Creative Heroism III

~ Previous: Creative Heroism II: CONSCIOUSNESS, MEANINGFUL SUFFERING, & THE STRIVE FOR ENLIGHTENMENT

PART III: THE HERO’S JOURNEY, MAN’S UNIFYING STORY & CREATIVE HEROISM

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
~ Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

The Monomyth— Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into the human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.

“The wonder is that characteristic efficacy to touch and inspire deep creative centers dwells in the smallest nursery fairy tale as the flavor of the ocean is contained in a droplet or the whole mystery of life within the egg of a flea. For the symbols of mythology are not manufactured; they cannot be ordered, invented, or permanently suppressed. They are spontaneous productions of the psyche, and each bears within it, undamaged, the germ power of its source.

“What is the secret of the timeless vision? From what profundity of the mind does it derive? Why is mythology everywhere the same, beneath its varieties of costume? And what does it teach?

~ Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Why is the hero’s journey, this monomyth that Campbell conceives, so pervasive within the human condition? Why is it so attractive to us as a reader? Why is the journey from the known status quo into the world of the unknown, experiencing righteous conflicts and providencing universal revelations therein, and then returning with burdens released and boons in hand, so powerful to us as human beings?

I think it is because, like all great fiction, the hero’s journey provides the most compelling framework for conveying the higher truths of our existence. Humans are mortal, fearful, flawed. We are filled to the brim with conflicts internal and external of ourselves, and we are oh-so especially self-destructive. But at the same time, we are able to overcome all of that and achieve great things. We as human beings are all capable of crossing the threshold from the known and into the unknown to bear down against hardship, opposition, the specter of our own death, and ultimately return with something worthy of the passage in hand.

For the ancient man, myths localized cosmic conflicts by placing a mortal, relatable hero at the forefront of the story and casting them as difference-maker. We follow this person through a path fraught with shadows and monstrous peril for them to triumph over. The hero reigns, and is admired, directly because of their facing off with the darkness, and returning better for it. Their victory is hard fought, against vehement opposition, and thus is more satisfying to us and better understood.

Just like the hero in our stories, we are as powerful as we imagine ourselves to be.

~

The organized structure of the hero’s journey is as follows, as shown within The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and elsewhere:

~ The Twelve Steps of The Hero’s Journey {source}

  1. Ordinary World — This is where the Hero’s exists before his present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It’s his safe place. His everyday life where we learn crucial details about our Hero, his true nature, capabilities and outlook on life. This anchors the Hero as a human, just like you and me, and makes it easier for us to identify with him and hence later, empathize with his plight.
  2. Call to Adventure — The Hero’s adventure begins when he receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his safety, his family, his way of life or to the peace of the community in which he lives. It may not be as dramatic as a gunshot, but simply a phone call or conversation but whatever the call is, and however it manifests itself, it ultimately disrupts the comfort of the Hero’s Ordinary World and presents a challenge or quest that must be undertaken.
  3. Refusal of the Call — Although the Hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage he will have fears that need overcoming. Second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether or not he is up to the challenge. When this happens, the Hero will refuse the call and as a result may suffer somehow. The problem he faces may seem to much to handle and the comfort of home far more attractive than the perilous road ahead. This would also be our own response and once again helps us bond further with the reluctant Hero.
  4. Meeting the Mentor — At this crucial turning point where the Hero desperately needs guidance he meets a mentor figure who gives him something he needs. He could be given an object of great importance, insight into the dilemma he faces, wise advice, practical training or even self-confidence. Whatever the mentor provides the Hero with it serves to dispel his doubts and fears and give him the strength and courage to begin his quest.
  5. Crossing the Threshold — The Hero is now ready to act upon his call to adventure and truly begin his quest, whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional. He may go willingly or he may be pushed, but either way he finally crosses the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not. It may be leaving home for the first time in his life or just doing something he has always been scared to do. However the threshold presents itself, this action signifies the Hero’s commitment to his journey an whatever it may have in store for him.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies — Now finally out of his comfort zone the Hero is confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that test him in a variety of ways. Obstacles are thrown across his path; whether they be physical hurdles or people bent on thwarting his progress, the Hero must overcome each challenge he is presented with on the journey towards his ultimate goal. // The Hero needs to find out who can be trusted and who can’t. He may earn allies and meet enemies who will, each in their own way, help prepare him for the greater ordeals yet to come. This is the stage where his skills and/or powers are tested and every obstacle that he faces helps us gain a deeper insight into his character and ultimately identify with him even more.
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave — The inmost cave may represent many things in the Hero’s story such as an actual location in which lies a terrible danger or an inner conflict which up until now the Hero has not had to face. As the Hero approaches the cave he must make final preparations before taking that final leap into the great unknown. // At the threshold to the inmost cave the Hero may once again face some of the doubts and fears that first surfaced upon his call to adventure. He may need some time to reflect upon his journey and the treacherous road ahead in order to find the courage to continue. This brief respite helps the audience understand the magnitude of the ordeal that awaits the Hero and escalates the tension in anticipation of his ultimate test.
  8. Ordeal — The Supreme Ordeal may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero must face in order to survive or for the world in which the Hero lives to continue to exist. Whether it be facing his greatest fear or most deadly foe, the Hero must draw upon all of his skills and his experiences gathered upon the path to the inmost cave in order to overcome his most difficulty challenge. // Only through some form of “death” can the Hero be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants him greater power or insight necessary in order to fulfill his destiny or reach his journey’s end. This is the high-point of the Hero’s story and where everything he holds dear is put on the line. If he fails, he will either die or life as he knows it will never be the same again.
  9. Reward (Seizing the Sword) — After defeating the enemy, surviving death and finally overcoming his greatest personal challenge, the Hero is ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person and often with a prize. // The Reward may come in many forms: an object of great importance or power, a secret, greater knowledge or insight, or even reconciliation with a loved one or ally. Whatever the treasure, which may well facilitate his return to the Ordinary World, the Hero must quickly put celebrations aside and prepare for the last leg of his journey.
  10. The Road Block — This stage in the Hero’s journey represents a reverse echo of the Call to Adventure in which the Hero had to cross the first threshold. Now he must return home with his reward but this time the anticipation of danger is replaced with that of acclaim and perhaps vindication, absolution or even exoneration. // But the Hero’s journey is not yet over and he may still need one last push back into the Ordinary World. The moment before the Hero finally commits to the last stage of his journey may be a moment in which he must choose between his own personal objective and that of a Higher Cause.
  11. Resurrection — This is the climax in which the Hero must have his final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than the Hero’s own existence with its outcome having far-reaching consequences to his Ordinary World and the lives of those he left behind. // If he fails, others will suffer and this not only places more weight upon his shoulders but in a movie, grips the audience so that they too feel part of the conflict and share the Hero’s hopes, fears and trepidation. Ultimately the Hero will succeed, destroy his enemy and emerge from battle cleansed and reborn.
  12. Return with the Elixir — This is the final stage of the Hero’s journey in which he returns home to his Ordinary World a changed man. He will have grown as a person, learned many things, faced many terrible dangers and even death but now looks forward to the start of a new life. His return may bring fresh hope to those he left behind, a direct solution to their problems or perhaps a new perspective for everyone to consider. // The final reward that he obtains may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization or an end to strife, but whatever it is it represents three things: change, success and proof of his journey. The return home also signals the need for resolution for the story’s other key players. The Hero’s doubters will be ostracized, his enemies punished and his allies rewarded. Ultimately the Hero will return to where he started but things will clearly never be the same again.

Into modernity, many writers of fiction, of myths, novels, film, and more, have utilized this structure for the telling of their stories. {i.e. Moby Dick, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, The Dark Knight trilogy, pretty much every Pixar film}. Countless others may not be writing distinctly of heroes and villains and dragons and the underworld, but nonetheless use components of the hero’s journey, as tropes or subversions to its blueprint. This is because the above signifiers within the journey are all universal aspects, in one or another sense, to the stories from primordial mythology, and to the ones we tell ourselves about our own lives. And the fact that the pattern is reused, repackaged and reiterated timelessly, and still resonates, only lends credence to its power. All in all, it’s a through line which makes it easier for anyone to relate to a story, across all mediums.

We all try new things. We’ve all been mentored and introduced to worlds never before seen or experienced. We’ve all experienced conflicts, and have conquered or been crushed by them. We all learn. In truth, the hero’s journey when applied in the grandest terms, is simply the stages of our life, both as individuals and as a species, and the experiential learning we undergo through it. Ultimately, everything we do is this journey from birth to death, from childhood and on into adulthood, contending with the integral transformations along the way. We all move from naïveté to experience, with metaphorical caves along our road.

