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The Messiah Archetype





For most of my life, I had a certain habit which I'm not entirely proud of.

I wanted to save others.

In Western culture, the archetype of the savior, the messiah, is a powerful one. And the notion that "saving = good" can run deep.

It used to be that when I saw someone struggling, I wanted to save them from their pain. But when I actually tried to help, I found they either bristled and turned away or they clung to me and wouldn't let go.

This impulse to protect others from pain, while well-intentioned, can be misguided.

In attempting to save others from their suffering, we rob them of their freedom. When we become the hero of their story, we rob them of their own heroism. And when we attempt to spare others their suffering, it's usually an attempt to relieve our own.

In relationships, for example, I have tried to "save" partners—or I have clung to them, hoping to be saved. In both cases, the relationship dissolved, because it was not based on love, but a desire for them (or myself) to become someone different.

Love is not the desire to see someone transform. Rather, it's the warm acceptance of another person as they are.

We may hope that they transform. But if and how they do is up to them.

(My partner reminded me of this recently, and I'm grateful to her.)

Real transformation happens when a person decides for themselves that they want to transform.

We might choose someone—consciously or unsconsciously—to be a teacher, healer, lover, or catalyst for our transformation, but ultimately the choice to open to another person and let ourselves be changed is ours alone.

A teacher, healer, beloved can't change anything in us unless we allow it.

But usually, we grant this permission unconsciously, and as a result an illusion arises that it is the other person who has saved or changed us. And this illusion is potent.

It can lead to something psychologists call the "crooked cure."

A patient comes to a therapist, a believer to a guru, a lover to a beloved, and they experience a radical transformation of themselves and the world. They are over the moon. Cured!

But when they leave, they slump back into their old state.

The crooked cure is no cure at all, because nothing has changed in the other person.

They unconsciously attribute their transformation to the purported savior. They project (or "vomit") their inner gold onto the savior/hero who then becomes an object of adoration—a phenomenon called the "golden shadow."

At least some degree of golden shadow projection is often at play in romantic infatuation, guru-worship, cult of personality, celebrity fan culture, or political fervor.

Looked at another way, this becomes a form of codependency.

One person feels wonderful relief to be near the object of their adoration—but rejects responsibility for confronting their issues on their own.

The other person feels adored and may believe they are affecting real change in a suffering person's life.

Just like a drug, both people can get hooked on each other.

But when the relationship is interrupted for whatever reason, the person who thought they were cured is thrown back into suffering. The cure was crooked.

This illusion can be incredibly powerful when it occurs between spiritual teachers and students.

Thaddeus Golas wrote about the '60s New Age movement that "Many gurus spoke of avoiding desire, but never noticed the seduction of becoming the object of desire."

Both teacher and student can be unconscious of what's happening, and the dynamic can even continue after the death of the teacher.

The student never realizes they are just as divine as the man or woman at whose feet they sat.

So what can we do instead?

How do we help one another without "saving" one another?

The messiah archetype, which is the source of so much trouble, also contains the solution.

As the core of Christianity suggests, the way to truly save someone is through absolute love.

By accepting someone without wishing them to change, true change becomes possible. They may not change in the way you wanted or hoped, but they will change in the way they need.

More than salvation, people want freedom.


Because freedom is itself salvation.

If we are "saved" according to someone else's idea of salvation, we become trapped in their dream for our lives.

But when we're truly free, we're saved even from the heaven of others.

This isn't to say we shouldn't help one another. Our own love will demand it of us.

We can love freely and endlessly, we can help as we're called to—just as long as we realize that nothing needs saving.

Would you save a wave from the sea?

Would you save a stone from the earth?

From the perspective of non-duality, there's no difference between us.

On this fundamental level, there is no one to save.

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