Of Dragons & Sirens

Peace is not freedom from pain, but transcendence.

Pain can be an invitation, a call to adventure, an opportunity to forgive and to heal.  No one lives free from pain; no one can help but cause pain.  We all must, at times, play the muse to another’s story, whether we intend to or not.  Think of them–the evil stepmothers, the dragons, the sirens.  They are the ones who send the call, who propel the heroes and heroines into the realm of adventure and possibility.  They are the ones who open the door to the bright, messy world we call life.  They are the fire of change.  Why fear playing the part of fire?

Play your part as openly and truthfully as you know how, choose love over fear and be quick to forgive.

We Learn By Becoming

“You have suffered only for this:  That you may bless others who suffer still.”

–Haven Trevino, The Tao of Healing: Meditations for Body and Spirit

We learn by becoming.  There is no other way.  We cannot think our way through the world; we cannot heal ourselves or others by pretending to live.  We are here to feel, to grow, to change.  To experience all facets of life, of being human.

Sometime our changes are abrupt and earth-shattering; at other times they happen so slowly we don’t notice until later that we have been reborn into a new life, a new world.  Either way, one day we will look back and know that our journeys have been perfect all along, that every step we’ve taken was blessed.  All we lacked was eyes with which to see it.

Do not worry because you feel alone.  Do not worry because you are afraid.  Even heroes doubt their paths, doubt their choices, doubt their callings.  That is natural.  That is human.  It does not mean you have failed.  It only means you have forgotten.

And when we forget, when we think that our fears are real and eternal, when we feel sorrow and pain, then we learn compassion for others.  And it is only through our compassion for others that we can find peace.

Allow yourself to feel, allow yourself to heal, and then bless those who suffer still.

The Way

“You don’t choose a life.  You live one.”  –The Way

Every journey is a pilgrimage.  We may seek different things–love, healing, truth, knowledge of ourselves–but it is at the places where our journeys intersect that we find our answers.  No one journeys alone.

The Way, written and directed by Emilio Esteves and starring Martin Sheen, is a beautiful illustration of the soul’s pilgrimage.  It chronicles the story of a man, Tom, who decides to walk the famous Camino de Santiago, from France through Spain, in honor of his son’s desire to complete that historic journey.  Along the way, he meets fellow pilgrims in search of their own answers, their own healing, their own truth.

It is a wonderful story, and it can be viewed on more than one level.  The first is the story of a grieving man and the adventures he encounters, the people he befriends.  On another level, Tom’s companions can be seen as manifestations of his own soul, reflections of the deeper yearnings for peace we all share.  (*Warning:  I will not give away any plot details, but some of the themes discussed below may foreshadow the story.)

There are three companions.  The first is an Irishman, a writer suffering from writer’s block, seeking stories.  The second, who usually wears red, walks the Camino de Santiago to lose weight for his wife, and is described by the Irishman as one “for whom kindness is an instinct.”  The third, a woman, claims that her journey is to quit smoking, but her past is full of abuse and loss.

They are the mind, the heart and the body.  Just as Dorothy’s companions sought a mind, a heart and courage from Oz, Tom’s companions seek healing of the very same things.

The journey of the mind is always to learn to trust our creativity, and to receive permission, whether from ourselves or others, to speak the truth.

The journey of the heart is to discover that the love we long for is already within us.  We must learn to love ourselves as well as we love others.

And the journey of the body is to find the courage to heal from our past traumas and rise again.

At the center of the story is the soul.  Tom is a true pilgrim, because he does not journey for himself, but for another.  What he must learn is that all journeys are taken together.  Which is to say, that to journey for another is also to journey for oneself.

The Soul’s Journey

Psyche was a butterfly spirit; her name means “soul” or “breath.”  I see her standing at the top of a broad staircase, gray stone and clear windows behind her, dressed in a white gown, a red sash tied at her waist, thick curls cascading down her back.  Birds and butterflies of bright blue and red surround her, flutter down the stairs below.  She is the soul, awakened from a slumber of one hundred years, starting to remember that once she flew free, and that she can once again.  This is where the story begins, when Psyche stirs.

The legend tells us that Psyche was the most beautiful of mortals, so beautiful that the Goddess of Love and Beauty herself became jealous and commanded that the girl be taken to the top of a lonely mountain and offered up to a monster as sacrifice.  And yet I wonder–is jealousy not a human emotion?  Those who understand love and beauty know that both are available in abundance, that the more love and beauty we find in others, the more we ourselves possess.  This could be no mystery to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty.  And so I wonder if the command that sent Psyche up into the distant mountains alone was not, in fact, anger or punishment but merely the call to adventure, an invitation into a new life.

For once she stood upon the mountain top, far removed from the world she had known, a gentle breeze brushed past her, lifted her gown, her hair, and then her very body up into the sky and away to a place beyond her most beautiful dreams.  She was set gently on the ground before a golden palace, and upon exploring her new home found every nature of luxury and delight.  Lovely rooms, decadent meals, lush gardens all her own.  And at night, when the world was dark and quiet, a kind and gentle man came to her room and became her lover.

