When my life starts going quiet on me, I know I’m probably not paying attention. When I feel totally at peace with myself and the world around me, a startling dream generally wakes me up and throws me back into the duality of unrest and joy.
For the longest time, I believed that my goal – anyone’s goal – in life was to achieve peace of mind. Don’t we learn from Buddha that suffering is induced by craving and the ultimate goal is to liberate oneself from craving and thus from suffering?
Isn’t the age of new consciousness about freeing ourselves from duality, through meditative practices and acts of compassion, and learning to live in the awareness of the One?
Wellll… sort of. I’m beginning to think that things are a lot more complicated than that.
It starts with the Hero’s Journey. This is a mythological concept made famous by Joseph Campbell and used by me when writing my book, Passage of the Stork. To become initiated into adulthood one must leave the safe haven of the known and trusted life, cross the threshold into the unknown and dangerous, conquer one’s demons, befriend one’s allies, reach one’s goal, and then return home. This is a basic initiation process that has been described and enacted in many cultures throughout history.
One would think that one hero’s journey, how great or small, is enough for a lifetime. Wrong. There are many different initiations into new stages of life, into deeper understandings of the world. The moment we think that we’re done with the adventures is the moment that we start settling into our newly found status quo and go back to sleep. If we pay attention, really pay attention to all the tiny niggling signals our body, our dreams, and our surroundings give off, we will find ourselves being called off on a new adventure again.
Oh, I’m writing this for myself as much as for any of my readers! My quiet, creative summer, resting on the laurels of enthusiastic book reviews, is being disturbed by tiny, almost inaudible, wake-up calls. I haven’t figured out yet just what I’m being woken up to, but I am being called to step out of my comfort zone.
And let me make a point about “coping”, here. There are people who can only feel fulfilled when they are out in dangerous territory. People who are unable to cope with the reality of day-to-day life. Sometimes, buckling down and learning to live with the mundane is exactly the challenge they need.
Getting back to Joseph Campbell, one of the first lines in his definitive work, The Power of Myth, reads,
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Life – pure, physical life in this plane of reality – is filled with duality. Hot and cold, dark and light, eat and be eaten, male and female. Trying to deny this leads to self-delusion or worse. Meditative practices bring us to the awareness that there is a larger, unified reality behind all this. And that is really important! We need to be aware of this “big silence” as it’s been called. That is the experience that will teach us to see beyond dualities and lead us further and deeper into the task of being truly alive.
But, unless we choose to spend the rest of our lives meditating on a mountaintop, we then have to return to daily life and live with both joy and agony. Feeling truly alive. Embarking on yet another quest beyond the border of our comfort-zone. Leaving the career your parents wanted for you. Committing to the relationship you aren’t sure will work out. Letting your child leave home, even though you’re not sure she’s ready to. Writing the book, even though you’re not sure it will sell.
And so I close with the most important Joseph Campbell quote of all:
“Follow your bliss.”