Two years ago, in preparation for a workshop I taught in Austin, TX, I read The Soul’s Code by James Hillman, about Plato’s myth and the idea that we create the circumstances that we are born into. I was enchanted. And a little freaked out.
“—We elected the body, the parents, the place, and the circumstances that suited the soul and that, as the myth says, belong to its necessity. This suggests that the circumstances, including my body and my parents whom I may curse, are my soul’s own choice—and I do not understand this because I have forgotten.”
Being adopted. My birth mom, who cannot be surprised. My parents, who are nothing if not hard-working. To be raised in their practical home and yet encouraged in my fantasies and creativity. It made a lot of sense. But telling other people, “By the way, all that horrible stuff you were born into, there’s a chance you chose it,” sounded like some foolishness.
And yet, there’s something empowering about it. If we chose it, then maybe our suffering is not for nothing. Maybe our pain has meaning—even if it doesn’t make sense to us. It’s oddly comforting.
A few weeks ago, Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson interviewed author Carolyn Elliott, Ph.D. on the Being Boss podcast. I bring this up because I am girl-crushing, hard. She shared a story of how, a couple of years ago she’d been living couch-to-couch, struggling below the poverty line. And she thought she was miserable. But one day, she realized that part of her loved it. This sparked an excavation into the alter-parts of herself, and in going there, she was able to transform her life.
As it turns out, there are a couple of alter-Brandys, too. The first one I’ve dubbed the Lazy Hedonist. She’s the one who’s afraid of success because, honestly, it means a lot of work. The next one I’ve name the Abused Victim. She’s in constant survival mode and doesn’t trust anyone. Then there’s the Hippie Optimist. Bless her heart. She means well. But with all of these personas vying for control, it’s no wonder life can often feel like drunken surfing.
I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter if Plato’s myth is a myth. It doesn’t matter if we chose our circumstances or not. Maybe rather than wrestle against the waves, we might sober up enough to ride them.