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Posts Tagged ‘The Heros Journey’

The Universe

Consider this: In the entirety of the universe you are unique. You were born carrying a Gift, and you are here to sing that song. If you chose not to sing your song,  then it will never be heard on the face of the earth.
Alphonse

Visualization works wonders when the cause is transcendent. Why would the ‘Universe’ bother pandering to the greedy fantasies of the narcissistic few? Once you have committed your life to some decent purpose or ‘calling’, that’s when the axle will shift, that’s when the wheels will begin to turn; and that’s when you can expect those synchronistic happenings that will light your path and empower your purpose.

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The future of mankind hangs by the slender thread of the human ‘shadow’

Carl Gustav Jung

The Jungian archetype known as the Shadow is arguably one of the most powerful and pervasive aspects of the human mind and, as the term implies, it is that part of us all that lies hidden in the darker recesses of the subconscious, ignored, unexplored and often totally unknown, yet capable of disrupting our lives in sudden, destructive outbursts of energy that leave us and those around us baffled. Or it may work away on a more subtle level, poisoning friendships or negating opportunities with its ability to undermine our reason, confidence, and self-esteem.

Our ‘shadows’ include all of those barely conscious aspects of ourselves that we dislike or find impossible to accept, the suppressed anger, judgemental thoughts, jealousy, sexual longings, and the dark, shameful secrets we still cannot admit to. Or it may comprise of qualities that we hate in ourselves and have tried to root out, only to see them come back with a vengeance when we least expect it.

But the Shadow, like all the other archetypes, has both a positive and negative aspect. When we are young we may have been forced to suppress many of our natural, healthy emotions and feelings. If our parents or care-givers refused to allow us our natural anger, grief, spontaneity, joy or sexuality, then much of these normal energies may be distorted, repressed and locked within our Shadow.

Suppressed feelings can lie dormant and festering for years before exploding outwards in self-destructive behaviours that can ruin friendships, destroy careers and leave us wondering who we actually are at times, and if we insist on ignoring or rejecting these natural instincts, we will ultimately be called to pay a penalty.

Compulsive obsessive behaviours, all kinds of addictions, irrational rages, loss of energy, depressions, suicidal thoughts, irrational dependencies and co-dependency, and chronic despair are all symptoms of a Shadow out of control.

What is less known about the Shadow is that it also contains and conceals many of our most positive qualities, frequently relegated to the Shadow in confrontations with authority figures in our formative years. These repressed aspects frequently hold the suppressed joy, innocence, spontaneity, and childlike nature of what Sigmund Freud Called ‘Das Wunderkind’ the ‘Wonder Child’ and Jung referred to as the ‘Imago Dei… the Image of God’ which in turn holds the key to our individuality, our innate creativity, our authentic selves, our spirituality, our soul, and our Calling, which is of course the actual meaning and purpose of our lives.

But the good news is that negative side of our Shadow can be dis-empowered and harnessed, by simply bringing it out of the darkness and into the light. Once the Shadow has been exposed to the sunlight of consciousness and its contents revealed, accepted and dealt with, then the Gifts can be separated from the neurosis, the wheat from the chaff, the negative from the positive, only then can these previously neglected energies can be transformed and used effectively in our daily lives.

In the movie world, one of the most dramatic personifications of the Shadow has been Darth Vader (a pun on Dark Father) of the Star Wars Trilogy, an extreme, archetypal figure representing the dark, ‘shadow’ side of patriarchy, aggressive, non-feeling, unforgiving and unreachable as he urges his only son to join him in serving the evil Emperor on the dark path of demonic intellectual control, “Come over to our side Luke, the power is incredible!”

But Luke Skywalker refused. He was a Jedi warrior, on his own hero’s journey, committed to the transcendent side of the Life Force, and therefore he chose the power of the heart, the classical hero’s choice.

