Michael's Writing

The Call To Adventure – Time To Be Taken By The Soul’s Journey

The Call To Adventure – Time To Be Taken By The Soul’s Journey

The Call to Adventure:

When The Time Comes To Be Taken

By The Soul’s Journey

by Michael Mervosh

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One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice-

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations-

though their melancholy

was terrible.

 

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice,

which you slowly recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.

– Mary Oliver

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Joseph Campbell said that in the Western world we have both the freedom and the obligation of finding out what our destiny is.

How do we discover how to live our own particular personal myth, while at the same time living in the midst of the mundane things of our everyday world? How can we ever learn to bring a deeper awareness to matters that lie beyond all the things of this world that pre-occupy us, and demand our immediate attention?

How do we find the space and time to take up an authentic search for meaning and self awakening – and exactly what lies in our way of doing so?

How many of us have become so over-attached to the security of what is familiar, of how we are to be provided for, that we’ve lost our instinctual sense of venturing? How many of us have become too afraid to take new risks, or to keep on with renewing ourselves, that we have given up our explorations of the ‘as-yet-unknown-ness’ of this world?

Or is it just that are we simply avoidant by our human nature, seeking self-preservation primarily, and forsaking a certain kind of fundamental ‘leave-taking’ for the confinement of the couch, for the refuge of personal comfort, for the protective sanctity of home

In what ways have you grown accustomed to the status quo in your life? How do you now cling to all that is familiar to you, so you don’t have to ever really go forth and head out into the world in every-evolving ways?

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In his book Pathways to BlissCampbell poses these questions: “What is the great thing for which you would sacrifice your life? What makes you do what you do? What is the call of your life to you – do you know it?”

He goes on to say, “a person who is truly gripped by a calling, by a dedication or a belief, by a certain zeal, will sacrifice his (or her) security, personal relationships, prestige. He (or she) will give themselves entirely to their personal myth”.

Campbell also acknowledges, “it is not always easy or possible to know by what it is that we are seized”. But it does require us to increase our capacity for fascination and rapture, and lessen our sense of rumination and threat, upon the arrival of some kind of worthwhile life dilemma or mystery.

What is that semi-conscious, flickering, intangible thing that elicits a peculiar feeling in us, a compelling inner ‘pull’ towards certain places, activities or yearnings?

What is that familiar yet ungraspable and subtle sense of awakening we feel in certain life circumstances or settings, such as when we are in nature? How is it that we find ourselves, again and again, caught in repetitive, fated patterns or situations? How do certain troubles or problems seem to always cleave to us, in ways that our personalities then have to keep confronting, exploring, and eventually, resolving?

We are often haunted by this ongoing interplay of fate and destiny in our lives. We find ourselves wondering what our true place is in the physical universe; we seek to know our life’s meaning and our purpose in it; we long for a vital connection to something larger than ourselves. But these matters are rarely resolved in the terrain of our familiar, pre-ordained life course.

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In order to adhere to an inner call to adventure, we have two fundamental and complimentary tasks laid before us: leaving home and venturing into an unknown world. We have to loosen our grip on much that is familiar, while turning our compass heading towards the unfamiliar, and assess the various elements of risk that must be undertaken as we make our way through the realm of the unknown.

To support our understanding of this call to adventure, let’s turn our attention to one of Mary Oliver’s most well-known poems, appropriated titled The Journey:

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began

 This poem’s beginning implies the end of something else. One day. Before that day arrived, there were all the days before that it took, everything that had to be gone through, things that had to be endlessly repeated or endured, before you finally knew what you had to do.

Needless to say, this can take up many years, or perhaps even most of a lifetime, or at least it can feel that way. All that had to be or to be refused, all that had to be lived or not lived, before the ‘one day’ that reached critical mass and suddenly stood out among all the others, and arrived.

Sometimes, we must first wade through our fears, confusions, doubts, and defeating sense of despair. For others, it must be travels through ambiguity, emptiness, trepidation and numbness. Yet others, it is feeling failure and fogginess, or chronic low-level anxiety and listlessness – or some other combination of the aforementioned.

These are the many different negative and apparently necessary facets of our existence that can stem from a common denominator: some form of not knowing how to be. As well, there is the not knowing what to do.

The introduction of this poem begins like the first words (actually, the third verse) from The Book of Genesis in the Bible: “And then there was light.” But exactly what preceded ‘In the beginning’, and how long did that take? What was really going on in the creation of this world, before the light came on? What was happening in that void of universal darkness?

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This takes us once again back to the unknowable, the unknown. On a true hero’s journey, all roads eventually and mythically lead us here.

Rumi speaks of this in the beginning of the Coleman Barks’ rendition of Who Says Words With My Mouth? 

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.

Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?

I have no idea.

My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,

and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.

This drunkenness, this lack of clarity of vision and purpose, it began somewhere else. Even the mystics will often wisely state they have no idea. Perhaps the difference between those mystics and us is their lack of knowing likely troubles them less, or at least differently. Perhaps they even ultimately aim for that place.

When we are troubled by our unknowing, we are prone to become restless and anxious. When we become bound to anxiety, we are less and less able to listen inwardly or deeply. And when we can’t listen within ourselves, we can’t hear what calls to us.

What matters keep us from listening for what speaks to us from within? I have been occupied by a great deal of wondering about this very thing. I have come to the sobering conclusion that many of us are often unwilling to do what it takes to get close enough to ourselves, and deep enough within ourselves, to really listen.

Or to just listen to and find peace within the silence we can find within. Yet this quieting inner descent and space making is what we each need, so that we become more able to listen to what is down there in the depths, waiting to surface and be heard.

For those of us willing and able to arrive at a quiet, centered, still place inside, we may be looking and listening for something in particular. We are sometimes searching for the projection of our ego’s wishes. Joseph Campbell says, “One way to deprive yourself of an experience is indeed to expect it. Another is to have a name for it before you have the experience.”

Thus, we are unable to hear or sense what is actually arriving to make itself known within our interior world. We are too pre-occupied and familiarized with fantasies created by our own ego wishes and projections, which are born from our deficits. We find ourselves looking for perfect match for our fantasies, and in the process, we are in danger of losing sight of everything else that comes our way instead.

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Some of us have been unconsciously looking to have our inner call to adventure magically provided for us, in the way and form our desire can demand. We want a calling that comes pre-packaged and all at once, with a ‘literalness’ that we can confuse with clarity: Actual voices or particular beings, delivering a deciphered message word by word; or a vision that must look a certain way, with everything we need to do clearly spelled out for us. This type of calling, if it is a calling at all, is the exception and not the norm.

Sometimes, we naively wish for our interior world to look and sound just like our exterior world. We become ‘fundamentalists’ of the soul – we make the mistake of taking our dreams, imaginings, and inner calls all too concretely, too historically, or too literally. We fail to see the mythic or metaphorical energies underneath it all, that which drives the psyche’s creation of the symbols, images and words we sense within us.

If we are to listen deeply to an inner call to adventure, we have to learn to accept the initial and more subtle, dreamlike states of awareness that come; we pay closer attention to occurrences in our night dreams; we have an informative regard for our creative imaginings during guided meditations or creative visualizations.

From there, we still have to do the inner work of the meaning-making that happens underneath the symbols, stories, people or words we encounter and are captured by. The hero’s adventure always begins with deep listening to the call of the soul heard by the ego to allow an adventure to take place – and the soul, most of the time, is a subtle herald.

We then come to appreciate that the call to adventure is often very gentle; it is fleeting and flickering, especially at first. It’s when we don’t listen closely that the message or the messenger comes knocking much louder, and sometimes comes with a blunt thud.

So the paradox here is that once we can accept the condition of our not knowing, we can open up a space inside to begin paying attention to notice more deeply, and more subtly. Then we can even start orienting ourselves to what is actually already there.

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This is a different way of being, one in which we shift from a searching consciousness, which is needed to get started on the journey, to that of a finding consciousness, which instead explores the deeper terrains of where one already and currently is located within their interior.

