Reprinted with permission from "Original Self," by Thomas Moore, Harper Collins Publishers

Odyssey is a noble image for the mysterious process we call a human life. At the very font of our civilization we are fortunate to have Homer's tale of the travels of the antihero Odysseus. His is a sacred story, not the account of man on the literal seas trying to get home, but the mystery drama of Everyman, the deep story of us all, men and women, as we try to make our way through life with the hope of arriving at a place that can be called home. This journey is a soul voyage. Odysseus encounters many fantastic creatures and people, and makes a visit to the realm of the dead as well, all part of his journey of homecoming. Each of us is on such a journey, embracing both the concrete situation of our lives and inner pilgrimage as well. We have to work out the details of our lives, but at the same time we are challenged to deal with the past, the world the dead have made for us, and the deep inner life that is under and beyond the literal events that absorb our attention. Our age seems obstinately focused on the external details of this journey, and autobiographies and biographies tend to dwell on the facts of life. There are remarkable exceptions, of course, like C.G. Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which is the story of a soul, but generally we try to make sense of life by constructing it outwardly to fit external criteria and expectations.
As we ignore the inner life, or at least the symbolic life expressed in the poetry of our actions and the events of our lives, the inner world doesn't vanish; in our neglect it gathers strength as it continues to influence us. But unfamiliar with its ways, we are in large measures cut off from its progress. We sense its ups and downs in moods and emotions that seem to have little connection to life, but we try to control those vague sensations with medication and manipulation rather than make specific adjustments in response to their meaning. The soul has its own set of rules, which are not the same as those of life. Unlike the steady progress of history, for instance, the events of the soul are cyclic and repetitive. Familiar themes come round and round. The past is more important than the future. The living and the dead have equal roles. Emotions and the sense of meaning are paramount. Pleasures are deep, and pain can reach the very foundations of our existence. Without becoming mystics, we could become more closely acquainted with the ways of the inner life. If they are noted and taken seriously, dreams can turn our attention downward and inward and give clues to the dynamics of the heart and the imagination. Moods, attitudes, influences, aspirations, and fears also ask for a degree of sophistication in our response. We could contemplate them, discuss them, and educate ourselves in their intricacies and vagaries. Today many people live the external life exclusively, and when the inner world erupts or stirs, they rush to a therapist or druggist for help. They try to explain profound mythic developments in the language of behavior and experience. Often they have no idea what is happening to them, because they have been so cut off from the deep self. Their own soul is so alien to them that they are unaware of what is going on outside the known realm of fact.
Former methods of keeping in touch with the inner life have gone out of mode. Diaries, letters, and deep conversations help focus attention on developments and materials that lie beneath the surface. Only one hundred years ago, without benefit of typewriters and word processors, people kept elaborate, long, and detailed diaries and notebooks. We seem to have left behind these methods of reflection in favor of technologies for action. Poetry and serious literature can also offer guidance. A small amount of good literature can often teach more about the inner life than volumes of psychology. The ancient literatures of many traditions offer insight into the inner life. They can teach us how to sketch out a spiritual autobiography instead of a resume of skills and facts. They also show that we are on an odyssey and that the people who enter our lives and the events that take place have deep significance, often symbolic and imagistic. The soul doesn't evolve or grow, it cycles and twists, repeats and reprises, echoing ancient themes common to all human beings. It is always circling home. Gnostic tales tell of the homesickness of the soul, its yearning for its own milieu, which is not this world of fact. Its odyssey is a drifting at sea, a floating toward home, not an evolution toward perfection.
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