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A Giant In Your Footsteps

by Matthew Carnicelli

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?

Three 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 on breathing.

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.

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.

Seen 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 free.

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 mind.

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.

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 go on.

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.

"Welcome back to the fight.   This time I know our side will win."
- Victor Laszlo (from the 1942 Warner Brothers film, Casablanca)

Matthew Carnicelli, © 1997. All rights reserved.
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