Last night during a particularly vivid dream, I noticed that in television and movies there are often very specific musical themes that accompany specific characters. The main character in particular often has two key themes or variations that follow him or her through the movie. One is the inspirational, “on the path” theme. The other is the conflicted, “off the path” theme.
In my dream, the composer who provides the musical backdrop to my own life movie identified two themes that he draws upon when scoring my story. His inspirational, “on the path” theme for me was described as risk; his conflicted, “off the path” theme was described as retreat. I find these themes fascinating, especially in light of my last blog entry.
Risk represents several things to me that certainly correspond with moments that I am on the path of my own life purpose. It is the spirit of pushing the envelope and putting myself at the leading edge of action. It drives me to get in the game with courage, authenticity and compassion for others. It catalyzes great personal growth and a deepening of relationships.
Retreat represents an avoidance of failure, pulling myself out of the leading edge of action. It drives me to sit on the sidelines and withdraw from the people around me. Until last night, I believed that it enabled me to recharge my batteries so I could get back in the game. I now believe that I was wrong.
I’ve spent most of my life developing the body of work that I have written about in The User’s Guide to Being Human while engaging in the realm of social action. I was teaching or developing schools or hanging out with friends and colleagues in stimulating circumstances. Once I made the decision to “write it all down,” I did an about-face in my approach. I significantly reduced the amount of time spent in the social realm so that I could be as efficient as possible in developing the book. I pulled away from the leading edge and began to create a shroud of isolation around me.
In recent months I rediscovered a coming of age novel that I wrote as a young adult. The central theme is about leaving the protective custody of isolation in order to step out and engage with the world in a powerful and authentic manner. The book is called The Barefoot Warrior, and will be released concurrently with The User’s Guide.
To risk, or to retreat? This has apparently been the central internal curriculum that I have faced in my life. Those times when I have chosen retreat, I have hurt people, myself included. Those times when I have chosen risk, I have contributed much to the lives of others and myself.
To all those I have hurt or confused, my deepest regrets and apologies. Please understand that I was doing the best I could at the time. I am sometimes strong and courageous, other times weak and cowardly.
To redeem myself for the affects that this internal curriculum has had on others, I am going to conduct an experiment. I am going to choose risk over retreat whether I’m feeling strong and courageous, or weak and cowardly. I’ll let you know what I discover while engaging in this scientific experiment. For now, my hypothesis is the following: that vulnerability can be a magical ingredient that in the realm of human relations catalyzes deep connection and joy.