And it’s noteworthy to mention that these stories contain minimal peace or perfection. Maybe at the end, in the return, some measure of peace is achieved. Maybe in the flash of final triumph in the belly of the beast, there is a perfect moment. But on the whole, in our fictions and in our myths, we do not deign to create peace or perfection for the hero, or his world. And the reason why is obvious — there is no such thing within our world. We do not create immaculate utopias cleansed of all their problems within our collective myth because that is not our breathing truth upon the Earth, and is thus not useful or interesting to us. Ambiguity, imperfection, and conflict are the name of the game, both in fiction and out of it. We may not admit it, or consciously understand why, but we crave that stuff. A natural part of us craves chaos and conflict. Naturally, the hero’s journey is a navigation through such darkness.

~

When you look at the hero’s journey in light of everything else discussed here, something becomes quite apparent. There is a direct parallel between this mythic journey’s structure {venturing from light to darkness, known to unknown, “zero to hero”} and to that of:

  • ~ the singular Dream — {waking to sleeping, to awakening}
  • ~ the collective myth — {finite to infinite, to moral}
  • ~ Jung’s integration of shadow — {light into shadow, to an integrated grey}
  • ~ the Buddha’s, or any meditator’s, path towards enlightenment — {Self to All, to Nothingness}
  • ~ the melding of the conscious and unconscious realms — the individual with the collective — Yin and Yang — Chaos to Order, and back again.

It’s the very same story, or process, we have seen before in these other ideas: a reconciliation with chaos, integration of our shadowy unconscious, the conscientious embrace of nothingness. Whether this universality is due to the latent existence of Jung’s collective unconscious in all beings, or from some other all-encompassing biological or cultural phenomena within us — its efficacious power is self-evident. The monomyth arranges the chaos of our dreams — of our unconscious fears, loves, complexes, and everything else going unexperienced for the moment — and with it in hand, composes a conscious and cogent experience for us from the madness. The myth, or a story, is born. It is intimately familiar; it is the same general narrative which we dream through.

The imperative difference to understand is that this creation is conscious and is made with a known purpose in hand; these stories are designed, crafted and continually iterated upon by an artist or a group of them, with a certain end willfully in mind. Now, that isn’t to say they always achieve their aim, or that the audience’s unique observation of the myth might not glean a multitude of different, and perhaps greater, insights from it, none of them originally {consciously} intended by the storyteller. That is certainly a byproduct of good story, and is one of the unique powers of art in all its forms. Creator and experiencer always exchange a dialogue, each giving their inspirited attention to different components of the work, drawing interpreted meaning from where they will.

Nevertheless, there is a baseline truth of myth-making, storytelling, or art in general: it is Man imbuing the elements of his consciousness with the chaos from his imagination, or his unconsciousness, towards the end of creation. A work of art is brought forth from our work within our shadow, within the tragedies and introspections of our experiences. Something interesting and useful is drawn up, perhaps even powerful, insightful, timeless.

Or it could be posited vice versa — art-making is Man wielding his consciousness like a morningstar, and wading into the darkness of his unconsciousness with a certain intention of getting to the bottom of it, lighting it up, shaping it towards order, righteously moving it from formlessness to form. He doesn’t ever get to the bottom of it, far from it. But in the work, in the intention and the trying, he steps towards something like Truth, enlightenment, satori. The resulting art is the proof of his intuitive journey into his unknown. In either case, from either starting point, the melding between the two worlds is present.

To summarize, let me try to draw together the power of The Hero’s Journey into three components:

  1. ~ A myth is created from the foundations of our conscious world we know, starring a recognizable, albeit extraordinary, man or woman we can definitely call ‘hero.’ Following them on their path into the darkness of the fantastic, one can taste the chaotic madness of the unconscious underworld securely, from a seat of a theater, on the pages of a text, within meditation. And this observation of the path, or the Tao, the road, “the way” — this melding process of light/dark, order/chaos, conscious/unconscious — is the purpose of the story. This sense of purpose is providential, and why the monomyth endures and holds its power through time and space to us now. {Cogito}
  2. ~ The hero’s journey actualizes the process of this profound meld in the form of a narrative, thus providing an extramural lense for the experiencer of the myth to fluently see the truth of its power. And the power of the journey is the journey — the power is the process. The process is crucial. The process is the only thing that matters. The process supersedes the endgame and its elixir, because there is no endgame, there is no eternal elixir; there is no end to suffering, there is no outcome awaiting us that puts an end to the imperfections of our time here {remember: we’re mortals, not gods}. Thusly, it is much more valuable for us to focus upon the process of the journey itself, and begin our own. We may want the end, but we need the journey. {Ergo}
  3. ~ Storytelling is this universal language — we all get it. And when it comes in the form of this journey {this process}, or something resembling it — and we take the time to mindfully appreciate the art — we are stepped closer to our Truth. And these steps towards enlightenment are unobfuscated, no longer veiled in nebulous, spiritual rah-rah, or the religiosity of symbols forcefully literalized into us. We take in myths and stories naturally, knowing they are make-believe; via something not unlike osmosis, the work is done subconsciously and is no less influential in post. And as in a process, the journey does not end with one story. We demand them one after another. We yearn for a mindspace filled with enriching histories, comedies, tragedies, legends. Each story, big or small, “good” and bad, created or experienced, is a threshold and a piece of Truth. The better the story, or the more universal it slots in as a passage within the whole of the human condition, or the more personalized it is to us, the better the effect, the larger the leap towards enlightenment. {Sum}

But why? Why is it so easy to let stories take us in? Why do we all speak story? There is certainly nothing else in this world that we can all agree upon so readily.

Why do we identify with the hero and their way?

Just the same, why do we respect and admire, and wish to understand or know, the creators themselves and their own processes of creation?

~

In everything spoken of thus far:

I) concerning our dreams, and our embracing of our self-stories and the Dreams of others,

II) the monomythic myths and our ancient experiences of and purposes for storytelling,

III) the admiration in art-making and its ability to change our consciousness via introspection and tragedy,

IV) the universality of suffering and a balanced perspective angled towards melding our dualities,

V) and the natural relation to the hero’s journey

— across all of it, there are a trio of unspoken emotives at work within us, which deliver themselves to us as timeless forces of emotional movement ~ Sympathy, Empathy, and Compassion.

To define each simply:

  1. Sympathy is the ability to understand how another human being feels.
  2. Empathy is the capacity to place oneself in another human being’s position and feel what they are feeling.
  3. Compassion is an experience of both of the above two emotives, and then being motivated towards action to help alleviate this other human being’s suffering in some way.

In the final, and most powerful passage of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell summarizes the significance of our myths in totality, in the context of society, in the past, present, and future. No matter what, all stories have something in common — they are created by members of Mankind. Because of that, there is a compelling reason to make a righteous call towards unification and cooperation under these tenets of storytelling and story-making. These words resonated with me. It is the seed for this essay and part of the thesis to this progression of ideals I have laid out here.

It has to do with the fact that myth and story has an irreplaceable role as a negotiation to a truer understanding of one another as human beings within our global society. Across all cultures, identities, and the myriad kinds of differences we inhabit as a collective, we have this all-powerfully common thread which we can pull upon and peacefully, constructively converse with. This conversation can occur through the relative universality of our experience, and our suffering. Thus, through this avenue there is this potential founding of sympathy, empathy, and compassion towards our fellow Man everywhere in the world — where it might never exist otherwise.

Passage from The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

“In his life-form the individual is necessarily only a fraction and distortion of the total image of man. He is limited either as male or as female; at any given period of his life he is again limited as child, youth, mature adult, or ancient; furthermore, in his life-role he is necessarily specialized as craftsman, tradesman, servant, or thief, priest, leader, wife, nun, or harlot; he cannot be all. Hence, the totality — the fullness of man — is not in the separate member, but in the body of the society as a whole; the individual can be only an organ. From his group he has derived his techniques of life, the language in which he thinks, the ideas on which he thrives; through the past of that society descended the genes that built his body. If he presumes to cut himself off, either in deed or in thought and feeling, he only breaks connection with the sources of his existence.

“From the standpoint of the way of duty, anyone in exile from the community is a nothing. From the other point of view, however, this exile is the first step of the quest. Each carries within himself the all; therefore it may be sought and discovered within. The differentiations of sex, age, and occupation are not essential to our character, but mere costumes which we wear for a time on the stage of the world. The image of man within is not to be confounded with the garments. We think of ourselves as Americans, children of the twentieth century, Occidentals, civilized Christians. We are virtuous or sinful. Yet such designations do not tell what it is to be man, they denote only the accidents of geography, birth-date, and income. What is the core of us? What is the basic character of our being?

