One day, you will find yourself on a journey. You never wished or planned for this. You may not think of yourself as particularly adventurous, let alone heroic. You may reject the whole notion of the solitary “Hero’s Journey,” understanding that nobody gets anywhere without the help of innumerable others, and not just those who love us and actively support us but whole populations and cultures. And if we are being completely honest, we must include the earth and the plants and creatures that gives us food, and the great and mysterious forces that give us life and that illusive balance we call health, and take it away.
And yet you will find yourself on a solitary quest. You may strongly object to this. You may resist and protest and seek ways to distract yourself. But events will arise, a plague will come to the country where you live, that will force you to sense on level deeper than thinking, at a depth of awareness closer to the body and sensation, that you have no choice. You are suffering and the people around you are suffering. Life is pushing you into new territory, pushing you to find what matters, what may help ease the suffering. You do not want this assignment but you cannot stay where you are.
“We all have to be the hero of one story: our own,” wrote P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins novels, in “The Hero,” the first issue of Parabola,” the quarterly magazine where I work. I felt admonished when I first read this quote, as if the magical British nanny was scolding me for having a bad attitude. Must I be a hero? Can’t I be an anti-hero, or part of the support network, an anonymous person behind the scenes who played an unwitting role, saying the right word at the right time, or turning on the porch light that chased the would-be attacker away?
But slowly I have come to see that we must inhabit our own dramas, must agree to feel our own feelings, even when they are sad and painful. I have come to see that a hero is not a solitary actor brandishing a sword but someone who dares to put it down and be still, someone willing to take off their armor to experience what is happening in any given moment, inside or outside, without denying it or resisting or seeking to escape. Heroism can be a momentary action that happens on the inside without anyone else knowing, a movement of availability, of letting down our guard, and opening to a new world. It is not the old world of our known stories. Our brave willingness to be vulnerable and feel, really let go and sense our feelings in the body, can have magical power. We just have to hang on for a moment.
A hero’s journey isn’t necessarily a long, drawn-out affair. In a single moment we can leave the self-enclosed world of our thoughts and emerge into the new land of the present moment. The present moment is always new to us. Yet it is also our true home. Emerging here for a moment, we may realize that being here fully in this “homeland” is what we have been seeking. The present moment welcomes us every time we seek it, offering a warmth and sense of belonging the thinking mind alone can’t know, no matter how intensely it spins and plans. The thinking mind, the ego, will want to plant a flag, to claim this new land for itself, a mission accomplished, and it will vanish. But every time you are willing to put down the sword, to just feel and sense and be present, it will welcome you home. You will remember that you belong here on earth. Just for a moment, you will glimpse light and warmth and life within the darkness of the unknown.