Last Monday, after a typical Colorado October snowstorm, my sons and I drove into town to serve dinner to the homeless. Consistent with this time of year, the snow started to melt just hours after it fell, and what was left was a stunning display of beauty where the golds and reds of autumn kissed the snow-covered foothills in the foreground with the pure white Rocky Mountains jutting up above it all. The juxtaposition of colors took my breath away and shook off the last shroud of the gray morning that had settled into my soul. As the sun broke through and added another layer of gold to the landscape, my heart did the same.
As we drove through the breathtaking beauty and I thought about the meeting of autumn and winter, I pondered for the thousandth time why I love working in the realm of transitions. It’s because these breaking and renewal points bring us into direct contact with the essentials of being human – the pain, yes, but also the ineffable beauty that permeates and infuses our existence – and these times in our lives, when met consciously, bring an unparalleled sense of aliveness. As you know if you’re familiar with my work, I see little difference between the pain and the beauty as I understand that one is wholly dependent on the other: we cannot have joy without pain; we cannot have a stunningly clear day without the gray and fog. And it’s at life’s junctures – the bigger ones of birth, adolescence, getting married, death and the smaller ones of dusk/dawn, the end of the week, holidays, birthdays – where the cracks between the worlds reveal themselves and in a kaleidoscopic display of color birth and death tumble and tussle in divine play. We cannot birth without dying and we cannot die without being born. During transitions, the pain and the joy clatter up against each other like two cymbals and shake us out of our complacency. In this awakened state, we’re offered a hand out of our numbness and presented a window into the state of aliveness that everyone longs for.
While bathed in this state of gold, Robert Johnson’s phrase “taking back our gold” came to mind. It’s a phrase I often use with my clients and course members to talk about the process of reeling back the belief that someone else or something else – some other city, job, partner, car, house – will bring us fullness and aliveness. It’s one of the prominent mindsets promoted by our culture, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing that brings true fullness and aliveness is to fill our well of Self, which means connecting to our own internally derived sense of wellness, direction, and wisdom. In other words, there’s nothing “out there” that will bring equanimity. In essence, filling our inner well of Self is a process of taking back our gold; they’re one and the same.
In Western culture, we mistakenly seek this aliveness in the arms of a romantic partner. We believe that if we find “the One” we will be lifted out of the doldrums of our life and elevated to a godlike state where the pain of life can’t reach us. We believe that it’s our partner’s job to give us purpose and meaning. As Robert Johnson writes in his autobiography, “Balancing Heaven and Earth”:
“The alchemical gold has been processed differently in other cultures and other era. In the medieval period, people had a local saint or hero or at least a relic to hang onto. If you couldn’t have the saint around to hold your projection of the divine, at least you could have a bone or a piece of his or her clothing.
“In today’s secular societies, while we are channeling the religious impulse and projection of the highest value onto romantic love on the individual level, we are at the same time channeling it into celebrities at the collective level. We worship not only the would-be gurus but also the Sunday afternoon sports heroes, the movie stars, and the latest rock ‘n’ roll bands. We create Hollywood and Disneyland to carry our projections of greatness. But as a society we are putting ourselves at risk in this process, for a celebrity may not be a true hero. As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell once pointed out, the celebrity lives only for his or her own ego, while the hero acts to redeem society. We have many celebrities but few true heroes these days. Modern Westerners have evolved psychologically to the point where we are placing our gold on living beings rather then dead bones, as was done in medieval times, but it remains to be seen whether we can learn to carry our own gold and find heaven within instead of without.” (pp. 66-7)
“Probably the next important evolution of Western humankind is to find a proper container for religious life so that we do not unrealistically expect another mortal human being to carry this high value. In short: don’t ask a human to be God for you.” (p. 65)
What Johnson is saying (and is the essence of his book We: The Psychology of Romantic Love) is that the aliveness we seek must be found in our own religious experience, whatever that means for you. For some people, that might mean a traditional religious devotional practice of following the prayers, rituals, readings, and customs of their lineage. For many others these days for whom religion has lost its luster, a religious or spiritual experience may come through creativity, connection to nature, working with dreams, meditation, or through their own innovative prayer practice. What matters is that we stop projecting our gold onto other humans – real or imagined – and instead reel in the projection and claim what is rightfully ours. The gold is our aliveness. The gold is our magic. The gold is our purpose. The gold is the voice that says YES and WOW and HALLELUJAH. The gold is our compass: how we know ourselves and trust ourselves. The gold is our passion. The gold is what makes every day worth living.
Sadly, most people lose touch with their gold early in life. We’re so conditioned to follow the rules and conform to other people’s needs and rhythms that we forget what it means to feel our feelings and listen to our dreams. One of the great joys of parenting for my husband and me has been watching the early sparks of interest in our sons grow over the years into passions and, likely, a career. I wrote about this experience in this post. Yet for many children, these early sparks go unnoticed or, worse, are squashed and diverted into another form. Think about the boy who loves art but is forced into sports or the girl who loves science but is culturally funneled into design. Neither our collective parenting nor our education culture has learned how to get down on the floor and watch our children closely enough to listen for and honor their sparks, their interests, their rhythm, their temperament, and their most basic needs. Instead, we expect that a one-size-fits-all approach will work for every child. The result is a widespread phenomena of children losing touch with their original compass until they grow into adulthood with only a vague sense of who they are. The gold is buried beneath the expectations of others, and then becomes projected onto others, leaving them feeling lonely, empty, bored, and apathetic and susceptible to falling into the belief system that someone else or something else will fix their malaise.
In order to reclaim your gold, you must learn to listen for that original spark, which is now embedded in your inner world waiting to be lured into light and re-awakened. It’s in there, I promise. I’ve guided hundreds of people down the path of re-claiming what is rightfully theirs, and I look forward to doing the same with you through my ninth round of Trust Yourself: A 30 day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. This round begins on Saturday, October 21, 2017, and I look forward to meeting you there.
P.S.: If you struggle with relationship anxiety and one of your spikes is, “What if I learn to trust myself and I realize that I need to leave my relationship?”, please read this post.