In my village there is a fairytale palace. It would not look out of place in the Loire valley… but it is a little unexpected in rural Buckinghamshire. At one corner of the building is a round tower that houses a series of seven paintings by the Russian born artist Leon Bakst, telling the story of the Sleeping Beauty.
We all know the story. Both gifted and cursed at birth the princess grows within the safety of the castle. Reaching adulthood, she is cast into sleep in the most inaccessible tower of the castle, surrounded by walls of stone and a hedge of thorns…waiting for the brave prince to cut his way through the briars and awaken her with the kiss of true love…
Of course, there is a lot more to fairytales than the wide eyed child understands, but we seldom question them as we grow up and tell them to our own children. We are so very familiar with them that they simply ‘are’.
Take the Sleeping Beauty story, for example, and substitute the princess with the idea of the soul…
The tale takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?
We are born into a magical world, where our childhood is peopled with fairies and wonders… we are given gifts and talents…yet our soul is held within the body, like the princess in the castle… this is the place we inhabit and come to know as home. As we grow to adulthood the magic fades…or more precisely, our awareness of it fades, clouded by the small doings of everyday, by logic and necessity. Like the princess, we fall asleep, lost to the song of the soul as the ‘curse’ takes hold… alive still but slumbering, waiting….
Around us the thick, thorny wall of ego grows and separates us from the world, holding us prisoner within its bounds. It may bear roses… it may bear fruit… it may sustain a whole ecology of other lives…yet the thorns are there making any passage through them… from the inside or from afar… fraught with difficulty and pain.
The princess’ sleep continues until the prince becomes aware of her and braves the thorns, cutting his way through the briars. Her plight touches his heart and calls to him… and in turn he searches until he finds her. It is a quest of love. He has only rumours to guide him… yet he is called to the task.
There is a turning within that calls us too at odd moments, like the whispered rumour of a sleeping princess heard by the hearthfire. We sleep, yet there is something that pulls us, knowing we can wake. Our dreams reach out across our inner landscape and call the kiss of awakening to us… in turn the hero within us journeys through the maze of thorns in search of the truth that lies sleeping.
We cannot see what waits beyond the thorns…there may be dragons and ogres… there may be nothing more than a fairytale… or beauty may lie sleeping there in truth. But it is Love that calls us to the quest and we are both Prince and Princess in our own stories and through the reaching out from within, find that something reaches out to us in equal measure, waiting to awaken us with the kiss of Love. Then, like the phoenix in the painting, we can be reborn from our own ashes…
But that is another story….
“Without realizing it each day each one of us is visited by beauty, so quietly woven through out ordinary days that we hardly notice it… Beauty is made to seem naïve and romantic (but) much of the stress and emptiness that haunts us can be traced back to our lack of attention to beauty. The Beautiful offers us an invitation to order, coherence and unity…we feel most alive in it’s presence for it meets the needs of our soul.”John O’Donohue