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Transcending the Wasteland – Living Inauthentic Lives

Does Your Life Feel Empty and Meaningless?

Early in his illustrious career, Parzival, the greatest knight of King Arthur’s Court, encountered two fishermen in a boat on a lake. Weary from his travels, he inquired as to where he might find lodging for the night; one of the fisherman – the Grail King – invited him into his castle, if he could find it. Doing so, he was feted by the knights and maidens of the Grail Castle, who prepared a great feast in his honor, for it was foretold that the greatest of all knights would come to the Castle and cure the King.

Entering the Great Hall, Parzival was overwhelmed with compassion, seeing that his host, the Grail King, was wounded and in terrible pain, unable to sit, stand or even lie down. Rather than ask what ailed the King, however, Parzival kept quiet, for the rules of what constituted a noble knight prevented him from doing so. The dinner was concluded and in the morning, Parzival departed – and the Castle vanished, the King still ailing!

Suddenly, the great knight found himself cast out into the Wasteland, living by rules imposed upon him rather than by the spontaneity of his own noble nature, which longed to reach out and heal the ailing Grail King out of his deep compassion. Instead, Parzival is cast out into the Wasteland, and for five long years he searches fruitlessly for the Grail Castle and King.

Trudging aimlessly through the Wasteland is a metaphor for living an inauthentic life. Like Parzival, many people feel trapped and empty, their lives devoid of real meaning; they feel like they’re living someone else’s lives, living by someone else’s rules. We haven’t been able to embrace our passion, or even to feel compassion – to experience and understand the pain of others, and ourselves. In the Wasteland, people are living inauthentic lives.

The Key to Transcending the Wasteland is acting spontaneously from your noble heart – living an authentic life that is truly your own. After years of searching, Parzival finally earns another chance to visit the Grail Castle, and this time he doesn’t hesitate to act out of the compassion of his heart: “What ails you, Uncle?” he asks the Grail King, and this simple act – the spontaneous act of a noble, compassionate heart – immediately cures the Grail King, releasing Parzival from the Wasteland. Search your heart for your own authentic and noble desires, for therein lies your escape from the Wasteland.

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Following Your Own Path

Who’s Rules and Expectations do you Live by?

The Knights of the Round Table would leave for an adventure as a group, but each individual knight would enter the forest “at the point that he, himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path.” (from Joseph Campbell’s lecture, In Search of the Holy Grail: The Parzival Legend). “If there is a path, it is someone else’s path, and you are not on an adventure,” Campbell said.

This was a key component of the Grail Legend – if you follow someone else’s path, you wind up going completely astray, you wind up in the Wasteland. For Campbell the part at which the knights enter the forest at their own points “is a wonderful story: that which we intend, that which is the journey, that which is the goal, is the fulfillment of something that never was on the earth before—namely your own potentiality.”

This emphasis upon manifesting your own potential as an individual was revolutionary in the Middle Ages (when the Parzival stories were originally written), and is still key today (as represented in the work of Carl Jung and Individuation). By following one’s own path, you manifest your true potential, you blaze a trail no one has ever done before, and one that no one will ever do again – this is the process of bringing into being the authentic, divine nature deep within every one of us.

The true value of the metaphor of the search for the Holy Grail is the realization that God – the divine, the sacred, the truth – is in your own heart. So, because the divine is within you – and you are a direct part of that divinity – you must follow your own path! There are no rules, no instructions, you can’t get a map because it would be someone else’s.

“Follow your bliss,” Joseph Campbell says, for therein lies your path, there is where you will manifest your true potential, blaze your own trail, and become the incredible, unique and divine individual you were born to be.

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Loyalty and Compassion

What are some of the Highest Spiritual Values?

One of the most important messages in the story of Parzival (and particularly Richard Wagner’s Opera entitled, “Parsifal”) is the importance of compassion. Wagner’s Opera was influenced by his reading of Arthur Schopenhauer’s work and his understanding of compassion as the only valid basis for morality. It is through compassion for the suffering of other beings that the fool, Parzival, acquires wisdom and becomes a sage.

The metaphysical message of Parzival, based on Schopenhauer’s ideas and having much in common with the Buddhist concept of Samsara (the cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth), is quite beautiful, and requires compassion to truly understand: Stop striving, stop denying the Will, accept that suffering is an inevitable part of life and that desires can never fully be satisfied.

All things in this world are impermanent – meeting inevitably brings a parting, every beginning and ending. This is the nature of life – to deny it is to invite suffering. In the light of wisdom, the darkness of ignorance is lifted. All life is precarious; one must always seek a path of salvation and deliverance, the path of wisdom. We learn the importance of compassion from the suffering caused by our attachment to the impermanent – this is why compassion is one of the highest spiritual values.

