I don’t even remember when I began citing The Monk. It could have been after I had a past life regression back in the early 1980s…and there he was. It had something to do the Inquisition. Even as I witnessed him, I felt all the grief, guilt and overwhelming hopelessness at the state of the world. It was a visceral experience that, over the years, I automatically pulled up whenever I thought about that trance experience. I’m also clear it was hovering, always just beneath the surface. I don’t really know at this point what I believe about past lives: whether they’re real or not. Or if regression is just one tool among many others to uncover what was already there, lodged in the recesses of the mind but unknown. At any rate, I had an over-the-top response that stuck.
For years I’d toss off these words: I’m a monk. I’d usually laugh when I’d say it, as though whatever it was I was talking about was a tendency I just couldn’t help.
Understand this: I know about metaphors, what they presuppose, how they shape what we get or don’t get. My words were totally unconscious…until one day this metaphor—that I’d added to my operational identity—hung in the air before me demanding my attention.
We all use metaphors as a way of speaking about experience. A metaphor is not the experience itself but how we relate to what we’re describing. Language is peppered with them to the point we can mostly agree on their meaning. Advertisers are savvy in using them to attract us to their product. The best writers tuck them with precision into their prose to take us where they intend.
The important thing to know is how the language you use reflects your inner experience and mindset. Once you’re trained in this area, it doesn’t take much listening to someone for a short period of time and have an understanding of their reality: unconscious beliefs and thought processes that predict responses and behaviors that are played out over and over.
The trickier part is to recognize aspects within ourselves as well as what we note in others. We all live behind our own eyes and ears after all. The elements may not be so readily visible. However, you do know if your life is working the way you want or if it isn’t…or needs fine tuning.
If you think about a monk what comes to mind? A bare, solitary cell. An ascetic. Vow of poverty. Others first and foremost. Never self. Communal living. Life of prayer, quiet holy works. There are sides that are useful and those that aren’t depending on your perspective.
Take The Seeker. There’s a desire for something, attributes of curiosity and risk-taking. But The Seeker continually seeks and doesn’t find. And may take a series of missteps, which feed the cycle of seeking. The Seeker hasn’t yet determined internal values to the degree there’s clear discernment regarding choices or the path sought. By maintaining The Seeker, unending options prevail.
The Starving Artist is similar to The Monk except the religion is art. I’m an artist but readily sidestepped that one. It just didn’t stick.
You may now realize it’s useful to learn the language of metaphor, understand the significance and uncover those you live by. If you find any not working for you, then decide where you want to be and an operating metaphor that aligns to it.
I found some very old notes, somewhat incomplete, from a workshop I used to do on this very subject. I’d jotted down a quote I think came from Joseph Campbell.
New life can only be created by metaphoric mutation—synthetic re-creation of the old, and the old must be surrendered for this synthesis to take place. To give up one’s belief concerning some structure of reality, there must be an image that stands for the new goal or framework, even if the specifics or that goal are unclear. You need a strong image for the new goal to break completely with the old systems and risk your life for a new one. It’s the equivalent of asking a passionate question, until all ambiguity is erased and you really believe in your question. It will be answered; the break-point will arrive when you will suddenly be ‘ready.’ Then you must put your hand to the plow and not look back … or walk out onto the water unmindful of the waves.
Not long after The Monk made himself consciously known to me, an opportunity emerged.
Paul and Phoebe Hoogendyk answered a calling—of the kind Joseph Campbell described—received nearly twenty years before. Paul had been gifted with a greenstone, sacred to the Maoris, all those years ago, and then began receiving messages about a sacred journey they were to undertake. The purpose was to connect energy lines of sacred places in the world and leave a portion of the greenstone as an offering in each—holy intent, holy work.
In those earlier journeys they somehow found me and joined my spiritual travel groups in Peru and Mexico. It was a privilege to take part in their ceremonial process for the greenstones that now rest at 18,000 feet in a lagoon on Apu Ausangate, a most sacred mountain in the Cusco Region, and in the middle of Lake Nahá just outside the Lacandón Maya village of Nahá deep in the rainforest of Chiapas. They traveled to other remote areas of the planet to do the same: Tibet, Hawaii, Mongolia, the Arctic Circle and elsewhere.
I could hardly believe all the time had passed. The eleventh greenstone journey was imminent, next to the last. This one to the Orkney Islands in the northernmost part of Scotland. The Monk continued to pace back and forth in the forefront of my awareness. This land of standing stone circles was calling me for purpose, although I didn’t readily know what that entailed. I joined with other friends in late November 2011 meeting in Glasgow, a time when the snow falls and winds cry like banshees in that wintry place.
A thought began to surface about releasing my ‘monkish’ ways. How? It hadn’t yet taken form. I wanted to be respectful. The Monk had served his mission well. But he was ready to move on…and I was ready for him to move on. It was mutual.
As we went to the Isle of Skye and then on to the Isle of Lewis and Callanish Stones … the answer began to come. And I would know the place by the energy that drew me. As we approached the Ring of Brodgar—an ancient sacred site entirely open to the elements where the wind howled and whipped—I felt it. I paused for a while making sure. Then I walked up to the first of the megaliths, placed my back firmly against its support and gave my oath, I release my monkish ways. I went on to do the same at each of the still standing stones, twenty-seven in all of what is believed to be sixty. And each time the wind reached in and snatched the words from my breath, taking with it bits of The Monk. The wind has always been my friend this way. And a presence was dispersed across that land. I think he’s happy.
Following a ritual or other forms of deep work such as this, undertaken with sacred intent, there’s always an integration process. As things settled out and found new meaning, some elements of The Monk remain but have shifted to a real sense of richness I hadn’t previously felt. I still spend a lot of time in solitude. It allows me to immerse in creative pursuits that feed me. I have learned how important it is to give to yourself first…so you can continue serving others well. I do still have to remind myself of that fact. But now it doesn’t take me long to readjust. I can absolutely serve what I believe in without becoming a martyr. That’s a line I now won’t cross. A metaphor in itself that I won’t invite in.
Things evolve over time. This process for me has been no different. I note that Joseph Campbell indicates: You need a strong image for the new goal to break completely with the old systems and risk your life for a new one. The word “goal” doesn’t work for me. I prefer intent as a core element. I don’t yet have an image or an articulation. But I know it’s there. I feel it. It continues to guide me along this deeper path to an as yet unknown dimension holding the intent.
The eleventh greenstone rests in the waters near the Stones of Stenness in the Orkneys. To learn more about the greenstone journeys and the work of Paul and Phoebe Hoogendyk, go here. At the bottom of that page you’ll see the symbols of the twelve journeys. Click on each one to read their story and location. The third volume of Set By the Ancients, the story of the greenstone will be available in the first part of 2016.