Is Life itself a Wilderness Passage?
We’ve talked in these posts about various intervals or periods of our lives being Wilderness Passages. Can it be that life itself, start to finish, is a Wilderness Passage?
I’m curious to hear what our very thoughtful and intelligent readers think about this. Please don’t be shy about dropping a Comment or responding to others who have commented.
As to my own thinking, I’ve certainly thought of life as a school, in the sense that we are “sent here” as souls to LEARN something.
And I’ve definitely entertained the notion of life as a purgatorial passage, i.e. a prison we’ve been packed off to to serve time for crimes committed in previous lifetimes.
I’ve even believed in positive interpretations, i.e. life is an experience of beauty and love that we will miss desperately when we pass on to whatever comes next, if anything at all comes next.
But Life as a Wilderness Passage works too.
Marcus Aurelius said
Life is warfare and a journey far from home.
Surely he wasn’t speaking only literally.
Could it be that our souls, prior to birth, in whatever medium they might exist and however they might achieve this … make a decision or feel compelled—just as you and I might in real life—to “cross a threshold” and launch themselves into an “Extraordinary World,” i.e. material existence.
This enterprise becomes the soul’s Wilderness Passage—a hero’s journey, where all prior bearings no longer apply, where the soul encounters allies and enemies, undergoes ordeals, and does all the things that the “hero,” male or female, does in books and movies, myths and legends, and of course Real Life.
And in the end, could this soul “return home,” like Odysseus—home meaning death in the most positive sense … a completion, a return to a state of cosmic belonging and restoration, perhaps in preparation for another life?
I’ve always felt that when Marcus Aurelius said “a journey far from home,” the home he meant was among the stars.
Could there be something to this? What do you guys think?
Maybe we return to the Logos with an extra bit of wisdom to add to the source?
We’re the Logos.
I think it’s a fractal pattern that plays out on soul level all the way down to the journey we take every day. So in that sense home is our literal home and wherever we go the bigger journey is done. But the repeating pattern is what’s important.
Fractals, mos def, Thomas. I’m always jazzed to see photos like this, seeing the same pattern in neuronal networks and the web of connected galaxies:
I love this week’s post- it reminds me of a quote from Richard Rohr that has influenced my writing as a of late: “Only Odysseus was trying to get home at all costs, and he is a stand-in for what we all must be…The end is already planted in us at the beginning, and it gnaws away at us until we get there freely and consciously.”
I’m even calling my current series of weekly email newsletters on the Hero’s Journey: “Home”
Thanks for serving as mentor on my journey!
Without question, for myself anyways, my life has been my conscious vivid wilderness – Jim Sapara
Life is a history I have been implanted with a t.a.v.r. of 29mm. A 2wired pacemaker at age 89 i,am still going strong god bless George [email protected]
Yes, I think both viewpoints work.
To expand on the theme of this life being a wilderness passage, lifting from the book ‘Iron John’ by Robert Bly (based on the Grim brothers stories) I think life’s quest is about brining all the parts of our psyche or consciousness into balance, or wholeness.
Bly talks about the Wild Man in all of us as the greatest teacher. I believe ‘Woman Who Run with the Wolves’ is the book to read if you’re a woman.
We get to a stage in life when the Wild Man calls us and if we don’t follow we’ll limit our potential, never finding that wholeness. The scary part is we need to ‘descend’ first in order to move ‘through’ the experience we need to have into our fuller selves. He talks of katabsis and ashes work for men as metaphors for what this wilderness passage looks like.
I love the idea that we’re hear for a grander purpose, and I am open to all stories, AND for me finding that wholeness is enough. As humans, I think we’ve been given the hardest task of all. It’s like everything, everywhere conspires to throw us off balance all the time. The smallest thought, the faintest breeze.
So as life evolves, maybe our purpose is to steward ourselves and others through the wilderness passage, towards wholeness.
Oooooh I really like your thoughts here. This rings right with me!
Yes Robbie ! I like that you articulated my viewpoint.
Also Marcus A. is one of my heroes! His book of
Meditations are spot on relevant for 2023.
My journey through the wilderness of life has revealed that nature speaks the truth and everyone speaks smile.
During my walk, the one example of truth comes from the FL gopher tortoise that is perfectly designed-evolved to dig deep into the earth. The GT provides a refuge within the burrow that he shares. Shares during day to day living with over 300 species of insects, animals and reptiles.
During forest fires, the burrow is open for refuge to all, house rules are we all have to get along. And they do while in the ground sheltered by the burrow, built by the GT.
The process of rebirth by fire, nutrient release into the soil and balance in the forest is part of the passage. My passage of my purpose. When the fires of life strike, we must get along, and when we emerge from the burrow, trust that the rains will fall, life will spring out of death.
Our passage home continues….
John, on the process of rebirth by fire, I jotted down these notes when backpacking in a Montana wilderness area several summers ago (and through an area that had been burned about 10 years prior, and currently sprouting with new life):
Lodgepoles are pyrophiles: they love fire. Their cones, tightly sealed with resin, will open and release their seeds only when fire has melted that resin. Viktor Frankl wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” Is that part of what’s drawn us to this wilderness in the Rockies? Are we also pyrophiles, seeking the heat of our effort to melt what is binding us and release something new?
I sure hope so.
