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You are here: Home Resources E-Newsletter Archive Fall 2015, Issue XIII We May Miss Our Star

We May Miss Our Star

Cameron Withey, Journeys' Program Director, reflects on authenticity and rites of passage through the images of a favorite William Stafford poem

by Cameron Withey, Program Director

A favorite William Stafford poem begins:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am

and I don’t know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.*

One of the biggest values, both for me personally and in our programs at Journeys, is authenticity. “To thine own self be true.” But what does that actually mean, when you really think about it? There is no static, formulaic self to appeal to to determine what authenticity looks like for me, you, or anybody. It seems more fundamentally to be a quality of feeling, of ‘rightness’, that we hone in on as we are buffeted by the inner and outer changes of our lives.

As the poet’s lines suggest, if we aren’t in touch with that truth of ourselves, or don’t bring it forward in our relationships, we will be caught living in “a pattern that others made.” This is inevitable, of course; as we grow we soak up the stories and ways of being of our families, peers, and wider culture. But what we do at Journeys is rooted in the belief that the sum of those patterns we inherit will inevitably be too small or not quite right for some wild and essential part of ourselves. We need to leave home, get some perspective on those patterns and messages we’ve been immersed in, have space to digest them, and ask questions like: What is really true for me? Which ways of being and relating have I taken into myself that feel right and good, and which belong in the compost pile?

Intertwined and complementary to that process of ‘leaving home’ is that of ‘finding our star’ — our unique place in the universe. Seeking it, we live questions such as: What is the deepest pattern of my unique soul? What part of the sky is mine to hold up, to maintain the world in its fullness? No matter how wonderful our family or culture, there is some wild truth of us as individuals that no one in our human community can fully anticipate or prepare us for. Discovering and living that truth, in the end, is a matter between us and our star.

And it is true; “we may miss our star.” Certain conditions in the world today make it extremely difficult for many people to hone in on a life of deep authenticity and fulfillment. For example, some of the “patterns that others made” we could point to are the messages put forth by the mass media advertising industry, which promotes certain identities and ways of being and denigrates others based on a value of private economic gain, in opposition to values of authenticity and integrity. There are myriad patterns in motion disconnecting us from the natural world of which we are kindred and dependent. With so many voices telling us who and how to be, and such rare opportunity to experience wildness and authentic connection, it is no wonder that so many today are at risk of missing their star, of not growing into a meaningful role as an Elder with unique and well-cultivated gifts.

Rites of passage are powerful because they naturally facilitate these processes. There is the severance, where we leave behind the patterns of the outgoing stage of our life and enter an unknown realm. There is the initiation — a moment or series of moments when we connect with something powerful, be it something in the wild community of earth, something deep and edgy in ourselves, or a rich gem passed through human culture. And then there is the re-incorporation, where we return home and integrate and embody the changes into a new way of being, a deeper level of authenticity and service.

As a final moment of contemplation, consider: is there any difference, in the end, between authenticity and integrity? Between being deeply true to ourselves, and being deeply true to the rest of this wondrous creation to which we belong? For me they swirl together, coloring each step I take along this lifelong journey into the heart.

*the poem is titled “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” — find the rest online, it’s great!

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