Over two years ago I started on a journey to rid the emotional and physical pain that continued to cripple me. Resentment flooded my body as I was now, for the first time, learning how to live life on my own. Loneliness and despair slashed through my heart as I watched my wife move on, making up she was happier than she had ever been in our marriage.
I pleaded and begged for the pain to disappear. I willed the pain to dissipate. And yet, no matter how hard I tried, I could not release it.
A pool of boiling anger bubbled under the surface with the belief that I had once again “failed” and could not do anything right. That anger shot out passive aggressively in my words and my actions, further distancing myself from the one I desired to connect with.
My writing allowed me to release my pain. I was able to release the loneliness, the despair, the anguish. I let go of resentment. I let go of anger.
I found inner peace.
I had risen from the ashes and became reborn.
For me, the final journey towards accepting and grieving my divorce has been the desire to get a tattoo. I started that rite of passage this past weekend.
The Power of Myth
While doing some interpersonal work I started reading The Hero’s Journey, by Joseph Campbell and watching the 1988 PBS series with Bill Moyers titled The Power of Myth. I’ve heard Joseph Campbell’s name mentioned on many different podcasts in the past few months that I finally decided to find out what all the hype was about.
Joseph Campbell studied mythology from different religions and cultures. He believed that all mythic stories are just variations of a single great story. “The Hero’s Journey was the story of a man or woman who, through great suffering, reached an experience of the eternal source and returned with gifts powerful to set their society free.”
Joseph Campbell defines mythology as a “framework for a society or people to educate their young”. It’s gives them a means of coping with their passage through the different stages of life, from birth to death. The rituals in these myths teach us how to grow and change, how to transform ourselves like a nymph under water into an enigmatic, beautiful and dazzling dragonfly.
This has been my journey. This is the journey of my Fledglings. This is our journey.
This is the journey, the Myth of the Phoenix.
I’m the last person in the world anyone would have thought would deface his body.
For many years my wife has talked about getting a tattoo, something small, cute, and meaningful. And when she shared her ideas with much excitement in her eyes, I responded with belittling and shaming comments about tattoos and the people who get them.
For some reason, it made me incredibly uncomfortable that my wife would want to forever stamp her body.
I mean, really…who would put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari?
On top of my skewed viewpoint, I absolutely fear needles. The sound of a dentist drill, the idea of a shot, and especially getting blood drawn, puts me in a state of panic.
I remember, as a little boy, asking the doctor if I was getting a shot at the beginning of my annual doctor’s appointment. If the answer was yes, I’d cry throughout the entire session, never feeling the shot, and I was still bawling at the top of my lungs while carrying a balloon and sucking on a lollipop down the elevator, across the parking lot, and I’d stop once my mom and I reached the car.
Not only am I afraid of needles, I’m also a wimp with anything painful.
Ok, let’s change that thought.
I’m sensitive to pain. I have a very low pain threshold which allows the fear of pain to dictate my actions.
If I’m afraid of needles, don’t do well with pain, and have never approved of tattoos in the first place, then why in the world do I want to go through that experience?
My perspective towards tattoos has changed.
As I’ve gone through my internal transformation, I wanted to mark my journey of healing and growth. It was something I felt compelled to do.
I had initially planned to have a small tattoo of both Belle and the Beast on my shoulder. As I explained in the Beast is Human, I had believed that if Belle, my wife, could love the Beast, the addict, before the metaphorical last pedal fell, she would see the prince underneath.
Through my cross-stitch and my writing, I realized that society (and Disney) has completely screwed us up!
We don’t need someone else to love us and validate us so that we come to love ourselves.
We need to love ourselves internally before we can truly accept and receive love from others.
As Lisa Nichols says, “we don’t need someone to complete us, we need someone to come together and celebrate our completeness.”
The Beast doesn’t need Belle to complete him. He needs to love all parts of himself: the good and the bad, the dark and the light. Only then can he find truly find peace.
As I realized this, I scrapped the decision to have the Beast and Belle forever imprinted on my body. Instead, I made the decision to get a tattoo of my pseudonym, the phoenix.
To understand the depth of what the phoenix symbolizes to me, please check out my About Phoenix Emery page.
