A Giant In Your Footsteps
Part 1 - Are You the Person You Were Born to Be
Part 2 - The Picture on the Seed Packet
Part 3 - Your Life Is an Integral Part of a Bigger Picture
Part 1 - Are You the Person You Were Born to Be
Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life?
Who are "you?" Honestly now, putting aside for a moment the facade that each one of us hides
behind, can you say for certain? It's not an easy thing to know. In fact, we're
not supposed to know. From the day we're born we're molded to conform to our
society's idea of who we're suppose to become. Our parents, relatives, teachers,
and churches each take a hand in our "assimilation," just as the extended
communities of their youth did with them. They don't mean us any harm; they
doubtless want us to be "happy." Indeed, the goal of this process is to
guarantee that we fit neatly into a larger whole and become a useful member of
the group. By their lights, they have our best interests in mind. All in all,
seen from the perspective of a group's ongoing stability, it's an eminently
reasonable idea. Unfortunately, the fatal assumption being made is that these
communities are themselves healthy - and therefore even remotely qualified to
take on the awesome responsibility of reshaping a soul to fit an externally
appointed norm. History has not been kind to societies guilty of such
extraordinary hubris. Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, South Africa, the Soviet
Union, Communist China, and even our own United States' checkered past offer salient examples of
the tragedy that results when an imperfect culture attempts social engineering.
When society itself is sick, otherwise good people can be carried along by a
tide of ignorance, fear and collective madness. But the man or woman who has
answered the questions, who truly knows who they are, can stand against this
tide, perhaps even stem it.
questions, fourteen words, a mere forty-three characters, that despite their
brevity still manage to superbly frame the central enigma of human existence.
They have occurred to every one of us at one time or another - sometimes as a
brilliant bolt of lightning illuminating our inner sky, sometimes as a fearsome
tremor that shakes the very foundations of our once safe, secure, little world,
leaving behind only a gaping void. Three questions, each that sooner or later
demand an answer from each of us - but offer by way of compensation the prize of
a creative, revitalized, and, above all, meaningful life. Sadly, in the course
of the typical life, they go unanswered as often as not.
Why, you ask?
Spiritual insight is profoundly liberating, and sometimes profoundly
disorienting. In an instant it can dramatically reshape the landscape of a life,
and the landscapes of anyone intimately linked to it. And humanity is
essentially conservative. Throughout the millennia, the prospect of change has
largely been perceived as would an uninvited, unwanted visitor: Draw the
curtains, bar the door. Consider that the oft-quoted, traditional Chinese adage
"May you live in interesting times" was intended as a curse, and not an
exhortation to excitement and adventure! So make no mistake: If you answer the
three questions, your life, and the lives of everyone around you, will surely
change. Then why bother even asking the questions at all, you may ask. To
paraphrase one of my favorite movie characters, you might as well ask why we go
The conditioning process has its origins in very same dark corner of the
human psyche that gave birth to slavery. Rather than starting from the premise
that every soul choosing to be born has a specific purpose (one that might well
be fundamentally at odds with the prevailing power structure of the group, yet
crucial to its continuing evolution), the 'assimilating' society seeks to write
its own thoughts in the minds of each succeeding generation. This is a direct
legacy of the not-so-distant era (still intact in many parts of the developing
world) when children were largely produced to: a) work the farm; b) take care of
their parents in old age. Seen in this context, children are little more than
extensions of their parents, in a sense their "property," with many obligations
and few rights - and absolutely no spiritual claim to self-determination. They
are strongly discouraged from deviating far from the collective norm. Those few
people that do choose to rebel become outcasts within their communities;.the
price of their re-integration is their psycho-spiritual death. We need only look
to the plight of 20th century homosexuals in America to see that there are still
powerful, coercive forces at work within our society, who ask nothing less than
the amputation of one's authenticity as the price for their acceptance. Of
course, the religious right's insistence on this price is understandable, even
sensible. Were they not to, imagine the whirlwind - with its accompanying gust
of chaos/change/creativity - that would result as closet doors swung open
throughout their ranks. They do not choose to live in "interesting times," even
if those times were to make them far more interesting people.
through the lens of ideal productivity, the "assimilation" model is ultimately
inefficient. Problems inevitably arise when someone is asked to play a part that
they're less than ideally suited for. Even though painters and accountants both
work with ruling lines, would you really want a would-be Van Gogh preparing your
taxes? Certainly, some people bend better than others, managing to find
fulfillment in other areas - even if their lives never quite produce the gold
they were capable of. Others break and never quite recover, spending years mired
in addictions, self-destructive behavior and outright mental illness. And the
would-be Prometheuses among us go to their deaths opposing the collective
inertia --while we shiver the whole night long without the gift of their fire.
Anyway you look at it, it's not exactly a winning formula for human happiness.
If traditional cultural pressures weren't enough, we now have to cope
with an insidious modern addition to the conditioning process -- advertising.
