The Hero's Journey, Part 5:

The Blessing

"If he could learn to love another

and earn her love in return

before the last petal fell,

the spell would be broken.

If not,

he would remain a beast for all time."

Beauty and the Beast

Surprisingly, the Hero's time in the Underworld does not end when the monster is slain. It ends when the monster is redeemed. Few stories offer a better metaphorical description of this dynamic than Beauty and the Beast. In this tale, a hard-hearted prince is turned into a beast after he arrogantly mistreats a disguised being of power. This "trick" affords him time and motivation to reflect. A second trick brings Beauty to his castle and teases the Beast with the energy of the Deep Feminine. In time, his heart softens, the monster is redeemed, the spell is broken, and the Beast is transformed back into a man. But this time into a man of two worlds: a man of intellect and of heart. Consciousness and unconsciousness re-aligned. 

"How do you feel about growing a beard?"

Belle

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Stories about redeeming the monster are different from stories about killing it - and more rare. In the kill-the-monster scenario, the heroic action centers on skill-building: learning how to evade the monster, how to identify its weaknesses, and how to find, construct, or wield appropriate weapons. The hero must also learn how to fortify his or her heart in order to muster the kind of courage it takes to kill. We typically find this sequence in movies of alien invasion and many other action-adventure and horror flicks (A Quiet Place, Independence Day, Star Wars, Pacific Rim, Stranger Things, etc.) In fact, the kill-the-monster storyline is so engrained that we are often surprised, even disturbed, if the hero balks at the task, and not surprised at all when a redemption-minded hero must race against the timeline of other actors who want the monster dead. The thing is: killing the monster (or radically subduing it) is actually a First Initiation theme. Very little self-reflection is needed. That's not the kind of story or hero that we are looking for here.

HERMIONE: "She's only interested in you because she thinks you're the Chosen One."

HARRY: "I am the Chosen One!"

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

The kind of hero needed at the end of the Second Initiation is one with a connected heart rather than a fortified one. This kind of hero is found in the genre known as tales of redemption. The redemption tale has three characteristics: First, the theme is ultimately about connection. Since the word redemption has a rather religious feel to it, it is appropriate to point out that the word religion derives from words meaning re-link, re-align, and re-connect. The meaning of the word redemption is related to the process of buying back. Sometimes the redemption tale involves the uncovering of evidence that proves a character was unjustifiably blamed for something. This evidence buys back the good name of the accused with the truth. Sometimes the tale involves the discovery of goodness that more than balances out any harm a guilty one has done. This discovery buys back the character's good name with an understanding of the bigger picture. Regardless of how it happens, the redemption tale builds bridges and brings characters back into alignment. Second, because "uncovering evidence" and "discovering goodness" take more time than the world generally allows, the redemption tale must often find a way to hold time, so to speak. Storytellers have invented a variety of ways to carve out a bubble of dedicated time, including imprisonment (The Shawshank Redemption), a trial (To Kill a Mockingbird), boarding school (Dead Poets Society), and a compulsion to repeat history (Groundhog Day). Beauty and the Beast and other fairytales, use the convention of a spell. Third, the hoped for impact of new evidence and/or discovered goodness is to change hearts and minds, so the process of redemption requires a hero who is capable of being influenced by the monster and a monster who is capable of being influenced by the hero.

If a First Initiation hero is changed by a monster, it is an unintended and unwelcome consequence of battle, often resulting in a wound which pushes the hero into the Underworld. By contrast, the Second Initiation hero, by virtue of his Second Initiation experiences, has learned that a monster's point of view can be surprisingly helpful. Stories that feature such heroes have a hopeful cast to them and tend to lack or lose the hard edge of an action adventure. Hard edges create clarity, which explains the black and white hats of the First Initiation experience. The further we move into the Second Initiation, however, the grayer the world becomes. As a result, we have a much harder time knowing what to make of a hero who comes to believe that the well-being of the monster is somehow connected to the well-being of the hero (see The Sixth Sense), the hero's family (see The Babadook), the hero's planet (see Moana), and the hero's world (see Arrival). Like the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, the menace may manifest within the hero's own body or mind, which brings stories like Bagger Vance (PTSD), Collateral Beauty (Grief), Hancock (Abandonment) and many other stories of healing into focus. I will argue that the tale of redemption documents the Blessing that completes the Second Initiation and ushers the hero into the work of the third stage of his or her journey. So, to unpack the idea of this Blessing, let's return to the image from Beauty and the Beast of the man of two worlds - the man who was changed for the better by a monster.

"It's time to wake up, Sweetheart."

The Haunting of Hill House

As we make our way through the journey of life, we are tempted to think of ourselves as all of a piece. However, the ability to survive the Second Initiation calls for drastic measures. These measures inevitably involve the sacrifice of a sense of psychological oneness. Contemporary trauma expert, Donald Kalsched, speaks of an "evolving condition of twoness" that results when worldly experience comes too fast or too hard to process. Even without the horrendous experience that justifies a trauma diagnosis, the challenge of being human and of working with an amazing but crazy-quilt brain puts us in an almost perpetual state of self-contradiction, which can be traumatic in itself. The words "broken" or "divided" are actually pretty accurate descriptions of the normal human psychological condition. 

