In one version of the Grail legend, Parcival is a knight, noble and compassionate by nature, who by his formal knightly training resists the call to express that compassion spontaneously and ask the mortally wounded Grail King why he suffers. His failure to answer that calling throws Parcival and the world into a wasteland.
The wasteland in literature and myth is a state worse than Vancouver with no garbage pick-up. The landscape is barren and humans live without meaning and purpose (which to me reminds me of people who spend weekends in the malls shopping only for the sake of shopping).
After years in the wasteland, Parcival is given a second chance, and this time, he answers the call, restores the world and achieves his potential as the new Grail King.
In my last post, I talked about how life’s speed bumps and detours wake us up and force us to find a new path. But how does one find the right path? There is no GPS for the ultimate destination.
As an overly introspective teen, I was torn by the existential dilemma. We are free to choose; in fact, we are condemned to choose, and our choices have significant consequences. Yet we never have a complete picture. We have insufficient information to determine what will ultimately be the best course of action. We never have the map to take us home.
The darkest time in my youth was in second year Science at UBC. Worn down by the long commute from Burnaby, I caught pneumonia and missed a month of classes. For the first time in life, I wasn’t at the top of the class. Unable to catch up, I had to withdraw from all my courses. It felt like failure.
I was demoralized. My dreams of med school imploded. I didn’t have a job for months. I didn’t talk to my friends, until I got sick again and they came to visit me in the hospital. I did a lot of thinking, and most of it was negative.
I finally did get a job, thanks to my best friend’s mom, in a government office. My coworkers lived in a white collared wasteland. The beacon at the end of each dismal day was the clock set incorrectly forward.
Heads which were downcast most of the day, popped out of their cubicles at 3:55 pm, and at 3:58, all would begin the brisk walk down the hall so that all could leave the building at 4:00 sharp, at least according to the fast clock.
After months working in just a job in the wasteland, I returned to the adventure of discovering my calling. I knew that my life’s work must be meaningful. It must fully engage my abilities and be consistent with my deepest values.
To remain on the path is the work of a lifetime. Many do not find a life that fits well. They settle into a position at work or a place in society that was decided by circumstances, others or the pursuit of money.
Our goals at each stage of our lives will necessarily differ. Time with your family is most valued in early childhood and later life. Creating a sense of self among peers is the priority of adolescence. For the young adult, the emphasis is in establishing a vocation and later, marrying and starting a family.
In mid-life, we are also mid-career and consider the path so far, sometimes with appreciation, sometimes with regret. Some are called to embark on a new path; others ride the same road to its mostly predictable end.
And when we are at the end, in the golden years, we have the time to reflect on the life we have lived. By the way, I think we say golden not because of material riches but because it rhymes with olden and if our eyes don’t fail us, we may be able to see the approaching sunset.
We consider the legacy we leave to our families and to the world. We are preoccupied with the myriad medical issues that come with the aging body, and we must come to terms with our own mortality.
In his book, The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey speaks of the need to “find your voice.” This, in fact, is your life’s work, your calling. It is the key to lasting happiness because it transcends the transient objects we pursue for gratification. This is what Joseph Campbell called “finding your bliss.”
In Covey’s model, your voice lies at the nexus or intersection of four great circles, representing your talents (what you do best), your passion (what you care about), the needs of the world, and your conscience (what you know is right).
When I’m counseling my young patients at the crossroads of life, considering which path to blaze, I draw out the circles and ask them to consider their calling. In future posts, I’ll address how each of us can achieve our unique calling, our positive potential in life.