Inevitably, when we arrive at the unknown aspects of the self, this will feel foreign or even alien to us, at first. We find ourselves encountered a troubling “not me” feeling. There is no way around this when we enter unknown territory within us, just many ways to avoid these spaces within.

Going from searching to finding is helped along by a neutral and open transition space within the self. I refer to this open, unrecognized, or unrealized space as not-yet-ness. It implies that from an accepting and open point of view, something will inevitably happen, even though it has not yet happened. This is a crucial shift in conscious one has to make for a meaningful soul journey.

If we can only take up the waiting we have to do more positively and more actively – with a curiosity, and even a sense of play – something will inevitably begin to happen that hasn’t happened thus far. This is because something is already happening, and we have not yet become aware of its happening.

Tom Petty conveys this common struggle in his rock song ‘The Waiting’, when he wails out the refrain, “the waiting is the hardest part!” As a modern culture, we are less and less inclined to wait for anything anymore, perhaps mostly because we often no longer have to.

Our modern culture is built upon the notion as well as the function of speed. But speed doesn’t often help with the hero’s venturing, especially as it applies to wandering. On the soul’s journey, active waiting is a necessary skill that must be cultivated and practiced over and over, especially to support a gradual realization of one’s destiny.

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I am reminded of a humorous story in this regard, one that took place during a men’s Hero’s Journey wilderness intensive some years back. A member of our stewarding team ventured out for a day of solitude, and went out for a solitary exercise we call a ‘Medicine Walk’.

His intention was to cultivate more patience for himself; he wanted to learn how to better wait. As it was a hot, sunny summer day, he had taken along an umbrella along. He also had with him an old briefcase, curiously filled with carving knives, so he could whittle away at some wooden sticks when he felt so inclined, while waiting. But he mostly intended to practice standing in one spot for a long time.

As the day grew long, and in the intense heat of a sunny, mid-summer’s afternoon, I myself was on a solitary walk. I was slowly meandering between green, thick forests and bright, open meadows near our base camp, high up in the West Virginia mountains. I suddenly became aware of this peculiar figure up ahead in the dramatic landscape, standing in a wide-open field, amidst wildflowers.

I could see that his umbrella was up, shading him from the fierceness of the sun’s rays. He was wearing a straw hat, a colorful Hawaiian shirt, and a pair of shorts. As I slowly approached, I realized that his boots were set aside, and his feet were buried in sandy earth. This was indeed a strange and peculiar sight, and it added greatly to the impression that he’d been standing in one spot for a very, very long time.

Beside him was his battered briefcase, standing upright as well. It gave the appearance of a man standing at a bus stop, waiting for the next bus. Yet here he was, in the middle of a wildflower field in a mountainous meadow, many miles from anything resembling a bus stop.

In the spirit of play, I kept a stiff upper lip and sober demeanor, and walked right by him. I said only one thing to him as I passed. “Waiting for the bus?” His reply had me bending over with belly laughs. “No,” he said, “I’m waiting for the road!”

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See if you can feel what happens within you when you reflect on the following question from two differing internal perspectives:

Have you found that thing that brings you utterly alive on the inside?   

No. Feel what happens internally with that response. Not yet. What is the difference internally with this response?

Going from ‘no’ to ‘not yet’ brings a sense of possibility forward; it makes the challenge of venturing into the unknown somehow more feasible; it allows for unrealized things to become more interesting. Not yet implies that something’s coming eventually, that isn’t guaranteed.

This openness in attitude can help position us towards the possible, so when something fleeting yet un-ignorable starts to happen within us, we may be able to respond to this essential question – “Have you found that thing that brings you utterly alive on the inside?” – with a Yes!     

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Perhaps a humbling thing to realize, whenever we find ourselves agitated or distraught about not knowing something, is that not knowing can actually be an unconscious defense against knowing. Has this ever occurred to you about your own not knowing?

Searching is often the easy part of the journey, precisely because something has not yet been found. Sometimes, it is in the finding that the spirit of adventure brings forth the inevitable ordeal.

In the movie No Country for Old Men, Tommy Lee Jones plays a sheriff who has come upon a gruesome murder scene somewhere in the isolated, brown and lonely Texas plains – evidence of a drug deal gone bad, very bad. Not knowing exactly what has gone wrong, the deputy sheriff says to him, “It’s a real mess, ain’t it, sheriff?” Jones says, “If it ain’t, it will do until the real mess gets here”. Not knowing will often do as trouble enough, until the real trouble of knowing arrives.

When we begin to hear the call to adventure, the deeper trouble of knowing what is calling to us can really get us started, as we feel the traction as well as the tension of living into the myth brought on by the journey.

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice

 As we tune more towards an inner voice, sensing the call to adventure awakening within us, we will at some point bump against the voices of those around us – people who matter to us, people whose opinions we have valued and perhaps sought out, and also particular people who annoy us by offering their unsolicited opinions about how we should choose to pursue our lives.

When we follow the path made ready by the soul, advice from another is mostly of no use. In the same way that following a path already made will have us following somebody else’s path, following another’s advice means that we’re not trusting our own inner source of life; we’re not following the more subtle energies of our own life force. When this is the case, our endeavors are not likely to bear much fruit nor take us very far, nor hold much personal meaning for us.

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Another challenge, once we begin hearing the call from within, is how to not readily abandon it, and how to not keep comparing it with advice from someone else. How many times, when we don’t know what to do with our lives, do we ask someone to tell us what to do?  It sets us up for a dynamic in which we become unwitting ‘help-rejecting complainers’. Tell me what to do, so I can either not do what you suggest, or else do it, and then complain about it when it doesn’t appear to be working.

The only advice that has seemed of use to me – when it comes to answering a call from the soul – is this sage advice I was once given: in matters of great importance, listen to my own heart, and follow what I find to be my own bliss. That doesn’t mean I don’t talk with others about it, or share it with those capable of understanding me or challenging me. But there is nothing else we can do, if we want meaning and vitality in our lives, but follow the inner rhythms and songs for our own authentic life.

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

 If we follow a calling to become more alive, and more than what we already are, then we must inevitably move out beyond our comfort zone. As we start to cross the first threshold into the unknown, we take leave of ‘home’.

As we do, we are bound to feel inner dissonance, something that is going against the grain of the usual way. We start to feel the breach of the old boundaries as we go against our homeostatic nature; we hear the sound of an inner alarm. As soon as something starts to go wrong, or others question us or become upset with our movement, we may feel panic, doubt and fear.

We feel this old tug at our ankles, and our feet want to stop going forward. Here we find an ancient, reflexive desire to turn back, or a desperate need to return to the security that had brought forth a stagnant same-ness that felt fixed and constraining.

Here something crucial must become re-established in the psyche of the hero, in the one seeking more meaning and fulfillment in life. There must be a gradual and undeniable shift in allegiance to our most fundamental orientation to reality. In order to better heed the inner call to the awaiting adventure, we must shift from a security-seeking mode to a vitality-seeking mode.

To embrace the journey waiting to happen, we must make shift in consciousness – from the safety we have come to know (which must happen first), to the enlivening we desire with all our heart (which must come next).

Answering the call to adventure helps to do exactly that.

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“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

There is another obstacle that prevents us from being quietly pulled forward by that which brings us alive, and that which we truly love. This increase in energy and excitement can hard to get adjusted to.

As we feel our own life force energies begin to pour more through our sensate bodies in a direct and potent way, we tend to unconsciously defend against this in-flow of energy. We will commonly do it in a culturally sanctioned and approved way: We apply ourselves to fixing things – other people, the world around us, and of course, ourselves.

First we try to fix others. Many of us “givers” have devoted our lives to care-taking tasks. One day it strikes us how unfulfilling this may actually be. (This takes a while to realize.) We then turn our attention back to correcting ourselves, which can be a much more efficient and effective use of our energy and attention. Except that when we resort back to a mental ‘problem solving’ mode for matters of the heart, it doesn’t work, either.