What I love about this concept is that it matches my observation. Those of us forced to walk through fire during their lives (either through trauma or taking on a BIG challenge) seem to release a surge of growth that those of us who are “blessed” with ease in our lives find it difficult to attain.
As you know, the sages of Kabbalah have been teaching about the soul for millennia. Their deep works in Hebrew were brought out in English, simply and clearly, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in the 20th century. One of my favorite concepts of his describes the five levels of the soul as independent entities which are united only when tethered to a physical body. In Olam Haba, the next world, they are only united to the extent that a person has done their spiritual work in this life. There’s a concept for you!
Yes and yes.
Being in a low place as an emotional, physical being recently … winter and all that … hibernating, you might say.
Resistance has the upper hand.
All part of the journey.
I hope you’re right! I don’t know how that would work cosmically, but of course I don’t know how anything works. Nor does anyone else, particularly at the quantum level. The older I get, the freakier this life business gets. I feel increasingly like I’m a part of something with a mysterious intelligence. Every day I’m trying to lean into it a little more.
Thanks for your continuing wisdom Steve.
The soul is made in the image of the Divine Source. The soul chooses to incarnate on its designated planet to individuate itself. (There isn’t a good word in English to encapsulate what individuation actually entails.) Individuation happens whether the incarnation lasts a brief moment or a single lifetime of thousands of years. At death, the soul continues its journey in the spirit realm based on its level of development. There are two basic journey types (in the flesh and in spirit): 1. The soul seeks greater union with creation through the purification of its created nature. 2. The Creator has placed a desire within every soul to long for union with the Source by partaking of the Source’s Limitless Essence of Divine Love. The soul chooses to act on this deep soul desire and gradually transforms from a created mortal into an immortal partaking of the uncreated nature of the Source. This developing divine being has no limits on its progress through the spirit realms toward ever-greater union with the Source of Love and Life.
Makes sense to me, Bill.
Related Marcus Aurelius quote, that I learned about from Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic book: “Watch the stars in their courses and imagine yourself running alongside them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life.” Thank you, Steve.
Just as an oak tree can be found in every acorn, I believe a purpose is placed in each person. We must listen for that little spark of purpose and follow where it leads us. With the proper nurturing our little spark of purpose will become a raging fire of purpose and we will find pleasure in our purpose and lead a flourishing successful life.
Joel… good to see you in here. BTW, I’m using my Spartan kothon mug every single day.
On Marcus’s thoughts about “imagine yourself running alongside the stars,” I’ve been playing with a mental exercise that Sam Harris talks about, which you can do while walking or driving (and certainly with eyes wide open). As you’re, say, driving down the highway, picture that the earth and the space around it is stationary, and it is YOU who is moving through space.
Now picture that YOU are stationary and the world is moving toward you (and then flowing away behind you). Alternate back and forth between the two perspectives. (I think the exercise is meant to help crack the nut of dualism.) Anyhow, I had to stop after a minute… while I was getting a sense of energy running through me, it was making me a little dizzy.
I love your work and the story you’re living!
Life as a wilderness passage is certainly something I have thought of– this life as an exile from a greater place only visible in glimpses of dreams. It is a comforting thought, but one that is harder for me to contextualize.
You speak often in your work about ‘pulling the pin’ about going off on your own to face the unknown. But for me, and a lot of women (and even a few men), this not possible and so frames my idea of what lies ahead differently.
While others may strike out on their own, it is often women who must bear the yoke of responsibility. We raise the children, sometimes even our own siblings, we are still left socially and morally responsible for the care of the household. We are hearth-keepers with no one to care for us. We are a sacrifice. Because when someone pulls the pin, someone else has to be there to pick up the pieces. That has been me a dozen times over.
The closest people like myself come to a wilderness journey is an exile of self for the greater good. I know a woman who said she was looking at a picture of herself right before her first child was born and she cried. She couldn’t even remember who she had been, who she really was, what her dreams were. And so it is no surprise that a life time spent in sacrifice ends as a sacrifice.
I would like to believe in vibrant green fields where heroes walk with gods and the sun never fails to warm us. But in reality, I must confess I can only see what made us going back to nourishing the mother that is our world. Whether out of duty or a desperate need for my own nourishment, I hope what life I have lived can sustain her just a little more. I hope the words I have left behind can encourage someone to step from the darkness, to stride forward when all feels lost, to lift up the next generation with what strength they have. And that is all. I want more. I expect less. And I am desperate for my own sacrifice to not be meaningless.
“And I am desperate for my own sacrifice to not be meaningless.”
That hit me right in the solar plexus. I know that feeling myself. The older I get, the more I find meaning in the smallest of actions compared to the ‘heroic’ attempts at achievement I’ve entertained in the past.
Ugh. Still unclear. What I’ve began to understand for myself is that what I once thought mattered was nothing more than fear and ego driven attempts at safety (right career, education, good job, money…) when that illusion is empty. There is no there there. Hedonic treadmill. Mimetic desire. False Gods/Idols. Swimming in a toxic culture of Huxlian & Orwellian prescience.
“We had to choose between Truth and Beauty or Comfort and Happiness…” says the Controller to the Savage…
What is now meaningful to me would frighten/confuse a younger Brian as too common, too mundane, too vanilla.
My hunch, from reading your post, is that you lead a meaningful life to those around you. My suspicion is meaning leaks out of you onto/into others every day.
It is in the smallest of things that we find the greatest joy. I thank you for your kind words, Brian. They will carry me today. I hope to be doing twice as well as I think I am. 😉
Good words, B.
