When you reach the end will you be able to say you had the courage to live your most authentic, soulful life?
Such was the instruction from the senior guide to the dozen participants of an 11-day wilderness quest as we sat in a loose circle on the dry, bare earth.
Away from the main camp, a pen and notebook in my hand, seated in the late spring shade of a sycamore amid the jumble of boulders in an Arizona canyon, I pressed my spine against the tree and considered my life—my current existence and the larger one that beckoned.
I was apprenticing as a guide for nature-based “rites of passage” work, part of my journey towards a meaningful, soulful life—one that fully embodies my authenticity and personal power as a man. But where was I on that path, especially in relation to writing an obituary like the one requested?
Most of us spend the first half of life creating an identity: an ego-based persona built with influences from family, education, work, social and peer groups, and religious affiliation. Consciously or not, it is what we’re taught to do, and what we see others doing.
Few of us realize it, but that identity is also stitched from our inner wounds and workings, our patterns and habits. Most of us want to look good, and we decorate our persona with external objects such as job title, style of clothing, car, and house. Family, perhaps.
Yet this identity projected to the outside world is not fully who we are.
Below the superficial façade—stylish, successful, sexy, strong—is a hidden and secret part of the self. We may not fully grasp exactly what this deeper part of us may be, but we sense its presence like a shadowy figure standing behind or beside us.
In each of us there is something deeper. Something nameless. Elusive.
Beneath that carefully constructed identity, even if we have accumulated material success, most of us feel a sense of disconnection. It’s like a hollow core, something essential missing.
Usually, we unconsciously project onto the outer world what we feel is lacking in our lives, thinking that what is not in here must be out there. Thus we go chasing after (or are encouraged to buy) what we think might fill that void: physical connection, new lovers, sports cars, exotic travel.
Yet almost always these objects of attraction fail to touch the deeper part of us.
For most, part of what we sense is missing is the inherently creative part of our being—that indescribable wedge of light that I call the soul. The blueprint for an authentic life, soul is the element that connects us to something much larger. If we pay attention and follow, it guides towards becoming the unique person we were meant to be.
“Inside, something waits to be born. Something vital and secret, tender and powerful.
For a chick in the dim confines of its shell, the space grows too small. At a mysterious moment, something stirs it to wake up and begin pecking with its beak against the wall. It doesn’t know what waits beyond the small, dark world of its existence, only that it must break free. Tightly folded up, it hasn’t yet discovered its own wings. Yet it risks its entire existence, the only space that it has ever known, to struggle forth into what it is meant to become.
How many of us listen to our own innate intelligence in such fashion? Offering a million distractions but little of true grace, the false gods of Money and Machine have seduced most of our world. The inside of the modern shell is lined with television and computer screens, lulling the restless quietly back to sleep.
As a man, are you willing to crack your protective shell that you might emerge into a much larger and unimagined version of your self? How much longer will you remain tightly curled up in close, familiar confines, chanting to yourself all the convincing reasons why you must not risk breaking free?” (excerpted from The Bones and Breath, by L. R. Heartsong)
To emerge from the shell you don’t have to quit your job, leave an intimate relationship, take a year off, live in a mountain cabin, move to a foreign country, begin psychotherapy, or undertake a wilderness “vision quest.” Granted, these may all be perfectly relevant and worthwhile things to do at some point of your journey, but they are not necessarily required for you to begin emerging into a soulful, authentic existence.
What is required, however, is that we have courage. Soul courage.
A life worth living, one that pursues a deeper meaning and sense of connection in the world—the kind that my mentor asked us to write our obituary for—isn’t simply handed to us. It requires building, risks, and leaps of faith.
Many forms of courage exist: the heroism of dashing into a burning building to save someone, the willingness to face our addictions and give them up, the bravery to confront an enemy or social injustice.
I think of soul courage as daring to be someone fully authentic and different. It is the boldness to go off alone on a quest—either an inner or outer one—to discover our truth and calling in the world. It’s the fearlessness to find the deeper, hidden part of yourself and the risk to live from that place.
In other posts for the Good Men Project, I have offered that men need to embrace a heart-centered, evolved masculinity—the Sacred Masculine—yet the prerequisite to any such soulful transformation is courage.
To evolve requires vulnerability and risk, the readiness to look at our patterns—mental, emotional, somatic—that keep us limited and small. Disconnected. Superficial. No one embodies his deepest authenticity without courage. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
Something in you waits to be born, its shape unguessed at until it emerges.
If we’re going to risk emerging from our shell and becoming something larger, more powerful and alluring, courage is essential.
Brother, I know you have it within you, this soul courage. I say it rests at the heart of the masculine—the Sacred Masculine, especially.
In that Arizona canyon, I rested against the tall sycamore and listened to the sounds of nature around me, watching a hawk trace circles against the blue sky. I considered how I wanted to memorialize my “best” life, then I opened my little notebook and wrote:
He questioned what it meant to be an authentic man.
The ideal of the Sacred Masculine inspired him: cultivating personal power and using it appropriately for positive benefit, the ability and willingness to feel deeply, and an understanding of the interrelatedness of life.
He tended the earth and practiced stewardship. He opened his heart and softened his criticisms of others.
Repeatedly, he followed his longing. He wrestled with demons, took leaps of faith, and died to any identity that had grown too small for him.
He cast aside shame and guilt, choosing to laugh, to weep, and to live with abandon—trusting that love would shatter him into something larger.
Passionately he loved the wild places of the world. Barefoot, he quietly spoke the language of rivers, trees and stars.
He walked, wrote, cooked and shared… all to nourish the soul.
And he danced. Wildly.
If I told you to pen your obituary today for your life as it exists right now, how would it read? Go ahead, write it. Then write the one for the soul life you most want to live, the one whispering somewhere deep inside you.
I offer that the only real difference between the two is soul courage.
Photo: Unsplash/Mikael Kristenson