It was a very sad day after all. The man had lost all of his wealth and his family had left him. He awoke that morning in the grip of loneliness and despair. He had nowhere to go, no one to talk to and nothing to look forward to. These were tough times indeed
There had been better days not so long ago. A successful business, a happy family and many rewards flowing his way. But something happened on that fateful evening, something that changed his life forever.
If we look back now, we can retrace those steps. In his younger days, our man Anton was given to fighting and arguing, pushing his way past others to gain what he wanted. His temper cost him dearly in those early days. The losses were huge and the failed relationships, many. Anton could not fathom it at the time. His father had conducted himself in similar fashion and his mother had acquiesced. So why wouldn't this style work for him?
As Anton learned to push his way along using those familiar methods, he became even more subtle in attaining his desired ends. In addition to the bullying tactics acquired from father, Anton learned to cajole, to manipulate, to embarrass, to transform resistances into something pliable in order to further his own agenda.
The woman Anton had married was won over in that fashion. It was not a union based on love and respect, but on need. He needed a mate and wanted power over that person. When the children arrived, the pattern carried on. No one was allowed to be their Self, since that would threaten our man Anton. He had to have control in order to feel secure, and to that end he would do whatever was required.
As his business grew and prosperity reigned, Anton felt proud of his accomplishments. His family appeared well and his friends seemed to admire him. But his employees feared him as did most of his neighbors. He was too demanding they said, not a man you could get close to. He wielded power in a way that kept everyone at bay.
And then one day it happened, the unthinkable, the unbelievable. A rebellion had been brewing in the hearts of his wife and children. They had enough of being cajoled and manipulated. All their cries for true intimacy had gone unanswered; their pleas for compassion went unheard; and their need for closeness remained unmet. Anton was not to be swayed. His formula for life was working, he believed, and he was not prepared to abandon it. But upon arriving home this particular day, he found a note. "I am gone forever," it began, "and have taken the children. You are not to trouble us or pursue us in any way. We want peace, we want freedom and we want affection, none of which has ever been available from you."
Anton was devastated. At first rage swept through him like a violent storm. All kinds of corrective and punishing scenarios were imagined. This soon gave way to sadness, and finally, to grief. What had happened? He could not fathom it. He tried to carry on with his life, but his efforts were without spirit or design. His business began to fail and, soon after, others left him too – employees, friends, acquaintances. Anton was now all alone. He had failed. His father's formula for life was in disarray. He could not understand what had gone wrong.
While Anton sat in what remained of his home, feeling desolate and despairing, an angel came to offer him some much needed comfort.
"What can you do for me?" He implored. "I am a broken man. I have lost everything. My life has no value. I am a failure."
"Tis true" replied the angel, "that all about you has collapsed. But are you certain you have lost everything? Are you sure there is not some important remnant for you to take away from all this?"
"I do not understand what you mean," Anton responded. "I just told you I have lost everything, my family, what few friends I had, my business, my life really. I have nothing left. Can you not see that?"
"I can see that externally you have lost a great deal," the angel continued. "All those things that you thought mattered have vanished, that is true. But, are you not left with something, a portion you may not have noticed before. Beneath your father's shadow, beyond your family and friends and all that you once valued, is there not a spark that still glows, that sustains you, that gives you life?"
"What do you mean?" Anton asked, now curious as to where the angel was going with this.
"Well," the angel went on, "in the heart of every living creature lays a spark, a bit of the Divine fire, the energy that animates all life, including yours. Have you not noticed that in the areas where externals are not so important there is still laughter and joy? People with very little to show materially still enjoy good humor, good fellowship and an appreciation that their lives have merit. If this type of happiness exists in the absence of external wealth, could this not also exist for you?"
"You mean at the core of my being lies hope, drive and energy in spite of external appearances?"
"Why yes, that is exactly what I mean," the angel went on. "Some refer to this core as Self, others may call it Soul and some identify it as Spirit. Each race and culture has their own name for it. In this case, the name that fits best is 'Heart' – the heart of love, the heart of being, the heart of unfettered self-expression and creativity. All life experiences refer to this common source, Heart, Soul, or Self, at the core of your being."
"I see," Anton reflected. "So if I still have my Heart, my Soul, My Self, I am not destitute, nor a failure. I can recreate anew. I can express my Self in other ways. I can go forward and rediscover life. So, I am not lost; I am free. I am not broken; I am whole. And, I am still valuable. I think I understand. This makes sense to me now. How can I thank you for showing me this truth about my life?"
"Express it," the angel said flatly. "Express that core to the best of your ability. And respect the needs of others to express their Self. There is a balance to life when everyone does their part. How else can it be since you are an expression of the Great Creator? Go forward and make yourself proud again. Share what you have just learned. You are worthy and you can heal because you are willing to heal your Self."
And so Anton did. And so it was from that time on that all went well in his world.
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."
William Shakespeare - Hamlet
When we think of life, we think of many things. We think of the life force coursing through our veins. We think of life everlasting as charted for us in religious texts. Without life, our world is devoid of meaning. The absence of life is nothing, not death, but nothing. Can we actually conceive of nothing? Of course not! Not even death. Because with death, its contemplation has to occur from the context of life.
There simply is no absence of life. We acknowledge that to contemplate life from the point of view of life is a tautological argument. Wee have to be alive to contemplate its presence and absence. In mythology, all struggles are about life and death. Heroes and heroines conquer one polarity in order to fully grasp the other. They face death, or rather, their fear of death, in order to become filled with life.
This is the eternal cycle - life, death and rebirth. All heroes learn this and accept this. It is part of their struggle and their destiny. They must overcome fear to gain this truth. Fear is the enemy of life. It is fear that needs to be embraced. Life without Death is not life and life without consciousness of life is mere existence.