All was perfect bliss, the story tells us, until Psyche asked for and received a visit from two jealous sisters, who told her that as she had never seen her lover’s face, he must be the hideous monster that the Goddess had sent to bear Psyche away.  But we do not need jealous sisters to raise the fear of doubt and judgment in our minds; we do that well enough for ourselves.

Whatever the cause, Psyche began to doubt.  Although her eyes and heart showed her only beauty and kindness, her uncertainty grew.  She wondered if the man she thought she loved and who offered every proof of his love for her might, in fact, be a hideous monster who meant her harm.  The only request her lover had ever asked of her was that she never try to see him in the light.  Nevertheless, as he lay sleeping by her side, she crept from the bed, lit an oil lamp and discovered that her sleeping lover was none other than the God of Love himself, Eros.  Cupid.  Aphrodite’s son.

As she trembled in the face of love, a drop of oil spilled from the lamp and fell upon the sleeping God.  He woke, saw that his love had been doubted and betrayed, and flew away into the night, leaving Psyche alone.

Without love, the beautiful palace felt empty and cold.  Psyche longed for her Cupid to return, but he did not.  And so Psyche began her journey into the world to find her love.  She searched far and wide, with no sign of her lover.  Finally, in despair, she went to a temple of Aphrodite to ask for her help, despite her belief that the goddess despised her.

Aphrodite heard the girl’s pleas and did agree to help her, but only if Psyche could complete a series of tasks.  Each task was not merely difficult but impossible, seemingly designed to break Psyche’s already fragile spirit–they were beyond the hope of any mortal girl.

But Psyche is not, after all, just any mortal girl.  She represents the soul, and when her soul is clear it reflects beauty bright enough to dazzle the God of Love himself.  This beauty is not merely physical, it contains power, knowledge, a state of being that transcends the material world entirely.  The soul is never without aid if it will only ask for it.

And so when Psyche cries out for help in completing one impossible task after another, the entire world conspires to aid her.  Creatures great and small appear, eager to turn her tears into smiles.  One by one, every task is accomplished.

Was the Goddess of Love and Beauty surprised?  Did she not realize the power of her own gifts, her own domain?  Was she taken unawares?  Or instead, did the Goddess know what Psyche was capable of better than the girl herself, and so devised a clever way to teach the girl her own power?  When Psyche passed each of the Goddess’ tests and came into full knowledge of herself, she was at last ready to stand by Cupid, the soul equal to love, the woman equal to a god.

Looking too closely at love is dangerous.  It may leave us alone, afraid, confronted with impossible tasks.  Yet we must question the love we find, for true love, true union and partnership, requires openness and understanding and, most of all, an understanding of ourselves, of our own gifts and power.  It is only after we have dared to look reality in the face, dared to know the truth of our love and of ourselves, that we can ever hope to be truly and forever united with our desire.

Once we have seen love, our journey begins.  Once we have seen love, we must follow ever after it, no matter the cost or the peril, until we are at last reunited with it forever.  This is the path of the soul, different for each, but leading always to love.

And when the soul and love are finally reunited?  They have a daughter, whose name is Pleasure.  And the story begins again.

Face Your Fears

To release pain and return to peace,  let yourself feel whatever is haunting you.  We all spend so much of our time hiding from what causes us discomfort.  We try to ignore it, to push past it.  We either obsess over our pain or push it away, denying its existence.  And even if we are obsessing over it, often this is just another way of hiding.  We aren’t looking at what is really bothering us, but fixating on what someone else is doing, or how we wish things were different.  We aren’t willing to feel our discomfort and face the real problem.  Very often our problems are not what we think; very often our problems are not even there at all.

Remember how a child is terrified of the monster he is convinced is under the bed?  He is so afraid that he can’t even look to see if the monster is really there.  If he had the ability to do so, he would probably search for a blowtorch to destroy the monster, the bed, the entire room, rather than simply turning on the light and looking to see what is actually under the bed:  nothing.  (And even if something is there, it is still better fought in the light.)

So the first step to finding the truth and returning to peace is to be honest about what it is you are afraid of, and to let yourself feel the emotions you haven’t wanted to face.  Write in a journal, talk to a wise friend, sit in meditation, pray.  Get it out.  Be honest with yourself.  And then feel, in your body, where the pain lives.  Know that it can’t, in itself, hurt you.  It is teaching you how to find freedom.

Sit with the feeling for a few minutes–some say that a feeling can pass through you completely in only 90 seconds.  But let it be.  Feel your fear, your pain.  Pray or cry if that helps you to feel it, but don’t shut it out, and don’t cling to it.  Let it out.

Once you have immersed yourself in the feeling, and allowed yourself to really look at the monsters that frighten you, let them go.  There is a lightness, a clean feeling, that arises after we have allowed ourselves to feel our suffering, similar to how one can feel lighter after a good cry.  There is a special kind of peace that is found only on the other side of pain, simply because we have witnessed and survived it.  We are reminded that we are vulnerable, we have accepted that fact, and we are better for it.

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