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My Personal Quest
by Dean Joseph Jacques, Author of Chivalry-Now, the Code of Male Ethics


CN Advocate Dean Jacques     

The particulars of my life are not important, and shall not be charted out as if they were. It is my quest for Truth that matters, no more than your own. After a lifetime of searching, I have stumbled on some discoveries that you might find valuable, if we share similar aspirations.
     For one thing, I have concluded that the pursuit of Truth is nothing less than the search for the Holy Grail. To understand this, you must realize that the Grail is not a cup, or stone or platter. It is the Mystery which draws us into the world to discover what it is. It is the profound Mystery we come face-to-face with when our search is ended (does it ever really end?). Until that final goal, we catch glimpses of the Grail. We find meaningful portents in serendipity. When we are on the right path, invisible hands seem to guide and test us. The energy seems palpable, exciting us to the depth of authentic living. When we stray from the path, bad things happen. We lose the energy of life, and supplement it with meaningless distraction. We may become obsessed by bad luck or illness. Life becomes void of purpose. The future bleak. We are tempted to follow this guru or that cult, and fall out of the quest entirely.


Dean & his wife Lynne         

     My own quest started on the banks of the Connecticut River. I was 12 years old back then, a city boy just introduced to the rural countryside. I was not pleased having to be there each weekend, away from my home and friends. For various reasons, it was unavoidable.
     Nature's beauty eventually won me over. One day, I strolled through neighboring tobacco fields and found myself on the serene banks of the Connecticut River. This rapidly became my special place to visit, an escape where others could not impose themselves, and my thoughts could be my own. Here I would walk along the river bank contemplating life and nature and the possibility of God. A seed was planted in my heart back then. A seed that questioned things with new integrity, but did not provide any answers. I found solace, however, in the asking. (See The River)
     There was something in nature's silence that intrigued me. It seemed more real that the noise and complaints of my family. I could not understand it then, but I had started on my journey to find the Holy Grail.

Martial Arts.
(Click to enlarge.)

     About this time I started my martial arts training and slowly delved into the wisdom of the Far East. Taoism impressed me greatly, but my Western attachments told me that something was missing in its appeal. Urged by the desire to discover my own of truth, I broke away from the Eastern traditions and looked to my own cultural heritage. This wasn't easy. There seemed to be nothing similar to Eastern martial art philosophy. I had heard of chivalry, of course, but didn't know enough about it to take it seriously. To find what I was looking for, I had to look inside myself.
     In the autumn of 1974 (I was 23 years old), I visited a lake one evening and was confronted by the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen. But it more than just a golden sky reflected in the calm water of the lake. (See The Lake) It was the experience that it inspired within myself that had awakened the Grail inside me—although I had no idea at the time that this was happening. The feeling of affirmation, both within and without, was overwhelming. It changed me—or rather, made me capable of change. It told me there was a truer reality than the one I participated in every day. Not a reality of ghosts or spirituality in the religious sense—but a spirituality inherent in matter itself, a quality we cannot appreciate without emptying ourselves first. For the Grail is symbolically an empty cup somehow synonymous with life and hope. We experience its true nature only when we empty it of all distillations, distractions and false conclusions that others have poured into it. There in, we find ourselves.
     It is said that all boys experience something similar to what I did at the lake—some short encounter with nature that grabs their attention profoundly. Most boys place it aside as something pleasant but meaningless. Some experience fear and purposely ignore it. A few are fascinated by the mystery of it all. They embrace it as a challenge to comprehend. I was one of the latter.
     The event never left me. It became the backdrop for my thoughts and values. I explored various theologies and philosophies, judging them against this mystical experience that I knew to be true. I even wrote a manuscript called Until the Dawn, an attempt to reconcile Christian theology with the immediacy of experiential Truth. While very impressed by such scholarly writers as Tiellard de Chardin and Paul Tillich, I started to drift away from Christian theology, which seemed to twist the inexplicable to fit its claims and doctrines. Chinese Taoism greatly impressed me, but its distrust of learning and science ultimately limited its potential.
     In 1993, I attended a local rendition of the play Camelot. I went there expecting nothing more than an enjoyable evening. As the play went on, however, I felt something stir inside me. The message was unclear. I left the auditorium knowing that something in this play had personal significance to me.
     I started to investigate Arthurian literature to discover what it was. Little did I know what I was walking into. The literature and legends encompassed a period of time that included almost a thousand years, resurrecting during the Victorian Era and modern times. Even after years of study, I am still a novice in the field, focusing on Celtic and French sources while setting most of the Welsh and Germanic aside.
     A literary agent (in whom I am much indebted) suggested that I write about something that I knew well, combined with my own unique interests. My career was in social services, while my interests centered on medieval literature. Why not take concepts of chivalry and apply them to the cultural and social problems of the day? It was then I started to realize how much of Western culture was formed during the Middle Ages, and by Arthurian literature in particular. Romantic love, our concept of being a gentleman, loyalty, honesty, courtesy… the list seemed unending! It occurred to me that while Western civilization was rooted in the formation of chivalrous values, we we now suffer from a cultural disconnect that was accentuated by the rapid advance of the Industrial Age and today's technology. While we still have many of the words, their meanings were degraded, and almost lost.
     Here I found my theme! I would take my grasp of medieval chivalry and give it a chance to evolve to the needs of today's culture. I called my manuscript Chivalry-Now.
     Although it was a labor of love, the results were not very good. I set the work aside with the possibility of writing it again in the future. In the meantime, I wrote a play and then another book-length manuscript depicting the story of Sir Lancelot du Lac. These were also put aside as I concentrated on my career and relationships.
     In 2002, my career in social services abruptly ended and I tried my hand at web site design. The economy turned, and I could not find a decent paying job. I started my own business, but barely made ends meet. Although I was able to find temporary employment now and then, the future looked bleak. Depression, as well as desperation, started to set in.
     In late 2005, I read a small book entitled He — Understanding Masculine Psychology, by Robert A. Johnson. In it I found some interesting conclusions about the story of Sir Perceval (Parsifal) and the Holy Grail. There was a reference to a common male experience similar to the one I had known at the lake, and how some men respond to it the same way I did. This was all the inspiration I needed to get back on course.
     I now understood that my experience at the River and the Lake were analogous to being confronted by the Grail Castle in the Perceval story. The first encounter raised numerous questions in my mind; the second resulted in a profound inner experience that only the grail could symbolize. While there might not be an actual, physical object called the grail, the grail experience and transformation are both real and attainable. I now know, with utmost certainty, that all the other experiences in my life, good, bad, and indifferent, led me to this realization—changing my entire outlook on life.
     
