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This, I believe, is a much more Herculean effort and humbling path than the search for a noble outer identity, a path in which my ego always wants to put more stock.

The seeds for Gregg Levoy's passion for personal life and his ongoing search to understand how to lead an authentic life were planted early in life through his relationship with his father. Gregg's father was an ardent scientist and, through his love of the unimaginable, introduced his son early on to the wonders of life, yet in his "real life" was employed as something else.

That inauthenticity to his true self, according to Gregg, tore his father up from the inside out and set the stage for the exploration and discussion of callings that is so beautifully laid out in Gregg's book. Yet, as Gregg said in the interview, "My father's story has a redemptive ending in a sense because his 'no' turned into my 'yes.' I know that there is a strong link between how he lived his life and what I became."

The book, and this interview, helped to illumine my understanding of the everyday nature of callings. I believe that I have a new perspective on the meaning of the word thanks to his perspective. It feels more deeply personal than a vocational calling because it can be received daily, moment by moment, and I am grateful for that new perception and insight.

Jane: Please tell me about your own "callings," and how you came to write this book.

Gregg: I've had a lifelong fascination " bordering on obsession " on learning how people create a life that really belongs to them rather than having one dictated to them or one that is a hand-me-down, like the one my father led by going into the family business when it wasn't what he wanted to do.

I'm fascinated with how people create a life that makes sense to them, that doesn't promote a lot of kicking and screaming at the end, so that they don't have to strike desperate deals with God to bargain for a little more time. The prospect of leading a life on other people's terms terrifies me.

I came from a family where nobody spoke; nobody asked me what was going on. It was stultifying, and I'm sure that I'm not alone in that experience. Early in school I was given an opportunity to participate in a "T" group [an early form of encounter therapy], an experience I literally leapt at.

This was an opportunity to talk about my life, which is why I speak so much in the book of the importance of articulating, even if only to yourself, what it is you feel, to develop listening and conversing practices, to get help from others, be in groups, anything that helps you strike up a conversation with your own life. I'm a fan, bordering on fanatic, of the importance of having an authentic dialogue with your deeper self.

Jane: I liked that you entitled your book Callings, with an emphasis on the plural rather than singular.

Gregg: I did that because when most people think of the term "calling," they think of it within a religious context or a vocational context, and its generally about work. "What is your calling?" generally means, "What is your work in the world?"

That's certainly a part of it, to be sure, but we're already too obsessed with work. Besides, there's this crazy notion of What is my calling or What is my purpose in life that I think sets up a kind of desperation and panic in people in the passage of time. It's sort of like looking for Mr. Right or Ms. Right. What if you don't find this person before the curtain comes down? I think it sets up a quality of fear and desperation that doesn't serve the search.

I'm really clear that the phenomena of hearing and responding to a calling in the vocational realm are the same issues as in a relationship calling, or a lifestyle calling, or a service or moral calling. It's the same dynamics.

Callings come from dreams, intuitions, body symptoms, the saying "yes" and the saying "no"; it's all the same stuff.

Making "callings" plural takes it away from just the vocational and gives people a sense that you're in this call and response process all the time in your life. It's really about listening and honoring it. I just really feel strongly about pluralizing it, if for no other reason than helping people to know that when you have an intuition about something, what you have is a little calling. The plural approach has definitely served me better than narrowing "calling" to just mean that I have a single purpose in life.

Jane: I am aware that you and your partner lead workshops to support people in their exploration of the callings in their lives. Could you tell me a little bit about how you help people get in touch with their callings?

Gregg: We take people through a process of articulating what the calling is so that it's just there hanging in the air and you know what it is. We then move on to what voices you hear in your head about responding to it; what your mind, heart, gut, soul and body, say about it; what you imagine other people are going to say about following it. What happens when you say no to the call? What happens when you say yes? It's a whole process, and it's very beautiful to watch it unfold for people.

Jane: In listening to you describe your process of helping people get in touch with their callings, I am struck by how beautiful it must be to help people connect with their deeper selves. Is there a downside to this process? It makes me want to ask you the question, "Is there a question that people don't ask you about this process that you wish they did?"

Gregg: Yes, I think the question is, "Tell me how hard it's going to be." "Be straight with me." "Tell me what it's really going to involve."

A lot of the questions people ask me are about how to get in touch with their callings, getting over the obstacles, and I make my responses as easy and non-traumatic as possible because I believe in that, but this particular subject doesn't fit real neatly into this category. It's messy, organic, chaotic, scary, exciting, thrilling, relationship- and status quo-endangering, and financially dangerous, so people don't seem particularly inclined to ask me what's it really going to be like.

I hesitate to present this aspect to people because I don't want to scare them off. A lot of people who come to my lectures just want to put their toe in the water. That may be all that they want, need, or should do for the moment, so I don't want to back the truck up and unload all the contents all at once, but I do feel that people flourish with the brute truth.

It's scary to hear, but I think that people want the truth. They want people to be straight with them. I can't tell you how many people, especially men, walk up to me at the end of my presentation and thank me for being honest. As one man said a couple of weeks ago, "I just want to look in your eye and tell you that I thought your talk was great because there was no bullshit." I took that as a great compliment.

Jane: Is there something you would like to pass on to the people who are reading this article, individuals who are interested in starting the very personal and interior process you describe in your book about listening to and honoring the callings from their deeper selves? From a spiritual sense, I guess I'm asking how your spirit can connect with all of ours to support what seems to be a powerful and transformative process that we all undertake in different ways to find and follow, as the title of your book says, an authentic life.

Gregg: My response to what you say is to reveal something personal about my own struggle. I know that one of the things that has been the most important to me in terms of having teachers, even if it simply comes through a book, is a sense of compassion.

A lot of people, after reading the book, say that they felt my humanity because I was willing to share my struggles: the times when I blew it and the times when I was unconscious. My inclination, when you ask how I can connect my spirit with another, is to reveal my soul.

It's about someone who really understands the "rubber meets the road" struggle involved in the process of becoming and doesn't speak about instant enlightenment or easy paths, who really honors anybody who is willing to struggle to find herself or himself. I know that, to whatever degree I can pass that along to people, it helps.

I want to pass on that sense of hope for other people, the sheer wish that other people will do the brave or the great thing, whatever that means to them. I say in my book that risk is whatever scares you. I feel a tremendous passion about people being willing to be compassionate with themselves in taking risks. I want to communicate that message to people, whether it be in words, gestures, stories, books, or whatever I do out there in the world.

Gregg Levoy will be giving a men's retreat April 3-5 at the Namast" Retreat Center, in Wilsonville, Oregon. For information about the retreat or to register, call (800) 893-1000. Gregg also indicated in the interview that if you would like to write to him about your callings, or would like to know more about his schedule.

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