It may not always seem that way, but you are on a Hero’s Quest. We all are.
Today is my birthday (46!!), and I am committing today to romance my life like a hero. A creative hero. (Even if I don’t always feel like one.)
It’s part of the human story, our archetypal journey played out amidst the regular stuff of life, with its neverending comings and goings, ins and outs, and ups and downs. In all honesty, my hero’s quest looks sort of quiet from the outside, but that’s certainly not the whole story.
For the longest time, I felt as though my only great quest in life was to “be successful.” To be employable, to be professionally admired (and not humiliate myself), and to have more happy days than sad ones.
But these are the dreams I learned when I was young, and then went to school. These are the beliefs I drank in: just do the best you can and whatever you do, make sure that it is safe and stable.
What more do you really need?
I recently picked up a copy of The Mastery of Love: A Toltec Book of Wisdom by Don Miguel Ruiz (he wrote The Four Agreements: it’s beautiful, have you read it?).
Inside this little treasure trove, Don Miguel says that as we grow up, we are “domesticated” in our families and within our culture, and we quickly—and painfully—learn to adapt and contort ourselves to seek out reward (receive love), and avoid punishment (denied love).
But no matter what happens to us, no matter where we come from, or how relatively loving or abusive our families may be, or how we behave, or how self-aware our authority figures, our emotional pain leads us to the inevitable development of a “Wounded Mind.”
Ah. This is some kind of Toltec straight talk that really hit home.
Ultimately, it means that no matter who you are, a wounded mind is part of the deal. And the wounds of emotional pain will keep us asleep, both personally and collectively, in our shared dream of suffering, the same recognizable world that Buddha describes in The Four Noble Truths.
So as young people, still asleep and unaware of our heroic quest, we follow the rules and try our best. We make ourselves fit into this world as best we can, all the while seeking reward and avoiding punishment.
Until one day, the sleeping hero hits a wall. She’s completely spent. And she asks: Why is this all so hard? Why am I not happy? Where is my reward for being safe??
This is a really important moment for the hero. She’s come to a crucial landmark on her quest. Because she can finally wake up.
She is unhappy living a domesticated life. Has she been misled all this time? And now her life depends on transcending her wounded mind in search of a wiser authority. But this new, terribly daunting quest defies all the rules she has known.
The hero has to discover the true sublimity of her own heart. And at this inflection point she realizes there is only one way forward.
The Hero’s Quest
Jung would describe this quest as the Individuation process. But for creative types like you and me, I’m making a little twist.
Because for many people, the Wounded Mind is woven into the wounds we have suffered as Artist-Creatives. The hero must find her way towards the truth, and unveil what is at the core of her Creative Self: the inner fire of the heart set free in the world, manifested in her singular life, art, and work.
I call this kind of hero’s quest, “Creative Individuation.” But it’s really about doing the work that can only be done by you, having the courage to be different, and the willingness to share your contribution with others.
But wait: I still haven’t gotten to The Hardest Thing.
Dear Hero, it’s not about waking up. Or deciding to change. Or “figuring out” your quest. Or healing your wounded mind (although that can be very hard).
The Hardest Thing is this: it is accepting the sheer and utter insanity of actually, really, truly following your quest.
The Hardest Thing is leaping into the wild Unknown and its dangerous potentials, affronting your very own domestication, and upending all the rules you learned thus far during your time on planet Earth about staying safe.
The Hardest Thing is activating your very own valor.
Look Before You Leap
My friend, this is the part of the the hero’s quest where you realize that you cannot escape discomfort. If you want to become a hero, you simply must take the leap.
This is the realm of The Fool of the Tarot. At number zero, they are the first card of the deck, initiating life’s entire archetypal journey, and representing all that is in potentia, all that empty space inside a zero.
The Fool dances at the edge of a cliff with nary a care for the outcome, with nothing but the Holy Spirit under their feet. This Fool seems frivolous, but consider: they have not been domesticated. They do not yet know about The Hardest Thing.
In her first great mystical book, Scivias, Hildegard von Bingen has a vision of a soul who encounters their Big Leap. This soul is a being who is aggrieved, terrified, and exhausted by the world. She summons the will to leave the cave where she has been hiding, tending to her wounds.
She climbs up to the top of the mountain in order to gain some perspective, and see how to escape this quagmire. She feels alone, depressed, and abandoned. And then, looking into the valley below, she sees only asps, scorpions, and terrible hissing things threatening further harm.
In her desperation and anguish she cries out to the Great Mother for help.
Then she hears:
‘O daughter, run! For the Most Powerful Giver whom no one can resist has given you wings to fly with. Therefore fly swiftly over all these obstacles!’ And I, comforted with great consolation, took wing and passed swiftly over all those poisonous and deadly things. (Scivias Book I, Vision Four)
The heart has wings. But the wounded mind cannot see them.
The Hardest Thing is knowing that you have to leap, but you don’t know how in the hell you are going to get across. Because you haven’t yet tested your wings.
Like that scene in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, where Indy must make the leap of faith in order to save his father’s life, in order to get to the Holy Grail.
The hero’s business is urgent. He cannot wait around, nor debate with reason, nor dwell on the bottomless abyss beneath his feet. His heart knows the truth:
There is only one way. You have to leap.
That, my friend, is The Hardest Thing about becoming your own hero. It’s actively choosing to become your own brilliant, creative Self, even when you don’t know who that is yet, or what your outcome looks like.
I know valor a tough sell! Yet…
Life is our ultimate creative process. If you have discomfort in yours, lean into the problem. Where is your mind leading? What about your heart?
Where are you on your creative hero’s quest?
The Hardest Thing is inevitable. You have to leap if you mean to go on. It’s sort of thrilling, in an awful kind of way. Because it upends your domesticated ideas about being safe, and you realize that the sacred life of your dreams is one choice away.
It’s the age-old battle of the Heart vs. the Mind. The Hardest Part of the creative process of life is truly honoring the former, so the latter can follow in its wake.
Keep practicing, my brave hero. You’ll know what to do when its time.