For over a year, I’ve been researching tattoos, talking to people about them, asking questions, and saving money. I planned that the final step of my divorce and letting go of my wife would be to go through the painful experience of marking my body as a reminder that we can always rise up from our pain.
We can be reborn!
This decision gave me a new outlook on tattoos. Just like when I showed up at The Meadows feeling judged because I admitted that I’m a sex addict, I realized the judgement I had towards alcoholics and other addicts was no different.
We are no different.
The only difference is the choice of what we use to medicate our uncomfortable emotions. Same people, different modes of managing our internal pain and struggles.
Five months ago, after writing It’s Time, I executed my next step. I had my first consultation.
It was time to take a leap into the unknown.
The Purpose of a Tattoo
The night before my tattoo I felt overwhelmed with fear. Fear of needles. Fear of physical pain. Fear of judgement from others. Fear that I was making a mistake.
Old judgements trickled to the top of my mind causing me to question my decision. I knew I could always back out, but then I also knew this was something I wanted to do.
I felt off. I had been gone for over a week and I had gotten home many hours earlier than I had intended.
I craved companionship with my wife and yet, deep down, I also felt that might be a mistake. She had already made her decision and me wanting to continue to see her and spend time with her felt like I was not honoring her decision to divorce me.
While I was grateful she had other plans and was enjoying her time, I felt the loneliness and sadness surge within me.
I called Rafiki and we met for a beer.
“Here’s the preliminary draft of tomorrow’s artwork.” I showed him the picture.
“Very nice! Your tattoo artist really did an extraordinary job recreating the elements of the phoenix and the symbolism it has for you.”
“I know, right?!” Great, I still sound like my daughters.
“I make up tomorrow will be a really hard day and yet also, a truly healing day for you.”
“I’m quite nervous.”
“Of course, you are. Remember the pain and processing you had with the tooth extraction at the beginning of the year? You don’t do well with pain and yet you’re going in with complete knowledge that you have to endure it.”
I nod and Rafiki continues, “That’s courage Phoenix. You may not see it, but I do. And many will look upon you with newfound respect.” I discard his last comment. I believe I will receive more judgment from others rather than respect.
Interesting how I can still easily accept judgment about me and yet the idea of respect makes me feel uncomfortable.
“It’s weird how my perspective has changed towards tattoos…” I pause. The bartender started clearing our dirty beer mugs.
He was a dark-haired man, goatee, and very muscular. Both arms were covered in tattoos. I looked up at him, “So tell me about your tattoos. I’m going in for my first one tomorrow and I’m literally petrified.”
He smiled in understanding. “First time, huh?” More statement than question. “Here’s the thing about tattoos. Every tattoo I have has a meaning. That’s what makes them so special. It’s the process of getting a tattoo that’s important.”
“I don’t know about the pain,” I add. “I’ve heard people go in drunk or high to help them not feel it. I’m not planning to do that. And yet, it gives me anxiety to think I’m willingly going to put myself through pain.”
“Pain is part of the process.” The bartender’s eyes grow intense. “I was never drunk or on drugs while getting any one of my tattoos. I need to feel the pain. The pain is the process of letting go. It’s letting go of whatever reason you got the tattoo in the first place. It takes you on a journey that heals you. What is left is the magic that you’ve persevered and moved on.”
“Yeah, that’s the journey I’m on tomorrow.” The bartender wished me luck and walked away.
Tattoos have a story. They have a purpose. They are meaningful to the person who gets them. It doesn’t matter if nobody else understands. What matters is the significance to the person who has it on their body.
That is their personal journey.
And, if we have courage to ask someone about their tattoo and what it means to them, they then become vulnerable to others.
What a gift a tattoo gives!
When we are curious and when we ask the questions, we get an insight into who these individuals truly are. We humanize them and realize that they are no different than ourselves.
My oldest daughter ended up going along with me. Multiple emotions surfaced having her there. On one hand, the moral support was comforting. On the other hand, I knew this was going to be an emotional experience and I felt that I would either make her feel uncomfortable or I wouldn’t be able to fully let myself go with the process.
My final decision was due to the symbolism of my tattoo. She knows about my addiction, we’ve talk about addiction, and she has seen my changes over the past few years. I want her to know that her Dad’s not perfect but will never give up trying to become a better version of himself. I want her to learn that no matter what life throws at us, we will always rise from the ashes.
