Change, whether it appears to come unexpectedly from outside forces, or from the efforts of our own willpower, is undoubtedly the catalyst to any transformative journey. One of the central lessons of my own life has been the challenge to open to such changes. This is not an easy process but the mind is like the body in that as you stretch and bend it, over time, it acquires the flexibility needed to flow with life, the strength to adapt. Evolution teaches that an ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment is crucial for survival. It would appear that this holds just as true on a psychological level. There are times when clinging on to the corpse of our old lives brings only more pain and loss. It takes a leap of faith to let the past go and open ourselves to the new ways of being that change offers.
The search for Gnosis – for a deep inner knowing – depends on some intimate interaction with the agents of change. In many Pagan traditions, this is understood via the Myth of the Descent. Inspiration has been drawn from what is known of the Mystery Schools that once flourished in the Eastern Mediterranean. These Mysteries said something profound about the nature of our own living and dying; in the guided unfolding of a ritual sequence, participants were brought to a place within themselves of wordless knowing; a revelatory experience that would shift their entire perception of life and death. Myths of Descent are about finding ourselves stripped of our psychological scaffolding, often involving the loss of things held vital; they are about an honest confrontation with death and at their heart is the gift of renewal and transformation, the potential for a more authentic relationship with self and life.
Ritual can be a powerfully transformative experience; that vital signal to the psyche that you are open to change. In everyday life, our conscious selves only ever seem to be partially aware. We make decisions and choices, and yet life often has other plans for us. These unexpected turns in the road appear to strike from without, triggered by forces beyond our control. However, a long term practice of meditation and ritual (and of engaging with one’s own dreams and inner life) can reveal just how much something within us colludes with change, in order that we might be subject to transformation and growth. I have come to perceive that ‘something’ as vast, mysterious and knowing; a presence to be trusted – although my conscious self often baulks at the lessons it brings.
We can choose to consciously work with this part of ourselves, as in ritual, or other spiritual practices, and in doing so, help to make the more challenging changes easier to face. However, it seems that whether we chose to consciously engage or not, the changes come. I believe that the original authors of the Mystery Schools knew this well: the rituals didn’t come first, life experience did – the Mysteries were offering a route through via a hard won lesson lived and understood. The journey that is undertaken consciously, or the journey of oblivious stumbling, is still the journey. Each of us, it seems – regardless of faith or creed – will make at least one major descent in our lives. How we deal with these is a part of the learning.
These life lessons can be easier to write about than to live. Some might be swift and easy; others might be painful, tortuous and confusing – in fact, the word journey might appear contradictory when caught in the crippling stasis that can grip us in these moments. Either way the impact is profound. It is fair to say that no-one would consciously venture out on such a path if they had the choice to stay undisturbed. We seem to loathe and fear change, despite it being the only real certainty. It can feel like very tough medicine; the only way out being through.
Attempting to articulate the deep rooted and profound changes that we might experience can be a thankless task because so much of what might be termed revelation is deeply personal to the individual. What moves you to your core and initiates a major transformation might leave me wholly clueless and untouched. Each of our journeys will be different. However, sooner or later we will all have to make a heroine/hero’s quest to grow nearer to our true self and uncover our hidden potential.
At present the world seems in the grip if its own Descent, and as such we can be sure that humanity is being presented with the challenge to transform. It appears to me that our collective ‘something’ is colluding with change to bring about a major and profound metamorphosis in the way we interact with each other and our planet – adapt or die. We too have the choice to stumble blindly, or to summon a little courage and face honestly the loss and grief; to let life’s transformative energies move through us and reshape us. We might feel we have a lot to lose; what we have to gain seems far greater.
For the last few years I have been obsessed with butterflies. They are often seen as symbols of the soul. I find this moving and apt. It feels fitting that butterflies have been associated with the Goddess Psyche, and therefore should be such a potent symbol for the potential changes within our own souls. We need to open to our soul-wisdom, that vast and magical ‘something’ that resides beneath the restricted vision of our conscious selves. Whether the signal to our psyches is a consciously sought one, or an unconscious prompting, what is ultimately required is that we each become keen observers of the particular forces that are at work in our lives, taking it upon ourselves to really listen to them. When we honestly open ourselves to these catalysts, we can go on to create our own rituals, prayers and invocations, ones that facilitate a deeper understanding and integration of these forces. What is crucial is that there is an active engagement with the unfolding story of our lives, that we can strive to perceive its spiritual context and meaning for ourselves.