Crossing The Threshold – Essay
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Bring the Hero Myth Alive Right Now, Right Where You Are
Moving From the Familiar Ground of Ego To the Unknown Territories Of the Soul
“Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure.”
Threshold: defined – the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result, or condition to occur or be manifested.
“If the call is heeded, the individual is invoked to engage in a dangerous adventure. It’s always a dangerous adventure because you’re moving out of the familiar sphere of your community. In myths, this is known as moving out of the known sphere altogether into the great beyond. I call this crossing the threshold.
This is the crossing from the conscious into the unconscious world, but the unconscious world is represented in many, many, many different images, depending on the cultural surroundings of the mythos. It may be a plunge into the ocean, it may be a passage into the desert, it may be getting lost in a dark forest, it may be finding yourself in a strange city. It may be depicted as an ascent or as a descent or as a going beyond the horizon, but this is the adventure – it’s always the path into the unknown, through the gateway or the cave or the clashing rocks.
- Joseph Campbell, Pathways To Bliss
“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you,
don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”
Meister Eckhart and Joseph Campbell offer us engaging prose to begin our consideration of the necessity of crossing certain thresholds in a well lived life. They proceed an invitation from Rumi ‘to go back and forth’ across those thresholds where visible and invisible worlds touch.
This invitation is a call to awakening in the midst of current personal circumstances and cultural disruptions. It is a call to move beyond our mind’s most ingrained and habitual thinking, to pay closer attention with our bodily senses to what we are living through.
“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you,
don’t go back to sleep.
Rumi tells us that if we can bring our awareness to the quiet sound and kinesthetic feel of the breeze passing by us in the early morning hours, and to bear the eye’s witnessing of shifting shades of light as the sun brings forth the day – then we can, in the same way, become more aware of what is happening within the invisible landscapes of our own inner being, as our consciousness awakens anew.
If we can focus our senses on the subtle nuances of what is unfolding in the natural world during those hours when many people are still asleep – then we can also pay attention to what is moving through the more subtle depths of our psyche as well.
By paying closer attention to the ‘here and now’ moment in our sensate world, we can allow that which usually remains asleep in our unconscious depths of being to begin its slipping forth into awareness – like a light breeze brushing gently against our skin.
Don’t go back to sleep. Rumi implores us to stay attentive. Don’t get too distracted. Don’t become sedated by dark moods, or too overcome with anxiety about things beyond our control. Don’t get lost in the familiarity of aimless ruminations, or in the details of mundane and endless ‘to do’ lists.
The call is clear – just keeping come back to our senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. Keep sensing into what is really happening, right now, in the immediacy of life around us and within us.
Feel into the threshold point between inner and outer worlds. Again – don’t be too caught up in the seductive illusions of the mind, mistaking our thoughts for what is actual and real.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
The call to adventure is about listening for what we most desire to give ourselves to in this life. Responding to this type of call is not self-indulgent; it is vital and essential to our well-being. The call is always towards our inner genius, to that which we feel we must do or become, to be of service to life.
We need access to our both our deep longings and our deep need to contribute something worthwhile to life, which gives us the sense of participation in something sacred, something larger than ourselves. We must become inspired enough to keep moving towards what we really want, and in doing so, we take up the hero’s adventure. We must ask for what we really want.
We can self-activate once we gain access to what has been there all the while, in the core of our being. This activation is often brought on by the authentic asking, in and of itself. What do we really want?
Sometimes have to ask others for help as we explore this essential question. We can earnestly petition the gods to be our divine intercessors; we ask people we look up to or respect for honest feedback and guidance.
We can also petition to our own deepest being, our soul nature, to awaken and be a silent companion to us – that intangible and undeniable presence which has brought us here, and sees to this very incarnation we have undertaken. Our purpose and our fulfillment lie in knowing what we really value, and what we can give our very best to. We must ask for our purpose and our pathway to be shown and made known to us, whenever we don’t know what or where it is yet.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
For me, this is a powerful line in Rumi’s poem. Those seeking to awaken to their true nature are going back and forth across the threshold between the mundane tasks of this world, and the subtle, sacred encounters with the eternal in the ‘other’ world beyond this one. As human beings, we are always walking between these two worlds, whether we are conscious of this or not.