It took about 25 minutes for the artist to review how the sketch looked, tweak it a little, and set up for the session.
That waiting period was nerve wracking. The pain was coming…
My original idea had my tattoo on my back, upper shoulder, and wrapping around my bicep. I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and see my phoenix. However, when the artist finished with the art work, he recommended that we place the tattoo only on my back. He explained it wouldn’t flow as well trying to wrap around my arm and that it would give my phoenix an elongated neck.
I have learned to Let Go and Let God.
Ok, not always, but I’m trying.
My artist is a professional. I trust his judgement. I’m willing to let go.
I agree with his assessment.
The time finally came to start our session. I leaned over a chair holding onto a pillow. My body tensed as he started the tattoo machine. The high-pitched whining reminded me of a dentist drill on steroids.
I tried unsuccessfully to keep my breathing slow and regulated. My mind kept repeating, “No, no, no.”
The needle touched my skin.
I recoiled in AGONY. “Fuuuuuuuuccccckkkkkk!!” My inner conscious screamed, “Why are you doing this? Make it stop!!! What have I done?”
The pain radiated from the small spot on my back, up towards my shoulders. I hugged the pillow tighter. My thighs squeezed, my feet pressed against the floor. My hands opened and clenched, opened and clenched. I felt heat start to radiate through my neck and my face.
After one small line was done, I kept thinking, “I could call it quits right now. I don’t have to willingly put myself through this.” And yet, the stubborn side of me took over.
“Through pain there’s growth. Through pain there’s growth.” I started chanting.
This became my mantra for my first session.
As I started to accept the physical pain I was experiencing on my back, flashbacks of emotional pain from my past flooded my thoughts.
The pain of the tattoo took me back to the pain of separation, the pain of divorce, and the pain of moving out of my home.
I saw myself curled up in the fetus position on my hotel bed clutching my gut feeling as if someone was cutting me open and ripping my intestines out.
I remembered being so extremely exhausted that I could fall asleep in seconds and then, not more than ten minutes later, wake with a start from a troubling dream that would haunt me for hours preventing me from falling back asleep.
I saw myself loading my truck and moving out of my home while I watched my family loading my wife’s car for a multiday trip with her close male friend and his girls. Country songs about watching your family from the outside looking in plagued me. The songs I had feared now became reality. I had been replaced.
I was gone from home, on a trip, working to provide for the family while they were out at the beach, hanging with friends, and doing events at school that I was missing. I felt isolated and alone. I felt unimportant and not needed. I felt helpless and worthless.
I flashed on the first year I was out of the house and my wife and I did not talk as much. We barely talked. I had no idea what my girls were doing or how they were doing. Without the input from my wife, I had no reference of their personal lives to ask the questions that would get them to talk to me. I felt like I was no longer a part of their lives.
I saw the anger in my wife’s eyes. The passive aggressive comments. The lack of empathy or caring that she once had towards me. Not only had a wall come up between us, but it felt as if there was a level of hate and disgust that only further enforced the negative self-love I had toward myself.
I saw the future I had envisioned shatter like I had dropped a mirror. Broken dreams. Poof! Gone.
Proof that everything I believed as a child was true.
I hear my father tell me, “Don’t fuck this one up!” when he meets my wife for the first time.
I’m a fuck up. Everything I touch I fuck up.
Reflections of the hundreds of shards of glass on the floor have his face staring at me, thousands of eyes of disappointment and disgust. I can never do anything right.
No, I can’t believe that. I won’t believe that. It’s not true! I will prove you wrong Pop!
As I’ve had to do all my life, I will continue to prove my worth. Just like I had to prove my worth through good grades, scouts, and the pursuit of my career. I will prove my worth by working harder on myself and my recovery. I can change. I will change.
But, how can I prove something when I don’t even believe it? How can I prove something to someone when she has already shut the door?
I will hold on. I will show my wife a living amends. I will not let go of the hope that we can reconcile our marriage.
I hope I can prove myself.
I hope she will once again accept me.
I hope we can rebuild our relationship.
My therapist states, “You can’t hope and grieve at the same time.”
