Why Comfort Is Ruining Your Life
On Moving Away From Unconsciousness to Consciousness
Icarus’ father, Daedalus, was a talented and brilliant Athenian craftsman, known for his skill as an architect, sculpture, and inventor. And King Minos of Crete called upon Daedalus to build the famous Labyrinth in order to imprison the dreaded Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster born of Minos’ wife and the Cretan bull. Minos was deeply ashamed of this creature and wished to keep it locked inside, away from the sight of his people.
The King of Athens, Theseus, ventured to Crete with the intention of killing the Minotaur, putting an end to the human tribute that his city was forced to pay Minos. And so, he asked Daedalus to reveal the mystery of the Labyrinth. Daedalus agreed, and Theseus pushed on, eventually slaying the monster. But, when Minos discovered that Daedalus had revealed the secret, he was so enraged that he imprisoned both Daedalus and Icarus in the Labyrinth at once.
Daedalus conceived to escape from the Labyrinth with Icarus by constructing wings and then flying to safety. He fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers and presented one of the pairs to his son. Before they set off, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun lest the wax melts.
But Icarus, in all his courage and bravery, had already decided that he would endeavour to grasp the world, to reach for what was now in his sights. However, overcome by the fear that flying lent him, Icarus soared into the sky, without care or caution. The wax on his wings quickly melted away, and he soon realised that he had no feathers left — he was simply flapping his bare arms. Icarus, minutes later, smashed into the sea and drowned.
Traditionally, the Icarus myth was told to characterise the follies of arrogance and audacity. For it was Icarus’ adolescent, brazen courage that brought forward his demise, and we are encouraged not to sympathise but, instead, to learn from his shameless ambition. This is, of course, the Renaissance interpretation that has stayed with us through our Christian heritage.
We have inherited the idea that, here in this world, no man is a god, nor does God resemble that of any man. And to declare oneself as a god is, for us, blasphemy of the worst kind; it opposes the accepted way of thinking about the natural world. Because in order to keep the people from trusting themselves, the divine must be presented as separate from the common man, as an impossibility, beyond the narrow minds of a human being.
And to think yourself, like Icarus did, as one who could reach towards God is deeply insulting to those who have already abandoned their true nature. Indeed, the whole tendency of Christian scholarship is to protect the people from an intimate relationship with God. But this means we can only understand one half of the Icarus story.
In‘The Icarus Deception’, Seth Godin writes, ‘we tend to forget that Icarus was also warned not to fly too low, because seawater would ruin the lift in his wings. Flying too low is even more dangerous than flying too high, because it feels deceptively safe.’
Water is, across the ancient mythologies and religions, a common symbol for the unconscious. And this is significant for symbols are profound echoes into human nature. They are the external, lower expressions of higher truths, representing a deep intuitive wisdom that is impossible to explain using straight language. It would be foolish not to think deeply about these symbols and even more foolish if we were, as many have, just to ignore them.
Now, in the story of Noah’s Ark, Noah shares his vision from God with his grandfather Methuselah, who assumes that the Earth’s devastation will arrive by fire and flames. And Noah corrects Methuselah, explaining that the destruction of humanity will come through water since water purifies and brings rebirth.
God was so frustrated and disappointed with the corruption of the people that he decided it would be better to erase and cleanse the world instead of allowing such evil to flourish. The flood waters, then, confirm humankind’s psychological and spiritual return into the realm of the unconscious.
Here, we have an association between water and rebirth. And this idea of rebirth aligns water with Carl Jung’s archetype of the mother — cherishing, nutritious, fruitfulness and a promise of protection. So, we must consider water as an emblem of motherhood, specifically as the mother’s womb that surrounds and shields the developing foetus or, of course, the ark.
The seawater in the Icarus Myth resembles that of the unconscious, and thus everything the mother will afford their children — dependency, warmth and happiness. And every soul in this world dreams of returning to the unconscious. It is why we are fascinated by alcohol, drugs and television programmes — anything that keeps our minds distracted from the chaos in our little worlds. So, the seawater, as Godin writes, is appealing because it seems safe and harmless. But, actually, the seawater is far more dangerous than the sun.
There exists, with the arrival of adolescence, a natural, even primordial need for the son to tear himself away from the trappings of dependency. At this moment, the conscious mind is beginning to surface, forcing a split, rather like an earthquake, in the psyche between the conscious and unconscious. Here, the child becomes aware of the immense chaos that surrounds him; his eyes see the scars of war, his ears listen to voices of hatred and his noise smells the perfume of death. The world is no longer the paradise it once was.
During the first stages of adolescence, the child’s conscious mind is little more than an island, a small, wooden ark, sitting on top of a vast ocean of the unconscious. But, soon enough, the conscious mind starts to expand and assume control.
And so, a battle breaks out between the intentions of the conscious and the impulsive, instinctual animal of the unconscious. Over time, the child will feel an intense conflict within himself, a great inner battlefield of anxiety, confusion and fear.
But the boy should not allow this fear to break the spine of his potential. It must, instead, be integrated and understood as a matter of fact. The memory of his mother, the way her touch brought light, may pain him. But to allow himself to become a perpetual widower leaves him prey to the rising chaos outside. All life is sorrowful, and the more aware you are, the more sorrowful life is.
Tell the world that you are without any fear, that you live only with bliss and all you prove is that you are a grown child who has spent your days prancing amongst the roses. With consciousness comes fear. But, beyond the fear, beyond the anxiety and pain is also everything that is needed to find union within oneself. And a peace between the conscious and unconscious is essential if the boy is to progress into adulthood.
For the natural journey of life demands that the young boy rise beyond the flowers and chocolates of childhood. He should, with great awareness and hunger, sacrifice his former life of oblivion for the fear he will remain imprisoned in the warm certainty of infantile servitude, slouched into adulthood as a slave of every impulse that blooms in his body.
Well, here lies the other side of the Icarus story: do not allow yourself to be attracted by the safety of the unconscious. For it is better to have risen and fallen at the heights of your destiny than to have remained an ‘eternal child’ in the clutch of the womb.
And so, the story of Icarus encourages you to fly at your own altitude. But, to discover this true calling, this almighty potential, it is necessary to forget the lifeless bliss of childhood. You must accept the reality of the world around you and march forward, despite the presence of fear, towards the adventure of your own consciousness.
Thank you, Harry J. Stead