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 darkest 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 fill 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 its head through the clouds of a half lived life. Whether through choice or calamity, the Twice-Born person goes into the woods, looses the straight way, makes mistakes, suffers loss, and confronts that which needs to change within himself in order to live a more genuine and radiant life.
But let’s be careful here, sweeping distinctions like Once-Born and Twice-Born are often misleading. They can make you feel like a failure if you perceive yourself as a stuck in the mud Once-Born or they can inflate the ego if you fancy yourself a white knight swashbuckling your way through the boring landscape of everyday life. They journey into the woods of change and transformation is an inner one. The outer story line need not be a soap opera since the real drama is being carried out in the heart of the traveller. The most ordinary looking lives are often being lived by the most extraordinary spiritual warriors - People who have chosen the road less taken, the road of self reflection. Twice-Born people use the difficult changes 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 job, the death of a loved one- all of these can function can function as initiation into inner 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 step 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 towards 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 drink 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 unknown. Something calls them into the woods where the straight path vanishes and there is no turning back, only going through. This is not easy. It is not an made up fairy tale. It is very real and very 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 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 my personal experience, and from the work I have done with the men and women in my workshops, I know that the difficulty of the dark journey is matched only by its rewards. I also know that every single person in this whole wide world is offered, over and over, the chance to take the voyage from Once-Born innocence to Twice-Born wisdom.