In the third episode, “The Return of the Jedi”, Darth Vader himself is redeemed when he sees the error of his ways and returns to his heart and his humanity by sacrificing his own life to save the life of his son. We last see him as a ghostly figure, reunited with the other Jedi warriors, hovering over Luke, guiding and protecting him from beyond the grave, for in finally rejecting the dark path and sacrificing his life for another, he has transcended both life and death.

Another classical tale of the Shadow is that of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which depicts a good man struggling with the darkest aspects of his own psyche. In this case however, Dr Jekyll, whilst tinkering with forces beyond his control, is led by Mr Hyde, down an ever darker path, until eventually he is taken over completely and destroyed by the evil excesses of his alter ego.

The message here is clear. The Shadow needs to be exposed but it also needs to be tamed and disciplined. Our Shadows are a vital force that must be brought out into the light of day or they can destroy us. People who act out in compulsive obsessive behaviours such as alcoholism, drug addiction or compulsive over eating, are clear examples of an out of control shadow,  but there are many other less visible examples; people who are crippled by doubt or shame, suffer endless depressions, talk of suicide, or those who get carried away by monetary success, abusing their power or becoming totally self-centred and self-seeking whilst ignoring the needs of others, have also been overwhelmed by their Shadows.

But we must also remember that the Shadow contains and conceals our greatest gifts and talents, and it is only by working through the various stages of the Hero’s Journey that we will be able to understand, appreciate, and integrate our gifts, our talents and the true mission and purpose of our lives.

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From the great blue whale who traverses the depths of the Southern Ocean, to the tiniest amoeba crawling along through the primordial ooze, all things in nature swim, dance, and sing to their own peculiar rhythm; only mankind        has lost its direction. Anon.

The concept of finding and following a ‘calling’ is as old as time and appears in stories, myths and legends from around the world. The very first book; The Epic of Gilgamesh, written on clay tablets approximately 5,000 years ago,  recounts the legend of the young warrior King Gilgamesh, bored with his present existence, going out into the wilderness to seek meaning and purpose to his life. The adventures he encounters are classic examples of what Joseph Campbell describes as The Hero’s Journey, a journey we will all be challenged to face at some stage, and actually several stages, in our lives. As Campbell was fond of saying:  “The question is; will we say yes or no to that challenge; will we say yes or no to the adventure of life itself!”

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‘Even if you are on the right track, you’ll still get run over by a train if you just sit there!’    Will Rogers.

Am I on the right track?

Once you have discovered your purpose, then you must find a way of expressing that ‘Purpose’ in your life. This is not always easy; but if you know what you really want to commit your life too, then you can never be truly happy until you find the courage and commitment needed to express yourself honestly and fully in the world.

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Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned in Austwich by Hitler’s Gestapo in 1942, for no other crime than his religion, was a prominent psychiatrist at the time of his arrest and had worked for many years prior to the war with men and women suffering severe and prolonged depressions as well as various other types of mental illnesses.

As Frankl had worked with hundreds of these patients, he came to realize that none of them seemed to have any purpose or meaning to their lives, they had no goals or dreams to fulfill, and they appeared to have no idea at all where there lives were headed.

These initial observations encouraged him to study the phenomenon at depth, and as his work progressed he came to understand that once an individual had discovered a worthwhile cause or mission in life, their return to health was both rapid and enduring.

Realizing the enormous potential of this discovery, he set about writing a book, expounding his theories in the hope that it would reach the countless millions of depressed, alienated and lonely souls, tormented by various types of mental disorders.

And so, as the overcrowded train the Nazis had forced himself and hundreds of others onto, rolled into the dreaded Death Camp of Austwich, his most pressing concern was that this manuscript, which he had clutched underneath his overcoat since the time of his arrest, should not be lost or destroyed, it was the culmination of his life’s work, or so he thought that day.

Over the following years Victor Frankl would suffer all the atrocities of those abominable camps with the stoicism and courage few of us could ever hope to emulate. Loosing his manuscript immediately on arrival was a devastating blow, made worse by the mindless atrocities that followed. He had his faith to cling to, but with the never ending barbarisms carried out on a daily basis by the brutalized Nazi guards, the starvation, the beatings, the gassing of innocent children, the rapes and senseless murders, faith itself must sooner or later begin to crumble.

