Earlier in the year I posted a series of articles about the need to regain a symbolic consciousness — the need to see the symbolic meaning of events that happen in our inner and outer lives. Recently we have been witnessing the worst ecological disaster in North America with the oil gushing from the depths of the Gulf. We have heard the anger of politicians, the fear of fishermen and others for their livelihood, and the futility of BP to stem this ecological disaster and stop the oil from polluting the shoreline and the sea. But have we been able to look beyond this tragic play of events to recognize the symbolic story that is being told? Can we learn what life is telling us before it is too late?
What is the deeper meaning of this disaster as the flow of oil meets the flow of water — as our ecological system is destroyed by our need or greed for oil? Symbolic consciousness is not just a tool to listen to our dreams. The signs that speak to us are in the outer as well as the inner world. Symbols tell us the deeper meaning of the images and events that unfold around us. Do we dare at this moment to look beneath the surface to what life is telling us, or do we just regard this event as another glitch in our material culture. The government’s response is to halt further deep sea drilling. And while BP tries to fix the leak and restore its image, it continues to invest heavily in the tar sands development in Alberta Canada, “ the largest and most environmentally destructive endeavor of all time ,” which has already devastated an area the size of England and Wales. But this appears safer than the sea, maybe because the devastation can be more contained, or is hidden in the far north.
But there is another story being told if we dare to look and listen — if we are awake to the symbolic meaning of life. One “resource,” oil, is destroying another even more vital “resource,” water.
Water is the source of life. Something in our culture has turned against itself, and the technology that has caused this cannot save us. The oil is still pouring. There is no quick and easy solution to the oil slicks washing up on the shore.
One of the ways to work with symbols is to hold these images in our consciousness and be present with them. In this way we allow life to speak to us in this ancient language, which has always been the language of life itself. This is the ancient wisdom of listening to life.
Traditional cultures knew this wisdom, just as they knew the wisdom of nature, plants and the seasons. They knew how to watch the weather and their sailors knew how to listen to the winds. They also knew how to read the book of life just as they knew how to listen to their dreams.
We have lost this essential wisdom, and now life is screaming at us, crying to us, imploring us. Will we wait for the well to be capped and talk about financial recompense while the lawyers bring their lawsuits? Will we once again “have the experience but miss the meaning?” Or before the clocks strikes 12 can we regain the wisdom of our ancestors and hold the real meaning of this experience and finally listen to life itself?
The difficulty is that there will be no easy answer, no quick fix. The images that are speaking to us are too potent and too powerful. They are about the primal values of life itself. But if we dare to hold these images in our consciousness maybe we can make a step toward recognizing that life is a living being that can speak to us. Maybe we can return to a relationship to life that honors it as a sacred whole whose voice can be heard. Maybe we will not have to wait until the next disaster or the next before waking up to our real responsibility to life and the planet.
Of course it is a big step between watching the disaster on the news and recognizing that it is happening to each of us, just as through this crisis life is speaking to each of us. But when we see what our technology, our lifestyles, our values, have caused does it not touch the heart and soul of each of us? We are all responsible. And we need to return to the core of our humanity, to the sacred connection to life that is within each of us. We need to be attentive and listen.
This quality of awareness belongs to the ancient wisdom of the earth that was always known to our ancestors. And when the earth is crying out to us with such a potent image as it is now, is it not our duty to listen? Only when we hear what it is saying, not just in our minds but also in our souls, will we know how to respond.
If we are to reclaim a real relationship to life and to our planet, we must listen to the real story that is being told. It is not just a story of a deep well disaster happening in the Gulf. It is about how our present civilization is causing the waters of life to be polluted and how at present we cannot stop it. And this disaster is taking place all around us and also in our own souls. Only if we listen to life will we know how to respond.
For more on symbolic consciousness and the waters of life, see Alchemy of Light, Working with the Primal Energies of Life. Why We Need To Work With Symbols by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee