HJ: In the course of the consciousness research I do, I invariably come across major websites, coaches and ‘thought leaders’ recommending that there is no such thing as a life purpose or life journey and that you should not pursue your passions full time. Unfortunately this ignorance is largely accepted by many individuals new to the path and can cause a lifetime of un-fullfillment and struggle against the natural urgings of the soul. As most people these days carry around large amounts of unhealed self-doubt in its various manifestations, the ego resonates with these types of ‘authoritative messages’ which offer a convenient rationale for not living up to ones potential. While this path of pursuing ones life journey or life purpose is often filled with challenges, they ultimately lead to greater happiness, fulfillment, strength, achievement, abundance, success and any other desirable quality you can think of, whereas shying away from the work we came here to do ultimately leads into a downward spiral of limiting beliefs and ‘negative’ emotions, or at best bland security in mediocrity. While each path is neither good or bad and offers a specific set of life experiences that are valid in their own right, one must remember that it is our life purpose / life journey we are talking about and repression or denial of this is a recipe for difficulty and struggle.
Instead, we recommend you arm yourselves with the proper tools for the job (which are freely outlined below) and approach the challenges in your life as an opportunity for growth, fulfillment and higher achievement and awareness, which is what they actually are!
Embrace the Hero’s Journey: An interview with Jean Houston on living a mythic life in today’s busy world
By UB Hawthorn
A pioneer of the Human Potential Movement, Jean Houston is a visionary thinker and teacher who has helped expand minds in 108 countries while working with the UN and other NGOs. She recently published The Wizard of Us, an engaging guide to discovering our human potential and true self through an understanding of the Wizard of Oz characters’ journey. Buckminster Fuller once said, “Jean Houston’s mind should be considered a national treasure." Take a peek into that mind as she answers questions on the hero’s journey and how that journey practically translates to our lives today.
What does it mean to live a mythic life?
We’re living in a time in which we’re all living mythic lives whether we like it or not. It really means living in the unexpected, assuming a journey that is often larger than your expectations and more peculiar than your dreams. It is a life in which you agree to go to the ends of the Earth whether it’s the inner Earth or the outer Earth of self-discovery.
Everybody in America is concerned about the Lance Armstrong story. Last night on Oprah he really admitted that he had been taking drugs for a very long time. I began to think about how part of our problem is that we extol celebrity and we think it is heroic. It isn’t. To be a celebrity is something almost 180 degrees from the heroic journey. Because on the heroic journey you are always on a journey of self-discovery of reflection, of honing your spiritual and psychological know how and you’re willing to go to the very depths for the higher dream. And the higher dream is not about winning. The higher dream is always about the journey of becoming, of exploration, of personal and collective evolution. It is the journey of the soul.
It’s so easy for people to miss this call to explore given the inertia of everyone’s busy lifestyles. Are there are any practices that you can recommend to people to tune in to this call?
In the book I take the story of The Wizard of Oz, which is the great iconic story of the higher dream in most parts of the West, as a journey of personal transformation. You can look at the journey of the hero and map your own life. How have you felt the call? Really draw it. What caused you to yearn over the rainbow? We all have that yearning. What makes you stop in the hero’s journey? And then how was it that you couldn’t stand yourself anymore and you got on with it?
And then the allies show up in The Wizard of Oz. The disempowered parts of herself, Dorothy; the disempowered mind, the Scarecrow; the disempowered heart, the Tin Man; the disempowered courage, the Cowardly Lion. But together in a team on the yellow-brick road, the road of spiritual pollen, the energy between them carries them into a whole new adventure. So what I do in the course of this book is show people how to awaken their mental capacity, their higher orders of intelligence.
