Your Place, Memory, Daimon & Work

What’s Your Place? Such a simple question. . . If you look deep enough into it, discoveries about yourself erupt, surprisingly. What’s Your Place is much more than a question about one’s physical, geographic location. It can also transport you to mushing around in deep philosophical questions concerning your authentic self, along with questions about the what, why, how and when of your lifelong pursuits.

I’ll start with the physical side of place – those spots along life’s trail where you plant your feet – the high beam we all gingerly cross over – the point of reference we choose as a diving board into the sea of life.  According to urbanist Richard Florida, “The city or community you choose to live in can shape our lives in powerful ways. In fact, it is the most important of all life decisions we make, impacting everything we do.” [1]

I’ve lived in at least a dozen cities and more than 30 residences – not an extraordinary amount by any means. According to data from FiveThirtyEight, the typical American experiences 11.3 lifetime moves. [2]

First Place
My very first place takes shape in the early 50s, born into a blue-collar, working-class, city neighborhood known as Iron Island, so named because it is surrounded by railroad tracks. Iron Island, like any American city neighborhood, certainly has its share of extraordinary people with extraordinary stories, past and present.

Just Say Hi
Iron Island
taught me one great and vital skill – how to deal with a broad variety of human personalities, from priests and nuns to criminals, and from dumb punks and bullies to honest men and women who’d do anything for you. First rule: Respect everyone, regardless of their Place. Second rule: Always say hello convivially. Those two simple tenets easily got me safely through many days.  Growing up in a socially aggressive urban environment teaches such primary life principles. And being authentically and overtly gregarious as much as possible always served me well.

The practice of always saying hello to the people you cross paths with is similar to the Buddhist practice of joining hands and bowing to each other.  When waving to the neighbor walking across the street who is coming from the opposite direction (or simply shouting out a “Hi” to a neighborhood acquaintance from a distance) – which is something I did frequently as a kid growing up on Iron Island, as did most of my Island friends – we were recognizing the Buddha inside each and everyone one of us. Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, The Art of Communicating,” explains how this works:

“Where I live in Plum Village, every time you meet someone on your way somewhere, you join your palms and bow to him or to her with respect, because you know that there is a Buddha inside that person. Even if that person isn’t looking or acting like a Buddha, the capacity for love and compassion is in him or her. If you know how to bow with respect and freshness, you can help the Buddha in him or her to come out.”

First Significant Memory
Getting back to place, my earliest memory of my very first place comes from when I was 3.5 years old, riding, for the first time, a two-wheeler bereft of its training wheels, up and down the concrete driveway of our Schiller Street home. The bike sported bright red and white fenders on the front and back wheels. The driveway had annoying bumps and cracks, and I am successfully steering my way up and down the driveway in a surprising act of balance and steering that gives me great pride. That is the extent of my earliest home memory.  I’m riding and maneuvering, a strikingly appropriate metaphor for an entire life.

A boy and his bike represent freedom. More on this in another post.

Why We Remember Certain Things
In a 2015 article about childhood memories published in The Atlantic, writer Alasdair Wilkins explains how one of her first childhood memories – her brother’s birth – happened when she was 3.5 years old, which research suggests is the typical age of first memories for many people, but not all.  Wilkins adds that it is not inconceivable for some people to have memories that go back to when they were as young as 20 months young.  Developmental Psychologist Steven Reznick piped in that our working memories start at 6 months of age when we first start understanding words. Such very early memories, however, usually fade away somewhere between the age of 4 and 7 years old, according to childhood memory expert and Professor of Psychology Carole Peterson. [3] Depending on the individual, one’s earliest memories may reach anywhere from age two to age six or seven.

Memory and Calling
The famous singer Judy Garland was said to vividly remember a life-changing event at the age of 2.5, when she sang Jingle Bells to a highly receptive audience – under her real name of Frances Gumm  –when she traveled with her showbiz family. The highly esteemed Depth Psychologist James Hillman, in The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, writes about Garland’s early childhood memory, along with other famous people, such as Mozart, who had discovered their distinct calling and talent as early as the age of two, and honored their calling throughout their lives.  Hillman explains how Garland’s experience at such a young age introduced her to a robust and inevitable calling to become an entertainer. “Remembering her initial Jingle Bells performance, she compared the rush onstage to ‘taking nineteen hundred wake-up pills.’ Garland of the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall was already there in two-year-old Baby Gumm.” [4]

What’s Your Daimon?
There is a wake-up essence in all of us – called our daimon by the ancient Greeks, which is basically the non-stop inner voice that speaks to you. It is the voice (Somewhere Over the Rainbow) that never lies, calling you toward the pathway of life you choose. Most of us lose sight of it, but it always returns, unless you have figured out how to completely shut it off – which, I believe, is something many people are quite capable of doing, primarily because the honesty of the daimon can be quite painful and disconcerting. It has a tendency to pull you away from what society considers “normal.” It takes you down paths that are not easy to follow.

