(7/12 of the Heroic Journey)
Meeting the Goddess
“The central question of a warrior’s training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?”Pema Chödron
In 1997, at the height of my career as a freelance translator, I once lost a big contract because the publishing right had been withdrawn from the publisher I was working with. This meant, my main source of income for a year or more dried up from one moment to the next. It was one of the Tests and Trials on my path. There was nothing I could do apart from trust that the right thing would happen.
Two days later I received a phone call from the publisher who had withdrawn the rights from my client. He had decided to branch out into translations himself, and he’d headhunted me following recommendations he had received.
After telling him my fees he called back and offered a 25% increase. It was a huge gesture of trust in the quality of my work. I was stunned. It was the beginning of a long and productive working relationship.
Meeting the Goddess
“The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage.”Joseph Campbell
In Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces the 7th stage of the journey is called Meeting the Goddess. The mythological ‘Goddess’ has the power to protect, and nurture, but she also represents fatal danger. Campbell calls her “the womb and tomb”.
Heroic travellers are challenged to meet ‘the Goddess’ in her varied appearances with equal equanimity. In other words, here we are confronted with a new and more complex kind of test.
At this stage rising to the challenge is only part of the test. A second added layer is the internal challenge to meet your tests and trials with equanimity.
In her popular TED talk Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling book Eat Pray Love, speaks about the “elusive creative genius”. She reminds us that when we do our creative work we are not alone. We’ve got a ‘creative genius’ who is always there and ready to help us.
When we show up and do our daily work as writers, artists, musicians etc. we make space for our genius to act through us. In our daily practice we open ourselves up to something larger than ourselves. This ‘something larger’ may be what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. Others might call it ‘becoming a channel for divine intervention’.
Every creative genius can be seen as a personal expression of ‘the Goddess’. She can only meet us in the places, moods and attitudes we happen to be in.
The principle of our relationship with our personal creative genius can be applied to all areas of life. It is not reserved for so-called creative pursuits. Every activity can be seen as a creative process. ‘The Goddess’ doesn’t discriminate between one activity or another. All we have to do is show up and do the work we feel called to do – and be consistent. It’s no good to do it just once or twice to ‘test the Goddess’…
When you show up in life and do what is yours to do, your ‘creative genius’ turns up and joins in. She can’t do the work for you, but she will support you in whatever way she deems appropriate.
“She needs a lamp, a lot of thread and all of her wits about her to make this journey.”Maureen Murdock
In her book The Heroine’s Journey Maureen Murdock tells the Hopi Creation Myth of Grandmother Spider. In the story the people have to move from one world to the next. But they can’t do it on their own.
Grandmother Spider weaves the web of life and instills in every human the dream of living according to their purpose. The people keep forgetting their purpose – which is to follow the plan of the Creator. So Grandmother Spider has to keep going back and teach them new skills.
At some point in their evolution “Grandmother Spider came and said they had to make some choices, and those who wished to change had to go further up.”
She showed them the ‘doorway in the sky’ that led to the next level, but no one could see any way to get up there and through it.
“Grandmother Spider told the people that they must gather themselves and their belongings together, must ponder deeply what needed to be changed… She said, ‘You must learn to be true humans.’”
On the Heroic Journey we have to move through the stages of creating our own life, and there are many of them. At every stage we need to learn something new. You never know what the next lesson will be, and every time you have to ‘ponder deeply’ to figure out what needs to be changed.
Call her ‘Goddess’ or ‘creative genius’ or ‘Grandmother Spider’ – it’s all the same phenomenon. On the Heroic Journey we often feel alone and helpless. We are looking inwards for support and guidance because the outside doesn’t seem to offer much. This may give the impression as if you’ve got to figure everything out on your own.
But that’s not true. ‘Grandmother Spider’ is always at hand to help. Even though we are solitary individuals at some level, we are also part of the ‘spider’s web’ of all of creation. When we turn our attention towards that interdependence we can begin to see how our actions affect the world and life we live in. We can learn to become true humans. And there are many lessons to learn.
“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”Albert Einstein
In my ‘dance’ with publishers in 1997 I believe the lesson I had to learn was Trust. It felt like my trust was being tested and then rewarded with a new contract and a 25% increase in my income.
You might say it was ‘just a coincidence’. If I had panicked for two days I might have still received the phone call, got the new contract, and ended up with a better salary. I will never know.
The point is that everything is a co-incidence. Everything we do, think, feel, dream, believe and experience internally coincides with something that happens externally. This is inevitable. It’s part of being in Grandmother Spider’s web.
The Goddess is meeting us all the time wherever we happen to be. Co-incidence literally means falling together. Like pieces of a puzzle, internal experience and external events fall together into one moment in time. When they match, things seem to fall into place, and we speak of ‘synchronicity’. When they don’t, life appears more random and chaotic. We become cynical and feel like we’re stuck in a meaningless mess.
In other words, we set ourselves up as judges of the outside world, life and the whole universe. If life and the universe are nice to me and play according to my rules, I call it ‘good’. If it doesn’t, we are very quick to dismiss it as ‘evil’.
How about 7 billion people on the planet expecting the universe to play according to their personal rules? And how about most of us not even knowing what those rules are?
“We have to meet the universe half way. Nothing will unfold for us unless we move toward what looks to us like nothing.”Alice Fulton
One of my teachers used to say “the universe always meets us halfway.” It has taken me years to figure out what that really means.
We could say that all external events are expressions of the universe – including other people – while we are essentially our internal experience. Of course we are expressions of the universe too. Here things can get a little confusing, let me explain:
As long as you experience yourself as separate from the universe, that experience becomes de facto your reality. The universe will meet you wherever you experience yourself to be. It might seem harsh, unpleasant, unkind.
Now you could decide that you don’t want to have that experience any longer. You might decide you want to be met by life and the universe in a more pleasant, kind, and loving way. You see yourself as a pleasant, nice and loving kind of person – most of us do!
You try to be kind, nice and loving, but life and the universe can still be harsh and nasty. Why doesn’t it work?
Meeting the universe halfway is not a bargain we can make with life or the world we live in. It’s not about having to please the universe and doing the right things, so that life treats us a little better. Making an effort to be a ‘good’ human should go without saying.
If we accept ‘the universe meeting us halfway’ as a hypothesis, then we can use every external event as an opportunity to understand where we currently stand on our personal climb towards the ‘doorway in the sky’. You will be able to receive every challenging experience as a personal lesson from ‘Grandmother Spider’ who is there to support and guide you on your Heroic Journey.
The ‘Goddess’ meets us in everyday life in many forms. Her expressions can literally be anything that happens to you. She sets us tasks, and our job is to recognise, understand and solve them. When external events coincide with internal experience in an unpleasant way, it’s still a ‘synchronicity’, albeit a disruptive one.
The only trouble with ‘negative synchronicity’ is that you might not appreciate the meeting place – at least not at first sight.
Whenever I am presented with a lesson in the form of a problem I know that the universe has already done its half of the deal. My half is to learn the lesson and solve the problem.
Since the universe is the teacher, and I am its eternal student, I know that the solution is also cleverly encrypted within the problem itself; and the teacher is always at hand to help at every single step of the way.
A lot of the work we have to do as students of the universe is to let go of our childish assumptions of what ‘the universe’ is supposed to do for us. Instead we can learn to accept the support and guidance the universe is offering with infinite generosity to 7 billion people on the planet all at the same time. Now that’s synchronicity.
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