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Self-knowledge: A Light in Dark Times

ae_meadeBuckle up, because Author Michael Meade wants people to face fate and find destiny
I don’t take orders,” confesses Michael Meade with the hint of a story to follow. In 1964, at the age of 20, Meade was drafted into the United States military and quickly realized that things weren’t going to go very well. He challenged orders, was sent to military prison in Panama and refused to eat for more than 30 days, non-cooperating with the violence of authority.  It became another experience in which he learned a lot about his authentic self. Meade is now a well-established mythologist, storyteller and author and will be in Santa Cruz on Thursday, Oct. 21 for a presentation called “Facing Fate/Finding a Destiny”at First Congregational Church. Good Times recently spoke with Meade about his work with at-risk youth, prisoners and war veterans and his latest book “Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of the Soul” (Mosaic, 2010). Meade is founder of the Seattle-based nonprofit Mosaic Multicultural Foundation (mosaicvoices.org).

. Good Times: You write that, “Fate is more a storyline than a completed script ... fate helps us know who we are.”

Michael Meade: There’s a secret kind of agreement between fate and destiny. That which limits us has, within it, the seeds of what can transcend our situation. The twist of fate is the exact twist through which we find our own unique soul. The pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno said, “Fate is a thread running through all of existence.” If we don’t live our life out in a meaningful way, no one will ever live it. Way before the World Wide Web, tribal people in all kinds of ancient cultures knew that there is a web of life and that each of us is threaded into it in a specific way. Fate is the part that limits us. Destiny is the part that calls us to a greater life.

GT: You write about the importance of embracing darkness. I wonder if you’d relate this to your own experience being imprisoned during the U.S. war on Vietnam and having a hunger strike for over 30 days?

MM: I didn’t know that in the army what they do is give you orders. I don’t take orders. I’ve always had a problem with that. I got into endless amounts of trouble and had over 50 courts-martial. I was put into solitary confinement and it occurred to me to stop eating. Everybody heard about it. Lieutenants and captains, majors and colonels would all come into my cell and at first be tough and demanding. Then they would just stop and talk about what was going on inside them. I think it was because I was the only person there who wasn’t a militant: somehow they saw this opportunity to unburden themselves.

I’d gone from 155 pounds down to 87 pounds and I’m in this kind of luminal space and they each are confessing to me. Things like misuse of alcohol. One told me that he was beating his wife and felt terrible about it. On and on, everything you could imagine you would hear in a confessional. Being raised Catholic, I knew how to hear a confession, so I did the best I could in terms of compassionately listening and even offering advice at times.  I came out of that experience of being in solitary for almost six months a completely different person and way more tuned to my own self. Not that I wasn’t a little bit crazy and in pain and extremely unhealthy. But I actually knew who I was. When we get restricted and cannot move, something deep inside moves and we often find out more about our real destiny.

GT: How well is our culture dealing with darkness,

addictions to violence and control?

MM: Of course not very well. The bigger picture is that culture is unraveling. The institutions of culture are collapsing. By that I mean education, healthcare and even the legal structure, since the Supreme Court decided that anybody can contribute any amount of money to any election. At the same time, nature is rattling like crazy with climate change. We’re living in a dark period.

In the midst of that, a large portion of people in America are afraid of losing the kind of material comfort that makes up the dream of this culture: that having a lot of stuff is somehow meaningful. One of the indications that something very wrong is going on is the increasing distance between the very wealthy and the number of people that are in poverty. That’s one of the most dangerous things that can happen in a culture.

Rather than having the courage to face the darkness and say it’s a time for people to help other species and other people, you see this split occurring, which is largely based in fear. It’s also based in not understanding that everybody has something to contribute.

The one thing that the dark times could do is bring out everybody’s inner and hidden capacity to give. Ancient cultures were based on the idea that each person was a gift-giver. Modern cultures are based on the idea that each person is a consumer. We each have gifts to give to life and giving those gifts is what makes us feel satisfied. Giving those gifts is our contribution to creation.


Michael Meade speaks at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 21 at the First Congregational Church, 900 High St. in Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12 at mosaicvoices.org. John Malkin is a journalist, musician and hosts “The Great Leap Forward” every Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. on Free Radio Santa Cruz, 101.1 FM and freakradio.org. Tune in to hear the complete interview with Michael Meade.
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