The Hero’s Mythic Adventure – Walking In Two Worlds
The Hero’s Mythic Adventure:
Walking in Two Worlds
“As humans, we walk on two feet,
And live in two worlds.
– Michael Meade
An Evolutionary Overview
Joseph Campbell once said, “If you want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it”. I have thought about that passage often over the years. I have come to the conclusion that if we are going to have something meaningful to contribute to this world, we will indeed have to learn to live in two worlds, and become a bridge between them.
It is often said we are living in unprecedented times. This is the un-ignorable and inevitable reality of living at the unfolding edge of time as it persistently moves forward, revealing a future that has never been here before. Many people perceive time to be moving faster than ever before. There is also an exponential reality to the technological advances made throughout the 20th century, and even more so as we live into the 21st century.
The best scientific estimate being made by NASA is that our universe is 12-14 billion years old, and our solar system is approximately 4.5 billion years old. Our ancestral predecessors are thought to have begun walking on two feet as early as 3.5 million years ago. Homo sapiens evolved around a half million years ago, and homo sapiens sapiens, the ancestor of all modern human beings, have a first recorded existence almost 200,000 years ago.
The latest genetic evidence, according to an article published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, offers that a great human extinction occurred around 70,000 years ago, due to a massive volcanic eruption which took place in what is now Sumatra.
This has been referred to as the ‘Toba Catastrophe’, and it is theorized to have created a thousand year ‘ice age’ that eliminated all but 1,000 -10,000 humans, who were located in South Africa. It has been theorized that the entire current population of the planet emerged from this small, surviving gene pool of humanity
It can be derived that this time of extreme hardship for the human population helped to precipitate a profound leap in our evolutionary capacity for creative adaptation. As a result, we soon began a lasting migration pattern that eventually carried us to other continents, and then across the entire planet.
Many anthropologists widely theorize that we made a revolutionary leap in consciousness with our ability to reflect back upon ourselves around 35,000 years ago. As a species, we woke up. It was around then that we became organized as hunter-gatherers on the planet.
Then around 10,000 years ago, we had another leap in self-awakening as a species. Human beings began forming nature-based worship sites such as Gobekli Tepe in Ursa, Turkey, and also began creating agriculturally-based farms and villages.
From this fundamental shift in gathering together, modern civilizations gradually came into being. The urban-industrial age began to emerge three hundred years ago. In the 20th century, we went from taking flight to landing on the moon in the span of one lifetime. The communications age that is now encircling the globe came into being around 50 years ago. The technological advances of the past two decades have only aided our capacity to generate information and knowledge, not only about the smallest particles of existence and the furthest reaches of the galaxies, but also about the deepest aspects of ourselves.
Ever since the time of our first awakening, we when consciously witnessed life feeding on other life, we not only became aware of this profoundly disturbing existential reality, we also began to wonder about that which exists beyond what our eyes could see. It helped us to make sense of, as well as cope with, the harsh conditions we face called life on this planet.
Where have we come from before we were ‘here’? Where will we go once we are gone from ‘here’? What are we to be doing with our time while we are ‘here’? What will become of me in the future? What am I to become
These are the existential questions we have been asking for thousands of years. Like it or not, we have evolved into (and perhaps have always been) meaning-making animals. And how we best make meaning is through our collective and personal myths.
“It will be always the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told
Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of (people) have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.
Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic (people), prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.”
– Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
The monomyth, a word first coined by James Joyce, became the frame of reference Joseph Campbell used to begin telling about the one great story of humanity – that which is ever evolving as well as constant – as we move through the field of space and time.
This story refers to the song of humanity that has always been playing in the background of the psyche, individually and collectively. It is the one song we are all silently humming to, even if we don’t know the tune, or even if we don’t know that the tune is playing.
What is the one great story that best tells us about our past, about the meaning and purpose of our origins? What is the one great story that will inform us of our future, of our as-yet unrealized destiny? How do we learn to live into the ‘not-yet-ness’ of our lives, into the ‘in-between-ness” of our lived pasts and our unlived futures?
What allows us to wrestle with the limits of our present-day capacities, while striving to grow beyond them? What keeps us going through all of the trials and tribulations of living? What will help move us forward through the span of our lives, and help us to become who we were meant to be?
This is precisely what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey.
Those who don’t feel this love
pulling them like a river,
Those who don’t drink dawn
like a cup of spring water
or take sunset like supper
Those who don’t want to change
Let them sleep.
I believe we are truly living in unprecedented times. Unlike any other time in human history, not only can individual human beings reflect upon themselves, the globe can now do the same. For better and for worse, our revolutionary capacity for global communication is making the world more and more transparent to itself.
Almost daily, we are blown away by the revelations and discoveries being revealed and beamed across the world by the efforts of the modern scientists. One glimpse through the Hubble telescope can fill us with awe and wonder. By the same token, we can become ever more distraught as we read about and view with our own eyes the appalling violence being done to our fellow human beings, as well as the entire eco-system of the planet.
