This is a time to slow down and reflect

 

The pandemic is creating change by forcing us to slow down and spend more time in personal reflection.

We didn’t heed the warnings about our unsustainable lifestyles and we caused Nature to reach a tipping point whereby it sought to regain balance.

With more quiet time it is a time for personal reflection, stillness, and gratitude. We have the opportunity to take a step back and think about who we are, both as individuals and as a society. Stone

We knew our old lifestyles were unsustainable but habits of mind don’t change easily.

And, as our frenzied lifestyles come to a stop we can find it hard to sit quietly in a chair for ten minutes. Many of us will remain slaves to our smartphones and will check the news every few minutes and look for updates on Facebook.

We are entering an era of slowness and quiet. We can let our minds wander and think about what they want to think about. We have time to consider where we are going and what we believe in and what it is that we really want.

Carl Jung did his most creative thinking and writing when he took time away from his busy practice in Zurich and spent time at his country house in Bollingen, Switzerland.

As Nature comes back into balance so must we. We need to restore our inner-selves, the part of us that imagines, dreams, and explores. We need to answer our soul when it asks, ”Who am I?” and “What is important to me?” We need a slowness. Self-reflection should not be something we just do now, during the crisis, and then forget about it. It should be an ongoing part of a life lived deliberately.

For years to come we will be trying to rebuild our broken world, but a slower, more creative lifestyle, can help put the pieces back together.

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Rebuilding our broken world

Balance

We have been living in a world that has been getting more and more out of balance.

In rebuilding our broken world, we will have the chance to choose a less hurried life, but habits of mind and lifestyle do not change easily. Without noticing, we are in danger of slowly slipping back into the routines of our lives. We will again become accustomed to being in a noisy city or workplace, and we could soon forget how nurturing it feels to find a quiet place and a time of silence.

A powerful force had to strike to awaken us from our slumber. And now we have been struck we have a chance to take a step back and notice how we have been living too fast, how we lost the connection with our inner selves and chased instead speed, efficiency, money, hyper-connectivity, and "progress". The moment we choose consciousness rather than the tired out collective consciousness is when we start to think for ourselves. It's when we stop our lives unfolding according to someone else’s plan. It’s a transformative moment. It’s when we get to choose the life that’s ours and ours alone.

For many of us now, at home, alone, time and space have opened up in our minds. Daily routines have been interrupted as we enter an unstructured, free-floating, beckoning time. We have been freed from the prison of our time-driven lives. There is something to be regained, something subtle, delicate even, and that is the restoration of our inner selves. In the stillness and the slowness, we can take the time to listen to our inner selves and to the breathing of our spirit. 

For years we will be rebuilding our broken world. Maybe a slower lifestyle will help us put the pieces back together in the right places this time. Perhaps a more contemplative, deliberate way of living can become permanent.

In rebuilding our broken world we will have the chance to choose a less hurried life.

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The power our past has on our relationships

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Like it or not, your past relationships seep into your present ones.

Therapists often find that patients will project on them their own past relationships, particularly those with parents, much like projecting a movie on a blank screen. The therapeutic process then is in part about unraveling all these past relationships and distortions.

Although this is common knowledge for therapists the phenomenon is not limited to the therapy setting. It is something that happens frequently (possibly every time) in our personal relationships. It is particularly common in that critical first-impression early stage of a relationship. Our impressions of others are never neutral but always filtered through the lens of other relationships, both past, and present, that have had an impact on our lives. We can and do transfer onto the other person an aspect of our own psychology.

Transference is a complex and multi-layered phenomenon but to simplify it, your new date might remind you of your ex in the way he seems to dominate the conversation, or your work colleague reminds you of the girl at school who bullied you. Sometimes the triggers may be more subtle - the new date has eyes like your father or his tone of voice reminds you of your brother; or your neighbour has the same sarcastic sense of humour as someone else you used to know.

Often these impressions, the contrasts, and comparisons are not fully conscious but they are powerful and form the basis for our initial attraction (or lack of). Our history of relationships is stored symbolically in our unconscious and influences us without us realising it.

Understanding its effect can give us a clue of why we get certain problems in relationships.