She yells so I actually hear her, “YOU CAN NOT HOPE AND GRIEVE AT THE SAME TIME!!!”
She lectures. She pleads. “You must grieve your marriage. For your sanity, you must let go and grieve your marriage.”
It’s delusional thinking that every positive interaction between my wife and I means something more than it really does. I want it to mean something more. I make it truth.
But, it’s not the truth.
Rafiki keeps reminding me time and time again, “she has never changed her mind and has always stayed true to what she wants.”
He keeps challenging me, “when are you going to honor her enough to give that to her? When are you going to hold boundaries? When are you going to stop helping her and take care of you? When are you going to co-parent only? When are you going to put that energy into your girls?”
The emotional pain is tearing me up inside.
I see the fragments of my shattered life, the shrapnel of the explosion I had caused is all that I have left.
I can’t stop the thoughts that keep tormenting my mind. They riddle my brain like an automatic rifle in a war zone
I can’t show the depth of misery I’m feeling in front of my daughter. She doesn’t understand what I have endured trying to let go of my own personal demons. To show emotion means I’m weak. I can’t be weak in front of her.
But I couldn’t hold it back.
The tears start to fall. My marriage is no more. We once again have picked up where we left off. We have started the process with separation of assets. The divorce will go through.
It’s time to let go.
I miss my Mom. I want to wrap my arms around her, burry my head in her chest and cry. But, even though I want that, I know she could never give that to me. She never knew how. It would be just an awkward hug. Nothing genuine. Nothing nurturing.
Have I ever had that in my life? Have I ever truly had someone who would care for me? Am I even worth being cared for?
I feel lost and alone. It’s how I’ve felt all my life.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, the flashbacks from the past and the sadness about a future that will not be, just dissipated.
My head’s throbbing. I’m parched and thirsty. I feel drained. My body starts to shake, and I worry that I’m moving too much for the artist.
And once again, I feel the pain in my back. I had not really felt the pain on my back until now. I mean I felt it, but that physical pain had been tied so tightly to my emotional pain, it was as if my emotional pain hurt so much more.
It feels as if my back is literally burning up. If I look, I can probably see smoke rising into the air. This is the fire of the phoenix. The phoenix is rising. The phoenix is being reborn.
I start to focus on my breathing. I remind myself, “through pain there’s growth.”
Through pain there’s growth.
I start repeating my mantra once again.
This too shall pass.
I start to talk to Little Phoenix, “Look how far you’ve come. Two years ago, you couldn’t see past your pain. We’re doing so well. We’re happy. We’re moving on in our career. We’re enjoying life. We’re managing our emotions, eating healthy, and exercising. It’s even easier to be gone for longer periods at a time away from family. Look how beautiful life truly is. We just had to get through the pain to get there.”
I think about what my phoenix will look like when it’s finished. My artist has exceeded my expectations and incorporated aspects from my blog into his artwork. I know this is but one of two, possibly three sessions, and when it’s done, I will have a beautiful piece of art to remind me that there’s something better on the other side of pain.
A bit of fear seeps into my conscious realizing I’ll have to do this again. And I remind myself, that has been my personal journey of recovery. Remove the scab, clean out the wound. Remove the scab, clean out the wound. Continue going back and forth until I’ve healed.
My tattoo will take maintenance if I want it to continue to look vibrant. This is nothing different than working out and eating well to stay healthy. This is doing daily meditations to keep me focused on the present. This is what my daily grateful log is for. This is what the 10th and 11th Step is for, taking a daily personal inventory and continuing to set right any wrongs we may have had for the day.
I feel guilt.
I don’t want to minimize the pain I put my wife through, nor do I want to minimize the pain and the damage I put my girls through. My family has gone through hell due to my decisions and my actions.
I feel guilt, because of how selfish I was and at this moment I still feel selfish.
Two years ago, I never thought the pain would leave. Two years ago, I felt life would always stay bleak, that I would remain in a fog. I believed life would forever be hard and dismal.
Two years ago, I was controlled by jealousy, hurt, anger, shock, trauma. I felt stagnant. Every negative belief I had about who I was had been amplified.
