You Can’t Run Away From Youself: Life as a Story

An Article by David Cornfield

Do you ever get the feeling you are in the middle of a recurring nightmare, except that you are awake? You know - that sickening “here we go again” feeling in the pit of your stomach? Names and faces have changed, but when you take a hard look, the pickle you are in looks a lot like the pickle you just got out of?  

Perhaps you are mired in one of those relationships where you go round and round in the same old circles, caught up in the same old power struggles, having the same old arguments. Have you thought about leaving, about making a fresh start? Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you have to take some responsibility for the mess that you are in, and to the extent that it’s you who creates the messes, starting over again is not going to help. That goes for all of the messes you find yourself in. Until you find out how you are part of the problem and start making different choices, you have no way to prevent yourself from ending up in the same kinds of predicaments, no matter where you go or who you are with.  

This article is about the good news. The good news is that when you discover and acknowledge your responsibility for the situation that you are unhappy with, you find your power to change it for the better. The good news is that Kabbalah provides a perspective that makes it easy to understand how you are totally responsible for your own situation and therefore have the power to change your self-destructive patterns of behavior. The good news is that you are not a victim. 

I may be fixated on the bad news side of this, but I am not sure how comfortable I am with the concept of total responsibility for my own situation. Is Kabbalah really saying that we always implicated in our own mess? Aren’t there some situations where we are just victims of circumstance? 

It may help you to come to terms with the Kabbalistic point of view on responsibility to think about your life as though it were a story.

A story is not a random collection of unrelated events. A story has a plot, with a beginning, a middle and an end. A story has a direction, it makes sense. The author tells it for a reason, with a purpose in mind. When your Soul decides to incarnate within your particular birth circumstances, you are choosing to participate in the acting out of a life story with a particular premise, a particular authorial purpose.  

While there is a projected trajectory for your story, the script is not yet written. The narrative is improvised as you live your life. From moment to moment, your Soul creates circumstances to advance the plot in the direction it is meant to go. You participate by exercising your free will. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to take the next step. This is your response-ability. However, as long as you refuse the next step, your Soul will keep on presenting similar challenges over and over again. If you saw the film Groundhog Day you will recall that Bill Murray kept on reliving the same events on the same day until he became a more loving person. While you re-live your patterns on consecutive days, in circumstances where the details change, your prognosis is no different than Bill Murray’s - doomed to face the same issues again and again until you are ready to go to the next stage in the development of your character.

From this point of view, you have infinite responsibility for your situation. By choosing the story you incarnate within, you choose the challenges that your life will offer you. By choosing the response you make to the challenges of your life, you decide whether or not you will have to face those same challenges again. In this scenario, the only way to be a victim is to abdicate your power. And even if you decide to sit on the sidelines pretending to be an observer and not a participant, you cannot escape your responsibility for your choice to stay out of the fray.

Infinite responsibility. It sounds onerous. 

What’s onerous is not infinite responsibility. What’s onerous is repeating the same old story time after time after time - coming up to the same questions, giving the same answers, suffering the same consequences. It’s repetitious, its boring and it makes us very unhappy.

Earlier you said that the way to break out of this cycle is to stop thinking of ourselves as victims and take responsibility for our power. Can you say more? 

Let’s go back to the ‘life as a story’ metaphor. When you choose your incarnation, you are choosing a story line for your life, a blueprint that you are meant to follow, with stages that you are meant to complete. Your Soul is like the Director of a film, charged with advancing the plot by presenting you with opportunities to live out your own story. As your life plays out, you always have the freedom to accept or reject what your Soul is asking of you. When you say yes, the story of your life flows on to the next stage. When you say no, Soul persists, returning to the juncture in your story where you departed from the plot, recreating the same issues again and again, increasing the volume of the demand, throwing you up against the wall if necessary, until you are ready to say yes to your own story. You get on with your life (pun intended) when you decide to listen to what your Soul is asking of you, and give in, when you learn that the reason you were given your free will was to surrender to your Soul’s desire, when you learn that your pain and your suffering arise out of your resistance.

So how do I know what my Soul is asking of me?

First understand that life is not a cruel joke. You are not thrust into your life with no way of knowing what your Soul is asking of you. Your Soul sets your priorities by drawing your attention to the circumstances she wishes you to attend to. Will is not involved in this process. Your Soul attracts your attention to the next thing she wants you to do, you are drawn to doing what is meant to be done, and the process repeats. The problem arises when in the exercise of your free will you decide to resist the call of your Soul and substitute some other activity. To do that, your Will has to oust the call of your Soul from your focus of attention. And when Will conspires to keep Soul out of control on a consistent basis, that’s when things get complicated.

