Are You Once Born or Twice Born?
Elizabeth Lesser “Broken Open” page 18
It was William James, philosopher who wrote that there are two kinds of people in this world the ‘Once-Born‘ and the ‘Twice-Born‘.
Once-Born people do not stray from the familiar territory of who they think they are, and what they think is expected of them. If fate pushes them to the edge of Dante’s famous dark woods ‘where the straight way is lost’ they turn back. They don’t want to learn something new from life’s darker lessons. They stay with what seems safe, and what is acceptable to their family and society. They stick to what they already know but don’t necessarily want.
Once-Born people may go through life and never even know what lies beyond the woods-or that there are woods at all. Perhaps a once-born person awakens one morning and feels the beckoning finger of fate loosening disturbing questions:
Is this all there is to life?
Will I always feel the same?
Do I not have some purpose to fulfill, some greater kindness to give, some inner freedom to taste?
And then he gets out of bed and dresses for work, and he doesn’t attend to the soul’s questions. The next morning, and all the next mornings, he lives as if the soul was a figment of a flighty imagination. This inattention makes him confused, or numb, or sad, or angry.
A Twice-Born person pays attention when the soul pokes it’s head through the clouds of a half-lived life. Whether through choice or calamity, the Twice-Born person goes into the woods, loses the straight way, makes mistakes, suffers loss, and confront that which needs to change within himself in order to live a more genuine and radiant life.
Twice-Born people use the difficult change in their outer lives to make the harder changes within. While Once-Born people avoid or deny or bitterly accept the unpredictable changes of real life, Twice-Born people use adversity for awakening betrayal, illness, divorce, the demise of a dream, the loss of a loved one-all of these can function as initiations into deeper life. The journey from once-born to twice-born brings us to a crossroads where the old ways of doing things are no longer working but a better way lies somewhere at the far edge of the woods. We are afraid to step into those woods but even more afraid to turn back. To turn back is one kind of death. to go forward is another.
The first kind of death ends in ashes, the second leads toward rebirth. For some of us, the day arrives when we step willingly into the woods. A longing to wake up, to feel more alive, to feel ‘something’ spurs us beyond our fear. Some of us resist like hell until the forces of fate deliver a crisis. Some of us get sick and tired of filling an inner emptiness with drugs or drinks or food, and we turn and face our real hunger: our soul hunger, Twice-Born people trade the safety of the known for the power of the un-known.
Something calls them into the woods, where the straight path vanishes, and there is no running back, only going through. This is not easy. It is not a made-up fairy tale. It is very real and difficult. To face our shadow, the dragons and hags that we have spent a lifetime running away from is perhaps the most difficult journey we will ever take. But it is there, in the shadows, that we retrieve our hidden parts, learn our lessons, and give birth to the wise and mature self. From an experience, we know that the difficulty of the dark journey is matched only by it’s rewards.
I know, that every person in this world is offered, time and time again-the chance to take the voyage from once-born innocence, to Twice-born wisdom.
Are you a Once Born or a Twice Born?