top of page

Answering The Call

Updated: May 17



“The call often comes at an important moment. Old life values have often been outgrown and a certain sterility has set in. Parsifal’s quest for the Holy Grail was set in motion by the Fisher King’s realm having become a wasteland. Whatever its form, the call awakens the hero to his or her special destiny” (C.G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology, Inc.)


As I write this, the sun is but a ghost of itself above high clouds on this chilly November day. The last of the leaves will soon let go to dance their way to the ground where squirrels and mice rustle through this season’s fall. Soon enough, a blanket of snow will cover it all in Winter silence.


The round of seasons has ever been a metaphor for the cycle of life from birth to death to rebirth. Winter is the wasteland, intent on stealing your warmth until you become one with its stillness. Until the advent of central heating and stocked supermarkets the threat was very real, and for the many less fortunate it still is. The Call to Adventure dares us to cross the threshold into the Winter Dark to face what has been outside the world of experience we have known, a world which may have become stale and sterile, and struggle our way to a Spring renewal.


Joseph Campbell tells us the Call comes in three ways: voluntarily (I think I’ll quit my day job and become a writer!), involuntarily (“I have bad news,” the doctor said.) and by seduction (Their eyes met from across the room. Her life would never be the same.). Often, the one called will refuse to accept the invitation. As Bilbo said, adventures are “nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner” (J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit, 1966)! The known world is safe in its predictability, even if it may not be a cozy, comfy chair in front of the fire. 


However, in the long run, the call cannot be avoided. As Seneca said, “the fates lead  those who will, those who won't they drag” (from Moral letters to Lucilius, 107), and the longer the refusal the more significant the consequences. Take the otherwise successful high school senior, for example, who stops doing work, usually sometime after the holidays. “I’m so sick of this place!” they complain while making sure they become seniors again the following year. Senioritis they call it, and it’s understandable: high school graduation is a terrifying threshold for young adults to cross, young adults who have been surrounded by the same familiar faces and places for most of their lives.


The Refusal of the Call is the result of a powerful impulse to remain in the comfort of the known world. It can also be deadly.


The following anecdote came to me while considering where to focus this essay and I rejected it at first as too personal. But then, while walking the dog, which is when I do some of my best thinking, I realized that it was exactly what I should write about because it’s so personal and, importantly, far from unique.


One 2004 day in the staff men’s room outside the sixth grade wing of the Upstate New York middle school where I worked, I was shocked to see a blood clot in my urine. In the blink of an eye, I went from “That happened,” to “No. It didn’t.” It was a surprisingly seductive impulse.  I shoved the moment into a small corner of my mind and tried to squeeze it into a smaller and ever smaller ball that could be ignored. It remained, though, like a pebble in my shoe for the rest of the day. I wrestled with the temptation to submit to this denial which, looking back, was the threshold guardian, Fear.


We all know stories of those who succumbed to the Refusal of the Call until it was too late, and I realize how easy it could have been to do so myself.  


But I made the phone call, which may well have been the act that allows me to be sitting here on this chilly November afternoon tapping away on my keyboard. At one point that day I realized where I was. Joseph Campbell had already told me. What’s wonderful about the Hero’s Journey as outlined by Campbell is that it’s not just a common story structure to be found in Star Wars, Watership Down, The Hobbit, The Odyssey and so forth. It’s a common story structure because it is an archetypal expression of the human condition. Human beings create meaning through story and the most important story is the story of our own lives. Everyone reading these words is at one step or another of this adventure, and probably at multiple steps on multiple adventures, because life is often a messy amalgam of nested hero journeys. The schemata make sense of them, and when life is spinning you around and everything is in flux, knowing the pattern of the hero’s adventure places you in the calm eye of the storm. You know you must walk into the storm wall; you must cross that threshold, but you also know the path forward—your path forward—will appear.


There is great comfort in this. You are not alone. And while there is never a guarantee of a desired outcome, whatever the outcome is, if you walk the path with integrity and courage, you can embrace it as someone who is now more than you were before the journey began. That alone is a Spring renewal, a rebirth. That alone is a boon to be shared. 


“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world” ( Joseph Campbell. The Hero With A Thousand Faces, 18).



 

A collage featuring The Hero's Adventure

This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 1, and The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

 

Latest Podcast




Roshi Joan Halifax wearing glasses in


In this episode Roshi Joan Halifax sits down with Bradley Olson of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. Roshi Joan Halifax speaks to Buddhists and non-followers alike on such universal topics as compassion, suffering, and what it is to be human. Influenced by early experiences as an anthropologist-world traveler, passionate end-of-life pioneer, and her work in social and ecological activism, she eloquently teaches the interwoven nature of engaged Buddhism and contemplative practice. She encourages a wholistic approach to life and training the mind, “that we may transform both personal and social suffering into compassion and wisdom.” Roshi Joan’s personal practice includes creative expression through photography, brush painting, and haiku as explorations in “beingness” and joy. As Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya, her vision for the Zen Center embraces comprehensive Buddhist studies, meditation, service, dharma art, and environmental action as integrated paths cultivating peace and interconnectedness. She knew Joseph Campbell very well. In the conversation, she and Brad discuss her life, her work as a teacher and pioneer of end-of-life care, and her experiences with Joseph Campbell.


To learn more about Joan, visit https://www.joanhalifax.org/




 

This Week's Highlights



A casual picture of Joseph Campbell

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” 


- Joseph Campbell - The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p.18









1,603 views

Recent Posts

See All

留言


bottom of page