MICHAEL (a puzzled demon from the Bad Place) 

OK, let's walk through what just happened. Jason and Tahani came in, revealed the crazy fact that they're now in a relationship, . . . 

JANET (a non-human informational assistant from the Good Place who has developed a glitch that threatens to destroy the neighborhood):

I already knew that, and I'm so happy for them. . . Bla-a-a-a (From Janet's mouth spews a rush of coins as if she were an overactive Las Vegas slot machine.)

MICHAEL (formulating a theory):

Janet, tell me a lie.

JANET:

Janets can't lie.

MICHAEL:

You lied to Vicky earlier.

JANET:

Interesting. I guess I did. I suppose after 802 reboots I must have gained the ability to lie. That's fun! I'm going to try to lie again: I love your outfit. (Giant subway sandwich drops messily out of nowhere.)

MICHAEL (reading from Janet's operations manual):

". . . incompatible with objective truth. . . ." Janet! The problem isn't me lying to you, but rather you lying to other people. Like when you said to Jason, "I'd be happy to help you and Tahani." That was a lie.

JANET:

No it wasn't. I'm always happy to help people. That's my main purpose.

MICHAEL:

I know, I know. But it was still a lie, even though you didn't intend it to be because you weren't actually happy to help them. . . because you're in love with Jason.

JANET:

Say what now???

The Good Place, Season 2

Again, our goal in this part of the journey is to discover how to become a being who is capable of integrating the wisdom of the two seemingly incompatible psychological worlds of human experience - the world of the me (that is, of the ego) and the world of the not-me (the Unconscious or heart). At this point, however, it is clear that we must first simply learn to deal with the feeling of being broken. Speaking again as a trauma therapist, Kalsched says something that may be of benefit to us all: For our own protection during periods of brokenness, he says, we are held by the Unconscious in a trance-like state of psychic dissociation, disengagement, or distraction. . . . Say what now? For our own protection we are held by trance? For many of us who get our information about trance from stage-show hypnotists and movies like Get Out, the idea of trance triggers feelings of immediate fear or distrust. So, let's get better educated on the matter of trance.

"Captain, shake off this trance, and think of home -

if home indeed awaits us..."

The Odyssey

Trance is a normal and frequently experienced state of mind with a number of functions related to focus, imagination, and the process of change. When we use trance intentionally, we may call it meditation, prayer, deep concentration, or even daydream. We may slip into trance when we play a musical instrument, when we jog long distances, or when we watch a movie. Then there's the somewhat embarrassing trance we wake up from when we find that we have just driven to work on a Saturday when we intended to go to the mall. That is an example of a trance entered unconsciously, but there are others. One of the most important automatic functions of trance is to soften up and protect the psyche while we undergo a demanding change process - not unlike the way the hormone relaxin softens up the joints in a woman's body who is preparing to give birth or the way a chrysalis allows a caterpillar to safely liquify as it turns into a butterfly. Trance is the "real life" version of the fairytale spell. Psychologists are only just beginning to unravel the mystery that is trauma, and Kalsched is only just presenting his theory on the relationship between trauma and trance. Nevertheless, fully two centuries ago, poet Emily Dickinson offered an amazingly prescient description of that relationship. As she wrote: 

"There is a pain - so utter -

It swallows substance up -

Then covers the Abyss with Trance -
So Memory can step
Around - across - upon it -
As One within a Swoon -
Goes safely - where an open eye -
Would drop Him - Bone by Bone -"

Emily Dickinson

1830 - 1886

As Emily Dickinson observed, traumatic trance disengages memory, thereby allowing a somewhat enchanted form of consciousness (as she says, " As One within a Swoon") to "step around - across - upon" the dark entrance to the pit that harbors the thing that is too horrible to contemplate, otherwise known as trauma. Since the memory of trauma is often "swallowed up" or rendered unconscious, the only hint of its existence may be the presence of a mystery. Marking the spot may be an  inexplicable feeling of loss, inauthenticity, disconnection, anger, fear, guilt, or shame. Or perhaps incomprehensible experiences like nightmares, or behavior like anxiety attacks, or failure at relationships. If you are a Janet from the Good Place, you may belch coins from your mouth like a slot machine, an effect that is, fortunately, uncommon in humans. Nevertheless, no matter how in control of ourselves we believe ourselves to be, the Unconscious will have its due. By now, many of us are familiar with the mental health diagnosis "post traumatic stress disorder." Those diagnosed with PTSD have met a certain threshold of symptoms and experience that mental health professionals require for an official diagnosis. The truth is, however, that whether or not our emotional wounds rise to the level of diagnosable trauma, the human mind is so convoluted and contradictory, and life in general is so confusing, that few of us make it to adulthood without some kind of experience of trance and the Abyss. Moreover, even though the Abyss is psychological and metaphorical, unresolved "substance" there has consequences that relate to our literal ability to act effectively in the world of physical reality. We cannot access our full capacity until the enchantment is broken.

