That kind of storytelling is very tempting, for it turns the main character into a victim who either suffers or salvages due to forces “out there”. Hell comes from outside. As does heaven.
In real life, I’ve noticed, it’s not the enemy without one ought to fear, but the enemy within. And Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is one of the very few references to myths and fairytales that makes this connection between (mythical) storytelling and the journeys most of us, adults, will have to make at one time or another between cradle and grave. A journey necessary to really grow up, and embrace the responsibilities and duties, rights and freedoms that come with being human.
It is a journey inside, to rid ourselves of ideas that have passed their shelve life, of stories we have told ourselves about our own values and worth. A journey inside to rid ourselves of identities that no longer suit us. A journey that led me from fear for the unknown, to faith in the unknown. Faith, not in the powers of my will to bend reality to my liking, or get the things I want to get – as it had been for decades. But a more graceful faith that whatever happens carries inside itself all material needed to recover, heal, move forward and find serenity.
Simply put: there’s fertiliser to be found in shit.
“So, who do you now want to be?” That question, again.
How does one respond to a wide-open question like that?
How sincere is that which bounces back from the mind, within seconds, minutes or days? How much delusion is hidden inside the first feedback?
I had many an answer.
I wanted to be a renowned author of fiction and non-fiction, someone invited to come storm the stages of the world and share my literary wisdoms. I wanted to own a farm in the Karoo, where I could accompany young men on their journeys through the valley of death, towards a more fruitful life. I wanted to sail the seven seas, and explore birthplaces of global spirituality, and write a best seller about it. An artist, of the world, for the world.
Hidden inside all those grand dreams lay a (I’d now add: needy) desire for some kind of recognition, applause and fame. If self-help gurus with junk wisdoms could create wealth and fame, than surely I should be able to find my niche, and do likewise…? How difficult can it be, to be a fake prophet, after all?
Yes, please: come join me in belly laughter now, for the proportions of one’s delusions…
I am pretty sure, you too will have had your own as well, one day, a long time ago. Having grand delusions in itself is perfectly fine, because life – usually – allows us to crash due to their weight. And to crash is helpful in waking up to reality.
I believe that the true measure of a man is not to be gauged by the state of his bank account, the size of his popular following or the grandeur of his titles or degrees. It is a mark on the soul which represents the point at which he finally harmonised his achievements with his ambitions, where he settled for what was possible as against what was desired; not so much a mark perhaps, as a scar – a scar made by his dreams coming to earth like falling comets.
Kenneth Kaunda: Letter to my children
The benefit of crashing (with all its trauma, depression, destruction, darkness, pain and sadness) is that only through the crash does it become apparent how much excess luggage I’d been carrying around. Are the dreams that weighted so heavily really essential to walk my path through life? The goals I had set myself, did they originate inside, for the benefit of my soul? Or had I taken them on-board, to somehow prove a point to myself, and others?
To find answers to some of those questions, it became unavoidable to dance with dragons, debate with daemons and to nourish some of the demons. As I said earlier: the enemies are not out there, they were inside. Energies, moods, thoughts, feelings, stories: a wide array of realities originating in my mind and body, fuelling a whole set of other energies, moods and thoughts, which, combined, didn’t do any good.
As time progressed along the journey, I became aware it wasn’t just the coat called “journalism” I had allowed to merge with my skin, my sense of self. There was a library of perceptions and stories that had done the same from within. And as the coat needed to go, so to the stories from within. However, as those stories had merged with the nuclei of my cells, tracing them, identifying them and deleting them would take much more time and effort than the mere shrugging off of a coat…
It is this part of the journey that I, now looking back, see as the true challenge of the “hero”. Travelling inside, into the nooks and crannies of one’s ego, one’s mind, one’s spirit, and one’s soul led my past a confrontation with a host of doubtful characters I had, until then, always refused to acknowledge. I came across energies from within that I’ve given names, to easier communicate with when next they stop by. There’s the Red Knight, a ruthless bastard. There’s the King of Sulk. There’s the Slimy Eel. Characters one tries to hide from view to the outside world, and therefore tends to forget reside within.
It is through this purposeful ignoring that these energies, demons and characters rise above themselves, unseen, unheard, and nearly all-powerful.
Reinventing the man, I learned after a while, would be impossible without getting to know this set of characters. Any transformation would be superficial if it wouldn’t address the deeper processes, dynamics, internal conflicts.
Who are they? What do they represent? What is it they need? What feeds their energies? What compromise is possible? Can dragons and demons be tamed, or do they need slaying? How to invite the divine in, in a manner suitable? And the daemons?
In fairytales, it is at this stage where the hero receives his warnings that what he’s undertaking might demand the ultimate sacrifice, and it is in this stage too where he starts doubting his own abilities to finish the quest successfully. However, it is also in this stage that usually the way back has become impossible too. Abysses have come into being. Valleys have been flooded. Bridges have been burnt. Horses have been crippled.
It would, eventually, become, indeed, a dance with death.
Read the first instalment of this series
Coming soon: Reinventing a man; Part 3