Welcome to a poetic and philosophic blog about the struggles of life and relationship.

“The ambiguity of life exists in every creative process. In every creative process of life, a destructive trend is implied; in every integrating process of life, a disintegrating trend; in every process toward the sublime, a profanizing trend.”(Paul Tillich, Ph.D., from The Meaning of Health, 1981)

Life cannot exist without the essential possibility and existential reality of death. Life is impossible without the daily, chaotic struggle against death... against the unremitting threat of entropy and nothingness. As Tillich again informs us, “Life must risk itself daily in order to win itself, but in the risking it may lose itself. A life which does not risk death--even in the highest forms of the life of the spirit--is a life poorly lived." This willingness to risk ourselves for greater life is the key that opens the door to the wellspring of creativity deep inside of us... that wellspring of transformative vitality that propels us through the struggle of death into the richness and renewal of new life.

"Creativity is 'the elixir of life' that heals and transforms life. Through the creative process we enter that 'sacred place,' that zone of evolution where the world lights up to itself as we light up to the world. It is here, in that 'holiest of holy' places that we are reunited with the waters of the wellspring of creativity, The Source of the 'River of Life' from which all creative energy and vitality issue forth to be manifested as new life. Through every creative act, life fulfills itself. Through every creative act, we transcend the mortality of our separate ego-self of I and enter into the realm of immortality to become one with our contextual self as Thou, as a self-realized collaborator in creation. Through creativity, we are delivered from the chaos of illness into the dynamic order of new life."
(P. Donovan & Herb Joiner Bey from The Face of Consciousness, 2006)

Please join me on this courageous venture of life and "enter into the realm of immortality," the realm of dialogue and relationship by poetically sharing with this community, your struggles to live... to "nullify the unremitting recurrences of death" through the continuous recurrence of birth. Through dialogue and relationship, the Face of consciousness is seen, recognized and witnessed. It is your Face, my Face, the Face of all life, the Face of our God. Thank you, Patrick.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


“Each incarnation has a potentiality, and the mission of the life is to live that potentiality.”
(Joseph Campbell from The Power of Myth, 1988)

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson from The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The Prime Directive

In the spring of 2003, I was sitting in a circle of professors and students from Bastyr University. As an adjunct professor at the University then, I was part of a workshop with faculty and students at the Whidbey Island Institute on Whidbey Island. It was a three-day workshop on personal transformation for the students lead by a few of us in the faculty. At the end of the third day while we were all in circle for the closing ceremony, we asked a question each of us had to answer. The question was this: “What is your primary responsibility to yourself and to your community of life?” Based upon each person’s answer to that question, we were each to make a promise to ourselves and to the community present as to how we would fulfill our personal responsibility.

Of course I was intrigued with the question both for myself and for the young students in the circle. As I watched their faces deeply pondering their answers, I found myself also lost in my own deep thought about the answer. Not just reviewing the weekend’s many intimate conversations and dialogues as I expected, but contemplating my life as well on so many levels. Just what is my primary responsibility to myself, to my family, friends and community… to life itself? Lost in this contemplative inner exploration, I suddenly found myself catapulted back into the present…actually shaken to my very roots from an answer given by one of my colleagues, Dr. Rowen Hamilton. Upon his turn to answer, Dr. Hamilton stood up in a very purposeful yet humble manner and gently, but profoundly said, “Above all, I have a responsibility to be who I was born to be in my fullest.” After a momentary pause, he then promised to be “that person” and quietly sat down.

