Part two of Thresholds of Initiation picks up Michael Meade’s story of imprisonment and eventual confinement in a solitary cell. A fascinating part of the narration occurs when the idea of fasting arises, not simply as a way of protesting, but as a way of demonstrating that a radical change in life was underway. This leads to the idea of radical initiation, the role of rites of passage in traditional cultures, and the concept of initiation being not only valuable, but vital in this time of radical change and confusion.
“We live in betwixt and between times,” says Michael Meade, as he considers the uncertainty and disorientation that so often characterize contemporary life. After drawing connections to ancient ideas of the thresholds of initiation, Meade tells an unusual and deeply personal story from his own youth. The result is a rare look into the territory of initiation where trials and obstacles can lead to a deeper understanding of the nature and purpose of one’s life.
In part two of the ancient story of Indra and the Two Worlds, we learn that Indra, having become disillusioned with what most people call the real world, becomes a renunciate, spending his time in meditation and contemplation. Meanwhile, the daily world falls apart as conflicts intensify and chaos spreads, leading Queen Shachi to realize that enlightened leadership must be brought back to the world. Michael Meade's interpretation of the story includes how we each relate to issues of empowerment and abdication, disillusionment with the world as well as the significance of the Bodhisattva concept.
The wisdom of myth says that all of this has happened before; leaders have misused power, justice has been turned upside down and people have been left in despair. In the first episode of a two-part podcast, Michael Meade draws upon an ancient and compelling myth from India that considers the dangers and distortions of misguided leadership. Lord Indra is possessed by the idea of winning at all costs and being ruler of the entire world. In order to avert a worldwide catastrophe, he must be shocked into a greater state of awareness.
“In the depths of the soul we are each an ‘old soul’ able to survive the troubles of the world, and also able to contribute to its healing and renewal.” So says, Michael Meade on this episode, drawn from a recent radio interview. Starting with the intrigues of both spirit and soul, the conversation turns to ways to navigate the maze of life when the world seems to go upside down and truth becomes hard to find. Using many insights from mythic imagination, Meade offers medicines and antidotes to the current conditions of the world. He also warns, “Either we are following spirit and growing more soul or we can find ourselves shrinking from life.”
Michael Meade responds to three questions people continually ask him: Are people unwittingly playing with worldwide disaster by pulling out of nuclear agreements, climate accords and trade alliances? Why are people so readily polarized and ready to demonize whoever doesn’t agree with them? And why are so many people falling into conspiracy theories and delusional fantasies? Surprisingly, all three questions are answered with the same ancient notion that sometimes everything must go upside down before things can turn around again. Sometimes we have to face the chaos in order to find paths to renewal.
The Greek word for truth is alethia, which translates as “not to forget”. In that sense, the loss of truth and the rise of falsity in modern life represents a great cloud of forgetting. In this episode, Michael Meade goes searching for truth and meaning in the old myths of the underworld where a person could find themselves caught between Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness or Oblivion, and Mnemosyne, the River of Great Memory and imagination. In a world turned upside down, the underworld stream of forgetfulness and lies floods the daily world. Finding the truth will mean remembering the deep values of humanity and the living stream of imagination that can renew all of life.
“Regardless of the conditions of the outside world, we are each here to transform our own lives from the inside and become a full expression of our unique soul.” So says Michael Meade when he talks about one of his favorite stories, The Tiger’s Whisker. This episode of Living Myth includes a full telling of the famous tale of a woman who must face a living tiger in order to cure the ailment in her soul. What begins as a small village tale opens up to become the endless territory of the human heart that harbors an old sage, a fierce tiger and the need to find a cure for love. In a world troubled with collective anxiety and growing fears, it is helpful to know that on a path with heart, fear is the guide and what you truly love is the cure.