I would never have gone the lengths to take my life because I could never do that to my girls. However, there’s a lingering question that I ask, did my girls kept me alive? If I didn’t have them, who knows the extent I may have gone to stop my pain.
I become present once again. The room focuses into view. My daughter is in front of me looking at her phone.
I’m once again focused on my breathing. The healing tears have dried on my cheeks (I couldn’t wipe them off while I was being tattooed). The pain is still there, and I grit my teeth as the process of marking my body continues.
I feel slightly embarrassed. I hope I didn’t make my daughter feel uncomfortable.
I remember what my nephew told me to do. Talk to your tattoo artist. So I start a conversation. In our discussion he makes a comment that sticks.
“Thank you, Phoenix, for allowing me to do my work. Many people have an idea of what they would like and become controlling because they only can see it done their way. I appreciate your willingness to trust me.”
It’s as if my Higher Power, as if God, was reminding me that I have learned how to let go of my will.
I respond through gritted teeth, “That has been my process of recovery. Let go and let God. It’s not my will, but His. For some reason, you and I were meant to go on this journey together. The first consultation I had, the artist never got back to me. This place was recommended by my wife and the person she recommended is booked for three months. Even though I was willing to wait, you and I still met. I believe my Higher Power wanted us to connect. And seeing the artwork you have done, I now know why.”
Letting go of control has been one of my most challenging character defects. I’m learning that when I do let go, magical and beautiful things happen. Letting go allowed me to have one of the most beautiful tattoos I have ever seen.
Ok, maybe that’s because I’m a little bit biased.
The next day I took my girls and a couple of their friends to an enjoyable day in the city and an air show. As the kids hung out together, I had really good conversations with one’s father. He spends lots of time meditating, doing yoga, staying in shape, and attending a men’s group. He’s also on his own path of inner personal growth.
We got to talking about my tattoo and the symbolism of rebirth and he explained about going through a Rebirthing Breathwork session. This is a style of breathing that was developed to experience an alternate state of consciousness and to heal old traumas, including the birth trauma.
Huh? Say what?
I’ve had to research more:
- What Happens in a Rebirthing Session?
- Rebirthing – Breathwork: Way Beyond the Limitations of Psychotherapy
Bear with me as I try to recall how he explained his experience to me.
“We start with a special way of breathing. It’s not like hyperventilating and it’s different then the breaths you take during yoga or meditation. The rebirthing breath master guides you through this experience.
“The experience is different for everyone. For me it was amazing. At one point I was focused on doing this breathing correctly, trying to clear my mind of negative thoughts and the disbelief that this would work, then all of a sudden, I felt this inner peace.
“It felt as if I was connected to the universe. I was in my mother’s womb. I didn’t have to breath anymore. I mean I know I was breathing, but I felt as if I wasn’t breathing. I was connected to her. I was connected to everything. Everything I needed was being given to me: food, shelter, connection. I was in a world of bliss. I was loved. Peace settled upon me. I was one with everything and everything was one with me.
“Then it started. I was being born. I felt myself become constricted, squished, as I was pushed through the birth canal. It felt awkward and painful. I felt the safety of my world dissipate and I was suddenly overwhelmed by senses I didn’t know I had. I was blinded. My head pounded from the extreme noise. I couldn’t breath. I gasped for air not knowing what I was doing. I screamed. For the first time, I felt fear.
“Hands rummaged over me. I lost the connection I had with my mother. I was separate now, not part of everything. I was not at one with the universe. I was now on my own with no knowledge of how to care for myself.
“When I awoke from the exercise I was covered in tears. I never realized how traumatic being born was for me. For everyone. And all I longed for was to be connected to the universe once again. To have that feeling where we’re all connected as one.
“That is my personal journey. To continue to meditate to allow myself to get to a state of being at one with the world. To find the bliss that I once had in my mother’s womb.”
As I heard his story I couldn’t help but think of my girls and my wife. Tears pooled in my eyes. I was in awe thinking about the trauma of birth and what a baby’s perception of being born must be like.
But I also thought about the strength and courage my wife had giving birth. Watching the birth of my girls connected me on a level, not only with them, but with my wife that I never thought humanly possible. I had so much respect for what she endured to bring two beautiful people into the world. I felt blessed to have been a part of that process.
