MEETING YOUR GUIDE
You’ve started out, and in many ways that is the hardest part. But make no mistake, many challenges lie ahead—an ordeal that will rock your very foundations and upset all previous conceptions you’ve had about who you are, what the divine looks like, and how these two existential questions are related.
You are, after all, embarking on nothing less than your total re-imagination of divinity, a shedding of your old, outworn religious conceptions and the metamorphosis of a new spiritual identity with a new set of symbols. You have set out on your quest for these symbols, but what does this mean? How do you expect to find them? Where do you even look…?
The more you reflect on it, the more daunting your mission can seem to become. You? Little you are going to attempt to revivify the dying sacred? Little, insignificant you are going to locate the vital spring of spiritual archetypes, take its nourishment unto yourself and bring this boon back into the world? Tiny, puny, little unenlightened you are going to resurrect God and help reveal to others a way to see life as something full of depth, mystery, and meaning once again?
Ha! Good luck.
If you’re going to succeed on your quest, you cannot go it alone. You’re going to need some help and guidance from someone, somewhere, somehow…
Has anyone ever done anything like this before? Is there someone you could learn from who’s been in your shoes before? Someone who already has the wisdom of experience in these sorts of adventures?
For one thing, there’s the terrain: Who has traversed the psychic realm into which you are now entering, and knows how to navigate its labyrinthine twists and turns? Then there’s the object of your quest: Who has actually found before what you are now looking for? That is, an authentic, deep personal connection to the ground of being, evidenced by a life-enriching and consciousness-expanding relationship to sacred forms?
Chances are, whatever figures come to mind—be they people you have known personally, or just read or heard about—they are probably not celebrities or rock stars or reality TV billionaires or social media influencers or big-time CEOs, etc. Quite the contrary. They are probably quieter sorts, more unassuming. Not rich and flashy, but thoughtful, deep, reflective. They are not caught up in worldly cares, and probably have few possessions. They march to the beat of their own drum, and often swim against the collective current—not to make a point, but simply to follow their own inner light. That authentic Inner Light is, after all, what you are searching for in yourself. They have found theirs, and are practiced in listening to it.
Joseph Campbell writes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces about the first major plot point in the conventional Hero’s Journey. He calls it “Supernatural Aid,” and considers the unassuming form such assistance tends to take:
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. … What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurance—a promise that the peace of Paradise…is not to be lost.
(pp. 69, 71)
The elderly, senescent or decrepit shape taken by the guide figure is symbolic of a few things. For one, their seeming-deficiency in terms of power and vitality in the world’s terms (beauty, wealth, physical strength) is a ruse, for it hides an inner, spiritual capability. Learning to recognize that things are not always as they seem, and that those things the world shuns may have the most to teach us—these are crucial insights offered by the guide.
Secondly, old age signifies a wealth of experience, a treasure-trove of knowledge gained by having already gone to those places where you are just now scoping out. They have learned much, read much, reflected much, debated much, meditated much, lost much, and found much. They may not know everything, and will be the first to tell you that they cannot tell you what you alone must find for yourself, but their base of wisdom is a profoundly helpful resource as you navigate your own path.
Guides are mediators. They connect worlds. They have been in your position as a would-be initiate, but have also become masters and initiators. They have one foot on the Earth, the other in a supernatural realm. Because of this, they are close enough to be approachable, but "far out" enough to be enlightened. They are immanently here, but also partaking of the Transcendent. Indeed, their role is precisely to facilitate the sharing of Transcendence, like bees carrying honey from a flower. They have learned, and so can teach. They have acquired, and so can give.
Still, they are not the ultimate. They, too, are on journeys of their own—journeys more profound and powerful than you can yet understand, perhaps, but higher initiations nonetheless. Their aid, then, will not bestow Bliss, but only tools and means by which you can move closer to your goal. Being just a few steps ahead, they are there to get you through that next door, over that next bridge, past that next beast, as you make your own path through the Otherworld.
Examples from familiar stories, ancient and modern, from myth to folklore to literature to film, abound with such archetypal guides. Luke Skywalker had his Jedi Masters, Obi-Wan and, later, Yoda, to teach and instruct him as he journeyed toward his destiny, navigating the Light and Dark. Aeneas had his prophetess, the Sybil, and Dante his ghostly poet, Virgil, to serve as guides through the alleys of the underworld. Frodo had the primeval Geladriel (and wood wizard Gandalf), and Cinderella an enchanted Fairy Godmother. Through these and countless other stories, we all have guides, imaginative characters to serve as models for our own mentors.
IN YOUR BOOK…
EXERCISE 2: YOUR GUIDE
Now it’s time for you to give symbolic expression to your journey’s guide. In this exercise, you will be imagining the guide of your own personal mythology, the figure that will preside over your journey as teacher and initiator.
1. Think of some examples of guides that you have connected with.
Write down the names of 5 guides/helpers/mentors from books, movies, or other mediums that have had a significant effect on you. How are they alike? How are they different? Take some time to reflect…
Write down the names of 5 real people who have guided or mentored you in a significant way at different points in your own life. What sorts of advice did they offer? How did they offer it? Why did you feel comfortable listening to/trusting them? Take some time to reflect…
2. Because your guide has already found, in some form, what you are now seeking, you can think of your guide as an image of your future self. Seeking for your guide, then, can be an exercise in imagining who you want to be someday, what you wish to be like. Imagine meeting yourself in 20 or 30 years. What sorts of wisdom do you envision your future self imparting to this young you, just setting out? Take some time to reflect…
3. Recall the symbolic framework you chose for your quest, and the form you decided upon to represent yourself. Now consider what sort of guidance would be most helpful in that scenario. Does the young wizard need a Master of the Magic Arts? The priestess, a guardian angel? If it’s an elixir you seek, perhaps you require an herbalist. Or if you go to slay a dragon, surely you need a blacksmith for your sword?
Drawing on these reflections, creatively imagine your own guide. Draw and/or describe the figure that will help you navigate the unknowns of the Otherworld that you are about to enter.
Is your guide a kind old wizard, skilled in the ancient magical arts?
A tree spirit, with deep roots in the primeval Earth?
A galactic consciousness that you are able to tune in to using some device or technique?
A wise old monk in an abbey library?
A medicine woman, brewing herbal remedies in her hut?
A heavenly being, who leads you toward the Light?
A zen-like Sherpa, who helps you navigate the Mountain?
A future reincarnation of yourself?
Or something entirely new, a figure whose description, wisdom, and role you completely invent? Spend time with the question, and, when you’re ready, depict your guide (in words, image, or both).
NEXT POST: CROSSING THE THRESHOLD