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When I was a boy reading the stories of "The Knights of the Round Table" and other adventure tales of knights, ladies, and evildoers, my friends and I were inspired and spent many afternoons playing heroes and villains. In the woods of our backyards we went on many daring excursions, faced serpents with crested heads, and dark and wily villains, and emerged victorious. Knights and dragons are primary themes in our Western heritage. The power of these stories still fascinates; and though they often take new forms such as Star Wars, the patterns are the same.
In the Western tradition there are two kinds of dragons that require a heroic effort to overcome. The first one kidnaps maidens, who represent the archetypal symbol of life. The second one collects and hoards gold. In either case the dragon usually stays close to or in a cave, where it guards its booty jealously. The first dragon represents the state of our childhood dependencies that we must overcome in order to win lives of our own, to become adults. The second dragon represents the ways we are bound to the initial identities we develop and the values and conventions of society. These dragons are like forces holding our potentials captive. We must free ourselves of this bondage in order to live as people in society, serving our values rather than compulsively following those of our culture. Slaying dragons becomes a metaphor for how each of us has to free ourselves from childhood dependencies, and from the bonds of our identities and society. We will see a number of examples in the following pages of men and women developing their voices and inner authority.
When I got married in college and later went into business I was doing so to force my way into adulthood. Even though I had little awareness of what I was doing, I was following an archetypal pattern and slaying the dragon of childhood dependency. Later in my thirties when I went through another passage and career change, I was confronting the second dragon -- the limits of the identity I had established and the conventional values of our society. Dragons don't die easily. They fight to keep us dependent and tied to them. The struggle is worth it, but there are no easy paths through them.
You may recall that in chapter 1 I discussed how we grow in consciousness. I said that we grow from simple consciousness to complex consciousness, then to individual consciousness and finally to illuminated consciousness. Simple consciousness begins at birth and lasts until late adolescence. It's a period of developing our identities and the skills necessary to live, work, and have relationships in the world and outside of our families. To move from simple to complex consciousness, to become adults, we have to muster the strength to overcome the dragon of dependency. Because our society no longer has effective initiation rites, this quest is as lonely as a knight's.
Complex consciousness is the period of consolidating our identities and using our skills for love and work in adult life. In other words we have established our islands with their rules of order and assumptions about life. To move beyond our adult identities into individual consciousness means we must slay the dragon guarding the gold of our potentials, enter the cave of our unconscious and begin the search for its contents.
In individual consciousness we are opening the boundaries of our islands -- our previous identities -- and freeing ourselves of society's mind-sets in order to live from our hearts rather than impulsively serving the claims of an imposed system. Growing into the area of individual consciousness begins with knowing more about our shadows, the parts of us that have been denied and the families and social systems that caused these denials. Growing into individual consciousness will give us the inner strength and confidence to let go of the familiar beliefs of our culture and to live authentically. It is this process that we will begin to explore in the following pages.
Growth means change, and facing the choice of whether to change or stagnate is one of our greatest challenges. It is hard and scary to shake free of the support of what is known when we can't be sure of what's ahead. There is an understandable fear there will be nothing there, a void, or something alien or disappointing. But as the men and women we will encounter in the following pages show us, there is more. And that more -- the recognition and embrace of illuminated consciousness -- makes the demands of the journey worthwhile. It's the place we reach when we finally realize our unique personhood and the existence of our greater Self as an image of the divine within us. We sense the purpose and the pattern of our lives and their importance. And we realize that we live in two worlds, our own world and that of the culture outside of us. We live in society without allowing society to dictate how we should live. The journey beginning with individual consciousness takes us on a road that may sometimes feel rutted and bumpy, but it is a straight one. It only asks that we make a serious commitment to honor our inner lives in order not to double back onto the old road, and its ways of living and thinking.
Excerpted from the book Sacred Selfishness: A Guide to Living a Life of Substance by Bud Harris, Ph.D.; © 2002 by Bud Harris. Published by Inner Ocean Publishing.