I’ll be very honest with you here… I don’t feel much like a “burning hero.”
And yet, according to a recent intuitive reading with a gifted spiritual guide (Alison Lessard), it’s quite possible that THIS is what I’m called to become. Or rather, that this term best describes what I’m being called to “step into” and share with others… whether I like it or not.
If it’s true that my “mission” is to be a “burning hero” then it scares the proverbial you-know-what out of me.
Because my childhood was an apprenticeship in self-reliance. I learned early on that teachers were not going to help me “see” my mistakes with regards to classwork or quizzes for the simple reason that whenever I asked them for help they misunderstood my question as a challenge to their authority. Rather than pointing out the root cause of a wrong answer they labeled me as “incorrigible” and told my parents that I “don’t accept correction well.”
What’s more, my parents weren’t that much more helpful, either, because I was raised in a home according to the principle of “be seen (barely) and not heard.” Which meant that early on I realized that if I wanted to understand anything I would have to figure it out on my own.
So I did.
I kept my thoughts to myself. And when I got “stuck” or wanted to learn more about something I did my own research to figure it out.
In fact, I became quite good at diagnosing and solving “problems” by uncovering the root cause of an issue or situation and on discovering the lesson or “truth” hidden in the way things unfold or work out. You could say, I suppose, that I became quite skilled at “troubleshooting” and “reading the signs of the times.”
Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m certainly not a prophet. Or hero. I don’t claim to have any special “powers” nor am I an authority or expert on any “spiritual” matters.
The fact of the matter is that I don’t really know how I feel about myself in any concrete terms.
For example, back when I was living in a Catholic religious community immersed in doing ministry the need would arise from time to time to introduce myself to people. And I would always simply say “I’m Michael.” On many occasions across a broad range of different social situations this answer proved to be unsatisfactory for most of the people I met who wanted to get to know me “better.” And they would invariably ask about my last name, ethnic background or education and work history, much the same way that people who meet you at a party or gathering tend to ask “what you do” for a living once you’ve been introduced. In my case the answer to their “probing” questions was always the same — I would smile and say “just Michael.”
Because for me that was good enough.
What difference would it make by supplying them with a last name. So what if I was born in Lowell, MA to a family of French-Canadians? What would that information add to the conversation? How would identifying my ethnicity, background or the name of my high school (or college) help them in getting to know anything “meaningful” about me, who I was or why I was there doing ministry. Or anything else for that matter.
In fact, this type of “categorical” thinking is simply alien to me. I guess my brain just doesn’t work that way.
What’s more, I don’t really have an “idea” or “image” about myself at all. In other words, what I lack is some sort of “identity” because I simply don’t identify with any group, cause, or ideology.
You see, I don’t “think” much of myself at all.
And while I was living with the religious community (for more than four years) I hadn’t taken any vows, so I wasn’t a brother. And the term “seminarian” didn’t apply because I wasn’t living in a seminary, nor was I living or working within the “typical” framework of your local, parish priest. And the term “seminarian” is pretty much obsolete, anyway. So at the end of the day I was just a guy living and working with a group of priests and brothers. I had no official status, or standing. I was, quite literally, living in limbo.
And trust me, I was VERY okay having no title, too.
Because at the end of the day none of that mattered to me at all. I wasn’t there to “join a club” or belong to a group, as strange as that may sound. I was only there because, for that time in my life, I genuinely felt called to help people through the ministry I was doing. That’s all that mattered, helping people. Not being labeled a certain way, or “preparing” for some new “role” in my life.
So not being labeled gave me a certain sense of freedom, “free to be me” as I used to say.
Which was just fine with me, thank you very much. Because I’ve always shunned being defined by roles of any kinds. I never liked being “stuck in a box” or defined by any sort of category.
Additionally, I’ve spent the better part of my life living in the shadows, so to speak. Perpetually on the sidelines or in the back of the room quietly taking notes rather than standing center stage or at the podium giving a speech. And I prefer living in the shadows as opposed to being in the spotlight.
Truth be told… I’ve always felt more comfortable living this way.
I really prefer being left alone. You can ask my loving family who know me better than just about anybody (and who have adapted to my ways, I suppose) when they leave me alone as I drift off downstairs to our finished basement (and my office) to do work or spend some quiet time lost in thought. They lovingly give me the space I need, or crave, to recharge my batteries.
That’s just how I like it.
But what came out of my reading with Alison is how I’m being asked to “come out” of the shadows. Especially since my particular “twin flame journey” seemed to fit within the framework of a leading, or living, a “double life.”