Do you find that you’re always attracted to narcissists or turned off by people who seem too nice or too passive? Are you always intimidated by people in authority?

We see and judge people through the filter of transference.  We are triggered both positively and negatively by our past relationships. We're moving beyond sexual chemistry and emotionally making assumptions, over-emphasising and likely distorting at least one aspect of the other's personality. This can blind us from seeing the real person beneath. He might seem, for example, to be non-judgmental and supportive compared to your ex, only for you to realise later that this stance is a cover for his being very passive and indecisive. Similarly, her assertiveness, which you initially found attractive, blinds you from seeing how controlling she can be.

So how can you stop repeating past mistakes? If you find yourself always getting involved with narcissists and always winding up getting hurt, you are just re-injuring that old wound, rather than healing it. Similarly, that strong and automatic attraction to the laid-back man or assertive woman tells you something that you may need.

This is important information. By seeing and understanding these patterns, you can make them conscious, rather than unconscious or semi-conscious choices.

You can actively and directly work on your past by getting some closure with your past relationships: You can have an adult conversation with your ex or with a parent about past grievances, or if this is not possible, you could write a letter to get these old feelings out on a page and out of your head. You don’t have to post it.

You could also consider therapy. As Jung Said, “Medical treatment of the transference gives the patient a priceless opportunity to withdraw his projections, to make good his losses, and to integrate his personality”. Carl Jung, CW 16, Para 420.

Transference is a natural psychological process, sometimes for the good and other times for the bad. You can’t control or prevent it. However, by becoming conscious of your transference patterns, you can learn a lot about your unconscious psyche: how it operates, what attracts it, and what repels it. You can come to understand your relationships on a much deeper and psychological level. Through becoming conscious of your transference patterns you have the opportunity to be more self-aware and in a better position to give the gift of your soul to others.

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Active imagination and the journey to wholeness

Active Imagination

Characters in our dreams can be seen as a meeting between our everyday waking Self, and parts of our Self normally outside consciousness.

The unconscious mind is vast and it functions much faster than the conscious mind. It isn’t controlled by the ego, and, very often, it has very different perceptions about our experience and lives than does the waking mind.

In dreams there is an encounter between the waking ego, or, at least a subset of it that we can call the 'dream ego' and the unconscious mind.

What do these characters in our dreams want?

That’s often the biggest and most important question to ask of characters who appear in our dreams.

We can expect that they want something different from the ego.  The dream is acting as a corrective on the perspective and attitude of the ego.  We need to incorporate part of that perspective into consciousness.

We must take dreams seriously, but combine them with the awareness of our ego.  We need to connect the ego’s perspective with the perspective of the unconscious mind presented in dreams.

Dreams lead us to meet the unknown or forgotten parts of ourselves.  The dream bids us to take a certain crucial kind of responsibility, by finding an attitude that takes the ego seriously but also considers the deeper self.  This is a fundamental part of the journey to wholeness.

One of the very striking aspects of the meaning of dreams is the on-going dialogue between the conscious and unconscious minds.  If we start to understand and have dialogue with our dreams, we often find that subsequent dreams reflect our understanding and actions.  Often the encounter with the 'other me' in dreams is only one of a series of connected dreams. The dialogue goes on, as we take in more of the perspective of the unconscious mind.  As we practice conversing with our unconscious with time we become more and more attuned to the meaning of that dialogue.

The things we see in our dreams are not signs that represent one specific idea, but rather fluid images to which we ascribe meaning based on our individual experiences. Dreams may reveal truths, philosophical revelations, illusions, fantasies, memoires, plans, irrational experiences or even prophetic visions.

The images in our dreams are ultimately representations of our own unconscious. Although they come from our individual minds, many images are manifestations of universal archetypes that represent unconscious attitudes hidden to our conscious selves. 

In his last major work, written when he was 81, titled Mysterium Coniunctionis, The Mystery of Conjunction, or unification, the bringing together of opposites (CW 14, paragraph 706), Jung gives a careful description of active imagination and dreams. He sees active imagination as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious. The following are five direct quotes from the long paragraph in Mysterium Coniunctionis simplifying it to five suggested steps that we can follow in our own active imagination.

