The Hidden Pearl
Having focused on image and the technique related to its representation/production in Week 2, a rebalancing back into the experience of story felt right for our third week of Good Stories. In order to deepen the oral-story-experience beyond attending to the surface story line, we’ve also brought in an emphasis on amplification
We returned to a theme from our first day, buried treasure, and now in week 3 we’re amplifying this archetypal image with stories on “the water of life,” a wonderful variation on the theme. In order to connect X (a treasure box hidden underground) with Y (a healing tonic: water of life), our minds are pushed toward abstraction where broadened terms like “treasure,” "talent," and “grace” provide gateways for illumination and vision, where the gifts from the ocean of the unconscious flow bringing vitality and insight, as well as a healing touch for the world. While we don’t want to risk inflation (for example, by presuming to have the healing power to fix anybody or anything), we might, by amplifying the archetypal images for treasure, open our intentions toward accepting each of our talents and taking on the concomitant responsibility to know and develop these gifts, not just for personal gain but to contribute to peace and justice.
The story we call “Golden Water” (which amplifies the Grimms’ tale, “Water of Life”) launches with three sisters playing a wishing game. Consistent with the treasury of wish-fulfillment stories ranging from King Midas to “The Monkey’s Paw” and including “The Fisherman and His Wife” (from Shaw’s World Tales), we’re cautioned about attempts to shortcut the maturation of destiny. When the youngest sister in “Golden Water” makes a flippant wish to marry the new Shah, her dream amazingly comes true; but she was scarcely prepared to handle the demands of being a co-ruler, particularly the jealousy of her sisters. In addition to stories, a sampling of persons considered to have had great success and who died young also brings a sobering reflection on the wish-making enterprise. So what might we glean from our amplification that guides the path of destiny and avoids tragic consequences from making a wish?
Fairytales concentrate character into extreme forms and fast-forward time so that we’re offered a glimpse of what might otherwise elude us when we're walking in the more subtle and slow-moving pace of everyday life. For example, while we might underestimate the danger of presumption in “real life,” presentation of the two older brothers in “Water of Life” magnifies the effects of greed and arrogance so we can hardly miss the warning. Each brother scorns the small voice that asks “Where are you going so fast on your high horse?” Soon enough each is stuck, wedged in by canyon walls; it happens in real life when a person fails to heed the warning signs of hangovers, smoker’s cough, overwork fatigue, on and on. Even when rescued by their compassionate, though naïve, younger brother, the arrogant ones immediately betray him and steal the treasure.
When we amplify with “Golden Water,” we’re warned that it’s not only brothers who betray; sisters or anyone else can do it, too. The amplification helps us shift from just making applications to our external social life and include interpretations into the inner level. For example, we might recognize that we have internalized older voices that dominate more fragile possibilities. Our imagination can be chilled by the scorn of status quo so that the adaptations needed to change our environment are left in the fantasy heap. C.G. Jung’s discussion of the need to attend to the inferior function connects with this bit of guidance from the stories.
In the closing discussion of our third-week classes, I observed and commented on a student’s amplification of the archetypal treasure. Among the many possible applications of treasure, she selected the treasure of knowledge. As she brought the images from “Golden Water” to her exploration, I saw that she was pointing us to the SECRET! “Golden Water” paved the way for opening a vital distinction of knowledge worth knowing. With all the volumes of information flooding our intake valves, how do we discern the bit really worth knowing?
The wisdom to penetrate to essence was being offered through our amplification of the archetype of treasure. “Golden Water” helps by giving not one but three images for the treasure. When the sister climbed the pinnacle of the quest, she found an unusual representative for treasure, a talking bird. We recognize its value when we see it doesn’t just talk but it reveals secret knowledge. In the story, the bird knows and tells the true but hidden identity, and the bird constructs a scenario where the person who has been most blinded from seeing what should have been obvious finally “gets it.” The essence of the way to know comes in the pearl, another fabulous image with the rich associations of being formed through coping with and transforming an irritant, a bit of grit.
Another view of this secret knowing must involve a person’s perception of his or her destiny. As elaborated in a previous blog, James Hillman tells us about the secret and our destiny:
“So the ‘lot’ [from Plato’s Republic] is the image that is your inheritance, your soul’s portion in the world order, and your place on earth, all compacted into a pattern that has been selected by your soul before you ever got here—or, better said, that is always and continually being selected by your soul, because time does not enter the equations of myth. . . Unpacking the image takes a lifetime” (The Soul’s Code, p. 45).