Lost in adventure
Updated: Feb 17, 2022
Allow me to be frog for a moment. As a frog from a pool of water somewhere out in the wilderness, I recognise the hero in you and I want to offer you a gift.
My gift is a story. A story that may help you navigate your adventure. As I don't know your adventure I will tell my story as abstractly as I can, allowing you to see how my story may be your adventure too.
I am a fan of Joseph Campbell and I want to tell you my take on his ‘Heroes Journey’. The Heroes Journey is a very rich and complex concept so I will take just a few aspects of it and give you my, therapeutic, perspective on these. Also, because I like systems thinking I will use this perspective too.
Let me start at home.
Home is the system that the hero is a part of, where they belong. Home is their cosmos. It is the environment that they are familiar with, where they can predict what will happens from day to day, week to week, etc. By no means does this guarantee that this is a comfortable place, it my be very unpleasant but they know who they are here. They have control here in the sense that they know how to behave, communicate with the others of their community, where to get food when they are hungry, where to rest when tired, they know their value to the community.
Home can be the heroes family, their community, their company, tribe, land, village, country, planet, species ..or their own body, gender identity, their mind. Anything really.
Systems in general are naturally self correcting, self healing. As long as it has the resources to do so. The point of the hero story is that sometimes something happens that the system cannot self correct from. The system becomes ill or corrupted and spirals towards dissolution, death.
Like in the Lion King, it may be that the evil uncle kills the benign father, the rightful king, and takes over the throne thus corrupting the vitality of the kingdom. If the child of the old king, the rightful heir to the throne is not mature enough to successfully challenge the evil ruler, the system or the kingdom lacks the resources to prevent its decline. The kingdom becomes sterile.
Or it may just be that the hero was a child, like Pinocchio, grows up and they no longer have a place in their childhood world as a young adult.
In some stories, like the Jungle Book or the Matrix, the hero starts out in a system that they do not belong to which can only go on for so long. When a boiling point is reached something has to give and the adventure is all about the hero getting back to their true home, the system they really belong to and where they may have come from long ago before they even remember.
The self healing impulse of the system sends its agent, the hero, out beyond the system to find that resource that can revitalise, heal the system. It is up to the hero to find that grail, that revitalising resource, bring it back Home and restore its equilibrium. This is the adventure.
So the adventure really starts when the hero leaves their home. This means that they leave the environment where they have (some) control. They leave culture and venture into wilderness. They pass the threshold. As the deeper meaning of the word ecstasy suggests; they step out.
If the hero is a knight they may have learned how to challenge other knights and fight them in a perfectly chivalrous manner. They may know exactly which fork to use with which part of a certain course at the grand diners of the royal court. The wilderness is where all this knowledge will not help them. Like when they go out into the forrest and run into a bear that cares little for chivalry or table manners.
You can tell that you have gone out on an adventure when the things you have learned and the roles you have in your Home are suddenly useless. When you realise that you are 'not in Kansas anymore' and feel lost. This is the wilderness.
And it is crucial that you go there because it means that you have gone outside your Home system. Your Home needs you to go outside there because if the the salvation, the Grail would be within the system your Home would already have healed itself. Staying in your comfort zone will not bring any change, let alone a positive one. If the hero finds themselves lost, they are going in the right direction.
In his book, Joseph Campbell points to the deep significance of a part of an Arthurian myth where the knights have gathered around the Round Table but choose not to start the feast until an adventure has happened (apparently in those days adventures happen often enough not to go hungry waiting for them). Promptly they collectively have a vision of the grail covered by a veil floating above the Round Table. They then vow to all ride out on a quest to behold the Grail unveiled. But they do not ride out as a group; they all go their own individual ways and enter the forest where it is darkest and there is no path. Because when you follow a path you are walking in someone else’s footsteps and you are not following your own adventure. If the solution would be on that path, the person before you would have already solved it. And the darker the forrest, the less it has been explored.
So now the hero is in the wilderness and they are lost.
Because they are in the wilderness none of what they have learned to help them thrive in their Home is of any value here, none of their roles have any power. If they had, it would not be the wild. So the pitfall they have to avoid is to rely on any of that. The challenge now is to rely on who they are behind their old roles and to rely on their hearts in stead of their heads. This often feels somewhat like relying on your instincts, responding without thinking, trusting your soul. You could call it your heart, higher self, God, destiny, the Dao, the Still Voice Within or your Buddha nature.. Let me call it ‘soul' for the purpose of this story.
In myth a symbol that is sometimes used is the knight or the hero letting go of the reigns of their horse and allowing the horse to guide the hero to where the adventure needs them to go. The hero knows that it is not up to them to know or to decide where to go. That would be relying on how they have learned to navigate their Home environment. Here, the horse symbolises the Soul, that sensitively guiding vehicle that is in tune with the adventure.
We can see a beautifully clear example of this in one of Parsifal’s adventure stories. The young hero Parsifal finds the Grail Castle, meets the Fisher King and is shown the grail. But here he relies on what he has learned from his community about how a knight is to behave in such circumstances. He relies on what he has learned to think a knight should do. This immature approach proved that he was not ready. Parsifal had the soul of a true knight so it was his destiny to become the Grail King. But he had not yet learned to let his soul guide his actions and so he woke up the next morning in an abandoned and empty castle. Years later he found the Grail Castle again but this time all his experiences had matured him. He was able to allow his knightly soul to guide his actions, proving him ready and he became the Grail King. The same situation, the same hero, even the same soul, the only difference was what the hero relied on. What he allowed to guide his actions.
The adventure will take the hero from one confrontation into another, one challenge to the next, one experience after another. This can be very confusing, harrowing, scary and difficult but the job of the hero is not to judge or make sense of any of that. All they have to do is confront the adventure. The point here is not to find the meaning of what is going on but to experience it and allow the experience to change them. The adventure, with each event, is changing the hero into the one that is ready to face the dragon, that culminating challenge that holds the Grail.
Now it may mean that the hero runs away from some situations. Sometimes that is exactly what the adventure requires. As long as they don't judge that situation from the criteria they have learned in their Home system. Even if they make the right decision for the wrong reason, because the adventure is not about being right, they may not have the experience that is required. They need to allow the adventure to change them. It is up to the hero to trust their Soul. If it tells them to avoid a certain situation, who knows, it may be a seductive, well-disguised trap or they may need to experience cowardice and have that feeling change them.
You can see the fun of the adventure. When you are in it.. can you trust yourself, your soul? Can you let go of your old control and allow a new experience to change you?
If you can you are well on your way to being a true Hero.
Among the challenges and confrontation on his path the Hero will also find support. They may meet a hermit that gives them a magic amulet that will help them overcome the dragon. They may help an ugly old crone that turns into an angel that puts a protective spell on them. Or they may meet a little toad or a frog, a friendly cousin of the dragon, in a pond in the wilderness that tells them a story that helps guide them towards a safe path forward.
If the hero is on their true adventure they will always receive unexpected support that is crucial to their success.
And then, at the culmination of the adventure, the hero finds themselves confronted by the dragon. This is the final guardian of the Grail. The final test to determine if the hero is able to receive the gift of rejuvenation.
If the hero can overcome the dragon and cut off its head, they will find there, inside the greatest and most dangerous challenge the thing that will heal. The tongue inside the head of the dragon is often said to be able to heal every injury or disease.
But again; the hero cannot rely on any pre-conceived ideas about what to do. Here, most of all, they have to rely on who they are and who they have become as a result of all the experiences they had along the way.
The solution may not be to kill the dragon at all. My trainer at the Ayahuasca retreat centre suggested that if you befriend your dragon in stead of killing him, who knows.. Imagine returning to your Home kingdom and confronting your evil uncle with a fire breathing dragon at your side. It might just make that meeting a lot easier than armed just with its tongue.
Not only is the solution often not predictable, you will most likely not be able to recognise the dragon at all until well after the confrontation. Parsifal’s dragon was finding the Grail Castle meeting the kind and wounded Fisher King, being invited to attend the feast and be shown the Grail. He could never have known that he had to let his compassion for the pain of the king guide him into asking about the nature of the wound. That was his dragon and the first time he found the Grail Castle he failed to overcome that dragon.
Frodo’s dragon in the Lord of the Rings is another good example; you’d thínk his dragon at the culmination of his adventure would be to throw the one ring into the heart of mount doom. But when he had gone through all the struggles, horrors, challenges, dangers, suffering and made it all the way to the heart of that terrible mountain he found himself physically unable to let go of the ring ..but then it turns out he does not have to. Gollum’s greed does that final step for him, releasing the ring (and his finger, but I guess that was a small price to pay) from him. As he takes it himself into the heart of that mountain he destroys it for Frodo. Looking back, it seems Frodo’s dragon was merely to bring the ring to the edge, maybe while allowing Gollum to accompany him.
If the hero has been able to overcome the final protector of the Grail they are granted the prize.
Now the hero has destroyed the ring, slain the minotaur, carries the tongue or befriended the dragon, found the grail.. don't be deceived, the adventure is far from over.
It may be smooth sailing from here but often it is not. Now the hero has to return Home and integrate the Grail they have won back Home to heal it and restore peace. This can be a great challenge in itself and there are often many opportunities for problems on the way back.
The hero Theseus successfully killed the minotaur, gained the hand of the princess Ariadne and sailed happily back home ..forgetting the promise he made to his father. His father had asked him to change the black sails of the ship for white ones if he managed to survive the maze. His father, anxious for any news of his son, scanned the horizon of the sea for days and finally seeing the black sails approach, jumped off the cliffs to his death believing his son had died in the minotaurs maze.
We can think of many great artists who dove deep into their subconscious and, as artist are very sensitive to the deeper forces moving in our society, they are reaching into the subconscious material of the society as well. There they are able to grasp some deep truth, bring it all the way up to the surface and with great effort and concentration express it in their painting, poem, play, music etc. But their society may not be able to appreciate this effort. The artist dies penniless and ignored while a hundred years later their work is sold for millions because of its great cultural significance and transformative influence.
Unlike the path towards the dragon, this return and integration of the spoils of the adventure back into the Home world requires the hero not only to rely on their soul. Because they are back Home now the hero will have to rely also on the old knowledge and (social) skills from their community. On the return they need to combine the wisdom of their heart and their mind, soul and knowledge. They need to engage in their Home community as the hero that the adventure has made them and still be able to wield the right fork for the right dish too.
You may understand why the Heroes Journey fascinates me. Psychedelic experiences take us far outside our normal consciousness where there is a great potential for healing and adventure.
The Heroes Journey shows me how we may be able to use the these psychedelic adventures for healing, it helps me recognise a helpful mindset and the one that leads to suffering, it helps me trust and surrender to the process, helps me find the clues I need to navigate these waters and it helps me bear the difficulties.
And I hope this little story from a frog in the wilderness will help you do a little of the same.
P.s. Though the Heroes Journey may be relevant for anyone I realise that it is biassed towards masculine values. The Heroine's Journey is a response to this and may be worth checking out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroine%27s_journey