TWELVE STAGES OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY: ONE MAGPIE’S TRAVELOGUE
by J. Webster, Inaugural Chief-of-the-Folk
More so than parts 1 and 2, these entries rely heavily on the context of the guided meditations provided on the Mountain Ancestors Grove Facebook page. The writer strongly encourages you to watch or read these meditations before reading these entries.
PART 3: NIGHTS 7-9
NIGHT 7: APPROACH
There is a scene in my favorite movie, the NeverEnding Story, where the characters discuss a terrible trial the hero must pass in his quest: a magic mirror that will show him his true self. When the hero’s companion mutters “That’s won’t be too hard,” another character responds, “Oh, that's what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel! Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away, screaming!”
I have faced this mirror before in my life. I expect to face it many more times. I earnestly hope that each time I face this mirror, I will be rewarded with the difficult truths about myself that I may not be facing properly, the discipline to face my Shadows, and the vision and wisdom to see my best and truest potential self
Today, I see…
I have promised honesty to myself, but there are parts of myself and my Shadows that I hesitate to expose to an anonymous online community. I offer you my honesty, Dear Reader, but I am not sure that entitles you to full disclosure of all my thoughts on these meditations.
I will say this: I have met many of my Shadows. Many of them have names, names that are an intimate part of my religious practice, and I hesitate to subject my practice to your uninformed scrutiny, to your possible ridicule. Is that hesitation the voice of the Shadow in me that wants to preserve your good opinion, that wants you to think me wise and reasonable? Or is that just good judgment and discretion? I admit that I am not sure… For today, I will try to walk that line carefully, but I will need to address that question more fully for myself in the future.
Today, I see my Shadows of fear. I see the part of me that wants certainty, wants a “Plan,” because maybe disaster will be less painful if only we put in the effort ahead of time to prepare. I see her grasping, clawing hands, straining to hold on to some illusion of control or certainty. She clings to smoke and calls it stone, and shrieks in pain as it evaporates from her grasp. She… she is in such pain, and she seeks to make it mine. She seeks reinforcements by trying to share her pain and her fear, hoping that four terrified grasping hands can wrest back the control that two hands cannot find. She claws as my back, crying out for my attention. I name her, and she fades.
I see my doubts. My masochistic epistemologist, who argues that whatever belief hurts me the most must be true, and that I would be a coward to ignore her accusations. She cites all my mistakes and failures as precedent, cherry picking support for her claim that I cannot achieve the goals I consider setting. “You are too shy, too quiet,” she says when I ask about what leadership and service roles I may explore in Guam. “You have failed for so long, you window has closed,” she says when I ask about writing full time or seeking a clerkship. “You are too old to begin, your body has rotted in front of a desk for too long,” she says when I think about setting competitive physical fitness goals for Guam. On and on… she has so much to say. But I name her, and she fades.
As these Shadows fade, I see the face of my vanity glimmer briefly in the dark. She wants her turn. She remembers how it felt to know that she was young and beautiful, that she was a “favorite” among her classmates and peers, and perhaps most of all, that she was correct. She remembers how to critique those around her, how to secretly believe she was something better. She remembers how much she can get away with, how much she can take. I see her whenever I silence my doubts and fears, wondering where the line of her territory lies, and whether my doubts and fears are the only things keeping her in check. For today, I name her, and she fades.
Other Shadows flit through my mirror, but they are not for your eyes.
I hope that you will respect what I have chosen to share with you, Dear Readers. Thank you for listening.
NIGHT 8: ORDEAL, DEATH & REBIRTH
I know the transition that is coming for me. This identity and this stable life I have built in Colorado… like all things, I knew it couldn’t last forever. Sometimes, our identities slowly devolve from entropy, gradually revealing something new. But other times… other times there is a Dragon. Maybe our Dragon is an unexpected event, one that sweeps down out of the mountains without warning to wreak havoc on our life. Maybe we see smoke in the distance, and like Ben’s hypothetical paladin, we grab our broadswords and charge across vast distances to face the challenge. In any case, our Dragons give us a unique opportunity for complete rebirth. Because no one faces a Dragon and comes away unscathed.
