‘Stranger Things Graffiti’ – Paul Sableman (Artists Jher Seno and the Arty Deeds) – Wikimedia
“A myth is a mask of God, a metaphor
for what lies behind the visible world.”
~ Joseph Campbell (‘The Power of Myth’)
There is an astounding profundity in popular culture. It is just for us to see when it pops up, when it arises above the sea of confusion that our life is for the most part. What is designed to be just light entertainment, what appears to have no depth or consistence other than being an easy escape out of ourself, can hide the brightest of gems if we can elevate ourself to its hidden meaning. I stumbled across one such meaningful gem recently.
‘Running Up That Hill’ is a song created by pop singer Kate Bush in the eighties. It recently got a second life and triumph by appearing in one scene of the famous sci-fi thriller series ‘Stranger Things’. In this particular show, there is a hideous monster that roams in an imaginary city, and feeds on the minds of teens deeply affected and traumatised by their past, luring them into its parallel and ultimately illusory reality. In that particular scene, the girl is trapped in some dark chamber of her mind. The ugly beast keeps her prisoner there — a cave like place where she is about to be engulfed in the monster’s hideous mind. She manages to escape the grip and run towards an opening in the distance where is her true self and salvation. Pieces of rocks are falling all around her to stop her course, but she keeps running one-pointedly ahead while hearing Kate Bush’s song ‘Running Up That Hill’. The reason for her escape is to be found with her friends playing this song she deeply loves, and creating in her that powerful call and incentive.
Why does a particular blend of a scene and a song suddenly hit a target, move people beyond what could be possibly expected? Just one glance in the comments of that particular scene on YouTube makes it clear: “Best scene of the series”, “This scene made me want to live”, “Cathartic”, “A metaphor for what’s battling your mind”. Why does anything hit us and move us to feel in ourself a feeling of being alive? Tears may come, a feeling of thankfulness, maybe even some sense of profound happiness. What is tilting in our minds in these ineffable moments is the recalling of our life’s most essential meaning and purpose, and the remembering of a place in ourself that we have neglected. This place is the forgotten but obvious target for all our thirsty mind-arrows. It is the open space of our deepest being that we keep missing at every moment of our lives, precisely because of its total intimacy and openness. How do we manage to miss it? Because we focus on the periphery of objective experience. We are enclosed in a dark chamber of our own making that lures us into itself, and makes us fragile, hopeful dreamers with fearful minds, forever caught in the prospect of impending death.
This wanting to live, to be free, or be saved — find happiness — is the common core of our lives. It is the ultimate call or prayer, which cannot find an answer or release in repeated objective experiences, but rather in the end of our focus on objective experience. It is a return. An ending. A volte-face. And this volte-face is what is represented in this particular scene and song. This is spiritual teaching. The hero has the courage to face what wounds her. This is what so many myths and fairy-tales actually mean or reveal. How a challenge that is provoking or stirring the hero’s habitual scheme or habit of living can be met, and happiness be restored. This act is a distant and forgotten metaphor for the unveiling of our true being, hidden behind the illusory sense of being a fearful and separate entity. It is not about being a better person or an unattainable hero. It is the finding of the courage of simply being. It is about just being yourself — your own true self — not an invented, imaginary and suffering self, but the shared self of ultimate being. A self whose nature is undefeatable. This act is the resolution of our deeply ingrained suffering, that shows itself through our sense of both fear and lack. It is called love, freedom, or happiness. It is revealed in countless stories, in the productions of so many heroes and other marvels of children and adolescent mythologies, from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Harry Potter’, from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to ‘Matrix’ or ‘Indiana Jones’, including their pendant adult ones, and countless other landmarks of popular culture.
These stories are almost always about the resolution of a problem or a riddle, about reaching a form of salvation. This not-knowing, this suffering that needs to find in knowing, in happiness, its ultimate answer and deliverance, is nothing less but the salvation promised by religious or spiritual inquiry. Why are we so fascinated about this simple storyline that we find in every book or film? It is because our lives are made of it. Every line of our life-script is about solving the riddle that experience is — coming out of its problems and its intolerable suffering. This is the race we are all engaged in. This is the plot of our stories in this life. It is about passing all the challenges and obstacles, honouring all the dreams and the hopes to finally reach the promised land or paradise: Happiness. The whole thing is so simple and evident, isn’t it? We have to “be running up that road”, to “be running up that hill”, as the song is repeating. To leave all the obstructions behind us. Not through avoiding them, but simply by meeting any experience with the right posture of truth. Then doors open, opportunities appear, strength is given, the world bends and responds magically, because we have aligned ourself to its essence which is our own too. The truly heroic act is to be found in total humility and surrender. It is the abandonment of all agendas that we may have. It is never the expression of a will. It is trusting god after the very idea of god has been relinquished.
