A couple of years ago, I came across an idea that completely changed the way I view human evolution. What it said was basically this: that all spiritual growth and unfoldment comes from letting go. This simple little sentence was, for me, revelatory. It is not by adding, but by subtracting that we become who we are. Everything is already here, waiting for us to bring it to light. Five centuries ago Michelangelo beautifully conveyed this same idea. “I saw the angel in the marble,” he said, “and carved until I set him free.”
It’s not easy to have this vision, to see the angel in the stone, to trust that we are and we have all we need already. It’s not what we are taught. We are taught to strive to create ourselves, to acquire and get. Yet all the great wisdom teachings tell us that everything is already right here, right now, inside of us. Everything. Christ taught this, as did the Buddha, as does modern physics for that matter. The work then is not “out there.” It is “in here.” The work is in the uncovering.
Uncovering who we are is very difficult. Fear and sloth tend to creep in, keeping us from revealing our inner splendor. We have to set aside our egos, our preconceived ideas of who we are or should be or need to be, and embrace a larger truth, one we may not have anticipated. Your life is indeed like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.
This uncertainty frightens a lot of people from discovering what lies within. The truth of the matter may well change the trajectory of your life as you’ve known it. It could tear up your pea patch, causing you to make uncomfortable choices and stretching you beyond what you thought you knew and who you thought you were. And it will affect how others see you. It will challenge your little ego. You have to be ready for this.
Halfway through my doctoral program I was pushed to uncover my inner angel, and it was not what I thought it was going to be. I’d always imagined a Ph.D. after my name, always thought I’d be an analyst. It was a very entrenched self-image that I carried around. I thought a doctorate is what awaited me, and that having that degree would garner me legitimacy and recognition. It would validate me. But the truth was that what awaited me had nothing to do with that particular ambition. What awaited were two children, whom I had never before considered. What awaited was a book, and a path of spiritual exploration, a path that could not be traveled as long as I remained ensconced in the ivory tower. In short, what awaited was not “out there”. It was in me, all along.
“We must be willing to let go of this life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us”. I long-ago taped this E.M. Forster quote to my desk, to always remind me that something is waiting. It was hard to let go of something certain for an unknown future. Equally difficult was the long process of uncovering that future. But growth and unfolding came when I let go of my old persona, took up the chisel and grappled with my fears. It took a long time and required a lot of chipping away to see what was waiting to be revealed. It also took no small degree of courage.
It always takes courage to tell the truth to yourself, to go in a new direction, to let go of what you know. It requires trust. It requires great love. It requires the belief in something more.
Letting go and allowing, rather than holding fast to a dubious certainty, is the journey to that something more. It is the hero’s journey, this self-exploration, and by it’s very nature it is solitary and fraught with danger. It is dark in the interior, and disorienting. Fear jumps in to sow its seeds of doubt and discouragement. What are you doing? This is too hard. Why stir things up? What if there’s no angel waiting inside? We were happy enough. You’ll never make at money at that.
Listening to this voice can petrify you. It can turn you to stone, render you impotent, frighten you away from becoming who you are. But if you dare to embark on this journey, help will be there. Someone, be they teacher or counselor or friend, will appear to serve as a touchstone (when the student is ready, the teacher appears); someone with the faith and encouragement, objectivity and insight to help you traverse the treacherous terrain of becoming who you are. The universe always conspires to truth and wholeness.
Turning inward, discovering your truth and revealing that truth to the world is what frees the angel. No matter how glorious the life you previously anticipated, it doesn’t hold a candle to the life that you came to live, be that life simple or grand. Your angel, as Robert Sardello writes, will add to the “opulence of existence”. What a beautiful phrase. What a beautiful vision. Nothing is more satisfying, or more joyful, than discovering the deepest expression of who you really are and setting it free.