Finding Joe

I’m having a Joseph Campbell-y sort of week. It started on Monday with a viewing of the documentaryFinding Joe, a reiteration of Joseph Campbell’s writings in Power of Myth and that whole “Hero’s Journey” thing.

The movie (and the book) tells the story of an ancient Buddhist village that was about to be invaded. Afraid that their pure gold statue of Buddha sitting in the main square would be plundered, they covered it in mud. The town was invaded, the invaders never taking a second glance at the statue. The invasion lasted years and eventually anyone who remembered the gold statue died off. Finally a young man was praying near the statue and noticed a tiny fleck of gold showing beneath the mud and the pure gold statue was rediscovered.

In myth, we are that gold statue, covered in the muck and detritus of our everyday lives. Often in the business of going about our lives, we forget who we really are beneath all the masks and walls we build around us.

The Hero’s Journey is a breakdown into to simple terms, the path we all must take to rediscover the pure gold that is within us. Alchemy in my book, is really just another version of The Hero’s Journey which can be broken down into 3 basic parts:

The Call (The blackening)

The Initiation (The whitening)

The Return (The reddening)

There is always a catalyst that turns the hero’s world upside down. The hurricane in Wizard of Oz, Luke’s childhood home burning down in Star Wars, Fairy tale characters invading Shrek’s home. In real terms, it can be the death of a loved one, an accident or a divorce. The hero is forced into a series of trials in an attempt to acquire his “holy grail” which is really the pure gold statue in us all. Replace “Holy grail” with “Enlightenment” and you get the idea. Story and myth is always about a human transformation. Along his journey the hero encounters tools and allies that help him in his quest, until in a final, climactic moment, he must slay a dragon (or some other kind of adversary). The dragon, of course is really the fears, doubts, and obstacles that prevent him from truly being himself. In slaying the dragon, he is, in reality, slaying a part of himself. In mythology, death is never an end, it is always a change that signifies a new beginning.

In “the return” the hero come home and shares all he has learned with his community. It is through this sharing that he finds gold in his adventure, the holy grail.

As widowed people, we live the Hero’s Journey on a daily basis.

I had a Skype interview today with a woman who is writing a play about a woman who survived the holocaust and she wanted to interview other women (like me) who have come through trauma and flourished, trying to figure out the secret of becoming stronger after such a trial. What was my secret, she wanted to know.

Sure, my childhood prepared me in some ways – bouncing around as I did between divorced parents, traveling to Europe by myself in high school and to Australia after university – making me tolerant of a fair amount of dramatic change in my life.

But I was hard-pressed to give her any other trait that might have set me apart from someone who might continue to struggle for years with loss. Maybe there is no difference other than time-frame. Perhaps I was just able to realize early that I was on a path of some kind, a road that I sometimes thought must have been laid out by some sadistic landscaper, but one that I saw as far more interesting than a flat, even road.

And somehow I saw the beauty of sharing what I learned through my book, never imagining that I was fulfilling a long-established cycle of human existence.

As I write away at my fiction (yes, I’m back to that), The Hero’s Journey guides my protagonist, as it does in every good story, as The Hero’s Journey is the same basic structure of every story or movie we read or watch.

We are all on a quest to chip away at that mud that envelops us, all have the potential of finding pure gold within. Widowhood sure knocked off a great big hunk of mine. What a amazing gift it is to know and be able to “follow your bliss.”

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  1. Debbie G. November 10, 2011 at 9:32 am

    I loved this post, must take time to read more Campbell. My favorite quote from him was posted on a blog I read often (actually posted on the 2nd anniversary of my husbands death): “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us”.

    Like you, I can’t put my finger on why I have been able to overcome the tragedies in my life. I usually say I have a “survivor gene” – something innate in me that pushes me to press on, when most would quit. Some would say childhood experiences, others would say I just come from “good stock”. LOL. Regardless, I’m still here and still chipping away at that mud. Thanks for reminding me why stories matter.

  2. Kristine November 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Abby, this is so wise! and so useful to a fellow writer, with widowhood in my story as well…
    the crazy thing is, I was just reading a book last night (My Best Self, Using the Enneagram to Free the Soul) and Joseph Campbell and his Power of Myth were quoted in it… and I’d never heard of him until you mentioned him the other day. I would not have read that part as closely had you not brought him to my attention. I love how life works.

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