And this is true, by the way, in more than one way or in more ways than you might initially imagine. Because on one level it’s true — the face that I “show” the world is not indicative of what’s really going on.
But I don’t think that’s so unique to me. At all. I dare say that many of us have hidden facets of ourselves that we don’t readily share with others, or ever. And I think this is especially true for men who feel, for one reason or another, that it’s not always “safe” to expose how you REALLY feel, with women and around other men as well.
So what about me and my wife?
I actually share a LOT with her, but only up to a certain point. In fact, there are only two people that I have ever really let “inside” to “peek behind the curtain,” so to speak. One was my best friend Gary (who took his own life in ’93 or ’94) and the other is my wife. In fact, Gary understood me better than anyone else I’ve ever met. We were just “in synch” seemingly all the time. And after he died I never thought I’d meet another person who would “get me” or who I would feel so comfortable sharing with… until I met my wife at St. John’s University.
What’s strange is that, in a real way, his passing created a “space” that made meeting my wife possible. But that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, as for living a double life this has been a facet for most of my life.
Because I’ve never really felt like I “fit in.” This often translated to not really sharing what I feel about something, or when I do only dealing with ideas and concepts and even then only to a certain point. For most of my life I’ve felt like I don’t belong “here,” and by here I mean living on this planet surrounded by world full of people who both mystified and chronically misunderstood me.
Yet, on another level my particular twin flame experience has been a “double life” experience for me because I realize that it’s quite possible that my late friend Gary was my twin flame. And that I met “him” again just last year — only this time my twin “came back” as a young woman.
Now whether or not you “believe” in reincarnation the fact of the matter is that meeting (or re-meeting) my twin has led to rediscovering a truth about myself that I have long since avoided, something that many people have, in fact, suggested over the years as the “thing” that I should be doing — which is writing. So many times in the past when people told me that this is what I should be doing, and that I’d be good at it, I would shake my head no and profess that I’m not talented enough, or that I don’t have anything meaningful to share, or that there’s no point writing because no one is going to read what I write anyway.
But that inner “feeling” or “voice” never quite left me.
So when I “accidentally” met my twin (not knowing at the time that she was/is my twin flame), this feeling sort of “burst into flame” once more. And since that time I completed a book of poetry (writing about ten poems last year to finish it off), finished four chapters of a novel, and three essays as well. What’s more, on more than one occasion I’ve received confirmation that THIS is exactly what I should be doing, as if the Universe / God / Spirit / Love is encouraging me to stick with it and follow this path to the end.
So that’s what I’m doing. Stepping out in “faith” I guess.
Now, all of “this” still makes me uncomfortable because, as you can probably tell, I’m not comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings, especially in such a public forum. It’s a bit scary to put yourself “out there” open and exposed to the feedback and possible criticism of others.
But as Alison shared with me during the reading, “if you don’t do this who will?”
And her words have haunted me ever since. Because what if THIS is exactly what I’m here to do? What if meeting my twin who is so much younger than I (this time around), what if our paths crossed so that I would finally put aside old excuses and limiting beliefs and just start frigging writing? What if we met for the simple reason that the spark, or flame, required to bring these projects (and more) to completion was something that only she could help light up for me?
The word “mission” keeps coming up lately, so who knows.
But there’s one VERY important point I want to share with you about being a “burning hero.” You see, for me this isn’t some sort of label with which to see myself or understand myself as somehow special or separate from anyone else. For me the words of Matthews’ Gospel come to mind…
“Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”
~ Matthew 5:15
Maybe those words resonate with you or ring true for you. I’m not Christian (actually, I don’t belong to any religion) but they certainly do for me.
At the end of the day the “truth” of something — anything — is what it most obviously “is” or what it appears to be once “it” is out in the open. In other words, a clear perception of yourself leads to a clearer perception of your world.
And for me, we’re all called to be a burning hero, burning with the bright light of divine love that is not a possession or ours to own, but only freely share. So whatever story God / Love / Source / Universe / Whatever-You-Choose-To-Call-It is working through my life, and through yours, is not something to be hidden away any longer. It’s time, I guess, for the light of love and truth to shine brighter than ever into this crazy world where we just happen to find ourselves.
This is my truth. And the same is true for you, too.
We are ALL called to be the “burning heroes” where we find ourselves, letting that light shine though in our own lives. But how that becomes manifest for YOU will be as unique to your circumstances as it is for mine. Which, to me, seems to be the point of our journey here on earth.
