This article was accepted for publication in Vitality Magazine before it ceased publication. It was also published in March 2000 in a spirituality e-zine, THE WORD. Rights available.
One of the greatest joys in my life is watching my granddaughter grow up. Now a year old, she is fascinated by the world around her, mesmerized by something as simple as an earthworm or soil or flowers. She doesn't worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Her life is one of complete fantasy, total magical enchantment, boundless pleasures; she teaches me every day that human life can be wondrous and full of joy.
Being a "grown-up" in modern Western society generally means leaving behind the magic and mystery of childhood. Once-joyous young lives often become adult lives riddled with stress, doubt and fear; we're too mature, too educated, too smart to believe in myths and fantasy and magic. But something is missing from our rush-rush, achieve-produce-spend, secular, pragmatic, scientific society. Great pleasures, magical joy, enchantment, mental alertness, and spiritual health get lost or forgotten when the magical amazement of childhood becomes the rational, logical, future-obsessing fears of adulthood. Without myths and fantasy, we may wake up one day feeling the cold emptiness of a life devoid of anything mystical and we may ask "Is this all there is?"
The good news is that we can get it back, that innocent appreciation of life's mysteries, with myths and fantasy as part of an enchanted life. Once we recapture the magic, our lives can be transformed into ones full of joyous pleasures and unlimited creative imagination.
Myths are stories that explain life and nature. In the same way that ancient Greek and Roman mythologies give us insight into the world's basic truths, so our own stories of childhood and family evoke the myths that we live as adults. Both contain partly true and partly fictional patterns of thought and behavior that can be followed from the beginning (birth) to modern times. Both offer guidance, pleasure and purpose.
Myths are always bigger than life, mysterious, and enchanting. Have you ever laughed with family members over some shared memory which has grown larger over the years into a fond keepsake, a myth? The delight in the recalling comes from a sense of shared destiny, a common truth.
Fantasies are products of the imagination that can fill us with pleasure and serenity or fear and dread. When you watch a honeybee flitting from blossom to bloom, what do you think about? Do you imagine the mysterious life of a honeybee, complete with a complicated communications system, and feel yourself enchanted with nature's magic? Or do you see the honeybee as a potential stinging enemy, a lesser life form fit to be swatted down and squashed underfoot? How you look at life, how you allow your imagination to shape your fantasies, in great part determines your positive, pleasurable or negative, fearful reactions.
Thomas Moore, author of The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, asserts that all the ills of our society are the result of the loss of soul which is partially caused by the disappearance of myth and fantasy from our secular existence. Moore defines enchantment as "a state of rapture and ecstacy in which the soul comes to the foreground and the literal concerns of survival and daily preoccupation at least momentarily fade into the background." (1)
Young children by their very nature live enchanted lives filled with moments of magic and fantasy. We must return to childhood and remember its truths, see life through the eyes of a child, if we want to find a way out of the disenchanted black-and-white material world. Through myth and fantasy, life shouts to us, offering guidance, pleasures and peace. The secret is to slow down and quiet the mind. Focus on the mysterious, magical images in nature as well as those in the heart and you will hear the soul's voice.
Deepak Chopra, author of The Way of the Wizard, looks to the mythologies of the past as ways to understand nature and life today. He particularly likes the tales of King Arthur's Camelot and the great wizard-teacher, Merlin, as a guide for modern living.
Chopra asserts that modern people live in the enchanted world of the wizard as much as past generations did (2) ... we just don't notice it because we forgot how to look. And in that forgetfulness, we've sentenced ourselves to the non-magical, secular life of pure joyless survival.
"We need the wizard's way to lift us from the ordinary and the humdrum to the kind of significance that we tend to relegate to myth but is actually right at hand, here and now," Chopra says. "Being alive means winning the right to say anything you want, to be who you want to be, and to do what you want to do. Camelot was a symbol for this sort of freedom. That is why we look back upon Camelot with such wistfulness and admiration." (3)
Despite our inner desires to grow in love and creativity, we lock ourselves into our own secular, judgemental prisons, Chopra points out, rather than expand our spiritual nature. The purpose in life, he says, is to find the wizard within, the inner guide, to lead us out of the soul's eclipse. (4)
No journey is more exciting and wondrous than the one back to your mystical, magical, child-like self. When you bring myth and fantasy into your life and give them a place of honor in it, you open the door to the soul.
First, quiet the pragmatic mind, the one with the ego at the helm. Stop thinking about everything you "should" do, what might happen tomorrow, and what the world thinks of you. For just a moment, become as innocent and enchanted as a one-year-old child. Look at life up close, without any blinders, and see the magic before your eyes. Imagine pixies dancing in the sunrise and angels sitting in the clouds. See the intricate perfection of a flower, the vein patterns in a leaf. Remember what it feels like to laugh with youthful enjoyment at the wonders all around you.
One day while I was reading outside, a small turquoise dragonfly landed on my book and remained there for several minutes. I was enraptured by the tiny creature's beauty and perfection which could only be the work of a very artistic, creative, magical God.
As I studied the colorful insect perched on my book, I realized what a special world this is, full of magic, beauty, myth and mysterious meanings far beyond my human understanding. That dragonfly was not merely an irritating insect to be brushed away ... it was a glimpse at the face of God. And God was smiling, laughing with childlike glee.
(1) Moore, Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, page ix
(2) Chopra, Way of the Wizard, page 4-5
(3) Same, page 5
(4) Same, page 6