Diary of A Layman #17 (Winter): The Hero’s Journey
Just like any story, your life story is filled with twists and turns, an array of interesting characters, moments of bliss and despair, of success and failure, of challenges that will help you grow, and questions that will cause you to wonder. Among the cast of characters there will be love-interests, villains, tricksters, mavericks and mentors. There will be many friends and enemies, and millions of extras. However, there will only be one hero. That hero, is you.
After seeing Star Wars at the tender age of six, my life was forever changed. Its message of spirituality and destiny deeply influenced me. The following year I saw Superman, which also helped shape my nascent outlook on life. From these movies I learned that there is a power in the universe that guides us, that we all have a purpose and a responsibility to help others, that we will face many obstacles on our journey and that we must reach deep down to overcome them using our inner strength. I am very grateful that I was born at a time when such stories would be released at just the right moments to influence me. Lord knows what kind of person I’d be today had I been born into the Pokémon or Barney craze.
While the metaphorical themes of Star Wars and Superman have been made increasingly more apparent to me over the years, one theme I never gave much thought to is when the hero’s journey officially begins. In fact, there is a very definite theme that runs through most myths, dating all the way back to the Bible and even earlier. The theme is that the hero’s journey begins when they leave, or are forced to leave, their home. This “leaving home” message is usually shown in a pretty literal sense in myths, but it’s really more of a metaphor. What we must leave is the familiarity and comfort of our way of life so that we may blaze a trail towards a new one.
In the Bible, God tells Abraham that he must leave his homeland and family in order to begin his quest. This message is really for all of us. True growth cannot begin from within our comfort zone. Our own world cannot be changed from within that world, we must first go outside and then bring others with us. How can someone convince others how things can be different if he has not done so himself? This message is spelled out even clearer in the New Testament: “Truly I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.” –Luke 4:24
Abraham had the benefit of having a direct line with God, and therefore, was able to be proactive about leaving his comfort zone. For most of us however, such a move isn’t quite as easy. We are ripped away from our comfort zones at the moment when it is perhaps the most inconvenient but necessary. It is this reality that is usually conveyed in the movies and mythology.
In Star Wars, Luke’s journey begins at birth, when his mother dies and he is given away to his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. His real journey doesn’t begin however until his uncle and aunt are killed by the Empire and he must leave the world where he grew up. This is almost the exact same journey that Superman embarks on. As a baby, young Kal-El is whisked away from his home world of Krypton by his parents since they—along with the planet—are doomed to be destroyed. As he gets further and further from his world, Kal-El’s powers get increasingly stronger. Like Luke however, his full transformation does not begin until after he leaves his second home (in this case, after his adoptive parent Jonathan Clark dies) and goes to the North Pole. There, he establishes his Fortress of Solitude (cut off from all outside influence) and gets his suit, flying powers, and Superman title.
Losing a parent or guardian is a very traumatic experience and often serves as the motif of choice to represent the beginning of the hero’s journey in many myths. In addition to Luke and Superman losing their parent(s) and guardian(s), both Batman and Spider-man have experienced the same. For young Bruce Wayne, both of his wealthy parents are murdered during a mugging when he is a child, setting the chain of events that would lead to him becoming Batman. Peter Parker’s uncle Ben is also killed by a criminal, which also inspires him to become a superhero—Spider-Man. And like both Luke and Superman, his birth parents were already presumably dead or unavailable to raise him themselves, making him an orphan as a baby.
There are a lot of ways to interpret the orphan message of these heroes. I think it all derives from the Jesus story. Since Jesus was said to be the son of God, he was sort of adopted by Mary and Joseph. For the story to be relevant to us, I think it relates to the idea that we’re all adopted by this world because our soul has come from another. But before we can get too comfortable with our foster life, it completely changes and our journey begins. Of course, this pattern won’t happen for everyone. But then again, not everyone completes their journey. Not everyone gets to become the hero. But not to worry. You have an infinite number of lifetimes to get there. In some you may lose your parent(s) or guardian(s) at a relatively young age, and in some you won’t. But in all of them you will likely either be ripped away from your comfort zone, or leave it on your own. It’s just the formula for how this world works.
One of the reasons I’ve been dwelling on these rather morbid yet uplifting themes lately is because I’ve just lost my own mother and like many people, it comforts me to think that there may be a higher purpose. Perhaps I have not been proactive enough in breaking away from family comforts and that my mom’s passing is the shove I needed to begin my journey. A journey that while uncomfortable and not what I had envisioned, will serve a greater purpose.