We repeatedly chase our tails with mental thinking, or maybe better said, we chase after all of our problems, and think that if we can just fix them all, we will be more okay, if not more alive. Fixing problems rarely brings more aliveness, though; it simply provides temporary relief, until the next problem comes. And it certainly will come. This is the voice that says “Mend my life!” As a fixer, we can have a mission, a sense of purpose.

The deeper call –“Grow my life!” – lies buried beneath all of the surface repairs of a ‘just-fix-it’ mentality. The next threshold to be crossed is a letting go of mending everything, or mending anything, for that matter – so we can drop into deeper states of grounded awareness, beyond mental thinking and problem solving.

Here, we stumble upon a crucial and liberating insight about our world, and more importantly, about our selves. What if nothing is broken? Well now, what does someone do about that? New trouble.

At least, it will be a different kind of trouble; a better trouble, worth having. And as we let go of fixing we will find ourselves instead being led once again, right back to the unknown.

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You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations-

though their melancholy

was terrible.

 If we practice a deep listening long enough, and we aren’t looking just to find something in particular, like a lost object – and we instead start looking for what is already there waiting for us (and only us), we will have crossed over into the territory of the hero’s mythic realm of adventure.

We listen as a practice, simply for the sake of listening, in and of itself. To allow ourselves to hear, feel and sense what comes. If we stick with this approach, inevitably something begins to stand out into our awareness, with the potential for it to become enlivening. We will start to realize what you have to do to sustain this aliveness. It simply becomes obvious, and as well it’s often a surprise, all at the same time.

The trouble that can occur here is, we begin realizing that what we now feel like we have to do, isn’t what our pre-conceived ideas for our lives had been. We start to see that what we thought we had to do, what we endlessly tried to do or make happen, isn’t really the thing to do any more. This can lead us to one of those ‘oh, no’ moments of awakening, and this is often a big one to be faced

This is typically another threshold that has to be crossed: Letting go of the mind’s incessant demands, obligations, barters, deals, fretting, etc. Realizing that we have wasted our time, energy and resources trying to fix someone else or yourself, or hold something together, or fit into something that doesn’t really fit us any more.

We come face-to-face with the fact that something in our lives just doesn’t work. Perhaps it once did, or maybe it never did. But when we have invested ourselves in something that no longer bears fruit, or gives us life, and we know the truth of this -depending on your state of mind – this is really bad news, or else really good news.

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If we listen to the deep calling from within us, we understand that we have to shed what no longer serves life, in order to be available to move towards that which gives new life. There is simply no way around this universal truth, no matter how many times we try to take this route. This awareness will bring on a necessary grief, and a deep sense of something being lost.

As we orient more and more towards a new way of sensing, feeling, and knowing what we have to do, we become more immersed in our own core. We can then become more able to move beyond all external sources of motivation, and become pulled by a persistent and steady inner energy source, like an inner compass heading.

Something just keep welling up from within, pointing us towards an unknown territory worth pursuing. This is how we are kept on track, kept enlivened, and kept close to our desire to move our lives in the only direction it can go – forward.

Being moved along by an inner yearning, however undefined or mysterious, requires us to move beyond the ‘stiff fingers’ of grasping that a rigidified ego holds, and past the fixed foundations of an old consciousness that appeals to our security-seeking bodies and minds, saying to us ‘fool, don’t leave what you know behind’!

And finally, in order to venture into new fields of play, we confront the vestiges of ‘terrible melancholy’ – an authentic mourning of something that will never be, and what could never be to begin with. Dis-illusion-ing. What Philip Slater called ‘a kind of mourning period for our fantasies’. Which of course is the only cure for an illusion.

So listening for the call to adventure requires us, at some point along the journey, to let go of a ‘stiff fingers’- our long held, illusions about safety and security. This is a necessary suffering, and a preparation for the new way – the way of adventure, and the way of mystery.

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It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

 Another obstacle that would hold us back from taking up the path of adventure is regret. Yet one more block would be chasing illusionary belief that it is too late for us, that we’ve missed our time, and the windows of opportunity have all closed for us.

We buy into the perception that we are too old, too uneducated, too broken, too poor, too much failure…well, you can name your own favored deficit or disadvantage. But this is just another wily defensive strategy, yet more clinging to an old and useless identification. These avoidance postures are also a likely indication that we must be getting closer to the source of the new wellspring, actually. Why else would we desperately resort back to these oldest of entrapments – ‘it’s too late’ and ‘I am not enough’.

So back to this essential reframing of the terrain – so what now, if nothing is broken, and it is not too late?

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The call to adventure opens us towards our heart’s desires for eros, vitality and mystery. We all want rapture to somehow overtake us. We all yearn for the mystery to reveal itself to us in ongoing, curious-arousing, and surprising ways. We learn to accept that we cannot know the outcomes of meaningful adventures in advance. We learn that things of the soul are revealed to us in their own time as we journey forth, little by little.

 

little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice,

which you slowly recognized as your own

 As we cross over those thresholds that prevent us from listening deeply, we come closer and closer towards an inner voice, one that has been there all along, waiting until we are ready to listen. Waiting so it can begin speaking from the silent, still space within the depths of our heart.

When we practice listening deeply what is authentic and true will gradually burn through clouds of confusion and despair. We begin to recognize a familiar, insistent messenger within us, pointing the way as it will, like a compass seeking north. This points us towards the sound our own true voice, and the feeling of aliveness from our own wellspring of vitality.

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

 As long as we can practice the art of going inward and downward into the wellspring within, we can learn to listen deeply to what emerges. This inner voice can become a steadying companion through the trials and ordeals we face in life. We know what we have to do, simply because it feels more and more unbearable when we are not doing it.

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Following our bliss, as Joseph Campbell often said, it is not self indulgent, it is essential. This life force energy, this sense of embodied presence, becomes a companion to us. It is reflected in our countenance, and in our ‘en-theos’, our ‘God-filled-ness’, our enthusiasm for life. It keeps us company as a silent and invisible companion, providing us with the impetus and the courage to go forth ever deeper and deeper into the world, giving what is alive in us to the world.

To summarize, we begin our journey by feeling a call coming from another realm. It summons us to step more and more into the manifest world. As we walk deeper into the physical world, we need our need to be more connected to the vital myth (ever near, ever ineffable) that echoes in the background of this world.

We then ‘walk between these two worlds’, and it is in this very ‘in between’ space that soul is cultivated, activated, ignited. None of us can say for sure exactly how or when this ignition will happen to us, but when and as it does, we become enlivened vessels – capable of becoming the embodiment of eternity’s zeal to incarnate in us. We become signposts to something beyond ourselves, living out our creative expressions in the field of time.

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determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 As we stay in tune with to the call to adventure, we inevitably begin to gather an inner momentum, we feel more compelled to move forward in life, and we gain clarity from a powerful insight: There is only one life we can save, saved only by bringing forth what is within the self. The Gnostic gospels quote Jesus as saying, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

So let each of us, fellow travelers on this path of mythic adventure, listen deeply and closely to what is being whispered to our consciousness-seeking egos, from the inner depths of our souls. Each of us has to find a way to tune in, listen deeply, and feel what divine wind is blowing our way.

Again, this deep listening will inspire something to move in us. Then we let go of our more childish ego wishes and fantasies, in order to follow the call to venture forth towards our bliss. What else could human beings want to do?

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In following the call to our bliss, Joseph Campbell said that doors would open for us that would not open before now, and would not open for any others. But in order for the doors to open for us, we will have to be authentically living into the myth of the heroic endeavor. Here is his reflection about this very matter, from Hero With a Thousand Faces:

The call to adventure signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his (or her) spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of this society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings,unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delights.”

The price to be paid for answering the call to adventure is having encounters that at some point also involve ordeals. But before facing these actual ordeals themselves, we must face the crossing of thresholds into the unknown, where the mythic terrains of adventure and ordeal await us.

