In David Whyte’s book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, he takes up the story of Beowulf to illustrate power and vulnerability in the workplace. I never read the story before. It is a fascinating tale of a warrior Beowulf asked by the King of Denmark to slay Grendel, a monster coming up from the lake and dragging people from the castle to tear them limb from limb. Grendel is also a metaphor for the inner demons that keep us from living the life we were meant to live. The fears that keep us from living wholeheartedly.
Beowulf slays Grendel, but then Grendel’s mother appears even more fierce than her son. Isn’t that how it often goes? We address some surface fears only to have more difficult demons take their place? The first was a quiz, this is the final exam.
Beowulf must enter the dark lake to reach Grendel’s mother. The dark lake is so scary that a stag pursued by hunting dogs would rather die a certain violent death than enter it and be saved. The only way for Beowulf to be powerful is to be vulnerable first. Find his voice, speak out against a bad idea or injustice.
It isn’t hard to remember a time when I’ve sunk down on our haunches like that stag at the shoreline. I am human and it is not easy to face down the demons every time. There is help available if I am willing to tap into the ancient feminine wisdom found in vulnerability and self-compassion.
This is where Brene Brown so marvelously illuminated the path to becoming more vulnerable. I have read all of her books and participated in her online courses and recommend any of her books. In her most recent, Rising Strong, she explores what happens when you take a risk or enter the arena. At some point when we risk vulnerability we will slip and fall. The key is to remain wholehearted and continue to stay open.
It is a choice to continue to put my faith in the long game or eternal story because my life is at stake. “The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that if you do not come to know the deeper mythic resonances that make up your life, the mythic resonances will simply rise up and take you over. If you do not live out your place in the mythic pattern consciously, the myth will simply live you, against your will.” (Whyte)
Be the hero of your own story; not a side character, as Sara in Katrina Bivald’s novel would say.