In other words, as energetic beings we are here to incarnate, as best we can, the divine LOVE or fire that burns within each one of us. And if we don’t let our light shine into the world, we will all be the poorer for it.
Wouldn’t you agree?
And maybe, just maybe, that’s good enough for us to realize in this lifetime.
Exploring the limits of (self) conceptions
So if we are all called to be “burning heroes” then what holds us back from realizing, for a lack of a better word, our destiny?
In other words, why are we here? Why am I here, and why are you here?
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this question. Really thought about why it is you have air in your lungs as a living, breathing vibrant human being versus not living at all? Or maybe the question is better stated this way — HOW do you think about yourself?
For example, if asked to share some thoughts about who you are and what you want to “become” down the road (or what you’re “working towards”) what words would you choose in order to convey the key elements of who you consider yourself to be?
Admittedly this is not an easy question to answer.
For me. Possibly for you or for anyone else, when you get right down to it.
And it is especially challenging (some would say impossible?) without recourse to simply identifying yourself with a particular profession or making reference to the traditionally accepted societal roles that we find ourselves enmeshed in. Because when it comes to attempting to formulate a cohesive answer to this particular question (who are you?) it’s quite possible that best (or only?) way to begin to answer it is by sharing a story about yourself which would hopefully “show” who you are within a given framework or context of action.
In other words, the stories that we choose to tell other people about ourselves forms, as it were, the basis and backdrop for how we think about ourself.
Take, for example, this observation…
“The narrative constructs the identity of the character, what can be called his or her narrative identity, in constructing that of the story told. It is the identity of the story that makes the identity of the character.”
~ Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another
Quite simply, our sense of identity is rooted in a particular context (our lived history) founded upon our memory.
Memory and self selection, i.e. the remembering of certain “episodes” from our past to the exclusion of others, is guided by a self conception founded on a desire to shed a light on certain elements of our past while ignoring (or burying? hiding?) other elements. In other words, the “editor” of our own personal history which highlights some stories and ignores others is guided by our desire to be seen, and therefore understood, in a certain way.
Of being “pictured” one way over other possible ways.
In other words, when we tell stories about ourselves (and we do this ALL the time) we are at once both editor and storyteller. At the same time. We choose some moments to recount and exclude others. And in the telling of our own particular story we are highlighting those elements from our past that shed what we consider the “best” light on who we think we are, or how we believe ourselves to be.
The act of storytelling forms, as it were, the basis for our conceptions of self rooted in our memory and shaped in very act of telling (and recounting) certain “foundational” stories depending on the particular context in which we find ourselves in any given moment.
Which is to say… what we CHOOSE to share and how we COMMUNICATE those particular episodes IS how each one of us attempts to answer the question — who are you… really?
Untangling the “ties that bind”
Certainly, then, without memory it would be impossible for a stable sense of self to emerge in the first place.
So in a very real way memory becomes the “fabric,” if you will, of self identity. It functions as both scaffolding and content of self identification. Yet, if memory forms the basis for self-conceptions, i.e. ideas about “who we are,” then what guides or determines WHAT is remembered? Or of our remembering particular events in a certain way? In other words, why do we remember some stories and ignore or forget others?
To put this another way, our self identity is something that accumulates or gets developed over time. But not in a passive way.
And this is a key point to keep in mind.
You see, if we meet up, say tomorrow, and in the course of our conversation you choose to share some details about yourself to give me a better idea about what you want me to “know” about you, the fact remains that you have a lived, personal history which extends backwards in time prior to our meeting. And the person you are today, or how you think of yourself today, is the result of many stories and labels that have accrued to you over time and which you have accepted as “true” in one way or another.
In other words, your conception of yourself has developed over time rooted in experiences which make up your own personal history. And your storehouse of remembered “events” become the backdrop for what you choose to remember about yourself from the standpoint of a self-selected identity.
What’s more, “ideas” about yourself have their origin in your childhood.
Just think of all the names and words used to describe you by others, by the many adults who played various roles in your life and who played a part in your education and personal development. Those “foundational stories” have their origin, in a very real and profound way, in the words of others ascribed to you, calling you this or that or pointing out your shortcomings or highlighting perceived strengths while you were young and which you accepted as true until you reached a certain age.
In fact, adolescent rebellion can best be understood against this backdrop as your conscious effort to discard certain labels ascribed to you from others that are you no longer considered accurate or applicable while, at the same time, consciously choosing other labels as a better “fit” for who you thought of yourself or wanted yourself to be or become.