For now, it is our time to listen deeply to the call coming from within, without expecting any particular kind of summons. Then we notice what comes…because another truth is –whatever you have been looking for, is already looking for you. So let’s be on the watch. Let each of us be open to surprising possibilities that have been waiting for our arrival.

It may be time to say ‘yes’ to life, and be taken by the soul on the journey of a lifetime.

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Entering the Dark Forest of the Psyche

Entering the Dark Forest of the Psyche

Bring the Hero Myth Alive

Right Now, Right Where You Are

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Entering the Dark Forest of the Psyche:

Going Down Into Our Unconscious Depths

    

 “Each entered the Forest Adventurous

at the point which he himself had chosen,

where it was darkest and there

was no way or path.”

The Quest For the Holy Grail

                                               – Anonymous 13th Century monk

 Once we cross the threshold into the mythic realm of adventure, moving beyond the threshold guardians at the boundary of the safety and familiarity, we must leave behind a well-worn path that has already been made before us, to enter the multi-dimensional and mythic realms of the psychic forest.  In these realms, we enter inner territory where a previous path does not (and cannot) exist.  We make our own path, as we go.

In this phase of the soul’s journey, the distinctive feature of the interior world (as well as the external landscape) is the lack of a clear path before us.  The clear way is not already laid out for those who undertake the hero adventure of awakening to what is most essential.  Myths of the soul unfold little by little, over time.  If we are paying close attention to that unfolding, then each little part of the journey can be remarkable.

Joseph Campbell once said, “if a path already exists, it is somebody else’s path”.   We have to make our own path as we go, otherwise it is not an adventure of the soul.  That would be more like a guided tour.  If the path is already laid before us, it may be someone else’s best laid plans for us, but not necessarily the path that our soul would want or choose for ourselves.

At first, it often seems easier to take the path already made, for, being already there, it appears to be more concrete, and this more do-able, and perhaps even more certain.  The path already made requires less work or less risk from us up front.   But for those of us who desire to know our soul’s true pathway to bliss, the price for taking the road already made grows steeper the longer we stay on it.

Here is what the Spanish poet Antonio Machado has to say about soul’s adventure, and how one must travel when on a hero’s journey:

Traveller, your footprints are
the road, and nothing else;
pilgrim, there is no road,
the road is made once you walk.

By walking the road is made,
and when looking back
the path is seen that never
will be stepped on again.

Traveller, there is no road,
only ripples on the sea.
 

Machado’s message is that we make the road by walking, before we can know where it goes.  This is the hero action step.  This is an essential component of the unfolding hero’s journey: going where you have not gone before, without knowing the way in advance.   And where we must ultimately go, is down deeper into our own depths.

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Disorientation:

Coming Undone in Service of Finding A Deeper Orientation

Many of us end up becoming more troubled, anxious and confused when we try to solve problems from the same level of consciousness that created them to begin with.  We will sometimes repeatedly and defensively strike out in new directions to get away from something old, rather than genuinely venturing towards something new to us, the ‘as-yet unknown’.

Before we can authentically take up a new way of living, we often have to un-do something old first. 

When we attempt to change something in our lives without actually going through the more challenging phase of a transition – coming undone – this can create even more troubles and problems for us.

In fact, crossing the threshold ensures that something in us is about to let go or come apart; we will now have to separate ourselves from something to which we have been strongly attached.  We have to withstand the ambiguity of the distress and the relief we feel as we detach from the old and familiar.

What allows us do well with undoing the sameness that constricts our lives?  How can we learn to bear coming apart on the inside?  

How do we have faith that once we come apart, we will fall together in new ways? 

What allows us to descend beneath the surface awareness of what troubles us, of what no longer serves life?  How can we bear to face our own unconscious depths?

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Leaving behind our striving towards goals we once cherished; setting aside the successes and rewards of what we have already become accomplished; dropping the well developed plan that we have clung to – all these things undo something fundamental in the core of our being, something that tells us who we have been to the world.

This deep level of letting go in the psyche is inevitably quite unnerving to experience.  It is the price of admission to an authentically renewed life.  When we encounter this degree of undoing, we appreciate why people never bother to boldly cross the threshold into the soul’s adventure to begin with.

How can we learn to have a positive perspective about letting go and coming undone?  Another one of Campbell’s self-evident aphorisms is, “What you cannot experience positively, you will experience negatively.”

We have to be willing and able to purposely and positively wander from the already made path, we have to feel into the benefits of letting go of what we already know in our minds, before we can be more open to discovering something new about ourselves that we don’t yet know.

We also need to cultivate the ego strength necessary to tolerate feelings of ‘lost-ness’, if we are going to have successful encounters during our adventures and ordeals.   We have to find a positive, open-minded way to become lost, to let the darkness of unknowing come upon us.

We also benefit from the support of others during our letting go, during our descents into the unknown within us, so that we don’t succumb to an existential panic that can take us over, whenever we begin to realize that we have no idea where we really are, or where we are going, or even who we really are.

For the hero, this very realization of ‘being taken by the journey’ is the thing the really gets the feeling of a worthy adventure under way.

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David Wagoner, a poet who resides in the Pacific Northwest, has a poem that was inspired by a teaching story from the Native Americans of that region.  He writes about how they taught their young ones to pay attention, so they would know what to do and how to be, if they ever found themselves lost in the woods.

His poem was the very first poem that I actually “heard”; it awakened me.  It unleashed in me something I didn’t know about myself – that I carried within me a deep fascination and love for the spoken word.

It was a moment in time that happened over 25 years ago, and yet one that lives beyond the borders of space and time.  It was an unforgettable moment, and one I often recall.  I was in Cleveland, Ohio at the time, immersed in my post-graduate Gestalt therapy training.  Wagoner’s poem, “Lost”, was being recited by an emerging English poet at the time, David Whyte.

Annie Dillard, another wonderful American writer, sums up my experience of awakening to poetry like this, when she wrote, “It was if I had been my whole life a bell, but never knew it, until the moment I was lifted and struck”.  Here are the lines of the poem that first lifted and struck me, and moved me along on my own journey: 

Stand still,

the trees ahead and bushes beside you

are not lost.

Wherever you are is called ‘here’,

 and you must treat it like a powerful stranger,

ask permission to know it, and be known.

 

Listen

the forest breathes, it whispers

 ‘I have made this place around you,

if you leave it,

you may come back again,

saying ‘Here’.

 

No two trees are the same to a raven,

 no two branches the same to a wren.

If what a tree or a branch does

 is lost on you,

then, you are surely lost.

Stand still,

 the forest knows where you are,

you must let it

find you.

Wagoner’s poem is an essential teaching for anyone who courageously pursues the inward and downward journey of the soul, the work needed before being able to bring our bliss up and out of us into action.  An authentic journey will inevitably bring us to moments of being profoundly lost.

This sense of ‘lost-ness’ can have a debilitating impact on the psyche of those not ready or willing to be undone.  Losing our way can begin to undo one’s former sense of self, as well as one’s prior sense of place in the world.  This can elicit a downward spiral into chronic anxiety and even existential terror.  I know, because 10 years ago, I found myself literally alone and completely lost in the Adirondack Mountains, in upstate New York.

Stand still,

the trees ahead and bushes beside you

are not lost. 

Stand still.  Sometimes this is the hardest thing in the world to do when we enter the realization of being completely and utterly lost.   Finding the strength of will to slow down, when entering a state of fear, and to do the opposite of one’s tendency, such as fleeing or forcing premature solutions.

First, to find the presence of mind to slow down and drop down further into our body selves, to become grounded and feel the support of the earth underneath our feet.  From there, to begin to look beyond our experience of self, or deeper within one’s self.  To slow down enough, to be grounded enough, to study the interior or exterior landscapes that can be seen from where one truly is.  To recognize that ‘the trees ahead and bushes beside you’ have been in place for a long time; indeed, they are not lost.