“One thing that comes out in myths
is that at the bottom of the abyss
comes the voice of salvation.
The black moment is the moment when
the real message of transformation is going to come.
At the darkest moment comes the light.”
~ Joseph Campbell (‘The Power of Myth’)
There is an involuntary yet revealing lesson that slips in that scene with the monter and the girl. When she is about to be killed, the beast is telling her: “You belong here, with me.” And the girl’s answer is: “You’re not really here.” To which the monster forcibly asserts: “Oh but I am. I AM.” It is ironical that the monster is here both affirming its illusory and fragile existence, while also revealing the key for the deliverance from its grip. This key is the ‘I Am’. This is our common ground and shared being. We all belong to it and that is why it is the ultimate path for deliverance. ‘I Am’ is the pebbles that will allow us to find our way back home, our Ariadne’s thread, the travel back to the father undertaken by the prodigal son, the field of our meeting, as Rumi once beautifully emphasised: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
This moment when the hero meets the monster is always a very revealing one; for the reason that the monster holds in its final grip the ultimate key, which is the revelation of the meaning of life. A monster is always an ambivalent character, one that brings death and destruction, but in doing so paradoxically produces the only gift or blessing worth receiving. It is the final end of all enquiry, this destruction of all our carefully assembled beliefs and self-protective structures. As Joseph Campbell pointed in ‘The Power of Myth’, quoting from ‘The Arabian Nights’: “When the angel of death comes it is terrible; when he has reached you, it is bliss.” This is the fundamental teaching that is hidden beneath this scene with the monster. Any challenge that may appear to threaten our existence, any fight with the ‘monster’, and the subsequent victory over its apparent negative power, is one of the great archetypal image that we find in every culture, in every marvel story, in every script of every story worth telling. The truly heroic act and the one genuine victory in life is found in the pathless and timeless path taken from suffering to happiness. This is the true meaning behind the monster’s defeat.
As the girl is escaping from the hideous cave, the monster looks at her with a look of indifference, a position of defencelessness, sending a few obstacles to stop the girl’s evasion without actually believing in their efficacy. It has renounced. It know its place. Love is not to be opposed in any way. This running towards truth and its inherent freedom is the truly heroic courage that needs to be demonstrated in the minutest challenges of our everyday life. It is the seeing that our present experience with its load of suffering and confusion is not what this life is about. This is not our real world. These are our made up, illusory, projected stories that we have to pass over, leave behind, or see through, in order to unveil, remember, or reveal our true reality. Right here between the kitchen and the living room, in our daily conflicts and minor fights with reality, can we stumble on a hidden truth, a discreet pointer, a life lesson. Not in the horizontal sphere as we too often think challenges reside — where they are caught in time and eternally recommenced — but in the vertical realm of our eternal being, where no problems can really truly stand, where no suffering or conflict can thrive, if it wasn’t for this misconception that we have superimposed on our life. This tragic misunderstanding.
What does Kate Bush’s song points to? I think it points to the unity of life, its oneness, its not-two-ness. This is the great resolver, to see that the ‘other’ is not really an other. To see that everyone and everything shares the same matrix. To see that there is nothing in life that can divide you, or crucify you. That you are already saved and rendered to the eternal life that all religions promise. And that love is the very fabric of the world, its inherent making and structure, and is revealed as compassion. We are one being and we share it. This sharing is not a doing. In fact we cannot not share it, for we are wholly it already with nothing on its side to make us incomplete, or hoping, or believing. This is why we have called it paradise, or happiness, or god, or the kingdom of heaven, or nirvana, and all such grand names. Because there is not a more or a better anymore after this realisation. It is an ultimate thing. Some have called it truth for the same reason. No further resolution or explanation is required after it. This is it. Like a full stop which never actually finds its stop.
As usual in this series as in so many similar productions in popular culture, love happens to be the ultimate force of redemption, the supreme incentive in our lives, and the one and only power destined to be ours in all eternity, should we finally allow ourself to notice its already shining and healing presence. This presence of love is unbeatable because it is shared. It is the very making of our shared, ultimate being, and is a transforming force. One that turns our believed sense of being a separate, suffering, and doomed entity into the revelation of our common identity with pure being. This is the glorious tapestry of our existence: to bring our false sense of self down — that seemingly unbeatable monster. That is the ultimate action of all true heroes. That implies a death of the old world, and the death of the self that created it and gave it its illusory forms — the monster’s tentacles. That’s how we get to be born again. Born to the realisation of our true and only body: Being. A victory whose deed is in last analysis nothing else but the deed of love.
Text by Alain Joly
Quotes by Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) & Rumi (1207-1273)
– ‘The Power of Myth’ – by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers – (Anchor Books)
– ‘The Essential Rumi’ – Translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne – (HarperOne)
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