We are these people. Finding the doorway into meaningful life adventures is what many of us really want. We find our way to the threshold point where the world of spirit and the world of matter touch. We desire more than anything to have the ability to go back and forth from a linear world to a timeless one, and then from the timeless world back to the ordinary again.
Some of us who immersed in a religious upbringing were taught as young children that we were to be good, so that we would one day be rewarded by going to heaven. We also learned to fear that if we were bad we could be sent to hell, cast out of God’s love forever, when we died.
Many of us have carried these fears forward throughout our lives, along with deep-seated, childlike beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong. We then hold a deep fear of judgment for being bad, even if as adults we have become less convinced of a literal final Judgment Day event, where a consciousness rooted in duality is the determinant for our final destination.
What many of us have awakened to today is a scientifically validated, cosmological reality that heaven and hell are not literal places we go to when we die. Rather, they are better understood as states of consciousness that are ever-present, right here in this world.
When we are in harmony with our true selves and with the world around us; when we experience the awe of unfolding mystery; when we encounter various and sublime states of openness to love – we find that place in us which is heaven.
Conversely, when we are locked in anxious or depressive states, compulsive addictions, or fear-based, hostile ruminations, we feel despairingly unable to access loving states of being. We feel ourselves cast out of God’s loving presence. We feel unworthy of the love of others. We are in a state of hell. (This reminds me of a popular aphorism I have often heard: religion helps those who are afraid of going to hell, and spirituality helps those who have already been there.)
When we feel imprisoned by what ails us, sensing no way out, and unable to perceive any viable or meaningful future, we will not be able to see any open doors for us in this world. This misery tends to leave us no other foreseeable option other than hope for attaining heaven in the next life.
But Rumi tells us that there is a doorway in this world, and it leads to the world beyond this one, and it is round and open. It can be accessible to us, now, if we can only learn how to recognize and cross a certain threshold point within us.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
The big questions to be asked here, ones that take us towards our essential ‘quest’ of a soul-nourishing adventure, are the ones that lead us forward towards timelessness, while we are still making our way through this world of time. Where did I come from? Where I am going? What am I supposed to do doing? Our initial response to these large, recurring questions is often, and appropriately so, “I have no idea.”
What brings us to that threshold passageway between the worlds of spirit and matter? What makes the doorsill open for us? What gives us the courage to pass through and enter into what lies beyond?
Sometimes, the door between this world and the other world is to be found right where our most troublesome obstacles, barriers and issues are located.
- What makes a boundary or limitation change its shape from a barrier to a passageway?
What makes it shift from an obstacle into an opening?
Thresholds are important markers to be found in the territory with us as well as in our external landscapes. They create distinct boundary delineations. Thresholds create contrast, differentiating and distinguishing the territories on either side of its marking. They inform us that something significant is happening, that is most likely not yet fully understood.
Encountering a moment in which we become aware of approaching a crossing point is really a ritual of recognition, a keen sense that something is about to shift or change.
Reminiscing back over my own travel history, I can recall some very distinct border crossing experiences. They were made especially noteworthy due the vast differences between my country of departure and my country of entry – going from the California border in the US, and crossing over into Mexico; going from Gibraltar into Morocco; crossing from Austria into the former Yugoslavia.
One distinct feature of border crossings is paying more attention to our present moment experience than we were paying before we approached the threshold point.
In Austria, there were armed military guardians, standing in their official placement of governing personnel; there were identity and passport checks, and the implications of such – ‘Who are you, are you a threat to us?’ Sometimes, there are thorough vehicle and luggage searches. There is a noteworthy change in mood, in language, in customs and social protocols, and perhaps the literal terrain itself.
We are served by becoming more alert, getting ready for what is approaching, and more able to respond authentically with what may be needed in the moment.
Turning our attention to the poetry of David Whyte, we return an essential task required of us when we approach any significant threshold: We must begin our letting go of things most fundamental or familiar to us.
We recognize that we have to let go of what we already know – and perhaps the significance it has held for us. We sometimes also sense that we have to let go of that which we have even known too well – before we can precede any further, and before we can be genuinely open to the unknown.
