Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

May the Force Be With You

Playing with Princess Leia circa 1979.
Good versus evil. Light versus dark. Princes versus magicians and blind tyrant kings. Princesses versus sorceresses and evil step-mother queens. Youth versus age. Wisdom versus ignorance. Compassion versus greed.  White against black and right against wrong.
The Rebellion versus the Empire. Luke Skywalker versus Dark Vader.
My earliest memories of magic are wrapped up in fairy tale stories and animated princess adventures. Only witches, wizards and sorcerers could do magic and it was to cast curses and wield evil spells. I learned from fairy tales that anything unknown was scary and dangerous, that strangers brought death and that in dire situations, a handsome prince would appear from nowhere and save the day. Sometimes I think George Lucas’ fictional Star Wars universe was an integral lesson for my very gullible and naive child 's mind. I was very young the first time I saw the movie but I have been told I sat in rapt attention. To a child it was perfectly understandable. The bad guys were black and white and led by an evil sorcerer who captured a cheeky princess. The prince’s task was to rescue the damsel in distress and save the universe. I understood the pattern.
In fairy tales witches were good or bad. You were born that way, not became that way. Yet in Lucas’ world everyone walked a line between the two and a temptation towards corruption lived around every corner. People helped the prince, people with questionable backgrounds who changed their stars for the sake of what they felt was right. There were other magicians, good ones who let themselves be killed rather than lash out in anger. And they believed in a world bigger than the human and alien ones they saw. They respected all living things, whether they understood the life form or not. The Jedi believed in an interconnectedness I had only heard whispered among Native American stories.
As a child of six, I remember initiating a block-wide re-enactment of Star Wars: A New Hope. I only cared that I was the princess and that the boy I liked from across the street got to play Luke Skywalker. If I had to kiss a boy for luck, it was going to be one I liked. The detention center came to life behind a neighbor’s garage. How I longed to be part of that world… and eagerly waited for Leia to get her own light saber.
Yes, it’s a science-fiction movie. But cultural truth runs deeper than pop culture’s slipstream. There’s a reason the story still resonates. In creating his world, George Lucas studied writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell’s work, the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell specialized in comparative mythology and comparative religion, drawn into the pattern of mythological threads he discovered existing in disparate human cultures. Lucas took Campbell’s academic, global distillation of the heroes journey and delivered it to the world in a space-age visual mythology.
I was aware as a child that fairy tales were stories written to tell a lesson. I took from them what I liked, princesses put under curses because of an evil witch or wizard, who would be saved by an unknown-to-them prince. I wasn’t aware that the larger lesson I was taking from those childhood tales was that I would spend my adult life waiting for someone else to save me. I was independent and functional, but the undercurrent of my unhappiness was waiting, always waiting for someone like Obi-Wan to find me and tell me what was wrong with me. Why was I different? What was my destiny? Where did I belong?
I was almost content to wait. It’s a life I could have easily slipped into and I might have been happy for a while. But I would have resented it. As if the universe understood that, circumstances and events of my life made sure the hardest lesson I would ever learn was that if I didn’t save myself, no one else would. The day-to-day-what-do-I-do-now of life is also part of the heroes journey, just as the period of isolation and aloneness I experienced was a necessary step. It was, you might say, a necessary evil I had to experience so that when I came back to the same people offering me help, again, it would mean something more, as if the one thing that had always been there appeared before me for the first time.
Star Wars was right all along. I often call Luke Skywalker the “everyman” character. He’s the one everyone dislikes the most because he’s flawed, he whines and he mirrors the way we humans most often respond to situations where we don’t know how to proceed. We fight, we resist, and we throw out the all-too-familiar clichĂ©s of “It’s not fair!” or “That’s impossible!”
And that is why we fail. Luke wanted to be a Jedi, he just didn’t want to have to work so hard at it. He was getting everything he wanted- a destiny, a grand adventure, to be special, to matter as something more than a moisture farmer- and complaining every step of the way once it fell on him. The moment that he stopped whining about what was expected of him, accepted what was happening, and made steps to best become the person he wanted to be, his path shifted, altering his personality. That was a similar realization that was paramount to my own growth. My life would not change unless I took charge and made a change. My path would not alter unless I moved heavens to change the stars above it.
We must each be the hero of our own journey (while simultaneously making guest appearances as sidekicks and mentors in the stories of those around us). That is the crux of my practice and journey. I had to be my own heroine, whether princess or peasant, and fashion my own source of light to make my way through the darkness.

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