Creation is both matter and spirit.
The crude and the subtle are two parts of the One.
The whole limitless universe, with its infinite diversity, is the expression of Oneness.
The macrocosm and the microcosm.
As above, so it is below.
The sun and the moon rule over the Earth, as king and queen.
All forms are nurtured into being by the wind, earth, rain and warmth.
Once spirit has manifested, it must then return to spirit –
This is the in-breath and the out-breath of creation.
Through manifestation and spiritualization, two become one,
And creation perfects itself.
The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Tristmegistus
The natural world is subject to a single universal law: everything changes. The cycle of birth and death applies to humans, mountains, relationships, nations, and solar systems. All phenomena have beginnings and ends; they are temporary. In contrast, the creative force that animates the cosmos operates outside of time and space; it is unchanging and eternal. The distinction between the temporary and the eternal, or the relative and the absolute, is a cornerstone of cosmology and theology. Traditional teachings, passed down through the ages, maintain that the material world of form and substance is imbued with a spiritual nature. The material plane, into which we are born, is governed by the law of change, which is characterized by impermanence and separateness. The spiritual realm, in contrast, is a unifying field that is aligned with the creative force that gave rise to the universe. From this perspective, far from being merely the end of life, death is understoodas a homecoming or return to the origin.
Stories crafted to inspire transcendental understanding have been passed down from generation to generation. These are the foundations of all cultures. The urge to create ritual enactments of sacred stories, to maintain the memory of origin and purpose, is the fountain of all religions. As we can have no direct sensory experience of the eternal realm, mythology uses symbolic language, appealing not to literal truth, but more to intuitive understanding. Just as a dream can shed light on shadow areas of individual consciousness, mythology stimulates illumination and self-realization for the village, clan or tribe.
Through the medium of sacred stories, our ancestors continue to speak to us across the ages, from storyteller to storyteller, throughout the generations. Sacred stories offer solutions to the questions of origin, meaning and purpose. They provide a bridge with the ancestors, and help to maintain the memory that links us organically to the eternal realm. This is not the personal memory of past events, but the memory that unites all.
The stories themselves have subtly evolved, as they are part of living cultures. At times, stories were abandoned or fell into disuse, only to be resurrected once more by future tellers. They have crossed cultural and language boundaries, and been retold countless times with new heroes and different gods. The very process of how stories have served us through the ages is a wonderful expression of the natural adaptive power within life. As unconscious needs emerge within cultures, the collective imagination, drawing on ancestral memory, responds to meet those needs.
The sharing of sacred stories was ceremonial. The storyteller was a messenger who brought the eternal truth to life for the village or clan. During the telling, we are drawn together by the rhythms, the rhymes and the potent imagery, which touch a deep ancestral chord. Ritual responses unite us in laughter, song and tears, and the evocation removes us from the world of planting, building, cooking, cleaning, gathering, grieving, arguing, courting, and the other pre-occupations of everyday life. During these ceremonies and sacred rites, the memory of common origin, and the bonds that unite, are strengthened andrestored. In possession of the memory of oneness, we are enabled to maintain the connection between the outer and the inner, the circle and the centre, or heaven and earth, within ourselves. Ancestral memory lies dormant within us all, and it can be activated in even the most closed mind, because it is centred in the heart. If we have the ears to listen, and the heart to respond we can hear ancestral memory, carried across the ages, within sacred stories.
In recent times, the oral tradition has become eclipsed by the written word, and the telling of ancestral stories has all but vanished in literate societies. The publication of definitive versions of holy texts has frozen the fluidity of the form, and some traditions have succumbed to dogmatic authoritarianism. The era of science has further obscured access to these deep resources, by emphasizing literal facts over the intuitive and symbolic; knowledge over wisdom. The scientific perspective remains resolutely focused on the material world. There is no “scientific evidence” that matter is informed by spirit, and hence the contemporary dominant thesis proclaims that the alchemists and mystics were wrong. Quantum physics combined with genetic science, we are told, will unravel all the mysteries of the universe, including creation, evolution, time, and death. The afterlife, or the spiritual realm of healers, shaman, and clergy, is considered ungrounded superstition, rooted in insecurity. It does not exist, other than in the human imagination, and is therefore of only marginal scientific value, to be stored as a relic, in the department of cultural anthropology.
