The True Hero’s Journey December 20, 2011
At the age of ten I dreamed the Lone Ranger shot me. This big dream about my hero was more real than any other I’ve ever had. I was devastated to think he hated me so much he wanted to kill me and I couldn’t understand why. I had practically worshiped him, his beautiful horse Silver, and his trusty partner Tonto; yet he shot me! The injustice of this was intolerable!
One thing I’ve come to understand is that this dream spoke to my childhood image of God as a heroic male and my growing sense that I was unworthy because I was a female. In 195o’s America God was a He, history was still about males, and females could not be bosses, ministers, presidents or heroes.
That new awareness was very painful to my ten-year-old heart, and I tried my best to suppress it for many years; but ultimately, belatedly, it forced me to take myself as seriously as I took my loved ones, to search for my truths, and to connect with God in ways that were personally meaningful instead of entrusting this most crucial of my soul’s tasks to others — especially others who did not value me because of my gender. It also inspired my creativity. My struggle to understand and empower femininity and the feminine side of the Sacred Mystery is at the core of everything I write.
A second message of this dream was the inevitability of death. While being alone most of the time I wasn’t in school or church seemed normal to me at ten, my dream said that unconsciously I was feeling very vulnerable and insecure. I could be left alone to make my way through a dangerous world, I could be victimized, I could die. When my father died a few months later this suspicion became a certainty and my trust in my hero/God was shattered. Apparently I knew something no one else did: the heavenly hero everyone thought of as perfect was secretly untrustworthy, unjust and cruel.
I tried to repress this awareness too, but it was nevertheless a bedrock reality that fueled my determination to do everything I could to stay on God’s good side! Ignoring my wounded Persephone, I concentrated on developing my Athena, the brave, noble and wise defender of patriarchy! And I got pretty good at being heroic in the outer world of ambition, achievement and work.
So it was a bit of a shock to realize at mid-life was that I was copying a surface version of the hero myth that emphasizes external trappings of power and success and ignores the inner life. Beneath the image of the independent, white-hatted cowboy on a white horse who rides off in search of bad buys to kill with his silver bullets is a much deeper meaning that is also the deeper meaning of every authentic religion: True heroism, the kind that lasts and makes a difference in the world, is the ability to rein in the ego, lasso and befriend our shadow, learn compassion, and embolden our true Self so we can care for others in ways that are beneficial to all. In conforming to a mold that didn’t honor my inner realities I was betraying myself and the Great Mystery we call God.
Here is the message I want to convey: We don’t have to settle for dysfunctional God-images or self-images. Acquiring the consciousness to recognize our wounds and complete our souls so we can serve our communities with compassion is the true Hero’s Journey. This is a spiritual path anyone can take.
War Games May 10, 2011
When the terrorist Osama Bin Laden was killed I wrote a blog post about it. In response, writer Charles Hale commented, “I haven’t thought this one through but it seems to me the world has become one big sporting event where there’s always one winner, one loser, and millions of fans cheering each side on. Further, the terms used to describe sporting events are often militaristic in nature–blitz, warrior mentality, fight to the death, in the trenches, etc.–and the news programs constantly describe the news with sports metaphors. There is little difference, it appears, between nationalistic fervor and sports fanaticism. They seem to be born of the same mentality. When I watch crowds chanting USA USA, I don’t know if I’m watching the US playing Russia in hockey, a political convention or a news event; it seems they are all one and the same now.”
This meaty insight got me thinking about the psychological and spiritual implications of our intense attachments to our teams, clans, countries and religions. What’s this all about? Is there no difference between nationalistic fervor and sports fanaticism? And if not, is this good or bad?
As mammals, humans share the drives for self-preservation and species-preservation with all mammals. Composed of the instincts for nurturance, activity, and sex, these basic motivations create a powerful dependence on our families and a compulsion to protect them and their territory. Loyalty blended with fierce determination to protect and defend is a recipe for survival that has served us and other predatory mammals like wolves, bears and lions exceedingly well.
Jung said humans also have instincts for reflection and creativity. These account not only for our having reached the top of the food chain, but also for a “higher” level of awareness and yearning which has spawned egos, logical thinking, moral codes, justice systems and religions.
We have the capacity to be as aware of our basic drives as we are of our values, and we can use this awareness to benefit everyone’s team. But if our egos cannot see our shadows — our unconscious instincts, emotions, assumptions, and fears — we are easily overwhelmed by them and can unwittingly betray our noblest selves. Then potentially productive conflicts are transformed from games into wars.
In the Iliad, Homer describes the first Olympic games which gave both sides in the Trojan War a sabbatical from fighting and a way to channel passions that satisfied everyone’s instincts and cultural values. Insofar as sporting events, especially international ones, serve the same purpose today, they are healthy expressions of our shared humanity that satisfy our needs for belongingness, self-esteem, playfulness, meaning, and so on. But if they are only temporary distractions from shadow possession, there’s still much work to be done.
Homer says that Ares, the hot-tempered and passionate God of War, supported Troy. However, the Greeks won the war because they listened to Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom who was a level-headed strategist and counselor. This is a metaphor for the victory of conscious choice over unconscious compulsion. But just how conscious and wise was Athena? Is winning the highest good? Does it prove our virtue and worth or does it merely appease our shadow? We are capable of setting a higher goal than winning the game: the goal of universal justice, cooperation, peace, and love. In real-life war games we need to be very clear about our motivation. Which goal do we serve?