-Painting by Joseph Wright, 1780-
“My soul, why do you tarry so long in the land of exile?
Return from this exile; how long will you be dispersed?”
The sound of the word exile always reminds me of Medusa from Greek mythology. I can hear her revealing her story to me. She is there, lying on a rock in the middle of the sea, with her dense and rigid body, her skin is dry and thick like the thirsty land, her movements are heavy as she prefers to remain still, only held by the surface of a rocky edge. Her frightful face and poisonous hair-like snakes evoke terror, while her sight turns into stone anyone who dares to look at her in the eyes. She is Medusa, she rules over others by absorbing all of their aliveness and vitality, leaving them soulless, just as she is. Her appearance is like the embodiment of that inner state which holds the rigid, cold and harsh attitudes we carry in life. It is that part that has created within us the voice of strong judgment and authority, the rigid blaming of oneself or others, the concrete-like belief of being deprived of love or recognition, the provoking competitiveness, the firm resistance and the high expectations.
Where is your soul Medusa? Have you always been a merciless woman? What has happened to you and why have you been banished in this remote place? I see the snakes over her head folding and unfolding, hissing loudly, and a veil of wrath covering her eyes. My heart feels that she remembers, but it is too painful for her to talk about her story. She is Medusa, she strongly protects what lies behind her stony image. Meanwhile, the remembering is causing quakes that crack her emotionless world. Suddenly, she whispers with a trembling voice: «I used to be a maiden, a priestess full of charm. My face was the sweetest one could ever see, my hair in golden ringlets waved like the sea and my dark eyes revealed nature’s pure wilderness. Now, I live in a body where life hardly exists. I live in this forgotten place instead of Athena’s Great Temple».
While she speaks, I feel her words uncovering the deep sorrow that lies beneath our well-structured image as we admit the painful truth to ourselves. It is the moment we clearly see that we embrace our children without being present, we make love without being truly connected to our partner, we force our body to fit in with social beauty idols, we punish our body as a disease appears, we act with manipulating motives to keep others close to us, we cunningly elaborate our negative emotions pushing them towards denial. It is the moment we realise that every action we perform is under the spell of guilt, shame, grief, insecurity, greed, and arrogance. This spell keeps the soul imprisoned, isolated in that grey cold place where she mourns for her lost purity under the growing violence that surrounds her tightly.
Who cast this spell on you Medusa, that deformed and hid away your beauty? With a soft voice, she said: «I was once chased by Poseidon, the god of the sea, in Athena’s Great Temple. Athena filled up with such a rage that turned away her pure sight and gazed at the dark depths of her soul. She planted in the fertile land of my mind thoughts, words, and actions that took away all the vitality, spontaneity, compassion, and creativity from my soul. Hunger and thirst spread their roots deep inside me. From that day onwards I’m yearning to become alive again». This part of her story made me see the pain that lies underneath traumatic events when we are violated, exposed, and unguarded. There is so much pain and fear that takes the form of rage that builds in us a punishing attitude towards oneself and others.
Medusa, your words also remind me of the longing which burns inside the wanderers of the desert, told of in Sufi tales. They speak about people who go out in the limitless desert in search of what their soul is longing for. Some search for the sea beyond the horizon, others for the meaning of love, others for the nourishing garden, and some others for the hidden treasure. They walk endlessly in the wasteland asking everyone they meet for the right path. As time goes by they get lost in the habit of searching. Most of them have gained knowledge, experiences, and wealth. Still, there is something that is not fulfilled yet. Something that made them hungrier than ever. Therefore, they have never realised that their wandering has been external. They never truly turned their sight inwards to find what is being yearned for by their soul. They always saw it projected outside in the form of ideas. None of them has paid attention to that soft inner voice which was repeating: «What you are looking for is here within you».
Medusa replied to me: «There is nothing inside me that carries life. The fountain of life was left behind in the Great Temple were I was serving the goddess». Have you ever thought of returning home Medusa? There is that parable of the young son who travelled away in distant lands living extravagantly, spending all the riches given by his father. During the famine, he became desperately poor to the point that he asked to work as a swineherd. He didn’t receive enough food and his hunger grew so deep that he reached the point of desiring the food of the pigs. That was the moment that he came to himself and remembered home. He remembered that his father’s servants were treated well and he filled up with a longing to return home, not as the son but as a servant. In the end, his return was celebrated because as the story says “he was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found”.
I saw Medusa bending her head low and becoming silent. After a while, she spoke: «My return will happen not in the way I desire. My journey towards home will begin the day that a great man will suddenly raise his shield in front of me and my eyes will face this horrific image of mine». These were her last words and then she remained silent.
Her words felt like they were disclosing the inevitable truth that exists imprinted in our soul. That, we are able to walk home only when we unconditionally accept our fallen state. We are able to meet with our true nature again, but only when we see what lies into our shadow, all the untreated traumas we carry and the personas we have built and worshipped in life. Medusa indeed returned home, as the myth says, but with a different form, or to be precise in different forms. Her head became the protecting image on Athena’s golden shield, her blood was used as a cure by Asclepious the god of healing. Also, during her decapitation from within her sprung Pegasus the winged horse symbol of poetry and inspiration and Chrysaor a human who held a golden sword and later became a king.
Returning from exile is a transformative inner journey where we learn to drop all the hardened defences and illusions, and embrace our vulnerability. Vulnerability is the gate we walk through to reach home. The return always reconnects us with the most vital elements within our soul. Being at home we become soft, compassionate, creative, open to be at the service of others, and most of all, forgiving towards oneself and others.
This passage is from a talk given in 2017, exploring the way we can work with trauma and reconnect with life.
Global Book Publishing (2007). Mythology: Myths, legends & fantasies (5th ed). Lane Cove, Australia, 110 -111.
Greek Bible Society (2003). New Testament, Luke: Chapter 15. Athens,110.
Jung, C. G. (1968). The archetypes and the collective unconscious (2nd ed). London: Routledge.
Shah I. (1993) Tales of the Dervishes: Teachings stories of the sufi masters over the past thousand years (4th ed). London: The Octagon Press.