In this high place
it is as simple as this,
leave everything you know behind.
This ‘high place’ represents a place above and beyond where we typically venture in our lives. It also serves as a metaphor for ascending to a heightened state of consciousness.
In order to arrive such a high place, we have to take up a simple yet very daunting imperative: Leave everything you know behind.
If we believe we already know something very well, and especially if we think that we already know an outcome in advance of its arrival, there will be no adventure to be found from that posture. And there certainly will be a lessened possibility of learning anything new.
Joseph Campbell often emphasized this fact. He said, “One way to deprive yourself of an experience is indeed to expect it. Another is to have a name for it before you have the experience.” 3
This ‘already knowing’ stance – ‘I have been there, I have done that’ – devalues and distances us from the primacy and the gravity of a fully lived experience as it is happening. In contrast, a ‘not yet knowing’ stance helps support the humility, the awe and the respect needed to experience a proper sense of adventure, and to open us to the sense of the sacred.
Anything that is truly sacred will not wish to be subjected to our ego’s wants and demands, nor will the sacred ever allow itself to be subjected to our personal control.
Rilke says in his poem The Man Watching that ‘what is Eternal does not want to be bent by us’. Leaving something behind, particularly those things to which we have been attached and by which have been bound, is an inevitable part of the entry fee into the realm of the soul’s adventure.
Step toward the cold surface,
say the old prayer of rough love
and open both arms.
We all know this distinct moment of enlivening vulnerability. We anticipate heightened bodily sensations and a dramatic encounter with the shivering chill of stark coldness over our entire body, right as we stand before the surface pool of deep water – especially just before we plunge in.
Perhaps you can recall standing at the edge of a diving board at a swimming pool, or at the edge of a sandy beach in the evening, with cold seawater moving in over your feet. Time slows down in an instant. We may then find ourselves lingering at this particular threshold point for quite a while.
Saying the ‘old prayer of rough love’ is simply asking for the persistence and the encouragement needed to nudge us ever forward – an affirming presence that directs us into the deeper waters of life, despite the anticipation of how the chilling effect of the cold will disrupt our kinesthetic and psychic comfort levels.
Getting ready to enter the water (the new territory), we realize we are about to abruptly feel the sensate effect on our skin, very different from our current state, to which we know we won’t be able to return. Yet this is the very reason why we want to enter the water, as well.
We go from dry land to wet water in order to have a worthwhile, deeply felt and lived experience in our bodies, experiencing the changing state of our being as we do. Some might call this effect exhilarating, others might call it disturbing – both would be accurate. This is precisely the intended effect of a threshold crossing point – the distinct feeling that things have now changed.
In order to be willing to move into and through the deeper waters of life, in order to endure and tolerate with our whole being very new and ego alienating or threatening experiences, we must know what we really want, and then we have to really go for it.
We must open our arms and legs, and we have to deepen our breathing to effectively swim. In the same way, we have to open up our minds to effectively move forward in new ways, to become able to shift and to grow. We need to open our hearts to love and to being loved, which is what supports us to do what we really love. It might be said that we need a capable sense of buoyancy for both good swimming and good loving.
Those who come with empty hands
will stare into the lake astonished,
there, in the cold light
reflecting pure snow
To capably cross significant threshold points in our lives, we also need to navigate our way through. as lightly as possible. Empty hands provide us with the metaphorical image of having already let go of something that has been long constricted, held onto, or held back. We must loosen our grip on the old and habitual ego concerns that bind us to our usual fears, worries, and obsessive thinking.
To lighten our load when heading in new directions, we must also at some point let go of old, repetitive behaviors; we must surrender our fixed and rigidified ideas; and we have to drop our lofty and ever-unrealizable ideals.
To be light-hearted and more playful as we enter an adventure, we must let go of previously unquestioned infantile wishes or demands. We also have to examine and release presumptions and expectations that we have carried and placed on ourselves and others. These are humbling challenges for many of us.
There is also something else that many of us cling to for dear life, regardless of whether or not it actually serves our life – sameness.
Finding the courage to let go of what is most familiar and most identified with, particularly when the sameness it brings is no longer serving life, but instead is constricting and confining it, requires us enter into that palpable sense of vulnerability that can at last open us. The rawness and freshness of our vulnerable state of being opened allows for humility, awe, and even astonishment to enter.
Once we have empty hands and open minds, something can break through and penetrate into our awareness – ‘clarity’ – an appropriate metaphor for ‘cold light’. Perhaps something clean, clear and enlightening can now enter us, like a refreshing swim in a mountain stream or a saltwater ocean. A sense of newness that extends well beyond any sameness can feel just like that, and can lead us towards a meaningful adventure.
the true shape of your own face.
Deeper truth awaits us when we successfully cross a long-bound limit, or a most threatening threshold point. We can immediately be put in touch with an essential sense of what feels true, with a feeling of right relationship to both our limits and our longings – regarding of the refreshing or disturbing quality of the truth itself.
When we become capable to crossing thresholds that can renew us or re-center us, we are positioned to have discoveries about ourselves that have been waiting for our arrival. We become more able to feel reconnected to an ancient, eternal self once again, while at the same time encountering a new self that we’ve never felt or experienced before. When we recognize ‘the true shape of our own face’, we can begin growing into something beyond our family’s demands or society’s expectations for us.
Yet before we can finally say we have arrived at the true shape of our own nature, we have to learn how to ‘face’ and cross over many threshold points that require us shed our false self, and we have to do this over and over again. As we do, we begin finding ways to move beyond limits that have previously only been obstacles to us.
Facing Our Threshold Guardians
“With the personification of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in the four directions –also up and down – standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger.”
– Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces
Crossing the threshold from the familiar ways of our ego to the as-yet-to be lived soul encounters always involves going from a conscious state of knowing into what is unknown, into the depths of the unconscious world. Thresholds always take us away from what we know, pointing us to what we don’t 9and can’t) yet know.
This inevitably requires us to confront our more deep-seated fears, and reconcile ourselves with our lifelong, unconscious beliefs that both contain and confine us. It becomes our fate to face the fears we are most strongly identified with and are most deeply bound by, in order to realize our proper sense of destiny.
Our most natural instinct is to seek out physical or emotional containment when we are afraid – we look to be held literally, or else psychically or emotionally, by the embodied presence of another. When we are seized by fear, it is most important for our survival, and thus most natural to our nature, to seek out security and reassurance, and to find the presence of something or someone that can stabilize us whenever we are shaken up by life.
Fears that grip us, and linger and lurk over time, work their way down into our unconscious terrain, gradually disappearing from our awareness. From deep down below, they have control over us in such a way that we end up being more willing to be confined, constricted and imprisoned by the fears themselves, sometimes in the most peculiar and irrational ways.
In the realm of myths, we will invariably encounter inner ‘threshold guardians’, those who are ‘the watchers and keepers of the established bounds’, as Joseph Campbell has stated. These symbolic creatures are personifications and representations that stand for the limiting nature of our old fears, wounds, beliefs, and worldviews.
Campbell spoke of threshold guardians in this particular way:
“The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers of the psyche that keep watch at the boundary are seen as dangerous, and to confront them feels risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.”
Campbell also references how stories about threshold guardians would serve to illuminate us as well as prepare us for an important passage.
“Illuminate the ambiguities of this perplexing pass and show how, though the terrors will recede before a genuine psychological readiness; the over-confident adventurer (in over his or her head) may be shamelessly undone.”
The courageous task is therefore always to ultimately look inward to grow, to develop or to pass through something – and to find and face the specific psychic powers that hold us back from the instinctual necessity of venturing.
There is an emblematic scene that plays out in the original Star Wars trilogy, and it personifies this threshold task in particular – Luke has to confront his fears of becoming a Jedi Knight. He enters into the dark passage of a cave, not knowing the way through, or of what he will encounter. He is then, of course, confronted by the image of Darth Vader, his ‘dark father’.
Vader represents all the soul-killing forces of external expectations, demands and requirements that a society can place upon each of us: participation in activities that seem to offer rewards of success, prestige and promotion, yet also cost us dearly, as we sacrifice the inner, luminous aliveness of our true nature, which renders us into darkness.
To pass through his significant threshold marker, Luke has to ultimately encounter and fight with this dark, internalized aspect of himself – the aspect within that fights against his own nature – in order to go past limits placed upon him from the outside world, and the internal limitations he has placed upon himself. He must do this before he can participate in a larger story that will take him beyond himself, and allow him to fulfill a destiny that was meant precisely for him.
Another way to understand the threshold guardians we encounter in mythic adventures is to recognize them as gatekeepers for our integrity and authenticity. No ego gets a ‘free ride’ when it comes to journeying into the realm of soul adventure, and the ego’s will must always learn to surrender over to the deeper and more complex intentions of the soul.
To be more humbly aligned with the intentions of our soul nature, we must cultivate enough honesty and integrity to face whatever holds us back from within. We must even be willing to bring these fears with us for a while to accompany us, once we become conscious of them.
In this way, our fears can eventually yield as well, and they inform us by becoming our allies, giving us the needed additional awareness, motivation or energy to move towards our most sought-after pursuits with courage, with respect, and with a deeper compassion for our complex humanity.
- What fears represent the primary ‘threshold guardians’ in your present life?
- What is the deepest and most pervasive fear that keeps you bound up and keeps you bound to your same-ness and small-ness? ‘
- How might you risk confronting these internalized aspects of self that obstruct the path that would take your life forward?
Let’s turn to Rumi’s poetry to learn about another essential skill for successfully crossing the threshold into the soul’s journey – the willingness to become whole-hearted in our efforts. Rumi offers us his version of a threshold guardian – fierceness of heart.
Gamble everything for love,
If you’re a true human being.
If not, leave this gathering.
Meaningful adventure cannot be experienced with our ‘heads’; nor can adventure be engaged with mental thinking. Those who try to enact a soulful path through their reasoning inevitably fail miserably, and often quickly. The gamble Rumi speaks of is really no gamble at all, but it does involve a having a perception of significant risk.
Security seeking in the end becomes the final danger for the heroic posture. Staying safe is of course important for our survival, but it is on the lower end of the evolutionary scale. Being averse to risk, and embracing avoidance instead of approach, is a holding-back posture that goes against the grain of worthy endeavors. There is a definite time and place for playing it safe, and for being reasonable. But it will not provide is with the grounding needed to bring forth the enlivening myth of adventure.
The toll to be paid to these inner gatekeepers, the one that will move us across the threshold towards living fully, is a wholehearted, fiercely loving, embodied presence. Those of who lack this grounded presence are likely to immediately and reflexively turn back in the face of approaching threat, danger or intensity.
The fierce looking guardians at the threshold speak intimately to us – ‘get behind your heart; get grounded in the reality of here and now; become vulnerable and vital as a human being; live only from your own experiences – or else go back from where you came, and go back home’.
If we are caught up in abstractions, conceptualizations, or mental gymnastics, we can’t pass through this ‘eye of the needle’. We don’t know where real life is to be lived. We are simply someone who has confused the menu with the meal.
Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty.
I read this particular line from Rumi long ago, and I have remembered ever since. Much of the tiredness and exhaustion we see in people today have to do with the very matter of half-heartedness. Exhaustion is often not only due to over-work, but also due to under-stimulation; with a lack of heart being placed into one’s efforts.
I find that my own half-hearted efforts are often more fatiguing than no effort at all. It is like driving a car with a bad fuel mix in the engine, or like having one foot on the brake, while the other foot presses on the gas.
To become whole-hearted, we have to look more deeply at all those contrary, oppositional, conflicting, and negating forces at work deep within us. We have to examine more closely our inner contradictions, and see clearly how one half of our heart works against the other half. We have to work this through inside ourselves, finding a bridge across these contradictions. This is the essence of soul work.
Otherwise, we will not have the unified, coherent energy necessary to move through the buffeting cross-currents and tension-filled challenges regularly brought forth in our external world. Often, when we find ourselves in a conflictual situation in our daily life, we are being asked to first face our internal conflicts and contradictions is a process that deepens us towards our soul path. This is realization we must all have and wrestle with, in order to reconcile ourselves on the way to realizing our boon.
You set out to find God,
But then you keep stopping for long periods
At mean-spirited roadhouses.
As he concludes his poem, Rumi gives us more of his fierce guardian’s message. We set out on the road to adventure many times without a clearly formed intention, or without a strong and rooted foundation – those necessary inner resources that give us the focus and the traction to go forward in the face of obstacles. Yet these are essential supports that will help us to tolerate the dark forests of the unknown.
We can easily become diverted from our path by continuous and convenient distractions; by our negative thinking and immobilizing self-doubt; and by our self-created personal dramas. We can get so caught up in the roadhouse of trivial self-concerns that we never actually enter the adventures waiting for us. Self-concerns pre-occupy us at best, and consume us at worst.
We can become mean-spirited due to our passive dependency on the familiar. It is humbling to realize we grown far too dependent on certain people, places and things for our own sense of aliveness. But this is necessary to recognize, so we can see clearly what exactly keeps us from bringing forth our own life force, which ultimately comes only from within – and which will only come from a certain whole-hearted tenacity.
The Point Of No Return
Up until this point of crossing the threshold from ego to soul, we are still in charge of the journey; we still have some control of the outcome, or lack of an outcome. We can still say yes or no to proceeding. But there is a certain internal compass point set in us, and we can feel when it is properly set, and when it isn’t.
We feel it deeply in the core of our being when we cross significant threshold points in our lives. Something inside that indicates to us, ‘this is the point of no return’. We have the felt sense of whoever it is going forward from here will not be coming back the same.
Of course, the ‘I’ that I am might indeed at some point return, but no longer as the ‘I’ that I have always known, or that others have always known. We have a growing awareness coming from within; we begin to envision or sense we are becoming more aligned with something other or larger than just our self. Once this inner light comes on, it becomes much harder to extinguish it completely. The ‘as-yet- unknown self’ will become more and more the driver of our future existence.
Juan Jimenez, the Spanish a sailor and poet, speaks of this soul aspect of self in a most worthy way. This is the one we take the adventure with, who accompanies us into the mythic realms, and will return with us when the time comes. This is the part of the self that is identified with soul:
I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and at other times I forget.
The one who remains silent when I speak,
the one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
the one who takes a walk
when I am indoors,
the one who will remain standing
when I die.
The Journey Now Takes You
Until we have faced our suppressed fears and long-held beliefs about a reality that confines us to a stifling sameness and smallness; until we have aligned with a fierce, wholehearted effort-making that is more than just willful determination; and until we have surrendered into an open-armed posture of ‘yes’ to life as it unfolds – we are not yet ready to fully respond to the call to adventure, and live into our soul’s adventure.
If we can say ‘yes’ with a playful heart and with certain humility; if we have a willingness to embrace the ambiguous and mysterious nature of a ‘zone unknown to us’ – then we are ready to commit ourselves to approaching a worthy adventure awaiting us.
By embracing our ‘yes’ position to life, we are taking a solid stand and a committed stance that will in fact open the journey for us, which then allows us to surrender over to what comes. The journey now takes us. We practice the skill of yielding, allowing ourselves to be taken for the ride and pulled into the adventure – sometimes triumphantly, sometimes apprehensively, and sometimes even failing miserably.
We just need to remember that it is not how we fall, as this is inevitable. It is now about how we get back on the ride, and practice being taken once again. Once we have crossed the point of no return, success or through failure matter less to us, because we somehow realize either way will get us to the boon. Once this begins to occur to us, we can at last truly be taken by the journey. As Campbell often said:
“If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” 10
Once we are willing and able to give ourselves over fully to a sense of lived adventure, doors open us to the realm of living myths, where metaphors, psychic representations and ambiguity rule the terrain, and our more simplistic, black and white thinking gradually falls away, being of no use.
Allowing an adventure to unfold itself before us, we can learn to approach our interior spaces as symbolic representations to us – as dark forests, wide-open desert plains, vast mountain regions, deep ocean waters or dark underground caves. By moving beyond our dualistic judging states (either towards one’s self or towards the world around us), we return to the open wonder of a child’s joyful heart, capable of both surprise and delight.
