Myth and Men
This serves as an introduction to something I would like to accomplish in my life, to whatever end it will achieve. The end I personally have in mind is that I will continue to find meaning out of my own life through understanding and integrating myths, the story and journey I’ve been on and the path I’m heading towards. More than anything I wish to live more in the present, less concerned about the future with the constant uncertainty and resulting anxiety it entails. I also wish to move on from the past, to let go of who I was as a child and have continued to be into adulthood in the hopes that, no longer living the victim, I can transform into the person I always wanted to be; the Hero of my own story. That is the power of myth to me and I believe the relevance of myth to all men, particularly those who have ever found themselves filled with uncertainty, anguish, or recurring suffering.
Myth represents a real way to transform masculinity towards personally powerful and healing directions. Joseph Campbell noted the real challenge of communicating the incredible power of myth for healing the disconnected male Spirit. Let’s see if I can do it justice in my own small way.
The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is a pattern of identity transformation throughout the course of our lives, constant death and rebirth as we set down one incarnation and pick up another. Each incarnation is another aspect of our Self, some part of us residing deep within that only starts to emerge as we defeat our own egocentric nature by merging with the Shadow, the destructive forms of our ego. In my life after the Navy, shared very briefly below, I have had many incarnations. These are incarnations of my own version of the Hero.
In taking the Hero’s Journey we pick up various callings throughout our lives. In the past I was a pilgrim on the Camino and may one day be that incarnation, slightly altered, again; one day, if fortune smiles upon me, I hope to have a small farm supplying plant medicines for free; right now, I am writing about myths and symbols until the next opportunity or death/rebirth begins anew. As well, I hope to fully write down my life’s story as best I can recall to display the many lessons learned and forgotten and learned once more, and continue to do so for however long I am allowed to live on this Earth. In sharing my lessons and story, I hope they one day resonate in some small fashion with others who are not on their Hero’s Journey; how to get started or become unstuck from wherever we find ourselves.
In taking the Hero’s Journey we become a Hero in our own life, a legend known only to ourselves. Some are fortunate and are known to others, but for the vast majority of us we simply do our small part to make the world a better place. We make the world a better place by living our personal truths, losing attachment to material desires of the flesh, and being willing to change those parts of ourselves which demand change from within, if only we would listen.
Understanding my Journey
I grew up most of my life not reading fiction. Fiction, stories, always seemed relatively pointless, a series of tales about fantastical lands with unreal monsters and unrealistic outcomes. If there was an attraction it was to the darker myths, yet these too held less appeal than the seemingly important fragments of knowledge contained within non-fiction. Non-fiction, knowledge, seemed as power to be wielded to improve one’s standing in the world, while legends were mere bedtime stories that gave fuzzy feelings while drifting off to dreamlands and sheep. The Bible, the Book of Mormon, Disney movies, many HBO television shows, the legends of Jesus and Buddha and Mohammend and various Greek, Norse, and Arabian myths; they all seemed enjoyable yet their importance and true meaning, which I rarely questioned, was always lost, ringing in some distant part of my brain, mysterious and lingering.
If only I could have known the true power of personal transformation hidden within myths. Through myths we become Wise Kings of our own personal worlds and universes.
Starting my Journey
Leaving the Navy, I set out on a path I didn’t realize I was setting out upon: creating my story. Although I have little pride in my time in the service, it prepared me more than I can ever know for the journey ahead; a journey which I call the Hero’s Journey. As I set out on this path I faltered many times, lost in worlds of addiction, anger, resentments, and chaos as I went this way or that way, seemingly to no avail as I always ended up back where I started. A Shaman’s words to me ring true as I write this: all paths in life do lead in a circle. No matter where I went, there I was, and after many years it dawned on me that I was running from myself.
Amid trips abroad, studying various disciplines in university thanks to the GI Bill from Uncle Sam, and pursuing other vocations, I always felt some kind of emptiness within each pursuit. On trips I always found myself alone and isolated. In studies, particularly social work and public administration, I never felt as though I fit in there, either. More than any other time, I felt this emptiness and isolation whenever I sought a “career” oriented towards making money.
Although I am not proud of it, I undertook numerous jobs after the Navy and they always ended in spectacularly failing fashion, often within the first week or so. Almost immediately upon taking a conventional job, I would find a sense of complete meaningless contained within. Two examples were stocking shelves at a retail store or learning to operate equipment at a compressed liquid production facility. At other times I sought out jobs such as at Goldman Sachs, which I can only be eternally grateful I didn’t receive; perhaps the interviewers knew something more about me than I could have possibly known about myself at the time.