Which is to say… ideas about your self — about who you are or HOW you think about yourself — have their roots in your past. And because of this notions of self involve, to some degree, your conditioning and your conscious or unconscious reaction to that conditioning.
To what extent, therefore, have you examined your own thinking about your self identity?
“The essential, basic problem, and in this sense the only problem, is to fit myself in with myself, to be in agreement with myself, to find myself.”
~ José Ortega y Gasset, man and crisis
So many words and labels can be (and have been) applied to you which have their roots in culturally and socially accepted “ideas” and “beliefs” revolving around gender, roles and ethnicity: father, son, brother, husband, French-Canadian, American, veteran, roommate, student, teacher, soulmate, entrepreneur, lover, loser, fool, writer, author, old soul, loner, twin flame, nerd, geek, etc.
The list goes on and on.
What’s more, you could easily generate your own similarly long list as well.
And yet, these labels are nothing more than a way of identifying yourself (or being identified by others) as belonging to a particular group, or familial clan, or ideology. Being labeled (whether externally or internally applied) is merely a function of identification, of being recognized as belonging to one group or groups of people as opposed to a host of other possibilities.
The recognition of belonging to a group might provide you with a sense of security, of being a part of something “larger” than yourself, but it hardly sheds light on what makes you a unique individual.
Likewise, categorizing and labeling “others” as members of a certain group might give you an idea of what he or she may “stand for” but it does nothing to provide you with any insight as to what someone might be thinking as a member of one group as opposed to belong to another. Nor does it give you insight into who they really are, or how they think about themselves.
Such are the limits and constraints of self-conceptions.
Words and labels that you hear over the course of a lifetime, some of which “stick” while others become the antithesis of how we choose to think of ourselves, some applied by others when we were young and never called into question and some that we have applied to ourselves or accepted as true, have their limits.
The fact of the matter is that you are NOT reducible to a label.
Not even the ones that you have (carefully?) chosen as the best fit for “defining” yourself. Because the essence of what makes you YOU cannot be described or defined by a word, or phrase. Or a thousand of them. Which is precisely the point of J Krishnamurti’s warning about the seductive power of words and why he cautions us that “the word is not the thing.”
We develop an understanding of ourselves through memory and through labels that are applied to us by family members, teachers, friends and society, and through the self-selection of certain stories (and the necessary rejection of others) that are chosen by us in order to portray us in a certain light.
But beneath the labels and apart from remembered “foundation” stories who are you, really?
This, perhaps, lies at the root of Socrates’ claim that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Because in order to live authentically you must be authentic or true to yourself. But in order to be true to yourself you must have an idea of what you consciously stand for.
And therein lies the problem.
Because arriving at a deeper understanding of who you are can only come about by questioning, if you will, the foundations of your self identity. Of consciously choosing to passively look (without condemnation or justification) at what you think about yourself and become, as it were, exposed to yourself…
“I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
~ Genesis 3:10
There is a real and genuine fear of being exposed, of bringing “things” out into the light. In being left “naked” without the comforting mask of a role or “persona” to hide behind.
Fear is the “natural” outcome of just such a search.
Because by peeling back the layers of your own history and the nest of assumptions regarding inherited (and often unquestioned) ideas, beliefs and dogmas about yourself and the world in which you find yourself can be a deeply unsettling experience. Such a search can “trigger” you in ways you could never have imagined as inherited beliefs are discovered to have been wrong all along.
What’s more, it’s possible that you might find something about yourself that you don’t particular want to see or find. In short, you might discover an ugly truth about yourself that you are unwilling to face or accept as true as it emerges from your investigation.
It takes courage to look at yourself in the mirror of relationship. And to stay attentive to those aspects of yourself that come to the surface under the (sometimes) “harsh” light of truth.
Which is why, perhaps, so few people dare to look.
Love, mission and “identity”
So if memory forms the necessary framework for developing our identity in the first place, as we become older (and hopefully wiser?) we are faced with a dilemma with respect to how we think of ourselves, growth and change.
Because the challenge of memory, of hanging on to the past and basing our sense of self solely on what “was” involves the real danger of becoming forever rooted in the past. Quite frankly, we can become “stuck” in old ways of thinking and of conceiving of ourselves that are no longer accurate, true, or helpful with respect to your greater good. Which means that our memories of the past can become, in a real way, a virtual prison blocking us or preventing us from growing and adapting to life’s challenges in a way that promotes newer or deeper understandings of ourselves.
