How much of our behavior is determined by external expectations? How much of our behavior is driven by free will? How much of our future is destiny?
It seems that one day can turn into a week which turns into a year which turns into a life and before a person wakes up, time has passed and a person is down a road he never thought he wanted to travel. The Anchoress wrote a post around this video by Ellen DeGeneres. It’s insightful and I’ve had it on my mind ever since:
The Anchoress says (the whole post is a gem):
And too, I think she spoke a great deal of plain truth. Polonius advised his son, “to thy own self be true” but Degeneres spells out the loss and pain that can come from doing exactly that. The truth – the whole truth – is one part courage, one part discipline and two parts sacrifice; the great paradox of life is that one must be willing to sacrifice one’s very self in order to wholly own who one is. Rather like the gospel admonition: “who would lose his life will save it.”
There comes a moment in all of our lives when we get a sense of what we are born for. Degeneres got it when she wrote that letter to God. Whether she realized it or not, she had a blessing at that moment; a revelation. In her exquisite pain she wrote the whole, honest truth; she revealed herself or, in another sense, gave herself up. And in response she got the truth back at her, an answer, in the form of a “showing” (or a knowing if you will) of what her life would be.
I’ve heard many people talk about the crystalline moment when they suddenly “knew” something or “envisioned” something in their lives and it turned out precisely as it was seen or known. In fact, something very similar happened in my life, when I -also in a moment of huge pain and confusion- spoke to God from the depths of my heart, and rose to my feet knowing with certainty that my life had a plan and a purpose; that plan and purpose began unfolding within hours, and continues to unfold, instruct and reveal itself to me.
To repeat: “the great paradox of life is that one must be willing to sacrifice one’s very self in order to wholly own who one is.” Yes. That is life.
An intentioned life means pruning out producing branches and discarding them so that other branches can produce more. Pruning causes pain, but also growth. So the tree of life is sort of a bonsai tree and can end up being fairly odd-shaped.
Or life can be an unpruned bush, producing little, no shape, no special quality, unrecognizable, anonymous and filler on the world’s landscape.
And how much of an individual’s shape is constrained and/or recognized by others? That is, some people look anonymous except to those who see beauty where others see the banal. And, like the physicist who changes the properties of the experiment he studies, the love of the admirer changes the quality of previously unremarkable individual.
There is individual influence and then there are social influences–the nuns in grade school, the Fraternity at college, the self-selected trade group, the work culture, the movies, Twitter. Each group exerts a pressure to bend and shape and most people seem to underestimate the power of the systems they’re a part of to manipulate their life.
Shaming works, of course, but there are subtler ways to shape a person. Messages are filtered and framed and people accept the messages because it is a lot of work to question every single one and ferret out the truth.
That is why, in the end of the day, people must be intentional. A person who wants to die somewhat satisfied should take time out and consider his ways. A person must seek the truth and attempt to live it. One person’s path is not another person’s path and if it’s the right path for him, it will be narrow. Choices must be made. Well, choices are made, whether conscious or not. At least with intentional choices, they result in fewer regrets.
Perhaps the most challenging part of a well-lived life comes from being awake and choosing. It causes pain and by necessity, loss. There is also this paradox: a person must surrender to purpose in order to be free.
All of this involves pain–the excruciating, dull achy bone-crushing kind. Truth is not easy, but once it’s recognized and chosen, a unique life takes shape.