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Missteps as a Redemptive Path to Destiny


Albert Bierstadt, Evening on the Prairie. ca. 1870. © Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

In a crisis our life often feels out of control, as if we have lost our quintessentially human dignity of character. But how can we retain our dignity while also building the courage to move forward without first experiencing oblivion? We all blunder into the Grail Castle, exactly as Parzival did, before we can even hope to formulate and ask the question that ends the exile. Along the way we travel through realms of wilderness, and it’s this very experience that allows us to develop an active interest in the soul lives of other people. 


“For Parzival it is to be an ordeal of five lonely years, as he searches through the forests,” Joseph Campbell writes in Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth.


For, like the fairy hills of Ireland, the lake with its two fishermen and the castle of sorrowful knights and ladies lie hidden, though everywhere there is a haunting sense of their presence. This is the Forest Adventurous, where we meet our adventures when we are ready for them. The forest brings forth our own world, and here, in this attitude of hatred, rejection, ego, and pride, Parzival rides. And something becomes ready in him during this time. (58)


In the forest thickets of our lives, a harrowing introspection of our psyche’s distress is required. All our apparently immutable, enduring reference points vanish or are rendered totally inadequate. “The world’s become a desert through him [Parzival], and he himself has become a desert in quest of regeneration,” Campbell states. [58] This wasteland is stark and extreme so as to strip us of any sense of false identity and ego inflation.


Only when the dark gets seemingly impregnable, and the familiar known and safely habitual are sacrificed, may we navigate the new terrain of soul ... even though its realms and rules are foreign to us. There’s no guide, no instruction manual, and we feel as naïve and pure a fool as young Parzival did. In this we must teach ourselves, or we are not taught at all. Essentially, it’s a heuristic path of initiation.


It’s common in this experience to feel abandoned, especially if we believe that our primary caregivers did not place us on the “‘right”’ path in our formative years. While orphaned in the forest, however, we’re never actually alone. Something... a hidden, inner presence, as it were, walks with us. We sense its protectorship, promptings, and guidance. Campbell reminds us that “there is a Buddhist saying:


This world with all its ills, with all its horrors, with all its stupidities, with all its darkness, is the golden lotus world.’ This is the golden lotus world, right now as it is. And if you cannot see it as such, it is not the world’s fault. What must be corrected is not the world, but your own perspective. And so we find in the Grail legend that everything needed is all there, only it is not being seen. And what the hero is to do is to clarify the situation. (154)


The wandering of our soul in its quest for clarity and authenticity seems endless and without resolution. Grasping at our lost yesterdays, we recognize some paths that we’ve walked are now closed to us. But we haven’t necessarily missed our destined path. It’s crucial to relinquish the thought that if we didn’t make a correct decision in the past, that it’s all over now. Nothing is ever lost. While we might not be able to undo the past, we can bring greater experience and awareness to our present choices.


The fruits of this journey are earned through effort. They are not freely given. And in the silent shelter of our deeper soul, we accept this. It’s why it’s essential to first develop knowledge of ourselves and of the world around us, before we can expand beyond the force of social opinion and return to the instinctive and intuitive self. It’s in this liminal space where we come to realize that there’s always more to be revealed, and the potentiality for a new soul disposition and direction can emerge, and moreover, awaken in us the Bodhisattva realization of compassion for all suffering beings.


His [Parzival’s] nature prompted him many times to ask the question, but he thought of his knightly honor. He thought of his reputation instead of his true nature. The social ideal interfered with his nature, and the result is desolation. The bald woman says, "You are a curse on the face of the earth, and you have cursed the earth; it has lost its fertility and the whole world is desolate; the castle has disappeared, and you will not find it again!" He says, "I will repair this." But she says, "You can’t. No one can ever visit the castle a second time." (53)


But he does.

Parzival teaches us that what appears as a misstep, may actually be the very necessary step of destiny. Everything can be redeemed. Every new moment offers the possibility of a new beginning. Previously we didn’t have the soul maturity and consequent awareness to make different choices in the earlier episodes of our lives (whether it was two decades ago or last week). And while we may want to blame others like Parzival’s mother, who kept us innocent in the hope of protecting us, or the old knight Gurnemanz and his misguided instructions—“Don’t do this, don’t do that, and above all, don’t ask too many questions"—we eventually move into the growing light of hard-won insight. A genuine compassion then touches our heart, together with an acceptance that everything occurs in its own divine time. 


He [Trevrizent] says, "This is a miracle that you [Parzival] have worked. Through your own will you have caused the Trinity to change its mind, to change its rules." [...] He is saying, that is, through your own integrity, you evoke your destiny, which is a destiny that never existed before. (79)


And in this, our freshly won selfhood is a new creation for the world.

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