If I asked you to name people who were great in any given field, it would be a breeze. However, if I asked what makes for greatness in a field, that isn’t so easy.
Specific criteria would be used to speak about a musician, an artist, an athlete, actor, mechanic, author. Oh, did you catch that? I slipped in mechanic. Why would I do that? Pretty obvious, isn’t it. The popular definitions of greatness have to do with Ego — important to remember.
When I quoted Bob Dylan’s song “Blowin’ in the Wind” last night, it brought back a lot of memories as I read the lyrics, which spurred these thoughts today. Part of the reason Dylan is a great songwriter is he addresses society with his music, the darkness, the superficiality — really, he exposes Ego-expressions in various aspects, in words of definite nonconformity.
In fact, many of those considered great are the ones who see needs in the general society, sometimes, they are things that society doesn’t even know they need until they’re shown. Innovators, crusaders, enthusiasts — these sort of people develop their talents, abilities, ideas, concepts, inventions, expressions in thousands of different ways and usually not conforming to conventional standards.
Vincent van Gogh did this. An extensive account of his life is given in the valuable source of his voluminous letters to his younger brother Theo, who provided a lot of financial and moral support through Vincent’s thirty-seven years. Those letters provide insight into the emotional and mental struggles of one who was great and never knew it in his physical life.
Vincent’s sensitive soul was responsive to his Heart, but his Ego — reinforced and encouraged by his father and the prevailing religious philosophies of the day — always sought to justify his work and life to others. He was tormented, and in my opinion, the torment resulted directly from his inability to choose, consciously and consistently, his Heart. That daily choice confronts each of us in the sense that Heart-energy is always operative, always offering answers to those two deepest questions about self-identity and purpose.
For example, Ego wants us to be concerned about how others view us, how they think of us, and how we can conform to their expectations. That doesn’t leave much room to respond to Heart, which would urge us to know Self apart from opinions and judgments of anyone else; however, it isn’t to isolate us from them but rather to express Self in love through our purpose.
That was the struggle, the conflict in Vincent. He felt as if he never pleased his father, and by extension anyone else. In one of his letters to Theo, he says, “A phrase in you letter struck me: ‘I wish I were far away from everything; I am the cause of all, and bring only sorrow to everybody; I alone have brought all this misery on myself and others.’ These words struck me because that same feeling, exactly the same, neither more nor less, is also on my conscience…” (29). Here is that struggle of not being able to please others by that which he considers the work of his Heart. He can’t conform; conflict ensues, not to mention hinders Heart work.
He does hear and heed Heart, though, in spurts, especially the last two years of his life. His work was definitely unique, powerful, moving, and filled with revelation of how he saw life when he released Ego and allowed Heart to be the primary operating system. He understood who he was and created his Purpose: “I want to do drawings which touch some people…In those there is at least something straight from my own heart” (44). Powerful images of the energies of life he sensed when processing via Heart pervade his work. He was great, unrecognized as such during his lifetime.
And this brings me back to this thought: The greatness wasn’t in the opinions of others. It wasn’t in how much money he made, because his brother supported him to a large extent. It wasn’t in art critics of his time who were blinded by their own Ego.
Greatness — whether acclaimed and rewarded or invisible and quasi-effectual — derives from knowing Self and creating and living Heart-Purpose and the personal truth resulting from that. Bob Dylan does that; Vincent did it, and so does every “great” one.
We each have that which makes for greatness, and greatness is not defined by notoriety or power or wealth. Neither is it framed by occupation; we live and develop greatness through our daily work done with heart-energy. Greatness is defined by who we are and what we purpose to do and then live it — live through the conflicts Ego will cause, live through the mountain peak highs and the flooded valley lows. Live You. That is greatness.
When we do live core Self through Heart-energy and express love through our Purpose — “I want to do drawings which touch some people…” — then, at least some will notice, will feel and experience the love we share. Whether we feel support or not, we cannot quit on Self, on Heart. And that, my friends, is greatness.
(Work Cited: Gogh, Vincent Van, and Bruce Bernard. Vincent by himself. London: Time Warner Books, 2004. Print.)
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!