A soberingly powerful and intensely present silence overcame the circle. The proverbial “pin” could have been heard; in the midst of this silence was a pregnant space spanning what seemed many minutes. It was as though the voice of destiny had just spoken directly to our souls. The simplicity and pure honesty of his answer left each one of us awe-struck and speechless as we considered the intrinsic directive: “To be who we are born to be in our fullest!” It seemed as if this directive had shattered all delusional constructs and preconceived notions any of us had about ourselves and what our lives were about. I could see the impact his answer had on the faces of everyone in that circle; it had stopped each one of us dead in our tracks, but why? Why was this simple, honest reply to the question posed so profoundly affecting us? Was there something deep in our inner nature, in our soul memory that resonated with and understood the fundamental truth of Dr. Hamilton’s answer? It certainly embraced some of the greatest concerns of human existence and deeper mysteries of being that have continued for centuries to confound us all, even the greatest of philosophers and theologians; mysteries such as consciousness and self-awareness, destiny and fate, free-will and predetermination.

The renowned story teller and mythologist Michael Meade, in his book Fate And Destiny, tells the traditional story of Rabbi Zushya. Rabbi Zushya was a wise and famous Jewish mystic and teacher who, on his death bed, was afraid to meet God because he was concerned he could not answer God’s only question: “Zushya, why were you not more like Zushya?” In other words, God was asking Zushya if Zushya was what he was born to be in his fullest. Why did this concern Zushya so? He was wise and supposedly knew all the great mysteries of God and life. How did he not know the answer to God’s question? Can any one of us ever know the answer? As Meade writes, “Every life must eventually become a revelation of itself.” Is your life “becoming a revelation of itself?” How would you answer God if you died today and God asked you, “While you lived your life, did you become what you were born to be in your fullest?” Do you know yourself well enough and do you have some sense or vision of your own destiny well enough to identify an answer?

As I further considered Dr. Hamilton’s response, I began to realize the primal truth of its directive. In reality, all any one of us can ever be is the person we are and the life we live as that person “eventually becomes the revelation of itself.” In other words, I realized there is no “right” or “wrong” way of being myself. I AM the revelation of myself! By virtue of my own separate, individual uniqueness formed and shaped by my genetic code, familial patterns, and personal life experiences, any expression of myself is the “right” expression because it is simply me being who I AM. Therefore, the only promise I can ever responsibly make with some sense of honest conviction is to be who I AM, or is it? This begged my further inquiry. Is the “who I AM” enough or is there a deeper meaning implied? Is there an eminent sense of destiny insinuated in the person I was born to be as opposed to just being who I AM? The essential question in my mind came to be: Is there something more I am to become other then just who I AM… something destined? As I explored this question, I quickly realized I did know one thing. “Who I AM” is clearly a dynamic ever evolving identity influenced by a multitude of factors at any one moment.

Self-identity, for any self-aware being, is constantly evolving and adapting from one moment to the next. It is in a continuous state of being formed, shaping and reshaping hourly sculpted by fate’s creative hand via a combination of numerous external forces and influences (social, familial, political, environmental etc.) combined with our internal reactions to those external forces and influences. Yet, I felt as though there was still something more deep inside of me, something constant and unchanging at the very core of “who” I AM… something of “my” nature, of “my” self-identity that made me unique and different than anyone else in spite of so many shared human commonalities and experiences. Further, I felt as though “the something constant at my core” is always calling out to me, beckoning me in some strange and haunting way, like a light house in the fog of night directing me through the perilous seas of my fate to some yet unseen but strangely familiar port of destiny only I could recognize. This is true for us all. In spite of our shared commonalities, something makes us distinctively different in our own inimitable way. If we listen carefully, we can hear that uniqueness as it calls out to us to follow its beckoning light to the harbor of our own particular destiny… to the secret place of our own particular gifts and individuality. I believe it is this uniqueness and individuality of life’s many forms, life’s myriad of diversity that makes life so interesting, rich and beautiful with its interplay of individually unique characters, qualities and species and its many exotic harbors.

