Friday, June 21, 2013

Hero's journey 2.0

As an Outward Bound instructor (I worked at the Colorado School in the 1980s), we often heard from our students that the most powerful part of their 28-day expedition was the 'solo,' the period of time (up to 3 days) spent alone to reflect on their experience in the mountains, their group's dynamics and ultimately on life and its meaning.  In this beautiful, austere setting, with basic shelter and minimal food, students were given the opportunity to live more simply than most have ever done in their lives.

The solo aspect of an Outward Bound voyage, in particular, and the overall experience in general is metaphorically based on the 'hero's journey' archetype in Jungian psychology, wherein the hero (self) must leave the comfort of home, encounter a (metaphorically) dangerous world and return home with a sense of confidence and clarity to serve as servant leader.

Of course, not every trip is a hero's journey, but travel of all sorts can provide perspective, including separation from the familiar, encountering the 'dangerous' or different world with the prospect of new wisdom. But, now we also have the prospect of bringing 'home' with us on our journeys.  And, by doing so, we are less likely to confront our self or the meaning of life.

We bring others with us on our journeys through our social media, video calls. But, by checking in along the way, we can easily fall into translating the challenging and sometimes 'ugly' journey into a series of complaints, thereby missing the chance to draw strength from adversity.  Alternatively, there is the temptation to create a lovely unreal world of smiling, happy photos, wherein the hero is transformed into Narcissus (an entirely different myth).

Now, I am not proposing that you leave the smartphone, tablet or laptop at home.  I would suggest, however, that travel of all types offers us an opportunity to temporarily disconnect and reflect.  It is also an opportunity to connect with fellow travellers, be they pilgrims on the path to an exotic temple or someone serving us coffee or sitting next to us on an airplane.  I find it hard to work on airplanes as I always choose a window seat when flying over land, which gives me a chance to look out the window imagining what life might be like down there on the slice of the planet we are cruising above.  I call the perspective one gets while disconnecting from our day-to-day worries and floating above the Earth 'airplane religion.'  As the digital disconnect associated with air travel disappears, i.e., Internet access is available on more flights and more classes of air fares, the traveler will face the dilemma: to connect or disconnect.

In reality, most of us will do a bit of each. We will keep in touch with those back home and we will also take advantage of some separation, for adventure and reflection. The modern hero's journey is still about confronting ourselves as one of the dragons we must slay.  Some of this must still be done alone, and part of the journey--as always--is a matter of connecting with others we meet along the way, when we look up from our screens.

Happy trails!

See my post on 'loneliness vs. isolation.'

My colleagues Toby Ruckert and Nathan Zeldes have written insightful reflections on disconnecting while travelling.

Toby's post on 'un-location'.

For more on the hero's journey, see Bill Moyer's interviews with Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey.

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