Here we find commercial interests attempting to mold us, but in a singularly
manipulative and offensive fashion. Not content to simply differentiate their
product from its competitors, these skillful propagandists seek to convince us
that the key to our actual happiness lies in the purchase of the right
mouthwash, car or hair replacement system? Laughable, isn't it? But bombarded
night and day in this assault on our judgment, we can easily swallow their
propaganda hook, line and sinker -- and find ourselves responding like Pavlov's
dogs to the subliminal cues of puppet masters whose sole purpose is to increase
our receptivity to their product. They want us conditioned and predictable, not
Ah, freedom. Americans worship freedom. But do we really understand
what it means to be free? Consider our democracy. In election after election,
politicians of both parties do their utmost to play upon our fears, demonize
their opponents, and ultimately rob the electorate of its right to freely choose
a government. How many of us can truthfully claim that, when our time came to
pull the lever, we voted the 'issues' rather than these carefully cultivated
fears. I doubt this is what the founders of our democracy had in
Without conscious awareness of the influences shaping our actions,
and an ability to act creatively rather than reactively, can there be any such
thing as freedom, or even free will? In truth, what we typically experience
during moments of crisis is a conditioned, hypnotic state that masquerades as
free will, but ultimately undermines our ability to exercise choice, much less
reclaim our identity -- and thus know the kind of happiness that simply cannot
be purchased at any price.
Truly, we would all be lost if weren't for
pain - whose sting, undiluted by Valium and recreational drugs of all types,
still retains the ability to wake us up. In the grip of agony, we have a clear
choice: To ask the three questions and consider how the lack of an answer might
have brought us to this awful place. Or we can take another drink, find a more
compliant lover, or buy a more expensive car or house. Choose the former and, to
echo Joseph Campbell, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all the spiritual
heroes who have ever walked the earth. Choose the latter, and we slide ever more
deeply into our societially-induced coma, sentenced to face our ultimate moment
- at our final breath, when all the events of our life will pass before our eyes
- and have no other response but to sadly reflect: "I didn't know, I never
understood. What an opportunity, what a waste."
Part 2 - The Picture on the Seed Packet
Astrologers have been around for as long as humanity has searched for the meaning of life. We have lead a gypsy's
existence, wandering from master to master, serving everywhere: From the royal courts of antiquity to the great
cathedrals of Christendom, from the monasteries of Tibet to the palaces of India, from the trading desks of Wall
Street to the White House itself. Astrology has fallen in and out of favor more than once, but it has always endured.
Today, at the close of our too often nightmarish century, it shines as a brilliant beacon -- demonstrating that
we are part of a coherent universe: a cosmos in which each and every life is significant, inescapably imbued
with meaning, value and purpose.
Astrology speaks eloquently to the challenge of the three questions. Through the metaphor of the natal chart
it offers a focused, three dimensional perspective of what British astrologer Dennis Elwell describes as "the
picture on the seed packet" -- a symbolic map of the whole we might credibly become if we have the courage
to shake off the chains that shackle our authenticity, and follow our star wherever it leads.
Astrology identifies the great ideas or themes that infuse our consciousness, and ultimately inspire our greatest
achievements. It describes our innate talents, and the obstacles we need to overcome. It can forecast the emotional,
psychological and spiritual opportunities that are available at any given moment in a life. It can even point to
places on the planet where heretofore hidden parts of our wholeness can be more easily expressed.
But it is only a tool. It no more guarantees that we will manifest our potential anymore than the musical talent
of a child prodigy guarantees a great career for the adult artist. The chart remains "the picture on the seed
packet," nothing more. Let me return to Elwell's analogy. Before you plant a vegetable or flower garden, you
must buy the seeds. The packet they're sold in will feature a picture of the full-blown, perfected plant. That
image is the ideal, the fullest manifestation of everything that seed can become. But very often our own early
efforts at gardening yield scrawny, unimpressive plants. We can stop there if we want, and decide that this is
the best we can do. Or we can give up gardening for good. But if we keep working at it, we can eventually grow
a perfect rose or cabbage. Our lives are a lot like this. Each one of us is born with the potential for a rich
and rewarding life. There are specific talents we can develop, and perspectives only we can express. The natal
chart describes these. If we do nothing to nurture our gifts, they will never grow. Yes, they will always be with
us -- but they will remain largely undeveloped, and only hint at what we might have become. Having abandoned our
own best route to happiness, we will end up living someone else's life -- or worse yet, not really living at all.
And however successful we might appear to others, inside of us the light will be growing dimmer and dimmer. The
world is immersed in darkness at the current time. It needs our light, the radiance generated through our realized potential, every
bit as much as a flower needs the Sun.