The higher guidance in the Wizard of Oz is the good witch. So an exercise I give people is what I call the entelechy. Entelechy is an ancient Greek word that points to a higher purposefulness. A better description is that the entelechy of an acorn is to be an oak tree. It is the entelechy of a baby to be a grown-up human being. I have them stand, put their hands up and believe, even if they don’t believe regard it as a human fiction, that opposite them is their high self, their entelechy, their divine essence that is calling them, affirming them, loving, nourishing them. You begin to feel yourself evoked. The entelechy is like the midwife of your soul. The entelechy is the one that lures you into greater becoming and into the greater story. We find that that particular exercise is one that deeply speaks to almost everyone and gets them awake and on the great road.
And of course on the hero’s journey you run into that which tries to stop you—often called the guardian of the threshold. And in the Wizard of Oz it’s the Wicked Witch. How often we’re being asked to surrender. And we have to get beyond our recalcitrance, our sense of impotence. And this is where the activated heart, mind and spirit keep us going until finally we get to the possible society—the Emerald City—and we find ourselves ultimately facing the deepest challenger of us all, in this case the wizard. It is the wizard within us that is part of that which ignites our courage, our mind, our spirit, our heart, our deep-seeing and gives us an impossible task—at least once in our lives we’re given an impossible task that we can learn from.
Do you feel people are drawn to gurus as a manifestion of their entelechy?
Probably, yes. Guru is spelled “G U R U." People sometimes want to objectify the inner guru and for many people that is an appropriate action and for some of us it is not.
I’ve known too many gurus in my life—you’re asking someone who is a little bit jaundiced about that. But that does not mean it is not an appropriate path. Guru really means teacher. I think everyone is drawn in one way or another to teachers who can wake you up! Call upon your pluck and cunning and get you get you going and help you deepen and reflect who and what you really are!
For so many who want to embrace the hero’s journey and discover their true selves, issues of practicality inevitably arise like how do I leave my job, my spouse, what do I do about kids, other responsibilities. What advice would you give?
I think that it’s a question of remythologizing one’s life rather than pathologizing it. Instead of saying, “Oh God I can’t go. I can’t do anything. I’m so stuck," realizing that’s where you are. It’s where the great journey is anyways. It’s not a question of getting on the road and going. It’s a question of the road being inside you. What I try to do in some my books, and especially in this one, is to show you that the great journey is always present so you feel the call for a larger life. What does that mean? If I followed the story it means that it is time to deepen one’s life. How can one do it with one’s children, with one’s job, with one’s situation, and not regard it as just a terrible block.
In India you have the great god archetypical figure Ganesh who lifts obstructions. But the obstructions are often in one’s own mind. The obstruction is thinking that where you are is impossible. So you put off the inner journey. You put off the ways of deepening your mind, your heart, your spirit because you think that you have to be in another place, another time and that just isn’t true. So we find that where you are is often the perfect place because it’s true that in your local life you’re going to run into obstructions all the time. And instead of regarding them as impossible, regard them as opportunities. And that’s what I try to do. To take people where they are and give them access to the journey so that their life becomes illumined with possibility.
Can you explain the hero’s journey in the context of today?
We’re living at the most interesting and challenging time in human history. Other times thought they were it. They were wrong. This is it. And what we do with our lives will make the difference regarding the big trouble, which is whether we grow or whether we die. Whether we evolve or whether we perish.
So much of my work around the world, especially with UN agencies and other international groups, has been to deal with earth-shaking problems: poverty, status of women, disease. I find that yes we can pour in money. Yes we can create opportunities for certain kinds of solutions, but if you don’t work from inside out, not coming from high but just being there with people, activating their intelligence, their soul, their mind, their heart, and quicken it, then very little is going to happen.
Some years ago I was invited to work in South India with the Tata Corporation, which is probably one of the biggest companies in the world. I was working with their executives in the morning and in the afternoon I would go into the nearby villages. I remember being in a very primitive, but lovely, temple. An old farmer said “Oh sister, you see what is there. There is Ganesh, he lifts the problems. And there is Saraswati. She gives off intelligence and there is Parvati in the constant. Anyways, he explained what they all were and finally he said “it is only one thing: namarupa." It is the name for the ultimate function of everything. Name and form.
