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Detours and Wrong Turnings on the Path to Wholeness

Updated: May 17

I thought I’d focus in this MythBlast on the same quote from Joseph Campbell’s 1969 essay The Symbol without Meaning in The Flight of the Wild Gander that I first highlighted in my February 2021 MythBlast titled Metamorphosis: Dreaming the New Songs. I wanted once again to use Campbell’s words, featuring C. G. Jung, as a touchstone to explore the maturing psyche’s journey:

As the researches and writings of Dr. Jung have shown us, the deep aim and problem of the maturing psyche today is to recover wholeness (154).


If you’re anything like me, the last few years have often felt like one, big, indistinguishable blur. The essence can be captured in any one of the numerous memes titled: “Leaving 2019, Entering 2022, 2023, 2024” referring to the absolute trainwrecks that both 2020 and 2021 – according to large swathes of the global population – turned out to be. These leaving/entering memes capture how many of us feel: it’s been several l-o-n-g years now.    


My favorite is the one with an image of John Travolta as Danny from the movie Grease, with Olivia Newton-John’s character Sandy by his side, under the heading of 2019. Both appear blissfully happy, looking fresh as daisies with a wide-eyed innocence, and completely unaware of the worldwide chaos that the following years are to bring.

Over the past few years, in the final weeks of December we’ve seen the meme pop up on social media, juxtaposing the 2019 image against the title of the upcoming year with an image of Travolta as Vincent from the film, Pulp Fiction, and this time seated next to Uma Thurman’s character, Mia. Both have an appearance of bone-crushing, beaten-to-a-pulp weariness, looking like they’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards multiple times over.

For me, this meme invites reflection on the year I just lived, and to question if it was more Grease or Pulp Fiction-like in nature? Was I living or merely existing? Thriving or surviving? Full of hope or utterly devoid of it? Did I mostly feel whole in myself, holding a holistic viewpoint of the past year’s events? Or was my mood, countenance, and attitude fragmented like piles of broken glass? At year’s end, was my psyche more shattered, or more unified?

Perhaps, with a more meta perspective we could all do with asking ourselves: “Did I/we lean more into my/our wholeness during these last few years? Or did I/we only fracture and divide myself/ourselves further? Or was I/we experiencing both wholeness and multiple fractures simultaneously?” Richard Rohr in Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life describes how “psychological wholeness and spiritual holiness never exclude the problem from the solution. If it is wholeness, then it is always paradoxical, and holds both the dark and light sides of things.”


In my 2021 MythBlast I wrote that:

Only when the impulse for inner renewal, for psychological and spiritual wholeness, becomes far more preferable to the unbalanced and misguided sense of perfection that once satisfied us, do we move towards the more fully rounded and integrated self. By necessity this brings an encounter with the underworld of our psyche, a descent that often involves the grief of separation, an unraveling or a deconstruction of the old patterned self, and both a breaking down and a breaking open.


In the below extract C. G. Jung elegantly describes the necessity of both the breaking down and breaking open that occurs when everyday consciousness intersects with the unknown and unseen workings of the underworld: 

But the right way to wholeness is made up, unfortunately, of fateful detours and wrong turnings. It is the longissima via [longest path], not straight but snakelike, a path that unites the opposites in the manner of the guiding caduceus, a path whose labyrinthine twists and turns are not lacking in terrors (Collected Works, Vol. 12, 6). 

If the labyrinthine twists and turns are necessary on the path to recovering wholeness, then maybe these memes can be seen as faithful portrayals of the psyche’s journey in uniting the opposites rather than providing just mere comic relief.

Campbell closes The Flight of the Wild Gander with these words:

However, not all, even today, are of that supine sort that must have their life values given them, cried at them from the pulpits and other mass media of the day. For there is, in fact, in quiet places, a great deal of deep spiritual quest and finding now in progress in this world, outside the sanctified social centers, beyond their purview and control: in small groups, here and there, and more often, more typically (as anyone who looks about may learn), by ones and twos, there entering the forest at those points which they themselves have chosen, where they see it to be most dark, and there is no beaten way or path (186).


So if you’ve started your year in the forest where it’s most dark, with no clear way or path forward, and you’re in desperate need of a metaphorical torch, then picture an image of wholeness that you’d like to use at year’s end to represent your “Finally Leaving 2020-2024, Entering 2025” meme. And then live into and embody this vision of wholeness whilst enjoying all the detours and wrong turnings along the way!

Collage of the moon, a pegasus and red and white flowers, on a red background with The Message of the Myth Episode 2 next to it.

This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 2, and Myth and Meaning.


Latest Podcast

Cover of the Podcast with a Thousand Faces podcast with a picture of Anthony Byrne, looking off to the side with his head resting on his hand.

In this episode, we are joined by Anthony Byrne, an accomplished Irish writer, director, and producer renowned for his work on large-scale international dramas like Peaky Blinders, Lioness, and In Darkness. He has also directed music videos for Hozier, Liam Gallagher, The Smile. And as he says, more importantly, he is a new Dad. In this engaging conversation with JCF's John Bucher, Anthony shares insights into his life and career, revealing the influence of Joseph Campbell on his creative journey.


This Week's Highlights

A casual picture of Joseph Campbell

"The deep aim and problem of the maturing psyche today is to recover wholeness"

- Joseph Campbell - The Flight of the Wild Gander, 154


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