Image by Lucinda Horan
“Individuality is only possible if it unfolds from wholeness.”
In our present social system, there is no correlation between an individual’s integrity, or even necessarily his or her skill or prowess, and an ability to accumulate wealth. Being successful prospecting, panning, and mining gold, on the other hand, requires all of these qualities and more. In fact, it requires a similar (often identical) skillset as the one needed for basic survival. In the prospector’s way of life, material wealth (gold) and adaptability, awareness of one’s environment, and natural survival capacity are all part of a single focus. Compare this to our current system, in which the wealthiest and most successful individuals are often those with the least integrity (and the least capacity to survive in Nature). Simply put: the inherent value of gold is inseparable from the internal values that are required to find it (though all may seek). It is, like death, a great leveler.
Like the heroes of myth, the gold prospector must “get his hands dirty,” apply all his skills, courage, discipline, and imagination (and/or discover and develop these qualities within him- or herself), as well as reawaken a fundamental relationship with Nature, in order to achieve the desired goal. The shift in emphasis, the “single-mindedness,” is the same, then, for the mythical hero, the gold prospector, and the genuine spiritual seeker: what is seen as having value changes, or evolves, through a deepening of honesty and a reduction of denial. As awareness grows accordingly, it is no longer money, or even gold, that is seen to have value, but the self-transformation—and the renewed connectedness to Nature—of the “mining” (questing) process itself.
AN INNER TREASURE
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” (Carl Jung
In the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece (to name just one mythic narrative), the quest begins with Jason’s desire to find a specific “power object” (the fleece) which he believes will bestow special status and power upon him. Traditionally, the quest for the power object is the necessary means for the hero to prove his mettle, while at the same time benefiting the community in some way. Jason gathers together his Argonauts (a name, not coincidentally, given to the prospectors who traveled to Western states of American and Canada in the 1800s) and sails forth to achieve his goal, to find the Golden Fleece, by whatever means necessary. (An example of secret knowledge encoded into myth: fleece was one of the means used, in olden times, to collect invisible gold particles in rivers. The wool becomes magnetized by the water current, and the tiny gold particles stick to it, eventually turning it into a “golden fleece”.)
Through the course of their material quest, however, Jason and his Argonauts encounter a series of obstacles and challenges, both physical and “moral” (spiritual), which force them to develop their capabilities and deepen their understanding, both of themselves and of “the gods.” A process of self-development is necessary for the hero to prevail over adversity, find the treasured object, and return in glory. (We will leave aside Jason’s later misfortune for now.) The qualities which Jason discovers within himself by facing the series of challenges are the same qualities that allow him to “find the gold.” Yet implicit in the story—as in so many mythic tales—is a crucial idea: it is the uncovering of such qualities—the transformation of an ordinary man into a hero—that is the real treasure. In other words, the quest for an outer prize both depends upon and facilitates the discovery of an inner treasure, the finding of which renders largely symbolic the attaining of the outer one. The same has often been said of the Alchemists: they began their experiments believing they were trying to turn lead into gold; but the discipline and knowledge necessary to achieve their material ends entailed a subtler transformation of their own awareness—from mundane, egoic consciousness to divine. At which point, their interest in purely physical gold became largely academic.
The actual, little known facts about gold prospecting seem to match this blueprint closely: in order to find gold, the senses, inner and outer, must be refined to such a degree that a transformation takes place. This gradual transformation or refinement both leads to and is completed by the finding of actual gold (which Indian Joe describes as the gold “revealing itself to you”). At this point, according to Joe, the prospector will undergo a transformation, akin to a kind of “shock,” which he says is the true “gold fever” (“You are never the same again,” Joe says.) Its particular manifestation is unpredictable, however.
This is a small excerpt from a longer article, The Gold Standard, Chemical Weddings, & the Journey of Zero Distance, which appears in Spanish translation here. The full piece will be online sooner, either at Reality Sandwich or at this blog.