I received my first confirmation of this perspective from my go-to source for current mythological meaning: Lost. The day my mom died, Lost aired an episode about coming to acceptance when your life doesn’t turn out like you thought it would. (See “The Lesson of ‘Dr. Linus’—What About You?) Like many people, I’d always assumed my mom would be around to see her grandchildren and that her affectionate and fun-loving personality would help shape their own personalities. Lost helped me begin to come to terms with the reality that this presumed scenario would never come to pass. The following week, as I was going through the early stages of the mourning period, there was a Lost episode about learning to let go from loss. And within that episode, a message from another TV show—one that I grew up with: Little House On The Prairie.
The words of Michael Landon’s Charles Ingalls were so timely and relevant, they seemed to be directed specifically at me. His message was that life is too short to be spent holding on to pain and worry. And that we should just take the positive lessons and memories of the people who have been close to us and let the rest go. And that in the end, just maybe, we’ll get to see them again. Perhaps I look too deeply into the messages of these episodes in personalizing them so much, but it’s hard to deny their synchronicities. Particularly when Michael Landon, like my mother, died after a three-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
This week’s Lost once again focused on the loss of a loved one, and learning to let go. This time, it was a man’s wife who had passed and, unable to deal with the grief, buried her memory. Years later, he is visited by her ghost. The ghost tells him that it was simply her time to go, and there wasn’t anything he could’ve done about it. Carrying around guilt and pain would not bring her back. The only thing that could, would be to honor her memory and act as she would have. Upon that realization, the husband puts on his wife’s cross that he’d buried so long ago, restoring his positive memories of her and his own faith.
Once again, I knew the message was for me because of a CG’d butterfly they added to one of the scenes. While I can’t recall ever seeing a butterfly on Lost before, I noticed this one (within the cargo hold of a ship) because my mom had always loved them and reminded me of that before she died. At her funeral, I mentioned that I thought they’d be one of her signs. I was thinking real butterflies at the time, but since she’s passed, I’ve really seen them everywhere—on TV, in store windows, illustrations, etc. Maybe I just hadn’t been looking before, but it has seemed to be quite a bit more than you’d expect.
Letting go of someone or something you love is not only therapeutic, it allows for something else to enter. I really do believe this is how it works. It’s almost as if we are containers and the more we love something, the more room it takes up in our lives. By letting it go, we allow for something new to come in. I don’t think it’s necessary for someone to die for this to happen, just for something to be removed from our lives. This can be leaving a job, your home, your way of life, breaking up with someone you’ve been close with, selling that antique car you’ve had in your garage for ages, throwing away all the personal items you’ve collected over the years, whatever. The point is, you have to make room.
So if you want to be proactive about making change in your life, find something you’re close with that isn’t serving you and let it go. Then, focus on what you would like more of in your life. Then watch as life works its magic in the most unexpected of ways. The other choice is to wish for change and do nothing. And then let life decide what it should take away in order to make room for it. The choice is yours.
May your inner spark grow to light your way,
2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT
The long-awaited orowriter.com website and Layman’s Answers to Everything blog is going to be announced very soon! My hope is that this will allow all of us to benefit from each other’s wisdom with posted comments and exchanged ideas. In the meantime, check out The Myth of Lost Facebook page for videos, columns, and commentary on various myths in the media!
If you aren’t familiar with my books, here’s a brief synopsis:
The Layman’s Answers To Everything is a spiritual comedy (or spiromedy) about an unlucky guy who believes he’s meant to do something amazing, but has no idea what it is. After experiencing many challenges and meeting a bizarre cast of characters, he stumbles upon secret messages hidden in TV, movies, and music that are aimed at guiding humanity. Using these messages, he starts a new religion that changes his life, and ultimately, the world. This is so much more than just a story though, because throughout the journey, we learn how to discover and fulfill our own destiny using the clues of the universe that are all around us.
I truly feel this book is going to make a real impact on the world, and set into motion a spiritual domino effect that’ll help change it for the better. And judging from the way the world is heading, I’m thinking that changing the way we’re heading would be a good thing, no? If you don’t agree, or would just prefer not to get any further emails from me, just let me know, and I’ll take you off the list—no hard feelings. Of course, I can’t promise that my book won’t track you down and find you anyway, but you have a while yet to worry about that.
The Lost book is called, The Myth of Lost: Solving the Mysteries and Understanding the Wisdom. It not only reveals a solution that explains all the mysteries of the show, it also explains how the show’s wisdom can be applied to our real lives.