PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons


The mythologist Michael Meade says that when the world is on fire and you don’t know where you are, you could be in an initiatory experience that could change your life forever. As a result of being in these moments, your life might change permanently. For youth, this can be a constant phenomenological experience; with one fire after another in an intensity of living as they are annealed, hammered and tempered into adulthood. For most of us, this happens, piecemeal, during the course of our lifetimes.

“I’ve never done that before!”

If a couple is lucky, this might be their experience during their wedding days; a bona fide moment when they are usually hoping their lives will change forever, and they usually do. Once last summer, I showed up to officiate at a wedding and the groom told me privately that he had just thrown up in the parking lot. “I’ve never done that before!” he said incredulously. I asked him if he had ever gotten married before. He replied no, he had not. I assured him to not worry, that these things sometimes happen during weddings; weddings are important. I think it would have been a disservice to him to say simply, “Buck up!”

And, yes, if the world is not on fire and you know exactly where you are, then, probably, nothing is changing.

The artist knows that unless you’re willing to face chaos, sometimes referred to as the “terror of the blank wall,” or what the athletes call, “playing your edge,” then usually nothing happens. Artistic inspiration, and spiritual and emotional fulfillments more often appear as surprises when you are vulnerable to them. They can’t be pursued directly. They have to come to you. The artist can be assured that if he thinks he has just created the most amazing thing, it probably is not. Artists eventually recognize that it is the unanticipated thing that arrives as a gift or surprise, and that at first appears awkward and strange, that usually endures as valuable. Good orators have their plan, their script, but it is the unanticipated surprise that enters while they are in front of the audience that can be the “magic.”

Some couples will armor themselves up against any possibility of feeling anything during their wedding days. They don’t want to feel “overwhelmed.” They don’t want to appear foolish in front of their families and friends. They don’t want to be “overcome” with emotion. They don’t want to cry. So, it is possible to lock yourself up and not feel anything, stay “safe” and watch your wedding go by as an aloof observer. Some people do this with their whole lives. Not recommended.

The experience of beauty often comes from being sundered and helpless, and then finding yourself held in the arms and love of your lover, of your community, of a story, of your muse, or of your God. It comes from vulnerability. I think it was the Sufi mystic poet Rumi who said, “It is the vulnerable man who can be blessed.”

A big drawback to modern life, says Meade and others, is that when we encounter these initiatory events in our lives, now we don’t have formal good-hearted initiators standing by to attempt to control the intensity and to explain what’s going on. We’re usually on our own. Yes, now some of this gets professionalized and there is a self-help movement. But, according to indigenous writers Martin Prechtel and Dr. Malidoma Somé, in healthy intact antique cultures this initiatory guidance is a community capability.

One of the main responsibilities of the theater director in rehearsal is to create a container of safety for the actors, so that they have the courage to take artistic and emotional risks on the way to discovery and development of their roles. The actor’s art form is her body and personal emotional life. So, to be able to reveal this on stage takes courage and safety. And, in moments, it can appear and be experienced as awkward and strange.

I’m all for awkward, strange, and even messy, as part of a natural creative process toward the possibility of inviting and experiencing beauty and dignity. I admire and attempt to protect daring hearts. And, I thrill at artistic, social and emotional risk-taking toward the revelation of love.

©2015 Cristopher Anderson, All Rights Reserved

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