Life presents many fascinating opportunities, not the least of which is discovering the multifaceted True self. This can occur in startling insights or like a slow sunrise over time. Let’s take the example of Lev Grossman, book critic for the The New York Times. He started out like most of us, conforming to the expectations of his inherited story. Both parents were professors of English and both writers. He easily assumed the identity of a writer of literary fiction.
Since identity dictates behavior he followed the path to Harvard then Yale and then literary fiction. He published two novels, became a successful book critic and yet, something was missing. Most of us have been there, but exactly where is “there” and more importantly why are we “there.” Fortunately, for him, Grossman was able to listen to his inner voice and received the answer.
His outer-directed false self had him aspiring to be Hemingway, Faulkner or James Joyce while his slowly emerging True self had him moving in the direction of the authors he spent more time with in his youth; Lewis, Tolkien, White, Le Guin and McCaffrey. “It began almost as a thought experiment: I wanted to write a story like “Harry Potter,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” or “The Golden Compass,” a story about someone who discovers power he didn’t know he had, and who finds his way into a secret world. I wondered if there was a way to make my magician’s life look more like my own.”
Grossman’s question is more universal than he perhaps realizes. We are all searching for that “power” and it is anything but a fantasy.
The next step for those of us searching for the truth of our own being is to let go of how our culture defines us, how they want us to be. The best authors do not write about witches and magicians or mythological creatures. “The first time I wrote a sentence about a person casting a spell, it was as if I heard alarms going off, as if people in a control room somewhere were saying: He’s breaking the rules! I was writing against my upbringing [and against the collective unconscious]. I was writing against reality itself—I was breaking rules, not just the literary kind but the thermodynamic kind, too. It felt forbidden. It felt good.”
“It was the most profound, intense writing experience I’d ever had. The icy grip of reality on my fiction cracked, and a torrent of magic came rushing out.” Reaching the border of the old paradigm and having a peak experience, would Grossman have the courage for the paradigm shift itself?
Turning to gaze back at P-B, Grossman might have heard his True self uttering the First Noble Truth, “Life is suffering.” In which direction did reality lie? Would he listen to his false self bent on earning the plaudits of his fellow critics or follow the promptings of his heart and cross the border into Neverland? Luckily he stopped listening to his false self and had a critical insight. “The thing about life in the real world is, all your hopes and dreams and desires and feelings [emphasis added] are trapped inside you. Reality doesn’t care—it’s stiffly, primly indifferent to your inner life. But in a fantasy world, all those feelings can come out. When you cast a spell, you use your emotions to change reality.” Grossman had entered the present moment often found in the creative process.
Remember, Buddha said the purpose of meditation (and writing was Grossman’s meditation) is to distinguish between illusion and reality. In rewriting our story, we are as Grossman says above, “changing our reality.” Regarding the authentic power to create our own reality, the last people we should listen to are those trapped in the delusions of the old narrative.
Following the still, small voice leads to a healthy, Self-reliant identity. “You have demons in your subconscious? In a fantasy world those demons can get out, where you can grapple with them face to face [reaction or response]. The story I was telling was impossible, and I believe in it more than I believed in the 10,000 entirely [intellectually] reasonable, plausible things I’d written before.”
Whether Grossman will retain his magical powers will depend on how adept he becomes at keeping his focus on the reality of the world within. “But writing about magic felt like magic. It was as if all my life I’d been writing in a foreign language that I wasn’t quite fluent in, and now I’d found my mother tongue. It turned out I did have a voice after all. I’d had it all along. I just wasn’t looking for it in the right place.” We are all looking for that place!
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.