There is no denying that we can become more aware than ever, if we can only bear it, and if we can learn to say ‘yes’ to life as it is. If we so choose, we can individually and collectively reflect well upon both our individual and global condition during these modern times. We can be appropriately inspired and troubled by what we see, discovering what meaning this holds for us, our planet, and our future.
We can learn to see with more clarity how we each have a unique role to play, how we each have our own way to make a difference in the lives of others, and give to our own life meaning and vitality in the process.
At some point in our lives, we will all feel called to become more than what we presently are. Some of us have the resources and the courage to answer that call, others of us do not. For many of us, right now is one of those times.
Those of us who feel this ‘love that pulls us like a river’, we are now being pulled towards something greater in our present times; we need a way to pursue a meaningful and purposeful life. We need a way that is filled with wonder, awe and respect for the dynamic, living universe, and our place in it. We need a way that allows us to bear the trials of living, the ordeals of time, and the suffering inherent to life’s harsh realities.
Undertaking a heroic journey means creating the necessary conditions for ourselves to recognize our unique place in the universe, to strive to uncover the unique gifts that we have to bring forth, and then work to serve in our particular way a purpose greater than ourselves, helping to sustain and revitalize of the world around us. This is the heart of a hero’s call to adventure.
“How terrible to think of not being the hero of one’s own life;
this is the role for which each of us is cast,
no matter how unsuccessfully we play it.
And if the part seems too big,
if we picture the hero as being indeed “more than life-sized”,
it is because our daily life has dwindled,
become less than real,
and only pygmy proportions seem natural to us.”
A Hero’s Manifesto for Today’s World
The Call to Adventure. We may all feel called towards living a greater adventure, but adventure requires risk. The older we get, the more we gravitate to what makes us feel secure. The hero’s call is always towards the awakening of one’s inner life. To do so, we must loosen our allegiance to security, and transfer it instead to vitality.
It also requires a shift in perspective to regarding inner and outer resources. To answer a deep call to adventure, we have to stop trying to collect, secure and over-rely on our external resources; instead, we must learn about our internal resourcefulness. The catch is that we can’t often gather those to ourselves in advance of the adventure we take. Our deepest inner resources only come forth when needed.
Crossing Thresholds. We have to learn how to tolerate dynamic tension if we are headed out on a true adventure, one that leads to the discovery of the boon we carry within us. We will inevitably cross ‘points of no return’; once we cross over into a certain territory of awareness, and once we’ve committed ourselves to live from it, we will no longer be the same, we will not be able to turn back.
Our old identity will begin shedding its skin. Thus, we come across inner threshold guardians who block the way, attempt to ward us off, and test our inner strength and resolve. These guardians are like gargoyles entrenched above entrances to holy places. They are manifestations of that which represent our deepest fears, and also our deepest longings.
You cannot go on an adventure without bringing along your doubts and fears as well as your desires and longings, for without them, we would not be able to have an authentic experience, one that emerges from the core of our inner being.
Soulful journeys are not within the realm of our control. We can be in control of the journey we take as long as we don’t actually go on them. Kind of the same rules as a fantasy world, where we remain in charge of the experience as long as we don’t have to apply them to real life.
However, once you go across the threshold point (which you will recognize by the dynamic tension you feel – called ‘feeling alive’), the journey is now in charge of you. It is a kind of significantly priced entry fee for a worthy adventure.
Entering the Forest. This is yet another entry fee to be paid to determine the worth and value of the journey for the soul adventurer. You cannot follow a path already made. It won’t be your path if you do. You have to make your own as you go. That is a non-negotiable prerequisite for the hero adventure. We have to say yes to the unknown, there is no way around it. We have to learn to make the unknown an ally to us, in fact.
This puts us through an inevitable disorientation process. Something fundamental within us invariably starts to come undone, and since we’ve crossed the threshold, there is no way back, so things are really free now to come apart. Everything that is old and no longer serving the soul falls away.
This can be a very liberating as well as a most unnerving process; either way, it is one that is also very necessary. Too many of us jump from one doing to the next doing, without the undoing happening to us in between. That will not change a paradigm or an embedded belief system.
So we have to get lost in the forest of our inner psyches, before we can be found anew again, in this world. We have to un-do our attachments to what no longer serves life before we will be able to find and take hold of a new perspective from which to live with new meaning and vitality. We die to become born again.
Ordeals. This is another word for adventure. Somehow we don’t realize this before we cross the threshold of ‘no turning back’. What you cannot experience positively, you will experience negatively. This is especially true about ordeals, because we never consciously ask for them to come.
Ordeals involve the right configuration of challenge and support in a certain unavoidable circumstance or condition; fate and destiny will begin to overlap. They are the crucibles that bring forth our unrealized potential, and the boon of our unrealized potential will not come forth from within, without the ordeal.
Michael Meade says that “our fate binds us, so that our destiny can find us”. The hero seeks out his or her ordeal, while the ego self avoids or rejects it.
Ordeals are not just obstacles that block the path, even though we often initially experience them as hassles that we didn’t ask for, and uninvited challenges not consciously sought out.
We will fail and fall many times in the face of our ordeals. Many times. It doesn’t matter. Persistence is the key attribute of the hero. We will have to persist, and stay with the challenge at hand. In fact, Joseph Campbell often said, “where you stumble, there your treasure lies”.