At the time this workshop was taking place, it just so happened I was in the midst of writing my first book, The Face of Consciousness. I had just finished writing a section on diversity and self-identity. So, the idea of each one of us being unique and responsible to be who we were born to be intrigued me. It was fully in sync with all I had been studying and writing about regarding the nature of consciousness, self-identity and living systems. Every living system is a unique, individual whole unto itself and is made up of parts that are also unique, individual wholes made up of other parts, and so on. According to science writer and philosopher, Arthur Koestler, every whole is a part and every part is a whole, each unique. Since every part is also a whole unto itself and visa versa, Koestler referred to everything as a “holon.” He described every living system as a “holon” possessed of two opposite tendencies: a tendency to integrate as part of a larger whole, and a self-assertive tendency to preserve its individual autonomy and uniqueness as a whole unto itself. Could that “self-assertive tendency” be the “something constant at the core” in each one of us that calls out to us and guides us through the perils of our fated seas to the unique harbor of our own distinctive destiny guarantying life its diversity?

As the biological sciences have clearly witnessed, the more diverse a living system is (the more unique and autonomous are its parts), the more robust and healthy is that system. Diversity is a special form of creativity and appears to be a primary directive of life because it assures the maximal unfolding of all the possibilities of identity and relationship life has to offer. Life’s preponderance for diversity assures the maximal unfolding of the distinct and peculiar characteristics of the full potential of each one of us as individual holons. As I think about it, the U.S. Army (Who would have thought?) actually had it right: “Be all that you can be.” Above all, life wants each one of us “to be all that we can be.”

Know Thyself

If I AM who I AM and I AM a unique individual as is each one of us, what is the “constant at my core” that makes me unique? Is it my genes? Some might say it is. But, according to the human genome project, genetically we are more alike than different, even between different geographical and racial populations. According to research appearing in the science journal Genetics, “The proportion of human genetic variation due to differences between populations is modest, and individuals from different populations can be genetically more similar than individuals from the same population.” Research in genetics has also shown we share 98% of our human DNA with chimpanzees. 98% of our DNA is identical to a chimpanzee’s DNA! Not so hard for me to believe when I think of a few friends I had as a teenager. As a matter of fact, researchers finished mapping the genome of the domestic dog and the results showed, among other things, that dogs, mice, and humans share a core set of DNA. Obviously, it isn’t genetics alone that contributes to uniqueness. What makes me different from you, different from anyone else, even from a chimpanzee or a dog, for that matter, is something more… something of cumulative life-experience and of the deep self. It exists at a more profound and fundamental level than biology and genetics alone. It is something of consciousness and self-awareness... something of the soul.

When Moses encountered God as the burning bush on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments, according to the biblical account in Exodus 3:13-14, Moses asked God, “When I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them?” God replied, “I AM that I AM.” I believe this name of God given to Moses by God represents the most basic, self-reflective statement of being possible. The word "that" appearing within God’s name, is a linguistic symbol for the universal phenomenon of self-reflection that allows the self to behold the self. It acts as the mirror reflecting the image of I AM back to I AM allowing God to experience God so that God may know God. It allows God to, as Psalm 8:1 declares, “Behold the magnificence and glory of the Lord” and proclaim “How excellent is thy name in all the earth who has set thy glory above the heavens.” As I have described with great detail in The Face of Consciousness, the creative, self-reflective act represented by God’s name is intrinsic to all living systems and is essential for the development of self-awareness and self-consciousness. It not only allows the unrealized potential of life to fully manifest, affirm and eventually witness and realize all aspects of its beingness, but it also allows each one of us to do the same. It allows ourselves to experience ourselves that we may know ourselves.

For any of us to be “who we were born to be in our fullest” we must first know who we are at our core on a deep soulular level. Of course, this takes thorough, intense introspection and examination of one’s life. As Socrates wrote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Of course it isn’t! Without daily examination of one’s life, it is difficult to evaluate the strange twists of fate we encounter and the outcomes of our choices and directions taken in response to those “strange twists.” As mythologist Michael Meade writes in his book, Fate And Destiny:

“Fate and the soul are woven of the same threads and fate includes the strange twists that make each soul unique and each life unpredictable. Denying all sense of fate and limitations in life also means denying any sense of inherent uniqueness in the soul. Our ‘uniqueness’ is woven exactly where the thread of destiny entwines with the twists of fate.”