Overnight my world was transformed. I rewrote the chivalry manuscript in a matter of weeks, more certain than ever that its ideas were valid and important. I then created this web site in order to reach as many people as possible, hoping that my discoveries and experiences would help others as well.

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The River

(This was written during my mid-twenties regarding events thirteen years earlier. The actual event took place during the time of racial riots and the Viet Nam War.)

It was a perfect summer's evening—warm but not humid, calm and timeless as one might wish for all summer nights.
     I remember walking slowly along the shoreline of this great New England river. I was younger then, half child/half adult (never just one; always both).
     Every weekend drew me to this quiet place, where there were no houses or people, but only trees and wild plants and that wonderful river. It became my sanctuary for contemplation, where I could be like the flowing water that I strolled along—without rush or concern or conscious destination. How easy to be swept up in the river's mindless current of uncomplicated self! It just flowed in its river way without rest or complaint, enjoying a peaceful solace which left no room for memory or guilt.
     While traveling, I often glanced down at my tired fee, amazed at the detached will that moved them. Step after step, with no conscious effort, they accommodated the challenge of disparate terrain. At times I felt apart from my own body, like a spectator observing the motions of someone else. Whenever this feeling occurred, it was accompanied by an excitement similar to fear, drifting away from the experience of here and now. It made me want to run back and leave this special place, but I knew that if I did, I would losing something important.
     My excursions along the river were usually accompanied by thoughts of school or family of friends. This time was no exception. With picture-thoughts that transcended words, I visualized those I cared about. How was it that so many of them seemed miserable? The young, with their pains and confusions about growing up. The adults, with their complicated responsibilities. A few seemed so entranced by their own misery that nothing could make them happier. Others sought escape, but usually by painkillers, treating the symptoms and not the cause. Their lives seemed so lacking of hope that I started wondering about the purpose of life in relationship to what I saw. Being Catholic, I desperately tried to find a religious answer to my questions. Surely the God I heard about in school and church would have good reason for it all. One teacher told me that because of our finite nature, we are not capable of understanding God's purpose. Perhaps that should have satisfied my curiosity, but I was more finite than that teacher realized. Even if I could not grasp the entirety of life's purpose, there had to be some partial answers that could be found.
     With this in mind, I looked up to heaven and loudly asked that painfully existential question:
     "Why?"
     I expected no reply. It was more an exclamation than a question—the teenager's lament; part of the agony of tearing oneself from childhood.
     The question haunted me as I walked on. Why wouldn't God, if he really cared, provide an answer? The bible was full of miracles. Not a day passed that was not a feast day for some saint whom God conversed with. Perhaps it was my approach that was wrong.
     Again I looked at the tranquil sky, setting my mind to be more serious, like a friend asking help from another friend.
     "Why?"
     Again, no response. I next tried to reason with the God of the universe.
     "Please understand. This problem is really bothering me, to the depth of my soul. Nothing about life really explains what it is all about. Now, I realize you don't usually talk to people with a voice and words, but I imagine you could if you wanted to. I'm not asking for thunderclaps or a burning bush, but I would like to know why things are the way they are."
     Still nothing, but I persisted, somewhat emboldened by a growing discontent. It was no longer about me and my little circle of contacts. It was about the pain I saw nightly on the news, soldiers killed, poor people dying, minorities having to fight to be treated as human beings.
     "People suffer here, all over the world. Why does it have to be this way? If you care, why not do something about? Show yourself! Make your will known more directly! I think it would do a lot of good."
     A lot of good? I started laughing at my own pretension. Who was I to give advice to God? What seemed even more ridiculous was that, even while laughing, I waited for an answer.
     Something inside seemed to collapse. My innocence? Or was it hope? I looked up at the sky, filled with sadness. Life was a serious matter.
     "God, please forgive my doubts. I believe in you. I believe you are good. Please help me understand. I need to understand."
     The prayer could not have been more heartfelt. My eyes filled with tears as I knelt on the grassy earth and pleaded:
     "Why do things have to be this way? Please."
     The God of history did not respond. My faith was seriously damaged from that point on.
     I remained on my knees for quite some time, face lowered, trying not to cry as reality set in. Everything in life seemed senseless, and nothing in the beauty of nature seemed to care. I felt lost and very much like a fool.
     In truth, I was standing before the Castle of the Grail, and failed to

