A Life Well-Lived: The Sacred Journey

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
- Anais Nin


Finding myself in the second half of life, I am more deeply aware of the fragility of life, the sacredness of life, and the mystery of life. I’m breathing a little slower and allowing for an ever-deepening listening to myself and others. In that listening to self, my intention is to hear more completely the guidance from my mind, my body, and my soul. This is a listening for guidance in response to these two questions: Who am I ? What is my purpose in this life that has been gifted to me?

Rilke wrote these familiar words to a young friend: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and [...] try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.”

For me, living the questions requires a surrendering of my protective ego that may have its own ideas of what I want or don’t want, of what I think I need or don’t need. The ego lives in our consciousness and, in the words of Carl Jung, comprises the “thoughts, memories, and emotions we are aware of.” However, it is only a small portion of the self, according to Jung. He says that “man’s task is to be conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.”

These contents that “press upward from the unconscious” can take many forms. There can be an external activation that gets our attention. This happened for me last June 25th when I received, through an online Marion Woodman “leaderchat” site, a side comment that came to all of us referencing a colleague’s participation in a Qigong healing intensive in New Mexico. (The Chi Center: Wisdom Healing Qigong). She acknowledged that it was powerful, and then moved on to the main focus of her communication.

Two days later, I found myself signing up for a week-long training in New Mexico that has had a profound impact on how I live my life. I don’t understand how this works, this mystery of what is called synchronicity coming into my life. I don’t really understand why or how certain external happenings seem to activate the unconscious; activate the soul into saying “yes” to what could look like a foolish choice, since in this case I knew absolutely nothing about Qigong other than it being an ancient practice of movement, sound, and the sacred.

This external activation, the message from my colleague, found its way inward into a deep and mysterious knowing that felt like a calling that asked for a response. James Hollis references this as “the guru we all carry inside of us.” There is an inner Self, as per Jung, that can “fill our lives with meaning, purpose, and a general sense of rightness of our course.” It is this tending to the external and internal; conscious and unconscious; ego and Self, that enables and facilitates a sacred journey to a life well-lived.

At the end of his life, Ivan, in Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, comes to the realization that he had “not lived as one ought.” This is a story that lets us see the challenges and the seductions that can pull us away from our own call and response, our own personal tending. There is a required slowing down, an exquisite noticing required that provides guidance for our own unique place in the world. This is a guidance that opens us to our shadow life: those parts of ourselves that we want to reject, as Jung says, “the thing a person has no wish to be.”

Most often we think of these as the undesirable parts of ourselves: anger, envy, lust, greed, etc. However, sometimes the positive shadow is even more challenging. Many years ago, dreams of red dresses and grand pianos came to me periodically over a period of several years. (Dreams find a way of energetically and symbolically prodding us until we acknowledge them.) As a member of the Chrysalis Board at that time, I received a phone call asking if I had any thoughts about who might be a presenter for our program called “Soup and Soul." From my inner Self, these words fell out of my mouth: “I’ll do a piano recital and will play Chopin.”

My usual way of responding is to ponder my choices. This was a gift, an opportunity that was offered. My soul knew I needed to say yes. I needed to find the courage to re-open the gift of my music, which is such a deep part of my essence.

We receive the gifts of life: joy/sorrow; knowing/unknowing; love/hate; jin/yang. As we hold these opposites and do our inner work, we enhance our ability to live a life of deeper and deeper vitality and meaning. With discernment and unfolding, we are able to live into our destiny, coming more fully into the essence of our being. We experience ourselves separated out from the collective mentality of “should” and “should not,” and rest in our own unique reality of who we are in our deepest soul.

Carol Jacobs MSW, LCSW, practices as a psychotherapist in Ashland. A Trustee of the Marion Woodman Foundation Board, Carol attended the BodySoul Rhythms Leadership Training Program with Marion Woodman, Mary Hamilton, and Ann Skinner. Carol works with professionals as well as victims of trauma, including in Macedonia and Kosovo. She also serves as faculty at THE INNERWORK CENTER, where she will co-facilitate the upcoming Annual Women’s Retreat.

How did the rose ever open its heart and give this world all of its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,
otherwise we all remain too frightened.
- Hafiz

Elizabeth Smartt