Joe Campbell teaches us that the ancient mythological tales the world over depict heroines and heroes being ‘initiated’ by a series of trials that ultimately lead to them finding their greatest potential. These ordeals were culturally accepted and understood as critical to the process of development. They are not just fables as the word “Myth” has come to mean, they were the soft-wear that informed us about how to live an expansive human life.
In many circles today, embracing the humble steps of initiation seems conspicuously absent from our language, culture and ways of living. The speed at which we live, and the ever-present distractions don’t support a slow methodical process of learning over time. Failure and struggle are often construed as weakness. And it would appear that our hope is to be imbued with knowledge and wisdom without having to welcome the adversity and pain that initiation requires. We want to be the guru, without first mastering ourselves.
Difficulty or pain is not the issue. Most of us have lives infused with challenge and suffering. Friends and family get sick, or worse die tragically. We suffer loss of possessions. Our health and well- being can fail from time to time. Few escape trials in life, but most of us complain, feel like a victim, or worst of all ignore the event entirely. I am guilty. I have felt sorry for myself, wondered why life has to be so difficult, and stepped into unconsciousness about the challenge I am supposed to welcome. I questioned my karma and even sometimes the idea of a compassionate Creator. As Deepak reminds us, “One rarely asks ‘why me?’ questions when something great happens.”
Throughout my career in mountain adventure I have encountered a whole range events. Life’s joys, annoyances and even catastrophe have traveled across my retinas, through my mind and in time, into my heart. The February rainstorm that lasts a week to the untimely death of friends. All of it came as a naïve shock, chiefly because I made my way to adventure as an potential escape from pain. Looking back now, I was entirely out to lunch and the joke was on me.
I eventually, after all other options were exhausted, I bowed down to the great mystical powers of life and decided to learn. But I didn’t acquiesce easily, there were no other options left for me before I would dig deep into my humility and step into the process of initiation. I learned to make meaning out of all of it. Direct lessons that were specifically for me. Ken Wylie's initiation. It was hard, real hard but it changed my life. In fact, it transformed everything into beautiful lessons.
We watch heroes in our movies. Read about them in our books. And see them in the news. Heroism is the capacity to transform the terrible into something beautiful. We all have that capacity and it starts with our own life events, moment to moment, and throughout our lives. In school we have a lesson and then there is a test. In life we have a test and it is up to us to find the lesson. Seeing the adversity of lived events through a lens of learning, or an opportunity for growth is the stuff of Heroes.
I am not saying I am a hero. I am still an initiate, and I aim to be my whole life.