Posts Tagged ‘The Hero’s Journey’

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A Wasteland of Dry Stones

October 8, 2009

With time comes change. We get older; our family and friends die; our skin loses its elasticity; our eyes become weak; our hair becomes grey.

Depressing, isn’t it?

Buddhism recognises this as a fact of life, and it is — it is “the first noble truth”. The second noble truth is that the reason all of this is depressing to us is because we wish things to be otherwise.

Now, in a moment of great joy, you might exclaim, “I want this moment to last forever!” But it never does.

Perhaps you’ve had great friendships that have eroded with the passage of time. Maybe the area where you grew up is now unrecognisable. Or is it just that you can’t physically do what you could 20 years ago?

In any case, it’s only by fighting this very fundamental aspect of life that you find the experience depressing, frustrating, maddening. Embracing life means, necessarily, embracing change — embracing death: the death of people, the end of relationships, the falling away of things we hold near and dear at this moment. But it also means simply enjoying the promise of new possibilities on the horizon.

This is an active choice that we must all make in our own lives: enjoy the moment, but free yourself of attachment to that which can never last.

On Mustafar, Anakin fully refuses the call to adventure.

On Mustafar, Anakin fully refuses the call to adventure.

In Campbell’s monomyth framework, this choice appears as the first stage of the hero’s journey: “the call to adventure”. The hero or heroine who embraces life accepts the call to adventure, for better or worse. He or she is lifted out of the ordinary world and placed beyond the boundaries of rationality, ready to be transformed and renewed. A refusal of the call, however, is a clear rejection of the essence of life itself and its endless cycles; to quote Campbell himself, the end result of this refusal is that the hero’s own “flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones”. The lifeblood has been drained from the earth, leaving only barren plains.

Enter Anakin Skywalker.

Despite his mother emphasising to him upon his initial departure, “Don’t look back,” Anakin indeed does look back. Superficially, he accepts the call to adventure, but his heart is never truly in it. Throughout Attack of the Clones in particular, he acts as Anakin first and as a Jedi second. This is what the refusal of the call actually looks like in everyday life, be it a married man who continues to act as if he were single, or a political leader who places personal loyalties above the duties of the office: the choice made is to hold onto the old ways of being. Like Peter Pan, they refuse to “grow up” — to grown into their new roles and accept the call to adventure.

This is Anakin’s weakness, and he pays dearly for his mistake. He is possessive, jealous and greedy, craving control over life, love and nature itself. He doesn’t accept life on its own terms, instead insisting that it bends to his will. The cost for this attitude is nothing less than his humanity — his soul.

Anakin transformed into Darth Vader: more machine than man

Anakin transformed into Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith

Of course we should try to help others and continue to make the world a better place, but the choice is not between passive acceptance and active betterment; the choice is between living in accord with nature and merely treating life itself as a commodity.

Once we stop respecting life, we lose that which makes us human. That is they way of the Sith. That is the Dark Side of the Force.

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Life, the Universe and Myth

June 10, 2009
Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"

Joseph Campbell's "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"

Life is but a series of transitions: we move into a new domain, experience life in this new mode of being and then move out of that domain and into the next. Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, for example, are three consecutive phases of life, each requiring a different approach to the one before. At the start of each phase, you shed your old identity and are, in a sense, reborn.

These are all adventures undertaken in the course of a lifetime, with the greatest adventure of all being the challenge of life itself.

Birth, life, death: the act of setting out on an adventure, experiencing the challenges it presents and then returning with the newfound knowledge and wisdom. Departure; initiation; return.

This is the pedagogical function of mythology. The hero of the myth journeys out from his known sphere, enters a whole new, unknown realm and fights the demons, battles the dragons, gets the gold and returns home — if you live your life as a re-enactment of the myth, you aren’t then merely stumbling along blindly; you’re partaking in an ancient ritual in which you are joined by all those who have gone before you. You are the hero of your own life.

As this function manifests in various myths, the result is the Hero’s Journey, Campbell’s archetypal retelling of the story of human experience. Its relationship to Star Wars is well-known and well-documented, inspiring (among other things) the glorious Magic of Myth exhibit that toured the world.

In episodes 4-6, for example, Luke Skywalker departs from his homeworld of Tatooine in order to become a Jedi and help save the galaxy; along the way, he faces many challenges, both internal and external, before eventually returning with his new powers, thereby being a catalyst for the redemption of his own father.

Meanwhile, in the prequel trilogy, Anakin Skywalker also departs from Tatooine in the hopes of becoming a Jedi. Along the way, he faces temptation and succumbs, dying and being reborn as the cyborg villain Darth Vader. In episodes 5 and 6, the new challenge Anakin faces is that of recognising his own humanity beneath the cold exterior of his pitch-black suit.

And now, in The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano faces her own “hero’s journey” as she finds her feet as a Padawan amidst a war that places the Jedi in a morally precarious position.

In "The Clone Wars", Ahsoka Tano must now begin her own Hero's Journey.

In "The Clone Wars", Ahsoka Tano must now begin her own "hero's journey".

There is, however, another dimension to the Hero’s Journey. It is at the point of departure — the “crossing of the first threshold” — that the hero moves out of the field of time and space and into the transcendent realm. This is how the pedagogical function of mythology is related back to the mystical function: by experiencing life as a ritual, you are re-enacting the myth and thus bringing the transcendent into the world of ordinary goings-on.

This is the true magic of myth. It isn’t just about abstract ideas that have no relevance to our everyday lives; it unites the ordinary and the extraordinary, revealing the mystery behind life within life, acting as a source of light that both illuminates the path ahead and path behind. It is the guide that speaks from within.

In all our journeys in life, myth is the beacon of the soul.