Gradually my path after the Navy led me to seek what seemed like a personally more meaningful career; social work and non-profits. This too had its challenges, as being in those environments seemed to require that I put on yet another face, a mask to fit in. If someone who knows me now could have seen me living in Los Angeles, I would be unrecognizable. Wearing brand-name clothes on the street and typical office clothes inside, cutting my hair, trimming or losing the beard; all were required, informally if not formally. Over my time there I undertook a miniature kind of Hero’s Journey: I started with long hair, cut it off in order to “fit in” and try to make my girlfriend at the time like me more, and then gradually grew the hair and beard back. It became clear towards the end of my time in Los Angeles, in both university and internships, that I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole; trying to make an outdoors cat into an indoors one.
Leaving Los Angeles, I embarked on yet another of my many trips abroad, with each trip resulting in changes of being, identity, in their own ways. On the return from this particular trip in 2015, one of many sojourns to Europe that I am privileged to have been able to make, I felt a malaise towards pursuing a social work or non-profit office type of career. Something seemed, to me, fishy and fake about that. And so I started farming and found another calling and passion I didn’t know existed within. After farming for four months, I found once again an internal emptiness, some feeling that I didn’t fit in which pushed me onward and away. This feeling had kept me going so long and, although there was some untruth within that message I kept telling myself, it was also pushing towards something else; finding my Self.
As a pilgrim, which came after the farming incarnation, I caught first glimpse at what I was being pushed towards: a personal relationship with God, with a spiritual side of me that I’d been lacking my whole life. The Camino was a journey in and of itself and only as I started to live it my way, becoming increasingly impoverished on the trail and sleeping outside like my own authentic Medieval pilgrim, did I start to face some darkness within. As I faced it I started to like myself more and more because I was living my truth. And yet I returned home again, empty, resulting from a far too prolonged attachment to family and ever returning feelings of loneliness. Although I learned something, I hadn’t learned the most important thing–love can never come from without, only from within.
In returning I set up shop as a challenge coin wholesaler and mistakenly put myself under a mortgage for 1.5 years. During this time I learned more about myself than I could have ever thought possible, with 90% of my time spent alone, staring at walls inside the home amidst a natural gas leak and outside toiling away at redoing the entire landscape of the house. During this time I tried, hopefully for the last, destructive time, to work in an office job as a social worker with veterans experiencing homelessness. I cut my hair for some strange reason, again, and then abandoned these veterans five or so weeks in as I ran from my same internal demons and fears. This failing, more than perhaps any other, I am least proud of.
In whatever hats I next wear, I truly hope they entail more courage, my own version of Socrates.
A Path From Resentment
With each hat I wore over the years I found that my dark thoughts, isolation and resentments and anger towards myself and others, would always return. In order to break myself from those resentments and externally oriented blame or self-defeating shame, I would then redirect them entirely towards myself, creating a depression within and isolating further as a result. Only through a good friend who stuck by me and an experience with psilocybin did I learn, not for the first time, that I was the arbiter of my own suffering: responsible for everything negative in my own life. In other ways, I was the one who projected outwards, the hidden resentments and judgments towards those around me that I so often mistakenly interpreted as coming from without. These projections, Shadows, I could not contain or see as my own for the longest time.
In selling my former house I slowly emerged from another low point in my life to the person I now seek to become yet again for the zillionth time; one of countless many low-points and perhaps not the last–though one can certainly hope. In retrospect, I have circled the same path and hit personal lows so many times that I’ve lost track. I’ve had some 40 addresses in my life, made many acquaintances but kept few lasting friends, and tried to become so many incarnations with so many passions given up too soon, that the number of hats put on even briefly are truly countless. And yet I have found that there is always hope and personal redemption to be found no matter how far we go, lost we seem, however many times we tread the same circle. Within God and a reconnection with my Spirit, there is always something greater waiting, for me, for anyone.
And myths have led me on this journey, shining forth as some light in a bleak world bereft of meaning.
Creating Our Own Myth
If there is a purpose to this ranting, it is that myth holds the key to a life well-lived. Within the Heroes I admired and resonated with as a child–Percival, King Arthur, Vidar, Neo, Socrates, Conan, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Bilbo Baggins–lay the answer I’d always been looking for: how to live my own life, gradually becoming more free from suffering and endless worry and fear. Within the story of every Hero, I saw the courage and bravery of each, the deeds they performed. Yet something had difficulty sticking. Perhaps it was the grandiosity of their performances, their accomplishments; that I, a lowly 21st century male, could never accomplish much of anything, let alone save the Roman Republic like Caesar did. But the keys were hidden within the patterns and deeper meaning of the stories: the Hero lives their truth, faces their fears, not holding themselves back out of concern for the past or being frozen by an imagined grandiose and egotistical future. The key to a life free from senseless suffering is being a Hero is whatever small way we can, the Hero of our life.
Bilbo overcomes his simplicity and uses wit to defeat monsters far more powerful than himself; Percival overcomes his simplicity–a recurring theme for Heroes–moves beyond the protection of his mother, and purifies his soul to find his own Holy Grail contained within the male spirit. Vidar slays the wolf Fenrir, while Dante descends into his own personal Hell to emerge as a writer thereafter. Luke treads the middle path to cleanse himself, atone with his father, and defeat the empire before retiring as his own kind of Hero. Caesar unsuccessfully tries to save Rome from tyranny and is martyred as a result, knowing full well his death was a near certainty once he had crossed the Rubicon. Hannibal, too, tries to save his homeland from Carthage’s monster, Rome.
