My gut is telling me.” Sometimes there’s fireworks, but Gibbs always gets his way, and his gut always proves out. Gibb is a classic example of someone who has tapped into a deeper sense of reality, and who has learned to trust that reality. But notice, too, that the Gibbs character has been divorced four times. His deep attachment to his gut sense doesn’t seem to help in matters of the heart. That’s because the heart has its own kind of knowing which requires a different sense of things.
The character I think of most, when it comes to the heart, is Mother Teresa. What do you think of when you reflect on the life of Mother Teresa? What do you picture? Perhaps you don’t know much, but you do know that Mother Teresa spent her entire life loving the most desperate, overlooked, and unloved. She worked in the ghettos and gutters of Calcutta, India, with the poorest of the poor, the rejected, and the dying. She ran full-tilt to a place most people would run away from, to bring love where it was most absent. She picked one of the darkest, most desperate places, and that’s where she spent her life trying to make a difference. We may all know the public, praised and admired version of Mother Teresa, but we probably don’t know the day to day, dirty in the ditches version that spent decades serving in the worst of circumstances, before anyone ever even knew her name. If you think Mother Teresa had some kind of ulterior motive, that she was trying to make the name she eventually became, you’d be foolish in that assumption. The desire for fame and prominence would never lead you to such a place, and even if it did, it wouldn’t keep you there long. What led Mother Teresa was a deeper sense of love, and a much deeper calling. She was connected to the Divine energy of the universe enough to know who she was, and what she was meant to do with her life. That’s why she stands out. She was grounded in a bigger reality, and it showed.
Beside giving the majority of her 77 years serving the poor and dying, there is a moment that revealed her groundedness the most. It was a speech she gave at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., in February of 1994, before some of the most powerful, connected, and elite politicians in the world. That morning she choose to speak up against abortion, to defend the most helpless and silenced majority; the unborn. What Mother Teresa said that morning in 1994 turn faces red, with embarrassment, anger, and indignation. I’m sure some applauded her stance, but that didn’t matter to her. What mattered was that there was a grievous wrong, and she wasn’t going to let personal honor get in the way of addressing that wrong. It’s what she spent her whole life doing. And that’s why she was able to keep doing that in a moment where she could have just given a lovely speech and moved on. That would have been expected, perhaps, but not memorable. What was memorable was that she decided to stand up for what she believed was right, instead of doing what was popular or expected. She spent her life in sacrifice to help others know God’s love, because she was so connected to that love. She became God’s love in the world, because she was so connected to that love through her Heart Center.
We've hit the body and heart knowing centers. Not for the head. Who else could we point to but the famous Sherlock Holmes! Even as a kid I enjoyed my first introduction to Sherlock through Jeremy Brett’s 1980’s depiction of that character. Then, in 2009 and 2010 we were blessed with a double revival of Sherlock in the British TV series and the American movie with Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. respectively. Both were wonderfully done. Not to be outdone, along came a perfect blend of these two in the TV series “Elementary”, a British actor in modern day New York. There’s a reason the character of Sherlock Holmes, created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, has continued to enjoy wide appeal and interest. Sherlock is the quintessential mind in touch with the world on a much deeper level.
We might see him as the ultimate man of science, but in reality, he has a faith that goes deeper than facts, to a level that allows him to trust and act in a way that would often seem irrational to us. He portrays a mind, not just in tune with an immense resource of information, but a deeper sense of the energy which connects all those facts to a deeper truth. Sherlock portrays a purpose that facts alone cannot give, which allows him to step out and take risks, trusting in an outcome not made evident even by all the facts at his disposal. He is a man who has connected facts to a deeper purpose, a man who knows who he is, what he is about, and what he is supposed to do.
In a way he illustrates someone who’s learned to these three questions when confronted with the data of the world;
1. where is this coming from
2. what does it mean
3. what should I do about it.