Five steps to active imagination:

  1. “Choose a dream or some other fantasy-image and concentrate on it by simply catching hold of it and looking at it…”
  2. “You then fix this image in the mind. Usually it will alter as the mere fact of contemplating it animates it…”
  3. “A chain of fantasy ideas develops and gradually takes on a dramatic character… At first it consists of projected figures and these images are observed like scenes in the theatre…”
  4. “If the observer understands that his own drama is being performed on this inner stage…he will take part in the play instead of just sitting in a theatre…”
  5. “Fix the whole procedure in writing at the time of occurrence for you then have ocular evidence that will effectively counteract tendency to self-deception…”

To simplify, the five steps are:

  1. Choose a dream or other fantasy image.
  2. Fix it in your mind.
  3. Watch it take on a dramatic character
  4. Take part in the play
  5. Write it down

To do this effectively you must be in a meditative state. Your conscious mind needs to be relaxed, and ready to let you enter the inner world of your imagination. Sit quietly and let go of your worries, thoughts, and preoccupations. Once you are in this state, choose an image, hold onto it, watch it take life. Put it on the stage of your imagination. Take part in the play and then write down what happened. It is important to write it down because this helps us remember and learn from the experience.

When we speak to our images, they surprise us. And when we write it down, we are writing a story, the story of our encounter with our soul.

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Using Active Imagination to reprogram the unconscious

Dreaming

I had left the comfort of my home. It was a dark night and, when I looked to where I had come from, the warm light shining from the windows tempted me back into my comfort zone. When I looked the other way it was dark and nothing could be seen other than the darkness. A man drives up in his car and starts verbally abusing me. Afraid, I hide behind an oil tank. I nervously glance both ways – to the house (my comfort zone) and into the darkness (the unknown). I am dreaming and before I can decide which way to run I wake up.

Using a technique called ‘active imagination’ I meditate and go back into the dream. I ask myself, “Why are you hiding from him? Why are you letting him have power over you?” I stand up and look directly at the man and ask him what he wants and why he thinks he has the right to talk to me like that. His face changes, he doesn’t know what to say, and he drives away. I realise that standing up to him took away his power.

The unconscious manifests itself through a language of symbols. It is not only in our involuntary or compulsive behaviour that we can see the unconscious. There are two natural pathways that we can go down to bridge the gap between our conscious and unconscious minds – one is by dreams and the other is through the imagination. Both are highly developed channels that have developed so that the unconscious and conscious levels may speak to one another and work together.

Active imagination is not a ‘visualisation’ technique in which someone imagines something with a goal in mind. Active imagination has a different relationship with the unconscious, one based on recognition of its reality and power. In active imagination, you go to your unconscious to find out what is there and to learn what it has to offer to the conscious mind. The unconscious mind is not something to be manipulated to suit the purposes of the conscious mind, but an equal partner to engage in dialogue that leads to a fuller maturity.

In my dream, the man was my animus – the blueprint in my unconscious for how I could expect the typical man in my life to treat me. This was set in my unconscious mind by my narcissistic father and reinforced with the narcissistic relationships that followed. I had been programmed early on to believe that it was normal for men to treat me badly. Bringing this unconscious belief into my conscious awareness helped me to reprogram my unconscious and instruct it that this behaviour is not acceptable and something I will no longer tolerate.

"In each of us is another whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves." Carl Jung.

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Understanding the power of the unconscious mind

Understanding the power of the unconscious mind

Julie got into her car as usual and drove the five miles to her workplace. Along the way she was playing out in her mind a conversation she’d had the day before with a friend. She then started planning the evening meal and where she would stop to get some shopping on her way home. A myriad of other things went through her mind and soon she pulled up in her work car park and pulled into a space.

With her conscious mind totally occupied she had driven along busy roads, a dual-carriageway, and through several sets of traffic lights. She signalled properly and drove safely at all times. Once she had pulled up in the car park she came to her senses and realised that she couldn’t remember a single thing about her journey. She asked herself, “How could I drive this far and not remember anything about getting here? Where was my mind? Who was driving while I was daydreaming?” But this had happened many times before so she didn’t give it much thought.

