In his book The Soul’s Code James Hillman offers an interesting perspective on what determines the course of our life. He says that when we are born into the world there is another thing, a third thing that comes into the world with us (aside from our physical body and our consciousness), the word for it in Greek is daimon. It is more than our consciousness, it is actually a consciousness all of its own, and it is what determines our life’s purpose.
It is fascinating that our society, a Western society based so solidly on Platonic philosophy and thought has completely forgotten the concept of the daimon. In this perspective, the daimon is something that has a specific purpose to accomplish. It is what draws us into the things that fascinate us. People that are high performers have been said to perform as if “possessed,” in the control of a greater force that flows through their actions. This is true for all those that leave an indelible mark on our society and consciousness. A few examples are Mozart, who was composing music for European royalty at the age of five. In music, there are many contemporary examples, like this kid, Jay Lewington.
In The Soul’s Code, Hillman uses various other examples to illustrate his point of people that were born with an inherent passion for the beauty they were to create in the world: Ella Fitzgerald, the Spanish bullfighter Manolete, and geneticist Barbara McClintock. We can add to these contemporary figures that inspired and continue to inspire millions. People such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Bruce Lee, Nina Simone, Vincent Van Gogh, Violeta Parra, Carl Jung and Mother Teresa. These are all people whose drive to fulfill a singular purpose was bigger than the circumstances which stood to oppose them as modern thought leaders and pioneers in their fields.
An interesting aspect of Hillman’s theory in The Soul’s Code is that he concedes that several of these people did not come into their own until later in life. He states that it was not solely an inherent capability that made these people stand out, but their life circumstances that propelled them forward into being mythic representations of their craft. In each case, their inspirational lives were guided by an inherent calling, combined with a determination to follow that calling at all costs.
What does this have to do with me? you might say. Well, we all have a passion that has been innate in us from our earliest years. It is something that sparked our imagination, invigorated our bodies, and elated our senses when we were engaged in it. It is unique to us and arises when we have the ability to witness it and give ourselves over to it entirely. In some cases, it has been buried so deeply beneath the surface of our conscious awareness that we fail to recall what it is. But in every case it is there. This is what Hillman calls the “acorn theory.” An acorn, regardless of what someone may attempt to shape it into is always going to grow into an Oak tree. It has no choice. It was programmed that way from the very beginning.
You and I are like this acorn. Somewhere in the deep recesses of our being there is something that calls to us to give it expression. And this thing, when we are fully engaged in the expression of it, fills us with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Which is not to say that it is a source of simple joy. It is actually much deeper than that. It is a sense of being connected to something greater that flows through us and with us when we are given to the task of bringing it to life.
When I think of what this is for me I immediately come up with two things: martial arts and a deep love for the Sacred. From my earliest memories I have been fascinated with martial arts. My pursuit of self-expression through the martial arts has motivated many of the great adventures and turns in my life. Because of this love I have learned new languages, lived in different countries, and met countless amazing people. At the same time, my love of the Sacred has driven me to continually learn about different spiritual, mystical, philosophical and psychological traditions. Often these roads, the pursuit of the Sacred and the love of martial arts have woven together to become one.
When we deviate from this thing that brings joy and a higher awareness into our life we find ourselves in a place of perpetual despair. I have experienced this intensely in my life when I have let go of the two things I love most to fulfill certain social expectations in order to please others. I also witness this repeatedly in the lives of my clients. I have worked with CEOs of major companies that have climbed to the top of the professional and financial ladder only to find themselves depressed, distraught, and withdrawn from the world. There comes a time when no manner of accomplishment will suffice to fill the emptiness that a person feels at not having honored their calling.
Before we get into religious semantics, I want to point out that the word daimon predates the Christian notion of the demon, it is not affiliated with the spinning-head-inducing fiend that tormented Linda Blair in The Exorcist. As Hillman states, the Romans called this same force the genius and he claims that for Christians it could be loosely translated as a guardian angel. Regardless, I am going to conflate the two things now by saying this: when you do not honor the daimon it can become a demon that torments you day in and day out. It can become a source of deep anxiety and sorrow. It is a voice unattended, abandoned but not forgotten, as it is bigger than anything else in your psychic life.
Which brings me to the next point: you cannot run from it. In a society where we are taught to accept prepackaged lives that fit into nice and neat roles, everything is done to stifle this unique voice that beckons you. Just think about it: if each of us decided that our life needed to be in service of our higher calling the system as it currently functions would not be able to exist. It would be impossible to get millions of people into cubicles to punch keys on plastic boxes so that imaginary numbers would arrange themselves in nice, neat little pixels. We would be at risk of the global population walking out of fluorescent-lit office buildings to find their true nature under the warming light of the Sun.
Here is what I suggest…
Spend some time unplugged. Get away from television, your computer, your phone and whatever other electronic baubles pull you away from yourself. Listen to what your inner voice tells you about what you love to do. Go do it. Find a community of people that are interested in the same thing and hang out with them. Share your love for that thing that brings you joy. Whether it be music, art, sailing, camping, hiking, rock climbing, martial arts, reading, writing, just get to it. Make time in your life to have that experience be a part of your everyday. And follow that path with unbounded devotion. If you learn to orient your life according to that deep voice that whispers to you of a Mystery that you can only touch through the expression of what you love life will take on a new meaning.
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching