The title of Michael Meade’s upcoming seminar: “Touching the Soul of the World”, immediately resonated with me. I looked forward to interviewing Michael, a renowned and gifted storyteller, author, and scholar who seamlessly and effortlessly weaves the different perspectives of mythology, anthropology, and psychology together in a rich tapestry of life as we know it: full of passion and pathos, complexity, paradox. He shines the light of ancestral wisdom on today’s problems opening new possibilities for survival, growth and transformation.
We live in a time of wild disturbances of climate and culture, a time of flux and change, where what we counted on for stability is no longer there, says Michael. “When everything seems about to fall apart, something deep in the soul of humanity responds”, Michael explains.
The popular use of the word genius is someone like Einstein or someone with a special talent; however, genius was seen differently in ancient Rome, where, for example, only one candle was lit on a birthday, no matter the age, because the genius, the light within, was celebrated, and the gifts were given to the candle.
In Michael’s latest book, The Genius Myth, he elaborates: “The idea of a genius self already present and trying to awaken within each of us may serve us better than more common notions of a heroic solution.” In these complex times, each person’s unique contribution is needed to transcend the insoluble problems we face, not the heroic journeys of a few.
He explains that each person participates in a unique way in the genius of life. The question is not whether you are a genius, “but in what way does genius appear in you and how might it contribute to both your own well-being and that of the world around you.”
I asked Michael about the need to nurture genius. He reflects that the unfolding and expression of genius is both driven from the inside and needs to be acknowledged from the outside. He continues: The inner unfolding is comparable to Jung’s idea of individuation, externally it must be blessed (the word we use today is confirmation), and nurtured.
Michael explains that genius is seen as beneficial, the “imbued spirit has mana”, he says. People who have connected with their unique genius are more genuinely present in the world, their orientation to the world changes, their very way of being in the world is different, they have a different style. They are the true elders, not just olders. Michael quotes a saying: “White hair does not make an elder.”
I wondered about the symbolic value of the total eclipse recently in the US. The most beautiful moment, Michael says, is when the sun is blacked out and the corona is bright and brilliant, something that shines even brighter when dark. The cosmologists proclaim that most of the universe is darkness. The idea that all light comes from darkness is also found in alchemy. The very old definition of soul is light found in darkness. Counterintuitively, we have to go deeper into the darkness to find the light.
I shared with Michael my concern about the rise of both religious and social fundamentalism. He responded by explaining that fundamentalism depends on the idea that I am empty inside. There is a need to be defined by something external, since the image and idea of the uniqueness of the soul, of value to self and to community, is lost.
I questioned the value of the genius myth for people living in utter poverty, since they are in perpetual survival mode. Michael concedes that there is the idea that survival takes over. Yet, the old idea is there are two qualities of the human spirit that contributes to survival: the one is the capacity to be tough, competitive, focused and determined to get what is needed; the other is the capacity to be tender, cooperative, open-hearted, with generosity of spirit, forming deep and meaningful bonds of shared humanity, the discovery that everyone has an inner nobility.
Michael shared his observation during the recent floods in Houston, an area marred by deep racial division and tension, how all people came together as human, as equals, supporting and helping each other regardless of race. Michael points out that it is an example of having to go deeper into the darkness to find the light.
He recounted the value of the genius myth in his work with displaced and traumatized people, marginalized communities, and refugees. The idea of inner genius restores dignity and is the only source of strength and survival left in desperate circumstances.