Book Review

Executive in Passage

by Douglas A. Russell

As we make our way through our life, each of us has ups and downs and occasional insights that expand our understanding of our beliefs and fears. It's rare to have an opportunity to share someone else's intimate disclosure of his experience, feelings, and thoughts as over a period of years he came to understand what was important and true to him. Executive in Passage: Career in Crisis — The Door to Uncommon Fulfillment by Donald Marrs (Barrington Sky Publishing, Los Angeles, 1990) is just such an account. Long on anecdotal content and short on technical jargon and explanations, Marrs' book reads like a novel, while at the same time carrying the reader along very logically in the unfolding progression of his "passage."

In mid-life, at the height of a very successful career as a top executive in a major international advertising agency, Marrs came face to face with a seemingly irreconcilable difference between the awakening awareness of his inner values and the focus of his professional life. Burdened by the perceived contradiction and hypocrisy brought about by the differences between his inner longings and comfort and the choices and actions required in the expected conduct of his job, he found it necessary to attempt to free himself from environments which constrained him. In his initial efforts to obtain this freedom he totally restructured his life — terminating a failed marriage, moving from Chicago to Los Angeles, and downgrading his position in the advertising agency to one that entailed much less of the unacceptable conflict.

This book concerns itself largely with the next phase of his life, in which he attempted to peel away layer after layer of fear, constraint, security, and desire. Marrs' journey is in many ways everyman's: some of us just think about taking the journey, some take goodly portions of the trip, probably few go as far as he went, much less analyze every step as it was taken and then publish the record. The weakness of the book stems from this detailed regurgitation, with its "new age" I'm-so-sensitive, feeling, hugging, tell-all nakedness. On the other hand, it's hard to see how he could have told his personal story differently. It was Marrs' passage; it was the way he felt and how he experienced it — if only it didn't seem that he felt so "good" in doing it. He is giving, however, not only the fruit of his effort to come through his rite of passage, but also a complete accounting of what happened, what he learned, and what was required every step of the way.

Marrs was intrigued by the realization that the heroes of myths, as well as accounts of the lives of great religious figures, all followed a similar theme of Separation-initiation-return. He felt that this pattern applies to all of us, with only the scale of our experiences differing. The book follows his progress through this rite of passage, starting with total separation from his once-comfortable business environment, to an initiation where he was stripped bare materially and his emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects were opened wide to whatever he was trying to experience and learn, and concludes with a return to his professional world with a new set of values and action criteria.

In his personal progression Marrs draws on the writings of a wide range of thinkers, Eastern and Western, philosophical and religious, poetic and prose, ancient and current. He explores astrology, acupuncture, marijuana, and meditation. He learned early on that no matter what he investigated or the techniques he used, ultimately he had to get where he was going by himself.

Figuring large in the beliefs that have meaning and truth to him are three prime concepts: 1) he has a quiet inner voice that doesn't clamor to be heard, which can easily be ignored or drowned out by the voices of reason, fear, and desire, but which never fails to be correct on principle and life direction; 2) there is a "subtle agenda" which his higher self is pursuing which he can follow by constantly heeding this inner voice and the clues that are sprinkled throughout his days and life; and, 3) he does not have to "drive to do" for action's sake, as his subtle agenda can best be followed by sitting loose in the saddle and awaiting the proper unfolding of the events and needs in his life and then responding in concert with the input of his inner voice. His rule is simple, "stay alert to the clues and follow yearnings for fulfillment."

I'm glad I read this book. At times I felt painfully embarrassed at what it led me to look at in myself, and at other times I felt the joy of shared experience and understanding. At all times I felt the strength, the anguish, the fear and, frequently, the peace of a traveler on the path.

(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, February/March 1991. Copyright © 1991 by Theosophical University Press)


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