Archive for March, 2013

Don’t Leave the Old Road for a New One, Part 2

March 20, 2013

Life gives us plenty of reasons to flee. Mostly, we flee from ourselves. Almost everyone has one version or another of a dysfunctional childhood. If they don’t, they make up for lost time as young adults. It isn’t just that we flee an understanding of our own capacity for evil, or small-mindedness, or our baser instincts. Our lives chip away at us and by the time we’re adults, most of us have devised some pretty effective strategies for protecting ourselves and managing our way through life. We put boundaries in place—a functional and necessary thing, but some of the boundaries are not simply between “I and thou,” they are between “me and me.” That is, we work hard to create a persona and we often forget that the persona is not the real thing. It is not us.

We don’t just work hard at creating the persona, we work hard at maintaining it. There is a certain amount of presenting ourselves in the best possible way that comes with that, a certain amount of being just a bit less than honest with others—and with ourselves. We build lifestyles to support our personas. We build defenses—against being abused again, against being abandoned again, against being taken for granted again, and most important, against being “found out.” If we’re not careful, we don’t just defend against perceived threat, we become all too ready to attack, often in subtle ways we don’t even recognize.

But one of the most sacred—not to mention useful—things about being human is that who we really are is always still in there. As Buckaroo Banzai and many others have said, no matter where you go, there you are. The “you” in “there you are” isn’t just the persona. Who you are may be buried beneath the persona, but it’s there. You carry it with you on the journey.

In many ways, we are all like that shopkeeper. We all flee the dead body on the threshold. That dead body is, after all, us. Except that it is not really dead. God knows, it may feel like who we started out as when we slid down the chute into this life is long gone by the time we’re twenty or thirty, but it’s still alive and well within. It may feel dead and we may even wish it were dead because owning up to the human part of being a human being is not something most of us are thrilled to do. We’re afraid the body will be found. That is, we’re afraid we’ll be discovered for being exactly who we are. So we flee.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

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Don’t Leave the Old Road for a New One, Part 1

March 12, 2013

Some stories stay with you for a long time, having their way with you, becoming integrated within you as you become more integrated within yourself. “Solomon’s Advice” has been one such story for me.

I first read this story in David Whyte’s wonderful book The Heart Aroused. He’d heard it from Angeles Arien, who got it from Allan B. Chinen’s book, Once Upon a Midlife, who may have gotten it from Italo Calvino. The story can, in fact, be found in Calvino’s book Italian Folktales. Clearly, this story has made the rounds.

I’ll let you track down the full story for yourself and give you a very abbreviated version because it is one part of the story that has been opening within me for a time. As the story goes, there is a shopkeeper with a wife and sons. One morning he finds a dead body lying across the threshold of his shop. Afraid he will be accused of the murder, he flees.

Yes. He abandons his family and flees.

Miles from home, he takes work as servant to a wise man by the name of Solomon and works for this man for many years. Ultimately, he decides to return home. Solomon gives him three pieces of advice before he leaves. He charges his faithful servant handily for the advice, too. The first piece of advice is this: Don’t leave the old road for a new one. As annoyed as the servant is about paying for such a simpleminded piece of advice, he does use it. And he saves his own life in the process.

Chinen has an opinion about what this bit of advice means within the context of midlife. So does Whyte. I wasn’t quite satisfied with either—though that might simply be my lack of scholarly attendance to what they had to say. But the notion stayed with me for many years. What did it really mean to not leave the old road for a new one?

Yes, yes. Plenty of people have midlife crises and go off in new directions to their detriment. I didn’t think that part of the story was a symbolic admonition to stick with tradition, or the known, or what society thinks we should do. And anyway, many other people in midlife leave the old road and blaze new trails to their betterment. There was something more there.

Then, in that early morning state of intuitive understanding we all sometimes have before we’re fully awake, a sense of its relevancy to me dropped right into my consciousness, more or less fully formed. It was simple. It fit so completely with the work I do as a shaman. It made sense within the context of my own life. And this is how I came to understand it.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall