The big illusion at the center of modern life is the belief that you will be loved and happy if you are successful in your professional life – which is to say, if you make lots of money and become well-known in your field of endeavor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for success. Be successful, by all means. Have a great job; make lots of money; be acclaimed in your profession; and have people admire you for what you do. All of that is good and important – even essential in the scheme of things. But don’t think that that’s going to lead to love. It won’t.
And if being loved, and loving another, is essential for your happiness – as it is for most of us – than it won’t lead to happiness, either.
How then do we make sense of this bizarre paradox at the center of our lives? As everyone knows, there can be no real fulfillment in life without professional success, however one may define it. And to varying degrees, every one of us pursues that success, not only because it takes money to survive, but because we are driven to express our unique talents. Why shouldn’t we be rewarded with lettuce and love for the good work we do?
Unfortunately, the love we receive for our work isn’t the kind of love that nourishes, or heals, in that uniquely personal realm where only intimate love suffices. In fact, the over-emphasis on professional life leads us away from intimate love, and from deep contact with self and with spirit.
The challenge facing us today – as it has been throughout human history – is captured in a rather simple question: How can I find and fulfill my heart in this life? That challenge has been made especially difficult because the path to such fulfillment has been hidden from us, and therefore neglected by most. In the absence of any clear map, we are forced either to search on our own, or succumb to the pressures of society, which, for many reasons, pushes us toward work and productivity. The potential tragedy facing us all is that we could give our lives to our work, we could pursue wealth and status, and in the process lose our hearts and the experience of love in the process.
The Gender Path
Our pursuit of love and fulfillment unfolds in parallel paths that are opposite in nature. One path is yang, the other yin. The yang path is filled with activity. It is the path of work and of doing. It leads us outward, toward the world. Indeed, it makes us want to change and shape the world according to an image or dream that we possess inside of us. It can be an adventurous path, or a mundane one, but it is always about your interactions with your outer environment.
The yang path can be called the Gender Path. Out of necessity, we are forced by the Gender Path to create an identity that helps us interact effectively with others, and with the world at large. Thus, the Gender Path defines you as a specific man or woman to the world. It gives you a function, a role, and place in society. The Gender path is full of labels – people say such things as, I’m a healer, or a teacher, or a lawyer, or artist, or a doctor, or a truck driver.
One of the dangers of the Gender Path is that you can become overly identified with your role in society, as opposed to your connection with yourself, with your own heart, and with Spirit or Source. In fact, you’re not a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or a truck driver. You’re none of these things, even as you perform one or another of these roles in the world. But by over-identifying with any one of them, you can lose yourself in your role. When that happens, you are limited to being whatever you say you are, which makes you incapable of loving in ways that are outside the limits of the Gender Path.
When I was just a young man, perhaps 26, I had a conversation with the great Bill Dufty, author of Sugar Blues, Lady Sings the Blues, and You are All Sanpaku, written for George Ohsawa. I was only a few years out of college and still writing journalism, but I had a book I wanted to write – which was Recalled By Life, Dr. Anthony Sattilaro’s story of recovery from cancer – and wanted Dufty to help me get a publisher. Dufty, then already in his late 50s, didn’t know me and was reluctant. In an effort to persuade him, I blurted out, “I’m a writer.”
Dufty paused in order to clear the air. For a moment or two, he said nothing. And then, in a voice that was a little exasperated, he said, “Don’t say you’re a writer. Just say that you write.”
With those two little sentences, he stopped me dead in my tracks. And I never forgot what he said, because he managed to capture so much in that moment. We are more than our roles, our titles, he was saying. We are more than what we do.
The Heart Path
The yin path directs us away from the world. It turns us inward to the mysterious, the wild, the scary, the tender, and the vulnerable places of the heart and soul. The yin path can be called the Inward Path or the Heart Path. Ideally, the Heart Path leads us to the increasing experience of love, understanding, wisdom, and compassion. It leads us to our most essential selves. The Heart Path offers us the knowledge of who we are and what we are meant to do in life. Ultimately, it leads us to reunion with the Source.
On the Heart Path, we engage the world of feelings, intuition, and inner knowing. We examine our patterns and come to understand ourselves. We find the part of us that is suffering – the victim-hero archetype – and allow it to speak its truth. A little boy or girl inside of us, a mature man or woman within, wants to tell its story of injustice, suffering, neglect, and abuse. It wants to tell its story of its dreams and ambitions. It longs to reveal the hidden talents that we came into the world with and still yearn to express. It wants to share its inner-world experience of every day life. And in the wake of such sharing, it longs to be loved and understood.
This part of us has secret blessings to bestow. It isn’t just the story of loss, fear, anger, and longing. It’s a story of enormous talents, of great joy and inspiration, and of dreams that still linger and wait to be realized.
The Two Must Nourish Each Other
Like the two strands of our DNA, the yang and the yin paths are designed to create a dynamic balance between opposites. Together they generate life energy, while providing healthy checks and balances on the other side of our lives.
The Heart Path is a well of insight, ability, and inspiration – all of which long to be translated into action. The Heart Path must become the source for the Gender Path in order for us to be fulfilled in life. We go to the well within, drink of its waters, and act in the Gender role. The yin way must be expressed on the yang path. Otherwise, the yin way becomes empty words, powerlessness, and unhealthy patterns designed to avoid responsibility for our lives.
Each path offers its own unique challenges, lessons, and essential rewards. By giving ourselves to the challenges posed by each of these opposing aspects of our nature, we become whole and integrated. In the process, we come to know who we are, and live by the dictates of the heart and spirit.
Here is an overview of the two worlds that must be balanced and harmonized if we are to find ourselves.