Part 3 - Your Life Is An Integral Part of a Bigger Picture
So long as we remain estranged from the potential inside each of us, we live in a chronic state of emotional
and spiritual depravation. We hunger for manna that cannot be found in the external world, and often settle instead
for crumbs in the guise of the "little mores" - a little more money, a little more contentment, a little
more love. When we get them we're satisfied for a time, but ultimately the feeling passes. We find ourselves growing
empty again. Maybe these crumbs are all we think we can manage, or feel we're entitled to. But, tapping into the
wellspring of our potential fundamentally alters this situation.
How? Happiness, that most elusive of pursuits, becomes a by-product of everyday life, rather than a goal to
be realized at some later date - simply because we are doing exactly what we were designed to do. For some people
this will mean a new career or avocation, for others a new approach to an existing career. In either instance,
we are energized (and not drained) by our daily activities because we experience a perfect fit between our talent
and our role. Just imagine how your life would change if you could tap into this source. For one thing, your relationship
with money would be totally transformed. Instead of working for money to buy things that promise happiness,
you'd be tasting happiness first hand.
Imagine how your relationships would change. Having de-coupled satisfaction and money, you would find yourself
with more time to spend with people you cared about - and because you'd be happier to begin with, your time with
them would be more enjoyable.
Imagine how the world would change if more and more of us chose to live life this way. The global implications
are enormous. Because each of us experiences the world through the window of our psyche, frustrated painters, with
no meaningful life to speak of, can become the leaders of genocidal wars in search of "living space."
They may be madmen, or merely cynical, power-driven opportunists, but they do not constitute the real danger. Their
followers, recruited from every walk of life and often sharing in no unifying characteristic except that their
dissatisfaction mirrors that of their leader, represent the true peril. For, no matter how charismatic the leader,
or how vile the ideology, there can be no death camps if there are no disciples to do the killing. On the day when
happiness becomes a by-product of everyday life, demagogues and would-be tyrants will discover that their henchmen
have vanished; the savage fantasy that a neighbor's grass is somehow greener will have suddenly lost its allure;
and the era of nation-states wantonly invading their neighbor's borders will have come to an end.
We are children of two great lies: The first states that we are all in competition, the second that in any situation
there has to be a winner and a loser. They're not happy thoughts; but, seen from a spiritual perspective, they
may also be inaccurate. Today, more and more of us are discovering that we're actually allies in a cosmic struggle
against ignorance and fear - the two impediments to the further extension of human potential. In the most fundamental
sense, we are absolutely not in competition. Every breakthrough you and I make in our individual lives becomes
a symbol of what is possible for our families, our friends, our neighbors, our countrymen, and, indeed, an entire
world. Every battered woman who leaves an abusive situation, every alcoholic or addict who finds sobriety in a
12 step program, every would-be entrepreneur who leaves the quiet desperation of an unsatisfying career and makes
their dream a reality, stands as an inspiration to us all. As they explode the myth about what is possible for
their lives, they change the planet in a concrete, if sometimes imperceptible, way. They make it a little more
possible for each one of us to take our own next step.
"Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win."
That's why the "the picture on the seed packet" is so very important. There's so much more to each of
us than we've been taught to recognize. And we're the most effective when we're doing exactly what we were meant
to do. Astrology can give us a head start on the journey of self-discovery. The rest is up to us. If we want a planet
where co-operation and collaboration are the rule, where nations enjoy both peace and prosperity, where hunger,
prejudice and war are unthinkable remnants of a distant, tragic past, it's a journey more and more of us need to
Some people believe that there's nothing an individual can do that will significantly alter the course of human
affairs. But society doesn't exist except as an extension of you and me. And as history has demonstrated time and
again, individuals do make a dramatic difference. Martin Luther King made a difference. So did Gandhi, Bill Wilson,
Mother Theresa, Jackie Robinson, Winston Churchill, Roberto Assagoli, Oskar Schindler, Gene Roddenbery, Albert
Schweitzer, Frank Serpico, Leonard Bernstein, Carl Jung, Mother Hale, Neil Armstrong, Wayne Fischer, Judge John
Sirica, Linus Pawling, Raoul Wallenberg, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Dane Rudhyar, Arturo Toscanini, Sydney Schanberg,
J. Michael Straczynski, Stanislav Grof and perhaps 5 million (or even 50 million) others in this century, many
whose names we may never even know. The American Revolution was conceived with only ten percent of the population
actively supporting the cause of independence. That ten percent fundamentally changed the course of human history.
So can we. If we make the effort to reach deep inside ourselves, to embrace who we really are and why we chose
to be alive at this time and place, to look beyond the immediate scene and notice the enormous shadow that our
life can cast, then we will surely recognize that there was a giant walking in our footsteps all along. Giants
can make an impact. It might take a lifetime - but if we can change ourselves, we can change the world.
- Victor Laszlo (from the 1942 Warner Brothers film, Casablanca)
Matthew Carnicelli, © 1997. All rights reserved.
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