Later, during her lunch break, she watched a colleague go into a rage because someone had left the milk out on the side instead of putting it back in the fridge. Julie was astonished at his behaviour. She wondered what had come over him because his behaviour was well out of proportion with the issue.

Later, when her colleague reflected on his behaviour he felt embarrassed and realised he would have to apologise. He asked himself, “Where did that behaviour come from? I don’t know what came over me.” He realised that the anger came from a place that had nothing to do with someone leaving the milk out.  But where did it come from? He didn’t know, so after apologising, he didn’t give it much thought.

We all feel the presence of the unconscious in our lives, during the ebb and flow of everyday life. We experience the unconscious as it acts in us and through us, working alongside the conscious mind. It will take over the control of our car when our conscious mind wanders off someplace else. We’ve all felt that experience of being on ‘autopilot’. The conscious mind drifts off and the unconscious mind simply takes over whatever we are doing. It stops us at red lights, puts the indicator on, brakes, and gets us to our destination. It keeps us safe until the conscious mind comes back to the here-and-now. It may not be the safest way to drive but it is a good safety net, a built-in back-up system that we all take for granted.

I remember many times sitting in class at university with my unconscious mind keeping me sitting there and looking like I was paying attention while my conscious mind wandered off for a walk through the woods. My conscious mind would suddenly be brought back to attention when the lecturer said my name, and I would feel very embarrassed if it was obvious I hadn’t heard a word they had said.

Sometimes the unconscious invades our conscious mind in an attempt to express itself – through the imagination and the use of symbol charged images. We also experience the unconscious through a sudden charge of emotion – such as irrational anger or a feeling of euphoria – that suddenly invades the conscious mind and takes it over. This flood of emotion makes no sense to the conscious mind because that’s not where it originated from. Julie’s work colleague for example, couldn’t explain where his anger came from. He felt that it came from somewhere outside him, that he wasn’t ‘himself’ for a few moments. But this uncontrolled anger did come from within him, a place within that he couldn’t visualise with his conscious mind. It came from his unconscious.

The unconscious is an incredible place, a universe of unseen energies, forces, forms, even distinct personalities that live within us. It has a complete life of its own running in parallel to our ordinary everyday lives. It is the secret source of much of our thought, feeling, and behaviour. It influences us in ways that are all the more powerful because they are unsuspected. We all have had the experience of doing something unconsciously when our minds were ‘someplace else,’ then being surprised at what we had done. Sometimes it startles us, “Where did that come from?!” we ask ourselves.

As we develop more understanding and become more sensitive to the surges of energy from the unconscious, we learn to ask, “What part of me believes that?” and “What was it that made me behave in that way?” We can also ask “Why does this subject set off such an intense reaction in that unseen part of myself?”

So, next time you think “I just wasn’t being myself” understand that “myself” also includes your unconscious. We all have hidden parts of ourselves that have strong feelings and want to express them. Unless we choose to do inner work and try to understand them they will stay hidden from our conscious view.

Sometimes these hidden personalities are not very likeable and can embarrass us when they show themselves. At other times we wake up to strengths and qualities within ourselves that we never knew were there. We sometimes draw on hidden resources we didn’t know we had, and find talents and qualities that we didn’t know we were capable of. We still have the startled reaction, “I am a different person than I thought I was. I have qualities, both positive and negative, that I didn’t realise were a part of “Me.”

We are all so much more than the “I” of whom we are aware.

Our conscious minds can focus only on a small part of our total being at any one time. Despite our attempts to understand ourselves better, only a tiny portion of the huge energy system can be incorporated into the conscious mind or function at the conscious level.

Therefore we have to learn how to go to the unconscious and become receptive to its messages: It is the only way to find the unknown parts of ourselves.

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." Carl Jung.

I will look deeper into this in the next few posts, looking particularly at symbols and active imagination and how they can be utilised to help us understand our unconscious better.