That takes a clarity which only comes through the deeper awareness of a higher mind. As we’ve already discussed, facts can lead us to confusion as much as to solutions. Over-analysis leads to paralysis, remember. But Sherlock is not paralyzed by facts, because he’s in tune with his mind on a deeper level. He’s learned to embrace the data and surrender to a reality bigger than his own. He never seems to hesitate when following the trail those facts are leading him on. He is unhindered and free in a way that is uncanny, that allows the facts to speak to him and reveal the right direction in every moment. Facts don’t often do that for us, because we are approaching them with a limited mind. That mind is often paralyzed by the very facts which liberate Sherlock, because Sherlock is liberated from his mind to follower a higher mind, the mind of the universe. He see’s through the facts to a deeper meaning. He sees a deeper message, which gives a clear resolve to act, because Sherlock is in tune with his Mind Knowing Center. We see this most starkly displayed in the scene where he jumps to his apparent death in order to destroy his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. I love Robert Downey Jr.’s particular depiction of this in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” In that scene we get to see how Sherlock actually “sees” through the data to the deeper message as he connects in a kind of vision state to the right course of action. In that scene Sherlock actually goes deeper than mere facts in his mind, he goes to a place where facts meet imagination, which leads him to one outcome and one possible course of action. I don’t know about you, but when I watched that vision complete, and the subsequent course of action play out fully to the fall, my first reaction was, “how was he so certain this was the only possible outcome?” Could it not have gone any number of ways, one of which could have meant defeating Moriarty without sacrificing Sherlocks life? But that’s the point. Sherlock had at his disposal something more than facts. Mere facts would never have produced such certainty, or action. Sherlock had a trust in something deeper than facts, which lead him to one conclusion and one outcome, even the outcome of death. You could say he faced death with a certainly that saw beyond death to the reality of rebirth. You could also say he experienced that rebirth, because he did come back. That is why Sherlock points to something beyond mere human thinking, to a mind connected to the deeper energy of the universe, to what we could call the mind of God.
These three characters show us what it’s like to connect to life in a different way, and thus live life differently. They are not stuck in a mindless, meaningless universe of pure cause and effect. They are fully alive and awake in a much more enchanted universe charged with a deeper energy that imbues everything with deeper purpose and meaning. That is a universe alive with the energy of God. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once put it this way; “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes – the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” Earth is not just lightly touched or tinged with heaven, as if hardly noticed or hard to find. Browning envisions an earth crammed so full of heaven that even the most common, mundane things like grass and bushes reveal God’s simple, boundless energy present in all things. But, she reminds us, only those who have learned to see take off the shoes of their lessor self to hear, see, and be transformed. We are transformed when the world becomes transformed for us, out of the droll and dry mechanism of a deistic clock and into an enchanted world where God truly is walking with us in a meaning and purpose that calls us into the mystery of the unknown. Through the adventure of surrendering to a life bigger than we can imagine, the unknown begins to unfold and become more known. The question is, do you want to know? That is the quest we are on together, which necessarily demands we tap into something so much bigger than our smallest self. Do you believe there is a different life waiting for you to discover? Do you believe that you are more than just a hapless accident bounding through an empty universe, that you are a hero in a story, on the adventure of discovering who you are and what your were made to be and do? To believe that, you must accept that there is a higher, deeper reality to the universe, held together and revealed by a deeper mind, heart, and being. Without that all we have is the hapless, hopeless reality of a nihilistic universe more likely to squash us than pull us up out of our desperate situations. You can believe whatever you want, but you can’t deny the hope in your heart for something more. You were made for a purpose; for a meaning you cannot give to yourself, or find in a merely human made world. It’s written on your very soul. You can call it whatever you like – God, the Force, Karma, Nirvana, Energy, Spirit, Metaphysics – but to deny it is to surrender to a meaninglessness that feels like death. Fortunately, surrender and death are the very means that can bring us back to life, as we surrender our ego-centric, self-referential autonomy and give in to the reality of a God who is loving us back alive.