“The asceticism of the medieval saints and of the yogis of India, the Hellenistic mystery initiations, the ancient philosophies of the East and of the West, are techniques for the shifting of the emphasis of individual consciousness away from the garments. The preliminary meditations of the aspirant detach his mind and sentiments from the accidents of life and drive him to the core. “I am not that, not that,” he mediates: “not my mother or son who has just died; my body, which is ill or aging, my arm, my eye, my head; not the summation of all these things. I am not my feeling; not my mind; not my power and intuition.” By such meditations he is driven to his own profundity and breaks through, at last, to unfashionable realizations. No man can return from such exercises and take very seriously himself as Mr. So-and-so of Such-and-such a township, U.S.A. Society and duties drop away. Mr. So-and-so, having discovered himself big with man, becomes indrawn and aloof.

“This is the stage of Narcissus looking into the pool, of the Buddha sitting contemplative under the tree, but it is not the ultimate goal; it is requisite step, but not the end. The aim is not to *see*, but to realize that one *is*, that essence; then one is free to wander as that essence in the world. Furthermore: the world too is of that essence. The essence of oneself and the essence of the world: these two are one. Hence, separateness, withdrawal, is no longer necessary. Wherever the hero may wander, whatever he may do, he is ever in the presence of his own essence — for he has perfected eye to see. There is no separateness. This, just as the way of social participation may lead in the end to a realization of the All in the individual, so that of exile brings the hero to the Self in all.”

~ Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Each of the three emotives of sympathy, empathy and compassion are integral within our lives. If there is anything that contributes to this abolition of ‘separateness’ and the metaphorical reconciliation of the Self with the All, it’s these essential elements of our emotional character. Our capacities as rational, emotional, spiritually-minded beings are the things which can both center us and unite us. The man may relate to the woman; the elder to the child; the warrior to the peacemaker; the living to the dead.

~

Humans, of course, are beings ruled by emotions. Similar to how neurotransmitters dictate our behavior in the world — our brain’s operational attempt to lead us towards a singular well-being — sympathy, empathy and compassion perform a similar role within the social sphere and our relationships. {Oxytocin is the neurotransmitter responsible for prosocial behavior such as empathy, bonding and mating}. Pathos plays a fundamental part in producing our world view, and our sense of self. Within the realm of relationships, whether with friends, family or lovers, the ability to experience each quality of sympathy, empathy and compassion is necessary to forging the bonds of trust and companionship. We feel most connected to those that reciprocate their emotional capacities with us along these lines. If I wished to be poetic, I would say something like sympathy, empathy and compassion are the progenitors of love itself. By definition, I don’t think you can feel love towards someone without also feeling some degree of all three of these phenoms towards them as well.

In a kind of natural progression: sympathy leads to empathy leads to compassion. It may not always occur within this kind of chronology {compassion may be a precursor to empathy}, and it’s not inevitable all three are in play within a particular circumstance. But it’s true that each requires more of us in this progression, more of our attention and emotion — the two most potent resources we have at our disposal. They operate as steps towards one another; being to being, they are the binding, convalescent fabric of our interpersonal spaces, individually and collectively, as a species.

Sympathy and empathy are sometimes used interchangeably and they mean related things. But there is a significant distinction. Sympathy is a feeling, and empathy is a feeling with an internalized understanding. Sympathy comes to us most easily. At surface, we can often tell how people are feeling from body language alone, or by what is being said or unsaid within the relationship. Strangely, sometimes it is easier to see an emotional state on the face of another, than it is to articulate it for ourselves. Humans evolved to be incredibly discerning when it comes to judging the emotions of others, so that we can best react to it {even if we misjudge; we always implicitly judge based on the stimuli available to us}. For example, we tend to involuntarily, sympathetically, smile or laugh when those around us do. Animals, especially man’s best friend, are also more than capable of experiencing sympathy. Despite being the father of evolutionary theory and its ‘survival of the fittest’ maxim, from his own research and experiences Charles Darwin considered sympathy to be the strongest instinct that human beings have.

