Recently I have been asked to describe myself using a fictional character. Could you describe yourself as a fictional character? I had trouble with that. How do I see myself? What character describes how others see me?
I remembered how fascinated I was with the character of the Little Mermaid in my childhood, not the Disney version but the one from the original story by Hans Christian Andersen. A happy mermaid who wishes to see the world, saves a prince from certain death as his ship sinks in the storm and falls in love with him. A beautiful girl with fins, scales and a mesmerizing voice who lives under the sea ends up sacrificing so much to pursue love. She strikes a bargain with a sea witch giving up her voice for a pair of legs. She sacrifices her voice, her home, and her family for the ability to live among humans. The new legs ended up not working so well and left bloody marks on the sand as she walked those first steps out of the ocean. We know how the story goes: the prince marries another. The ex-mermaid turned into a mute frail human girl, who couldn't return back home. She no longer had the body capable of living under the sea. She walked into the ocean anyway and turned into seafoam.
She risked so much for love. What a sacrifice! Have you ever sacrificed your voice in the name of love? Have you ever ended up “on that beach” after living your story that ended badly? Have you felt so broken like nothing seemed to be left as if you just dissolved into seafoam?
We all do things for love, for this frail human love, sometimes obsessive love that doesn't last. I sacrificed for love in my life. I moved away from my family and came to this country for love. I sacrificed my career for love. I had to learn new ways of expressing myself with words in English. Yes, that was hard and yet I would do it again. I was fortunate to be guided by a strong sense of intuition. Even though my story doesn't end with me losing my life and turning into seafoam, I can relate to that ending. There have definitely been times in my life when it felt as if I’d completely dissolved and nothing was left after my hopes and beliefs were shattered. I had to let go, dissolve and start anew like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. I think most of us go through several cycles of this type of rebirth within one lifetime.
Something about that story is still having a strong effect on me.
What is healthy sacrifice, what is unhealthy sacrifice? Do we know our choices are going to hurt us and yet do it anyway? Is it sacrifice or self-harm? Where is that line between looking for love and looking to satisfy one's desires and addictions? Where's the line trusting our steps for a brighter future and when are we just escaping an old situation regardless of the consequences?
We can take this attitude with our spiritual practice. We go for it, making adjustments, sacrifices to our lives and lifestyles. In the name of running towards the Light and Love, we are running away from our own problems, with the illusion that we will be able to find something that will miraculously help us to transcend all pain. In our pursuit, we can lose track of what is healthy and what is harmful. We might blindly follow a spiritual teacher who gives us so much. We can be blinded by the radiance and the power of teachings being shared with us. What if we find out our teacher has caused harm to us? We can lose sight in the name of spirituality becoming preoccupied by running towards self fulfillment and bypassing what is right in front of us.
We have to ask the hard questions: Does this serve me, others and humanity? Am I lost in narcissistic self involvement, that never ending self improvement project? Is my pursuit of fulfillment a distraction, running away from reality?
We need to know if we are justifying harm or indifference to harm in the name of some greater good and if we need course adjustment or simply need to stop running.
The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.