The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. I have been meditating on this Joseph Campbell quote recently in its simplicity and depth. What does it mean to truly be who you are? What does it mean to make space for and embody your own truths, love, fear, story, and mythic experience? What does it mean to be granted the privilege of doing this, and to stand in that beautiful privilege?
We all have this privilege he says. We are granted this by birth. We all wish to be who we are, and yet how few of us, myself included, actually take the reigns and go the hero’s journey? How few of us actually walk with what we know deep inside, and stand with that truth. In order to stand with that truth we have to feel that truth, we have to go into that truth, and that in of itself is a journey. That in of itself is a feat of immense proportions, in the face of a culture, a society, and a world whose gestalt philosophy is largely in juxtaposition to this quiet but revolutionary act of knowing thyself.
King Arthur's quest for the grail is a metaphor for this great undertaking. We can feel this metaphor clearly in Queste del Saint Grael, circa 1230 AD. It is written by an unknown author in old french, and reads as poetry:
"And they thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group. Each entered the forest at the point that he had chosen, where it was darkest, and there was no way or path."
Illuminated by this Arthurian legend, Campbell speaks about the journey in this way.
“You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else's path.
You are not on your own path.
If you follow someone else's way,
you are not going to realize
-Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey
And how do we enter that path when there are so many things around us calling us out of ourselves, out of our experience, telling us that fulfillment lies somewhere over there on a distant horizon if we could only have, possess, be, act, in the way that our family, friends, community, culture has allotted for us? And even when we think we have entered our hero’s journey, it’s not said to be easy. There will be unhappiness, there will be confusion, and there will be a darkest night of the soul. And there may be another dark night, and another, and another.
I have come to feel it is more about how we handle these experiences rather then about avoiding them. These experiences will come. And ultimately our journey is marked by how we face these darker nights, with courage in the face of fear to stay true to one's deeper truths. Each of these moments can become a sacred opportunity to realign oneself on the path of a hero's journey with dignity and grace.
In my own fumbling and messy experience, I have felt that essence of myself in moments of great silence inside of a canopy of nature, in moments of elation inside of a gesture that means everything, and inside those most precious and sacred dreams that seem to be dropped into my consciousness miraculously from some distant star. We all have these moments, unique to our experience. I have tried, sloppily, to hold to those moments, to that song of myself, not to cling to them so much, (but perhaps sometimes I do), but to remember their presence like open windows of perception that guide my way towards the freedom of myself through all the walks of my life. Because not to be who I am is to live in a prison of immense proportion, and a prison of my own making.
But oh, it is challenging. Oh, it takes stamina and perseverance and great will and the greatest of love, and the staggering ability to love ones self through all of the darker shades and shadows that will appear. Because, on the hero’s journey, we can be sure of one thing: the shadow makes many great appearances. If it hasn’t, then we are not on the journey. The nature of the journey is to know thyself, and we cannot know ourselves if we have not experienced all shades and textures of this manifold being.
I have no answers. I only empathize with those that follow that deepest call, against all odds, wishing to manifest their fullest nature and potential in a world so full of ignorance and darkness. And I admire most of all those who follow that call in spite of great suffering through centuries and millenniums of colonialism, imperialism, and ignorance. I love you for your bravery, and for your perseverance. You inspire me to stay on my path, winding as it is, and to see it through to it’s beautiful end, wherever that may be. And you inspire me to work to be who I am, and to share that as broadly as I can as the flower of myself, my quivering and revolutionary offering to this troubled place.