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I was visiting with one of my most soulful and endearing friends late one summer season, 10 or so years ago.  We decidedly in a rather impromptu fashion (and in the spirit of adventure) to head for a cherished vision quest site, a place where my friend has hosted his vision quest work for decades, and to where I had been three or four times previously myself.  This site is located in some vast and pristine mountains in upstate NY, well off the beaten trail.  I welcomed the chance for another time of solitude on this remote and beautiful land.

Within a short time we were packed up and off to the mountains, near Keen Valley.  We took enough food and water for a two-day trek, and returning to a base camp area that held indelible memories and deep meaning for the both of us. We planned to each venture our own way alone, and we headed out to solo sites that we favored. 

My friend walked with me to help find the way towards my site, up to the point where the path disappeared. We parted ways near some rock ledges I recognized, which would lead me to a high outcropping that exposed a wonderful southern horizon overlooking the mountains, for as far as my eyes could see.

I was in my element.  I was outside of time, entering into the eternity of the natural world, one moment at a time.  Fully immersed in the here and now, time stretched itself out, and the space between things grew vast and wide.  

 I watched the sun make its way across the blue horizon; became acquainted with the shrill pitches of various birdsong. I listened to the wind blow through tree branches, moving through the ever-changing colors of leaves in their glorious shades of green.  I saw entire mountain ranges turn gold as sun began its dip towards the western skyline; I distinctly felt each drop in temperature as a coolness upon my skin; I listened to the vast silence that came when the afternoon winds died down into evening stillness. 

 The night grew brisk and cold, and the stars slowly came forth with the brilliance of their distant, shimmering light.  I felt utterly alone and yet wonderfully at home in the universe, with no other human beings anywhere near my location, no one even slightly aware of my whereabouts.  I only knew of one other companion, one mountain range over, sharing in a night of solitude and mystery, gazing upon the same dark, embracing sky as me. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the welcoming light of the morning sun, it was time to head back to base camp.  There was one particular turn to the left I had to find as I descended the mountain ridge and approached the rock ledges.  This turn would take me towards a familiar footpath, and eventually towards our base camp.    

I never found that turn.  As I descended, and kept descending, my internal compass began sounding warnings of alarm.  The landscape was in a way familiar to me, yet there was no opening turn to the left.  I kept going down the slope, and with the passage of time, the woods became thicker and less traversable, and it became increasingly clear to me that I was lost.

Wherever you are is called ‘here’,

 and you must treat it like a powerful stranger,

ask permission to know it, and be known.

The panic and dread of being lost, of being off-track in our lives, takes us out of the moment.  Panic in particular un-grounds us, furthering a sense of disorientation.  Our minds leap forward in a spiraling projection of catastrophic outcomes that have not yet happened.  We enter the thickets of our thinking, and we lose sight of our senses.  Feelings of familiarity and safety evaporate into thin air.

Whenever I feel lost, coming back to the present moment is the hero task at hand; it is what I must be able to do to re-orient to life more deeply.  To come back to my own inner resources, I attend to my breathing first, slowing down my breath.  Then slowing down my body, my external focus on activity, which then helps me to slow down my mind.  I stop myself from going into anxiety-driven action circles.  I remind myself that actions based on panic create useless, futile outcomes.

We all need to know how to slow down our runaway train of fearful thoughts, in order to bring our full attention back to our current surroundings or circumstances in a useful way.

This profound entry into the lived experience of the unknown must begin to somehow become known for us.  Bringing our focus back to the here and now, we meet the powerful stranger that is called ‘lost’, whether this space is in a literal forest, or a life circumstance, or in previously un-navigated territories of the psyche.   When we practice letting go or ‘losing’ our panicked state of mind, we find ourselves by coming back to our senses.  By listening deeply.

Listen

the forest breathes, it whispers

 ‘I have made this place around you,

if you leave it,

you may come back again,

saying ‘Here’.

 

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My first feeling, when I realized how lost I had become, was not fear or panic.  My initial reaction was anger.  I was agitated that I had missed the turn.  How could I have missed it?  That didn’t happen to me when I had been here before.  I was angry with myself.

Then I was embarrassed.  What would happen if I didn’t find my way out of the mountains?   What if I was instead heading deeper into the Adirondacks, without knowing it?  Then people would eventually have to come searching for me.  But how and when would that happen? This started another runaway train of fearful thinking.  I had to keep coming back to myself.

I took stock of my situation.  Having left for an adventure on short notice, I wasn’t planning to explore any new terrain, so I did not bring a compass.  In addition to that, I had already used up my food supply and most of my water.  And I had no timepiece.  Not good.  

Not knowing where I was, I had no idea where to go next.  There was no visible horizon, no orienting point through the thickets.  The forest had enclosed itself on me.  I could see no clear forward way to navigate, and going back the way I came was also no longer clear.  This was when I could feel a genuine panic begin to arise within me. 

It was also right then that I remembered this particular poem by David Wagoner.  It came to me somehow, up from the deep unconscious well within me, in my time of need.  It became an essential resource.  I had to take stock, gather myself to myself, and listen inside.   Then, I had to orient myself to the woods around me, to what was not lost.

I took off my backpack, and sat on one of the many felled trees around me.  I felt like one of them.  So I sat still, as they did.  I was ‘here’.  So were they.  I listened.  

I could hear the sound of the same whispering wind as yesterday, moving through the standing trees. There was a busy little chipmunk scurrying about, apparently not lost.  I practiced letting go of my thinking, and listened deep inside.  I felt into what I knew.  I knew to walk in the same direction as much as possible.  I knew to find water, and to follow the water.  And I knew that water, and my own fluid nature within, would lead to an opening somehow, somewhere.   

I became acutely aware of my vulnerability.  Being alone with no first aid kit, I couldn’t afford to get hurt this deep in the wild.  Walking as mindfully as I could, and paying attention to whatever I could, became my new orientation point.  I kept searching for an opening in the forest, hoping to find the sun in the sky. I kept looking for water.  I was finding none of those things.  And I kept looking for the opening within me. 

I continued to realize that I was in a foreboding landscape, and lurking in me was also a corresponding mood.  Time and time again, as nothing in the landscape was opening up, as I was making my way through dense brush with no path, I could feel my fear rise up.  Each time, I kept slowing down and coming back to ‘here’.   I would do the psychological work of getting okay, getting found on the inside.  I spoke kindly and reassuredly to myself.  

At times, I quietly sang soulful songs to myself that I knew.  I kept checking inside with my internal sense of things.  I was both purposefully walking and cluelessly wandering; I could not afford the luxury of panic in this unsteady terrain within and around me.

I walked on in this manner for what felt like a very long time.  It couldn’t have been more than three or fours hours, but with no horizon, like when inside a cave, time is eternal.  I kept being decisive in my walking in one direction, as best I could tell.  I occasionally would sit, rest and breathe.  I still had absolutely no idea where I was, where I was headed, or which way would lead me out.  But I kept taking stock: I was alive, and for sure, I was on an adventure.  I was unharmed; I had a tent, warm clothes and a sleeping bag.   And I had inner resources. 

No two trees are the same to a raven,

 no two branches the same to a wren.

If what a tree or a branch does

 is lost on you,

then, you are surely lost.

Stand still,

 the forest knows where you are,

you must let it

find you.

 Feeling lost requires us to slow down. Slowing down, we must find our way towards acceptance with our ‘lostness’.   We practice becoming grounded enough within while ‘not knowing’.  We take the time needed to orient ourselves to our present environment, our circumstance, our dilemma.

We practice taking stock of our conditions and our resources. We keep listening inside, and we sense into what we experience within and without, before having answers, or a clear direction.  We learn to feel into which way to head next, and bear the uncertainty of our process.

