The Hero's Journey Part 4:
Gifts from the Wound
"Our story is not about heroism,
but about failure and repair . . ."
Robert Bly and Marion Woodman
The Maiden King:
the Reunion of Masculine and Feminine
For most of the roughly 10,000-year developmental arc of Western civilization, a fall into the Underworld was likely to be a death sentence. Today, however, fallen heroes are living longer and - to the great benefit of our world - are paying more attention to Second Initiation issues. Perhaps because of this boost in focus, a cultural shift seems to be in the making. As the wounded underbelly of our predominantly masculine paradigm grows increasingly apparent, so too does an inevitable theme of the Second Initiation: encounter with the Deep Feminine. Understandably today, She appears to be a bit miffed.
"All shall love me and despair!"
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Deep Feminine is associated, in part, with the values of caring, caregiving, collaboration, and community. Although these values have been stereotypically associated with women, Millennial feminists have noticed that our several-decades-long project of drawing women into positions of power has not created a more caring or collaborative world. Corporate and public policies that demean the work of caregiving and collaboration; that victimize women, children, and others; and that plunder the earth are still powerful and prevalent. Apparently, solving the problem is not simply a matter of integrating more women into a male-based system. The Deep Feminine requires us to identify and address the root of the problem, not just the symptoms. Interestingly, the effort to identify the root problem seems to have been underway since the very dawn of Western civilization. For it was then that the Greek poet, Homer, saw the dilemma the Heroic Code presented to humankind and wrote a story about it.
Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.
Begin, with the clash between Agamemnon -
The Greek warlord - and godlike Achilles."
Translation by Stanley Lombardo
The Iliad, of course, is a founding piece of literature for Western civilization, yet the challenge it delivers is as urgent today as it was for the ancients. Amazingly, the experience it captures is still all too common. Consider: Throughout the First Initiation, The Hero, in accordance with the Heroic Code, is asked to trust in the promise that if you work hard and live virtuously, you will win because you deserve to win. The problem with this promise, as Homer noticed, is twofold: One, it is being applied to a situation in which everyone is ultimately in competition for limited resources with everyone else (workers vs. their own bosses, heroes vs. their own kings); and, two, it rests entirely on the assumption that people in such situations will behave in an ethical and trustworthy manner. Unfortunately, it has been proven many times over that such is not necessarily the case. Powerful bosses and kings, in particular, find it profitable and possible to renege.
"Now you're in the sunken place"
"Why? Because we can."
The Stepford Wives
In The Iliad, the Hero, Achilles, tries to claim a benefit he thinks he has earned for services faithfully rendered, only to discover that Agamemnon, his own king, is determined to claim it for himself. Achilles suffers a familiar response: He feels betrayed, and then he becomes enraged. When an accomplished Warrior Hero flies into a rage - at an "unfair" judicial system, at the driver of another car, at a rejecting spouse, or, in Achilles' case, at "Agamemnon, the Greek warlord" - many may be placed at risk. By definition, a betrayed Warrior Hero has not yet been tempered by Second Initiation challenges and is, thus, likely to turn villainous, cunning, vengeful, and violent - "costing the Greeks incalculable pain."
"Revenge is never a straight line.
It's a forest. And like a forest,
it's easy to lose your way . . .
To get lost . . .
To forget where you came in."
Kill Bill, Vol 1
Contemporary author and trauma specialist, Jonathan Shay, refers to this turn in the experience of the Warrior Hero as "the undoing of character." It is a kind of personal and ultimately social unraveling that can be passed from generation to generation as the betrayed become the betrayers. Hidden in plain sight is the unrelenting reality that the zero-sum game of the individualistic paradigm is rigged in favor of those in power or already enriched and of those willing to be devious. Nevertheless, the game is seriously seductive. Even those who have been victimized by it find it incredibly hard to avoid pressing their advantage if and when their turn comes.
"I'm NOT throwing away my shot!"
Hamilton: An American Musical
What Homer described in The Iliad is what this dynamic often looks like for those who are identified contenders in the heroic project, that is, those who appear from the perspective of the status quo to actually have a shot. What he saved for another time, and what many contemporary men and women still fail to see, is that the same dynamics are in play for those branded as non-contenders. Historically, non-contenders have been women, black and brown people, the elderly, the sick, caregivers, and others. These are the people who are generally denied even the illusion of a competitive shot and who, thus, typically fall more quickly. Conventional wisdom from the self-oriented First Initiation perspective has a word for those who fall. They are called "losers" - which they are, according to the terms of a ruthlessly biased Heroic Code.
PBS MODERATOR TO GLENN BECK:
"The framers of the Constitution said that certain virtues are necessary for self government. When it comes to compromise or moderation or civility, where do we get those virtues now?"
"I don't think that they're being taught. Those virtues require pain. They require pain and
PBS In Principle Interview
It's heartening to see Glenn Beck, source of some of the most incendiary First Initiation polemics prior to the 2016 election, speak in 2018 with what appears to be the beginnings of Second Initiation insight. It is part of the Wounded Warrior's Second Initiation task to understand how wide-spread suffering results from an inadequate Heroic Code. It is also part of his or her task to seek the kind of training needed to respond to pain with self reflection rather than knee-jerk reactions of rage and violence. Pain is encoded in the brain in a deep, pre-conscious state that does not respond to willful control or command. Consequently, the Wounded Warrior cannot think him- or herself out of this dilemma. The million dollar question, thus, becomes: if we cannot use our celebrated thinking function to solve this problem, how do we solve it? Mythologist Michael Meade sums up the best guidance available with these words: The gift is in the wound. . . . What gift? Whose wound? And who would want to look there?
