The above is from my last post about the shadow. Around 22 years ago I read a quote about original choice that instantly switched on some long-unused lights. I think Emerson wrote it. It was something like, “Nothing is so rare as an original choice.” I was just emerging from a lengthy dark night experience and knew that if I’d read it a decade earlier I would have blown right past it, uncomprehending.
Until I saw those words I hadn’t known how blinded I’d been by collective thinking. I’d been so busy being a good girl and pleasing all the important people and looking up to famous authorities and being so proud of myself for doing everything right that it simply hadn’t occurred to me that following outer examples while repressing inner realities is not the way to become who you are meant to be. This is what it means to be unconscious.
It seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t until mid-life. And it took a whopper of an inner crisis for me to get it. Luckily, I refrained from doing anything foolish during that time. I was very good at being a stoic little soldier, so I just tolerated the pain. Doing so was another message I had unconsciously absorbed. So much so that around the age of 12 when the dentist said I needed several fillings, I refused Novocain. I still remember the odd way he looked at me after drilling a particularly bad tooth. I had no idea what it meant, but now I think this kind man was feeling a mixture of compassion and pity. He must have wondered why in the world a little girl like me would make such a choice. I had no idea. Such is the power of cultural conditioning.
Wait! I made that decision by myself! Wasn’t that an original choice? Not really. I was proud of myself for choosing to be so brave, but unconsciously I was just following an example. No-excuses, non-complaining, unemotional stoicism was my mother’s drug of choice. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me. In my mind I had to be like her. It made me feel safe. Special. Worthy. Such is the power of cultural conditioning.
A truly original choice would have been to listen to my feelings and say, “Hell yes, I’ll take Novocain! And anything else you’ve got! I’m tired of pretending! Conforming! Not feeling! Proving something! To whom? For what?” But I didn’t know I had that option. Most children don’t. We teach our kids good manners and appropriate social behavior, but how many of us teach them to trust their inner promptings, especially those that make us acutely uncomfortable? For most children, it’s far easier to conform than risk parental disapproval of their deepest, truest selves.
How do we make an original choice? First, by learning to listen to the murmurings of the pure and loving soul we were born with; a soul whose purpose in life is to bless the world with its unique gifts simply by loving what it loves. Second, when the time is right and we’re strong enough to accept the rejection that some will gleefully heap upon us, by singing our own song. Making our own contribution to the healing of the world is the greatest power and purest joy we will ever know.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” – Henry David Thoreau
Such is the power of cultural conditioning. When’s the last time you made an original choice?