Colleen, I hope you find that you are not excluded from adventure. And as I read your heartfelt words, I wonder if the “vibrant green fields where heroes walk with gods” and this mother that we nourish as “our world” is one in the same. Glad you’re here!
Thank you I’m glad to be here.
-Colleen M.(aka CM O’Slatara)
I think this is exactly right, Steve.
Namaste to all : )
This series makes me think of the 23rd Psalm
We will make it through the valley.
This was essentially what Edgar Cayce said: that in between incarnations, we choose our next life: one that will provide the lessons we need to learn, however difficult they may be.
I’m not certain of any particular, cosmology, but this one is certainly attractive: picturing our current lives as providing what we have chosen, what we have caused, what we deserve, and what we need.
So that justice is being served, even for people with a crummy life
The Buddha had a similar Wilderness Passage to find the source of happiness. He searched for God everywhere, and at last found that God was within him. He realized that he himself was an embodiment of ananda (Bliss). He searched for ananda like a man who searched for his spectacles while they were on his nose all the time! The Buddha searched for bliss everywhere and at last found it within him.
It seems the Wilderness Passages from The Odyssey, to Siddhartha, are here to remind us that “returning home” is about realizing we are one with everything. And until we truly accept this realization our journey will continue, either in this life or in many to follow.
Jesus said that the “kingdom of God is within”.
Life is, without a doubt, something challenging and pedagogical, being the desert of our souls, a place of silence and learning for new stages and conquests, where the duality of life allows us to walk and learn always!
I am currently in the hospital, following a stroke on January 17, in my right basal ganglia, leaving my left side incapacitated. And while I couldn’t call the experience pleasant, I have had some very interesting moments and very good conversations with the hospital staff here at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction Colorado. It certainly helps me to remind myself that these are lessons I need to be learning.
I send you my hope for you, strength to recover.
Thanks, Kathy. Much appreciated.
Of course. This is a tough one.
Sending you some healing light, Bill.
You ask much, Steve. I considered giving this week a pass. I come from a family with narcissistic tendencies and loathe to share too much personal. But maybe, my words may shine a tiny light and help another.
Yesterday, I sat and listened as Mom related a story I heard many times.
Mom said, “I always wanted to be a medical secretary.” Mom, a friend, and her sister traveled to Washington, D.C. in search of jobs. They secured a room at the Y. All three took a test, passed, and were handed job assignments. Before they reported for work, they chickened out and called an uncle to bring them home. Mom’s voice held regret. (I’d recently heard regret in many of her stories.)
“Why didn’t you stay?” I asked.
“Everyone else wanted to go home.” She said. In her excuse, I saw she couldn’t fight resistance. Looking back, Mom gave into resistance a lot and made excuses (the reason for the recent barrage on regrets.)
I’ve had to initiate many uncomfortable conversations with Mom lately. At one point, I asked point blank, “Mom, you don’t like to face anything uncomfortable, do you?” She answered, “ No, I don’t.” She was emphatic.
In never facing a challenge, Mom became a scared little rabbit, alternately freezing or running from life. There’s a bitterness surfacing in her.
Steve, you ask, “And in the end, could this soul “return home,” like Odysseus—home meaning death in the most positive sense … a completion, a return to a state of cosmic belonging and restoration, perhaps in preparation for another life?”
Mom fears even a mention of death. I wonder, does she feel she’s never fulfilled her purpose? Is she afraid to “return home” without accomplishing her goal? Will she be presented with an even greater challenge and this is the reason for her fear? Of course, I don’t ask. She is an expert in changing the subject. Mom won’t raise her head to look at the final challenge and will be swept along without active participation.
Please understand, I don’t judge Mom. No words on what a good Mom she was can change her opinions about herself. Mom wanted more. But didn’t take a chance, work for it. I feel sorrow that Mom might leave this Earth with thoughts of an unfulfilled life.
Life is hard, one challenge after another. “Why are we here?” is the most daunting question with no definitive answer. Facing the wilderness is choosing to live life no matter what is tossed your way. Throwing yourself into the wilderness on purpose may make you an idiot or a hero or both.
A wilderness passage will always grant one thing: You will be a better human for taking up the journey.
I cling to that thought. I wish all a pair of sturdy shoes to carry you along the trail. Go.
Steve, you ask, “Can it be that life itself, start to finish, is a Wilderness Passage?” Hell, YES!
Thanks for giving us all a push in the right direction.
I’ve lived with 2 people like your mom, Jackie, and watching the excuses and regrets is so painful. It made/makes me angry but also is such a great lesson, a motivator to not fall into that same trap, to keep going no matter how hard it is. I agree, too, Hell, YES! And, it helps doesn’t it to look at life like that, to see it as a continuum, a complete journey, building on what’s come before and looking forward with anticipation to what comes next.
Thanks Lin. It is painful to watch. My motivator was my daughter. With her health issues early on, she needed a stronger example to follow. I like the idea of a continuum, a complete journey with anticipation to what comes next.
Thanks for sharing this, Jackie (and for overcoming your reticence in doing so). I think sometimes we can look to others for examples or templates for us to follow (or to avoid) in our own lives. We adore heroes because they show us that courage and sacrifice is a possibility — even for us. People who succumb to the drag of Resistance show us that darkness and unfulfillment is an option too — one that we don’t need to follow, because we can see that it’s been done before.