Allies. We cannot sustain ourselves by ourselves. We must take up a soul journey for ourselves, as only we can, but we are not to be on a journey by ourselves. Sometimes must stand on the shoulders of giants, those whom we have looked up to.
We sometimes need to be carried by a felt sense of supportive others, who are peers to us. We will at some point need mentors who have traveled where we are about to go. We need companions who will travel with us where we have not yet gone.
Today it is a heroic endeavor to be able to discern the paradox of going where only we can go, yet not attempt to get there by ourselves. We need an ensemble to be a part of, and to play our part in.
As we grow our ability to rely on the presence of others, we are strengthened by reaching towards others, and thus more able to sustain ourselves when we must go our own way. Relying is a very different thing from depending.
Belly of the Beast. This is representative of another threshold crossing point along the journey, and it lies deep within the consciousness of the hero. This often requires facing our deepest fear, inadequacy or self-rejection, which is represented by a metaphorical dragon, beast or demon.
These figures are all symbolic representations of the gods, angels, daemons and otherworldly forces that we have ignored, rejected or alienated. The hero once again re-enters this threatening realm of dark unknown-ness within the self, this time with more inner resources and helpers than before, and chooses to encounter the forces of the darker aspects of one’s own self.
Again, let’s be clear – the most real threats and demons in today’s mythological realms are internal. The ultimate enemy is not outside of ourselves.
On the map of the mythological hero quest, inner treasure is to be discovered within close proximity to the dragon’s lair, or within the belly of the inner beast whom we cannot control. We have to take responsibility for the disowned aspects of our human nature that are possessed by the daemon’s powers.
The hero task is to enter the dark territory of our vulnerability with enough inner resources to stay conscious and engaged during our encounters with the life force energy that exist within the realm of the psyche.
This is precisely how we discover who we truly are and what we are made of; it is here that we find what it is that lies within us, waiting to come forth, to come to light. This requires us to ride the energy of dynamic tension in a way that enlivens us, and allows us to feel most like ourselves.
Discovering the Boon. The boon often comes forth by staying when we stay with our ordeals long enough to realize that if we take them up positively, and make use of the ordeals to tap into our inner resources, they will bring out what has been within us all along. Our inner genie comes out of the bottle; our soul aspects shine through unimpeded; our highest and best self can be expressed.
When the boon arrives, we feel humbled by the sense of bounty received, and we are made ego-less by feelings of awe and wonder. We experience the beauty and mystery that come from the discovery of the boon, which are like pearls beyond all price, a kind of spiritual inheritance acquired during our earthly existence.
As we realized our arrival at the boon, we are enveloped by the sheer capacity for surprise, rapture and awe, words are often inaccessible, inadequate, and often unnecessary. We become a distinct, living embodiment of eternity’s zeal for incarnate expression in the earthly plane of space and time
Then the task is to bring home to the ordinary realms of daily living the vitality, aliveness and sense of purpose that we discovered through the mythic adventures and ordeals of the hero’s journey.
The Return Home. It is Sunday afternoon; I am finishing the edits for this essay, fresh from the ordeal and boon that I directly encounter each time I write. I have enjoyed a morning fire in the fireplace, tilled the garden’s soil, broke a good sweat. Soon I head out to enjoy the leisure of my retired thoroughbread, meandering around the barn. What happens to the one great story alive in me while I am engaged all these simply things?
I have a ‘to do’ list to face for the evening time, as well. Bills to pay, laundry to do, the kitchen floor to be swept. There are, as always, endless work details needing attention – and those emails to respond to. Yet these matters ground me back in this world. They give me a sense that I am here, that my life is happening, and that taking up these mundane actions really does matter.
Yet I am also lingering still in another world in the background of my day, sensing into the profound cosmological perspective I have of our living planet and an enchanted universe. I am struck with wonder while in the space between focused, simple chores – of how we are participants in a dynamic, unfolding universe, regenerating itself in every moment we are attuned to it.
I am thinking about Copernicus and Galileo. What they each sacrificed in their lifetime in service of a new view of the heavens. How they helped to profoundly change our worldview in the 16th century in just 100 years time.
How we are in the midst of another global mind shift right now? For the first time ever, we can all realize this at the same time, together, each from our own place in the world. What a grand awakening.
So you reading this, be ready.
Now is the time for taking up a grand sense of adventure, and it is unfolding in a universe near you. Find your bliss and follow it, take up a path you can call your own, or maybe re-devote yourself to a once abandoned discipline. Then say ‘yes’ to the call, undertake a new journey, one with renewed enthusiasm and a healthy respect for uncertainty and the unknown.
Spring is in the air, and the future is up for grabs. Will you take hold of yours?
Watch how it may be already unfolding before you. Or better yet, allow yourself to have a sense destiny, born from what you were once fated to.
There is a thing called the boon that is like a golden thread, and you will have to follow it, just like you must follow your bliss. Just keep hold of that thread of bliss. It is connected to the one great song that has been playing throughout your entire life. In fact, you may even be humming to it right now.
– Michael Mervosh
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.