People have been asking me to explain symbols lately.
Symbols are a language of the unconscious mind. This is why our dreams are full of them.
A person sits alone in a rowboat on the ocean at night, looking up at the stars.
That symbol – whether expressed visually or in words – speaks to us of spirituality and practicality; deep thoughts and big challenges.
But how? Nowhere among those 17 words is any reference to thoughts or challenges. We are given only a person, a rowboat, water, darkness and stars.
The scene is awesome, majestic and lonely.
“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
President John F. Kennedy, deeply aware of the awesomeness of his responsibilities and the majesty of his position and the loneliness that comes with both, kept those 13 words forever before him as a plaque on his desk in the oval office.
Ernest Hemingway animated this symbol in his novella, The Old Man and the Sea. Alone and far from shore, Santiago faces the task of landing a fish bigger than his boat and then defending it from a mob of sharks. Looking up at the stars and down into the water and fighting with all his strength for 3 days and 3 nights, Santiago’s soul-searching self-talk won Hemingway the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Forty-seven years later, Yann Martel conjured this same image to sell more than 10,000,000 copies of The Life of Pi. In the opening line of its summary, Wikipedia says the book “explores issues of spirituality and practicality.” Go figure.
I often begin the second day of the Magical Worlds Communications Workshop by asking the students,
“Did any of you have an interesting dream last night?”
I do this because the first day of that class is filled with lots of big ideas coming at you too quickly to digest and assimilate. Dreams are a just side effect of your unconscious mind’s processing of unresolved ideas during the night.
Two weeks ago, a first-time Wizard Academy student, a 65 year-old man, raised his hand and said, “I dreamed I was on a gondola in Venice, Italy, when an incredibly beautiful woman came onto the boat and seduced me.”
The class laughed, of course, but then the man asked, “Why do you think I had that dream?”
“Did you enjoy the day yesterday?”
“Very much! It was magical.”
“Would you say that you’re on a journey, in an exotic place, overwhelmed by incredibly beautiful new ideas?”
The man brightened. “The woman wasn’t a woman at all! She was just a symbol of what I learned!”
“Makes sense to me.”
This brings us to the 4 stories celebrated in the art that overflows the campus of Wizard Academy.
- The Christmas Story of the Magi, or Wise Men (wise-ards,) in Matthew chapter 2 is a story about a group of people who saw beauty and truth where others saw nothing at all. The Wise Men did more than talk; they took action. They counted the cost and launched an adventure. They pulled the trigger and rode the bullet. They followed a star across an ocean of sand.
- Don Quixote de La Mancha, (1605) is essentially the same story. “This is my quest: to follow that star. No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.” Like the wise-ards before him, Quixote sees and values things that others neither see nor value. But isn’t this a quality of every innovator and entrepreneur? Quixote is driven by his pursuit of Dulcinea, the perfect woman than exists only in the imagination of a man.1 She was recently seen stepping aboard a gondola in Venice, Italy.
- A Message to Garcia – Translated into every language of the world, this true story by Elbert Hubbard was for many years history’s most widely distributed work during the lifetime of the author. Here are paragraphs 4 and 5:
“Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How “the fellow by name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and having delivered his letter to Garcia, are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.”
“The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?” By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college in the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing – ‘carry a message to Garcia!'”
Are you beginning to see a pattern?
Quixote and The Wise Men, Rowan and Santiago, did more than talk; they took action.
- The Old Man and the Sea – On the second evening of his journey, the fisherman Santiago, still being towed by the giant marlin after some 30 hours, lay against the bow of his boat, looking up at the sky. “The first stars were out. He did not know the name of Rigel but he saw it and knew soon they would all be out and he would have his distant friends.” 2
The call of an impossible dream. A journey. An adventure. Reckless and silly to everyone but you.
What is life
but a small boat,
a big ocean,
and a night full of stars?
Roy H. Williams
1 Carl Jung called this perfect woman the anima. The perfect man that lives in the imagination of a woman is the animus.
2 Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, The Scribner Library (New York, 1952), pp. 74-75.
The painting at the top of this page is Beyond, by Kathryn Beals.
Meet Janine Stange, the National Anthem Girl. Janine has performed the Star-Spangled Banner in public thousands of times across all 50-states, in venues from Madison Square Garden to Arlington National Cemetery. Last August, she sang it 24 times in 24 hours. For Janine, singing the national anthem is a cause, a passion, and lately a business. Does patriotism pay? Listen in as Janine confesses to roving reporter Rotbart that earning a profit has been much harder than earning applause. It’s always interesting at MondayMorningRadio.com