To fail is to never make an attempt. Thanks Joe.
Thanks for sharing this, Jackie. My mom had a tough early life and some mental health challenges, and when I was growing up I worried that I had inherited her mental health challenges. And I sometimes think, we are held aloft on the shoulders of our ancestors. As we see the Shadow that they cast, we can choose to bring that shadow into the light (as well as our own) and choose a different path. We are all part of Source, and the Journey is both our own and a communal one. I love the word “fractal” to describe this. We are fractals of Source, as Fr Sean O’Laoire says.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, “if you bring forth what is in you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.” An apt description of Shadow.
I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My whole life I’ve never needed to wonder about these questions as our scriptures contain the answers—that before this life we lived in the presence of God as His Spirit sons and daughters, that God is our loving Heavenly Father and has an immortal, glorified physical body, and that THIS WORLD was part of his plan for us, that we could come here, receive a physical body, and be tested, learn how to make choices outside of his presence, and learn how to overcome, with His help, all the challenges that we will face with this body—pain, lust , selfishness , and ultimately decide what type of life we want to live when we return to the eternal world where we never die. It brings me immeasurable comfort to believe in these things because they are good and I find them uplifting, they bring out my best. I share this respectfully, kindly. Everyone gets to believe what they will! I just want people to be happy and wouldn’t it be great if the answers were actually here somewhere? 🙂
That being said I feel like my whole life is a wilderness passage, that my life on earth is a sojourn from my real home and sometimes it freaking sucks ha. So I’m with Marcus Aurelius on the whole thing ‘ a war far from home’
I like this analogy very much. I found my consciousness expanding as I read it. Thanks for putting it out there. Much appreciation!
The birds sing us to joy and the dolphin tails whack us to the ring of endless light. And we move into the forests for a hike to remember what our true purpose is really about. Each human condition hardship in the this life is different and yet none of us are more than reasonably happy. My great grandmother said this was “hell”. There is an element of truth to it if you knew her story. And the first comment on here says: “Maybe we return to the Logos with an extra bit of wisdom to add to the source?” What if it’s not wisdom but love?
Martha and Mary
Prodigal son and resident son
None of us gets a pass.
Les Miserable is such a beautiful story and it’s all I can think of when I read your passage, Steve.
“What if it’s not wisdom but love?” Great question, then I had this thought: What if wisdom is love?
I was listening to a podcast when a new father mentions that he cannot see the Down Syndrome in his son, he only sees a beautiful boy. The interviewer responds with, “Maybe that’s what love it. The ability to actually see someone clearly, fully.” Paraphrase at best, but I love the sentiment.
It is wise to see the world through loving eyes when everything we see is just another combination of the same 4 letters…
The difference in how I see the world after walking my dogs–when I’m able to witness the pure joy of existence my dogs exude when playing together in a huge open field–is wholly different than the world I see when I”m grumpy. The difference, I think, is love.
I also think this is what Paul means in 1 COR 13: …when I became a man, I put the ways of a child behind me…”
Paul outlines this unachievable (so far it has been for me) definition of love–and it seems to me pauses and thinks, “What am I trying to say?” Love is the only adult response to the world. I think that is what he means when he says I put the ways of a child behind me.
Anyway, I loved your post. Got me to thinking–which sometimes is beneficial!
“Please don’t be shy about dropping a Comment or responding to others who have commented.” — Thanks for encouraging the dialogue, Steve. So many times, this Comment string makes WWeds an even richer experience.
Life as a school. I can get on board with that. I’ve got in mind a similar metaphor: Are these lives we’re living similar to the experience of going to the movie theater? You stand in front of the marquee and look at the movie selections available to you (life stories you’re free to experience?). You can choose a drama, romantic comedy, a war film, a horror movie, sci-fi/futurist picture, a tragedy, a sports film.
We leave the wider well of consciousness to enter a cave where we experience these lifetimes (ie, stories/narratives). In these film worlds, we experience real emotions, cry real tears, laugh real laughter, and even feel physical sensations, wincing in sympathetic pain or flinching in surprise. But even in the midst of experiencing these worlds of shadow and light, we know that we can’t be hurt. Even though we’ve given ourselves over to the role of doughboy in a muddy trench in Belgium or a prostitute with the heart of gold or a hero fighting to save his family, we know that there’s a part of us that is immortal, and which will survive this 120-minute lifetime.
Our lives as a wilderness journey: sure enough. From the get-go, we’re drifting in aquatic peace where all our needs are satisfied, and expelled into a wilderness of light and noise and cold.
Thanks to everybody for some amazing and great Comments. I’m posting this here, after Joe’s, but I know a bunch more “good stuff” will be coming in. Thanks for being so thoughtful and so brave.
I’m worried this is your way of saying goodbye to us, Steve!
My thoughts on home, I have pondered on the stars, in the books, and the web, I think this existence is a learning field, there is definitely beauty and pain. But I now believe it’s what we make of it, we define the world, each of us, there are common experiences, that even seemed to be shared for a moment, then we return home, to ourselves.. Home is in you, not out there. The hero’s journey is inward, return home to find peace.
When younger, I spent many hours reading many words surrounding the possibilities of This Life. After all those hours, I realized no one “knew.”
This Wilderness is there as it is here: The Great Mystery.
Such a relief to release the searching.
