Monday, March 8, 2010

Following Your Bliss / Hearing the Sirens' Call

The keynote of our Pisces weekend on The Alchemical Journey was Joseph Campbell's famous line "Follow Your Bliss".  This was something we connected to quite profoundly during our recent workshop, when we explored our lives through the Piscean perspective and the myths and symbolism of that sign.  One of the greatest realisations that came out of the weekend for people was that bliss is not something that you can simply attain, acquire or hope to covet.  Rather, it is something that must be surrendered to.  Like death, it requires us to release the control of our ego and take an uncertain journey into an unknown realm.  In order to touch that realm, it seems that we must become like the poet in enchanted reverie for his/her muse, intoxicated with a divine, more-than-human desire.  Yet that bliss that we crave will elude us the moment we try to capture it, possess it or explain it.  If we truly desire transformation, then we must surely surrender the safety of the well-reasoned mind, for bliss can never be experienced through purely rational means.

Surrendering to the Enchantment 

Yet what happens to us when we do surrender to the enchantment?  The magic straw or golden bough that offers access to the otherworld, might come to us through falling wildly in love with someone, through ingesting a psychedelic substance, through ecstatic dance, kundalini meditation or through other means.  Yet it seems that we must also guard against the experience until we are ready, lest we lose oursleves in that otherworld and lose touch with this one. For if we do not have a strong anchor, a strong sense of alignment or orientation, then it could destroy what we have, our relationships, our vocational path, everything we have worked for.  Sometimes, perhaps that is necessary, in our own spiritual journey.  However, it occurs to me that unless we approach the experience with a strong commitment and intention, the experience may lead us too wildly off our intended course, distracting us from our deeper purpose, path and commitment.  If we do not have a sense of these prior to entering the enchantment, then the enchantment itself may become our "way" and we may become so consumed by the experience of bliss, that we completely lose touch with those around us. We could become messianic in our quest to recapture the experience, once the intense period of divine revelation has passed. In such a case, we are also more likely to attach the experience of bliss to the agent that apparently brought it about.  So we end up associating the bliss with a particular lover, drug, dance form, or meditation technique - rather than embrace the deeper realisation that the capacity for surrendering to divine love lies deep within us and that the agent is simply a catalyst that releases an already existing potential.

I have a Pisces ascendant and Mercury in Pisces rising in my chart, and I feel know this perspective well.  I have had experiences of intense "bliss" several times in my own life, sometimes through love or longing or loss, occasionally through an experience of spiritual awakening, and, earlier in my life, through psychedelics.  And these have always been periods of intense, transformational learning for me.  As I've got older I've learned to handle them better, and found ways to experience the enchantment and taste the "elixir of life" without completely losing my way.  The zodiac has been my greatest teacher, and my greatest anchor in that way.  I have found that the wheel both facilitates the possibility of me experiencing bliss, yet it also helps to bring me back and re-orient myself again in the world with a transformed perspective.

Odysseus: The Piscean Hero
The story of Odysseus and the Sirens really captures the spirit of the Piscean journey. I consider Odysseus (Ulysses) to be the archetypal mythological hero of the Pisces perspective.  Although Odysseus has the sympathy of most of the gods and goddesses, his journey home to Ithaca is thwarted time and again by Poseidon (Neptune), who claims the modern astrological rulership of Pisces. Poseidon whips up ferocious storms that continually blow the hero off course.  (Odysseus angered the God of the Sea, when he put out the eye of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, who was Poseidon's son).  So Odysseus meets many trials on his journey home, and in each case he uses his famous wit and cunning to overcome these dangers.  The most Piscean of his adventures is surely his encounter with the Sirens.

Odysseus & the Sirens
The Sirens are great enchantresses, they have bird-like forms with beautiful female heads and faces, and they resonate with the sweetest, most divine music such that even the strongest will cannot resist.  When sailors pass by their island, they are invariably lured by the sirens call to their deaths and the shoreline is littered with the debris of ships that have crashed on the rocks there.  But Odysseus the wily hero, enacts a cunning plan to avoid this fate.  Advised by Circe, he blocks the ears of his crew with beeswax, so they will not hear the sirens' call, and instructs them to tie him to the mast of the ship, so that he will not be lured by them.  He also tells them that each time he begs to be released, they should tighten his bounds, which they dutifully do.

The question that is always asked, of course, is why does Odysseus not simply stuff his own ears with wax?  And the answer, I would say, is this.  It has because Odysseus must experience bliss in order to learn, in order to grow, in order to transform his perspective.  He knows that it is part of his journey to hear the sirens call, to be driven half-mad with passion and desire, to give up the control of his mind and surrender himself to the divine muse.  Odysseus, of all the heroes in Greek mythology, is the one most willing to learn, and most prepared to experience deep transformation.  Yet he also has a clear mission - to return home to his beloved Ithaca, and his ever-faithful wife, Penelope. 

What The Story Has to Teach Us
In our Pisces workshop, we enacted the story of Odysseus and the Sirens.  I myself played Odysseus, strapped to the mast, while the rest of the group played the sirens and the crew.  It was a powerful experience, and we all learned a great deal from it.  It prompted us to enquire into how willing we each were to surrender ourselves to bliss and what conditions we needed to have in place in order to take that journey.  We discussed the meaning of the mast to which Odysseus is strapped and how important it is to have a strong support as we embark on our otherworldly journeying - a strong anchor that can allow us to journey into unknown lands, and that has the strength of commitment to bring us back to our more familiar reality, and then allow us to process the transformation that has taken place.  In the alchemical work that we are doing on this programme, the container or alembic is crucial to the journey, and it is something that we pay great attention to.  One of the greatest revelations for me has been the way that the zodiac itself acts as as a sacred container, particularly when we work with it in line the seasonal journey.  It keeps us aligned and well-oriented as we go through these transformational adventures each month. It seems to have helped foster commitment and strong intention within the groups that we have taken through The Alchemical Journey process so far.

Penelope: Weaving & Unweaving the Cosmos

In our mystery play over the Pisces weekend, we also had someone playing Penelope, his wife, back on Ithaca.  Penelope shares some of Odysseus's cunning, and she has her own way of deflecting the attentions of the many suitors who attempt to win her hand while her husband is away.  She announces that she will only taker a suitor when she has finished making a particular dress.  So she weaves the dress during the day, and then unweaves the thread at night, so the dress is never finished.  Symbolically, then, Penenlope really encapsulate the mutable dance of Virgo (the weaver) and Pisces (the unweaver), the two signs opposed in the zodiac.  At some level it seemed to us that Penelope was in some way the architect of the whole Odyssey, as if she were at some level weaving together heavens and earth, and cosmic drama of events that unfold through the narrative.  And as Odysseus adventure unfolds itself between the integrity of her weaving that gradually guides him home, and the unravelling chaos of her unweaving through which he learns and transforms.


Unknown said...

Lovely reading your perspective John.
I really agree with your view on bliss - and the desire to have it as part of one's everyday experience might deceive one into trying to convince others to hold exactly the same thoughts as oneself (forcibly if one is even more mistaken). I feel that Penelope may also symbolize the divine feminine that wisely thwarts masculine ambitions that are not also divine. That Odysseus could be the archetypal human that is seeking the divine and the journey of transformation is ultimately home to reconcile (within) both the divine feminine and masculine.
Best wishes for Aries
Mike C

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