This is the realm of adventure that begins to feel ‘otherworldly’, as we are now more capable of being moved by the things of this world, of being caught up in states of rapture, and of being engrossed in our full participation with whatever serendipity is taking place in front of us.
The German sage and poet Rilke reminds us of this early childhood capacity. He encourages us to make use of this state of alive vulnerability, as we move out beyond the boundaries of the familiar, and open up to the ‘not knowing’ of what lies ahead.
We come to accept that we cannot predict nor pre-determine what comes next for us on any worthwhile adventure, any more than we could predict or pre-determine what dream we will have tonight.
But we can begin to imagine possibilities where they did not exist for us before, and we can move beyond our own familiar bounds towards what has previously threatened us, building what Rilke calls ‘the great arch’ of previously unimagined bridges, beyond any opposing forces, sides, and polarities.
As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over many chasms early on,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.
Once we enter a state of awareness that takes us past thinking in dualities, we find ourselves on more complex ground, where mysteries abide – somewhere in between and beyond the pairs of opposites. Here is where we can be susceptible to varied states of wonder, curiosity, and intrigue. This is the pathway towards bliss.
Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted
achievement can we realize the wonder.
It is a remarkable achievement indeed to move beyond conceptualizations and over-simplifications, beyond our reactionary judgments, and our oppositional, contentious attitudes.
Now instead, we can find ourselves more able to enter deeply and intimately into our felt senses. Now we become more able to respond with authenticity from our spontaneous encounters with the life that is taking place all around us. We have more of a felt sense of life being animated, even illuminated, both around us and within us.
To work with things when building the association
beyond words is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.
To be able to experience and understand a felt sense of beauty, vitality and mystery is to move beyond our associations with words. We don’t become mesmerized by the menu, and we don’t confuse it with the meal. We can enter the fullness and satisfaction of living into mysteries that can lead us to ineffable states, where ‘words turn back’.
Yet we also no longer wish to simply be swept along by events that happen in our lives. We instead want to help shape the tides, influence others in positive ways, leave our mark upon the adventure, contribute something that matters, and shift the bounds of fate towards a realizable destiny.
But in order to do so, as the poet Gary Snyder once said, we have to be willing to live with complexity, paradox, and the ability to forgive. And this makes all the difference.
Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the abyss between two
opposing poles. Because inside human beings
is where God learns.
As we pass through the thresholds of our self-limiting ego identifications and our polarizing states of duality, we practice the power of spanning the abysses of life.
We learn ways to rise above the pitfalls of our ignorance, our biased points of view, our polarizing contentiousness, and our limiting shortsightedness. We at last learn how to span the limitations that have kept us bound to the same issues, the same patterns, in the same way, over and over again.
It is here, riding on the arch of the soul’s adventure, that we discover that by facing our obstructions, we can create the exact conditions necessary for our personal transformation – this is how we know we have made a successful passage through the threshold.
When this difficult soul work of bridging oppositional forces happens within us, we can be carried to new states of consciousness; we can feel new energy sources awaken within; and we gain new insights that can reverberate and penetrate through us, revealing universal connection wherever we look. When we experience this universal energy field, it confirms for us that we have now entered the living realm of myth, and soul will now determine our direction going forward.
In fact, as Meister Eckhart said at the beginning of this essay, we find ourselves doing exactly what we would be doing if we felt most secure.
Living the adventure of our present circumstances in life; riding wave after wave of unfolding experience that yields new challenges and new realizations; living more and more into the privilege of being who we truly are.
The road ahead holds the inevitable challenge of ordeals. We will need to understand how our allies and how synchronicity will work with us in order to make it through our upcoming challenges, and head towards our boon.
For now, it is enough to experience the wonder of moving past obstacles, crossing new thresholds, feeling more animated and enlivened as a result.
– Michael Mervosh
The Hero's Journey® Foundation presents a series written by Michael Mervosh, taking a deeper dive into living the myth of the Hero's Journey, and re-discovering the meaning of myth for our lives we live in the every day. Download the PDF for your e-reader here. The...
The Hero's Journey® Foundation presents a series written by Michael Mervosh, taking a deeper dive into living the myth of the Hero's Journey, and re-discovering the meaning of myth for our lives we live in the every day. Download the PDF for your e-reader...