And this can happen because memories and old, familiar (and habitual) ways of thinking form the field and boundary of what is commonly referred to as our “comfort zone.”
At some point we all must TRANSCEND our own particular past and personal history.
The fact of the matter is that what was once true for you may no longer be the case. We are living, growing and vital beings who are (hopefully) learning and evolving in our understanding of who we are and what we are ultimately here to do.
So it comes down to a question of discovering your life’s purpose as an “inner” voice or directive which gives meaning to our life here on earth.
As such, it’s not a question of being “true” to yourself apart from some specific time and place, as in the here and now. Who you are has everything to do with who you feel called to be rooted in the NOW with respect to how that resonates with you today, in this particular moment in time. Which means, we are truly ourselves when we are rooted in the present moment with respect to what we feel called to do.
According to Viktor Frankl…
“The more one forgets himself [or herself] —by giving himself [or herself] to a cause to serve or another person to love — the more human he [or she] is and the more he [or she] actualizes himself [or herself].”
~ Man’s Search for Meaning
It’s a question of mission.
The simple fact of the matter is this… it is LOVE that lifts us up and out from our narrow conceptions of self and from, for lack of a better word or phrase, the exercise of our ego. It is LOVE that makes our life worth living and reduces all conceptions of self to mere words or categories of thought that are, in a real way, both pale and pathetic when compared to the vibrant reality of a living, breathing human being.
And when I say LOVE I’m not talking about what typically passes for “love,” either.
Because real LOVE emerges or appears in our life as an that inner voice spurring us onward, the voice not of “reason” but of something else which calls us out of ourselves at some point or another in our lives, turning our world upside down and leading us to a redefinition of self and a reorientation of our values. The alchemical “philosopher’s stone” transmuting the lead of our ego into a heart of pure gold.
But what, then, is LOVE?
You can turn to Google and look up the four or five different words that the ancient Greeks used for love. Or find a definition of sorts in an online dictionary. But nowhere in our language does a word fall so flat and seem so pale when compared to the lived reality of what it is trying to describe than the word love.
And yet, this word gets tossed around literally dozens of times a day with respect to all sorts of things that have nothing to do with actual LOVE, from foods we want to eat (and crave) to a movie we want to watch or a show we want to see on TV.
The way this word is used in our daily language has, perhaps, numbed us all to the awesome and life changing reality shrouded by so simple a word.
Because how it is used typically means nothing more than what I happen to want at the moment with respect to a world of “things” that bring me pleasure, from beer and bacon to hanging with friends or going on vacation. It is also lazily and sloppily applied to the people in our lives who we take for granted or who we have sentimental feelings towards but who are really a part of our life because of need for attachment or out of fear of being alone.
Love is not about loneliness. Or convenience. Or habit.
In other words, all the many and varied uses of the word “love” have absolutely nothing to do with LOVE. And if you look at this for yourself you’ll see that this is true.
The fact of the matter is that LOVE, real LOVE, has nothing to do with human emotions. And though we do experience and feel a range of emotions when in relationship with others, LOVE transcends human emotions. And it transcends human experience and categories of thinking. Because LOVE, real LOVE, is not reducible to thought, or feeling, or sentiment, or definition.
We do “feel” it, like a fire or light that shines “inside” from someplace and no place to illuminate our interior “space” or “world” and which immediately “shows” us where we stand. IT is energy, vibrant and alive, and has its source in the divine…
“When the things of the mind don’t fill your heart, then there is love; and love alone can transform the present madness and insanity in the world… you really love only when you do not possess, when you are not envious, not greedy, when you are respectful, when you have mercy and compassion, when you have consideration for [others]”
~ J. Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom
The fire of LOVE burns away that which is false and sheds its holy light on what is real, and true, and beautiful in ourselves, in others and in our world.
What we “see” through the light of LOVE can frighten or terrify us, because it immediately shows us the “ground” on which we stand and contrasts for us the difference between what is false (and so often foolishly clung to) and what is amazing, profound and true.
And quite simply, LOVE changes (and challenges) everything.
Only through LOVE do we discover who we really are, free from the narrow or outdated ideas of self rooted in our past. It is the fire of LOVE which is the only true light showing us the way to an authentic sense of self, and only through LOVE can each one of us become a “burning hero” which our world so desperately needs.
* The Burning Hero card comes from the Journey of Love Oracle Cards by Alana Fairchild. To support her loving work and get a set of these wonderful cards for yourself please click the link.