The world is so flooded with change, it becomes difficult to keep abreast of radical climate changes, shifts in technology, and all the scandals and revelations of politics. Michael Meade suggests that being an “agent of change” may not be enough to affect life in meaningful ways. He proposes becoming “agents of creation” who can help tip the scales away from destruction and towards ongoing creation. Following a teaching story in which an old man reviews his life, the point becomes that genuine transformation must begin in the depths of our individual souls, for what truly changes the soul, also changes the world.
In considering the amount of despair and suffering in the world that manifests as increased anxiety, depression and widespread addictions, Michael Meade takes up two contrary views of the human soul. The modern view of a blank slate or empty soul contributes to the growth of isolation and despair. The older sense of myth and imagination holds that each soul is unique and seeded with meaning and purpose. Meade uses an ancient story of the origin of one’s lot in life to illustrate the importance of having a felt sense of a unique soul inhabiting each person who enters the world.
Amidst all the confusion about building walls and assigning tariffs, amidst threats of violence and continuous upheaval, Michael Meade turns his attention to the old imagination of a guarding and guiding angel of the soul. Following the subtle trail of angels found in cultures throughout the world, Meade examines the role of inspiration in modern life and the need for intermediaries that connect us to nature and to the divine. In contrast to the modern notion of a world made of subjects separated from objects, the presence of angels adds more presence to the world and can help keep us aligned with beauty, wonder and life purpose.
It has often been said that The Odyssey is the defining story of Western culture. In this episode of Living Myth, Michael Meade tells parts of The Odyssey and draws connections to the current moment in which young people try to protect life and inspire the culture to change. In the ancient tale, the goddess Athena appears as the source of wisdom, but also as the essence of nobility and justice at the very heart of democracy. As we witness the awakening of youthful voices all around us, the sense of an American odyssey can help ground and deepen the present moment and reveal how genuine wisdom can come from young souls.
Michael Meade tells an old wisdom tale from India, the kind that would be used to offer guidance to young people heading out into the world trying to find themselves, but also used as a reminder to people of all ages what it is we’re truly looking for in this world. At a key point in the story, the door to the inner treasury of knowledge opens when an ancient sage asks the question, “What do you love most in this world?” Amidst all the troubles in the world, in the midst of the manipulation of mass data and falsification of facts, it is important to remember that what the heart loves is the cure.
Michael Meade focuses upon the actions of young people speaking up and leaving school to protest mass shootings and the cycle of violence that has not found a meaningful response from national leaders and institutions. He puts the current issues in the context of an old story where a youth suffering a great loss encounters an elder waiting to help. Introducing the presence of a knowing, compassionate elder moves things to a different level. Seen psychologically and in mythic terms, the passionate ideals of youth need to be supported by the generosity, wisdom and life-affirming courage of awakened elders.
Michael Meade answers questions about the soul, such as “what is the soul and why does it matter so much in the modern world”? Starting with the dangers of the loss of soul, Meade launches into a rhapsody of soul, a survey of the roots and the branches of the living soul in people, but also the animated soul of the world. This treatise on the necessity of the soul and tribute to its meaning leads to soul being imagined as the womb of life and source of the ongoing creation in the midst of all the troubles of the world.
This episode of Living Myth addresses the hollowing of institutions and the loss of values and principles that people expect to serve as guide posts in life. Taking up the theme of “creeping nihilism,” Michael Meade shows how a society can make enough false moves and sound enough false notes that life begins to feel empty of purpose and hollow of meaning. He offers that the antidote to nihilism must involve a return of idealism that involves both elders and youth. He reviews cultural movements like “never again”, “me too” and “black lives matter” as attempts to reclaim the force of idealism in a culture in turmoil.
This episode of Living Myth begins with the report on the increase of perfectionism in the world. Whether caused by comparisons found on social media or notions of meritocracy, young people especially suffer from perfectionism. Beginning with the idea that something perfect is finished, and therefore closer to death than to life, Michael Meade turns our attention instead to the value of trouble. Not just any trouble, but the importance of getting into the right trouble, the kind of trouble intended to grow our souls. The right kind of trouble serves to awaken inner capacities we didn’t know we had and draws upon resources we didn’t know were there. Recent studies in education indicate that the right kind of struggle makes all of us more resilient, creative and less anxious in general.