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Living my life as a journey

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Occasionally, I let stress overtake me, but then I notice that I stop being a creator and I lose sight of my hopes for a better future. I go into survival mode, inside a primitive emotional state that causes the ‘fight or flight’ response. These are the times I recalibrate. I stop and take the time to recognise the thoughts that are triggering the stress reaction. I can then shift the way I think and redirect my energy into a new field of energy filled with possibility.

Sometimes I simply look out of the window. Then I try to live my day as a journey. When a flower bud has burst into flower, or when a cloud beckons, I feel gratitude and write that into my journal.

We all face challenges at times, but if we stay focused on what matters we will find the light in the darkness.

It is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us that matters.

Count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of awareness of darkness... as the contrast between what we have and how it could be worse is vital to appreciate anything, including our life, and so be happy and grateful.” Carl Jung.

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Finding my Self

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How often do we get the feeling that we are on the wrong path in life but then we do nothing about it?

These past couple of years have been difficult for me after I recognised and acted upon my need to change direction and be more selective of the people that I wanted with me on my journey.

Jung wrote on the possibility of finding the right path for ourselves:  “We are often gripped by fear, by the comforting powers of the old adaptations whose chief virtues were anxiety management and protection, or, alternatively, the path ahead is blocked by familiar apprehensions about stepping into the unknown on our own. No wonder we tend to abide by the familiar, stultifying as it may be. Yet something within us always knows, always protests always begins to withdraw approval and support and we ratify our old inner divisions.” (Volume 14, Mysterium Coniunctionis).

Jung also wrote, “You can only feel yourself on the right road when the conflicts of duty seem to have resolved themselves... From this, we can see the numinous power of the Self, which can hardly be experienced in any other way. For this reason, the experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego.”  (CW 14, para. 778).

In other words, the ultimate decisions of our lives are made by some higher agency than the ego. However important ego consciousness is in the governance of daily life, when ego consciousness can accord itself with the will of the Self, there is a profound sense of rightness, peace, and wholeness. I see the Self as the manager, able to take in all the information that is fed through it from the conscious and the unconscious, and able to make sensible decisions on what is the best way forward, remove anxiety, have confidence, and choose our emotions.

Jung challenges us to consider that within each of us is a centre (our Self) which is wiser than our knowledge, deeper than our learning, older than our chronology, and more durable than our calcified convictions. From time to time, life humbles us, calls us to account, leads us back to the drawing board, and asks us to start over.  Isn’t it nice to think there might be some resources available to us to help us when we think we are bereft and have no hope when we have exhausted our conscious tools when we have lost our way?

The Self is the archetype of wholeness and self-transcendence. A Wise Old Man or Woman often represents this universal image. Jung borrowed the concept of the Self from Hindu philosophy. He described the Self as the “totality of the whole psyche,” distinguishing it from the ego.

In 1939, when he addressed the Guild for Pastoral Psychology in London Jung noted that we all need to remember what our ancestors knew, that if we wait upon the silence, it speaks, and wait upon the darkness, it illumines. But the idea of waiting, listening, attending is an antithesis to us in our modern lives. Most of the time we are ego-driven, time-bound, impatient. This is why we are so lost, and adrift, so distracted, and so much at the mercy of any folly of the moment.  But this timeless part of ourselves is there for us in our troubled hour. When the day arrives in the life of any of us that we can remember this invitation, then the encounter with the Self will not be defeat but a resource, not overthrow but transformation.

*The ego represents the conscious mind as it comprises the thoughts, memories, and emotions a person is aware of. The persona is the mask we present to the world.

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The best thing I have to give this world is my own loneliness

Walking alone

“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” Carl Jung.

Many people are dying of loneliness. Life's cruelest irony is that the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself.

There is a wonderful story by Hemmingway called ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.’

It is a story about lonely old men who have no warm, welcoming place to be when darkness falls. Hemmingway explores how the people cling to the café at night and refuse to go out into the darkness to return to their apartment. Finally when they are closing the man at the bar is trying to squeeze the last customer out, and he says to his colleague” You know, they are all here because of loneliness.” To which the other person replies, “Yeah, a lot of people have it”.

It is a scenario played out up and down the country day in, day out. When I helped out in a bar, many years ago, the regular drinkers would come in every night, and at closing time, would be reluctant to leave and venture into the dark alone.

