True heroism does not result simply in personal gain
This reading comes from psychotherapist and academic Bradley Olson, who arrives with a Ph.D. in Cultural Mythology, and specialties in Jungian Analytical Psychology and Mythological Studies. Today, hailing from The Joseph Campbell Foundation, Olson recently authored MythBlast’s A Toolbox for the New Year. Therein, ruminating on the year ahead, Olson brings us to the lamenting Cervantes who – in his play The Man of La Mancha – describes men dying despairing; “no glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning ‘Why?’” To this, Olson responds, musing; “Perhaps “Why?” is entirely the wrong question to be asking. The important question to ask is “Who?” Who am I? Who am I told to be? Who will I be tomorrow, ten years from now, or who will I be when I die? Who do I want to be? Who is it within me that aspires, dreams, creates, laughs, weeps, and loves?”
From there, Olson guides us to two individuals whose lives and work deeply addressed such questions. The first of which, Carl Jung, asks of us; “But then what is your myth – the myth in which you do live?” (Memories, Dreams and Reflections). The second of which, Joseph Campbell, remarks that the discovery of the answer to Jung’s question is – by far – “the task of all tasks”; a task alluded to especially by the beginning of the word ‘question’ itself,’ ‘quest’. Such is what we’re called to undertake should we choose to seek the ‘who […] within me’; for as Olson – echoing his muses – declares;
Inescapably, we are the protagonists in our own narratives, the heroes of our own, personal mythology. The hero is the metaphor of self-discovery, struggling with inner demons and monsters, bringing the light of consciousness to inner darkness, trying to understand the forces that shaped and made one a self, a whole human being. Engaging with such a task, the larger realization always begins to dawn on us that in order to be truly heroic, the rewards of heroism – its boons, its knowledge, its gifts – must somehow be shared with one’s larger community. True heroism does not result simply in personal gain, it generates communitas, a transformative cultural movement that elevates and values community members equally. Communitas is a powerful force that, as Aeschylys put it, makes gentle the life of the world.
Aeschylys (iskuhles), of course, was a famous Attican tragedian (the father of tragedy), who – in full – dramatically called his contemporaries to “tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world”; words later memorialised by Robert F Kennedy after the tragic shooting of Martin Luther King. “What we need is not division; what we need is not hatred; what we need is not violence or lawlessness” – said he – “[Rather, ] love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer.” Such is the nature of Communitas; “a community; a body of people acting collectively”, and – with a definition that deeply relates o the nature of our discussion – “a [profound] sense of solidarity and bonding that develops among people experiencing a ritual, rite of passage, or other transitional state together” (Oxford Living Dictionaries).
Not only is such a definition reminiscent of Campbell’s Heroes Journey – an archetypal, universal journey that in which Campbell proposed our lives – at their best – emulate; for it is also deeply reminiscent of the ways in which the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the relationship between Creation and Creator;
“Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created “in a state of journeying” (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call “divine providence” the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection.”
It is in this state of journeying that we may come to deeply recognise and embrace the experience of liminality; that is, the experience of being in-transition, and in-between; for such is the nature of our lives, and such is the nature of impermanence; a state observed as one of the three marks of existence by many Buddhists. I have recently likened this experience to the image of a person caught between two realms that I label the human, and the divine; realms and experiences perfected in the person that was Christ; wholly human, wholly divine. To achieve such a state – as is made clear by the Heroes Journey and the life of Christ itself, one must be willing to make the greatest sacrifice of all; the sacrifice of self for the sake of others. Such is the nature of the greatest commandment; a commandment that calls for true heroism, and true love; for such is the way to the final threshold, and beyond…