This episode of Living Myth takes up the issues of tragedy in America, specifically the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In considering the long history of men and guns, Michael Meade states an old Irish proverb: “You don’t give a man a weapon unless you’ve taught him how to dance.” After lamenting the lack of leadership when it comes to guns and violence, he introduces and an old idea from Africa. The term “litima” describes the volatile spirit found in youth that can either be the source of creativity and ideals or else become a trigger for violence and destruction. The difference is often decided by the amount of acceptance, care and guidance a culture brings or fails to bring to its youth.
This episode of Living Myth begins with the fantasies of huge military parades and the swirling of conspiracy theories in the nation’s capital. Michael Meade shifts the issues of collusion, delusion and transparency from politics to the deeper grounds of depth psychology and mythology. As the world seems to tip upside down, we experience a “lifting of the veil” that can reveal things usually hidden or covered up. Although old structures may collapse and once vital systems may fall apart; yet other patterns and barely imagined designs are on the verge of being revealed.
This episode of Living Myth begins in the aftermath of the recent State of the Union address and tries to turn our attention to the state of the soul, both the soul of the country and the individual souls within it. Michael Meade describes the importance of the second adventure of life, the soul’s great adventure, which is unique to each person and must be risked despite, and because, of the state of the country and the world. As he states, “often the choice comes down to adventure or complacency, since life is rarely neutral, complacency does not simply lead to stasis, but to decay and increasing loss of life purpose.” In the face of life’s challenges, either we grow bigger lives or become smaller people.
This episode of Living Myth focuses upon the idea that a genuine tension of opposites can produce something imaginative, vital and unifying. “Meaningful transformation is the secret aim of the tension inside life,” Michael Meade states while considering the current political impasse that pits “the dreamers” against “the wall.” Surprisingly, he argues that the solution cannot be found in simple negotiation or compromise, and certainly not in the art of the deal. Rather, imagination, as the “hidden third,” is the key to meaningful change and creative progress.
This episode of Living Myth focuses upon the growing distance between the speeding up of time in the modern world and the lost connection to time eternal. Michael Meade tracks the fall of time from its ancient connection to the timeless expanse of night to its breaking down into minuscule bytes and bits. After considering the workings of the sundial, he follows the fall of time into the sands of the hourglass and the surprising origin of alarm clocks in practices of prayer in the dark ages intended to prevent the end of the world. All along, the story of time has been secretly trying to find again the connection to “once upon a time” and the blessing of time’s secret relation to all that is eternal and able to restore and renew the world.
This episode of Living Myth is about meaningful words and how words really matter. Beginning with Donald Trump’s claim that he is a “stable genius”, Michael Meade begins to open up the meaning of words like stable and genius, fate and fame. He follows the old roots of words and winds up at the intersection where an obsession with fame turns into the danger of living in infamy. Whereas genuine fame would involve a revelation of one’s natural genius, infamy involves an inevitable fall into disrepute, discredit and ultimately disgrace. Infamy proclaims the underside of fame, the shadow side of power and the hollow shell of seeming success.
This episode of Living Myth begins with a question asked by two young people feeling overwhelmed by the troubles of the world. Meade responds sympathetically, offering a discourse on the importance of the human soul and showing how the modern world suffers from a loss of soul on many levels. The growing loss of soul leads to increasing disconnections between people and widespread intensification of oppositions and conflicts.
Not knowing or not trusting the presence and power of the soul leads to the common idea that we can’t change ourselves, much less change the conditions of the world. Using a story of a lonely woman and a golden fish, Meade offers the critical idea that the individual soul can grow, and in growing help add soul back to the world.