The thread of destiny is that light beckon that guides us through the perilous seas of our fated life to our own unique harbor of “who” we are to be. It “entwines the twists of fate” at the points where we are confronted by potential navigational hazards forcing us to make directional changes (choices) based on avoidance or confrontation of those potential hazards. Therefore, the story of who we are first begins to be discovered within the story of our choices. The history of those choices throughout our life is the map of our life… the fingerprint of our identity. Without such information, the perilous sea of life is difficult to navigate. To know one’s self is not an easy task. It is an ongoing process… a continual discovery and unfolding until one’s life “becomes its own revelation of itself,” as Meade writes. To know one’s self is to know one’s direction... to recognize and follow that directional beacon of light that helps us navigate the perils of fate’s entwinements with destiny so that we may arrive at the harbor of our life’s revelation of itself. To know one’s self means also to understand our choices, how they empower us to become that which we are born to be, or how they may inhibit our growth and development and impede our possibility to move into the fullest expression of our potential. As the ancient inscription on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi reads, “Know Thyself.” This, I firmly believe, is the most important of all life’s directives. Without knowing ourselves, it is difficult to be the person we were born to be.

As I sat in the circle with my students and colleagues that day considering further Dr. Hamilton’s declaration and resultant promise, I realized I do have a responsibility to Life itself, as does every person living on this planet or in this universe. Our shared, primary responsibility to Life is to be the “unique, autonomous holon” we were born to be in our fullest and to do so means each one of us must know who we are at our core and be true to that self by fully realizing its potential. Like Polonius’s last bit of advice to his son Laertes, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “This above all, to thine own self be true.” By so doing, we assure Life its maximal unfolding… its richness, robustness and diversity. By so doing, we can live our full potential and assure ourselves our destiny. But, there was yet one more responsibility I began to see emerging from all of this analytical ruminating. We have another responsibility to each other… to each living thing. It is the responsibility to allow each one of us to be that unique, autonomous holon we are each meant to be by ensuring and encouraging the freedom of expression for each one of us to do so.

By the time it was my turn to answer that day, I had realized there was another promise I had to make besides the promise to be who I was born to be in my fullest. It was the only promise I thought could respectfully follow such a primary promise as Dr. Hamilton’s. I promised to encourage, support and inspire each one of the people present in that circle that day to become who they were born to be in their fullest and to refrain from obstruction or interference with their freedom to do so. As the eighteenth century French philosopher, Voltaire wrote: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” I understood that as I have a primary responsibility to be who I was born to be in my fullest, I also have a secondary responsibility to assure everyone else their individual freedom to be who they were born to be in their fullest, as well, even if I may not agree with the “who” they choose to be. Each of us has our own individual path and hidden gifts to discover and bring into the world. Each one of us is an unique individual expression of life’s diverse nature… of God being God.

At the moment I made my promise, one more thought occurred to me. It occurred to me what the “founding fathers” of the United States may have been trying to accomplish in the framing of the American Constitution. I believe they were constitutionally delineating the two fundamental responsibilities we have to ourselves and to each other: 1) to be what each one of us was born to be in our fullest; 2) to allow and assure all others the freedom to be what they were born to be in their fullest. The writers of the constitution were also attempting to construct the guidelines to preserve the freedoms and individual rights it would take to allow those responsibilities to be realized by each individual and the communities within which they lived. What a revelation it was to me to finally understand the depth of thought and insight it took for these founding fathers to construct the framework of democracy and individual freedoms upon which this country was built. I have come to realize these two fundamental responsibilities we have to ourselves and to each other are fundamental responsibilities shared by all conscious, self-aware beings.

© p. donovan