Saturday morning, with the sun lending me ample light for scanning my path and a company of Grove dogs surrounding me everywhere I went, I felt better about snakes. I am smart and capable and cautious--I wouldn't stumble upon one unannounced so long as there was light to discern my path. Still, I was feeling ripped out of the myth of the weekend and no longer connected to the work we were there to do. In the morning, my Circle of Support, that had been facilitated by the snakebite victim, was folded into another's group. We were able to talk about our experience of ritual the night before and in my case, about the snake's disturbing contributions to the ritual experience. I didn't come to any great conclusions about my unrest, but I was at least able to voice it completely and address the elephant in the room for me--that after the snakebite, my mind had gone from assisting the ritual's mood and message to full-time survival mode. I worried that I wouldn't be able to reengage with Psyche. My full and complete attention was on the level of physical reality. Good news was that the man bit by the snake had come back from the hospital in the pre-dawn hours with a lot of medications to combat the swelling and a pair of crutches, but otherwise with a good prognosis.
At morning session, the heavy-lifting of the weekend, as I saw it, was unveiled. Pan and Psyche spoke, after Psyche made her fateful decision to accept the path of challenges in pursuit of Eros. In traditional tellings of the myth, Venus was motivated throughout with feelings of waspish, petty jealousy and revenge. At the Grove, though, Cynthea smiled knowingly at the thought that the Goddess of Love and Beauty would ever be jealous of "just a pretty girl". Instead, she told us, Psyche offered herself as a dedicant to Venus. No face of the Divine wishes you harm.
Venus, tutoring and pushing, said, "To become a Goddess, you must become more than you think you are. You must do more than you think you are capable of. You must take on a series of challenges that seem almost impossible. At the completion of each challenge, each impossible task conquered, she turned to Psyche and said, "Thank you and now...." and the next impossible task was set before her. There was no time for rest or reflection or celebration, just a never-ending climb up a sheer rock face. Imagine that first task, when Psyche managed to sort the seeds of the granary. She'd achieved something that had seemed impossible! Yet, without acknowledging the weight of that triumph, 'impossible' had become the new minimum-standard, the new form of normal. Did she ever own her own heroism in meeting each successive challenge?
The path of challenges, the road to becoming
our true selves, is not a glamorous one. There is no praise, no hero's welcome, no ticker-tape parade. You arrive back, scratched and dirty and breathless with the golden fleece and are swept directly, unceremoniously, into the next challenge. As Cynthea put it, "Following your bliss isn't blissful."
Our task for Saturday, the work of our final ritual of the weekend, was to take the time to breathe and honor our own heroic selves for all the impossible things we'd done, all the challenges we'd successfully passed in life unsung. We are all Psyche, all Breath and the Soul, all heroes already. Could I reframe my self-perception enough to see all the things in life that I could not have done and yet somehow did
? Could I acknowledge that just because I had managed to get through something did not diminish how difficult it had been? Could I see myself as the hero in the story of my own life?
Based on the four elements, we were given four types of heroism to consider:Challenges of Air
- the heroism of speaking the Truth and intellectually, strategically solving the problems before me.Challenges of Fire
- the heroism of confrontations and transformations, the times when I throw myself into the fire.Challenges of Water
- the heroism of surviving the unsurvivable, of simply going on, of living another day.Challenges of Earth
- the heroism of taking a stand, standing for something, standing my ground
So the question isn't whether you are a hero or not (you are) but what sort of heroism you have used throughout your life when you met challenges. Oh, this work spoke to my greatest sense of wounded self. I know, intimately, every detail of every wrong decision, hurtful thing, and spectacular failure of my life. My victories, too soon, are forgotten and discounted and belittled. I don't count myself and I certainly
don't count myself as a hero. The people around me, I see their glory and myself, I only know how uncertain and small and making-it-up-as-I-go I feel inside. That does not feel like the stuff of heroes! Throughout the session, I was writing madly and doodling stars in the corners of my notes. I was drinking it all in and yet, still, I wanted to go find a private place to curl up and have a cry. Was I an unsung hero? Had I never given myself credit for my accomplishments? Did I never breathe and reflect and honor myself as courageous and strong and capable of achieving impossible things, of surviving impossible pains? Oh, it hurt and it healed and mostly it stopped me dead in my tracks. I'd never considered such a thing.
There was incredible wisdom and strength and beauty among the heroes of that room. Some shared stories of their challenges. Others shared insights they'd had on the topic. I resonated most with a few snippets and so I'm just going to rescue them from my notes and leave them here, the wisdom of staff and participants alike. Maybe you'll resonate with these truths, too.
~Anything I know I must do but don't, I label 'impossible'. Anything I know I should do, but haven't yet done, I say is 'impossible'. (Of course, once I do this 'impossible' thing, I then bury its importance with a shrug. Afterall, if puny me managed to do it, it wasn't such an achievement after all.)
~No face of the Divine wishes you harm. Sometimes, though, catastrophe is the only way for the Gods to get us to move. How much worse do we want to make it for ourselves by choosing, stubbornly or out of fear, not to change, not to act when we know we must?
~We compare our insides with everyone else's outsides. They look so brave and accomplished and put together and we feel scared and inadequate and flawed. Everyone else looks like a hero to me, but inside, I don't feel like a hero myself.
~Virginia Satir was quoted, "I own me, therefore I can engineer me. I am me and I am okay."
~Everything you've done up until now has worked
. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here. That's okay. Good work. Now the trick is, for the next challenge, to strategize to get to the other side without paying such a high price.
~What if, instead of seeing your life as a string of failures, you insisted on seeing it as a string of victories? Remember, one type of heroism, the challenge of water, is simply surviving another day. What does your life look like, that Path of Challenges, if it is retold from the knowledge that you are already a hero and that you've accomplished/survived/overcome one impossible thing after another? What does that change?
We had the afternoon to let these truths percolate, to sit in the cleansing flow of the stream and then to step into ritual one last time. A ritual gathering of heroes...