31st May 2013

The Universal Quest

We are all on a Quest.  Whoever we are, we are all searching for something - something that we have not yet found, something which is just out of reach, compelling us to extend our journey until we find it.

This is not a statement of some newly discovered truth. The motif of a long, meandering journey is a recurring and pervasive image in the cultural artefacts of all human societies. Labyrinth designs, for example, dating back thousands of years, appear on rock faces, coins, walls, pottery, mosaic pavements and manuscripts on every continent of the world.

When we encounter a cross-cultural and enduring motif such as this, we can be sure that it has served those who have gone before us in that primary activity of being human - meaning making, making sense of human experiences[i].  Scholars who have studied the image in its many different forms have identified that its occurrence always signifies “a journey into oneself”[ii]: it is the universal ‘Search for Self’, the search for who we are and, moreover, who we can be. 

This journey, which we undertake from infancy through to late adulthood (and some would say beyond that), is often called ‘The Growth of Consciousness’. The road we follow as we make this journey was first charted in earnest by the early philosophers and mystics who came forward from 1600 BCE. They described it as one of many sequential stages – stages of self-identity and self-growth - each of which we must attain and incorporate into our sense of who we are, if we are to progress onwards.  

Modern, orthodox researchers in different fields of human knowledge have also studied the question of how our development unfolds and they have all reached conclusions from their individual viewpoints which are broadly aligned with the work of those first truth-seekers. They have also identified ‘the journey into oneself’ as a universal and cross-cultural experience of many stages of self-growth and, with their refinements and enhancements, they have drawn their own different but related maps of it. 

In Chapter One of Finding Merlin, I offer a simplified account of the combined findings of these modern theorists:

FindingMerlinBlog Staircase

[i] The pre-eminent developmental psychologist, Robert Kegan, writes: “…the activity of being a person is the activity of meaning-making.”  See The Evolving Self, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982, p11.  


[ii] See The Journey as a Metaphor in Myth and Metaphor, Selected Essays 1974 – 1988 by Northrup Frye, edited by Robert D Denham, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, 2000, p221.