My Dragon had wings like storm clouds, beating humid air against my skin in ceaseless waves. My Dragon stalks the canopies of the jungle, slithering and coiling, stealing bird eggs and leaving silence in her path. My Dragon’s neck twists upon itself before unwinding to lift its swaying head, waiting to strike. Her round, glassy eyes do not blink, but their vertical slits narrow to slivers as I approach.
I tell her I am not here to destroy her, but that I will not lie down and be her passive prey.
I tell her that I know she has more power to change me than I have to change her, but I see her chains, and I know that it is my choice to free her, to face her unrestricted strength. I tell her that I know I still have choices, even when I cannot know their consequences.
I tell her I do not know what she is. Not really. I tell her that I don’t know what she will do to me, only that she will do what is in her nature to do, and that I will no longer be what I am now.
She speaks to me…
I tell her that I know that I can trust her to be a Dragon. No more, no less. I understand that she will do what Dragons do, and when she does, this “Jane” will end. The Dragon guarantees no more than that. We are in agreement.
I knew this was coming. I have had opportunities to turn back. No one has forced me into this position. I am here because this “Jane” is ready to die. She is ready to peel away, like the hull of a seed or the husk of a cocoon, and let some new life walk on in the body she leaves. She is ready to be a memory, an echo, a source of strength for the next Jane on whatever paths she chooses to walk.
With my talisman in hand, with the guidance of my vision and my Shadows silenced, I release my Dragon. We understand one another, and I am ready.
NIGHT 9: REWARD, OR SEIZING THE SWORD
In Campbell’s monomyth, the Hero is rewarded for facing the Dragon. Sometimes the reward is tangible and external, like Jason and the Golden Fleece, or intangible wisdom, like the Childlike Empress’s new name. Scott Pilgrim is an amusing example of a meshing of the two: an internal reward made, by the magic of metaphor, into a tangible sword.
I have not given much thought since I started these meditations to what my reward would be, what treasures I would earn from my Dragon. I had no explicit goal in mind, since my main goal was to fully explore this “journey.” I know that narrative has power, and that building a narrative understanding of our identity and our lives can have a profound effect. This is not limited to our spiritual or religious practices; narrative therapy and even narrative medicine may indicate that conscious narrative-building can have a beneficial effect in healthcare and therapeutic practices.
Sometimes, the power of narrative is a double-edged sword. Some stories we tell ourselves empower us, while others lock us into destructive habits, victim mentality, or baseless mistrust. This is why it can be helpful to check in on the stories we are telling ourselves, making sure that they are the beneficial stories that we want to be feeding through repetition, or the damaging ones we need to respond to or rewrite.
All of this is to say that I embarked on these meditations with only the journey as a goal. I expected the story itself to be its own reward, and gave little thought to what my prize might be. But I think I found it anyway.
I will not tell you what I found in my visualizations. That part of my experience is mine. But I will say that it was something I had misplaced over the years, familiar, but restored to me now as a new, changed thing. I think I know what it means.
I have a passion for writing, and the good fortune to have that passion paired with some talent at it. Or at least that was what I used to think, that my writing skills were due to “fortune.” I used to make beautiful things with this gift, but I’ve redirected my energies over the years, and my writing practice has become almost nonexistent.
My writing practice. Essentially, that is what came to me in this journey. I don’t think I have ever given enough credit to the fact that I was good at writing because I practiced. I was writing all the time. Daily journaling, 8k words of fiction a weekend, random rambling passages in the margins of my notes at school. The time that I now kill on Netflix, YouTube, and sundry other “enter-drain-ments,” I used to spend writing. Most of the writing was nonsense, never to be read, but I was still doing it. I didn’t think of it as practice. I thought of it as a necessary exercise of my identity, a behavior that fed and even defined my soul. That practice is part of what I have abandoned over the years, and even when I came back to writing, I only ever wrote with an audience and a purpose in mind. Because I was no longer practicing in private, the perceived high stakes of every public piece of writing paralyzed me.
I promised myself when I began that I would waste no time on regrets for lost time. I can only move forward with the knowledge, skills, and discipline that I have now.
I know what I need to do with the reward of this realization: I need to have a disciplined daily writing practice. And I know that I can do it, because part of my prize is the memory that I have done it before.