And so, loneliness is a part of the human journey.  We are in these bodies of skin and bone that we have within this particular psychology and we all have a unique history.

We are born alone, we die alone, and we make friends along the way. We realise that this flight from loneliness can actually be a flight from ourselves.

The cure for loneliness is considered solitude.

Anton Chekov said once that if you don’t want to be lonely don’t get married.  He wasn’t being cynical, merely pointing out that our fantasy is that fusion with ‘the other’  will solve our problem of existential isolation. Even in the best of relationships, there is always a sense of loneliness. We always need to return to ourselves because we are the individual, the Self that is different from ‘the other’.

As Nietzsche  said, “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Once that I accept that I don’t have to be a part of the world, then I am free to be part of it.

This is a paradoxical release of spirit. The world becomes mine when I am no longer holding on to it.

The best thing I have to give this world is my own loneliness. But, at the same time that loneliness is often isolating and can lead to self-doubt and alienation. Often, we need to recognise though we feel lonely and like an outsider, we are still part of a community.

T.S. Elliot says in one of his plays: “In a world of fugitives the person going the right way will appear to be running away.” We might feel like we are experiencing our life as an outsider but there is a community of outsiders.

All of you reading this blog are part of this community. We are all on a journey together, all sharing our experiences. We might have a conversation on social media but at the end of the day we will all go back to our separate lives. At the same time we have touched each other, and our loneliness is what provided the gift of community.

“But loneliness is not necessarily inimical to companionship, for no one is more sensitive to companionship than the lonely man, and companionship thrives only when each individual remembers his individuality and does not identify himself with others.” Carl Jung (Memories Dreams and Reflections, Page 356).

“I” as an individual is what I have to bring to every relationship. That’s my gift, but at the same time, I remain the individual and the flight from that the flight from aloneness, would be to sabotage the relationship itself.

"… the highest and most decisive experience of all, … is to be alone with his own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation." Carl Jung (Collected Works 12, Paragraph 32). 

 “What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.” Ellen Burstyn.

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The Hero’s Journey

Hero

There are many forms of courage including physical courage that enables us to face danger and perform daring feats of strength. Moral courage is where we stand up for what we believe in, and, for many of us, including me, the most profound form of courage is the willingness to stand up to deeply entrenched fears and self-limiting beliefs and overcome them. We can see obstacles not as blocks but as opportunities for growth.

It takes courage to move from victim to victor; from surviving to survivor.

A book that has influenced me during my difficult journey over the past two years has been Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” It tells the stories of heroes in different cultures and time periods and identifies a structure common to all of them.

In each of the tales, the protagonist is living an acceptable life but deep down there is a flaw. Early in the story, he is thrust into situations where this hidden flaw is revealed.

Things don’t go to plan, friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the rules the protagonist lived by no longer apply. He sinks into increasingly difficult circumstances, encountering one obstacle after another until he hits the bottom. This is the decisive moment. There he will remain, a failed hero, unless he finds the courage to rise back up.

If he does rise, the world he knew is fraught with peril but at least now he knows what he is fighting for. He encounters obstacle after obstacle, but this time his challenges make him more determined. At last, he arrives home, more fully revealed and with something to offer that he could not have given before. As Campbell put it, “The hero comes back… with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

The common denominator for all these stories is that the protagonist, through finding the courage to rise from defeat, each time grows a little wiser, a bit more skillful, and acquires greater inner strength. Even when he doesn’t survive the final battle, he dies a hero.

In difficult times, I like to read stories like these. They strengthen my resolve to get going and move ahead. When I am at the bottom of my Hero’s journey arc I remind myself of the qualities of my heroes. Something in my own nature resonates with these qualities. They help me bring out my own heroism so that I can continue on my personal journey.

The difference between those who successfully reach the end of their Hero’s journey and those who don’t isn’t better opportunities or superior allies, but the courage to get up and try again, even when the odds seem insurmountable and discouragement feels overwhelming. When we follow this simple precept, we grow from our struggles and, regardless of the external outcome, acquire stature and nobility that cannot be taken away.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
- Joseph Campbell

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