post written by: Marc Chernoff

How To Be Bigger Than Yourself


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

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12 Comments

  • Your words are reminiscent of the closing lines of the Declaration of Independence: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of devine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

    And we all know the result of that mutual pledge!

    Thank you for that inspiring short story.

    More can be done by a single voice than most single voices realize. But when many voices combine in a single refrain, focussed on a single point for the purpose of doing good, that voice can be amplifide tremendously.

    Here’s to all those who would reach out beyond their own concerns to lift and serve and create and reform. May we so speak with a combined voice of decency, compassion and truth.

  • Ken,

    Thanks for the added insight. Well stated. I couldn’t agree more.

    Marc

  • Lovely story. Very cool!

  • What a wonderful story! This is why I love retreats. When you get a group of like minded individuals together, who are all energetically aligned, the insights can be tremendous. It’s like you lift each other up to higher and higher levels than you could’ve achieved on your own. Beautiful.

    And I love how your wise man continued to make you dig down until you found the base motivation, so beyond what we often think it is. It really all comes down to just wanting to see and experience the beauty of this physical world. Thank you for an awesome and inspirational post.

    Hugs,
    Melody

  • Big fan of retreats as well. They really do free up the mind to do amazing things. This story is a great example.

  • If I’m not mistaken, these 20 people are an analogy for everyone on the planet. People are like lights switching on to something that is illuminating their awareness, though they need first to quell the mind to let this settle and be delivered to them. We’ve been a mind world for too long, the next phase is for a more sense oriented one. But first we need to forget before we can remember. That means not just seeing gorillas in the mist. Cool story Marc, great analogies here.

  • I liked this. I read The Alchemist a few years ago; it was a good book. I think time will ’shift’ many people from the mind and into the soul. People are slowly ‘”waking up,” but we’re all on different time tables.

  • I read the Alchemist too, which is a great book. But sadly if you think about how many centuries has passed since the humans have been on this planet, it’s probably unlikely that we’re ever gonna snap out of it and start working together seamlessly like you describe. Although, it would make the world a better place if we did.

  • Beauty, grace and truth.

    It is everyday in our presence. Everywhere we go.

    And most of the time we perceive it as a gorilla, bigger than our-self.

    We are not comfortable with it and therefor perceive it as dangerous and something to be afraid of.

    But it something beautiful, graceful and truth full.

    It is life.

    We should be grateful for this.

    Thanks for sharing this short story.

  • It is truly inspirational to read all your stories, they each bring something forgotten to my life.

    I love to start each day with one of your posts, even if I have read it already, I will read it again, just to remind myself of what truly matters and how to live a better life.

    Thank you so much for creating and keeping up with this blog, my life wouldn’t be the same without it.

  • A lot of times we are afraid to acknowledge the gorilla because we are afraid to know the truth about ourselves. We choose to escape rather than confront the lies in us, not knowing that facing it will liberate us.

    Beautiful story.

  • Insightful and wise. With thirty years experience as a psychotherapist, I must agree with the sentiment of this post.

    We must all utilize our individual voices in order to create a louder message. Living authentic lives as our true selves is better for the greater good.

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