Journey to the Center of the Heart
Exiled from the garden of perfection
I journey on my forced march
Fearful and desperate
Searching, clutching, clinging
For any bit of comfort and control
Hiding in loneliness and sorrow
Learning to bury it deeply, deeply
And soldier on in pride of self reliance
Teased and blessed by glimpses of glory
Amidst the mustiness of decay
I catch a whiff of honeysuckle
Lost Eden peeks through a fallen world
Can I say yes to both pain and beauty
Is less than perfect good enough
Does God hold more dear the broken and mending heart
by Celeste Boudreaux
A life’s journey is a funny thing. In the hero’s journey epitomized by Homer’s tale of Odysseus, it starts with leaving home and setting out to fight battles, conquer enemies, sail uncharted seas, face monsters and sirens, and finally return home. A nice, round trip with a simple, happily-ever-after ending, right?
Well, no, not exactly.
Not until he has completed this second journey can he be complete and at peace, having fulfilled his life’s purpose.
It’s not all glorious victory for Odysseus on that journey. All along the way, even as he manages to escape one trial after another, he suffers loss and humiliation. At his lowest point, when he is passing through hell itself — Hades, that is — he receives a prophecy that, after he finally returns home to the island of Ithaca, he will embark on a second journey, this time to the mainland, and will travel a long way inland (read: inward), so far that he will reach a place where people have never even heard of the sea. He carries with him an oar, a symbol of his habitual life tool, his modus operandi in his first journey by sea. When he has traveled far enough inland, he is to plant the oar into the ground, offer a sacrifice, then at last he will be able to return home. Not until he has completed this second journey can he be complete and at peace, having fulfilled his life’s purpose.
In his book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr expounds on the concept of the two halves of life first introduced by Carl Jung, picturing them as two spiritual journeys. In the first half of life, our task is to strive to establish our identity, become independent, start a career and a family, decide what tribe we belong to, what we believe, and the kind of person we want to be. Along the way, we have our traumas, our failures, our humiliations, and part of what we are crafting as we go along are our defense mechanisms to protect ourselves against such painful assaults. The way we view ourselves combined with those defense mechanisms make up what is called our ego. I talked about mine in my last blog: The Good Little Girl, Little Miss Perfect. This was, as it were, my oar. And it seemed to work okay — for the most part — for many years. Until it didn’t, and I had my perfect little breakdown.
So I embarked on my own second journey: the journey inwards toward laying down the “oar” of my self-reliance and the shattered illusion of perfection.
If Odysseus had his moment of clarity when he was passing through Hades, I had mine when I was flat on my back, too weak to lift my head off the pillow. That utter weakness and dependence on others frightened me more than I can say. It took me back to a place I hadn’t been in 50 years — my crib. I know it sounds weird, but during that illness I had an experience in which I felt like a toddler standing in her crib, crying for a mother who did not come — crying until I was screaming and shaking in hysterics. It was so vivid that I knew it had happened, even though it was when I was too young to consciously remember it.
Why did that feeling of helpless anxiety and rage come back to me so strongly during that illness? I think it’s because I had learned at an early age to “need” as little as possible, to take care of myself or do without. To “soldier on in pride of self-reliance.” And when I came to the end of that rope, it took me back to that early experience, that utter terror of falling and no one there to catch me.
So I embarked on my own second journey: the journey inwards toward laying down the “oar” of my self-reliance and the shattered illusion of perfection. Now I was exiled from my imaginary Eden, learning to accept my own limited and flawed humanity, and rebuilding my trust based on something more solid than my own impossible standards.
Let me leave you with the components of this second-half-of-life journey of mine: 1) healing through counseling and art, 2) meditative disciplines to calm my anxiety, 3) spiritual direction and other spiritual formation paths to deepen spirituality, 4) creativity and play to nurture joy, and 5) communing with God through nature. I hope to explore these themes more in this blog, starting with a 5-part series on healing through different kinds of art.
Next post: Art & Healing: Drawing (1/5)