post written by: Marc Chernoff
How To Be Bigger Than Yourself
What We Live For
Once upon a time a wise man asked a group of people who he cared about to convene. A month later twenty of us are assembled on the front porch of a log cabin near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Most of us don’t know each other, as we are from different parts of the country and travel in different social circles.
As our two-day meeting begins, it becomes clear to me that we all share at least two things in common: The first is that we want to make a difference in the world and be of service to others, and the second is that none of us have the foggiest idea what it is we are supposed to do here at this remote location.
Our gathering feels somewhat reminiscent of early colonist meetings before the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t trained soldiers or official public leaders that got together then. Rather, it was ordinary people – young and old, rich and poor, carpenter and farmer – who met because they believed in a vision more abstract and bigger than themselves.
They wanted freedom, whatever that meant… and democracy, however that worked. And although they were willing to die for these ideals, the spirit of their early meetings was driven by the passion for living. Because ultimately it’s not what we die for that motivates us, it’s what we live for. They convened because they knew in their hearts what they lived for.
We Want To Create
I am convinced that the twenty people here have a conviction about life that – like the colonists – goes deeper than superficial, self-centered desires and wants. We each believe – using words and expressions that are our own – that we are acting on behalf of an energy bigger than all of us, while also contained within each of us.
So here we sit, all twenty of us, holding a space and filling it with energy, speaking quickly and slowly with voices of curiosity. We’re occupying this space because our journeys took us here, even though we’re uncertain what it is we’re here to do.
And we continue to sit and breathe and think and converse, until the wise man walks out of the log cabin and onto the porch. He asks each of us to tell the group what brought us here.
Yes, the wise man was the inspiration for all of us, so we name him. Yes, we want to learn, connect and be present, so we name that. Yes, we felt moved by our intuition and curiosity, so we continue to acknowledge the obvious. But what else? Abstractions are inspiring for only as long as we can use them to create something. But what is it that we want to create?
The 800 Pound Gorilla
As we sit and move through the first day together, it is clear that none of us are sure about how to address the massive, hungry, obnoxious, smelly, sly and very much alive 800 pound gorilla standing in the center of the porch.
The wise man continues to inquire, in various ways, about our collective motivation beyond casual conversation, about our unified purpose beyond friendship, about what might be the driving force behind coming here this weekend. But he doesn’t receive a single answer. Nobody feels ready to acknowledge the truth behind the question.
Until finally, it is the end of the night and the wise man asks us to sleep on it – to look to our thoughts and dreams in an effort to determine why we’re here, and then perhaps let the group know in the morning.
I return to my cabin bedroom, which overlooks the patio where the 800 pound gorilla stands. And instead of holding the question, I let it go. Because it’s easier for me to take responsibility for an answer than it is to acknowledge that I don’t know the answer. And lately I’ve been learning there’s a lot I don’t know.
As I let the question go, my mind feels free and wanders off to sleep, peacefully.
The Opening We Need
I wake up just before sunrise and prop myself up in bed with my laptop to write, as I often do at home. I think that I might write about love and the importance of honesty. But instead, I find myself unexpectedly holding the 800 pound gorilla… in my heart.
And although my mind wants to think about anything but this gorilla, who is still standing on the front porch, but now also in my heart, my heart knows better and forces me to write. Even as my mind desperately struggles to make the gorilla disappear – to distract me with fleeting thoughts about other things I could be doing – my heart remains focused.
Because my heart tells me there is something beautiful about the way the gorilla holds herself. And that she is asking for her beauty to be acknowledged, reflected and represented justly. And finally, as words pour onto the screen, our role here at the cabin becomes clear to me: We are here to acknowledge, reflect and represent what is beautiful and true in this world.
We came together to visit an 800 pound gorilla. And although each of us sees her, we are afraid to tell each other that we see her. Because we are unsure of ourselves, and because we don’t feel totally comfortable. But it is the moment we let go of these binding fears that we give ourselves the opening we need to truly know the gorilla.
For her beauty. For her grace. For her truth.
And it is this knowing that creates an opening for all our hearts and minds to convene. For energy to radiate. For revolutions to transpire. For what we once perceived as separate to be known as one. And it is in this state of unity that our collective answers surface, allowing us to be incalculably bigger than ourselves.
PS: If you enjoyed this short story, I recommend reading the The Alchemist.
Photo by: Martin Chen