This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Heron Dance

There's this great little journal/magazine called Heron Dance. I get it off and on. I do get, every month, an email newsletter they send out, called 'A Pause for Beauty.' This email newsletter is illustrated with watercolors by the founder and editor of Heron Dance, Rod McIver. They also publish (or re-publish, with Mr. McIver's watercolor illustrations) some classic but, in most cases, little-known books that deserve a much wider audience.

It's wonderful to read things and discover new truths therein, or to come across other people who have discovered the same truths as oneself. One thing I've always felt strongly about is the need for beauty that each one of us has, a need that runs soul-deep. I call it the minimum daily requirement of beauty. Others have seen this before me-- nothing new under the sun. But whether new or old, we all are called upon to espouse our individual truths in our own unique way. Rachel Carson knew the same thing. She talked about how an appreciation for the beauty of nature, the natural world, was a bulwark that kept one strong in life, when the storms come a-calling-- I have definitely found this to be true. Hildegard of Bingen was saying about the same when she said, "Salvation lies in this-- in seeing the beauty of creation, and praising our beautiful Creator."

Anyway, here's a snippet from this month's A Pause for Beauty, from Heron Dance:

Dear Heron Dancers,

A few days ago I came across something I had written a while back in my journal: “When you are on your path, your journey, you feel really alive.” Since then, three thoughts have been on my mind: Joseph Campbell’s writings on “the hero’s journey” and on the idea of “follow your bliss”; something Ethan Hubbard said to me fifteen years ago about not talking too much about the magic; and something Balbir Mathur said in his Trees for Life newsletter about sacrifice being the first requirement of the sacred path.

Joseph Campbell wrote extensively on ancient mythology, and in particular on what he called the hero’s journey, or the journey that transforms. His research and writing were based on an extensive study of the mythologies of ancient cultures in Europe and North America. Common to all is a protagonist who encounters deities and demons, trials and tribulations, while on a journey. Ultimately the hero returns with a new understanding of himself and life. Campbell compared this journey with the path of someone who rejects convention in an effort to live his or her bliss. He believed that there was a unique track, a life adventure, waiting for each of us, and that when we embrace our adventure, doors open that were not open before and that would not open for anyone else. All you have to do, he said, was take that first step towards the gods—a step over the edge of your boundaries. Once you did that, the gods would take ten steps towards you, and life would go clicking along. Those who turn their back on their adventure live in what Campbell dubbed the “Wasteland.” Their spirit dies. (Diane Osbon wrote extensively on Campbell’s work in her excellent book, A Joseph Campbell Companion).

Ethan Hubbard (author of Grandfather’s Gift and other books) said to me in our first interview, "I believe in the abundance of this planet. I don't want to speak too much about it because the more you think you know, the less the magic works. But I am a true believer that there is an abundance factor, either through angels or through karma." There is definitely a spiritual element, an element of magic, in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. There is a sense though that while you can glimpse the magic, and often feel it, you cannot understand it. If you think you know what is really going on, you are mistaken. If you talk as if you know what is going on, the magic won’t work. You approach the magic with humility not hubris. You surrender to the sacred path; the sacred path does not surrender to you. You must serve it before it will serve you.

Treva Mathur wrote in Lifelines, the Trees for Life newsletter, that nothing important comes without sacrifice. The more important the task, the greater the sacrifice. When I asked Balbir Mathur about that, he said that everything that is sacred requires sacrifice. Balbir and Treva founded and continue to run Trees for Life, an organization that has facilitated the planting of millions of fruit trees in rural communities in India and other countries.

Balbir’s sacrifice can be compared to Joseph Campbell’s first step—the step toward the gods, the step out of and over your boundaries. The sacred journey is the journey on which magic happens. The sacred journey is the journey on which you feel really alive.

In celebration of the Great Mystery of Life,
Rod MacIver


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