Then I thought about pain. I thought about her pain.
I realized that never once during my tattoo experience did I think about the pain I put her through. I was focused inward. I was focused on my pain.
I was self-centered and couldn’t see anything other than what I was going through.
Maybe that’s a survival instinct. We need to do what we can to protect ourselves when we are in pain.
However, protecting ourselves many times alienates the people we love the most. We indirectly hurt them, causing them to have to heal from wounds we inflicted on them.
As I wrote in Perspective: A Key to Healing, it’s important for us to see all perspectives.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I love the show This Is Us. Every conflict the main characters have between one another has to do with perspective. We understand it because we see each one of their perspectives from their eyes. We understand their trauma. We understand each of them on a deep level and yet we see how their personal views create conflict amongst themselves.
When it comes to ourselves, we become blinded by our own pain.
I feel sadness as I think about the pain my wife went through. It wasn’t only my dreams that were shattered. Her dreams were crushed too. Her expectations of the future she pictured also fell apart.
She chose to marry a man who betrayed her, who lied to her, and who cheated on her. She chose to stand by his side for many years hoping for a change that never happened. And when she decided to leave, the therapeutic community, others, and her husband shamed and blamed her for that decision. She paired herself with friends that she knew weren’t always the best influence for her, but these were the only ones that supported her decisions.
I don’t know the depth of physical or emotional pain I caused, for she keeps those details close to her. I make up they were no different than what I experienced.
And on top of her dealing with her demons, her crushed dreams, the PTSD triggers from my addiction, and acting as a single mother while my career took me away from home the majority of the month, I also placed an unrealistic expectation that she took care of me. I expected that she needed to make me feel better. That there was no way I could heal without her.
I placed so much pressure on this woman.
When I relieve my past, my pain, my own trauma, I tend to forget that she too has gone through the same.
She had every right to be angry. Every right to ask for separation and divorce. And every right to close the door on her heart.
She had to protect herself.
She had suppressed her anger for so long and I robbed her the ability to express it.
We both needed to heal.
And just like happiness and becoming complete only comes internally, from learning to love ourselves, when we heal, we need to remember that we must heal separately, without expectations that our partners make us better.
She knew that she needed to heal on her own. I believed I needed her to help me heal. It was a constant push and pull relationship. Unfortunately for her, the therapeutic community only reinforced my beliefs.
I wish that she had more support eight years ago. I wish I had known now what I did then. I wish she didn’t have to carry so much of the burden that she was forced to carry. I wish I could have supported her more.
I expressed my thoughts and emotions with Rafiki.
“Phoenix, you need to see how far we’ve come in the past ten years with neuroscience and the biology of the brain. We’ve come leaps and bounds from where we once were.
“For example. Back in 1958, if a person had a heart attack they were given oxygen. Many people died. Five years later, they learned about CPR. You can’t get mad at a medic for not using CPR five years earlier because they didn’t know about it back then. This is the same thing with healing from addiction and trauma.”
I quickly interject, “That must have also been before they learned about using electric shock for heart attacks too.”
Rafiki responds, “They used the tools they knew at the time. Let’s not blame the therapists, but instead, learn that there are new modalities of treatment that are available for healing.”
Therapists are now trying to dispel the belief that partners of addicts are codependents enabling behavior. Prodependence is when one loves and bonds deeply, they will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety and stability of those with whom one is attached. It takes away the shame that the codependent label creates.
We do the best we can with what we know at the time.
One of the next steps to my own journey is to forgive myself from the shame and guilt I still carry for not being present for my wife, the expectations I placed upon her, and the judgments I held against her for her decisions. I need to work on letting that also go to God.
On the same token, I must also not forget that she too is healing from my actions. And I must continue to understand that she’s still recovering as well.
The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was learn how to let go.
I needed to learn how to forgive. I needed to learn how to pray. I needed to l learn how to let go of my will.
My life is in the hands of my Higher Power. When I hold onto control, and things don’t happen to work out the way I envision, I get resentful and angry. That permeates through me and affects the people in my life.
It affects my own personal happiness.
Learning to let go has allowed me to trust that my journey of the phoenix, my tattoo is in His hands. And I am so grateful for the results of my artist.
