BYOM (Be Your Own Messiah)
Building My Metaphorical Ark
Back in 2017, I dated a man who had a Messiah complex.
Christos, as he asked to be called, was not his real name. He reminded me of a drifter preacher from future pasts, melancholic and handsome in a haunting way — as though one day a ghost had entered him and never left.
Christos was a psychedelic troubadour in the purest sense: a man who played banjo in a magic mushroom cult band, a counter culture outlaw who complained about the government and cashed bad cheques. When we met, he was working on a collection of folk songs about the dusty myths of America and smoking weed all day, living for free in his friend’s crash pad. He had no sheets on his bed, just a ceremonial scarf that he liked to wear while he tripped.
At the time, I was convinced he was a genius.
It feels strange now to think of him as anything more than what he turned out to be: a tortured poet who used others to make himself more real; a painted saint on a faulty pedestal. Given his behavior, I’m guessing he was most likely a textbook narcissist, but no matter. He scuttled off to Joshua Tree one day when he was supposed to be housesitting my cat with a catch ya later babe and never looked back.
Yet, when I reflect back on that surreal hiccup in my life, I am grateful to Christos and his…offbeat perspective on what constituted reality. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I would have ever found the guts to go where I did.
Let me preface the rest of this story by saying: you are an archeologist of your destiny.
Because purpose isn’t so easy to pin down. Anyone who has ever asked the question “Why am I here?” will know what I mean. Feel free to argue with me all you want, but I don’t think anyone wakes up on this glorious planet and decides “I want to spend my time doing <insert job description>.”
Instead we have gifts, and we must decide how to use them.
Some have it easier — their skills and passions translate readily to certain paths. You good at math? Society knows what to do with that.
But others — and I count myself one of them — often struggle to contextualize their gifts in a framework that will grant them access to the promised land of Capitalism. For instance, if your destiny is to be a mystic but you’re forced to make ends meet at McDonalds, your situation might hold a lot of cognitive dissonance.
I relate. To some extent, I have always felt displaced; preferring the margins of the modern world to the roiling center of the military-industrial matrix. Perhaps that’s because many of the ways in which I’m gifted don’t correlate to rigid success metrics for businesses. For instance, I have been a writer and an artist since I could speak, but was told many times by ‘adults’ that I needed to get serious about having a real job.
I don’t know how to break it to them, but I came down to Earth to play like a God.
When I used to teach design to people transitioning into the tech world, I was often asked to speak on my career path. This always made me laugh. I wasn’t there to convince people that the market made sense, but rather to speak candidly about the road ahead.
I used the following analogy:
Sometimes our ‘real work’ feels like being a humble archeologist who’s been shoveling dirt in the desert for YEARS. You have a hunch that the thing you crave, the scent in the wind you’ve been following, originated here.
After many weeks of nothing, you find a toe bone. You start dusting with more vigor. Your little brush seems foolish, not enough, but it’s all you’ve been given to uncover this gigantic, hidden dinosaur.
Years later, you uncover more bones — but they don’t fit into the shape you originally imagined. Oops! It’s a platypus. How embarrassing. But by now you have tasted something profound and must keep going.
Then, at some point, you have to go get more funding to continue your dig. The people who hold the big money laugh at you and proclaim “You silly thing, there’s nothing there! You’re wasting your life!” You have to convince them it’s worth your time, your effort, your blood and tears. They steeple their soft hands and say Hmmmmm while sitting in a comfy chair.
Or maybe you discover a leg bone the first time, and nothing else. Maybe you consider giving up and going home and becoming something called a Customer Satisfaction Specialist because there’s no physical map, no real proof, that X marks the spot.
I used to tell those students that it takes guts to investigate our inherited beliefs about who we are, what we’re supposed to do, and what’s possible.
How else will we know if what everyone else says is wrong?
The power of my classroom was that by default it became a platform and a playground. I don’t know which Supreme being decided that it was time for me to have a microphone, but I’m sure glad they did. More importantly, I’m grateful that I had a willing and receptive audience. My students received me in all my weirdo glory, and that was a most sacred gift.
It made things happen in ways I could never have expected.
Shortly before I started dating Christos, Trump was elected. Shit was burning down in America, and the day of the election, nothing got done in my classroom. We were all too busy scrolling through social media. Faced with the newsflash that the current reality happening was not one I aligned with, I decided upon something different: an alternate storyline.
My thinking being: if you don’t love what’s happening, change the channel on your reality TV.
I quickly typed in a status update on Facebook and hit post: Anyone interested in buying a MEGAYACHT and pirating around in international waters please leave your name and preferred title below. SERIOUS REPLIES ONLY.
The thread blew up. In a matter of a few hours, a small community formed to envision a rebellious new reality together. The resulting hilarity took on an intriguing meta-dimension as I read through the answers. It was strangely liberating to envision being on a boat lost at sea with these strange friends and friendly strangers. It struck me that for the first time that day — playing this game of creation — I felt human again.
I found myself asking: Where did this fantasy end and the real world begin?
This thought planted a powerful seed.
My obsession with boats became a running joke in my classroom. I swore that it was only a matter of time until I manifested a man with a yacht based on how frequently I brought it up. I didn’t take my own boat obsession too seriously — until one day it began speaking to me.
It was a month or so after I met Christos. I was meditating at home when a message entered my mind as if winging in from another dimension.
Build a boat.
It was also around that time that I was noticing something very strange happening. I was receiving messages that weren’t of me. They had a different weight and texture than my normal thoughts; a kind of clarity that felt unimpeachable. These thoughts often felt like mystical teachings, and I enjoyed it when they visited me.