You said earlier that we have the free will to accept or reject what the Soul is asking us to do, so I assume that Will has the upper hand.

Actually Will develops in varying degrees in different people. An infant has no free will. The infant’s responses are totally spontaneous. A child responds to its desires without hesitation or delay. As the child matures, a cognitive model of how the world works begins to emerge and this model comes to its own conclusions about what we should be doing next. Where the conclusions that come out of the model are different from the priorities set by the Soul, the stage is set for a competition between Will and Soul. At first the outcome is determined by which claim for attention has the greatest energy. Later Will learns to control the outcome by damping out the call of the Soul. For example, all of the addictive behaviors we develop are designed to turn the volume down on the call of the Soul so that it is easier to ignore. The problem with addictions is that they become chronic. Once we develop them, it is very hard to shut them off. We abandon our Souls, and then, when we want them, we realize we have forgotten the way back.

Does this mean we have to give up our Will? 

No. Without Will there wouldn’t be a story worth telling.   What makes a story interesting is a problem that must be faced, a struggle that must be engaged in. The playing out of the dynamic between Will and Soul is a central theme of the story that we have agreed to participate in. Will is not a bad thing. Will serves a function. The problem arises when Will becomes inflated, so that Soul and Will are out of balance. Reversing the process means bringing Will back into its proper place in relation to Soul. This process is what Kabbalah refers to as Tikkun, or Correction.

What is the proper relationship between Will and Soul? 

Ideally Will and Soul serve each other, working together to create the story of your life. Soul needs Will to enact. Will needs Soul for a vision of what to enact.

And how do we bring Will back into a balanced working relationship with Soul?

Picture a bloated overbearing Will sitting at a computer keyboard repeatedly typing in commands that make the system lock up and crash.  Will has his back to Soul, either oblivious to Soul’s existence or determined to ignore her. Soul hasn’t been fed for a long time and seems pale and malnourished. Soul knows how the computer works and tries to get Will’s attention but her voice, already feeble, is muffled by a layer of addictions. The sequence keeps looping.

To change this situation we have to pry Will away from the controls and put someone else in charge. We then look after Soul, nursing her back to health. When Soul is up to it, we turn Will towards Soul and start a dialogue. We find out why Will rejected Soul and work on creating a new relationship where they listen to one another and cooperate. We do not focus on the addictions. We concentrate our efforts instead on improving the dynamic between Will and Soul that made the addictions necessary in the first place.

Tikkun sounds like a very tall order.

It is a lifetime project.

The part about looking after our Soul. is that what Thomas Moore is talking about in his book,  Care of The Soul? 

Yes. I would highly recommend reading Moore’s  books if you want to learn more about looking after the needs of the Soul, giving Soul her proper place in your life.

What did you mean when you spoke of prying Will away from the controls and putting someone else in charge?

Putting someone else in charge is a metaphor for developing a new level of awareness, an observer consciousness. Much of our behavior is an unconsidered knee jerk reaction, with little or no consciousness of alternatives and therefore no real exercise of choice. The same stimulus is always met by the same response. Rather than reacting with old will-based patterns of behavior, observer consciousness means that we stop for a moment to listen for the call of the Soul. Then and only then have we put ourselves in a position to make a choice. Stopping for the amount of time it requires to take just one breath can make the difference between acting robotically and acting consciously.

Is it that simple?

Yes and no. Yes, it’s that simple, and no, it is not simple at all. Taking a breath before making a response sounds very simple, but calls for a high level of mindfulness. I wish I could say I have mastered it, and quite frankly I am still struggling with it.

How do I train myself to remember to take a breath before acting?

There may be many ways. The one I am familiar with is to adopt a meditative practice. Meditation operates at many levels, but one of those levels is that it teaches you not to react to your first impulse. You have an itch, but you don’t scratch it. You have a thought or a feeling, and you let it pass by. You learn to observe yourself, acting rather than just reacting, making decisions about what actions to take or not to take. 

Does it matter what form my meditation takes? 

Yes it does. Different meditations work in different ways and suit different needs. Kabbalistic meditations, are specifically designed to turn Will towards Soul. From a Kabbalistic point of view, Hebrew letters are concentrated expressions of the energy of the divine. When you meditate on Hebrew letters, or on the 72 Names of God, you are focusing your awareness on divinity, opening to your connection with divinity. And since Soul is the expression of divinity within you, by turning towards divinity you are also raising your awareness of Soul.

So am I right to conclude that Kabbalistic meditations would accomplish at least two of our goals. It would help to instill observer consciousness, and at the same time it would aid in the turning of Will towards Soul.


