In December 2016, I’ll being coming together again with my dear friend Christina Sell to teach at the San Marcos School of Yoga. We’ll be sharing our experience and enthusiasm—Christina with asana practice and me with the philosophical side of things—with teachers of yoga, dedicated practitioners of the art form. Reflecting on the theme of that week (archetypes and stories of transformation), I find myself contemplating the responsibility that we have within the communities where we work, teach, and serve. The phrase, “Healer, heal thyself” comes to mind.
The calling or vocation of a teacher, healer, coach, counselor, or helping friend or parent who seeks to inspire or provide refuge to others along life’s path requires that we live daily with an intimate knowledge of our own depths. This is not a moral or religious injunction or pressure from an outside authority, but a resounding call of my own true nature. Life has taught me that, in order to be of real help to anyone else, I must continually work to fructify my own path.
Walking the pathway of our lives, we simultaneously make an inner journey that is entwined and inseparable from the outer road we take. It is on the inner journey that we make deeper contact and commune with our Polestar, however we may imagine That—God, Jesus, Shiva and Shakti, Divine Mother, the Universal Creative Intelligence, Supreme Reality, a spiritual lineage of teachers, or simply Goodness, Beauty, or Truth. It is our personal Polestar that will lead us, ultimately, to our own true nature.
The path of reunion with true nature demands a continual re-setting and adjusting of my course by the Polestar that illumines my purpose. The core truths of my life are my companions, which eternally point toward the Polestar that guides my specific aims even in the darkest of times. The further I go, the more urgency I experience, arising from deep within myself, to awaken my awareness to a greater participation in Life as it is—with tenderness, affection, trust, gratitude, acceptance, and a growing accumulation of compassion for myself and others.
Worthy aims, indeed. The reality is that the human incarnation is a dance of dark and light, success and failure, clarity and confusion, love and hate—within and without. If we have encountered a serious block on our journey through life, or feel stuck in breakdown, adrift and alone, assaulted by irrational fear or confusion—or we have experienced loss, depression, disappointment, weariness, resentment, anger or despair (or if things are going great!)—we can clarify, purify and re-set our intention.
Working from the inside out by realigning with our Polestar, the inner journey makes it possible to dip into the primordial wellspring of innocence and innate wisdom that is our own true nature. Turning within we may gain access to a process of insight, acceptance, integration, and letting go. We come to experience our own power to create and fructify through a direct experience of life in its panoramic display of heights and depths, and, over time, we can cultivate a sense of adventure and awe at the divine dance in which we find ourselves.
Letting go of the past is a vital ingredient in this process. Like the mythical phoenix, we die to the old and regenerate the new again and again on a journey of many components—a yoga of reunion, in which contemplation, meditation, solitude, paying attention to presence, observing ourselves with honesty and non-judgment are interwoven with creativity, play, beauty, communion with nature and the wise innocence of the body, relationship with the other, meaningful and satisfying work. Eventually we may come to an inner unity that yields the pearl of inner peace.
One of the powerful tools we have to help us along life’s journey is to make use of ancient knowledge by transposing archetypical stories into the culture of today’s extremely challenging world. The ancient Vedics referred to this wisdom as the archetypal qualities of love, beauty, and truth—sat chit ananda—and embodied these in their gods and goddesses expressed through sacred images and teaching stories.
Archetypes are the creative potencies or essential threads of purpose that weave together the tapestry of Story as expressed in all sacred cultures, from the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Ramayana or Puranas of India to the Mabinogion of Welsh legend and the abundance of stories and fairy tales of Europe, and on to the wealth of imagination expressed in myth by all tribal people: Africa, native peoples of the Americas, or the Australian dreamtime.
In the process of exploring universal themes we discover these great stories as testaments to our own transformation and the cornucopia of experience we encounter along the way.
Stories can help us get to know ourselves—and the process of how awareness unfolds—from the perspective of a Big Picture. A greater wisdom may emerge from the playing field of ordinary life with its recurring patterns, its surprises, twists and turns, and we are reaffirmed, empowered, and guided along our interior and exterior journey.
Tapping the wellspring of our true nature is the source of a real capacity to teach or serve others in myriad ways that satisfies the longing of the heart. True nature is set free through encounters with the depths, giving rise to practical insights that bring creativity, heart and awareness to our familiar daily drama—the story of our lives. In the process, our vital forces may be recharged in a way that moves prana—and therefore, everything—in a positive direction.
If we ourselves are moving in the positive direction set by our Polestar, then those around us will naturally benefit; then healing, transforming, and recreating ourselves becomes a way of blessing the entire world.