Death does not exist except as a counterpoint to life. Death gives life its meaning by framing it within a limited context. But this death we speak of is not a real death; it is merely an absence of incarnate life. Life without death is illogical; but death, in and of itself, is simply an abstraction. Nothing dies; it only transforms. The first law of thermodynamics states that no matter can be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed. All heroic journeys are journeys of transformation. From one form to another, from one dimension to another, until graduation occurs again, we move on to another form.
In ancient times these transformations were charted in myths. Myths described and explained the needed energies, flights of fancy, whimsical adventures and demons to confront. Myths provided guidance to a population hungry for answers, in need of charts and graphs, glyphs perhaps, to move them along. A living, breathing mythology became legendary, leading scores of men and women through the trials and tribulations of life's important transitions. Recall that most myths are about transformation in particular, and this became the sine qua non of all myths. This was especially true for those tales that described the hero's welcome return from confronting death in the "underworld," to his or her regaining of more conscious life on the plane.
The Hero Myth is the most favored of them all, and the one we see replayed today in many action-adventure films. Heroes and heroines lead the way into the New Age. They are the groundbreakers of our future. Currently, we are on such a threshold again, preparing to leap toward a new cosmic unity, ready to break new ground and chart a new course. So how can we apply classic mythology in today's world and toward what end?
Jesus Christ, Buddha and Mohammed, among others, implored us to listen to our hearts. Plato and many fellow Greek philosophers advised, "Know Thyself." Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: "To Thine Own Self be True." And over the years of our recorded history, many teachers, prophets and mentors repeated the same advice. This very guidance comes to us again through modern day psychologists, psychiatrists, artists and spiritual advisors.
Before the above mentioned proponents had their say, mythology was pronouncing the same advisement. In fact, many modern day proponents of "getting to know your self" refer back to certain myths to underline their point. Freud did it. So did Carl Jung, along with numerous others over the last century. Myths are still guideposts to the Modern Era. They're not so visible anymore. They've suffered from the bad press of being synonymous with fiction.
Joseph Campbell, an anthropological researcher from the latter part of the 20th century, demonstrated how myths and parables crossed cultural boundaries and were recycled through succeeding generations. He pointed out, for example, how the Hero Myth appeared in most ancient cultures and has survived through untold generations, to be recycled again and again. We find these myths today in movies, television, books and musical lyrics. We still rely on the Hero Myth and one of my favorite examples is "The Deer Hunter." The main character, Michael, goes through every aspect of Joseph Campbell's heroic triad, separation, initiation and return is well documented in this brilliant story; separation from himself and familiar referents, initiation through trial and tribulation, and return in the form of greater awareness and appreciation of himself and the world around him.
There are also comparisons to modern psychology. Carl Jung spoke of the "Collective Unconscious" which in mythical lore was related to "Psyche", a goddess, whose function it was to inform humans on their condition and plight and advise on possible solutions. She, too, was instrumental in imploring heroes and heroines to "know themselves". Modern psychology is, in part, derived from this source and owes its very name to a mythical goddess, Psyche, from antiquity!
Psychology, which is my field, is about getting to "know yourself," using the tools of the trade - testing - psychotherapy - counseling - clinical investigations - and so on. Pop psychology is about getting to know yourself for $15.95 over a weekend. Getting to know ourselves isn't going to happen that easily or economically. My own experience, both personal and professional, is that the process is long term, with every step of the journey having its own challenges and rewards. A good book can help but is only one chapter in the entire process of getting to know ourselves.
What we are witnessing today, as the new Millennium unfolds, is transformation and getting to know ourselves on a grand scale. Already we are being told about this. Economic structures, social structures, religious structures and therefore, personal structures are changing dramatically. Like it or not, the process is upon us. The New Age sections of bookstores are full of such references, and these also cross over into Pop Psychology, Para-Psychology, Philosophy and Religion. Just check out your favorite bookstore. Looking through these sections in today's bookstores begs the question: "Why is there such a plethora of mythically based reference material being delivered to us right now? To announce the advance of the New Era is the answer! It is already here and our choice is whether or not we deal with it.
Our current structures for understanding life do not account for this New Age information. We need different reference points to guide us through this transitional period. Guideposts that override the limits of modern terminology; that trace their roots back through the mists time and can consistently be relied upon like the needle in a magnetic compass; always pointing in the same direction - towards the Self, the true north and center of our spiritual and feeling nature.
It is "To Thine Own Self be True" over and over again. Right here, right now. That is the Sine Qua Non of our era. We cannot move forward as individuals and as a species without this most important central resource. Our Self is our guide to our personal creativity, our life purpose and the Creator. And this true and authentic self will take us to the core of our being, our Soul! That is where we are headed. That is what defines the current challenge.
When myths are alive they breathe spirit into the population. They help all who will listen, to understand their true purpose in Life is much larger than what they've witnessed thus far. Behind the scenes of our common everyday life, there is another "play" unfolding. One that will see us reach the greatest of heights, which in our regular circumstances, we would have not thought possible.
From the perspective of myth, such achievements are always possible. Within that context, we can and do supersede our highest aspirations. We confidently go where we never thought we would. And we go deeper within than we could ever have conceived. As Christ said: "greater things that these shall ye do". There are no limits in either direction. Only greater levels of accomplishment, satisfaction, personal growth and conscious awareness.
We are at an important threshold, a crossroads of purposes, if you will. We can live out our life in our everyday circumstances or we can transcend these and go further than we ever thought possible. The Hero Myth can lead the way. This has to be a myth grounded in the soup of Spirit, imbued with Divine fire, and sustained by love. Only such a living, breathing myth can lead us forward. Let us see what this vehicle of myth looks like!