Press Onward

“Now all ties are snapt between us; now I must set off from you.”

So says the prince in East of the Sun and West of the Moon, when his trust is betrayed by the woman who has come to love him. It is a bitter scene of despair for the both of them:

“What have you done?” he cried; “now you have made us both unlucky, for had you held out only this one year, I had been freed. For I have a step-mother who has bewitched me…She lives in a Castle which stands East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and there, too, is a Princess, with a nose three ells long, and she’s the wife I must have now.”

She wept and took it ill, but there was no help for it; go he must.

Then she asked if she mightn’t go with him.

No, she mightn’t.

-East of the Sun and West of the Moon

No, she mightn’t. Those words have a harsh blow of finality. The story is in ruins; catastrophe has come upon the once happy couple. He is doomed to forget his love and to marry into evil. She will remember each painful detail of what was and can never be again.  She tries one final time.

“Tell me the way, then,” she said, “and I’ll search you out; that surely I may get leave to do.”

“Yes,” she might do that, he said; but there was no way to that place. It lay East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and thither she’d never find her way.

With those words, the castle and her love vanish. The lass is left behind, utterly alone.  

There are many things her mind could have turned to – she could have given into guilt and despair. She did, after all, disobey the prince’s cryptic warnings and that burden of knowledge may well have crippled her.

She could have resigned herself to this turning of events. The prince himself had told her that “all ties are snapt between us.” She had no further obligation to him. She had been loath to leave her family in the first place. She could go home and attempt to pick up her life where she had left it.

Or she could have been angry – angry at the prince, for not explaining things clearly from the beginning. Angry at the witch for interfering with her happiness. Angry at the powerful forces she later encounters for not knowing the way to the land that lies East of the Sun and West of the Moon. She could have used this anger to ignore the fact that she was in the Wrong. That she had Broken something, and truly, all blame lay at her feet.

She may have felt and thought many things in those moments, but what she chose to focus on was the mending of her mistake. So there was no way to this land? No matter. She would put one step in front of the other. She would follow hearsay; she would travel to any person, any being, that might have knowledge of this elusive country.

Her journey takes her to every cardinal direction. She criss-crosses her way around the world. She could have focused on the fact that she was getting nowhere, wandering in seemingly useless circles. Each lead was like the last, taking her to yet another entity who did not know the way. She could have grown weary. She could have given up, saying that at least she tried.

She does not, and eventually comes to that land she has been seeking, only to encounter greater obstacles. It is here that we find her long, meandering journey was not in vain. Along the way, she has received every tool she needs to cross the final threshold. Had she found the land East of the Sun and West of the Moon in a straightforward fashion, she surely would have failed in her quest at the gate of the unfriendly castle.

{Does this story remind anyone else of Reepicheep’s journey to Aslan’s country in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or is that just us?}

This Fairy-story has many lessons to offer. One of them stands out to us in our contemplation of the Journey we are on: Whatever occupies your mind will gain importance and significance. Where you devote your attention is of utmost significance. Obstacles will arise no matter which way you take, but dwelling on this fact can actually weaken your resolve to press through them.

Think of a long journey by foot, full of mountains to summit and rivers to ford. If you dread the aching feet, uncomfortable days, and sleepless nights that you know will come from such a journey, that may be all you will find.

The more weight you give to these experiences, the more you will notice them as they occur; the more you notice them, the more dreadful the experience will become. The more you perceive your experience to be dreadful, the more you will dread future discomforts.

This mental cycle plunges you into a deeper weariness than your physical exertion alone warrants. Bone-tired, you may not think much of the Destination when you get there or recall why it was so important that you arrive. You may have missed out on opportunities to pick up tools that would have helped you to cross over the final threshold.

But if you remember your purpose, meditate on it, maintain the passion you have for it, the journey becomes compelling, perhaps even exciting. Your feet may well get sore, but this cannot come close to eclipsing your drive for completing the Journey. You may even notice the crocuses about your feet, or, raising your head, the sun turning the mountain slopes golden. You may hear the murmur of a shy streambed and welcome the crisp, invigorating breeze upon your face. What we focus on, we see more of.

There will be days you do not notice these things, when rain soaks you to the bone and you twist your ankle and your hunger is overwhelming. Some would turn back in defeat, thinking only of the comfort of home. But you will call your Destination to mind, grit your teeth, and press on firmly. The challenges you face will serve only to refine your dedication. You know that, in the end, the story will be better for the telling because of its hardships; the rewards you reap will taste the sweeter. And so we charge you, press onward!

Further Up, Further In

The GSB Team