“In the end, we are haunted by the examples of the past, the denied permission to live a free journey. We are haunted by the partial examples of those in our purview, taking their pusillanimity or oppression as predictive of our own. We are haunted by the social constructs that tell us what a woman is and what she can or cannot do, and what a man is and how he will be shamed by living beyond these calculated constrictions. We are haunted by bad theology, bad psychology, and bad social models into thinking we are defined by our history, by our race, or by cultural heritage. We are haunted by the unexamined lives of our ancestors and caregivers. We are haunted by the widespread impression that history is the future. We are haunted by the limited imagination of our complexes. And even more, we are haunted by the small lives we live in the face of our immense possibilities. Haunting is individual, generic, cultural, and extremely hard to challenge because it so often seems bound by generations of practice, ancestral fears, and archaic defenses of privilege.
The biggest haunting of all, the biggest shadow that occludes our sense of sovereignty in the outer world, is the specter of our unlived life. Something within each of us suffers, longs, despairs, persists, and even goes underground to reemerge as fantasy, as projections onto surrogate objects of desire, or as anesthetizing self-soothing. When the soul is not honored, when our possibility is denied by an outer oppressor, a social proscription, or worse, our own pusillanimity, our pathology intensifies. We are bombarded with pharmaceutical anodynes, cultural distractions, and rationalizations and evasions that facilitate these deflections from the summons to personhood. In the context of such hauntings, the greatest ghost for us is the apparition of what was possible but that we shunned. Such moments are not very pretty and may have to haunt us even more to get our actionable accountability. If we live in haunted houses, we are called to turn the lights on and clean house.”
— James Hollis, Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey
I suppose Hollis’ words might be broken down to this: We mustn’t live our lives encumbered by the embedded beliefs that have held us back thus far. We must break away from that prison and go live boldly. To do otherwise is to succumb to our limitations. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau put it.
These are lessons that come to us in time. We see the ghosts for what they are and work to open our minds that they might drift away. Are we the best of what we might have been? Probably not, but we can point to the highlights proudly and remind the ghosts that we’ve lived a good life nonetheless. We each know where we might have done more. That doesn’t make what we’ve done worthless, but it ought to be a foundation more than a prison cell. Who we become next is largely based on what we do with the days left for us.
The trick to chasing the ghosts away is boldness. Our ghosts don’t want to follow us into scary places. Just as a bully often caves in when confronted, so too do our self-limiting beliefs. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. A bit of audacity is good for the soul, and sets it free to go be. Audacity is the antithesis of pusillanimity (I don’t even like writing pusillanimity, let alone being it). Like the character George in Seinfeld, doing the opposite opens up all kinds of possibilities for us.
We are what we repeatedly do, this we know to be true. So it’s fair to ask ourselves, what voice directs what we’re repeatedly doing? Is it a ghost or the song of freedom from who we used to be? Is it time for a new dance track? Stop shunning possibility. Dance with audacity, it may just turn the ghosts on their heads.