There is always a beautiful love story running through our odyssey with wholeness. Part of our transformational work of becoming fully human is to tease out the threads of love and reclaim what we know to be True Love. In so doing, we allow ourselves to die to personality so that we may be reborn unto our sovereign selfhood, our True Selves in Love and in Wholeness.
Homer’s epic poem Odyssey recounts Odysseus’ journey back home after the Trojan war, across the ‘wine-dark sea’ to Ithaca where his wife Penelope awaits him. His yearning is twofold: to return to his place of origin and to be reunited with his beloved. The Odyssey is a sequel to Homer’s first epic poem the Iliad which tells of the rapt of Helen leading to the siege and fall of Troy.
Both poems are templates for understanding our human experience and the transformational work which awaits us. The Iliad describes our journey through the first half of life, in Jungian terms. It covers the stages of our education, the time of the student, and our settling down into our community and providing for our own, the time of the custodian or caretaker. This is when we try to figure out who we are as an individual person. What is our identity? Where are we are going? How are we to contribute to our environment? It corresponds to the earlier stages of development, based on comparison and exclusion, when we grow into our ambitions and seek to build a strong container for naming our identity.
The Odyssey is a template for the second half of life, a journey of integration where we are summoned to wholeness and eldership. It reveals a map towards nondual consciousness and oneness, and invites us to embrace the maturity and inclusiveness of the later stages of development, first by becoming a hermit, and then picking up our staff to become a pilgrim. The journey beckons us to grow out of our ambitions, and to become of service to a greater purpose and a larger arc of life. This is the time when we open up to receive the contents that the container, built in the first half of life, is truly meant to hold, beyond our egoic identity. Rather than going around in life hunting down the treasure, we allow life to find us and infill us with whatever grace we are meant to receive and pass on.
The four archetypal stages of life – the student, the custodian, the hermit and the pilgrim – are clearly depicted in Homer’s epic poems. In the Iliad we are told of Odysseus’ education and how he built a home for Penelope before he went off to war to save Helen who was held captive in Troy. The Odyssey recounts the journey back home, in origin, a very long journey because it takes Odysseus thirty years to reach Ithaca. Why such a lengthy journey? Because on the way home he is often stopped and called to a time of inner reflection (the contemplative hermit) before he sets off again to sail the unknown seas (the wandering pilgrim).
The figures of two women are threaded in the Iliad: Penelope, the beloved one, and Helen, the one who needs saving from the wrongdoers driven by covetousness. Otherwise, the epic poem mainly depicts Odysseus’ warriorship with all the malevolent masculine figures he encounters during the Trojan war. It is a tale of rapt and greed, revenge and retaliation, cruelty and wrathfulness, deceitfulness and betrayal, shrewdness and astuteness (the Trojan horse) which will eventually release Helen.
There is a definite shift in the narrative flowing through the Odyssey in particular regarding women. On his way home Odysseus will need to overcome many distractions and temptations which are likely to lead him astray and keep him from honouring his deepest longing: returning home and being reunited with his beloved. Moreover, the enticements are represented in feminine figures! There is for instance the enchantress Circe who spellbinds his men into a trance-like state rendering them impotent. Fortunately, Odysseus is able to resist her hypnotic power. There is also Calypso who finds him nearly dead on a beach and retains him for seven years until he can feel his longing for Ithaca swelling in his heart, and ‘has a desire to die’.
There is one test of valour that I find of particular interest in the Odyssey, the one I keep coming back to: resisting the bewitching singing of the dreaded mermaids. Here are the details. Leaving the land of Circe, Odysseus and his men set sail to cross the unknown seas aware – information offered by Circe herself – that he will need to resist the temptation of the sweet singing of the Sirens, the beautiful mermaids dwelling on an island. Their song is deadly to men because, if they listen and land on the island, they will die as the music carries away their soul.
Odysseus places beeswax in the ears of his men and asks them to bind him tightly to the mast with ropes. Deaf to the music, he tells them to row past the island and he forbids them to unbind him however much he might implore them. They set off and the sweet singing of the Sirens skims across the waters. In their song, they seduce Odysseus with his deepest craving – to know and to understand – because only what he desires the most ardently might entice him into their deadly grip. Of course, his desire is aroused, but his faithful companions hold him down firmly with stronger bonds. He is set free once the singing has faded.
Other than this specific episode I have always had a great interest in Penelope’s part in the Odyssey and I think her crucial role is often overlooked because she is the silent one, patiently waiting for her beloved to return. She gets forgotten possibly because we are mesmerised by the tantalising and bewitching voices of the other women, or the insistent men demanding action and decisiveness. Penelope’s waiting is long: she is patient and trustful. She keeps her numerous suitors, insisting that she should remarry, at a distance. She tells them that she will chose one when she has finished the tapestry she is working on. At night-time she unravels her labours of the day so that the work is never finished and she does not have to choose.
Penelope and Odysseus’ love story tells of the qualities of endurance and patience, steadfastness and forbearance that dwell in absolute love. In the poem Odysseus is clearly responding to the call to return home to his place of origin and to his beloved. But we sometimes miss that if he is being called back, then someone or something is calling him. Is it Penelope patiently waiting in trust, hope and love? We have yet to unravel the indispensable conversation between she or he who is calling and he or she who responds to the call. Who is calling us? To what purpose? Who is responding? With what intent?
For the time being we can appreciate that an intimate relationship is needed if we are to make the journey back home, and seek to unravel our odyssey with wholeness, the spiritual journey of the second-half-of-life. Furthermore, we need to know that we are loved in order to become love, the ultimate destination of the odyssey, and to resist all the temptations and distractions strewn along our trajectories.
Through the trials and tribulations of life many of us have lost contact with this essential truth each time we have allowed our yearning for unconditional love to swell in our hearts, only to find ourselves tussling with our experiences of unrequited love. It would seem that the trajectories of our earthly sojourn, in the density and jaggedness of the physical world, are precisely where we are able to hone the most exquisite qualities of love. Our odyssey with wholeness invites us to a significant shift from needing to be loved – and called back home – to being love and becoming a beacon of love.
Based on the materials collated in the first two books of the Wholeness of Selfhood trilogy, I offer two customised itineraries comprised of eight sessions each for accompanying you on your own odyssey with wholeness and oneness.
The first itinerary offers an archaeological survey of the first half of life, unearthing the structures of the egoic personality through our personal stories. The second itinerary takes us into the journey of the second half of life, a pilgrimage of mystical orientation for uncovering the gifts we are meant to bring forth in sovereign selfhood.
Join the odyssey of becoming fully human.
Let’s travel the pathways ushering us towards the imaginal realm of non-dual consciousness and oneness.
There, your sovereign selfhood awaits you.