Wagoner says if what is happening before us is lost on us, then we are truly lost.  Practicing ‘mindfulness’ is a key feature for the realization of our hero potential.  We simply keep using the resources of our senses, and not getting lost in our head, in mental thinking, especially so in times of deep uncertainty or not knowing.   We learn to bear the tension necessary to keep focused on making our way as we go.

Then something larger can eventually take over.  The ‘forest’ is a potent metaphor  for the invisible forces of the universe at large, for the intangible presence of aliveness, for that eternal something that connects you and me, for the soul consciousness within that can communicate with us.

If only we can embody ourselves enough to deeply listen, then the soul consciousness of our highest self that is tracking us can get through to us.  It knows where we are.  We must let it come to us, let it find its way to us, and make itself known.

I kept paying attention to whatever clues the thickly wooded forest would yield to me. Recognizing sunlight breaking through the density of the trees was my key.  I was fortunate, as deep and thick into the dark woods as I had wandered, to have been given a sunny day, even if I could not see it directly.  I could follow the light beams through the trees, moving towards wherever it seemed brighter.  In my mind, the light gave a hint of a potential opening ahead.  I had to continue following the light through the trees until the opening came.  Which, after much fear, anxiety and consternation, it did.

I saw ahead a small grassy opening about eight foot in diameter; the sun was shining in there. I was immediately uplifted by this sight.  I made my way to the opening, and stood on the grass.  The ground was soft and wet underneath me.  Looking closer, I could see that there was some seeping through of water from an underground source, which seemed to originate there.  I had found wetness, but did not see any well-spring in or around the green circular marsh.   I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I stood with the sun on my face for a moment, to open up more space inside.

 

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The Terrain of Dilemmas

Dilemma – definition – a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between  two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones.

Here is another essential navigational skill to learn when on the mythic path of soul adventure: moving beyond our simple problem solving strategies.  What we find in the psychic forests of our inner lives aredilemmas.   How do we learn to handle challenges and difficulties when there is no immediate or clear path to follow, and no obvious right way to go?  How we do address problems that have no easy or apparent solution to them?  How do we stay with concerns that require us to face uncertainty, and give our attention to the depths of ambiguity, to all those grey areas in our lives?

Dilemmas require us to go deeper inside than we would typically go, to wrestle more, to give more effort with no guarantee of resolution.  We have to cultivate the discipline needed to stay present with the not knowing, without taking up immediate positions, and without taking up just one side of things.  We learn to reflect and we learn to actively wait, we practice persistence and resilience as we stay the course.  It is similar to how we move through labyrinths.  We go through twists and turns, apparent dead ends, places that show another potential path only once we’ve reached the very end of another, and looked from there in a new direction.

Matters of the soul in life become revealed little be little, one step at a time, helping to make the path as we go.  This requires the cultivation of patience when lacking clarity at certain threshold points along a worthwhile journey.  A fundamental and discerning question we need to ask ourselves, whenever we are seeking the treasures of the soul, is “What is the hurry?”

An examination of this question usually reveals an underlying anxiety that has taken root in us, and we are likely being driven by the ego’s willful insistence.  This urgency actually gets in the way of awakening, and delays the process of self-revelation.

In the world of dilemmas, forcing any immediate solution is like trying to quickly pull your finger out of one of those Chinese finger traps children play with as a toy.  Unwittingly we put both index fingers into each end of the trap.   The initial reaction, once your finger is caught in the trap, is to quickly pull your finger out, but this only tightens the trap more.

The solution to being freed from the trap is to push the ends in toward the middle, which enlarges the openings and frees the fingers, allowing the finger to slowly work them selves out of the trap, so as not to trigger the tightening reflex again.  This reflects for us a similar working through process for our adult dilemmas.

How many of us have been caught in a dilemma regarding a big decision to be made in one’s life?  To stay in a relationship, or have it end. To take a chance on pursuing a new job opportunity, or stay put in a job that is secure and pays the bills, but is not very satisfying.   To do something different to lose weight, or to learn to accept one’s self the way we are.

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Those who seek out a deeper journey inevitably have to learn to participate in an active waiting process, one that is generative, attentive and expectant – yet conversely without the ego’s agenda for a specific expectation or outcome.   This is very hard to do, and sometimes goes against our natural survival instincts.

But without this working towards the uncertain middle ground, without going right in the heart of where we feel trapped, despairing or lost – and without the letting go, while in the middle of the dilemma – something new can not come forth from the conflict, the void, or the lost-ness.  Something new cannot be brought forth, birthed or be found.

T.S. Eliot gives us a teaching on the healing properties of waiting.  Learning to shed our fixed and tight ‘end points’, like a snake sheds its skin; to the surrender into waiting, without any push from our individual will: 

I said to my soul be still

And let the dark come upon you

Which shall be the darkness of God.

 

Wait without hope,

For hope would be hope

For the wrong thing.

 

Wait without love,

For love would be love

for the wrong thing.

 

There is yet faith,

But the faith and the love and the hope

Are all in the waiting.

 

Wait without thought,

For you are not ready for thought.

 

And so the darkness shall become the light,

And the stillness, the dancing.

 

It’s noteworthy to see how this working through process, on an emotional and psychological level, iscounterintuitive – the useful response to our trouble is exactly the opposite of our initial emotional reaction or psychological position with what is happening.  This is another important awakening to happen upon.  In many areas of adult life, we encounter dilemmas.  We first learn what not to do, when caught in a true dilemma.  This is why waiting is so essential.  In the beginning, we learn how not to make things worse.

During our hero’s journey wilderness intensives, we sometimes work with rappelling over the side of a cliff’s edge.  It provides a wonderful teaching opportunity to practice the exact opposite of our survival tendencies, when coming a very real ‘edge’ of anything substantial or worthwhile in our lives.

An instructor provides the support and safety backup on a roped and harnessed belay system, while we as the rapeller support ourselves with the same safety set up.   We experience what comes alive on the inside as we come to stand on the literal edge of a cliff.  We slow down, we breathe into the fear we feel awakened in our physical bodies.  We learn to shift the energy of our fear towards a mobilized excitement, working through the inner obstacles that interfere with this process.

As we mobilize ourselves, we go over the cliff’s edge, slowly and mindfully.  One step at a time, gradually relaxing our grip on the rope, letting it slide through our fingers, so we can descend safely, while gradually becoming more enlivened, excited, joyful.

The obstacle to our progress on the rappel is our reflexive clinging to security.  We  cling to the side of the cliff; we want to stay close to the solid rock.  To a survival mindset, this makes perfect sense.  But the more we move towards the rock, the more vertical our body becomes, causing us to lose traction, and making us more likely to slide off rock.

When we can move counter-intuitively away from the rock, we push against and into it with our feet.   We tolerate how far away we feel from the rock, and how exposed our body feels.  Yet this creates the traction necessary in order to be grounded in a new posture, one that will be effective for solid footing and an successful descent along the rock surface.  This traction also supports the feeling of being mobile and airborne while walking down the rock, becoming one with the open space all around us and within us.

 

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The Path and Paradox of Wandering

One more way to work through a dilemma, when it is time to stop trying to solve it or get out of it, is to take a wanderer’s point of view.  We walk towards the middle of the issue – not away from it.  We do this by using various serpentine, side-to-side motions and actions, with no attachment to the outcome, to see what comes next.  For some of us, this can be surprisingly difficult to allow.

Remember the aphorism once more that ‘what we do not experience positively, we will experience negatively’.  As a soul practice, we purposefully practice the art of wandering, in order to be lost in the most positive and enjoyable sense.  We allow ourselves to cease our strivings, ambitions and plans, in order to let serendipity  create opportunities for us, as it invariably will.  This can be a very gentle and non-threatening way to dis-engage from our routines and ruts in life.

When we consciously let ourselves wander, we are purposely agenda-less, while also walking with awareness.  We notice those things not normally observed when our eyes are fixed on the goal straight ahead of us.  We practice looking sideways at things.  We soften our gaze, letting things stand out on their own from the background of life, as and when they do.