Empathy involves a more direct, personalized experience of another’s emotional state — via the imagining of your own self in their position. This can be powerful, even profoundly painful, but that also makes it valuable. Empathy is one of consciousness’ many masterstrokes. Evolutionarily speaking, empathy’s great survival utility comes in allowing us to forge bonds with other humans; we are more effective within groups, and thus more long-lived. {It’s practically universal within the species for good reason; less than 1% of the global population is truly sociopathic, i.e. incapable of experiencing empathy}. Culturally speaking, empathy fosters well-being between us, heals rifts within the community, and expands our perspective, cultivating creativity and love and most of the things we find ‘good’ in this life. Humans are emotional animals, social creatures, ‘cursed’ with consciousness {recall: life=suffering}, and we need empathy to be OK, plain and simple.

Empathy nourishes our souls. I cannot think of anything more profoundly affecting, and more transformative, to the mental states we take on through our personal journeys and within our relationships, than the experience of empathy. Empathy makes us better, more fully human. With a fuller understanding of what it means to be human, both within yourself and outside of it, comes a clearer, more purposeful navigation of the world’s troubles with the intention to minimize human suffering and maximize human flourishing {a relatively ironclad definition of “the good life,” I think}. There is nothing more human than this capacity to feel and co-experience the suffering and the joys and the tragedies and the bliss of other people {whether they be real or fictional}. It takes more than just knowing about these things {via sympathy} to truly understand, communicate and love one another. Empathy bridges the gap between us; it is the light in the darkness of our untraversed expressions. And experiencing more of it means we are more likely to cultivate compassion, and thus — take action.

For example, you might get cut off on the highway by a driver, who is speeding and altogether driving recklessly. You might become instantly angry at this person — this person you don’t know at all and may never interact with ever again — thinking this person is nothing more than an irresponsible fool, with no regard for others. But how might your thinking change if you knew the driver’s wife was in the backseat, ready to give birth to a child. Or the driver’s father was across town, on his death bed, and it is supremely important to this person to be there and hear his final words. If you were in that kind of situation, how might you be driving? Knowing this changes your perspective on being cutoff, it changes your own emotional reaction to the event and toward this person, it changes everything.

Now extrapolate this exercise across all your interactions with other people, good and bad. You might never really know what is going in someone’s heart and mind; you may never see another person’s suffering. But having the capacity to envision it and feel it, generally or viscerally, is the power of empathy. And it necessarily changes one’s perspective.

Compassion is the final, and most active, of this emotional triad. Compassion is an emotion resulting from the observance of suffering. It is when we feel others are in need and are thus motivated to help them. Compassion leads directly to action. And the motivating factor has to do with one’s passion in the observance {etymology: compassion = co-passion, or “co-suffering”}. One helps for no other reason than because they know suffering themselves, they are feeling, or co-experiencing it in some respect in the specific observance, and they can help. It’s a kind of deontological thinking, the taking of action primarily of out duty and because of inherent humanity {think of the altruism of Spider-Man, and his “great responsibility”}. If one helps out of any other kind of motivation — such as the calculation to receive something in return for the action, or to appear as a compassionate person to those watching — then, based on those ulterior intentions, it’s simply not compassion. Compassion may follow the appearance of sympathy or empathy, occur concurrently with them, or lead to empathy. But regardless of when it happens, it’s true that compassion involves taking things a step further. It’s the only one of the three which influences the external world via action. Some see compassion as a way of life, and as much more of a renewable resource for one to put to use {as opposed to empathy, which can be emotionally fatiguing in extremis}. It’s not hard to see why compassion is so powerful — it combines thinking and doing, a setting of our minds and our heartsin tandem towards the action of creating well-being in our fellow man.

What could be better that this stuff?

I don’t think it’s exaggerative to say that this is the most important stuff there is. The question becomes: what’s this to do with the hero’s journey, storytelling or all the rest of what I am speaking about here with all these words?

Well, I believe there is no greater canvas to experience empathy+sympathy+compassion, en masse, and with their sincerest long-term effects, than through the experience of story. Myths deliver to us the truth that all cultures and peoples, across eras, deal in their own familiar yet foreign heroic journeys towards Truth. Stories conciliate this understanding that we are all on a hero’s journey, individually and collectively trying to alleviate our suffering, and they can unify us towards participating in each other’s journey in a beneficent way.

Emotion has the longest memory of all. Sharing our personal stories, listening to one another converse about our Dreams, placing our hearts and minds into each other’s consciousness in a reciprocation — brings us together like nothing else. Without these experiences — namely of empathy — it becomes difficult to see other people, as people, all with a unique inner experience, capable of the same kinds of emotional qualities and dreams as we are, no matter to their origin or creed.