I – and you, indeed, all of us – will know soon enough. So freeing to simply Live. And finish my books.
I feel like we’re reaching, continuously, for higher selves. We are always ready for the next world. I am not saying we are always prepared for death. The word death may not apply, because many know, believe, or feel something is “next” for what we believe is the future if indeed it is future. Do we die first? Yes, in the traditional sense. But I believe it’s the body only that dies. It’s worn out, diseased, dismantled, or taken by will. The soul travels on and becomes another worker for a cause unknown. When a young child remembers a past life, it is a remarkable sign we must pay attention to. Does it solve the big mystery of reincarnation?
I love this offering, thank you Steve. YOu seem to be on the same thought pattern that I have, trying t use labels and names for the journey of the soul, or the being, or the divine. It makes sense to me that we are to here being punished without recourse, and it seems sensible that we are not here being rewarded, again, without cause, and I personally do not believe in a punishing eternal judge that set up a trap without hope. So – what does make sense is your wilderness image, and the heroes journey, if we can take it, and take from it what is ours to own and evolve with. The story of one’s life becomes one’s life work, then. The “story” that I tell myself is a thread that I must unravel, and within which tapestry I must locate the truth beyond the ‘story’. I find that in all things, I lie to myself, and need to pull on the thread to see what is real and what is self delusion. Makes for an I interesting, yet full life.
It’s that timeworn question, ‘what is life?’. I think the answer to such a big question has to come from a cosmic perspective. We exist in an infinitely large field of fluctuating energies that manifest countless dimensions of reality, one of which is mother earth and her inhabitants. We mere mortals are of negligible importance in the grand scheme of things and, judging by the way many seem hell bent on destruction, we may well be the lowest form of life.
Whether this is a Wilderness Passage or an accidental merging of energies, my mantra for the best possible outcome is ‘Breathe, Eat, Move, Sleep, Love, Laugh’. Oops, almost forgot, Do The Work! (thanks for today’s topic & discussion)
Since my husband passed on to his lighter body 10 months ago, I am still in a realm of screaming out to what feels like nothing. It was someone else who told me he passed on to his lighter body. Described that way, I at least find hope., but of course, no one knows. I keep thinking, what is all this? And I keep thinking how cruel it feels. My husband believed in reincarnation. I hope he was right. When I left the hospital room after the last electrical current ended, I called back to him that I would meet him where Scorpio meet Libra. Please let that be possible. I am fortunate enough to be loved, truly loved and I am fortunate to have lived. We are stardust.
Bummer. Typos with no edit available.
I am fortunate to have been loved and to love in return. To know the intensity that love is capable of being. It breathes. I knew that. I still know that. I was blessed with something brilliant and rare and I am thankful, of course I am, but the miss is painful and empty. What is all this? I keep thinking that there better be a good f- ing answer.
I am sorry the pain is still so raw. My spouse also passed away– last spring. The troughs of grief can be desolate, but you will endure them. What other choice is there but to endure? And you don’t have to stop loving him simply because he is dead.
I have my dad’s picture and my husband’s picture on a shelf next to a shot glass. Sometimes we have a drink together. Usually, I look at their pictures and say, ” You better help me with these kids.” The humor makes it easier and they both would have appreciated the sentiment. It’s the best way I can remember them.
Give yourself the joy you know he would have wanted you to have. Let that be the light and love that lives on in you.
How kind of you, especially since you lost your husband around the same time. I’m so sorry.
Someone asked me, haven’t you ever experienced anyone dying before? Yes, many deaths and even violent ones in my family, but this is different, isn’t it? Losing an intimate partner in life and one you were always meant to be with is different,.
It’s all puzzling to put it mildly and it haunts me continually as to the reason for all this. People suffer because why? We die because why? We find our purpose, hopefully, carry out endeavors because why?
I don’t know.
A book was suggsted in this forum, Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms by David Kessler. The book is worth a read. BTW, thanks for suggesting it, Joe.
Kathy… Jackie makes a good suggestion. We can see the ubiquity of this experience we observe in dying people: as they move closer to the river, they’ll have the experience of seeing their mother (who died in 1965) or their child (who died as a toddler) or some other loved one. But not those still living on this earth, but ones who had passed over ahead of them.
The question that’s interesting to me: are the spirits of those deceased loved ones only showing up when we’re getting ready to pass over? Or are they around all the time, and it’s our own state of consciousness in the dying process that allows us to perceive them?
Either way, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to believe that they’re close by and aware of us. To me, that feels like a comfort.
I’m not sure if it’s real or not, I want it to be so maybe that’s enough right now but I imagine myself breathing in my husbands breath.
The night after he passed I was sleeping in our bed. I was awakened from a dream by a very loud man’s voice saying, “BREATHE”. I sat up in bed and looked around. It was shocking really to hear such a loud voice. With that I thought… ohh I’m going to find him. Thus all my psychic books and obsession with watching stuff on Gaia. Surely there is more. Still, I doubt but don’t doubt the very next minute.
Thank you. I’ll get it. I have a huge library now to help. The best one so far is “It’s Okay That You’re Not Ok”. It’s validated my protest and isolation. I’ve also got a big library of psychic stuff. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find my husband and he can assure me we’ll still meet. I’m holding on to that.
Oops, I answered down below.
Thank you Steve for inviting everyone to post their thoughts to THE existential question. WTF is this thing we call life.
