I have a shelf in my library where reside the volumes that speak most deeply to my soul with the sustained whispering that great writing gives . One volume is The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte. I have returned yet again to this wisdom from the Yorkshire poet.
Chapter two is a treatment, an exegesis almost, of Beowulf.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that if you do not come to know the deeper mythic resonances that make up your life, the mythic resonances will simply rise up and take you over. If you do not live out your place in the mythic pattern consciously, the myth will simply live you, against your will. Beowulf is welcomed by Hrothgar, and that night lies in wait for Grendel with his men inside Herot, Hrothgar’s great hall. Sure enough, in the ensuing fight, Beowulf mortally wounds Grendel, who then staggers back to die in the mere. That night there is tremendous feasting and gift-giving. The problem, it seems, has been solved in one swift movement. But that night, as Beowulf sleeps with his men in a different hall, something else comes from the swamp to Herot, fights off the best warriors, and retreats with its human victim: Grendel’s mother.
The message in this portion of the poem is unsparing. It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear. The very thing that has given birth to the nightmare.
Here it is. I am afraid that I will not be enough. What man is not? What is the mother of my fear of inadequacy? Why, not to be enough and in the end to not be AT ALL! Yup, you got it! Not wonder we are willing to loiter along the the lakefront, the edge of the mere! We would do almost anything to avoid plunging headfirst into the dark waters of the unconscious where the shadow knows and as Whyte writes, “men pray for dry feet.”
Yet, we are unsatisfied circling the lake. We look deep into the water, seeing our reflection in the surface, telling ourselves that, Yes, we will sign up to be the latest narcissist falling in love with our own reflection on the surface of the liquid before us. Anything to avoid falling headlong into our destiny, the soul-work that awaits us all.
My wife gave me her first gift before our hearts ever spoke of marriage. It is a framed prayer that has sat on a table in my library for about thirty years. It says, “Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.” And so I am.
JWS – March 5, 2018 10:20 PM