Storytelling is the cross-referenced answer to “what is life?” by all the world’s elders, trying to convey their life wisdom to the children of the tribe. The “Hero’s Journey” is an extraction of a core sense of how this all works, in the simplest form I know.
But it begs the question “what is the hero”? A hero is a human being overcoming obstacles to achieve a worthy goal. The bigger the obstacle, the more noble the intent, the more we admire that hero.
In general, the more universal the motivation, the more important I think it is. Life itself, the urge to survive, generally trumps EVERYTHING, to the point that a human being capable of risking life to achieve a goal, or GIVING his life to contribute to his tribe or adhere to a value, is considered about as heroic as they can get.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends..” Or family. Our country. Or the principles that blend him with the universe.
Such a love is the strongest thing in the world.
The core animal drive is to move AWAY from pain, and TOWARD pleasure. The adult world is largely a matter of learning to postpone immediate pleasure to avoid future pain. Major lesson. One we struggle to give our children.
We can do this for others. Men and women sacrifice their lives, personal dreams, comfort, and freedom to provide security for their families. Because they love their children. We can see this, all over the world, men and women alike, if you’ll just take off your blinders. We will run into burning houses, jump into storm-tossed oceans, cough our lungs out working in coal mines, starve ourselves so that others can eat…
And all we ask is a smile, a kiss, a hug, a connection to the protection and love WE received in childhood. There is nothing sadder than talking to someone abused in childhood, criticized in adolescence, condemned by their own parents as adults. They sometimes have no memories of EVER having been loved, protected, treasured. That is a lie. Human children who are not nurtured in infancy don’t survive. It is called “failure to thrive” and they wither.
So somewhere in your past, arguably before you formed permanent memories (about 2-3.5 years old, depending on the study) you were the recipient of love and caring. Someone gave you food and shelter and hugs and kisses even though you could not ask for them. Imagine floating in your mother’s womb. All needs supplied: warmth, nutrition, shelter. The very definition of being loved.
You are born, ushered out into a world of sharp hard things, of cold and hunger, shocking in its intensity. All positive things relate to “love”, all the negatives are things that can hurt you: loud noises (predators and natural disasters), falling, hunger, cold. Fear.
Two emotions, of primary import. When you are in total love, you literally or figuratively roll over and expose your tummy. Forebrain shuts down. Pure sensation.
When you are in total fear you can curl into a ball, paralyzed, forebrain shut down.. Pure sensation.
There is an expression that there are two wolves fighting in our hearts, love and fear. Which one wins?
The one we feed.
Why don’t we live in a state of love, if that is what we are endlessly pursuing (pleasure instead of pain)? Because over time we learn that if we are too open, we risk emotional or physical injury. Fear, even if it numbs us to pleasure, keeps us alive. The primary instructions, even more powerful than “survive” for most is “get your grandchildren into the gene pool.”
Even if you feel no love. Enabling your children’s survival, for your children, IS a way of saying “I love you.” In fact, it is a way of saying “I love you” that sacrifices your own hopes and dreams. How many of you had fathers, or mothers (more common with fathers) who never said “I love you” but when you challenged them later will say “I put food on the table and a roof over your heads.”
Unsaid: “I had dreams as a child. I wanted to explore, and be a hero, and have adventures. Be a cowboy, or an astronaut. Instead, I had a family, and the instant I held you, I saw the reality of my life, that I had to do everything in the world to protect you. Even at the cost of my own dreams.”
And most of those men and women did. Their dreams often rotted within them, poisoned the joy they might have felt, the “care for your family” meme fighting with the “express yourself. Life is short. Fly free!” meme.
If you’re a parent, you’ve felt this conflict, right?
The path to spirit is one of healing the more basic levels, providing your needs on the basic levels. Each journey: to survive, gain a steady supply of sex, control your environment, find and share love, express yourself, build a map of the world…is a separate and overlapping “Hero’s Journey.” You can be driven by pain and fear (survival) or by love. Until you have your basic needs taken care of, it is perfectly reasonable to be MORE motivated by fear. Simply pursuing what you love can rip your guts out, because the urge is to GIVE EVERYTHING.
And that attracts others who want to give everything, yes…but also predators, the halt, and the lame.
It is sad to watch open-hearted people limping from bad relationship to bad relationship. When questioned, they’ll often say “well, they deserve love, too.” Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be YOURS.
The question is: “would you want your own most beloved child to be in a relationship with this person? Have this job? Practice this habit pattern? Feel these emotions habitually?”
