In celebration of a new day for our nation, as citizens, we are called to cross this threshold in ways that heal the heart of our democracy. I believe to bring about continued positive transformation, the success of this comes from an individual who knows that our outwardness is dependent upon our inwardness.
The Labyrinth and Clue of the Red Thread, excerpt from my upcoming book. (Available for purchase on January 26th, 2021.)
Imagine young men and women in your country and neighborhood being routinely sent to war, working in hospitals to deal with a pandemic without safety masks, or confronting such daily horrors as hate crimes, gun violence, and sexual assault. Imagine further that those in power expect their citizens to sacrifice themselves on the altar of the economy, false patriotism, and revenge at a time when guns, money, and autonomy outrank dignity, community, and justice. Imagine further that you choose to act against these injustices to serve your people as best you can and defend humanity and democracy.
In Greek mythology, the king’s daughter Ariadne lived in the palace of Knossos on Crete where she was put in charge of its many mazes and labyrinths. Crete was known as a place of “extremes and contradictions.” Underneath the Knossos palace was a complex and deadly maze built by the master designer Daedalus to house the Minotaur. Daedalus himself got lost in this maze, almost to die there.
Young men and women from Athens were routinely sent into the maze to be devoured by the Minotaur in a sacrificial rite of revenge. Theseus, an Athenian prince, came to free Athens from
its commitment of sacrifice and vowed to enter the maze and kill the Minotaur. Ariadne fell in love with Theseus, and because she loved him, she resolved to come to his aid. She gave Theseus her ball of red thread so he might fasten it to the labyrinth’s entrance, then unravel it to mark his passage into its center. When Theseus initially took hold of the ball of red thread, the deadly maze was instantly transformed into a negotiable labyrinth—though still with its challenges and deceptions—which he was then able to enter, confront the Minotaur, and safely return out.
Ariadne’s thread was a guiding device. As there was not an easy way to memorize the paths of the labyrinth, the thread helped overcome the difficulties and limitations of memory. Even when someone successfully met up with the Minotaur, they never found their way out and died trapped inside the maze. The ball of thread is known as a clew (or clue) to solving the labyrinth, which had countless paths, some of which were treacherous.
Theseus represents that part of us that can be forgetful and too often sacrificed on the platform of someone else’s aspirations and plans. He is also the heroic part of us that is altruistically motivated and willing to break agreements with those in authority in order to serve humanity.
Courageous people who have gone before or are beside us now hand us the red thread of their wisdom to help transform us into heroic figures. All teachings and teachers come to us as part of a lineage. The red thread in this book represents the lineage of my teachers’ teachings, including that of Parker J. Palmer, handed over to us here as an expression of their and my love.
Because our lives are full of forked paths, contradictory twists and turns, and frequent dead ends, and because we can sometimes forget who we are, we often need a guiding thread, a clue to help us successfully navigate our own particular labyrinths. Taking the thread of teachings gives us the confidence to reach our internal center as well as face our Minotaur, and then safely find our way back home to self, purpose, and community once more. This is what the everyday heroine looks like.
Just as with Theseus in the myth, our assumptions, emotions, memories, and beliefs may be unreliable and thus lead us astray. Ultimately, they become the constructs of our mazes. Other people, too, may try to manipulate us into following their agenda for our lives. Once we firmly take hold of the red thread of teachings, however, we are wholly capable of traversing the many twists and turns in our lives for ourselves. We do not have to be sacrificed to appease anyone, nor do we have to live life lost in a maze constructed by us or someone else.
At each turn in our metaphorical labyrinth (and very real life!), we unravel more of the red thread, revealing some promise and tangible hope contained in each teaching. Each time we place the red thread on the ground to mark a clear path back out, we also “place down” inside of us an understanding and realization that we will continue to carry within us. The thread may unwind and weave as we make our way through the labyrinth of our lives, but it can never break. This red thread, unlike breadcrumbs, will not be devoured by some hungry bird, but remain within us always as lasting nourishment for our souls and communities.