Breaking the Barriers to "Being"
Published on Monday, October 22, 2012 - 12:40pm
In the movie Camelot, the wizard Merlin teaches the young Arthur, destined to be King of all England someday, how to rise above petty divisions. Merlin turns Arthur into a falcon. As Arthur flies high above Merlin, the wizard asks him to describe what he sees below. Arthur calls out the names of the different kingdoms he sees as he soars over them. Each time the wise Merlin urges him to fly higher. "And now tell me what you see?" he continues to ask Arthur. It is only when Arthur reports back that he cannot see any of the kingdoms below, just the trees and the rivers, that Merlin brings Arthur to the ground, changes him back to the boy he is, and helps him realize that all differences disappear when you rise above them.
Some books are like the wise Merlin. They help us soar above our limitations. The protagonists in these books are our lifelong companions, urging us to break the barriers to freedom, teaching us to navigate this life with more grace, more compassion, more kindness....commanding us to evolve into our purest self, in sync with all that is. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach is such a book. Jonathan is a seagull committed to finding himself. “Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight," he says. "– how to get from shore to food and back again.” Despite the threat of being outcast by his flock, Jonathan Seagull continues to answer to that higher call towards perfection, towards freedom.
He learns to glide, to sleep in the air, to break speed records for seagulls. "He learns to fly through heavy sea-fogs into dazzling clear skies ... in the very times when every other gull stood on the ground, knowing nothing but mist and rain."
He also learns that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form. “Don't believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation,” he tells his students. “Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you'll see the way to fly."
Hamlet too brushes aside the conventions of his times and the pressures of birth and blood to respond to a commitment to the self. Shakespeare's Hamlet is a play about a young man’s journey to self-discovery through an intense examination of his spirituality, morality, and purpose on earth. Not the quick and depraved violence of Laertes as he seeks to avenge the murder of his father, Polonius; not Prince Fortinbras, who seeks to regain his father’s now lost lands - “Witness this army, of such mass and charge, Led by a delicate and tender prince, …Even for an eggshell”; not the evidence that his uncle did murder his father moves Hamlet onto the course of vengeance his beloved father's ghost exhorts him to take.
Like Jonathan Seagull, Hamlet follows a higher calling. He questions everything. He tries to understand everything. His mind sweeps across and above the place and time he is shackled in. Hamlet's ruthless and relentless quest leads him to a “submission of maturity”: “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow…the readiness is all.”
Joseph Knetch in The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse also follows an inner compass that moves him towards a more evolving self. He is entrenched in the world of Castalia from childhood. Hesse presents Castalia as a futuristic utopia where the life of the mind is enshrined and nurtured in a cloister-like order of scholars.
Knetch, along with the other scholars, focus their lives on mastering the Glass Bead Game. The game is an attempt, through collaboration and competition, at playing with the disciplines, recreating the Universe of Knowledge. The scholars play the game with a "sacred seriousness." They associate and combine the disciplines in profound and creative ways -- a piece of Baroque music with ancient Chinese architecture for instance.
Knetch grows and adapts and fits into this world, loving and breathing it, rising rapidly to its highest honors through his dedication and pursuit of creative knowledge. He becomes the "Magister Ludi" and serves admirably in this capacity for some years. Then, at the height of his "glory," as a revered and respected "elder" of Castalia, he walks away from it all. Why? Because like the Prince of Denmark, Knetch cannot and will not be enslaved to a world that no longer defines who he is. He must go on like Jonathan Seagull in search of his true self. There is no defiance. No bitterness. No anger. No regret. No malice. No scorn. Just a calm leave-taking. Just a natural shedding of a self that is now defunct. Just a newer, freer, truer, self, that emerges, demanding a new life.
These books teach us evolve beyond our limitations, to "bid farewell without end" to our old selves.