Toward the end of the tale of Parzival, the great knight is invited to celebrate with King Arthur and his knights after the knights and ladies of the Grail Castle were rescued; he declines the invitation because of his steadfast loyalty to his wife, Condwiramurs, to whom he decides to return instead. His loyalty is immediately rewarded by the Grail Messenger, who shows him the way back to the Grail Castle and another chance to heal the ailing Grail King, which he does. Loyalty, then, is one of the highest spiritual values because it affirms the power of love; fidelity to love is fidelity to the divine, within you and all around you.

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Medieval Poetry of the Troubadours

The Eyes are the Scouts of the Soul.
The Eyes are the Scouts of the Soul.

Giraut de Bornelh (Troubadour, 1138 – 1215)


So through the eyes love attains the heart:
For the eyes are the scouts of the heart,
And the eyes go reconnoitering
For what it would please the heart to possess.
And when they are in full accord
And firm, all three, in one resolve,
At that time, perfect love is born
From what the eyes have made welcome to the heart.
For as all true lovers know,
love is perfect kindness,
Which is born, there is no doubt
from the heart and eyes

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Evolution of Consciousness

The central idea of the purpose of human existence is the creation of consciousness. Our purpose, I think is to bring light into the darkness of being, to increase consciousness by becoming aware of what is hidden in the unconscious.

Carl Jung developed a new myth for modern man, one based around the idea that man is indispensable for the completion of creation. Existence is only real when it is conscious to someone and this, he argues, is why the divine needs conscious men – whoever knows the divine has a moderating and loving effect upon it. Once the union of opposites is attained, man and the divine are reconciled. In psychological terms, the Ego and Soul are finally aligned, an the creation of higher consciousness changes not only the individual but the nature of creation itself.

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The Mystery of the Coniunctio

The Coniunctio is a medieval, alchemical concept regarding the union of opposites, king and queen, male and female, to create a complete, whole entity. The historian Mircea Eliade and psychologist Carl Jung were both aware of the religious, symbolic and archetypal significance of this concept with respect to the union of ego and soul within the individual.

The urge to individuatioin, the process of becoming a whole and harmonious individual as expressed in depth psychology, requires that one undertake a dangerous – and glorious – journey to elevated consciousness, where one can simultaneously experience and accept the opposites in one’s life – good and bad, light and dark, male and female. The highest measure of an individual’s worth is the ability to carry the opposites, so that one will not damage the psyche but will carry one’s own shadow.

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The Three Metamorphoses

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche, in discussing the Three Metamorphoses of the human spirit, points out that we are in a constant state of becoming. That is, we are evolving in consciousness, as individuals and as a species. Nietzsche’s three stages are: Camel, Lion and finally Child.

As Camels, we take on the social burdens placed externally upon us from parents, religion, society, and the like. As Lions, we become noble, vicious creatures thirsty for truth, destined to defeat our own internal dragons of “Thou Shalt.” And upon the successful vanquishing, we return to the innocence of the Child. This is the goal of our Journey, to begin a new life free of preconceptions and the “Thou Shalts” of the Ego.

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The Hero’s Journey

The first part of life is frequently centered around finding your way – learning how to navigate the obstacles of life, discovering what your passion and talents in life are, and in embarking on your own personal journey and adventure.

But it also involves setbacks, failures and great falls that will shake you to your core. There are many beautiful stories, parables and traditions that can help you along your own journey.

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Supernatural Aid or Guide

Sigurd (Siegfried) inspects his sword, Nothung
Sigurd (Siegfried) inspects his sword, Nothung

Joseph Campbell, the remarkable mythologist and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, uncovered basic patterns, structures and stages that are common to mythologies across time and culture, forming what he terms the Monomyth. The Calling is the opening of the myth, followed by the Initiation or Journey.

Having answered “The Calling,” the hero is now ready to embark upon her or his harrowing journey, frequently beginning with the intervention and assistance of a mentor or supernatural aid. It is often said that when one steps through the door of the unknown, many hands reach out to help; this is perhaps a modern restatement of this classic truth. In The Ring Cycle, by Wagner, the hero Siegfried forges the great sword “Nothung” to defeat the fierce dragon Fafner. The mentor and supernatural aid represent the protective powers of fate and destiny. When one has embarked upon one’s true spiritual journey, to align one’s Ego and Soul, all of what you need will become available to you – because it is all within you.

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Crossing the First Threshold

In this section of what Joseph Campbell refers to as the “monomyth,” or the hero’s journey, one finally enters into the field of unpredictable adventure, leaving behind the known parameters of one’s own world and exploring the unknown and dangerous realm, where rules and limits one has known no longer apply.

Frequently, this stage is followed by what is called entry into the “Belly of the Whale,” taken from the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament and Hebrew Bible. While often described as the low point of a person’s life – being euphemistically swallowed whole by a whale – this is actually the point at which one begins the separation or transition between worlds, or even within oneself. It is the point of recognition by the hero that he or she is willing to undergo transformation, to die to him or herself.