The daimon never keeps quiet, and I try to honor it as best as possible, but unfortunately often fail miserably. Yet, at the same time, from an opposite perspective, I also enjoy and follow it with a feeling of eternal gratefulness for having a daimon.  To me, it makes life worth living – simple as that. It is, in short, the path that ultimately becomes your greatest challenge – to live your life as authentically as possible.

Loneliness and Exile
It is a lonely place, however. Hillman refers to it, in The Soul’s Code, by referencing Heidegger and Camus, who both claimed that “life is your project; there is nothing to tell you what it’s all about, since there is no cosmic guarantee that anything makes sense.” However, this does not have to spell doom and gloom or existential suffering. As Hillman suggests, we can accept our daimon-generated uniqueness. It is an archetypal and essentially inevitable and necessary element of being a human being. Hillman advises, however that we be fully aware how it also creates a feeling of loneliness and exile. “The daimon’s home is not on the Earth.” He writes. “It lives in an altered state; the body’s frailty is a basic precondition of the soul’s life on Earth; and don’t we each leave the world with debts unpaid?”

Your Daimon and Work
Which brings me to the topic of work. How many of us can really and truly honor our daimon at our jobs? Not many. Playing the game of work is really a sad affair for most. Why? Because most work steals your soul. It does not allow you to be your true self. Instead, it pigeon holes you into a job title that stifles many of your real, multi-faceted levels of creativity that live deep within your daimon.  And work occupies the place where you spend at least one third of your life. Is that not tragic?

“We have become tiny, relatively wealthy cogs in giant, efficient machines. And yet, in our quiet moments, we reverberate with private longings to give our multitudinous selves expression,” writes School of Life authors in The Sorrows of Work. “We are meant to be monogamous about our work, and yet truly have talents for many more jobs than we will ever have the opportunity to explore.” [5]

For more astute philosophical thinking on the topic of work in the twenty-first century, see Andrew Taggert, aka The Practical Philosopher. In one of his recent posts about the value of work, Taggert asks “Does success matter, or does it matter in the way we think it does? Or could success be a hindrance to our realizing what truly matters?”  [6]

What’s Your Place?

[1] Richard Florida. (2008).  Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2463346.Who_s_Your_City

[2] FiveThirtyEight – https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-many-times-the-average-person-moves/

[3] Alasdair Wilkins. (July 2015). Why Childhood Memories Disappear. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/why-childhood-memories-disappear/397502/

[4] James Hillman. (1996). The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/970831.The_Soul_s_Code

[5] The School of Life. (2017). The Sorrows of Work. https://www.theschooloflife.com/shop/sorrows-of-work/

[6] Andrew Taggert. https://andrewjtaggart.com/

One comment

  1. I have a good career in health care that provides for me quite well. As stated here its been a trade off with what I think I would have liked to do due to specific talents, effort, luck and many other circumstances I’m sure. I’ve tried at times to bring in parts of my other self that I would like to see more of in my work world that includes writing, music and teaching but it hasn’t panned out very well to this point though I’ve made handouts on various topics.

    I recently wrote a play to be performed at the office that needed input from a few in the group as some of the cast. Its been on hold for a few months. I just can’t seem to get two of the ones who said they wanted to be part of it to practice. Now it feels like to ask them to practice is asking them to do a chore. I may rewrite it for two left who actually might want to do it. I do think that sometimes people choose worlds and cannot let the other world(s) into the other as may be the case with the dropouts at work. It is a bit of cognitive dissonance to enact both roles at once and maybe i’m just good at playing the responsible health care worker role switching back and forth with the creative playwright performer role.

    I do think as stated here that some people shut down that side of themselves that is not just about work and can’t play both roles either in the one setting or the other one. When I say work I mean the kind of life work that most of Americans do. I do feel from meeting many people in my job that most do not seem to have found huge amounts of fulfillment with their jobs and are more or less on the basic needs lcontract evel. Its a trade off I think for most for income and career advancement that may or may not deliver on the promises. I can’t but feel a lot of the promises are just that – promises.

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