Reading everyone’s comments so far (I’ll be checking in throughout the day) has been the full spectrum of emotions and thoughts.
It is wonderful to read the thoughts of those who post less frequently as well. What a wise tribe Steve has assembled.
I used to talk to my father about what happens after death. I gave him my take, which is pretty much what Steve described in this post. About a year after he passed, my cousin called me after a reading with her psychic, who had asked “Who is Nick? He has a message for someone named Susan.” Nick was my da and the message, which made no sense to my cousin was “Tell her she was right.” It made sense to me.
Love, love, love this.
Echoing Joe. That is terrific.
I love this too.
Steve’s memoir strikes me as this post in book form. Especially the last line! Which I’m leaving out so I don’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it.
Something else worth mentioning, I hope. It isn’t so much whether what Steve proposes is plausible (and I think it is), but whether it helps.
I used to make a point of telling myself “I am now entering the disapproval chamber” when I worked for a not-so-savory boss or spent time with people who were best loved (as the saying goes) from a distance.
It helped. It reminded me they had a right to their opinions, but not to my health. I donned an invisible disapproval-deflecting jacket, which — corny as it sounds — helped a lot, too.
One of the best things I ever did as I entered those disapproval chambers was pretend I was watching a movie, or remember that my life is a movie. Every good story has its share of villains. No sense railing against the very thing that keeps life interesting!
“disapproval-deflecting jacket” Perfect, Maureen! I have something similar, which has gotten worn and patched over the years, but it definitely helps!
Psychic armor! An angel aspis!
Any chance in borrowing the jackets or armor? I’m taking Mom shopping tomorrow.LOL.
I have tried all my life to live without regrets, to do my best and to learn from the past. Now that I’ve had my ‘Beatles’ birthday’ I see more and more to learn from but I still try not to have regrets. Last week, C M O’Slatara posted here and I checked out her blog. She wrote about a new way of looking at Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken. She describes it much better than I can, but the essence is, we don’t know where either road leads. we won’t know until we’ve traveled on it. https://www.cmoslatara.com/post/the-road-taken
And, some of the worst experiences (at the time) have been my greatest teachers. Right now, is a really hard time but I’m trying each day to see it as an opportunity to grow and learn and not as a burden or something to be avoided. I did a lot of avoiding last year–and I thank Steve and all of you here for helping me through it.
i just finished an epic sci-fi tetralogy by the historian, Ada Palmer. Terra Ignota is the name of the series which starts with the novel, Too lIke the lightning. Set on Earth beginning in 2454, these novels includes Homer and Hobbes and everything in between. The most relevant thing to today’s discussion is the idea in the books of the vocateur, a person who dedicates their life to some pursuit, intellectual, creative, athletic, whatever to add to the sum total of our species experience and knowledge. After reading the books, I realized that is how I have tried to live, as best as I can, sometimes better than others, but always trying to grow and become and learn. I have no idea whether this will transcend my life or not. It doesn’t really matter. I would rather just keep going, not worrying about the outcome.
I tell my students (I teach weaving and other fiber arts) to focus on the process not the product , that the experience of creating wholeheartedly is the most important thing. And, I look at my life that way too as a process not a product.
Best wishes to all of you in your process this week.
Thank you so much for the compliment. I am glad you enjoyed the blog.
I love your analogy of life as a weaving, about the importance of the process. It offers a lot more grace than we are usually willing to give ourselves.
Lin: vocateur = bodhisattva?
Interesting thought, Joe. There are characters you could say that about, but in general it doesn’t apply. Hard to describe it in a short comment without going into the story but it is more striving the best you can be, some by service, others by achievement. This is 4 books of more than 1700 pages and the vocateur is only one aspect of the world society.
Ohh my gosh, YOU ROCK! I want to grow up (emotionally) and be just like you.
I’m an artist too. I know the point is to enjoy the process, but then there’s that money strategy that hangs me up and the process is tainted. The outcome becomes the dominate force. I paint and sculpt. I’ve noticed there’s a huge difference as far as being swept away into that zone between sculpture and oil painting. You know, the zone where when finished, you can’t believe it was you who did it? That’s the zone of loving the process I guess. Anyway, I decided to not sell anything at all. Try to disconnect from that pressure and influence.
I think that zone has a lot to do with whether or not I can believe in an afterlife. What is that zone exactly? Hummm.
Thanks, Kathy. I don’t know if I rock, some days I am rocked by life. I think the fact that I accepted long ago that my creative life would never be financially sustaining, I was able to let it be spiritually sustaining. I have been most fortunate to be able to do that because my husband’s work took/takes care of all that. And, I don’t know if you have to link the zone to the afterlife, but I think you do have to believe in something spiritual, something outside and bigger than our physical existence–Muse, Spirit, Inspiration, a Universal Energy that comes into us in that zone and makes us greater than we are by ourselves. Someone today said that–maybe you, I couldn’t find it just now–that sometimes when a work is completed, they couldn’t believe they had done it, which made them feel they had been touched, or channeled some power outside themselves. (sorry if I’ve misquoted). I have felt that a lot over the years and still look at pieces I’ve done, knowing I made them with my own hands but not believing that I did. I’m always humbled when people admire my work because I can’t really take credit for it–it was a collaboration with a force I can’t name or point to.