The bottom line is that we are all a piece of the whole, a Self within the All, inspirited within the adventure of self-discovery, delving into the darkness of our innermost cave(s), suffering through our ordeals, seeking that elusive elixir known as satori. We are all striving towards something; only with a painfully small perspective does one come to the {temporary} conclusion that our journeys are at fundamental cross-purposes. The sooner we realize all this, the better. Story persuasively helps us along this way.

It is scientifically proven that reading fiction makes one more empathic, more capable of experiencing the subjective, emotional reality of other individuals. What are books other than the carriers of culture and pieces of other’s hearts and minds. Reading the words of another is to most sincerely experience their presence. Reading is simultaneously time traveling, telepathy, and a dance with the multiverse. It opens us to the wider swaths of the human condition, dreaming the dreams of others in a cooperation, suffering their suffering in an extraordinary collaboration. Stories are these odd vessels through which we can experience the souls of others, connecting to their journey, cultivating empathy towards their ordeals and their ideals. And we know that empathy cultivates action and change, internal and external of ourselves, via compassion.

So in reality, how might all this come together? And why is it so important?

Let’s try a {fictional} real world example:

Two people hate each other. More specifically, let’s say there’s a Christian that hates the religion of Islam, or in fact, hates a specific Muslim person. Or vice versa, there is a Muslim that disdains Christianity, or hates a specific Christian person. Alternatively, it’s a racist and their view of other races. A homophobe and their view of other sexualities. A misogynist and his view of women. A extreme xenophobe and their view of everyone but their closest companions. Pick your prejudice. I don’t mean to paint with a broad brush and say that these prejudices, or how and why we choose to hate, are all equivalent. But I do think the ideas of prejudice and hate, are corrosive and corrupting influences and the less of it there is in the world, the better. {I think there can be no charitable controversy over such a sentiment.}

Now, given the conditions of this person’s prejudice, and the likely irrational resistances at work, they may never have a sincere interaction with the person drawing their ire, or even the type of person within the group they find themselves superior relative to. They may never consider a view of the world outside of their own singular dream. And despite the complex nature of the origin of one’s world view, and all its associated prejudices, I think we might all agree that the beginning of any kind of remedy towards rectifying any one of them starts with something as simple as a conversation with a person. Where else does prejudice spawn than from a lack of conscious understanding? So a conversation, with charitable listening and the natural employment of some degree of the above three emotives, might just begin the path towards non-prejudice {Self inches closer to All}. But given this meeting and this conversation never happens, or it happens and is not truly sincere or communicative, {all the more likely if both parties are coming from a place of resistance and prejudice}, then how can we expect any changes to ever commence within the person(s)?

The passage of time, or of generations, might quell a long-standing prejudice within a person or their descendants. We’ve certainly seen this over the course of our history. As time dulls the perceived wrongs and pains, the superiorities and anathemas turning to phantoms, and as education and new cultural norms do their compounding work, things may change for the better naturally over the years. But given someone raises their children under the banner of their own race’s blood or creed’s mythology as superior, then the prejudice perpetuates. In isolation, and without the conversation being had and the consequential understanding hashed out — without any direct experience with their so-called “demon” — the problem perpetuates.

At this point, how to end the cycle? What’s the remedy? Which kind of blended salve of ordered chaos might do the trick?

Simple. Give that person a book. Fiction, non-fiction, biographical, autobiographical, anthological, mythological. Maybe it’s the funnies in a paper, perhaps a cookbook. Maybe the author depicting the story within such a text is the very type of person, wielding the very color or creed they are so prejudiced against. That’d be even better. Maybe it’s an anonymous nobody. The content — the words — are doing the work either way. I would argue in the long-run, it doesn’t make a difference. The book, and the books to come, makes the difference.

The book does not guarantee for success in this job. The person has to read it, and they have do it sincerely and of their own volition. The book cannot be read to or at them. This means change will still be a hard path {like all change}, hard-fought internally of the person alongside their demons, taking their own journey out of darkness {initiation — triumph — return}. They may not draw into the story, they might just be swallowed by their shadow within their innermost cave and cast the words away in a rejection. So be it. The book(s) do not by themselves secure this endeavored elixir of an end to the person’s pathology. I only posit, at the failure of conversation and of introspection — the book is the best way we’ve got.

