Why do we have a natural predator in our own psyche? It hardly seems healthy to have to protect ourselves from some kind of a death wish or built-in trickster. Living at the top of the predatory food chain, as we H. Saps do, we forget that we evolved in dangerous times, where anything out of the ordinary could be lethal.
People who live today in what Westerners consider primitive conditions are aware of what is natural. Their brains are attuned to their worlds and they are attuned to their bodies, their senses in ways that the asphalt and concrete savannahs have fenced away. Our brains have the same hard-wiring to recognize danger, and to avoid it by flight or fight responses. Unfortunately for denizens of the civilized world, those responses are triggered by events that require some front-brain thoughts, while the fight or flight response cuts off cognition. We lose control, we react, and we make choices that put us into danger.
To be conscious, we have to learn how to restrain those responses in ways that let us think. If you watch any action adventure, despite the pain and stress of the situation, the hero keeps a cool head and figures out what to do, even if it takes doing terror-inducing actions. But the hero never lets the adrenaline/cortisol cocktail cut off his brain until he has to jump off the cliff (aka Butch and Sundance) to avoid a worse fate.
That’s where the Bluebeard story comes in. The youngest daughter, the inner child, does not yet recognize the natural predator. She hasn’t been bitten, burned, or bruised, and so she doesn’t know what might happen. We forget that all of the characters in a story are parts of ourselves, which is one way we know that these old stories were not told for children. Children think literally, expecting someone to rescue them, as the brothers do for their sister in this story of lost innocence. The metaphor of the male protector poisons both the boy and the girl, as boys often need protection as much as girls and neither is taught much about rescuing themselves.
Bluebeard, the abuser, the seducer, the molester, presents a pretty picture, and the child-mind, the pleasure-seeking ego, is taken in. The adult mind, the other senses, represented by the mother and the daughters, are not strong enough to reach the child, who wants to live in a pretty fantasy. The key that breaks the fantasy is knowledge, the thing that is once known, cannot be unknown. The key continues to bleed, changing everything in the young mind’s world. We call that loss of innocence, but it more like loss of ignorance and naivety.
We have to learn to discern what is real, and what is not. Ironically, it is the “real” world that is the illusion, and we learn as children to behave the way that keeps the illusion safe, to the extent that it is possible. The purpose of the ego, as near as I can tell, is to build a persona that protects and hides the inner self, often long after the need to placate caregivers is over.
Without listening to that inner self, we follow our habits, and choose the familiar over the fearsome new and strange–better the devil we know. A softened up version of this story is Beauty and the Beast, which carries the message: “If you love him enough, he will change.” No, he (or she) won’t. Only if we ourselves make that change, that uncomfortable choice, that deprivation of the comforting chocolate, margarita, or “happy pill,” will the other respond. That person likely will leave or will try to make us go back to the pattern that is comfortable for them. Living consciously requires finding one’s own feet and standing on them.
Scott Peck starts off his book, The Road Less Traveled, with the words, “Life is Hard.” We are always learning, we are always making choices, and there is always another level to attain. but without our awareness of the predator, without our conscious restraint of the predator, we can’t make the conscious response that lets us live in our own reality.