This is helped along if we can embrace the spirit of play, a light-heartedness, which in turn encourages one to be less ambitious and more circuitous as one makes their way as they go.

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Somehow, the small wet patch of grass, and the ability to look straight up at a small piece of blue sky felt like a blessing, and it gave me a sense of relief.  But I still couldn’t find the water source.  I took off my backpack, and simply wandered around the area for a bit.   A short distance away, I came across a small crevasse in the ground, and saw that water was coming out from the earth, in a small downhill trickle.   Sure enough, as I continued to walk along and follow the water, it grew a little wider, flowed a little stronger.  I had the beginnings of a water trail to follow! 

I grabbed my pack and I did just that, buoyed by this turn of fate.  Even though the terrain was narrow and rugged, and filled with fallen obstacles, I could follow the flow.   The small trickle of water continued to gain in volume.  Now, I felt like I was going somewhere, though I still had no idea where.  I just kept remembering that water always creates a path, always goes somewhere, as all rivers lead to the sea.   

The water flow began to take the form of a small mountain stream.  The water now made its wonderful gurgling sounds, as only moving water does.  I climbed over fallen tree limbs, maneuvered around boulders, passing all the obstacles in the water.  Now I was on a track and on a trek, happy just to be able to move along, watching the stream grow in breadth and depth.  The forest setting itself was starting to feel familiar to me, but with what I had just been through, I couldn’t yet trust my sense of vision.

I suddenly saw up ahead a man standing upright in the middle of the stream!  I was never so glad to come upon a fellow traveler.  As I grew closer, the man seemed neither concerned nor interested that a stranger was walking towards him alongside the stream.  His indifferent demeanor tempered my jubilance.  In fact, it had me wondering about exactly whom I had happened upon, staring intently at his fly-fishing pole in the water.

I call out to him, and asked him where I was, and how far it was to the main road.   He concisely confirmed my suspicions about my whereabouts, and went about his fishing.  Onward I went on, joyful at my fortune.  I gradually found my way back to a path well known to me. I found my way back to basecamp, where my friend had been waiting, wondering if he should begin to head out on a search for me.  No need, for now I had been found.  His patient waiting was the thing to do.

This is what I can now say to be true about my being temporarily lost deep in the Adirondack mountains.  When I came out of the lost-ness of my situation, I found that I could reflect back on my frightening and enlivening ordeal enough to realize how I had found my way to inner resources I could draw from.  I know that I can and will draw from these inner resources again when facing deep adversity with no apparent or immediate way out.

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In closing, the point I wish to make is that the dark psychic forests of the soul’s adventure are not necessarily places we want to be eager to get out of.  Our true nature is alive but often obscured from us, filled with mystery and waiting for the  Presence it takes to be discovered.  The dark forest of the psyche is a place that we want to become more and more at home in, a place in which we can find our true selves.   If we can only bear the uncertainty of making our way, as we go.

Wendell Berry speaks to what can happen if we can rest in the midst of nature’s wildness and silence:

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle…

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Entering the forest and departing from the path already made opens us to a palpable sense of our soul’s adventures meant just for us, which would not come forth otherwise.   The call to adventure that comes from the soul does not find its way to us while we are caught up in the trance of our well-worn routines.

Perhaps your own soul is calling you once again to a newly unfolding path of adventure, which now awaits you.  Remember that the forest knows where you are.  Let it find you.

– Michael Mervosh

The Hero’s Mythic Adventure: Walking in Two Worlds, Becoming the Bridge

The Hero’s Mythic Adventure: Walking in Two Worlds, Becoming the Bridge

As humans, we walk on two feet,
And live in two worlds.
  
Michael Meade, Fate & Destiny

 

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’ve come to the conclusion that if I am going to have something meaningful to contribute to this world, I will need to come alive through the mythicworld, first and foremost. Then I need to practice becoming an embodiment of this energy, and live as a bridge between these worlds.

It’s often been said that we are living in unprecedented times. This is an inarguable and unignorable fact, when we look at our evolution as a species. If we are paying close attention, we realize that we are living an inevitable reality of being on the unfolding edge of time, as it persistently moves us forward, revealing a future that has never been before.

Many people also perceive time to be moving faster than ever before. There is an exponential reality to the technological advances that were made throughout the 20th century, and even more so as we live into the 21st century.

The best current scientific estimate being made by NASA is that our universe is 12-14 billion years old, with our solar system being approximately 4.5 billion years old. Our ancestral predecessors are thought to have begun walking on two legs as early as 3.5 million years ago. Homo sapiens evolved around a half million years ago, and Homo sapiens sapiens, the ancestors of all modern human beings, have a first recorded existencealmost 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. This was due to a massive volcanic eruption, which took place in what is now Sumatra. This has been referred to as the ‘Toba catastrophe’. 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 is thought that the 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; we became aware that we were aware. It was then that we began to organize ourselves, and became hunter-gatherers on the planet.   Around 10,000 years ago, we had another leap in self-awakening as a species. We began forming nature-based worship sites such as Gobekli Tepe (in Ursa, Turkey), and created agriculturally-based farms and villages.

From these fundamental shifts created by gathering together, modern civilizations came into being. The urban-industrial age began to emerge three hundred years ago, and 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 on a global level, 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, when we witnessed life feeding on other life, and we became aware of witnessing 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.

From where have we come? Where were we before we were ‘here’? Where will we go, once we are gone from ‘here’? What are we to be doing with our lives, while we are ‘here’? What is to become of me? Of us?

These are the existential questions we have been wondering about 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 as he began to tell 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. It refers to the song of humanity that has always been playing in the background of the psyche, individually and collectively. It is the one great song we are all silently humming to, even if we don’t know the tune, and 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 in this ‘not-yet-ness’ of our lives, in 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 discover what is beyond them?  What keeps us going?

What will help move us ever forward, taking us into and carrying us through the span of our lifetime, in ways that are not like before? What helps us to become who we were meant to be, what we were born 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.
Rumi

We are certainly living in unprecedented times. Unlike any other time in human history, not only can we as individual human beings devote time to reflect upon ourselves, we are also aware that others spanning the globe are now doing the very same work, and in a myriad of different ways. 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 our modern day 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 (or view with our own eyes) the appalling violence being done to our fellow human beings as well as to the entire eco-system of the planet.

There is no denying that we can become more conscious and aware than ever, if we can only bear it. So we have to 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 turbulent and unsettling times. We can be accordingly inspired and troubled by what we see happening in the world.

We can also do the inner work of discovering what meaning and purpose this world holds for us, and for the future that awaits us. 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. It is up to us to give our own life the meaning and vitality we need to make it through, and to be of service to others.

At certain times in our lives, we will feel the inner pull 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’, pulling towards something greater, need ways to pursue a meaningful and purposeful life – a way that is filled with wonder, awe and respect for the living universe, and our place in it. We need a path that allows us to bear the trials of living, the ordeals of our present time and circumstance, and the suffering inherent to life’s harsh realities.

Undertaking a hero’s journey means waking up to the realization that the necessary conditions are being created for us to recognize our unique place in the universe, the particular gifts that we have to bring forth, and to serve a purpose greater than ourselves. Now is the time to help sustain and revitalize 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.”
– Dorothea Dooling

For a while now, I have wanted to write a brief manifesto for the everyday hero who lives, works, and learns to love in today’s world, as it is. It is a straightforward incorporation of the Hero’s Journey myth.

~ A Hero’s Manifesto for Today’s World ~

 

The Call to Adventure. We will all feel called to a greater adventure, but adventure requires risk, and the older we get, the more we gravitate to what makes us feel secure. The hero’s call is always towards the awakening of an inner life. To answer this call, we must loosen our allegiance to security, and transfer it instead to vitality. It requires a shift in perspective regarding resources.

To answer the deeper call to adventure, we have to stop trying to over-rely on external resources to make our lives happen. Instead, we must learn about our own internal resourcefulness.   The catch is that we can’t often gather those whenever we so choose. They only come forth when needed.