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The Lake

(This article was based on something I wrote within a year of the actual event. It describes a memory that is still as sharp in my mind as when it happened.)

One of the most significant moments in my life occurred at a nearby lake one evening during the autumn of 1974. I had gone there with a young couple of recent acquaintance for no reason other than I felt I had to be there. The couple obliged my sudden impulse, stating they would enjoy the ride. I drove with an urgency I did not understand.
      As soon as we arrived at the lake, my premonitions were validated. The sun was quickly disappearing beyond the hills to our right, and the ensuing dusk instigated an incredible transformation of light.
     There it was: a yellow sky—and beneath it a yellow lake, its black-lines waves shaking, all silent. In the distance, on the opposite shore, a translucent veil of mist, also yellow, appeared borrowed from a forgotten dream.
     The panorama enveloped the three of us for one endless moment, the sky ablaze with fiery stillness, emotion captivated by what seemed to be a pause of time. Words cannot express the subtle yet sublime experience of this grand display. Everything else seemed insignificant, including ourselves.
     I found myself entranced not only by what I saw, but by the direct reality of what I felt inside while viewing it. There was a message here. Wordless. Unspoken. Not a message from someone else, like God, but from the experience itself. In me.
     The young woman kicked off her sandals, lifted the hem of her skirt and stepped into the clean shallow water of the lake. There she stood within this magnificent spectacle, a dark silhouette, her shadow's shadow trembling on the surface. She might as well have been the Lady in the Lake, leading me forward. Removing my shoes, rolling up my trousers, I joined her.
     Evening air soothed my lungs with the freshness of life itself. Cool water rejuvenated my tired feet. Even silence vibrated with a soundless hum, adding to the mystery. I lost, for that moment, all recollection of pain and limitation. The minuteness of separate being fell away, and with it the recognition of time itself.
     I wondered if it were all a dream.
     "Tell me, Sky. Are you merely the concoction of a fantasy? Spirit of the Lake, do you know more about me than I do? You make it all so obvious, everything, without a single word."
     Once again something akin to the Grail Castle offered its appearance, now in that yellow sky, mist and reflecting water. I asked the right questions, and in them revelation was complete.
     Today I understand that the Grail itself was not out there, in the beauty of what I saw. It was inside me, responding to the wonder of it all, the wonder of existence itself. The Grail is our empty cup, the center of our consciousness, that which is connected to all things and connects us to the roots of our being. It is the affirmation that affirms our questions as valid and necessary to the universe itself.
     You cannot experience an external Grail. It would have no value. The experience comes from within. Once you recognize that, it is always there, a short distance from your daily consciousness of work play and rest .
     I cannot speak for those who were with me that night. Indeed, I never saw them again. All I know is that the experience stayed with me, and lingers to this day. It encourages me to seek Truth in everything I do, leading me on a journey both wonderful and complex that still continues.
     This quest is so important, we should not allow distractions to divert us from our path. When we do, we suffer from problems and sometimes illness until we return on track. Once that happens, things fall into place to make progress a reality. We start to realize that even the bad things in life lead us to where we are going. We need to embrace them and move forward with a

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