Going back home

Some heroes are reluctant to go back to their old world after a dramatic life experience, while such a return can benefit both them and their society.

going back home
photo credit: The National Guard via photopin cc

‘The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life. Why re-enter such a world? Why attempt to make plausible, or even interesting, to men and women consumed with passion, the experience of transcendental bliss”? As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and the prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes. The easy thing is to commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock-dwelling, close the door, and make it fast. But if some spiritual obstetrician has meanwhile drawn the shimenawa across the retreat, then the work of representing eternity in time, and perceiving in time eternity, cannot be avoided.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

People who have survived dangerous environments have sometimes reported that they are hyperaware of everything around them. This acute sensitivity to the environment may have served a useful function at some time. For example, combat veterans may have been very sensitive to small sounds in order to stay alert for danger. But now they might use this sort of vigilance in everyday, noncombat situations … This can be an interesting sort of paradox in that many combat veterans we have talked with report that they never felt more alive than they did while in country. We want you to look at how that hyperawareness functions now in your life.

This acute awareness of everything is not what we mean by being mindful. In fact this is a kind of hyperarousal that happens in extreme stress and can be very hard on you, both psychologically and physically … For instance, if you interpret every small creak your house makes at night as a sign of danger, you’re not likely to get much sleep … Physically, we know that staying in a state of extreme stress and arousal can cause all types of health problems over time, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and other stress-related illness.

Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello. Finding Life Beyond Trauma: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal from Post-Traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Peace through acceptance

We can get caught up in hateful ideas promoted by others while life offers much more freedom if we all accept our differences.

Peace through acceptance
photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

Totem, tribal, racial, and aggressively missionizing cults represent only partial solutions of the psychological problem of subduing hate by love; they only partially initiate. Ego is not annihilated in them; rather, it is enlarged; instead of thinking only of himself, the individual becomes dedicated to the whole of his society. The rest of the world meanwhile (that is to say, by far the greater portion of mankind) is left outside the sphere of his sympathy and protection because outside the sphere of the protection of his god. And there takes place, then, that dramatic divorce of the two principles of love and hate which the pages of history so bountifully illustrate. Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world. The laws of the City of God are applied only to his in-group (tribe, church, nation, class, or what not) while the fire of a perpetual holy war is hurled (with good conscience, and indeed a sense of pious service) against whatever uncircumcised, barbarian, heathen, “native,” or alien people happens to occupy the position of neighbor.

The world is full of the resultant mutually contending bands: totem-, flag-, and party-worshipers. Even the so-called Christian nations—which are supposed to be following a “World” Redeemer-are better known to history for their colonial barbarity and internecine strife than for any practical display of that unconditioned love, synonymous with the effective conquest of ego, ego’s world, and ego’s tribal god, which was taught by their professed supreme Lord: “I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you.’

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘Imagine you live in a small country that shares a border with a hostile neighbour. There is long-standing tension between the two countries. The neighbouring country has a different religion and a different political system, and your country sees it as a major threat. There are three possible scenarios for how your country can relate to its neighbour.

The worst-case scenario is war. Your country attacks, and the other one retaliates (or vice-versa). As both countries get pulled into a major war, the people of both nations suffer. (Think of any major war, and the huge costs involved, in terms of life, money and wellbeing.)

Another scenario, better than the first but still far from satisfactory, is a temporary truce. Both countries agree to a cease-fire, but there is no reconciliation. Resentment seethes beneath the surface, and there is the constant underlying threat that war will break out again. (Think of India and Pakistan, with the constant background threat of nuclear war, and the intense hostility between Hindus and Muslims.)

The third possibility is genuine peace. You acknowledge your differences, and allow them just to be. This doesn’t get rid of the other country, nor does it mean that you necessarily like it or even want it there. Nor does it mean that you approve of its politics or religion. But because you’re no longer at war, you can now use your money and resources to build up the infrastructure of your own country, instead of squandering them on the battlefield.

The first scenario, war, is like the struggle to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. It’s a battle that can never be won, and it consumes a huge amount of time and energy.

The second scenario, a truce, is definitely better, but it’s still a long way from true acceptance. It’s more like a grudging tolerance; there’s no sense of moving forward to a new future. Although there is no active warfare, the hostility remains, and you are resigned to the ongoing tension. A grudging tolerance of thoughts and feelings is better than an outright struggle, but it leaves you feeling stuck and somewhat helpless. It’s a sense more of resignation than of acceptance, of entrapment rather than freedom, of being stuck rather than moving forward.

The third scenario, peace, represents true acceptance. Notice that in this scenario your country doesn’t have to like the other country, approve of its being there, convert to its religion, or learn to speak its language. You simply make peace with them. You acknowledge your differences, you give up trying to change their politics or religion, and you focus your efforts on making your own country a better place to live. It’s the same when you truly accept your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to like them, want them, or approve of them. You simply make peace with them and let them be. This leaves you free to focus your energy on taking action—action that moves your life forward in a direction you value.’

Russ Harris. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.