It can be hard to believe. It can be hard to see things in such a way. But we are not without examples, even in real life. There are real life people who are tapping into this deeper energy, who to us may seem larger than life, but who are actually just living life as we all were intended to. They are the “normal” ones, grounded in reality in the truest sense. But they are anything but normal in a world where the norm is life on our own terms, where God is distant at best, and completely missing at worst. But I’m here to tell you, God is not lost, we are. But we can be found again, in finding that God never left, and never will. We can start to change right where we are, because God is walking with us right where we are, in the common grass, glass, and concrete of our everyday lives. I’ve tried to lay out an expectation for what that looks like, and some details about how that can take place through better understanding all of who we are meant to be through our three Knowing and Being Centers as connected to God. I’ve laid out a blueprint, if you will, for all of that. But now comes the harder part. How do we begin to put that into practice? What are the practices in our everyday lives that can get us from here to there? That’s the question we’ll be dealing with in following posts. For now, I hope you are able to sit with all this data, let it soak in, and begin to at least change your concept of how the world works. It’s not just a giant machine, and we just small, dispensable cogs. There is a rhyme and reason, bigger than any we could create or imagine. There is a God who knows best what our best life looks like. We must re-conceptualize the world in our heads and hearts to begin to move towards a world different than the one we are currently in. We must dream again, and yearn for a bigger vision than this purely material universe of empty cause and effect. If we are to get anywhere, we must first dream of a better place to go, a different place which first requires us to become different people. As my spiritual teacher Richard Rohr likes to say, “how we do anything is how we do everything,” which means that who we are right now is who we will be in the future, which will only get us exactly where we already are, unless we change. That takes risk, and the loss of comfort. That takes a kind of death, and some pain. But it also exchanges a deeper pain. The pain of slowly dying where we are in the meaningless motion of a broken world. The acquirement lifestyle of more money and stuff is part of that broken world. The resolution to risk all that for a deeper connection to what could really make life good is the adventure that is before us. The question is, are you going to be the hero or villain of your own story. It’s always the villain who’s about the status quo of maintaining his or her own power and control for the sake of a personal comfort, which eventually rots their soul from the inside out, and leads them to make choices towards that benefit which eventually ruin the whole world. It is the hero that knows how to sacrifice in the most selfless ways for a cause and reality bigger than themselves, even if it means sacrificing their life. They believe that life is bigger than death, and that even death can’t take life away from them. It’s the difference between Sherlock and Moriarty, who both have the same ability, encountering the same data, but form very different conclusions through very different processes. Moriarty is fueled by ego-centric self-interest, Sherlock by a mind given to a greater good beyond mere self benefit. Sherlock has the vision to see the world differently.
Can you imagine such a world? Can you imagine a God who really loves you, and wants to bring you back to life? That’s the challenge, not to just give that some mental space in your mind, but to begin to put that belief into practice, to the test. Is God real? Is God really there in the ways I’ve described. You’ll never know unless you’re willing to set out on the quest to find out. Is it worth it to you? Can you stick with it long enough to see it proved true? Only time will tell, but I hope you decide to choose everyday the things that will bring you life, and connect you back to the deeper energy of what your life is meant to be. And I’ll be here walking that same path, struggling through the choices, learning how to die and get reborn. I hope you’ll keep walking with me, no matter how much or little you believe in everything I’m saying. Give it time to grow. Anything worth believing takes time to be revealed. It’s not about the facts. It’s about your experience of the energy behind all the data, and experience takes time to prove out. So, don’t be hasty. Let’s keep going, and see where this adventure leads. That’s what I’ll be doing, and you can join me if you want. I hope you do. It’s going to be great. I know it. I hope you get to that point too. There is hope, even in the darkest of times. Remember, it’s what the hero does when facing that darkness that defines them the most, and transforms them the most. It’s that transformation which is the journey and purpose of our lives, and the key to becoming more and more who we’re meant to be, human-beings, not human-doings.