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Hello My Friend,
I was looking for John O’ Donahue’s quote from Plato’s Symposium (which I heard on an Audible version of his book of poetic blessings, To Bless the Space Between Uswhile walking my best furry friend, Finn) and came across this entire article about this Irishman which I thought was spectacular. Naturally, I thought you might enjoy reading it.
I was struck by the reference to Plato when I heard it, well because I love the Greek philosophers, but also because Jordan Peterson had just been talking with someone on his podcast the other day (a cognitive scientist who has written about Maslow and Self-Actualization and Humanistic Psychology– sort of setting the record straight about Maslow– did you know that Maslow HATED pyramids? His Hierarchy of Needs was NEVER about a pyramid scheme) about what Peterson believes as the most gratifying thing in life which is helping people discover and live their potential, i.e. to actualize fully. And that actualization– the expression of potential–is a core feature of health, for an individual and a business; he was saying something along the lines of businesses that thrive are those that are most efficient and effective at helping each employee reach their potential– getting them into the proper position according to the individual’s abilities etc… and supporting their growth.
My fellow mental health counselor with whom I went to grad school has spoken about his career in such a role and how gratifying his position was to him– to impact people in this regard, as service– and indeed a valuable one! How awesome that nurturing someone’s potential is good for the individual and the organization and society!
This, Peterson pointed out, is in contrast to the critics who define and rail against corporations and important institutions in our society as nothing but pure power, domination, oppression, and greed; not that they can’t be and are indeed admittedly corrupt, but that isn’t their sole purpose or what defines their nature. Do we too often mistake being or authenticity with its corruption and then act on this mistaken perception?
Peterson and this other professor also talked about the life of teaching where the MOST gratifying and fulfilling purpose as an educator is to do the same by students–that is, to attend to and guide them toward actualization. Like, yeah! Each of us, I believe, must be taught and learn to turn inward and attend to and nurture our own potential and actualize– to become our own teachers and let life and experiences teach us about who we are (as one of many. I mean you could ask yourself “who am I” and also “who are we”– they aren’t very different questions at all). And, as a parent we do the same. Parents are the first teachers of the soul (by way of the body, since our rationality comes online so to speak so much later in life) and if they knew it (as O’ Donohue also writes about in To Bless the Space Between Us) would likely be crushed under the weight of this responsibility! Oh and another thing I was happy to learn about O’ Donohue in this article— the unsurprising fact that O’ Donohue and Dan Siegel became friendly over their discussions of interpersonal neurobiology.
Anyway, back to Plato’s quote–So it seems, this is, to me, a grand purpose of service/existence– each of us all helping one another express our authentic being in the world. I LOVE being in this world as educator, coach, clinician, mom, friend because my sole purpose is to get to unlock my own potential and live authentically, as me, AND I get to help others “do” them, as fully as possible, and I love that concept of possibility. It’s so cool! Right? I am blessed to have been called and be answering it– to do what is unique and specific to me that also serves others.  My life is a win-win. And the value of this way of being is beyond money. It’s a different sort of gold.
Here is the cool quote cited from Plato’s Symposium within a couple of paragraphs from the article:

O’Donohue seemed to tap into a yearning in his audience not often addressed in today’s therapeutic culture. At a time when the pressure is on to do ever briefer, more technical, symptom-focused, “evidence-based,” standardized therapies, to make ever greater use of psychopharmacological agents, to slavishly follow DSM diagnostic categories, and to rationalize every moment of a clinical encounter, he reminded his listeners what a noble, even sacred, calling therapy can be. Quoting Plato’s Symposium, he said that “one of the greatest privileges of the human being is to become a midwife to the birth of the soul in another person.” This is what therapy is about, he added–“helping people retrieve what has been lost to them; wakening and bringing home their fundamental wholesomeness.” Therapists are like poets or priests, he noted: they draw on the power of words in the profoundly creative work of bringing people fully alive to themselves, awakening in them the human capacity for divine imagination that “dreams our completion.”

But perhaps most of all, O’Donohue reawakened his listeners to the fundamental mystery that surrounds our existence. “In focusing on how people work, we’ve lost a sense of reverence for the deep mystery of who they are. We have lost sight of the mystery in the primal fact of human presence–that we are here at all.” He suggested that the most important dimensions of human experience are those we can’t see and grasp and measure, which demands the most reverent attention from a therapist. “I’d love a return to that old way of considering human identity not just as biographical drama, but as sacred mystery.”

So, my friend, I suppose I was onto something in my attempt to write my book, It’s Not About Grades, after all, however poorly the attempt I had made was to articulate such philosophical ideas and mysteries of being human. (I must re-write it!) As a teacher, now as coach and therapist, as a mom–I realize why I always resisted the powers that be who insisted on measurement (the necessary organizational and categorizing tools of utility for societal functioning which do serve a purpose and of course, it gives us vulnerable and fearful creatures a sense of knowing, answers, and security albeit partial) within these humanistic domains.
I understand why we measure, but if we focus solely on the measurement and define the being as merely that which is measured, we seem to lose sight of humanity or forget the natural and wild, the unseen, unknowable, mysterious, the immeasurables of life, of living beings. And what a grand loss–And no wonder people are continually grieving. No wonder the sense of absence, of not belonging, of not being enough, of not measuring up, and the lack of wholeness within us and among us. No wonder. Literally– No wonder!
Here’s the link if you want to read the rest Mary Sykes Wylie‘s article about O’Donahue. It’s gold!
In love & learning,
-M

Maureen Bakis

Behavioral Health Educator & Coach

Published by mbakis

An escaped teacher freely roaming the landscapes of learning.

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