The lessons are clear from myths; the Hero of our time is a living Hero, the Hero of our own personal lives. A Hero inevitably gives up the easy path of material distractions, addictions, to tread the Middle Path of their life in whatever small way they can. We, as Hero of our lives, follow a spiritual calling, a feeling of duty or responsibility or atonement for the wrongs we’ve committed as a means of steering our ship true. What is lost in modernity is that we attain not some fictional outcome of being an inspiring, egocentric legend; rather, we save our own lives in the face of a monster within which reflects the world without. As Joseph Campbell teaches, the Hero surrenders their desires of the flesh and material world, their egocentrism, to eventually become their own individual in a world of people trying to get us to live their truths, waylaying us from living our truths.
The Path of Myth and Men
My journey is still just beginning. We can always refuse to take it further and I may indeed do the same, though I truly hope I don’t. If I refuse, I become a monster of my own life, filled with regret and resentment; if I continue, I become my own small version of the Hero. I don’t know where it leads for anyone, and that’s the point: taking the path less trodden is the path of constant uncertainty, of ignoring those great many around us who try to sway us away into worlds of temptation and no longer being true to ourselves. My oldest brother Simon, living his own kind of truth, told me often: To thine own self be true. For me, this has meant slowly veering away from traditional vocations, no longer pursuing marriage or partnerships based on sexual desire, gradually setting aside my addictions, and moving on from those who might only see us for who we were, not who we’ve become. As a result, I hope to become a more loving person.
Myth represents the answer for a great many men young and old who now face changing roles in the face of artificial intelligence consuming many jobs. It also represents the answer for a great many who see the material world for what it is: an endless rat race to our own personal oblivion of unhappiness. I suspect a great many people see the flashy new cars, fancier homes, chasing ever shrinking pieces of a pie being eaten by the super wealthy as the game that it is. Yet the mass of men and women still pursue this never-ending game. We, as low men–and women–on the totem pole of modern existence, will be left out of wherever our world is heading, and so will you, in all likelihood. Certainly, your children will be too, replaced by far more capable machines.
With myth, men can learn to be the Hero they wish to be by emulating the Hero of their favorites stories or even of real life. Pick a story or real life person, see what they did, and do the same. Then find another Hero, take what you learn from that person, and do similarly. They can be real or fictional; each Hero we identify with are role models for your own version of the Hero, aspects to integrate into a cohesive whole. Gradually, we will turn into the person we always hoped we would become. Where it ends, nobody knows: perhaps we will be known only to ourselves, perhaps to a small tribe, or perhaps lying in wait you or some child is a future-Hero or JFK who will save our world or country from near certain demise. The choice is yours alone, and the answers and path are there for the taking.
Consider Preston, an aspiring boxer who spars in Casino matches with those far above his skill-level just to learn as much as he possibly can. Bjorn is writing and just finishing his first novel, while also starting a second; Allison is perfecting her own kind of driftwood artistry and will certainly be a master of her craft one day. Erica helps immigrant women escape domestic violence; Debbie was a fisherwoman in a world dominated by fishermen and captained her own boat and started her own business. Kevin is a Shaman who provides healing for others using Cannabis, and other plant medicines–he helped me on my healing journey. David is a Vietnam-era Colonel and Buddhist practitioner who volunteers in hospitals and Veteran’s Service Organizations, while Ian is a former Cannabis farmer who seeks a new spiritual calling–his journey may just be beginning.
Mike and Marty run a Sweat Lodge for veterans, their own personal kind of healers, while Packy and Mickey run a support group to connect veterans with each other. My Uncle Keith has long been on his Hero’s Journey, teaching resiliency skills to a great many young people entering the uncertainty of university studies. My Camino friend Rik continues to pilgrimage around Europe and the world; while my good friend and oft-mentor Lee is a master without compare of dreams who is building a community of like-minded dreamers called Taileaters. Finally, my mother raised her five children dutifully and responsibly, loving each equally; while my oldest brother Simon works 16 hour days building bridges and dams, seven days per week, surely inspiring a great many around him with his fortitude and work ethic, defying what it means to be a man in his 40’s.
These are a scant few of the many Heroes I have run into, people at all stages of their Hero’s Journey. Some of them will have small but profound effects. Some will certainly become Heroes of Renown, legends of their own time, and I am inspired to have met all of them. The Hero is someone who follows their path, not the path of the great mindless many seeking material aims, fame and fortune. You, too, can become your own kind of Hero, if only you take the Hero’s Journey, the road less traveled. The path is uncertain for everyone, but it is worth it, wherever it leads for you: it is worth it. The world, your individual world, hangs in the balance. Changing our world for the better is but a dream that starts within.