A tribe migrates west because they are being persecuted. They emigrate into the mountains. They settle on a plateau and, together, they clear that part of the forest and build their homes, creating a settlement, which the elder of the tribe names Crestview. In time, their children are born where they have arrived, into a place where they wake each day in a clearing with a view of the vastness.
The paradox at the center of this small story is that sometimes we have to make pilgrimage to live in the open in order to have a view of the vastness of life, and sometimes we are in debt to those before us for what we assume is a birthright. Sometimes, we have to stand on the commitment and hard work of others. Yet, there are other passages in life that everyone has to journey through by themselves.
We can call the first process, progress, and the second, incarnation. In our long walk through time, we experience both. Progress offers the rewards of one generation’s efforts to the next. My father didn’t have to climb a mountain in the Rockies to see the sun set over the continental divide because he could look at a photograph. And I can get even closer by watching a video of it that I can find on the Internet.
But something is lost for not making the climb ourselves. And so, incarnation offers us the unrepeatable inner experience of direct living that helps us inhabit what it means to be alive. While we can benefit from those who have lived before us, no one can enter or make sense of this life but you.
There is nothing inherently flawed about progress or incarnation. The ethic at the heart of progress is service—doing for others. And the ethic at the heart of incarnation is authenticity—seeing for ourselves. At our best, we can live an authentic life of service—doing for others, while seeing for ourselves.
A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, discuss the difference between incarnation and progress as you know it in your life.
This excerpt is from my new book in progress, The Long Walk Through Time.
THE GIFT OF RELATIONSHIP — HELPING EACH OTHER STAY AWAKE
A 3-SESSION WEBINAR GUIDED BY MARK NEPO
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1-2:30 PM EST | 10-11.30 AM PST
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