Updated: Apr 28
In follow-up to the previous article about the significance and universality of the Michaelmas celebration and the role of courage, I share some thoughts on a theme that was shared with me long ago, that of the archetypal journey. Moreover, we can look at not only the journey, but also the art of journeying itself.
Let us be clear about what I am saying, and start with "archetype". One definition that seems most fitting for my use of the word is the following:
Archetype: a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology.
As you can see, I am talking about the symbolic journey. In other words, what are the more universal aspects or qualities of "the journey"? We could be talking about an actual physical journey, such as one might take with a caravan across the desert. Certainly, we will find aspects of such a journey to be the expressions of the archetypal journey. On the other hand, we can also apply these archetypal qualities to something as simple as a commitment to follow an exercise plan for 12 weeks. We are not actually going on a journey from on place to another. Nevertheless, in this example, some of the archetypal qualities will be experienced on the inside, as more of an internal journey.
Lots of people have contributed to my understanding of the archetypal journey--too many to list. It is a subject, sometimes referred to as the "Hero's Journey" or the "Monomyth", that has been addressed by scholars, healers, theologians, philosophers, etc, etc. The complexity with which it has been addressed makes what I am about to share seem terribly over-simplified. My only alibi is to tell you up front that I am doing this, I am over-simplifying the subject. Sometimes, it is good to see the forest. Sometimes it is good to see all the trees. In this article, we look at the forest.
We will call the person on the journey our "hero", in keeping with "the hero's journey." For some reason, usually one involving a sense of imbalance in the world--could be the loss of something valuable or the threat of potential injury to a form of innocence--the hero finds herself called upon to leave her known world. This known world could be her hometown, or some such confined space that has been familiar to her up to this point in life. The journey will take her into a new world, an unknown part of the world. Thus, there is absolutely no way that the hero can be fully prepared for the journey. She will encounter dangers, traps, and temptations. She will meet with elements and other beings which attempt to impede her progress. Likewise, she will also find that there are unexpected forms of aid, assistance, and guidance. Throughout the journey, the hero must call upon the right balance of caution and courage. In the Waldorf language, we would say the right balance of the willing forces to do and to go, the feeling forces to sense what is good and what is beautiful, as well as the thinking forces which can be logical and objective, helping the hero to determine what is right. Achieving this balance is part of the journey. No one has this at the beginning of the journey. That is easy enough to understand. What is perhaps more difficult to accept is that no one has it at the end either. In fact, we must accept that there is no end to the journey. There is only journeying.
The hero is herself transformed by journeying. Finding the gold or saving the innocent or slaying the beast--all of these are symbolic representations of what happens within the hero. Balance is restored to the world by the act of taking up the journey and courageously persevering toward its end.
Balance is restored to the world by the act of taking up the journey and courageously persevering toward its end.
Notice that the balance is restored by persevering "toward" the end. In many stories, such as fairytales, we have nice endings with the oft-used phrase that everyone "lived happily ever after". The modern human consciousness does not accept this as easily as it did 150 years ago. Modern literature has explored new themes and established new paradigms. We know that the "happily ever after" is not actually the way life works out. All we can do is set our sights upon our goals, take up the journey, and continue onward with our best efforts. Work as hard as we might, there are always more projects on the to-do list, there are always weeds that regrow in the garden. When we embrace the art of journeying, then we make a tremendous leap of development.
This is the teacher's path. The teacher must, sooner or later, embrace to develop the art of journeying. We will engage in a perpetual process of trying to achieve balance without ever completing this quest. We never get to feel we have reached the end, because so many of our efforts as teachers will ripple far wider and far longer than the scope of our own lives.
When we begin to survey the influence we will have over the young person's life, the sensation can quickly become overwhelming. The sense of responsibility alone for the child or children with whom we are entrusted, for giving them the best possible foundations for their academic needs as well as the life skills that will best serve them--How could we possibly hope to do this justice?! Who can sincerely say, "Yes, I am the best possible teacher these children could possibly have!" It is the truth. You actually are the best possible teacher for the child or children in your care, but this is not always easy to firmly believe.
The only path forward is the inner resolve to do one's best. The beast that threatens us is the one on the inside, the inner critic, the ego, pride and fear. The innocence that must be saved from harm is not only the delicate innocence of the children, but also the delicate innocence of our own souls. Shall we allow our own fears and senses of inadequacy to torment us? Will this ongoing criticism and doubt, fear and second-guessing help the teacher of the children? No it will not help the teacher and therefore it will not help the children. We must resolve to do our best and to let these, our noble efforts, even though they may be replete with our obvious imperfections, to be the soft downy feathers of peace in the pillows upon which we lay our untroubled heads at night.
When we embrace this way of journeying the teacher's path, we become the hero that the child needs. We show them how to walk their own heroic journey which awaits them. We do not tell them. We do not teach them how. We show them with that most potent of all possible means: our own living deeds. It is actually this, the transforming of the self, that is the gold we bring back to the village, to our families, to our children.
You, oh striving teacher, you are the gold!