The Power of Myth: Part 4, Sacrifice and Bliss
I had mentioned at the beginning of my blog about Joseph Campell’s Power of Myth series. In Part 4, Sacrifice and Bliss, Joseph Campell looks at the roll of sacrifice in relation to death.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: The tree of immortal life, of the knowledge of immortal life. And the Buddha under his tree, and Christ hanging on his tree are the same image. They are the same image. The one who has died to the flesh and been reborn in the spirit. This is an essential experience of any mystical realization; you die to your flesh and are born to your spirit. You identify yourself with the consciousness and life of which your body is but the vehicle. You die to the vehicle and become identified in your consciousness with that of which the vehicle is the carrier, do you understand me? And that is the god.
So that what you get in the vegetation traditions is this notion of identity behind the surface display of duality, identity behind it all. All of these are manifestations of the One. The one radiance shines through all things. The function of art, in a way, is to reveal through the object here the radiance, and that’s what you get when you see the beautiful organization of a fortunately composed work of art. You just say, aha. Somehow it speaks to the order in your own life. ‘This is a realization through art of the very thing that the religions are concerned to render.
BILL MOYERS: That death is life and life is death, and that the two are in accord.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: You have to have a balance between death and life. They’re two aspects of the same thing, which is being/becoming.
BILL MOYERS: And that’s in all of these stories?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All of them. I don’t know one where death is rejected.
BILL MOYERS: This idea of sacrifice is so foreign to our world today.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, the old idea of being sacrificed is not what we think at all.
BILL MOYERS: What does that say to you?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, that every generation has to die in order that the next generation should come. As soon as you beget or give birth to a child, you are the dead one; the child is the new life and you are simply the protector of that new life.
BILL MOYERS: Your time has come and you know it.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Yeah, well, that’s why there is this deep psychological association of begetting and dying.
BILL MOYERS: What has mythology told you about death? What do you think about death?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, the way, if one can identify with the consciousness of which the body is a vehicle, and really achieve an identification with the consciousness of which the body is a vehicle, not knowing what it is, undifferentiated consciousness, one can let the body go. I like what I heard of Woody Allen, you know, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” You can have disengaged yourself from the body, and not be there, you might say.
BILL MOYERS: And yet you know from myth and nature that the body dies. It perishes, it rots we’re back to the beginning of the…
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: So you expect it. Growing old, I mean. You know what’s happening. The body is rotting, it’s dying, it’s losing its energy, there’s more mass than energy here. And the identification then with the life which in a plant survives pruning, cutting and even eating. The plant is right back there again, is as you might say, a biological image that is metaphorical of the spiritual mystery.
BILL MOYERS: There’s the wonderful report of the Indians riding into the rain of bullets from Custer’s men, and they’re saying, “It’s a good day to die.”
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: “It’s a great day to die.” They’re not hanging on. That’s the message of the myth. You as you know yourself are not the final term of your being. And you must die to that, one way or another, in giving of yourself to something, or in being annihilated actually physically, to return, you might say, or to recognize. Life is always on the edge of death, always, and one should lack fear and have the courage of life. That’s the principle initiation of all of the heroic stories.
Rise From the Ashes
This has been my journey.
My tattoo was my initiation, my own personal ritual.
Not only does my tattoo symbolize my rebirth, but it symbolizes that I have confronted my fears. I have the courage to live life.
My tattoo will be a constant reminder that I can and have recovered from any loss.
My tattoo is part of my grieving process of the dissolution of my marriage.
It’s to remind me that life will continuously throw us curve balls, cause us to stumble. Life will knock us to the ground and then kick us over and over. Life will try to destroy us.
Many times, we need to be destroyed in order to be reborn.
Just like the Sequoia Trees that need fire and heat to open their seeds so they germinate, I needed to experience the fire, heat, and pain on my body to rejuvenate my soul.
I am Phoenix
I am reborn.
I will die and be born again.
This is my heroic journey.
I pray that my Fledglings will use my experiences so you too can be courageous enough to face your fears and face your pain.
You too can become reborn.
Through pain there is growth.
There’s beauty on the other side.
Go out and find it.
I know. I know. I still must endure the pain one more time (maybe two more) before my tattoo is finished. You don’t have to rub it in.