This one, however, was more insistent than the others.
At first I refused to engage with whatever was whispering these ludicrous messages straight into my brain. The things it said — let alone the basic fact of its existence — felt too outlandish to admit out loud, even to trusted friends. Sometimes I believe the only reason I crossed paths with Christos was to have a harbor safe enough to surrender to the dream unfolding inside of me, however ridiculous it seemed. Someone who wouldn’t shut me down or tell me to stay in my lane or worse — accuse me of being crazy.
I couldn’t decide if Christos was a genius artist or actually insane, but for all his faults he held the faith when I was struggling to believe in myself. Yeah baby, he would say, Follow your wild vision. He was someone who did this — lived without regrets or reasoning. He had no qualms about adhering to his own set of rules and as a result lived like a king inside his idiosyncrasies. I liked that about him.
Then the dreams began.
I dreamt about a boat I found in the desert, half-submerged in sand. In the dream I drop to my knees and spend hours laboring under the heavy sun to clear away the dust, liberating the massive wooden shell with my hands. But when I finally reveal my boat there’s no wave to take it away. And so the boat stays, growing more belligerent each day. It won’t shut up and it won’t let me sleep.
HAVE A PARTY! It crowed while I drove to work.
INVITE EVERYONE! The boat insisted as I ate lunch.
And re-write the story of humanity while you’re at it.
“Wow,” I thought. “This boat is bossy. I better listen.”
But I didn’t know where to go with this message. Not at first. I wasn’t raised religious and this was the closest I had ever come to being visited by an angel. Feels biblical, I wrote in my journal, still unsure of how to interpret these instructions. Yet neither could I resist the allure of this astonishing conversation: it felt like the boat was an invisible agent, showing me something important underneath the surface of my situation.
In a way, I had been asking for a boat — a deus ex machina to rescue me from the drowning feeling. Since the election, my life had begun to shrink, compressing my breathing. The pinch was so big that I knew I was at the verge of a momentous shift, but I couldn’t seem to make the leap. So what did I have to lose by trusting the most insane idea that had ever arrived?
I was in for a surprise.
Carl Jung pointed out that humans speak across history in symbols. Archetypes are encoded signatures that communicate living patterns of behaviors. Unlike humans, they don’t die. Catch my drift?
A boat is not just a boat.
By the end of the holidays it was clear to me that I was getting ready to quit my teaching gig and launch a transformational practice — my culture laboratory. My classroom had shown me the value of cultivating playgrounds as a platform for experimental learning and creative praxis. I was awakening to the fact that fantasy and fictional worlds allow us to risk more, and are thus potent imaginal portals to real future scenarios.
So even though I was definitely not going to build an actual seaworthy vessel, I saw an opportunity to construct a conceptual one that might do the same thing: transport people to new realities.
Lo and behold, my business found its name in a most unlikely place: ARKO.
Genius is often misunderstood when it first reveals its face. Throughout history, those who have dared to go another way have been seen as outsiders, troublemakers, rabble rousers. Dangerous to the status quo.
God bless the ones who dare, though.
It wouldn’t be until several years into my ARKO endeavor — the summer of 2020 to be exact — that I would read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and have a HOLY SHIT moment that blew my mind.
It turns out that Tibetan Buddhist monks used all manner of techniques (meditation, visualizing, breath regulation, trance) to prepare themselves for their future death passage. The ultimate goal being the ability to move one’s intact consciousness across a psychic bridge of sorts without becoming corrupted or burning up in the in-between. Tibetan Buddhists considered these practices to be the vehicles through which the Adepts were able to shed their earthly form and access true enlightenment.
Maybe I’m sipping too hard on my own medicine, but it seems that a boat is a transcendent vessel we invented to transport us from one reality to the next.
Which means: I was asking a question so big that a whole world needed to be created to answer it.
When the boat first told me that I needed to re-write the story of humanity, one of my first smug thoughts was: What are the chances that’s a real job?
I suppose that’s the crux of my career problem: the way I came to play doesn’t require a gatekeeper. Instead it was up to me to take my role seriously. How hilarious that it took a spiritual grift to expose my own insecurities about blazing a wake.
But now I’m awake.
And every awakening is a shockwave that rips through one’s reality in order to reveal the threadbare delusions and false truths; the biggest of those being that we become anything at all. You don’t find yourself for you aren’t lost at sea. I can’t speak for everyone but based on my path, it seems that purpose is less of a search and more of an uncovering, a discovery.
A bringing forward of oneself into the light.
When we dare to be ourselves fully, miraculous things happen. The moment I stopped dismissing my far-out truth and re-calibrated to stand behind myself regardless of what others believed, I arrived in a new reality where the rules reflected a different set of assumptions about what was possible.
I’ll give you a prime example: two months before the pandemic hit and two years after I launched ARKO, I hopped on a call with a brand new client. We had been serendipitously connected through a friend for a last minute gig. The client was the World Future Society, and one of the first things the CEO said was:
We’re here to re-write the story of humanity.
I almost choked on my coffee. The old me that couldn’t see over the horizon? She was onto something. Namely, INCEPTION.
You want to save the world? Don’t wait. Be the salvation you seek and see what happens.
Katharine Hargreaves is a storyteller, teacher, ritual designer, and initiated diviner in the Dagara tradition. Her first book, The Art of the Experiment, is a modern alchemy manual. For more information on her offerings and rites of passage, visit her website. Click here to sign up for her bi-weekly transmissions.