Something’s not working. Everybody knows it. The turmoil and breakdown of order, sustainability, and basic sanity in almost every natural and human system is overwhelming and disheartening. The list – war, economic injustice, environmental disaster, poverty, decline of democratic ideals and decency – goes on and on. When the system itself is at fault and every problem is interconnected, it can appear like there’s nowhere to start and whatever we do won’t make a difference.
The need to face “inconvenient truths” grows stronger every day. Wise voices announce we need a new paradigm. No doubt this is true, but how can we step outside and look at a reality we live within? When the ways we perceive and think about the world are a root cause of the problem itself, what can we do?
Through centuries of practice, hundreds of small, indigenous societies found ways to achieve peace within their communities and harmony with the natural world. Over millennia, sages, saints, and wise elders have shared methods and systems of knowledge for nurturing the best of human capacities, presenting pathways toward serenity, self-realization, and the amelioration of suffering. Though the modern era differs in many significant ways, the basic architecture of the human body and mind has not changed. The soul’s journey remains the same, and the ancient myths of heroic adventure and initiatory rites of native cultures offer blueprints of where to go and what to do when faced with overwhelming odds and difficulties.
In traditional tales of this quest, the protagonist journeys beyond the well-known territory to a realm where he or she has never been before. There he/she encounters the unknown and extraordinary, faces challenges and obstacles that are difficult and frightening. The hero may meet monsters or magical beings; navigate dangerous descents through dark passages and labyrinths; struggle to lift an enchantment or overcome a curse. After this confrontation with the unexplored and unexpected, our hero must return to the world s/he put aside, carrying new powers, gifts, or vision to the people and community.
Today we face a task of creating a world worth living in. Doing so requires stepping outside the boundaries of what’s known and familiar. We won’t find the solutions we need by recycling the same old routines with better management, efficiency, or effort, for it’s the worldview or “dream” of the culture itself that leads to most of the dis-ease and dysfunction of modern life. Like the heroes and heroines of old, we must leave home and enter new territories of the mind, soul, and imagination to find the answers we seek.
In ancient cultures, rites of passage and initiation were developed to precipitate a crisis – carefully orchestrated – that would dissolve an old identity and give birth to a new. The initiate was removed from the sphere of ordinary life; exposed to ordeals that tested “his” fabric, focus, and faith; and learned stories, secrets, and sources of strength before being reintroduced and reintegrated into the community with the new vision and power gained.
Today we are approaching a crossroads, a crisis or rite of passage that involves the entire planet. Outside the enclaves of the rich, the anguish and suffering of the world is immense, and the faith and fabric of millions is tested daily. The tide of torment continues to rise, and catastrophe – via economic injustice, global warming, political terror, or environmental disaster – now laps against the shores of whole populations who once seemed safe.
Joseph Campbell once remarked that yogis and schizophrenics live in the same ocean, one joyfully swimming while the other drowns. Our tide is rising. The surge builds, and the swells grow larger. Our choice is ultimately simple. We can engage the crisis, say “Yes,” to this approaching passage, and enter the water. There we might discover our depths, chart new currents, or wash off an old way of being to reemerge refreshed and renewed. Or we can refuse the summons, steadfastly clinging to the shore until our resistance is broken, and the waves finally pull us under.The crises of today can be our summons to adventure. Like heroes and heroines of old, we must take leave of what’s familiar, loosening the ropes that bind us to the dock of the known and ordinary if we’re to search for a new vision and story. Our souls cry for a life more meaningful than buying stuff and accumulating the rewards of a materialistic society. Our yearnings, dreams, and desires require we inhabit a psychic universe far beyond the stocked shelves and common clichés of today’s mass-marketed culture.
The longings of the soul are eternal, and people hunger for re-enchantment with nature and a connection with all life. They want communion with the sacred, and communities where what they say and do makes a difference. But a great, heaving ocean stands between us and that new life on the far shore, and facing the depths means saying “goodbye” to the shallow end of the pool.
Our voyage is daunting, the current conditions severe. Something is radically wrong in our kingdom. Just as springtime follows winter, resurrection first requires a death, and our journey must begin by letting go. The ropes must be cast off, and the old dream must die to make way for the new song that waits to be sung.
The journey ahead is personal, cultural, and political. It requires that we challenge our beliefs, allegiances, and definitions of who and what we (and the world) are. Ultimately this adventure is about our spirit and our souls. A new vision of wholeness, healing, and a joyful re-enchantment of life – like hidden treasure – awaits us. It’s there if we but follow the call.
~ Sparrow Hart
The article above was excerpted from Letters to the River: A Guide to a Dream Worth Living . To read more…