All right. Let’s assume that I have elevated my consciousness to the point where I no longer just react. I take a breath before I act, and I listen for the call of the Soul. What am I listening for? How would I know if I was answering the call of my Soul rather than exercising my Will?

Responding to the call of the Soul takes us on what I refer to as the Wave of Bliss. On the Wave of Bliss we feel good at every step of the way - excited as we start, enlivened as we gather the energy and resources to carry out the action, enthusiastic in the performance, thrilled to have completed the task, and satisfied when it is over. An action that ignores the call of the Soul, on the other hand, may feel good for a few moments, but never lives up to our hopes and expectations for feeling good, and afterwards leaves us feeling dissatisfied.

That doesn’t make any sense at all. Why would we exercise our Will to do something that makes us unhappy?   You must be leaving something out of the equation.

What I haven’t said is that surfing the Wave of Bliss is not just blissful. It is agonizing as well as ecstatic. It is engaging in life so fully that the intensity can, at times, feel almost unbearable. At the outset, embarking on the Wave of Bliss can look like a risky business, a mix of difficulty, challenge, hard work, stress, the unknown. A lot of people take one look at the hardships and immediately head for an easier path, thinking that making life easy for themselves will make them happy. Unfortunately, they are mistaken.

Does that mean that easy choices are always bad choices?

No. The Wave of Bliss begins when we respond to the emergent need within the focus of our attention, whatever that might be. Often the need we are meant to be responding to is our own need for food, water, warmth, rest, exercise, safety, contact, comfort, intimacy or even fun. Looking after our personal needs is one of our Soul’s priorities. We have to take care of ourselves if we are going to have the capacity to play out the story we are here to engage in. The problems arise when we overindulge our personal needs, when Will ignores the call of the Soul because it seems too scary or too difficult or too uncomfortable or not for our personal benefit. In Kabbalistic terms, we get off the Wave of Bliss when we Receive for Oneself Alone rather than Receiving for the Purpose of Sharing. Any benefits that we think we might derive from Receiving for Oneself Alone are illusory. Ignoring the call of the Soul is guaranteed to leave us feeling dissatisfied.

So if my life is not fulfilling, if I am feeling dissatisfied, if I have achieved material success and I am still feeling like there must be more to life, I have probably been answering the call of my Will, not my Soul.

Yes, and the same is true if you are bored. Giving in to the call of the Soul may be demanding, but it is never boring. Boredom arises when your Will is paying attention to something that your Soul is no longer interested in. When you are feeling bored, take it as a sign that something else is calling for your attention. Addictions are another sign that you are turning down the call of the Soul. Look to see what you are avoiding by your addictive behavior. And when your life gets stuck in repetitive patterns you have yet another strong indication that you are ignoring the call of your Soul. When the same old story keeps repeating itself, when your plans don’t work out, when something bad happens to you, stand back and read your life as though it were a story with a plot that makes sense. See if your life is sending you a message about what you should be doing differently.

We are getting pretty close to the end of the space we have for this article. You’ve given me a lot to chew on. Any last words?

Only to say that anything we say in an article in a magazine is bound to be somewhat misleading. The issues are deep and complex. It is next to impossible not to gloss something over. Perhaps the most important point in the whole article is the recognition that the job of Tikkun is never complete. Tikkun is truly a lifetime project, one that I, for one, am still learning about. I should add that it is not a job to do alone. It demands the utmost in honesty with ourselves, and let’s face it, we all have blind spots when it comes to ourselves. We need to form an intention to do the job, we need to walk our talk, and we need help. We need a friend, or a therapist, or a support group or a teacher strong enough to challenge our denial, honest enough to point out the ways that we are sabotaging ourselves and compassionate enough to support us as we go through the feelings of shame and humiliation that are inevitably associated with acknowledging our embarrassing choices. And we need support to persist with whatever discipline we have chosen to raise our level of consciousness.

In the end, the fundamental human decision, a choice that we make at every moment, is whether to surrender to the call of the Soul, or by exercising our Will, to ignore that call. When we resist our calling, we get depressed, numbed out, dissatisfied - our lives feel meaningless. We find ourselves playing out the same old story, again and again. Surrendering to the call of our Soul implies service, obligation, and a giving up of self-centredness but breaks the repetitive cycles and leads to satisfaction, fulfillment, meaning, passion and energy. I know of no better incentive for summoning the courage it requires to take on the challenges of our lives.

David Cornfield

You Can`t Run Away From Yourself was first published in Kabbalah Magazine, March/April 1998

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