The metaphysical-physical concept of the Great Chain of Being (GCB) began, as so much, with the ancient Greeks and gained widespread adherence, especially during the Middle Ages and into the eighteenth century. The GCB describes the supposedly inviolate hierarchy of nature, in which all life and material objects, organic and inorganic, originate from the Creator in unquestioned order. All is arranged in perfect design: first God, then the angels and demons, the physical universe, royalty representing the Divine, then ordinary humans, and down to animals, plant life, stones, metals, even minerals.
In the Great Chain of Being, one’s place in the hierarchy is set, fixed, immovable.
Any deviation would go against the Creator’s plan. The beliefs and rationale were widely held to, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and extended to degrees of difference (supposedly) in humans.
For example, the king, divinely ordained, depended on the unquestioned loyalty and devotion, as the hierarchy demanded, of his lords for allegiance and military strength. The lords of the manor depended on the same from those who enabled them to remain lords—their servants and serfs. No advance beyond one’s designated and predetermined place in the Chain was tolerated or imagined. Going “outside” one’s place was nothing short of blasphemy, an attempt to oppose the divine Order of all.
The GCB has persisted in various forms, even though diluted, to the present. Based on vestiges of the Chain, pernicious in our history has been discrimination against Native Americans, African Americans, women, and many other groups. Granted, the American anti-GCB credo is strong—anyone can “make it” in the United States, whatever their origins and backgrounds. And an immense number of stellar individuals have disproved their “prescribed” place in every field. Nevertheless, many people, influenced by others, hold to today’s various versions of the GCB.
Consciously or not, we may have accepted our genes’/parents’/teachers’/ siblings’/neighborhoods’/negative others’/our own pronouncements about our inevitable and immovable place in the Chain. Sometimes we’ve not only ingested the limiting verdicts of others but have accepted the myth that we shouldn’t go beyond them, especially parents.
Where are you buying into the Chain? Have you accepted your “place,” decreed by other supposed authorities, influences, or forces you think you’re powerless against?
What excuses are you using?
“I didn’t go to college. I’ll never get promoted beyond a foreman in the factory, like my father.”
“My parents were poor. I’ll never be much more than that.”
“My father and grandfather collected their paychecks and looked forward to the weekends of beer and TV sports. Laziness is in my genes.”
“Why does my chest hurt? Must be heart. Runs in my family back to my great-grandmother.”
“No one in my family exercised. It was for jocks, not intellectuals like us. That’s why I’ve never been able to stick to it.”
“I barely got by in biology in school. How can I become an environmentalist?”
“I can’t meditate. Must have ADHD.”
“I’ll always be 15 pounds overweight, like everyone else in my family/town/district/state/country.”
“My girlfriend said she broke up with me because I’m a slob. Guess that’s what I’ll always be.”
“My English teacher told me to go into accounting. I’ll never be an artist/dancer/actor/musician/designer/writer.”
Well, it’s time to un-Chain—and Claim.
How? Believe. Believe that you can, create statements for what you want, and fill your mind with the new declarations.
One of Louise Hay’s books is titled The Power Is Within You. This alone is a mantra worth repeating. We have the absolute power to go beyond any false judgments, our own or anyone else’s, about our limits. Deepak Chopra tells us, “You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. In every moment of our existence, we are in that field of all possibilities where we have access to an infinity of choices” (The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, p. 22).
Read this provocative and immensely helpful concept by Gay Hendricks on our “Upper Limits.” “Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy.” That thermostat “holds us back from enjoying all . . . that’s rightfully ours” (The Big Leap, p. 20).
Hendricks analyzes four major reasons why we hold ourselves back, all of which are worth exploring and one of which relates to our personal GCB. This is “The Crime of Outshining” (p. 55). The “crime” refers to the belief that if you surpass someone else—usually a significant someone—your surpassing will reflect badly on them, and they will feel bad about your success or achievement . . . and somehow take it out on you.
Parents and others in authority may encourage us but secretly may feel we shouldn’t go beyond or outdo them—we should know our (GCB) “place.” They may feign joy at our promotion, award, or finished novel. But their stiff half-smile and downward slanting shoulders betray them. The implication, and your fear, is that they will withdraw their love and approval of you.
But . . . whose life are you living? Is such tyranny a reason to squelch and downplay yourself and your talents?
Don’t become a victim of others’ threats or behavior! Don’t be taken in! Don’t accept your supposed place in the Chain!
There is no Chain!
Pardon my passion, but our rise-ability is limitless. We do not have to accept any “destiny” dictated by family, culture, or current societal mores. No one else, by birth, education, training, or arrogance, can dictate your rising or how far you rise.
Your limits may be hampered by how you may have labeled and accepted yourself. For example, can an elementary school teacher become a college professor? A cook become a chef? A classical musician become a rocker (or vice versa)? A designer of t-shirts successfully sell custom-made suits? A greeting card illustrator become a painter? A writer of doggerel become a poet? And you?
As Wayne Dyer says, not only for our pursuits but for our self-perceptions, we can give ourselves “a new job description” (Dr. Wayne Dyer’s 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace, p. 75). And more: “By actually rewriting your agreement with reality, you can change your mind . . . . Change your attitude toward yourself, and resolve to believe in your connectedness to the higher energy of God” (p. 88). Notice he does not say to believe in your connectedness to the hierarchy of any great chain.
With convictions in mind such as Dyer and others suggest, you can knock out others’ preconceived notions of you that they and you may harbor. You can change your self-perceptions and free yourself of those old, binding notions. Whatever your desires, profession, and other interests, you can burst those chains. Expand, reach, stretch, and rise as high as your imagination and longings prompt. You can become anything you passionately desire to be.
So listen inside to your deepest yearnings, beyond any false limiting definitions and patterns. For all that you long to be and can be, you deserve your own great chain of becoming.
Noelle Sterne is an author, editor, academician, writing coach, mentor, and spiritual counselor. She has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Fiction Southeast, Funds for Writers, Inspire Me Today, Rate Your Story, Romance Writers Report, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. A spiritually-oriented chapter appears in Transform Your Life (Transformation Services, 2014). A story appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel (2014), and another will appear in a Tiny Buddha collection (HarperOne, 2015). With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, she is completing a handbook for graduate students struggling with their dissertations on their largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties: Challenge in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). In Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her webinar about the book can be seen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95EeqllONIQ&feature=youtu. Noelle’s website: www.trustyourlifenow.com.