image credit: Eddi 07
What ails you? This is the right question that the knight must ask the Fisher King in the Grail Legend. In one version of this legend, the king lives in his castle with the grail. He has a wound that does not heal and all about him, his kingdom is a wasteland. He can only be healed when a knight finds the castle and the grail and asks the right question. Only then will the king return to health and the land become green and fertile again. If the knight does not ask the question, the castle vanishes and the knight must start the search for the grail all over again.
In this legend, a common Jungian interpretation is that the Fisher King represents the Self, his wound is a symbol of the split between the rational mind and the Self or the divine aspect of our being. The wound never heals unless the right question is asked; unless we begin to do self-inquiry, contemplating, ” Who am I?” or as the legend states, “What ails you?” This form of self-inquiry leads us on the path to wholeness.
Many of us are like the knight who arrives at the castle and sees the king but fails to ask the question. We are spiritual tourists; we go to visit sacred sites, we go to meet venerated spiritual teachers, we read spiritual books and fall in love with the trappings of spirituality. We miss the opportunity to truly begin the hero’s journey that will bridge the divide between the ego and the Self. It is fitting that the path to wholeness is called the hero’s journey because it takes courage, a willingness to be stripped of what ails us; our ego and its accoutrements. Indeed the journey requires us to leave behind all that separates us from Truth; sometimes relationships and careers end if they are obstacles. It is a perilous undertaking of mythic comparison.
The myths of many cultures teach us about man’s return to wholeness, the path to self-realization. These myths in general relate to the spirit of man descending into the underworld, the dark realms, in search of some treasure, a lover, a child until he finds that symbol of value. He then triumphantly returns from the underworld, united with what was lost and is celebrated on his return home. These myths are symbols of the journey that we each must take to find ourselves, the return to wholeness, of knowing the truth of who we really are. The hero’s journey, descending into the underworld or entering the forest is equivalent in modern psychology to exploring the unconscious in search of meaning or the spiritual seeker contemplating the age old question, “Who am I?”
Until we consciously embark on the hero’s journey, the spiritual healing journey, our wounded-ness takes the form of chronic anxiety, depression, and an inability to give and receive love. We maintain an outlook of scarcity rather than abundance, we lack compassion, and we feel hopeless. In her book, The Tao of Psychology, Jean Shinoda Bolen MD says, “In a competitive, materialistic society, where cynicism toward spiritual values exists, and neither scientific nor psychological thinking gives any importance to the realm of the spirit, individuals feel isolated and insignificant. Seeking sexual intimacy to cure isolation or seeking assertiveness as a solution to feeling insignificant does not heal the wound. When the ego is cut off from experiencing the Self—or, put differently, when an individual lacks the inner sense of being connected to God or being part of the Tao—then a wound exists that the person experiences as gnawing, pervasive, persisting insecurity.”
The practice of contemplating, ” Who am I?” or “What ails you?’ is one way of getting in touch with the divine aspect of our being. We must diligently turn inward through a form that resonates with us. It might be prayer, sitting or moving meditation, chanting, dreamwork analysis, art, dance, Tai Chi and a myriad other ways. In fact everything you do in daily life is a pathway to the divine, with the perspective that everything is a manifestation of God. We must engage in the inward aspect of the form we choose that propels us out of the mundane into the divine. And like the Fisher King, we begin to heal and the land of our beingness once again becomes filled with joy, clarity, intuition and where new growth takes place in a fertile inner environment.
Joseph Campbell in an interview with Bill Moyers had this to say of that experience of the return to wholeness, “This is Eden. When you see the kingdom spread upon the earth, the old way of living in the world is annihilated. That is the end of the world, The end of the world is not an event to come, it is an event of psychological transformation, of visionary transformation. You see not the world of solid things but a world of radiance.”
In the Navajo tradition there is a beautiful song describing the path to wholeness:The Pollen Path. Pollen is life giving. The song reminds us that the journey does not have some far off destination. This life is the path and the destination.
In the house of life I wander
On the pollen path.
With a god of cloud I wander
To a holy place.
With a god ahead I wander
And a god behind.
In the house of life I wander
On the pollen path.