There is a story that keeps coming to mind as we experience the fires and floods of radical climate change at the same time as the painful effects of cultural upheaval. The Old Woman Weaves the World is a Native American tale known to many tribes and often told in times of fear and anxiety. When the story begins, the Old Woman has been weaving for a long time. She is nearing the completion of the most beautiful garment ever seen when suddenly the whole thing comes apart at the seams. Everything unravels so that where there had been beauty and order there was now nothing but confusion and chaos.
The most telling moment occurs as she contemplates the chaos of it all. She notices a loose thread nearby and as she picks up the thread a new vision appears before her. As suddenly as it had all fallen apart, a new design for the whole of creation begins to appear. The loose thread connects her to an inspired vision that includes both nature and culture and what now appears is even more beautiful than what she had been weaving before.
As chaos spreads throughout the world with the ongoing threats of terrorism and cynical denials of climate change, the widespread revelations of abuses of power and sexual misconduct and the extreme politics of division, I keep thinking that we are in that moment. Not just another moment in history, but an extended or open moment in which familiar things collapse before our eyes while other things wait to be revealed and new, more inclusive designs may actually become more possible.
I keep imagining how the time of collapse and chaos can also be a radical period of re-imagination and potential renewal. Not that there is some magical solution that everyone can agree upon. But that precisely in the midst of chaos each of us may be closer to finding a particular thread that gives our life genuine meaning and also gives us something to contribute to the re-imagining and reweaving of the world.
A core idea of the Genius Myth is that each person is born with a thread of genius, a golden filament set within the soul, just waiting to be discovered. This natural endowment of inner gold is the true “treasure hard to attain.” It is the unique thread that secretly connects each of us to the living soul of the world. This older, wiser sense of a unique inner genius that might help light the way forward stands against the cynical ideas and divisive designs that dominate modern mass cultures and keep putting us on the verge of mass destruction.
In mythic terms it is not only a shift in politics that is desperately needed, not just changes in social justice, but also a re-imagination of the whole design that helps to weave culture back into creative balance with nature. Amidst all the false rhetoric and nihilistic ideas, our primary human task is to become the bearers of whatever genuine meaning and beauty we can envision and help reveal.
When the common institutions collapse and the usual cultural containers break, our role is to recover the true spirit for living and help reveal the underlying wholeness of life amidst all the conflicts and divisions plaguing the world.
Uncovering this spiritual essence and core of inner worth can be seen as an alchemical process of transforming the lead of one’s life into a gold that can be released into the world. Each person is golden in some way; yet each heart must be broken for the valuable veins to become open and for the inner gold to shine forth. The inner gold must be extracted precisely from the darkness that grows around us and within us.
The ancient artistry of Japanese culture includes the idea of kintsukuroior a "golden repair." The practice of kintsugi or “golden joinery” involves repairing pieces of pottery that crack or break with glue that has been blended with actual gold. Metaphorically, kintsugi suggests that something may become more beautiful and more valuable after being broken and repaired with imagination and a healing touch. Such a golden repair does not cover up the cracks in the vessel or deny the fact that something precious has been broken. Rather, the splits and broken places become evidence of a hidden gold that heals and illuminates while restoring the vessels of life to wholeness.
As fault lines throughout the world grow greater, the cracks in the human heart also grow deeper. As a piece of “living philosophy” golden repair suggests redemptive practices through which the damages of history and the tragic mistakes we make with the fragile vessels of nature, culture and individual lives might be repaired.
Like any genuine process of healing and making whole again, we must first acknowledge and study the exact faults and divisions that damage our lives the most. If we could admit more readily to the tragic injuries that divide one group from another we could replace the bloody damages with golden lines that serve to remind us of the fragility of life as well as the possibilities of repairing shattered dreams and redeeming broken lives.
By now, the wounds to the heart of humanity are too extensive and grievous for any single belief or ideology to heal it all. But if each person has some golden qualities and a unique genius to bring to the world, each has the capacity to do some golden repair. Because the troubles of the world have grown so great and encompass most elements of both culture and nature, each person can find a wound, a division, or a crack nearby that can be turned into a golden seam.
Practices of golden repair can begin wherever old wounds divide people, wherever the tragedies of violence and suicide leave people broken in spirit and at odds with the underlying beauty of life. Golden repair is also needed in all levels of life where trust has been shattered, where justice has been denied, where the earth has been ripped open and blindly exploited, where the healing presence of great forests have been turned into broad, unholy scars. If we see each person, along with the entire globe, as a living, sacred vessel in need of artful repair, we might imagine more ways of helping the Old Woman reweave and restore the world.