No? Then to have a good life, something has to change.
There are many “secrets to life” and the most important ones are all saying the same things…
Once upon a time there was a fertilized egg. It grew in darkness until it developed a complex nervous system, and perhaps an awareness of comfort/discomfort. It got the nourishment and comfort it needed automatically, and spent most of its time sleeping, at peace.
After nine months it was ushered into a world of bright colors, cold, and sharp hard things. For the first time it knew what would later be called “fear” and “anger”, but all it wanted was to return to that sense of peace. When other human beings provided that sense of safety, nourishment, and connection, it was called “love.”
Both feelings come from within us, depending upon the way we interpret what happens outside us. Pain and pleasure. Fear and Love. That’s where it all begins.
We grow, and as we do, worship the amazing godlike beings who give us pleasure, or can withhold it to give us pain. All we want is to spend as much time in the Pleasure space that we can. But we learn that if we stay there, we actually experience more pain.
It is a paradox. And the process of adolescence is learning to resolve it. To be happy, we must be free to pursue our pleasures. To be free, we must take responsibility, learn how to follow rules in the adult world. We must accept pain to gain pleasure. Must do what we fear to gain love.
What is worse is that we are raised by human beings injured by this very process, who grew as children thinking they would follow their dreams, do what they wished…but then to survive and satisfy their most basic hungers found themselves channeled into a world of discipline and responsibility. They did what they MUST rather than what they WOULD.
In other words, unless they are very clear on what they are doing and WHY they chose to do it, it’s Meatloaf’s wonderful “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights.” A seventeen year old boy, in response to a demand that he commit to a lifetime of fealty to gain access to a seventeen year old girl’s reproductive track:
“--started swearing to my god and on my mother’s grave
That I would love you to the end of time
That I would love you to the end of time
I swore that I would love you to the end of time!”
Ah, and promises made in haste are repented at leisure…
“So now I’m praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive
‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
I don’t think that I can really survive
I’ll never break my promise or forget my vow
But God only knows what I can do right now
I’m praying for the end of time
It’s all that I can do
Praying for the end of time, so I can end my life with you!!”
You know couples like this, right? Who fell into
sex love and fought to make a life with a stranger “to protect the children” and keep their vows. Both men and women are trapped by this…unless they can master their emotions, transform their stories into a tale of choices made for THEIR reasons, and service to those they love.
If they can’t, and they end that relationship, their chances of blaming the other person and carrying that mistake forward is enormous.
Self-love gives you the strength to tell the truth. And the truth will set you free. And even if you need to let someone go, to realize they were YOUR choice gives you the power to change, and do better next time.
People blaming their children for their own choices. Incalculable amounts of pain there.
That’s you, by the way. You were those children. Who, when those parents were not careful, were blamed for the lack of freedom, the death of dreams.
You may be those parents as well. Who, when you are not careful, let your sense of disappointment poison your relationships with what could be the greatest joy in your life.
One way or another, everything you have ever done has been an attempt to move away from pain toward pleasure. Even the things that brought temporary pain. Even those things that risked your life.
Pain and Pleasure
Fear and Love.
All tied up there. And just as social ills like “racism” “sexism” and “homophobia” can be related to the tribe trying to survive, fear and guilt and anger all relate to the individual trying to survive.
Trying to recapture the peace of the womb. Of the cradle. Of the soft arms that once held us, singing, feeding us something sweet and good, so good.
We spend our whole lives chasing that feeling, and the most successful people learn to “eat bitter to taste sweet”: to exert mighty discipline to gain greater and greater senses of accomplishment and peace. The unhappiest people chase accomplishment for its own sake, not realizing that there is no level of external accomplishment that will give you the internal peace.
The happiest people START with the sense of internal peace, and then learn to extend it to those they love through protection and contribution.
To do that, they often have to “clear out” the junk ideas and corrupted reality maps and broken beliefs and conflicted values given to them by people who may have loved them, but were dealing with their own pain.
And if you are the abused child of a society that needs to demean and control you? You are carrying TONS of psychic garbage. Brothers and sisters, if you don’t clean it out you are building your palace atop a cess pool.
