The Dissolution Of Our Horizons & The Emerging Ensemble Hero

“There were formerly horizons within which people lived and thought and mythologized. There are now no more horizons. And with the dissolution of horizons we have experienced and are experiencing collisions, terrific collisions, not only of peoples but also of their mythologies. 

It is as when dividing panels are withdrawn from between chambers of very hot and very cold airs: there is a rush of these forces together. And so we are right now in an extremely perilous age of thunder, lightning, and hurricanes all around. I think it is improper to become hysterical about it, projecting hatred and blame. 

It is an inevitable, altogether natural thing that when energies that have never met before come into collision—each bearing its own pride—there should be turbulence. 

That is just what we are experiencing; and we are riding it: riding it to a new age, a new birth, a totally new condition of mankind—to which no one anywhere alive today can say that he has the key, the answer, the prophecy, to its dawn. Nor is there anyone to condemn here (”Judge not, that you may not be judged!”). What is occurring is completely natural, as are its pains, confusions, and mistakes.”

– Joseph Campbell
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Perhaps you are one of those people with whom I have shared an appreciation for both the Hero’s Journey myth and the inspired writing of Joseph Campbell.  If so, I want to share my own renewal, through these New Year’s reflections with you and invite you to share these with others.

I have been thinking a great deal these days about what it means to take our place in an uncertain world. As such, I have been looking for a guiding light to support going forward with my own particular way of living and being in the world, while facing what seems to be unprecedented times.  But perhaps these times are also like all of time, especially for those of us who suffer the human condition.

We are coming up against, yet again, profound anxiety producing experiences, requiring of us to face the unknown of the future in new ways, and like never before.  But perhaps it has always been this way for us as evolving people?

Not surprisingly, I have turned to the writings of Campbell once again for meaning and perspective as this new year begins. Here is what I have come across, and from where I am drawing in new breath, new perspective, and new life.

The first source is the Campbell passage above, from Myths to Live By, which I came across on the Joseph Campbell Foundation’s Facebook page a few weeks ago. Campbell speaks to the dissolution of the horizon that is before us, and it feels as relevant to our current times, as it did to him, some 40 years ago.

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The next piece of writing from Campbell I stumbled upon in my library as I began preparations for a new essay at year’s end, based On The Dissolution of the Horizon.  I was struck by the synchronicity of what I found myself reading.  It is from the last five pages of the Epilogue in the third edition of Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, aptly titled The Hero Today.  

I found myself once again humming to the tune of the ancient hero myth’s deeper meaning, relevant to today’s circumstances, just as it seems to have been to Campbell when he first wrote about it 75 years ago.

In The Hero Today, he speaks to the loss of the collective myth of the journey by the society, and how there would be now only the individual journey to be lived, with no realizable, established horizon to be had.  This is a most worthwhile and relevant four page read, and you can access it here.  It has helped me focus on my own task that lies ahead.

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 Yet interestingly enough, what I see shifting in today’s world is a return to the group myth, and the dying of the individual myth.

The new myth, in my mind, is pointing towards the small group – and not the larger, collective whole of the society.  One human being, larger than life, can no longer save the day – this now becomes the apparent lie.  Going forward, I believe it is only the ‘we’ that has the power to identify properly with the gods, with the unseen forces of the universe.  It will only be through identification with the small group “we” that we will be able to ride the new waves of meaning and potential, as we move through the dynamic changes of our times.

Two years back, Bob Walters, the president of The Joseph Campbell Foundation were having lunch. He shared with me a discussion he recently had with William Shatner, and of how Shatner saw his role of Captain Kirk as the hero.  Walters instead saw as the hero The Enterprise space ship itself – which carried and held the collective contributions of the ship members.  The ‘ensemble’ was what made the journey to where no man had gone before possible.

I felt the deep aliveness of this myth rising in me as well over this past year. Of how I come alive in the ensemble presence of groups – small working groups, or larger community groups – in ways that do not happen when I am simply on my own.

Perhaps we are enter the time of the sangha myth, the Dao that is now the “we”.  If this is the case, then I plan to devote myself more and more to my own participation in the ensemble of the ‘we’ – simply doing my part and taking my place, one among the many, finding my purpose and my sense of peace in that particular participation.

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Finally, it would seem fitting to offer as well a more poetic reflection on our evolving human capacity to span the chasm of polarized energies, positions and ways of seeing the world.  The ‘we’ must learn to do this so that we can, each in our own way as part of the ensemble, make our own unique contribution to the needs of the world.

We can do this by strengthening our ability to look within; finding our most authentic response to the circumstances we face; and then, seizing the opportunity to step in wholeheartedly with our response and offer it, with no attachment to its outcome, when the moment unfolds in front of us.

Ordinary heroes, one among the many, perhaps doing what anyone can do, but doing it as only we can.

Let’s ride the waves of Rilke’s invitation as we go forward:

As once the winged energy of delight 
carried you over childhood’s dark abysses, 
now beyond your own life build the great 
arch of unimagined bridges. 

Wonders happen if we can succeed 
in passing through the harshest danger; 
but only in a bright and purely granted 
achievement can we realize the wonder. 

To work with Things in the indescribable 
relationship is not too hard for us; 
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle, 
and being swept along is not enough. 

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out 
until they span the chasm between two 
opposing polarities…For the god 
wants to know himself in you.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

Rather than being fearful and reactive, let’s all become more informed by what troubles us as we go forward; let’s discern more readily what is truly worth our trouble.  In the words of the late Leonard Cohen, let’s “ring the bells that still can ring, and forget our perfect offering”.  Instead, let each of us find our way to the most authentic response we can have to the situations and circumstances we face, and contribute in the ways we can.

Let’s keep our perspective; let’s practice equanimity.  Let’s be more patient with ourselves, and more tolerate of those we perceive as ‘other than’ us – especially those whose backgrounds and life experiences are very different from our own.

Let’s allow the new horizons to reveal themselves to us as they arrive; let’s become more capable of the unexpected.  Let’s learn to bridge the chasms that reinforce divisions and separation; let’s take our place in the ensemble we were meant to be part of.

The new year awaits us.

– Michael Mervosh

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{‘The Hero Today’ was taken and slightly adapted from “The Hero of a Thousand Faces”; third edition 2008; pages 333- 33; the original edition was published in 1949. Also see jcf-myth.org for more recommended reading options by Joseph Campbell.}