My mom recently showed me a very interesting bit from a book she was reading called ‘Soulshaping’ by Jeff Brown. I’ll discuss it later, but first, here is the excerpt:
Under what circumstances should we step off a path? When is it essential that we finish what we start? If I bought a bag of peanuts and had an allergic reaction, no one would fault me if I threw it out. If I ended a relationship with a woman who hit me, no one would say that I had a commitment problem. But if I walk away from a seemingly secure route because my soul has other ideas, I am a flake?
The truth is that no one else can definitively know the path we are here to walk. It’s tempting to listen—many of us long for the omnipotent other—but unless they are genuine psychic intuitives, they can’t know. All others can know is their own truth, and if they’ve actually done the work to excavate it, they will have the good sense to know that they cannot genuinely know anyone else’s. Only soul knows the path it is here to walk. Since you are the only one living in your temple, only you can know its scriptures and interpretive structure.
At the heart of the struggle are two very different ideas of success—survival-driven and soul-driven. For survivalists, success is security, pragmatism, power over others. Success is the absence of material suffering, the nourishing of the soul be damned. It is an odd and ironic thing that most of the material power in our world often resides in the hands of younger souls. Still working in the egoic and material realms, they love the sensations of power and focus most of their energy on accumulation. Older souls tend not to be as materially driven. They have already played the worldly game in previous lives and they search for more subtle shades of meaning in this one—authentication rather than accumulation. They are often ignored by the culture at large, although they really are the truest warriors.
A soulful notion of success rests on the actualization of our innate image. Success is simply the completion of a soul step, however unsightly it may be. We have finished what we started when the lesson is learned. What a fear-based culture calls a wonderful opportunity may be fruitless and misguided for the soul. Staying in a passionless relationship may satisfy our need for comfort, but it may stifle the soul. Becoming a famous lawyer is only worthwhile if the soul demands it. It is an essential failure if you are called to be a monastic this time around. If you need to explore and abandon ten careers in order to stretch your soul toward its innate image, then so be it. Flake it till you make it.
I enjoyed this text because it’s something that I’ve always felt, but I hadn’t been able to put it into words as well as Jeff Brown did. I think my mom read this to me because she knew this was very in line with the way I make choices that is often unorthodox. I’ve personally been called disloyal because of my professional choices on multiple occassions, but I never thought that following my heart should so plainly equate to disloyalty. In the past few years, I’ve left two comfortable high-paying jobs in San Francisco, one of which was a seemingly backwards decision to go back to school even though I already had an objectively amazing job with nothing to gain from school. More recently I decided to change my graduate thesis supervisor after only a few months despite knowing it’s very uncommon and ill-advised and will probably cause some PR damage to myself. Some people have called me out on these choices, but I always felt like it was simply the right thing to do at the time, it was what I needed to do.
The author makes a great point that we seem to value and understand physical needs far more than mental and emotional ones. Leaving an outwardly great relationship that is abusive behind closed doors or throwing away an allergy-inducing vegetable that is generally seen as healthy is a no-brainer. But the moment we leave this physical dimension, things become much less clear. I left a great job to go to school, against most of my friends’ advice, not because it could directly give me better career options or money, but because I felt like at that time that was the right thing for me. And it was extremely scary and difficult to decide, but I am much happier now. And when I decided to switch supervisors, I did it knowing that I’m leaving a very well-respected lab worldwide and even though the work I was doing in that lab was exactly what I thought I wanted to do when I started school. But due to other reasons, it just didn’t feel right, and again, I am extremely happy to have gone through that painful “acadmic breakup” to be where I am now.
I might be stretching what the author meant now, but I think it can be applied to non-abusive relationships as well, all other factors aside (kids, house, etc.). It seems very hard to leave a romantic relationship solely on the basis of “it’s just not right”. I feel like people usually force themselves to look for a concrete reason, as if to prove to themselves that their want to break up is correct. Nobody wants to be labeled as uncommitted. But being committed to things just for the sake of committing, without seeing if it makes sense in the bigger picture, is not necessarily a good thing. Obviously, this example doesn’t apply if you have kids or there are any other major variables, but I’ve seen too many early 20’s relationships go on for far longer than both parties were interested simply because there was no quantifiable negative. Perhaps I can be criticized for being too loose here, but if there are no long-term reprecussions to a break up and you feel like it’ll be better if you give your love elsewhere, then so be it. Someone once told me (I think they were quoting a movie?) something along the lines of “he ticked all the right boxes, except the one for the heart”. And sadly, people seem to often ignore these tickboxes that belong to unmeasureable factors but that are so important for our non-physical well-being.
Now, I’m not suggesting that everybody out there should just abandon everyone and everything in order to do what feels right at that specific moment. That’s just silly and would cause society to crumble. I know there is great value in persistence and that it is often needed to achieve greatness. But I think that every once in a while it’s a good idea to take a step back and see if your persistence is still towards something worth doing or if it makes more sense to just bite the bullet and let it go. I’m not advocating for complete disregard of commitment - I put a lot of efforts into following through with projects that I begin and I do love seeing all my relationships (non-romantic as well) flourish and grow. There is obviously some balanace between the factors that go into play on many decisions, but I do believe that your soul or heart should definitely play some part of it and not be ignored simply because they are not as well understood. I would not leave a job a week before an important product launch becuase that would be needlessly selfish. I would not be so quick to leave a spouse just to find another love if there are kids and a house and many other considerations in effect. I would not leave a graduate lab if I had a collaborator who relied on my work for the next month, that would also be terrible. But people should remember that it’s ok to take their own happiness into consideration as well, not only that of others.
Of course, it’s also entirely possible that this whole idea is just me trying to excuse my own choices without being called selfish. If that’s your take on it, then that’s fine.
I will end with two relevant quotes from the great philosopher Ilana Stein-Attali, aka mom. These were said while I was considering switching masters supervisors:
I believe that life is a gift and that we are all here to give our gifts and we all have them. The thing is, do we have to rot to give them or detach when the time is right and give them gracefully? I am looking outside at the apple tree we have in our yard. The apples that are still clinging to the trees have all rotted. Yes they will give their seeds back to the earth, but had they been picked or fallen off the tree earlier they could have given their seeds to someone who would then transform them into something even greater.
You are so loved that when you are in the wrong direction and can’t give away your gifts…. you will know.
One last fun fact-thought: the author mentioned peanut allergies, which are very common. When I first moved to Canada I noticed that many kids here are allergic to peanuts, while I never knew of any peanut-allergic kid back in Israel. This baffled me and I always jokinlgy said that it’s because kids in Israel eat a peanut-containing snack (Bamba) 24/7 from the moment they’re born. It turns out that this theory actually might have some scientific backing, as shown in this article from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology :)
Edit: this post is getting some attention on Reddit, and I wanted to just add a quote that I liked from a comment that someone made there:
while other people may see it as being disloyal to all the things I try, I see it as a commitment to finding what’s right for me, a commitment to my growth and learning. It’s constantly trying new things, admitting it’s wrong for me before working up the courage again to start at the bottom of something foreign and new.