Bridging the Gulf
Genius, Joy, and Rejuvenation
The Hero's Journey Part 2:
The Second Initiation:
The Time of the Wounded Warrior
"In the middle of the road of my life
I awoke in a dark wood
where the true way was wholly lost."
Dante Alighieri from Inferno, Canto 1
The Second Initiation of The Hero's Journey stands in stark contrast to the First. Where as the First Initiation is concerned with building ego, the second Initiation involves dismantling it. The First Initiation focuses on the science of commanding, the Second, on the art of allowing. That characterization may sound innocuous enough, however, in truth, few of us enter the time of the Wounded Warrior voluntarily. Dismantling a well-built ego, is a big ask for anyone. Too often, warrior heroes are more than willing to trade riches, power, privilege, moral integrity, or their first-born child in the attempt to protect themselves from Second Initiation experiences. Few are able to pull it off. Instead, many a weary wounded warrior has discovered to his or her dismay what Dante Alighieri discovered - that "the way to paradise begins in hell."
We are fortunate to have mythologist Michael Meade to start us off on a more hopeful note. "Actually," Meade said once in conversation, "I'm a fan of egos, the bigger and smellier the better. That way when a person overcomes his, he can be proud of the accomplishment."
Without yin, yang dies
on the battlefield"
Marco Polo, Netflix
"You take the blue pill, the story ends.
You wake up in your bed and believe
whatever you want to.
You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland,
and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I'm offering is the truth."
I have a memory of an interview with Joseph Campbell in which he discussed why the hero is told to follow his bliss. "Because in doing so," Campbell explained with a twinkle, "he will step in the poop." And sure enough, tucked into the paradoxical folds of reality is a massive meadow muffin for each of us: A time of crisis - an illness or injury, professional misstep, tragedy, betrayal, loss, or trauma. Such trauma can stop the Warrior Hero in his or her tracks and allow entrance through suffering to the Second Initiation. Almost inevitably, the time of the Warrior Hero slides into the time of the Wounded Warrior. Thus, one way or another, intentionally or not, we take the next step on our journey of transformation and redemption. And the plot thickens.
"Confused, broken, and unable to face a return to a Hero's welcome, Junuh just disappeared, hoping to forget and to be forgotten."
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Just about the time we think we should have everything under control, we are sabotaged. Feelings of brokenness, helplessness, fear, inauthenticity, and loss of meaning rob us of joy and agency. A poetic phrase for this condition is soul loss, and in story, the Second Initiation often takes place in a bewildering, other-world, dreamscape, or nightmare scenario. The rules of logic and law disintegrate into the mists of magic and mystery. The place may be referred to with unnerving words such as the Underworld, the Wasteland, the Upside Down, or the Dark Wood. Such language sets the mood. For the terrain on which the Hero must now compete is the inner landscape of the mind, and the monsters the Hero must face are psychological and emotional ones. "The Descent," writes Marion Woodman in The Maiden King, "is a mythological term for the period during and after a powerful event in which the ego has been overwhelmed by a wave from the unconscious . . . . This is known as journeying into the underworld." Saint John of the Cross, 16th century Spanish poet, mystic, and monk, called this time the "dark night of the soul." Contemporary poet and author, Robert Bly, refers to it as the "road of ashes."
"I just want to wake up from this dream!"
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
The Descent takes as long as it takes: days . . . or decades. The wandering may seem interminable, but it's not without purpose - for the Warrior-Hero-turned-Wounded-Warrior is preparing to meet the Teachers of the Deep. These Teachers are dangerous entities, and the Wounded Warrior must discover what one needs to know in order to approach them correctly. To succeed, the Wounded Warrior must develop ways of thinking that have been obscured by the individualistic Heroic Creed - a task that may seem unimaginable at first. Nevertheless, the fall down this rabbit hole heralds the truth that the Warrior Hero has out-grown his or her youthful, self-oriented, heroic attitudes and has entered, ready or not, a time of transition. He or she will not emerge unscathed.
"Remember, the Vorpal Sword knows what it wants. All you have to do is hold on to it."
Alice in Wonderland
Stories warn us that threats abound in the Underworld. Metaphorically, if one doesn't lose one's soul to the Dark Side, there is always the possibility of being seduced by the Devil or eaten by the Baba Yaga. Psychological and emotional disintegration are real concerns. Once the Descent begins, the Wounded Warrior has embarked upon a one-way, monumentally heroic quest to relativize his or her ego and to balance head with heart. So, before the mortal wounded warrior meets his or her match, he or she does well to learn the language of the Dark Wood.
If it's in a word,
or it's in a look,
you can't get rid of