NALA: [about Scar] "Simba, he let the hyenas take over the Pride Lands."

ADULT SIMBA: "What?"

NALA: "Everything's destroyed. There's no food, no water. Simba, if you don't do something soon, everyone will starve."

ADULT SIMBA: "I can't go back."

NALA: "Why?"

ADULT SIMBA: "You wouldn't understand."

NALA: "Don't you understand? You're our only hope."

ADULT SIMBA: "Sorry."

The Lion King

The third stage of the hero's journey, the stage that I am calling the Third Initiation or the time of the Wounded Healer, is a time when the hero is at the top of his or her game as a wise, integrated adult. To be able to be that kind of adult, however, he or she must break the holding trance of the Second Initiation and emerge from the Dark Wood. The problem is that every generation of heroes who peer out from the far side of the Dark Wood sees some version of hyenas reducing the homeland to ruin. The scene solidifies a dreadful dilemma: in the land of the Deep Feminine the hero discovers the piece of eternal wisdom that only he or she can deliver to the world, and that he or she must deliver in order to assist with collective healing. In the language of mythology and fairytale, the Second Initiation hero finds the Boon, the Pearl of Great Price, or the Magic Elixir. To deliver it, however, he or she must re-enter the ravage, and do so wide awake, wearing his or her newly-integrated powers of vision and compassion like a target. In the ravaged world, or as Emily Dickinson called it: the place of "the open eye," many a prospective hero has been gobbled up by vindictive forces who are eager to test anyone who dares to try to rescue the community and redirect the narrative. The monster may even present as the hero's own past actions or inactions, proving that he or she has not always been wise enough to bring forth a worthy gift. Understandably, there is always a question as to whether the hero will muster the kind of courage needed to succeed at such a task.

HAN SOLO: "This map's not complete. It's just a piece. Ever since Luke disappeared, people have been looking for him."

REY: "Why did he leave?"

HAN SOLO: "He was training a new generation of Jedi. One boy, an apprentice, turned against him, destroyed it all. Luke felt responsible. He just walked away from everything."

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The moment is truly defining. Heroes are often stunned at the immensity of the task that faces them at this stage. Many are so appalled that they refuse to come out. But now the hyenas are running wild on their watch, so it always falls to him or her - to the person who is standing at the far edge of the Dark Wood - to learn how to show up. If the hero succeeds, the monster is redeemed, the hero awakens from trance and the heroic storyline proceeds. On the other hand - just as decay sets in for stalled First Initiation heroes - failure to leave the enchanted land of the Deep Feminine marks another psychic trap. Campbell called the terrain of the stalled Second Initiation hero the Wasteland. The Lord of the Rings trilogy captures an image of such decay in Gollum (who remained a beast for all time) and to a lesser extent in Bilbo and Frodo, neither of whom were enthusiastic participants in their return to everyday life. In the words of Bilbo, they began to feel "thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread." Only Sam, the third Ringbearer, made a successful re-entry - and it may be significant to note that it was into the arms of his beloved. 

"You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it."

We Bought A Zoo

Ultimately, it is up to the hero to find enough faith in his or her own goodness to redeem not only him- or herself, but also to provide hope for generations of heroes to come who must by definition set out on their own hero's journeys long before they become wiseSo the question at the end of the Second Initiation is not only: How do we redeem the monster? But also: What kind of courage allows us to cooperate with the process of self-healing, to invite transcendence, and to experience the blessing that reconnects our broken parts, relinks us in relationship with others, and releases us from this inner prison?

“She is a friend of my mind.

She gather me, man.

The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me

in all the right order.” 
Toni Morrison, Beloved

The novel Beloved by Toni Morrison and the movie based on that novel are masterful bits of storytelling. The full impact of this story, however, may only be accessible to those with experience of the Second Initiation. It begins as a ghost story in a haunted house in Cincinnati on Bluestone Road in the traumatized later years of a life that began in slavery. It ends as a tale of redemption. Those familiar with alchemy may recognize the transformational symbolism in the street name "Bluestone." The being who calls herself Beloved emerges from the Deep in a swarm of bees, disrupts the traumatic storyline warping the lives of the people of 124 Bluestone Road, then bursts into a flutter of butterflies (or so it is said) and vanishes into the weather when her work is done. As she leaves, the pieces of the community that had become petty and selfish and had forgotten how to live in love, are falling back in all the right order. As stories about the Blessing often are, this is a difficult story.

Sue Johnson, a founder and developer of the amazing form of relational assistance known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (see Couple Journeys tab above), calls love a survival mechanism. She argues that through the centuries of human evolution we have learned over and over that the lone human cannot survive in this world. We need people who care for us and about us and, to complete the bond, we need to be people who can give care in return. We call this bond love, and our need for it is so uncompromising that, when it breaks, we are dashed into crisis. Love is literally felt as a life-or-death issue. Indeed, the ability to give and receive love based on mutual respect, the willingness to overcome ego, and the ability to forgive self and others may be the only thing that assures safe passage out of the Second Initiation. Those are certainly qualities necessary for the next phase of the Hero's Journey.