The day before New Year’s Day I discovered one of my neighbors had cut down a very old rubber tree. This tree was majestic, and its wide girth supported big boughs and its leaves provided a welcoming shade from the sun when I walk my dog from one end of Orange Grove to Olympic Blvd. In my grief, I picked up the remnants – a chunk of wood and two leaves and saved them as a remembrance of that beautiful old thing.
On that same weekend I had tucked into a book called “The Hero Within”, by Carol S. Pearson. The book is about the 6 archetypes that we live by, and she identifies them as the Innocent, the Orphan, the Wanderer, the Martyr, the Warrior and the Magician. The book is helpful for stepping outside of the trees and getting a bird’s eye view of the forest of the story. It shows how the personal is universal in its use of the archetypes to describe the hero’s journey.
The Innocent and the Orphan, she considers, to be the pre-heroic phase. When the Innocent transforms to the Orphan, the character moves from a place of seeing the world as the Garden of Eden that provides for everything he/she needs to that of the loss of paradise. The metaphor of the loss of paradise is the loss of innocence which is the awakening to the reality of suffering: We can’t always get what we want. (Those words always brings to my mind the Mick Jaggers’ lamenting voice “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you might find you might just get what you need.”) The lyrics of that song is actually apt for the situation of the journey from Innocent to Orphan.
The Innocent and the Orphan is the setup needed for the character to “grow up” and take responsibility for themselves, before they can journey into the other archetypes and the lessons to be learned from those views. In the Orphan phase the person has a strong tendency to hide from reality and and not deal with the situation.. To move from denial to acceptance requires an awakening to the betrayal of a lie, an acknowledgement of the pain of the loss of innocence – in essence going through the suffering.
Grief is hard to bear. It’s frightful to see a raging fire. That fire is the rage within that dispels the suffering into actions (or lack of) that are unhealthy and keeps the character stuck in that mode of powerlessness. He/she cannot embark on the journey. An example would be addictions – whether it’s substance abuse or creating dramas in our lives.
As writers we are curious about this rage; we want to know what’s feeding that fire? We have this instinct to expose the rage so that we can shed light on our humanity. Carolyn Myss said, “Our biology is our biography.” Human beings are constantly expressing themselves in ways we don’t see on the surface. They may not be saying, “I’m hurting”, but their body language or the situations they get themselves into certainly display their state of being. The Orphan archetype grabs on to anything that can alleviate the pain. The character willingly aligns himself/herselt to a political movement; a philosophy; a religion; therapy – something that they can identify with – even journaling to see their pain and validate it. It is a form of denial but is a step towards the awareness of the pain. But to experience transformation, the character needs to be purified by the fire by going through it. They need to accept the pain and feel it which is essentially the grieving process. In this journey, the Orphan becomes part of the greater whole because he/she awakens to the fact “Everyone suffers.”
Have you heard about the Buddhist parable of the mustard seed? I quite like it. Here’s one version I found: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/btg/btg85.htm. An excerpt from the link above:
And Kisa Gotami had an only son, and he died. In her grief she carried the dead child to all her neighbors, asking them for medicine, and the people said: “She has lost her senses. The boy is dead. At length Kisa Gotami met a man who replied to her request: “I cannot give thee medicine for thy child, but I know a physician who can.” The girl said: “Pray tell me, sir; who is it?” And the man replied: “Go to Sakyamuni, the Buddha.”
Kisa Gotami repaired to the Buddha and cried: “Lord and Master, give me the medicine that will cure my boy.” The Buddha answered: “I want a handful of mustard-seed.” And when the girl in her joy promised to procure it, the Buddha added: “The mustard-seed must be taken from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent, or friend.” Poor Kisa Gotami now went from house to house, and the people pitied her and said: “Here is mustard-seed; take it!” But when she asked Did a son or daughter, a father or mother, die in your family?” They answered her: “Alas the living are few, but the dead are many. Do not remind us of our deepest grief.” And there was no house but some beloved one had died in it.
Kisa Gotami became weary and hopeless, and sat down at the wayside, watching the lights of the city, as they flickered up and were extinguished again. At last the darkness of the night reigned everywhere. And she considered the fate of men, that their lives flicker up and are extinguished. And she thought to herself: “How selfish am I in my grief! Death is common to all; yet in this valley of desolation there is a path that leads him to immortality who has surrendered all selfishness.”
Suffering can be a gift when the hero opens up to accepting the fullness of life. We are witnesses to it all the time. Watch the transition of a tree through the seasons. It’s a reminder of the cyclical and linear passage of time that is akin to the movement of the hero through the various archetypes. We’re in a state of constant contraction and expansion; and each cycle of this is growth like the rings of a trunk of the tree exposed.