Long before I found A Course in Miracles, I followed Howard Roark. From the moment I imagined him at the edge of a cliff about to jump, I fell in love with him. I was in my early twenties, and no character in literature has made more of an impact in my life than him. Here's a guy who has just been kicked out of the most prestigious school of architecture for refusing to draw buildings using design guidelines from the past, and yet he is serene, focused and unaffected. He doesn't think about what the future will be like for him without a title. Instead, he goes for a swim. He gets butt naked, climbs up to a cliff and jumps into the lake.
One of Ayn Rand's purposes in writing her novel "The Fountainhead" was to portray the "ideal" man. Howard Roark is the ideal man. He is a man who consistently acts, speaks and designs for himself. He never gives to get or acts to impress. When he speaks, he says what he wants to say. Words for him are tools for communication; not manipulation. He acts consistently with what he wants and needs for himself. Ayn Rand calls him "selfish," and in her world that is the ultimate compliment.
Yet Howard Roark is one of the kindest men in literature. Because he doesn't need anything from anyone, he also expects nothing. When he helps, he demands no gratitude because he helps for his own sake. His integrity can never be sacrificed. As a result, he offers the highest form of help possible, which in Ayn Rand's words is to recognize other's "own independent value."
Howard Roark cannot be hurt by people or circumstances because he gives them no power to make him happy. His happiness comes only from his personal achievement; from doing what he is born to do. The first line in the novel is: "Howard Roark laughed…….He laughed at the thing which had happened to him that morning and at the things which now lay ahead." From that point on until the end of the 727 page novel, he keeps on laughing and smiling as he faces adversity because no matter what happens to him – and a lot does – he is free.
After his swim in the lake Roark goes into the world to practice architecture. In early twentieth century New York City he is way ahead of his time. He is labeled a "modernist" and throughout the novel he is abused and condemned by a society that is not ready for him. Yet, no matter how difficult the situation gets for him – several times in the novel he loses everything - he cannot suffer because his core belief is that nothing can hurt him. He knows that his body might be hurt or inconvenienced; he may become poor or even be thrown in prison; but he understands that a man can only hurt himself by giving power to the world to hurt him.
At one point in the novel he says to his friend Steven Mallory: "I don't think a man can hurt another, not in any important way. Neither hurt him or help him. I really have nothing to forgive…." Roark understands that he can't forgive another man because a man can't hurt him in the first place. How can he forgive someone for something he didn't do?
Over the last eighteen years, I have struggled to reconcile my love of Howard Roark with my practice of A Course in Miracles. I understood partially and only for brief moments what one had to do with the other. Last week I had a revelation which took me back to Howard Roark. I awoke to the realization that there is nobody out there to do things for. There is only one and that one is me. For the first time in my life I felt deep love for myself and as a result, for everything I see. I experienced this will rise within me that allowed me only to speak and move for myself.
This force that directed my actions made it impossible for me to do anything with the ego's motive which is to seek love, approval or attention from others. For two days I couldn't speak, move or even smile for other people's sake. Speaking or moving outside of this new found integrity felt like deep betrayal and I wouldn't dare betray it for the sake of others. Following this Will that guided my words and actions, I understood, was the end of suffering.
When this happened I was in a program called "The School for the Work," by Byron Katie. People noticed me and interpreted what they saw as a sign of grief. They were kind to me and offered me food, water and comfort. They tried to hug me. They asked me questions. They smiled at me. But I couldn't answer to please them, or to make them feel better. I could only move for myself, speak for myself even write for myself. Those first few hours after my mind cracked open, I was so moved by the freedom I felt, that I cried. I felt drunk with Joy that came from feeling complete. If I had a fear, it was only that somehow, I would choose to go back to doing things for others.
Little by little over the past week I've learned how to act normally again. I look the same and sound the same; the only difference is in purpose. My words and actions are honest because their purpose is not to manipulate. The blessing to others is that if I am with them, I am fully present and not calculating consciously or unconsciously what I might get in return. I'm no longer seeking approval. I have become Howard Roark.
I understand now what Ken Wapnick meant when he said that ultimately you realize that the Holy Spirit is you. When your mind lets go of its identification with the ego you become what you are in reality. Without the ego, you are that mind, which A Course in Miracles calls the Holy Spirit, which knows its true nature. Everything you do with this mind is honest because it does not need anything. This means you no longer reinforce the ego with its dream of separation in yourself or others. The "Secret Vows" which the Course talks about are off. Without the ego's motives, your purpose is only to extend love. And with love you can only be truly helpful.