“Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living. Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Soren Kierkegaard

The hair on the back of your neck suddenly stands on end. Goosebumps fight for positioning on the surface of your skin. A shiver runs up your spine. For a brief instant, time seemingly stands still and you are quite certain that you have experienced this exact moment at some point in the past.  Your senses tingle, trying to interpret the millions of signals that are flowing through your brain. Is this really real? What did you do next? What SHOULD you do next?

You are experiencing what is commonly known as Déjà vu. The term was coined by French psychic researcher, Emile Boirac, in his book, The Future of Psychic Sciences. We can’t invoke the experience, nor make it stop once the wheels begin to turn. Most often it lasts only for a split moment of time; then normal washes back in like a wave returning the tide to the shoreline. But in that moment, in that wrinkle of an instant when it crawls up and down our spine, it’s unmistakable.

A more common experience is the flash of reasoning that causes us to pause in retrospect and vocalize the phrase: “Had I known then what I know now. . .”

I love children’s stories and one of my favorites is the story of Jack and The Beanstalk. The tale was written anonymously in the early 1800’s and published for the first time in 1807, in England, by Benjamin Tabart and Jack Nicholson as, The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk.

The often read fairy tale recounts the experience of a young boy and his mother who lived by themselves barely surviving with meager possessions. The most valuable possession was apparently a cow, which provided a source of milk and butter, but little else. Jack is charged to take the cow to town and sell it for the best possible price. Being warned by his mother that unscrupulous men in the market place would try to take advantage of his youth and cheat Jack of fair value, Jack sets off on his journey.

In the way, he meets a man who calls him by name and offers beans, proclaimed to be magical, as a fair exchange. The elderly man promises Jack that he and his mom would never want for anything ever again. The deal is closed and Jack returns home. Most likely you’re familiar with how the story plays out, but suffice it to say that if Jack’s mom had known that her kid was going to come home with a handful of beans, he would have never made it out of the yard with the family cow.

A series of key reference points can be seen in the story; reference points that can perhaps help us to live life forward as we seek to understand it backward.


Responsibility is often thrust upon us

As a rule, we don’t chase responsibility. Usually, it finds us and at times it weighs heavily on our shoulders.

Mom was burdened, and evidently unable to fulfill the quest. The lot fell to Jack and he set out on his task fully knowing the importance of what was at stake: Get a good price for the cow or we will lose the last of what we have left. This is our last hope to survive. Peel back the “Fairy Tale” aspects of this Fairy Tale and the mission was nothing short of monumental.


The greater the need, the harder it is to resist temptation

Desperate times require ____________ ___________. Sometimes the road ahead appears long and scary. Sometimes it’s just downright torturous and intimidating.

Jack met a man in the way that he apparently did not know, yet the man called him by name. He knew of Jack’s plight and how eager the young lad was to make a better life for his mom. Magic beans were offered in exchange, but no directions were given as to using the beans or what could be expected once they were in play. There was only the promise that Jack and his mom would never want for anything ever again. When things seem to be most difficult, we are often moved to consider options that would otherwise never be entertained.


Not everyone will share our perspective

Getting others to see our vision is a challenge in good times. When things are rough, it’s nearly impossible.

Mom had given Jack a clean and clear directive. Go to market and sell the cow FOR MONEY! Her concerns were that her young son would get cheated and return home having not gotten a fair price. No doubt she already had plans as to how the money would need to be budgeted over the months ahead. The last thing she anticipated was for Jack to show up with a quintet of limas. Knowing that you will have no alternative but to live with your choices, make sure they are YOUR choices.


Opportunity is borne out of adversity

There is a prevailing theory that once embroiled in a bad situation; we should do all we can to make the best of it.

Jack’s mom didn’t show any signs of warming up to the possibilities the magic beans provided. There was no family conference or “better luck next time” forthcoming. Jack was sent to bed with no dinner and had to spend the night alone, contemplating his irresponsible actions and their results. The next morning a giant beanstalk stretched into the sky, giving Jack two choices: Pick Beans or Climb. Bad situations often bring our best to the surface, giving us every opportunity to thrive.


If you’re not afraid, you’re not normal

It was Emerson who wrote, “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

We’re not told that Jack had any aversion to heights, but we do know that he had no idea what might be beyond the clouds. Facing the unknown can be both exhilarating and debilitating. Often we are paralyzed by all the dreadful things our imagination can construct, many times with no data on which to build. Once we take a deep breath and dig in, we find that we’re perfectly suited for the challenge.


Don’t run toward confrontations that can be avoided

If you see a storm building on the horizon, you don’t jump in a boat and row out to meet it. Some storms can look massively powerful from a distance, but they never come ashore.

The giant made his presence known over and over. Threats. Threats. And, more threats! But each time he eventually dozed off, providing Jack with his window of opportunity. Going toe to toe with a giant ogre would have been absolutely foolish. Jack knew it and we should keep it in mind. Pick your battles and walk lightly amongst the bullies whilst they sleep.


Don’t settle for good things when the best things are in reach

It is the good that robs us of the better; and the better that stands between us and the best.

The giant’s castle was loaded with good options, but Jack set his sights on the things the giant treasured most. If the ogre who could have anything cherished these three items above all other possessions, Jack knew they had to offer significant value. You can’t grab the best things in life if your hands are already holding onto mediocre with a death-grip.

“Had I known then

what I know now. . .”

The truth is, you know NOW and that’s to your advantage. You’ve walked this path before. Déjà vu aside, some of it SHOULD look familiar. There’s a cliché that proclaims the only thing to be learned from history is that we never learn anything from history. We learn, but we fail to embrace the lesson. Thus when Déjà vu steps out of the shadows, we’re slow to analyze and redirect. Hold fast to what you understand in hindsight and live life forward with confidence that you are ready for the challenge. It’s about time for things to start spiraling your way.

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