As a result of these ravages of ancient traditions, human beings, for the first time perhaps, in our long history, are on the brink of denying the existence of the spiritual realm in its entirety.
Tribal literalism dominates religion, and confuses the messenger for the message. The cult of science proposes a universe where materialism and technology are unrivalled, and hopes to relegate the voice of ancestral wisdom to a vanquished past. This polarization could hardly be more intense, and whichever side we are on, we can only see half the story. Meanwhile, there is a deep confusion taking hold in the minds of many. In the digital age, we have more answers to more questions, and all at our fingertips. Yet, the feeling of powerlessness, demoralization, and despair has never been greater. An entirely material universe governed by random forces, allows no role for intuition, connectivity, common purpose, hope or salvation. By denying our soul, we close our hearts to meaning, to purpose and to healing.
Each of us has a story. It begins with the precious gift of life, a limitless, unbounded self, and a sense of wonderment, grace and magic. From this origin, at birth we begin the painful journey of separation and forgetting. We must endure the limitations circumscribed by body, family, culture, conditioning, and the particular circumstances that we are faced with. It is a tale of challenge, adversity, courage, tenacity, loss and grief, betrayal and injustice, and the quest to overcome impossible odds in order to survive and thrive. These extraordinary personal stories have repeating patterns that span generations. They are epic and mythical in scale, and yet we, the protagonists, are everyday people who are completely unaware of our courage and creativity. Often we don’t even know that we have a story to tell!
By the end of childhood, we have all but forgotten this origin, and we begin searching the outer world, in studies, friendships, love relationships, work and travel, to find meaning, lasting happiness, and wholeness. This quest for completion, fulfilment, and self-realisation follows naturally from our drive for survival, security, belonging and love, but in modern society, it is misdirected towards consumer behaviour, and we may become lost for decades within a forest of illusion, tending to others’ needs, pandering to false images of ourselves, utilising only a part of our potential and unable to grow fully into maturity.
The inner voice that guides us, in our dreams, through our connection with Nature, via gut feelings and synchronicities will not, however, be silenced. It is patient, responsive and non-judgmental, however much it is ignored, disparaged, locked up or denied. It calls from across the deep divide that has opened up, from our inner sacred world to the outer material version of ourselves, and it is calling us home. This call can take many forms, and arrive in many ways. It can be misunderstood as an illness, as a crazy or whimsical impulse, or as an impossible desire. It is a call to adventure, to leave the everyday world, and to make a journey through unknown terrain; across an inner landscape, to encounter our guides and healers, and remember the Self.
This “Healer’s Journey” takes us away from our normal coping strategies, and we find ourselves listening and seeing with our second attention, the awareness that underscores instinct and intuition. We must learn how to trust our own judgment, to make decisions and choices that are right for us, to value ourselves, and to discover our innate power. To do this, we have to recover lost pieces of ourselves; visions, dreams, talents, desires, hopes, skills, pleasures, that we abandoned long ago, because they seemed no longer useful, they were somehow childish or irrelevant, or they were tinged with the shadow of shame and despair.
To survive, we placed these precious parts of ourselves in a basement room, hidden in a wooden chest, or we wrapped them up in tattered cloth, and hurled them into the river. Of course the end justified the means at the time, and by burying the wound, we could function in the outer world, but all things must pass, and every beginning has an end. The Healer’s Journey is the search within us to recover that which has been lost, and to transform the childhood or ancestral wound into a gift, to be rediscovered, and ultimately cherished.
Over more than thirty years of work in healing circles, I have witnessed many extraordinary and epic stories from people who consider themselves very ordinary. Each one tells of where they are in that moment: at the threshold of change; weighed down by regret or grief; feeling lost; in the first flush of love; anxious and excited; frightened of change; ready to let go; each one holds a different place on the circle, and each story carries a fragment of the whole. When we listen to the truth spoken from the heart, we hear a resonance that sounds around the whole circle, like a singing bowl.
The stories in this book are a call from ancestral memory and together they create a mandala, a medicine wheel. Place yourself in the centre and you will hear the resonance. It will sound from deep within you, calling you to remember who you are, and why you are here.