In Roman mythology, staying innocent was not something to be proud of. An innocent (in Latin, that was puer for a young male or puella for a young female) was someone who had not yet faced and dealt with the wounds in his or her life.
Since we all get wounded by life, to remain an innocent meant that a person was refusing to face the wounds that already exist. They are remaining in life’s shallows, avoiding life’s difficulties and challenges, and ignoring the baggage they are carrying around (and inflicting on others).
Mythological heroes, on the other hand, always arose from those who were wounded and who had the courage to face and deal with those wounds. They were no longer innocent and avoiding the pain; they faced it head-on.
It was the facing of their wounds that made those wounds into sacred wounds that became sources of transformation and growth. It was the dealing with the pain in their lives that enabled them to become heroes.
Joseph Campbell, a student of mythology, echoes this in the opening quote: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
Our transformation from pain-denying, shallow innocents into the heroes and heroines of our own stories is the treasure we find when we enter that “cave” of pain and suffering that comes from facing our deepest wounds.
This is the very same kind of treasure we talk about with the gold of kintsugi, and it’s true in much more than the myths.
Theodore Roosevelt put it this way:
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Think of the people you admire most, the heroes and heroines you know in real life. Inevitably, we admire them because of the courage and ability they show in dealing with the challenges life has given them, not because they had life easy. It gives them depth and character that can be found nowhere else.
Facing our wounds is very much like entering a cave we fear to enter. There are potentially monsters and suffering and dragons to be found within. It’s frightening and uncomfortable and seemingly avoidable.
It’s also the place where we will find our greatest treasure.
What caves in your life have you been afraid to enter?
Will you leave your “innocence” behind and allow yourself to become the hero(ine) of your life by entering that cave and finding your treasure?
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