(One of the reasons why I will not allow victim blaming. When you see dysfunctional people, and your first thought is that they asked to be this way, or this is the limit of their capacity, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM if you don’t factor in their childhood. And when you extend this to groups? When you ask “why do X’s have all these problems?” and don’t factor in their history, you are just as blind. The very worst thing is when the abuser pretends the abuse didn’t happen, and poor little Nephew Willie sleeping in the dumpster giving blowjobs for crack ended up there by himself, that it had nothing to do with those midnight visits. Anyone who cannot imagine what I’m suggesting on the broader social level isn’t paying attention. Blindness is just blindness. But if you are complicit, and pretend not to understand…that is evil. And “complicit” is a very flexible concept.)
99.9% of inter-personal problems relate to this war of fear and love, pain and pleasure. If you want to change the world, heal this within yourself. If all attacks are defenses, and defensiveness is triggered by fear, then coming from love stops violence.
BUT. To be open hearted also makes one vulnerable to injury and exploitation unless you are also strong, and love YOURSELF enough to turn away those who are not healthy for your “child.”
The “child” self should remain open-hearted, loving, optimistic, creative. For this to happen, the “adult” self must be watchful, disciplined, willing to “eat bitter to taste sweet” and to have “thick face, black heart” if necessary–to stand up to criticism and attack to protect that tender child within. But this can go too far as well, unless that adult accepts that we are NOT individual mushrooms, we are the underlying micelial mass.
The child says “I am”.
The adult says “I must.”
The elder part of you, which has seen the whole game, survived the “roar of the glands” that channels those dreams into family, has seen beyond the drive to own, compete, win, accumulate…that part of you has the secret of existence. And a the end of life, NO ONE wishes they’d spent more time at the office. It is “I wish I’d danced more. Helped more. Sung more. Been less afraid of being myself. Taken more chances. Told the people I love that I loved them more…”
What the elder sees is that all is love.
And the secret to life is to have the enthusiasm of a child, the work ethic of an adult, and the wisdom of an elder, who knows that all the things of this world are merely games. Important games, sure. But they will not make you happy unless you listen to that child within you. And will not ultimately give you peace unless your actions, every day, are also in alignment with your deepest values.
Open hearted. But also safe. Do you want to know how to do this?
By tapping into the core “wiring” all humans have not just to survive, but to protect our genetic investment. Twine THOSE two drives together and you have something amazing. Healing. With total permission to SURVIVE. The majority of abuse happens to people who don’t have permission to maim and cripple the ones abusing them.
We KNOW that a parent, male or female, who s a blind eye to the abuse of their children, who would not fight to protect them, is BROKEN. You may have had “broken” parents.
If so…then YOU must be the parent you wish you had had. One who will love unstintingly, but also discipline. An undisciplined child is a terror in his house. And is IN terror. Because he knows that
- He is not strong enough to support and protect himself.
- His parents are not strong enough to control him.
NOT a good combination. Remember that fear manifests as anger. And anger causes violence. Both love AND discipline are necessary to create healthy, happy, children…and adults.
It is never too late. All you have to do to start the process is admit that you are afraid (anger is a mask over fear) and then love yourself. Totally. To start with a commitment:
“I am my own mother. I am my own father. I commit to being that ecstatic, loving, strong protective parent to the child in my heart. Every day. For the rest of my life.”
A statement like this, written out, read to yourself in a mirror, can produce a flood of emotions. We are our commitments. We are the degree to which we can trust our promises. START WITH THIS. The commitment.
The rest is “how?” You have to start with “what?” which gives direction, and “why?” to give you the fuel.
WHAT: to love yourself
WHY: so that you can live the life of your dreams. To be as healthy and strong as you are capable of being. To we the wellspring of your own essence, to get all you NEED from within yourself, which gives you then the freedom to love because you CHOOSE to. To be an ecstatic parent or partner, who can give without needing in return.
Wanting? Sure. Nothing wrong with that. But no one can hold you hostage. No co-dependent relationships.
It starts with WHAT. Self-love.
And WHY. What would be different about your life if you had a deep and abiding love for yourself?
This is where you begin. Remember: all you have ever wanted is the peace you experienced in infancy. Or in the womb. Or if you are spiritual, in your original sense of connection to the divine.
That’s all you’ve ever wanted. And the greatest barrier will be the realization that that is all ANYONE has ever wanted.
The implications of this are stupendous. We’ll visit them tomorrow.
But for today…just write out what you want. If nothing else, “I LOVE MYSELF” and hold that piece of paper up to a mirror and/or look into your own eyes and say those words until you can say them without flinching.
Because if you flinched every time you said that to your baby girl, your baby boy…
Don’t you think they’d FEEL that? Don’t you think they’d know? And don’t you think that would matter?
So…start there, and we’ll take another step tomorrow.