Yesterday we were driving back from Lincoln, NE after a week of babysitting grandkids. We always have good talks on a road trip. This time we got into a discussion about our “life themes” and how they show up again and again in the things we do. A theme is a basic core structure, and we all seem to have one whether we recognize it or not.
Early on in my NLP training, I was in an advanced group in Santa Cruz with Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein. These brilliant guys were playing with a similar idea--that if we could strip away all the busy detritus of our lives, we would discover one question that is acting on all that we think and do. They called it “the virtual question.” For each of us, it is a different question.
Whether we call it a life theme or a virtual question, I think there is some essential, unique arrangement in each of us. Milt was kind of mind-walking through the many projects of his life and seeing the common theme or question. For him, it has to do with basic life rhythms and how they are expressed—and how we connect to those rhythms. He sees that repetitive exploration playing though his life whether he is working with music, images, sound, or film. It is like a philosophical stance, a way of seeing or hearing for him. He also saw (perhaps for the first time) that this theme—a vital part of his make-up—has also caused him problems. He has often brought this artistic and philosophical inquiry into his contract “work for hire” projects. The people may hire him to sell a jelly bean—and he wants to see the jelly bean within his personal, thematic, philosophical frame. Most of the time his clients have loved his artistry—and a few times they just wanted him to sell the damn jelly bean.
I want to consider my own theme for a minute. I use many words to define myself—writer, teacher, parent, grandparent, communications trainer—but like Milt, these are just the many ways I have used to explore my personal theme (and try to make a living while doing that). I am not sure how to verbalize my theme, but its roots are in trying to understand humanity (with a capital H?). How do humans connect, evolve, grow—and how is it that sometimes they don’t? If I were to put it in a single sentence, it might be, “What makes human beings act cruel?” I am also always curious about whether we spiritually evolve over one lifetime or many. I’ve studied ancient texts and concepts such as karma and darma in an attempt to understand if we come into this life with our theme or virtual question, and our “job” is to work out our theme. If not, how is it that children so quickly form a personality that simply cannot be explained by genetics or environment alone.
In general, I keep my own spiritual inquiry very private and in the frame of standing in the face of “the unknowable.” I almost instantly distrust anyone who claims to “know” these things—very often they are working out some other theme.
I can trace my theme or virtual question back to the playground. I felt like I was standing outside of a frame watching behaviors and wondering about them. Why is this child singled out and teased? What must that feel like? Milt remembers being ten and asking his dad if people always see a work of art the way the artist sees it.
Themes—what is yours and in what ways does it weave in and out of your life? I am curious to hear from you about this.