Last night I joined millions of people all over the world as we watched the first Chilean miners emerge from their two-month ordeal deep in the earth into the arms of loved ones. Mario Sepulveda the second miner danced, hugged family and officials, and offered gifts of rocks from the mine. “I’ve been near God,” he said through a translator, “but I’ve also been near the devil. God won.”
I’m always curious about what captures the collective imagination—and this clearly has been one of those riveting events. I am intrigued by the archetypal themes that are being played out in this drama. In Greek mythology the Greek god Hades was lord of the underworld, of death (and rebirth). It was believed that he takes us deep into the territory of the soul—it is in his realm that soul work is done. He was also the god of hidden wealth—within the Earth, within ourselves.
For seventy days, these 33 miners lived in the dark underworld of Hades, on the edge of death, not knowing if they would ever be rescued. Separated from their communities, their families, their homes, they had to dive deep within their own psyches to find the strength to survive.
As a therapist and author specializing in grief, I’ve been struck with similarities between what these miners went through physically and what those who are grieving experience emotionally. Grieving clients often share that they feel trapped in a darkened underworld. They feel isolated from normal society. They agonize over their loss without any sense of an end in sight. Indeed those who are grieving go through a long descent stage, that I often liken to wandering in tunnels deep in the Earth—it is my job as a guide to encourage them to reach deep inside themselves to find the resources that will enable them to go on through the loneliness and depression, to face not only the chaos and uncertainty, but also their mortality. Then one day the dark passage opens, revealing a new landscape. We emerge into a new life, seeing with new eyes. We emerge from the dark passage of grief into the stream of events and the music of life, eager to live more fully, embracing all the seasons of our lives.
Last night these miners began their journey back into the world. With so many of us riveted to our computers and television sets, we watched as each miner left the womb of the mine deep in the earth and traveled in a capsule appropriately called the Phoenix through a birth canal made of rock—emerging like a newborn into the Camp of Hope. There were long shots of the hole from which the miners would emerge one at a time—so much like a birth! Even the President of Chile was heard telling one of the just emerged miners that a new life was about to start.
These men are changed, even transformed, from their underworld journey. They can never go back to who they were. I will be fascinated with what they have to share with us. Soon the world will be offering these national heroes opportunities, money, movie and book offers beyond their wildest dreams. Hades is also the god of riches. If you are willing to meet Hades in his underworld, he can bestow riches upon you.
In their return, these 33 miners bring messages to us all from Earth’s depths—at a time of deep despair in the collective, they have emerged from dark depths to cheers, hugs and celebrations all over the world. Perhaps over their long stay, the Earth has seeded in them some new vision that will help us in our collective transformation. They bring hope, a renewed appreciation of what it is to live, of life’s simple moments. Think of what it is to come to the surface of this Earth after being trapped for months in darkness. How wondrous it must be to see a blade of grass, to feel the sun on your skin, to hear the song of a bird, to hold a loved one in your arms. The 12th miner said shortly after emerging from the capsule: “Thank God we’re alive. I know now why we’re alive.” Each one of us needs to be reminded how precious this life is, how precious this Earth is—this is the gift that the Chilean miners give us in their ordeal and return.