"Don't get me wrong, I look away.
We all look away.
But that is the difference between
a man and a king"
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Or perhaps we could say: That is the difference between a successful Second Initiation and an unsuccessful one. The wound referred to here is the archetypal Original Wound, the source of psychological pain seemingly so unbearable that we will do anything to avoid it. For most of us, this wound is buried deep in uncharted regions of the Unconscious. With the words "The gift is in the wound," Meade is suggesting that, the Gift, or that which the world needs from us and that which is our ticket out of the Underworld is there, too. Even after we know where to look, however, few of us know how to see. So, it is fortunate that, if we are willing to meet Her demands, the Deep Feminine is inclined to help us. In fact, the Second Initiation process is often characterized by a curious archetypal twist: While it's well known that the Hero rescues the Princess in the First Initiation, in the Second, it is the Princess (or the Deep Feminine) who rescues the Hero. The movie Lars and the Real Girl suggests what such a rescue might look like.
Doctor to an embarrassed and exasperated brother and a concerned sister-in-law regarding a young man who has taken a life-sized sex doll as a girlfriend:
"She is real. She's right out there . . . .
You won't be able to change his mind, anyway.
Bianca's in town for a reason.
It's not really a choice."
Lars and the Real Girl
At the beginning of this movie, Lars, the protagonist, finds himself plagued by debilitating shyness that has him locked, archetypally speaking, in the Underworld. The idea that emotion can compromise a person to the extent that he or she can lose the capacity to function effectively is an important insight for the Wounded Warrior. When one's goodness has been lost, co-opted, or taken advantage of, the situation can arouse a host of the most difficult emotions: Rage towards the villain, shame that we would allow ourselves to fall victim to such, guilt over how we colluded with the process in a conscious or unconscious way, fear that we may never recover or that it may happen again. These emotions are powerful enough to dramatically alter our ability to cope. And, like all emotion, they arise from the unconscious aspect of the mind that is not responsive to direct, conscious command and control. We cannot simply will these emotions away. So, what do we do? As it turns out, the Deep Feminine has a remedy for this problem - if we approach Her correctly. If not, we may find ourselves hopelessly ensnared. The movie, Lars and the Real Girl, offers a heartwarming image of a successful approach. And there are others:
"Jim, I just lost my planet. I can tell you
I am emotionally compromised.
What you must do is get me to show it."
Spock, the Elder Star Trek
An important component of a successful approach to the Deep Feminine has been called authentic grief. Our capacity to grieve authentically has the power to wash us into Second Initiation territory where our souls can be soothed and our power restored, albeit in a different, more compassionate form. So, should we be surprised that a stagnant Heroic Code would attempt to block this avenue of human healing?
"There's no crying in baseball!"
A League of Their Own
The Homeric epics settled into place as a cornerstone of Greek culture sometime during the Greek preclassical era, yet it wasn't long before their influence was challenged. According to Professor Glen Mazis, Plato (the influential ancient Greek philosopher of the classical period) hated the The Iliad and The Odyssey because the heroes tended to cry so often and so freely, even in public. Plato was convinced that the expression of emotion, especially grief, was not only unheroic and unmanly, but "monstrously corrupting." Thanks in part to Plato, for thousands of years Western heroes have been ridiculed for crying. Consequently, if grief is one of the most powerful gifts available to the Hero from the Unconscious, it may also be the one that is the hardest to claim.
"Shed your skin. Find your life."
So, how do we talk about grief in an authentic way that not only promotes the healing of the Wounded Warrior but that also sets the Heroic Mission back on course? Try this: The "Heart" - that is, the metaphorical seat of human emotion and imagination - has the tendency to become clogged or bogged down by loss, by trauma, by out-dated ideas and prejudices. And a clogged Heart closes down a visionary, evolving heroic mission by locking it in a troubled past. There is a thought that the only way to unclog a Heart is to let it break, and another thought that a Heart that can break is a Heart that can grow. As it turns out, the greatest gift of all, the shining orb at the core of our Wound is compassion. Thus, Mother Teresa prayed, "May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in."
"You are no longer just you."
As the Wounded Warrior's Heart breaks through boundary after boundary during the Second Initiation, the inadequacies of previous strategies for establishing and maintaining relationships become obvious and unacceptable. Robert Bly and Marion Woodman write about the work of this stage in The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine. As they say, "Our story is not about heroism, but about failure and repair; it is not so much about bravado as about learning courtesy; it is less about doing and more about listening. . . . It is about forging new relationships within both men and women." All of these qualities - the humility that comes from experiences of failure, the sense of hope that grows from experiences of repair, the approachability that accompanies courtesy, and the trust that can be built through the practice of deep, selfless listening - are qualities that the Hero needs in order to succeed at the Third Initiation. But before we can cross that border, there remains a small matter known as The Blessing.