Yes, life is a wilderness passage, and I’m lucky to have the books of Steven Pressfield, Steve Chandler, and James Hollis to illuminate the path just enough to turn the terror into curiosity, so I can find the fortitude to take the next step. A story that helps me find courage for the journey is the story of Job. Satan bets God that God’s followers aren’t really believers, they’re just smug, comfortable folks who have never been challenged, and so can be lured to the dark side. God takes the bet, and in the course of the story, God takes everything from Job – his home, his wife and children, and finally his health. At the end of the tale, Job shakes his fist at God and says, “Why are you doing this to me? Don’t you have a plan for me?” And God – the last time God speaks directly to man in the Bible – says, “Yes, but it’s not for you to know what it is.” What a revelation! Every time something goes wrong in my life (as it will , over and over again in a Wilderness Passage), I remind myself that I have no deal with God – as in, “If I’m a ‘good person’ nothing bad should ever happen to me.” So despair turns to patience, and then to acceptance. Ahh, of course. God’s plan. How interesting. And how will the hero handle this latest catastrophe?
The way I am interpreting this is less like choosing what movie to view but more like class registration in college: “I guess I need to take Intro to Calculus next semester. That’s supposed to be a brutal weed-out course, but it’s a requirement if I want engineering.” Or browsing video game titles: “this looks like a good adventure to.immerse myself in” – no, the college analogy implies a greater reward outside of the particular course.
But what reward, and who/what is the you doing the choosing? Big questions indeed!
Thank you so much for the post and the room for answers dear Steve,
The way you see and feel about Life is very positive and very interesting too. And we go the direction we face. You see the Wilderness, but also the connection between lifetimes, the redemption, the Purpose in all this.
I can feel sure that life is a Wilderness passage. And we are the luckiest wanderers in it! See all other forms of life, the suffering, the pain, the law of power! So, being the luckiest souls, I would think that … even this way our luck isn’t for granted nor is it absolutely important.
We can be 1.000.000 times luckier than all other forms of life but .. still feel awful and spend our time in nonsense or in destructive drama etc.
We can be a 1.000.000 times luckier than all other forms of life but just work and act almost automatically every day, every moment.
On the other hand, becoming warriors of enlightenment has infinite aspects in it and we can only become a small part of that whole ideal, even those who dedicate their lives to such endeavors -I’m certain.
I would think what Socrates said: “One thing I know, that I don’t know a thing.” And I would guess that life is an objective material and idealistic universe that is So neutral, that we can play with it’s forces forever and always create combinations but still having never played with even a minuscule part of it.
But it is So beautiful to have a Purpose. To have a Cause.
Turning neutral objectivity to beauty and wander. Ah, I love this crazy nonsense we try to achieve. I admire it. And behold, beneath love are always fear and insecurity, the survival instincts as a river below my legs, trapping me like a fly with no place to turn to when the storm sets in.
P.s. after 3 months of Resistance’s greatest hit on me, which made me stop writing after 4-5 years, I now have a program: the coming week, after my exams at Sparta are over, I will start writing again for only 30 minutes a day.
“…after my exams at Sparta are over, I will start writing again for only 30 minutes a day.”
Tolis, as they say in the US military: “Git some!”
I can’t agree more with the US military, Joe 😉 thank you for reading my passage too
I believe he meant that we battle life (as humans struggling to manage in a system doomed to mislead us) far from home (Heaven is so difficult to achieve because we constantly fight to exist as supreme beings rather than give ourselves over to the Lord)
The truth is, I never thought I was going to live this long. (78) My heart attack at 60 should have killed me off. Since the first time I heard “God has a plan for your life.” I have always been intrigued by the idea, “Really” God has a plan for my life? That was stated 50 years ago, and here I still am. A prison school teacher told me God could change my life. From a career criminal to a father, husband, respecter of what is right and a positive contributor to society…married to that (former) prison school teacher for 43 years. I’m still looking for that plan, or have I lived the plan. It sure has been a wilderness journey. I love this thread and need to preserve it to read more.
Sounds like you two are living a rich story, John and Mary.
Perhaps in some other dimension, the option of a physical life on a particular planet is the equivalent of what we might describe on Earth as full immersion into a a kind of virtual reality game. Hell, maybe there’s even a catalog of options describing the joys and challenges available on each planet. And maybe instead of a soul’s progression that involves evolving through lives to eventually reach a state of Nirvana, the more evolved souls deliberately choose difficult lives and circumstances to manifest into in order to hone the lessons they’ve chosen to learn. Bottom line for me: we’ll likely never have a definitive answer in this realm of existence, but striving to be better and kinder, and to overcome adversity with grace keeps me pretty busy. When it all seems like too much, I sit in my garden and watch the family of wild foxes who den there. Sometimes one of them trots across the deck and makes eye contact with me, and I think “Well, at least this guy seems to have it all figured out.” Oddly comforting.
Steve, I love this post. And an aspect of this notion of choosing to come here, I believe, is making agreements with other “fragments” to work together during our next embodiment to increase our chances of learning what we came to learn, serving who we came to serve, being who it’s possible to become. It explains those “I feel as if I’ve known you my whole life” moments and I’ve been blessed with a number of them. No accidents.
Unfortunately I think it’s also possible to get lost in the wilderness either temporarily or for the entirety of our lives. It’s how I see your early journey as you describe it in Govt Cheese. And boy am I glad you found your way out of that particular wilderness passage as you have taught me SOOOOOOO much since stepping into the true possibility of who you are. Thank you.
