In downtown ancient Phrygia in Anatolia, in Asia Minor (now modern Turkey) the population were without a king for sometime, and a prophecy was given that the new king would be a man who drove an ox-cart through the city gate. And, a peasant farmer did just that. His name was Gordias, and as per the oracle’s prophecy, Gordias was named king of Phrygia.
Gordias’ son Midas was so grateful that he tied that ox-cart to a post using an complicated knot made from cornel (cornus mas) bark and dedicated it to the god Sabazios (or as the Greeks would say – Zeus). The knot was said to be very complicated, it was described as being several knots together, so intertwined that it was impossible to find the beginning or the end of it, hence its entry into legend as the Gordian Knot.
The legend went on, with a new prophecy that whoever undid the knot would rule all of Asia. Enter Alexander the Great. There are two stories of Alexander undoing the knot, in the first he simply slices it in two with his sword after wrestling with it. In the second, he discovers the central strand and successfully unravels it. Either way, he went on to rule Asia Minor and beyond.
Today it carries the meaning of complication. We use the term “cut the Gordian Knot”, which refers to decisively solving a problem or puzzle. The term also refers to any problem or conundrum that can only be solved with lateral or creative thinking.
We all carry an internal Gordian Knot or two. I think where love is concerned when we meet our life partner we are the key to unravelling the complications of attraction, bonding, and releasing each other in new creative ways. I think there are other knots we carry. Some carry the whole world on their shoulders, others carry depression, anxiety, heartache, grief. Others carry hate, jealousy, anger. Some carry physical knots of illness. It’s a complicated world, and none of these knots can be treated as simple or trite. These knots can’t be dealt with like Alexander slicing them open, nice as that would be.
The ancients believed that the knot was actually a code to be unravelled first, so that the knot would also unravel. In a way it is a metaphor for life – to be patient, to learn the clues to self, to understand self and one’s passions, abilities, and possible paths in life. For me the Gordian Knot is life opening up as I attend to the mindful path, strand by strand, not being too concerned with slicing or loosing the whole, but discovering each intricate strand and its role. Life is a Gordian Knot, and it cannot be short circuited, you cannot succeed by simply getting frustrated and slicing it open. Life, as the cliche goes, must be lived. Our clues to success are in the living into the glorious chaos we call life, remembering Samuel Butler’s comment: “Life is not an exact science, it is an art”, and finding our way. But above all, we are often the key to each other’s unravelling our inner knots, it is an imprecise science or art, sometimes we are totally unware it is happening, it’s called relationship, it begins with dialogue …