Personales Borealis

Photo: Uwe Zucchi, dpa

Lots of religious traditions have some version of the concept of axis mundi, the point where heaven meets earth, and God is most present. Or the point at which the underworld has an exit to the surface, from which our earliest ancestors emerged. No matter the history or the explanation, the axis mundi is the point deemed to be at the spiritual center of the spinning world.

I’d like to propose a paired concept, the personales borealis, our own individual North that sets our course. I think that all of us have some magnetic pole that draws us perpetually toward our own home. We already have words for that, of course: obsession, or mania, or idée fixe, or mission, or passion. But I think none of those quite hit their mark, because they feel like either decisions or afflictions. I’d like to use personales borealis to designate something more neutral, more basic: our own individual polarization that pulls us perpetually in a single direction, toward the destination we never reach.

The axis mundi is settled and stable. The personales borealis makes us move.

The axis mundi is a point of reassurance. The personales borealis is the question perpetually unanswered.

The most identifying mantra for the axis mundi is Ram Dass’ simple be here now. But I think the best expression of the personales borealis comes from Martha Graham, who said to one of her friends, the choreographer Agnes de Mille, “No artist is pleased… There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Although too much of what we call education is intended to instill our own borealis into other minds, it’ll never take. The one we’re born with can never be supplanted by one that’s grafted on. At best, the artifice will be rejected. At worst, and far too often, the imposed purpose is loud enough that it muffles the authentic one, and we spend too many years not being able to hear our true call.

This is the 200th of these little essays since I started this website in February 2019, a full book’s worth of writing that will never be a book. It’ll never be anything—except what it is, a chance two or three times a week to think about whatever comes to mind. Some people pursue their personales borealis through their hands, drawn forward into paper, or yarn, or a fine restaurant meal. Some people pursue their personales borealis through music, or through dance, or through athletic endeavor. Mine seems to draw me through language, through writing and erasing and writing again, drawing closer but never quite reaching.

I hope that you give yourself some time today to sit with that question, to identify the magnetic charge of your own borealis. Let’s leave Martha Graham with today’s last word:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

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