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Callings: Finding and Following An Authentic Life

By       Message Gregg Levoy     Permalink
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Editor's note. This is an excerpt from Gregg Levoy's brilliant book, Callings. It is one of my favorites. I recommend it highly. This is the introduction to the book.

“The wind, one brilliant day, called.”

Antonio Machado

Some years ago, along a country road outside of Fresno, California on a windy spring day, a part of the invisible world was made, for a brief moment, visible to me.

I saw, in the light lancing through a row of trees, great streams of yellow pollen sweeping by on the wind, every speck filled with information----blueprints for making perfect blue flowers, the dark musculature of trees, meadow grasses.

I saw in that moment that the whole sky is filled with furtive transmissions----pollen and seeds, radio waves and subatomic particles, the songs of birds, satellite broadcasts of the six o’clock news and the Home Shopping Network. And I saw that what is necessary to make substance or meaning out of any of it is a receiver, somebody to receive.

Years later, struggling to make sense of a stunning aggregate of symptoms and synchronicities in my own life that appeared to cluster around the decision of whether to leave a job, I realized that my own life was similarly flooded with signals I was only dimly aware of, but that seemed to indicate what I would need to do to make my life literally “come true.”

Until then, unfortunately, the receiver was usually turned off, so these incoming calls fell lemming-like into silence.

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In many traditions, calls----in the form of sounds----precede prayer, rites of initiation, spiritual healings and major life events. Their purpose is to summon adherents away from their daily grinds to a new level of awareness, into a sacred frame of mind, into communion with whatever is bigger than themselves. The calls may come from bull-roarers, trumpets, rattles, wooden clackers, songs, bells, or the chanting of muezzin atop the minarets.

In the primary creation myth of Western cosmology, the very first call came through the voice that said “Let there be such-and-such” and there was such-and-such, the words becoming flesh. It can be said that every call since then is, likewise, a call to form, a call to each of us to materialize ourselves.

Calls, of course, beg the question “Who, or what, is calling?” But even an exhaustive list of every name for Soul or Destiny or God would probably be beside the point. It doesn’t matter whether we call it God, The Patterning Intelligence, The Design Mind, The Unconscious, the Soul, The Force of Completion, The Center Court, or simply “life’s longing for itself,” as Kahlil Gibran envisioned. What is clear is that “living means being addressed,” as the theologian Martin Buber once said, and whatever or whomever is addressing us is a power like wind or fusion or faith: we can’t see the force, but we can see what it does.

Primarily it announces the need for change, and the response called for is an awakening of some kind. A call is only a monologue. A return call, a response, creates a dialogue, and we must, I think, be in constant dialogue with whatever is calling us to our own unfolding. The idea of a call and a response is also a central metaphor for the spiritual life, and in Latin there’s a correspondence between the words for listening and following.

This book, then, is about putting on a lens through which we can see our lives as a process of calls and responses rather than, as I heard a character on television remark recently, “just a bunch of stuff that happens.” Also, in the sense of “religion” that psychologist William James meant when he described it as “the attempt to be in harmony with an unseen order of things,” this book is also about religion in the original sense of the word----re-ligare, to re-connect. To re-member what has been dis-membered: our own selves, the deep life within us that is a strong “religious” impulse despite whatever outward waywardness our lives may exhibit. To remember what we already know.

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“When my daughter was seven years old,” says artist Howard Ikemoto, “she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college, that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, ‘You mean they forget?’ ”

Yes, we forget. And this book is also about remembering our vocations, again in the true sense of the word----callings----whether they’re vocations in the arenas of work, relationship, lifestyle or service. They may be calls to do something (become self-employed, go back to school, leave or start a relationship, move to the country, change careers, have a child) or calls to be something (more creative, less judgmental, more loving, less fearful). They may be calls toward something or away from something; calls to change something, review our commitment to it, or come back to it in an entirely new way; calls toward whatever we’ve dared and double-dared ourselves about for as long as we can remember.


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Gregg Levoy is the author of Vital Signs: The Nature and Nurture of Passion (Penguin) and Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life (Random House). 

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