The book is an opportunity. The book is none other than an efficiency within the course, an indirect mode of exchange, perhaps a vision into the collective unconscious they have heretofore been missing. The book widens the lense. The book bleeds with the simple wisdom that one doesn’t know what they don’t know. The book necessitates an understanding of the world outside of the known. The book lights up a little bit of the darkness. The book starts the process. The book is the answer to the call. The book is the way. The book is a step towards satori.

The film, the conversation, the dream, the story. All the books and all the stories to come. Steps unto satori.

~

This is all to say — the true experience of story is satori. We are called to create. To fill our forest with our dreams made manifest. And these dreams, our stories, carry with them the real power to change us.

Stories are universal language, translating our sufferings and triumphs to all the untold patrons of the human personage, past, present and future.

I believe these things wholeheartedly. I believe there is nothing more effective at compelling one to a truer understanding of the world and their own heart, and away from the pathology of prejudice and greed and corruption and whatever other kinds seeds of evil we take on in the course of our lives. Storytelling dispels pathological thinking because it instills us with empathy, and compassion, naturally. That is, without force. One reads and understands suffering, like language, like love. This happens because we are human and we are capable of empathy and of change. It might come easy, it might come hard. It may come only after earth-shattering, revelatory, inner suffering of a kind heretofore unexperienced, inside the deep, shadowy night of one’s soul. It may never come, the call irrevocably refused {one never picks up the book, submits to the conversation, embarks upon the adventure}. The point is that it can come. And it should. Because we are human.

From Campbell’s work, in observation of the ancients, and from our own experience — it is evident those raised under the veil of different myths are not evolved to stay within just them. We are poised to move beyond them, with the potential to experience all kinds of myths and all kinds of peoples, and while carrying the capacity to understand them each in their fullness, each in the way they deserve to be understood. Not unlike the power of love, or the commonality of our suffering, the journey of the hero is universally composed. We all have our part to play. Across all cultures and peoples, we have submitted ourselves to these myths of heroes {of ourselves} rising up. Enmeshed within our psyche, may it yet serve to unite us under a common banner of humanity. To serve the ends of this unifying story we play within — forging reconciliations between persons and peoples, between the conscious and unconscious, between the individual and the collective — means ‘to make.’ Making cultivates the suffering of existence and, where we can, strives to belay it via meaning. This is what heroes do — this is what we can all do.

I believe to create is to become a hero.

So I ask whoever reads this to create something. It can be anything. One single thing. Cast your entire conscious and unconscious self into this work. A story, a song, a drawing, a person, a relationship, a journey, a life. Make it, express it, create it as only you can. Maybe it doesn’t end there. Maybe more stories come, Pandora’s Box cast wide open, never to be shut again. Maybe it does end after the one, your magnum opus. Maybe it goes unfinished for seasons at a time. Maybe you make it to have others understand your struggle, and maybe you make it to better understand your self. Keep striving. Keep dreaming. Keep making. That’s all there is to it. For as long one can, keep creating and keep journeying. For we are all heroes and we are all being called to adventure.

~ The Thesis of ‘Creative Heroism’ ~

We are human, and so it is our destiny to create. Telling stories, in an individual and collective way, is to bear the standard of our individual hero’s journey. It is to harness the illimitable animation of our emotional resources towards good. It is the elixir and the cave, the light and the darkness, tao and telos. Making a story, even if it’s just your own life, is the way. Create, even and especially if you do not call yourself an artist. That’s all there is to it. To me, the clearest, most unequivocal path to any kind of progression towards life purpose, towards self-actualization, towards enlightenment, towards making our suffering meaningful, across time and space and peoples, is through the telling of stories. To this end, we undertake the creative process, this journey, in a continuation, without end.

The most important step within the hero’s journey, the first step towards the plane of satori and arguably the most difficult to undertake — is the crossing of the threshold. The threshold marks the separation between the known and unknown. To take it on is to bear the burden of uncertainty consciously, and begin the journey in earnest. But it can only be approached after heeding the call. The choice is yours and yours alone. Let these words be a clarion call to adventure for the creative hero. For you. Our lives, our collective fulfillment, our continued existential flourishing, our everything, depends upon you taking up the mantle of hero, and creating your singular journey with what work thou mayest. All-together, our myriad creative work will compel One ever closer to melding the opposites, amalgamating the ambiguities, conciliating the contradictions, carrying the Self to All. In stories, we discover meaning. Within it, comes understanding, and in that, comes love. Via love, comes satori.

So go on, create, and cross the thresholds of transformation to be the hero you are destined to be.