A Journey Through the Underworld

Last night I carried into my sleep the tensions I live with while awake — the same tensions many carry right now. I felt cramped, smothered, yet I couldn’t escape from the place where I found myself. I was part of a slow-moving horror, a crazy darkness. Then gradually, something of life and sanity returned to me, a fragment anyway, and I was transported to the dim mouth of a cave, an opening that somehow I knew might take me to another place, another continent. I entered, going deeper and deeper, with a subtle light guiding. At a certain point it was clear that others had come this way before me, had themselves carved out the path forward: a set of smooth, slick walls; a narrow, twisting passageway that many times seemed to come to an end only to bend wildly back on itself, a strange labyrinth but never a maze. Somehow I slipped through knowing that others might not be able make it this way.

Sooner than I expected the passage widened and I saw a light ahead, a brilliant portal with green vines dangling down. I knew there was sand beyond, a beach, the open sea. I knew then this was the way back to freedom. I had found it, or better said, I was lucky. Somehow, psychically, I had been given it by those who had come before.

The ancient term for this dream is katabasis, a Greek word meaning a journey to the underground, from which ultimately one may draw some special gift or knowledge.

What that gift or knowledge might be I do not yet understand.

For now, I see the great indignities every day, the vile accusations and emotional smears, the gaping ignorances, the self-enhancing divisiveness, the appeals to moving on or taking “rational” steps that do not disguise what is real: confusion, anger and desire to fight; people already exhausted, ready to look away; the frightened children and the frightened, weakened adults facing a cunning new autocracy; and the sadness. Sadness! Outrage and contempt, like two horses begin to pull a wagonload of corpses — don’t you know? — our worst capabilities dragged forward while we search around for our best ones. There is hope, that subtle light, but violence also approaches swiftly from its not-so-hidden quarters. The tension does not end.

Too much drama? Oh, well, maybe — you be the judge. At the moment, I have only the dream to reassure me that we will emerge someday with a gift, perhaps appreciating our precious freedoms in a new way. It will surely be a new “continent” that we find, the reinvention of what we mean by a “good country.” What is certain is that we have no choice but to go through the underworld for now, encountering each of those tight, nearly impossible passages in turn. There will be doubt and the fear of getting stuck but also, with luck, that light to guide us.

Perhaps it is so that not all of us will make it through, but at present there doesn’t seem to be another way forward.

There will be casualties, as there have always been.


A Cup of Tea

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  • Vincenza Mueller wrote:

    Thanks Dan. It truly does feel this way, for the thinking people I know, and many of us are desperately seeking light. I am grateful for like-minded friends on the journey. Happy Thanksgiving and God bless you and Carmen.

  • Dear Vincenza~

    If we are seeking the light, then as Rumi said, the light is also seeking us. May all the gratitude you express encircle you and free you as well, my friend. The very best to you and Happy Thanksgiving in return from Carmen and me.


  • michael piper wrote:

    Love you Dan! Give hope to the veterans at Standing Rock this weekend. The President offered an opportunity to intervene declined today. This is the path of the underworld. Be safe. Love and miss you my friend.

  • Michael~

    Disappointment has been the path lately for many, and lack of any reason…As you said in another place, perhaps this is where we will rise to our best, where we transcend the hollowness — or “hollowed-out-ness” of the country we love.


  • DAN

    Thank you so much for the comment on the piece, “Two of the most vitalizing and vital questions leaders can ask.” As I now read your posts, I see that we share some basic perspectives and I very much appreciate your thoughts and your voice. I ‘love reflections at the edge of self-knowledge’ as certainty about what we think we know is so seductive and dangerous. My work in Personal Leadership. Thanks again.

  • Hi Sheila~

    Thank you in return for such a beautiful article. And I’m glad you noticed that “edge of” thinking. It reflects my own sense of how self-knowledge is not a final thing, but a process of unfolding, often unlearning and undoing. I look forward to reading more deeply into your materials.

    All the best

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