Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Odyssey as Maturation Process

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.
~George Moore

I have often heard Mr. Moore’s pith teaching stated another way. The only wisdom you find at the top of the mountain is the wisdom you brought with you. Indeed, but nonetheless the journey or the ascent up the mountain is still necessary. The journey is the process of discovery whether it is an outwardly geographical one or an interior one. Sometimes they are both.

It’s no accident that the ancient Greeks often depicted the pursuit of wisdom as an odyssey, a circular journey where you end right back where you started. Odysseus is the quintessential spiritual hero when viewed in this light. So, too, is his son Telemachos although in Homer’s epic poem his journey is not explored in great thematic detail. Nonetheless it is there for those who posses both the insight and imagination to divine it.

The journey or the ascent up the face of the mountain (I think of John of the Cross’s Ascent to Mt. Carmel) is the maturation process, the refining of character that is needed to access the wisdom that we possess innately.

In the past when people have slyly advised me that my outward searching will get me nowhere because “I could find everything I need right where I am” I smiled and politely pretended to acknowledge their oh-so-advanced-wisdom, while ignoring it completely. Just because you have a personal insight or spent $1,500.00 to get your first degree Reiki mastership doesn’t mean anything. We often just think we are wise. After 20 years of meditation I am less of a master then when I started.

The only think I know for certain is that I am ignorant. The more I learn the more I realize how little I truly understand. Wisdom and serenity and just about all spiritual attributes we hope to obtain require hard work, sweat, blood and sometimes a near death experience (literal and /or metaphorical). Even Grace requires learning how to recognize and accept it.

The late 19th century novelist and occultist, Dion Fortune, once described the spiritual journey as an arduous climb up the side of a cliff to get to the holy temple. Once you arrived the quest is still not over. The true dangers are still before you. You must penetrate the temple until you get to the inner sanctum where the Holy of Holies, behind a gossamer veil lies. Once you rend the veil you find the chamber empty and a thin, quiet voice whispering to you seemingly out of nowhere, “It was you the whole time.”

Sure sometimes we mistake running from our troubles as part of the quest, but in its own way it truly is part of the maturation process. Sometimes staying where you’re at is just hiding. And that too is part of the maturation process. None of us are in a position to claim knowledge of a how a person should grow. The truly mature among us know that. It’s the immature that often feel inclined to offer pat phrases wrapped up in spiritual packaging. “Look,” they say, “See how wise and spiritual I am compared to you?” That doesn’t mean your sponsor or spiritual mentors are without value. They have tremendous value. But, their value lies in their openness and their maturity

At the end of the odyssey the hero always returns to his or her point of origin. That is the point after all. A treasure hunter may circumnavigate the globe in search of a great treasure only to find it under their floor when they return home. But, it is the experiences along the way that teach them where to look when they get home. It is the journey or climb itself that allows one to truly appreciate what they find waiting for them. Without it all you have is another worthless artifact.


As a postscript it seems apropos to note that well traveled people are often more wise, compassionate and possess true knowledge far and above those who don’t travel as much. This seems especially true of those who actually live for periods of time in new places – even if it is within their own countries.

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