Photo taken from my home office window this morning, Feb 9, 2017. Perhaps today’s “water of life” says to stay in and appreciate a less active form of beauty…
Although water was not the dominant image in our first story, we did wonder if there was more to Luis in “Buried Treasure” than laziness. A sense of wonder signals a place to focus, a point of resonance. The primary evidence that Luis has mysterious power comes in his ability to stop the runaway horse. But we might need to backtrack if we want to explore this amazing gift. When we reflect back into the story, we notice an easy-to-skip-over detail about his initiative. In order to get on the path of the horse, he had to set out in search of a spring—that’s an image of the water of life. This action, the willingness to go after the water of life, although subtle it’s an opposite to laziness, and it leads to the connection with horsepower, with the spirit being, and with the “tatema” treasure.
The focus on this moment in a story is what we’re calling resonance, and our backtracking and circling around the “hotspot” shows the beginning of “amplification.” To amplify is to increase understanding. Often it involves zooming in like we just did to get a fine focus on Luis’ action. Amplification also works by circling around a theme through finding different translations of a story, variations on the theme, and similar stories. Often we need multiple perspectives on an archetypal image if we are to gain enough texture so that applications to our individual lives can be appropriated.
We amplify the moment where Luis goes in search of a spring by looking at other stories where a character looks for the water of life. One comes from the Grimms tales and another is from the Arabian Nights collection. A version of the Grimms’ “Water of Life” is included in Shah’s World Tales, and the hardback version has powerful illustrations by Melvyn Grant.
"Golden Water" comes from Arabian Nights and contributes to our amplification by emphasizing female characters. It even features a younger sister who becomes a mother and has a third child who is female. This double presentation lets us see a continued development of the character that is needed to search out the water of life.
Our resonance and amplification of the water-of-life theme can be portrayed like this:
1. We are struck by the advanced embodiment of a quality in Luis. He has been labeled as “lazy” but we see he has amazing capacity and wonder how a person might develop this ability. We might also note that sometimes a wonderful gift is not seen by others and even can be desecrated by them.
2. When we amplify this point of resonance with the Grimms’ “Water of Life,” we see the development of the younger son (who also is incorrectly perceived as weak). His character includes love and humility, instead of arrogance. We watch how his rather naive love progresses through suffering into a love that can face evil and that can design necessary strategy for dealing with betrayal.
3. When we amplify further with the Arabian Nights’ “Golden Water,” the person who has capacity to bring back the water of life is shown to have an advanced capacity for strategy related to self-defense.
4. The amplification of the water-of-life theme suggests next steps that might involve exploration of a related theme such as the nature of guidance. Concerning guides, our sequence of stories included 1) a spirit-being who just suddenly appears, 2) a small but powerful voice that has to be respected, 3) a semi-hidden dervish, and 4) a talking bird!
Because exploration of the water-of-life theme offers to guide us in relation to the essential dimensions of life, it’s a good one for amplification. When we look for comparison stories that feature the water-of-life theme, we find it’s been labeled as tale-type 551 in the system devised by Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU). It’s classified within the category 550 “Supernatural Helpers.” Wikipedia shows links to 13 stories associated with “Water of Life” from around the world; sometimes the healing comes through something other than water.
The guidance we find in amplification does not provide a roadmap, of course; but it does give us clues about the development of character that contribute to an enriched life. For example, in the Grimms’ version, the youngest son is motivated through love of his father in sharp contrast with his brothers’ desire for status and wealth. While his good heart helps him get the advice, directions, and resources he needs to get to the water of life, we find that love as he initially knows it won’t be enough. He is too trusting and has to suffer the development of a more mature love that includes discernment of traitors. His older brothers may be related by blood but they’re not related by heart, and he has to learn that love can include being strategic.
In our primary textbook, On the Origin of Stories, Brian Boyd develops the meaning of reciprocal altruism: “I help you in the expectation that you may help me later” (p. 57). Boyd features this concept in his chapter “The Evolution of Cooperation” and continues throughout the book to show how reciprocal altruism has played a vital role in the survival of species and how it continues to be very significant in human’s cognitive development. Our ability to enact reciprocal altruism could be a significant development connected with the archetypal image of the water of life. Stories provide us with models of effective incorporation of reciprocal altruism in our lives.
Passages from Boyd that elaborate reciprocal altruism include these:
"Cheaters will thrive in exchanges with altruists unless altruists discriminate against—refuse further exchange with, or actively punish—cheaters" (p. 57.
"For altruism to work robustly a whole suite of motivations has to be in place: sympathy, so that I am inclined to help another; trust, so that I can offer help now and expect it will be somehow repaid later; gratitude, to incline me, when I have been helped, to return the favor; shame, to prompt me to repay when I still owe a debt; a sense of fairness, so that I can intuitively gauge an adequate share or repayment; indignation, to spur me to break off cooperation with or even inflict punishment on a cheat; and guilt, a displeasure at myself and fear of exposure and reprisal to deter me from seeking the short-term advantages of cheating. We can reverse-engineer the social and moral emotions so central to our engagement with others in life and in story. (note 21) Rather than merely taking these emotions as givens, we can account for them as natural selection's way of motivating widespread cooperation in highly social species" pp. 57-58.