Big mythology geek that I am, I used to love the movie “Clash of the Titans” when I was little. (The original, not the remake — the one with the steampunk owl. Super-nerd alert!)
One part in it that always stuck with me was the scene where Andromeda gives the following riddle to Perseus:
“In my mind’s eye, I see, three circles joined in priceless, graceful harmony. Two full as the moon, one hollow as a crown. Two from the sea, five fathoms down. One from the earth, deep under the ground. The whole, a mark of high renown. Tell me, what can it be?”
[If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to bother — she’s talking about a gold ring with two pearls on it.]
I like riddles, in general, but the part about “five fathoms down” always felt very deep and meaningful.
I favored that line, and it eventually developed its own personal relevance…
When I was in graduate school and we had to do our Group Counseling class, we went around the group one day, discussing common fears.
As it happened, there were 5 students in my class, including me.
And I was last in line to get to pick from the fears list that our professor had passed around for us to discuss. These were not phobias (like my snake phobia, as I shared in a previous post). Rather, these were fears that had more to do with therapeutic healing, processes and goals.
As we went around the circle, each time one of my classmates chose a fear, I mentally had to check it off my list because we weren’t supposed to pick the same fear as someone else.
Being the last one to go, I felt like I had a greater challenge because by the time it was my turn, all the ones I’d wanted to choose had already been picked. All the “easy” fears were gone.
That left me with this one:
The fear of emptiness.
On the list we were given to choose from, that one felt like the biggest doozy of them all.
While I can’t tell you what everyone else in the group shared about the other fears I would have chosen, because part of the pact of a functional group is the confidentiality agreement that everyone must agree to in order to be a participant, I can share my own take on that fear, and how I got down to it.
Each time I would have picked one of the previous four fears, and that choice was taken by another of my classmates, it forced me to look deeper into why I would have chosen that fear in the first place.
And below that fear, there was another one lurking in the depths.
So when I reached “The fear of emptiness,” that was my own version of journeying five fathoms down, through the depths of my own insecurities and fears.
The rest of them were facades.
This fear was the one that was the driving force behind all the others.
This is the one that snarled at me, “What are you without all your good grades, high achievements, prestigious accomplishments, and talents? You’re nothing! You’re empty! You’re worthless!”
This one was the root of all evil, the biggest destroyer of self-esteem and confidence.
Tara Mohr in her fantastic book “Playing Big” would call this your Inner Critic. I call it my Nemesis. Again, that’s from my geeky love of Greek mythology — she’s the spirit of divine retribution for those who suffer from hubris, or toxic pride.
She brings the pain if you ever get too big for your britches.
And is she ever ruthless!
In a stroke of serendipity, I was taking this class at exactly the same time I had that snake-in-the-dishwasher experience, right when my world had completely fallen apart, and everything that had constituted my self-worth had crumbled into dust.
My marriage had failed. I’d lost my favorite job and a baby. Everything in my world was turning to ash — and if that’s not rock-bottom, I don’t know what is.
Maybe I deserved to be taken down a notch, or maybe this was the universe’s way of telling me that what I was doing wasn’t working anymore, and I’d been too stubborn to pay attention to the signs.
I always say to myself, “When you won’t make a choice, God will make it for you.” This felt like one of those times. If you don’t follow the trail of breadcrumbs that are pointing toward your path of enlightenment, sometimes the universe will drop-kick you in that direction to jump-start your journey. Whether you like it or not.
When your entire world is razed to the ground like that, it can be terrifying and disorienting; and even when you’re looking up from the abyss, it can be extremely tricky to know which direction to go as you start climbing out of your own personal chasm.
But getting down to that base fear, five fathoms down, and exposing it to light in a supportive group helped me to work through it.
Shadows can only exist in opposition to light — but when you illuminate them, they vanish.
Just as love for my daughter helped me to confront a snake, and as finding the fun in being on stage helped me to get through stage fright, bringing this negative belief out of the depths helped me to address the underlying fear that underpinned all the rest.
It got me to examine my conditions of worth very closely, and because everything in my life had been torn apart, it allowed me to reinvent them according to a new set of standards, one that was more in alignment with my higher self and my inner purpose.
Redefining what “worthy” meant to me removed all the previous programming scripts I’d been taught throughout my life, and let me paint a new picture of what success would look like.
It’s an ongoing journey, an ever-evolving one, but now it’s a conscious one.
Now as opposed to being in the hand of Fate, I feel more like I’m on the path of Destiny.
In spiritual circles, being at the mercy of Fate versus taking control of your Destiny is quite a distinction. Fate makes it seem like everything has been decided and pre-measured and what you get is what you get.
Starting a journey toward your Destiny is an odyssey, a voyage of discovery, evolution, and spiritual insight.
Personally, I’d much rather be on that path than be subject to the hand of Fate.
And while fear may never completely go away, going through these experiences gave me a handful of approaches to deal with fear that I hadn’t tried before, and which got me out of a destructive cycle.
Sometimes you just never know what you’re made of until you come face to face with your own dragon, and you either slay it, or embrace it.
Slaying dragon-like creatures, at least in the case of the Hydra, tends to create more fears to continue fighting you.
Whereas if you can find a way to embrace your dragon, you can absorb all its power and transmute that anger, rage, and fear into an energy that’s more constructive and creative.
Whenever there’s a choice between struggle and creativity, I’d rather choose creativity. Any day.