It occurs to me as of late that my life is about learning and the fun part is I get to share what comes my way. I have enjoyed this conversation about the “Wilderness Passage” because it just ignites me when I’m in the doldrums and wondering what my life is all about. Looking back I would say that I have been tested, sometimes self imposed and sometimes not.
Someone shared about the loss of their partner and it got me thinking that my journey has been one of never finding love. It was hard at times and used to make me sad. Not so anymore.
Where did we come from? Where are we going? When I was young I would tell people that I was born wise. I just always felt that I had this wealth of knowledge that just came with the package. I can accept that it may come from the cosmos; some lucky or unlucky soul got me.
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar says that the soul or spirit enters form to evolve.
Rupert Sheldrake has some insights he calls morphic resonance. All of the cosmos is intelligent in the resonance.
I recently turned 38. I lived the first 18 years of my life in deep emotional pain. I thought I was “free” as an adult, but continued to run and hide from myself. It’s only been since I’ve entered my 30s that I have begun to heal enough to sit down, shut up, and LISTEN to the lesson. I have brief glimpses of “truth” and those moments have been when I am the happiest. I continue to chase that. Tiny baby steps. We all know healing isn’t a straight line. My life lesson is to return to my essence and break generational trauma. I hope to spread my message of healing through my voice with singing and songwriting. Resistance can wear me down so thinly sometimes I want to hide again and shut in and shut out. However, my first thought this morning was: I didn’t read Writing Wednesday yesterday. I came here on a Thursday, felt inspired again, and decided quitting is the only failure. Even when I see no progress, at least I haven’t quit! Right?!
Having lived 56 years, the only thing of which I am certain is this:
Human beings have big brains and we like to make sh#t up.
It is true: “Resistance will bury you”, but finding balance in life and what one perceives as one’s “calling” is, at best, very challenging, especially if you have ever felt a need to express yourself in a deeply creative way.
It does seem to come down to choices and if any of us have had the good fortune (and curse) of “grand” choices, I would say that we have a responsibility to see those choices through, if only for our own peace of mind. I can say, from personal experience, that it can be very tiring….exhausting..this seemingly constant struggle to “become” or “find peace in” a calling, but chipping away at it does appear to be the only way forward. We can only do what we can do and hope that we’re able to learn to be kind to oneself during the process. Again, with all that life asks of us, not an easy thing in which to find balance.
Inevitably, one has to ask oneself: What do I want to do with the time I have left?
Belated thanks for the profound post. (Great comments too.)
I’ve been consumed the past days with the earthquake. That kind of devastation throws my beliefs about purpose and life passages into disarray. And yet… I cling to the belief that there’s some higher reason for the incomprehensible.
Years ago, I was befriended by a great writer who gave me a copy of Jnana Yoga, by Vivekananda, about the
illuminating concept of Maya. Yet my friend still felt there was a great cosmic reason for his work, and he was driven to complete his books.
I taught and directed professional actors for many years,and lately have had the deep sense that even if this world isn’t ‘real’, – like a great actor does, one must live as if it is. I would tell my actors they must believe in their reality 97%, but always have that 3% that knows it’s just a play. (One wouldn’t want Othello to really smother Desdemona!)
Perhaps that ‘awareness’ can make the wilderness journey easier, more joyful even, make one more accepting of the
lessons that come along, or adventures, as I prefer to say.
ps. Re-reading today a favorite fairy tale on wilderness passages, ‘The Golden Key’ by the 19th century
writer, George MacDonald, for anyone needing a bit of magic.
Thank you again, Steve, for your wisdom, kindness and ever generous spirit.
This has been an amazing 99 comments!
My comment makes it an even 100, the most I have ever seen on this site.
I am symbolically tipping my glass. Well done my good and faithful servants, Matt. 25:21. DRINK UP!
love the content of this blog and the positive intent you have. Thanks!
Men Studded Jackets
I’m beginning to see the wilderness, accidental or chosen, as a tool more than anything else. The minute it reveals who we truly are, it stops being useful. All the pain comes from wallowing in it, which produces no benefit.
In my case, I enter the wilderness every time I try to “fit in,” be it for financial, spiritual, or social reasons. Then I’m quickly reminded “fitting in” is a worthless pursuit, and go back to doing my own thing, which restores balance. Balance, however, also comes at a financial, spiritual, or social cost/sacrifice.
I believe wholeheartedly that I was sent here to learn this life as I experience it now. It’s instinctual. I cannot explain it. It’s got nothing to do with religion. I just know.
I have always, always experienced a longing for a home somewhere in the universe. A home I know in my soul, but not as the person currently walking this earth. It brings with it a kind of loneliness.
And yes, I have walked through my own wilderness.
Much of what I think on these matters has already been articulated. I do perceive life as a wilderness passage, a journey with struggle, victory, defeat, pain and uncertainty. The struggle and all that comes with it is, in my mind, the heat, the fire. We are the gold. As we engage the struggle, should we choose to do so, we are warmed, temperature ever rising and in this process, the impurities float to the top, ripe to be scraped off, ripe for change. The heat, the struggle is indeed what purifies us. This process repeats on microlevels throughout our life, life being the ultimate furnace. With each cycle, impurities rise and we are further honed and shaped into the people we are becoming. Much of how we perceive struggle in our lives depends on what we believe and why we believe it. Belief changes everything. Thanks so much for the post Steven.
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