So often we are told to look to role models who provide us with truths and values that should guide us – Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Rosa Parks. Yet very few of us can live up to such exacting standards. And by looking outside of ourselves we are living our lives from the outside in – seeking to imitate and indeed emulate the lives of our heroes.
To live our own life we have to believe that we ourselves have values and truths that hold meaning for us and who we are. The challenge is that to become who we truly are we need to sit with ourselves and work from the inside out – look at our light and our shadow selves – see and accept the light and darkness within us. To go to the very root of who we are, we must hear our pain, anger, suffering and rage. And listening to what it wants to tell us is part of the exploration and discovery. If we cannot do this, we impose a warped form of political correctness upon ourselves, editing or denying our thoughts, our fears, our loss, shame and vulnerability. This suppressions generates emotions that then sabotage our attempts to live faithful, dutiful lives and we doubt the best of our selves: “If I was truly a good person, how could I have thought that?” As a society we also see the challenges this creates when the shadow side is denied – it erupts in violence, xenophobia, censorship as we only want to see darkness in others rather than ourselves.
The challenge is to sit with and find compassion and love for the totality of ourselves and the experiences that brought us to where we are today. In the stillness and truth of that we can find, acceptance, release and peace. Coming from this place we need not fear or judge our actions because the other side of fear is love and when that guides us we can trust and believe in ourselves and our ability to make wise choices and good decisions.
For ourselves and society, the darkness can turn to light – living with our own grief and suffering can be turned to an empathy and understanding of the pain of others; desires or cravings, both physical and mental can become the driving force to improve a situation or to fight for peace in the world.
I finish by paraphrasing the work of from Parker J Palmer who writes so eloquently on this subject: Vocation is not a goal to be pursued but a calling to be heard. Beneath the surface of the experience I call my life, there is a deeper and truer life waiting to be acknowledged.
As a leader are you willing to go there?