Crossing Thresholds. We have to learn how to tolerate dynamic tension if we are to embark on a worthwhile adventure.   As we develop and grow, we cross points of no return. Once we cross over to new experiences of conscious awakening, and once we’ve committed ourselves to a path of awareness, we will no longer be the same. Our old identity begins to shed its skin. We come across threshold guardians – daemons that block the way, attempting to ward us off.

They are like the gargoyles entrenched above archways and entrances to shrines and cathedrals. These guardians are manifestations of our deepest fears. They also guard the way to our deepest longings. You cannot go on an genuine, soulful adventure without bringing along your authentic doubts and fears, as well as your strongest desires and longings – for without them, it would not be a hero’s journey.

When we commit ourselves to an inner journey, our experiences and encounter will not be within the realm of our control. We can only be in charge of them as long as we don’t actually take them. Mystery is not inclined to bend itself towards us; majesty won’t make itself smaller in order to make us more comfortable. Once you venture across the threshold point (which you will recognize by the dynamic tension you feel inside), the journey is now in charge of you.   It is a kind of entry fee for a worthy adventure.

Entering the Forest of Adventure. This is another experiential price to be paid by the adventurer worthy of the soul’s journey. You cannot follow a path already made. It won’t be your path if you do. You have to make your own path as you go. That’s the pre-requisite for a hero’s adventure. We have to say yes to the unknown, there is no way around it.

Entering the unknown puts us through a disorientation process. Old, embedded patterns within us begin to come undone. Since we’ve crossed the threshold, there is no way back, so things that have held together can now at last come apart. Everything that is old and no longer of service to the soul falls away. This can be a very unnerving process, but one that is also absolutely necessary. Too many of us jump from one doing to the next doing, without the un-doing happening to us in between. That will not change a paradigm, or the course of a life.

So we have to get lost in the forests of the mythic world of adventure before we can be found again, in this day-to-day world. We let go of our attachments to what no longer serves life, before we find and take hold of a new perspective from which to live. As Michael Meade says, we die before we die, to become born again in this world.

The Inevitability of 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.

Ordeals involve the right configuration of circumstance, condition, fate and support. They are the crucibles that bring forth our unrealized potential. Our unrealized potential will not come forth from us without the ordeal. They are the fates given to us that we didn’t wish for and that we didn’t consciously ask for. Michael Meade says that “our fate constricts us, so that our destiny can find us”. The hero seeks out his or her ordeal, while the ego self is in perpetual pursuit of security, avoiding or rejecting risk.

Ordeals are not just obstacles that block the path, even though we often initially experience them as unwanted difficulties and uninvited challenges not consciously sought out. We will fail and fall short many times in the midst of a proper ordeal. Many times. This isn’t what matters. Persistence is a key attribute of the hero. 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 stand on the shoulders of giants, those whom we have looked up to. We sometimes need to be uplifted by a felt sense of being supported by something larger than ourselves.   We need mentors who have traveled where we are about to go. We need companions who will walk beside us where we have not yet gone. Allies are the ones who will travel that long, hard road with us.

Today’s heroes must be able to discern the paradox of going where only he or she can go, and yet not go it alone. As we grow, our ability to rely on the presence of others must also grow.   Ee are strengthened by reaching towards another, which in turn allows us to be better able to sustain ourselves when we must go our own way. Relying on others is a very different thing from a dependence on others. The effort we make when we rely on another is what strengthens us. We end up depending on others to make life happen for us, when we don’t learn the ability to rely.

The Belly of the Beast. The heroic task at this stage in the journey is surrendering over to something larger than our individual identity.   We become larger when we do. This is another threshold crossing point, and it lies deep within the psyche of the hero. Entering the belly of the best is often about encountering our deepest fears, inadequacies or self-rejections. It feels like something coming to an end in us. This ‘end point’ threshold is represented by metaphorical images of dragons, beasts or demons. These are all manifest representations of the gods and otherworldly forces that we have historically ignored, rejected or alienated.

The hero once again feels swallowed by the threatening realm of darkness within the self, but now does so with more inner resources and helpers than before. He or she encounters deep, psychic forces of this disowned aspect of one’s self. Again, let’s be clear. The real threats and demons, from a mythological perspective, are primarily internal. The ultimate enemy is not to be found outside of the self.

On the map for the hero’s quest, the inner treasure is buried and waiting to be discovered within close proximity to the dragon’s lair, within the belly of the beast, or is possessed by a daemon’s powers. We learn to enter the dark territory of our human vulnerability with enough resources to stay conscious and engaged during our encounters with the psychic energies within us. This is precisely how we discover who we most truly are.

So we devote ourselves to un-earthing what lies within us, to finding what has been waiting to come forth to the surface of awareness. This is accomplished by our ability to surrender our egos over fully to the ride, to experience the flow of life force energies that were kept bound in dynamic tension.

In this way, we become enlivened, and we feel most like ourselves.

Discovering the Boon. This is what inevitably happens when we stay with our ordeals long enough to realize that if we take them up positively and learn to make use of them, they will reveal to us that which has been within us all along. Our genie comes out of the bottle; our eternal aspects shine through unimpeded, and our highest and best self can at last be revealed and claimed.

We learn to tolerate feeling humility, and we are rendered low by feelings of awe and wonder. As we experience the beauty and mystery of surrender, we discover the vital life within us, our pearl beyond all price, our heavenly inheritance to be acquired during our earthly existence. As we are enveloped by the sheer capacity for surprise, rapture and awe, words are often inadequate, and often unnecessary.   We become a living embodiment of eternity’s zeal for incarnation on this earthly field/plane of space and time.

Once we know our boon, it is time to return home, to the ordinary realms of daily living, and bring forth to that world what we discovered in the mythic world of hero adventure. 

The Return Home. Today, it is Saturday afternoon. I am finishing the adventure and ordeal of writing this essay. I am feeling the boon that I have uncover each time I write something of meaning and value to me. In between writing this weekend, I have spent time with family and my loved one; later we will relax some more into this holiday weekend. I will next water the flowers, and go out the stables to look in on the horse, come home and fire up the grill. What happens to the hero’s mythical journey, that ‘one great story’, while I am doing these day-to-day things?

Tomorrow, I will have a ‘to do’ list to face, as well. Bills to pay, laundry, the sweeper to be run. There are endless details of preparation for the upcoming summer wilderness journeys that need attention. And there is always an in-flow of emails to respond to. These concerns ground me back in this world. They give me a sense that I am here, that life is happening, and that my taking up these actions really does matter, and the quality of attention I can give to them help me to feel that my own life is moving along.

Yet here I am, lingering in another world, mystified by this profound, momentary cosmological perspective I have of a living planet and the mystery of a universe that is unfolding.   I am struck with wonder – in the spaces in between focused, simple chores – of how we are alive in a dynamically living, unfolding universe, regenerating itself in every moment we can attune to it.

I am thinking about Copernicus and Galileo. How they helped to profoundly change our worldview back in the 16th century. How we are in the midst of another ‘global mind change’ right now.   For the first time ever, we can all realize this shift happening at the same time, together. What a party invitation!

So you reading this, be ready. Now is the time for a great mythic adventure, and it is unfolding in a universe near you. Find a method, take up a path, re-devote yourself to an old, abandoned discipline with new vigor. Risk failure. Then undertake a new journey, one renewed with enthusiasm and uncertainty.

Summer is in full bloom, heat and humidity is the air, and the unfolding future is up for grabs. Watch for it emerging. When the opportunity comes, take hold of yours. Or better yet, allow your destiny to take hold of you.

There is something called the hero’s golden thread. It goes with each of us, weaves through our lives, and you will have to follow it, just like you have to follow your bliss. Just keep hold of the thread of bliss being woven through your life. Accept your ordeal. Take up the adventure. Your boon is connected to the one great song that has been playing throughout your entire existence. In fact, it may even be humming itself to you 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.

–          William Stafford