Surely in the darkness of those endless nights, Frankl’s theories must have come back to mock him, his fundamental belief that if a man could find a meaning for his life then he could endure virtually any amount of suffering, must have seemed like an impossible dream at times.

Yet one day Victor Frankl awoke, and with the sudden realization that his prayers for salvation were not being answered, he spontaneously changed the prayer from ‘God help me’ to ‘Lord, make me worthy of my suffering.” What a leap in consciousness! And in that transcendent moment, in the depths of that obscene Nazi Death Camp, a new vision was born and with it a new hope for mankind, the belief that once we have found the meaning and purpose of our own lives, then we have the ability to surmount virtually any hardship.

From that day on Viktor Frankl began caring for those of his fellow prisoners who were in acute distress, sharing his meager food rations, comforting those who had abandoned all hope, and kneeling in prayer with the dying. In doing so he rose above his own suffering and not only survived the camps but went on to rewrite and publish his best selling book, (Man’s search for Meaning) and to found what would become known as Logotherapy, the Third Viennese School of Psychiatry.

It has been suggested by others that those few camp inmates that gave away their food were the ones that survived the camps, implying that the ones who accepted did not; but Frankl himself made no mention of this.

Victor Frankl lived to the age of 91, and for the rest of his life worked with men and women of all ages, helping them discover the individual meaning and purpose of their lives. To his last days he was fond of quoting the German Philosopher; Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has found a ‘Why’ to live, can endure almost any ‘How’.

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'But where will you go?' they asked, 'Where my Heart Leads' she said...If you feel that your life lacks Passion, Purpose, Meaning or Integrity; and if you wonder occasionally in the quiet times; ‘Is this all there is?’ You may be living in what the poet Elliot referred to as  ‘The Wastelands’. That dreadful place where  boredom, depression, lack of purpose, and a sense of futility eat away gradually at your spirit and ultimately at the very essence of your ‘Life Force’.

If you’re heart tells you that you’re no longer enjoying the work you do for a living; if you sometimes question the very meaning of your existence; then you may be experiencing what Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung described as a ‘Calling’, an intuitive appeal from some deeper aspect of yourself that is tired of the life you have been living and is now yearning and questing for change.

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It has been suggested by many throughout the ages that the ‘eternal question’ is; ‘Who am I?’ but perhaps in today’s driven, materialistic world it might be better to rephrase the same inquiry as ‘What am I?’ for surely it is more a question of ‘what am I doing with my life?’ rather than who I think I am that defines and gives meaning, purpose and direction to human existence.

From the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato in his seminal work ‘Republic’ to the Babylonian epic ‘Gilgamesh’ written 2000 years before the birth of Christ, to the myths and legends that have emanated from Shamanistic peoples since the beginning of recorded history springs the recurring belief that there is a purpose and meaning to each and every human life.

The Native Americans, the Australian Aboriginal, the Inuit, and the Amazonian Indians, along with virtually all of the indigenous peoples of the world, held ceremonial rituals and Rites of Passage, Vision Quests that assisted their young people through ancient initiation ceremonies into the adult life and helped them to discover the purpose, meaning and direction of their lives.

But in our modern, driven, consumer orientated, Western cultures, largely devoid of the guiding influence of Mentors, elders, extended families, rituals, rites of passage ceremonies and the ancient, guiding tales of mythology, where does that leave us? Where does it leave our children? How can we hope to discover our own innate potential? How can we role model for our children the ability to find and follow a worthwhile path in life? These are some of the questions we must now face, for we can no longer blindly assume that our governments, schools, churches and universities are fulfilling these essential roles.

From the Great Blue Whale cruising the depths of the Southern Ocean

To the tiniest amoeba crawling along through the primordial ooze

All things in nature dance to their own natural rhythm of life

Only mankind has lost its purpose.

(Anon)

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