The Archetypal Search for the Treasure Hard to Attain
Throughout history, young artisans learned their craft working side by side with a master teacher. This time-honored tradition typically began with the apprentice assigned to less than inspiring activities such as playing scales on the piano, sweeping the floor, cutting vegetables, or preparing the canvas. While these tasks were often tiring, mundane, and boring, the apprentice understood that finding the “Treasure Hard to Attain” – realizing one’s true destiny or vocation – required a period of arduous training.
The “Treasure Hard to Attain” is a familiar mythological and archetypal motif found in folklore and legend throughout the ages and across cultures. In these tales, the hero or heroine is faced with a series of challenges and must overcome great adversity on his or her quest to find the treasure – the treasure of knowing what the soul wants in life. The search for the Holy Grail is perhaps the most familiar rendition of this story, which as we have seen by the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, continues to captivate the individual and collective psyche.
Once the apprentice demonstrated his or her ability to literally learn from the ground up, he or she was allowed to enter the sacred world of the grand artist. Advancing to the next stage of training, he or she began to learn the intricacies of crafting fine wooden instruments, designing beautiful textiles, or bringing out the subtle flavors in a sauce. Looking back through history, we discover that virtually every great painter, musician, teacher, chef, and psychoanalyst has spent many years under the tutelage of an elder mentor.
In today’s fast paced world we have all but forgotten the true value of mentorship. Not only have we tended to lose sight of the destiny factor, but also we have settled for living far too small of a life. Our regard for the wisdom of the elders has diminished, and so too has our appreciation of the effort it takes to reach beyond our limited ego desires. Seeking immediate gratification, amassing material possessions, achieving fame and fortune, and reaching the top often supplant psyche’s goal for living a meaningful life.
Sidetracked by the lure of these ephemeral aspirations, we ignore psyche’s insistent voice seeking to guide us on the journey that humanity has traversed since the beginning of time. Yet despite our refusal to hear its message, psyche continues to show us by way of dreams, outer world situations, and physical sensations what we must do to become a truly talented master chef, writer, painter, stockbroker, or musician. This eternal archetypal knowledge is always available to us, and psyche’s voice will not be muted by popular trends and current social whims. Its needs remain primary, and if repressed, dismissed, or overlooked, will find expression in unexpected situations, times, and places.
In my next post, we will explore how these ideas play out in contemporary culture by looking at the reality television show, Hell’s Kitchen.