The next day young members of this company asked, “ Where do you go every day." “I go into the villages, I learn so much," I said. “Those are stupid, silly people. They only clean our latrines," they said. “No, they are brilliant." “No they are NOT." So I brought them all together. And I had one of the people in the village bring his seven-year-old son who was a phenomenal drummer (he wanted to be one of the greatest drummers of India, which actually has gone on to happen). He played these incredibly intricate rhythms for us.
I had them talk about their children—you have to find the universal themes. One talked about how much he loved his little boy. Another talked about how difficult it was to learn Sanskrit syllables. And something shifted. They set up a agreement where the villagers didn’t have to clean latrines but instead were being trained in management. We cross the great divide of otherness by going into the universals.
Of all the stories to choose from why did you choose The Wizard of Oz to tell the hero’s journey?
It’s one that everybody knows. Over a billion people have watched it. And if you ever sat down with people watching it you will see their mouths moving like in a liturgy. When you have a story that speaks so deeply to people you know something is trying to move on. It’s like our Odyssey. It’s an international, cross-cultural story. It’s interspecies—you have a little white girl, a member of the vegetable, mineral and animal kingdoms. You have a little dog who is filled with light. You have a dust bowl, a tornado. This is our present ecological time.
And there’s the great quest and the dealing with evil or what I call radical entropy in the form of the witch. And the archetype of the essence of who we are, Glinda, the deeper guide to the journey. It’s a phenomenal story.
How do the stories people grow up with in East relate to those people grow up with in the West?
One point I’d like to make since I’ve spent a lot of time India. The Ramayana is the key story of India, the story of how Prince Rama and Princess Sita are betrayed of their kingdom and go live in the forest for 14 years. She is abducted and taken to Sri Lanka by Ramana the ten-headed demon and he gathers the army of Hanuman and monkeys and creatures and humans and they go and rescue her. These great figures are everywhere in India. It’s part of the life scene.
Some years ago I was in a village in India that had only one TV set which belonged to an old upper-class lady who spoke English. She put the television in the trees and villagers came in and tied up their water buffalo and sat down on Sunday when one of 30 episodes of the Ramayana was playing. It was phenomenal. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. The colour, the lights, the power of the story, the beauty of the language. I kept saying, “Oh I wish we had something like this in America." And suddenly the old lady turns to me and says, “Oh, I don’t like Princess Sita. She is much too passive." “What?" I exclaimed in shock. “No, she’s too passive. It is a very bad example. We women in India are much stronger than that. We have to change the story," she says. “But madam, the story is at least 4,000 years old." “That’s right, it’s too old so we have to change it. We have to make her stronger the way we’re getting stronger. She should have a bigger role in rescuing herself. We have to change the story."
And I was so shocked because it was like listening to a group in Mississippi rewriting the Gospel of Mark. And then she turned and spoke in Gujarati (local language) to the people around and they seemed to laugh in agreement. And I was stunned. She says to me, “My name is Sita and my husband’s name is Rama, very common in India. He is a lazy bum. Anything happens I would have to rescue him!" I was watching the changing of the story.
Then after this beautiful thing what comes on after the commercial is the American showDynasty. Everyone was watching Dynasty! I was so embarrassed. And the old lady turns to me and says, “Oh sister, don’t be embarrassed, can’t you see it is the same story." I said, “How can you say that?" “You get the good and the bad. People flying through the air. Good versus evil. Oh yes indeed it is the same story."
I was watching the shifting of the story. The rise of women, something happening all over the world. Now in India it’s a huge issue. The rise of women all over the world to full partnership with men in human affairs and human dignity in terms of what is right and what is wrong.
One of the things I spoke with Joe Campbell about before he died was how the story is changing. He agreed. It is the rise of women. It is peoples of different cultures, different colours, different ethnicities, coming together because the ultimate story of the hero/heroine’s journey is becoming the stewards, the saviours of the Earth.
You write that to live out our true essence we need to tap into the aspect of our inner selves that best serves us. Any last words here, suggestions or practices you would recommend?
Whatever is one’s practice. Whether it is meditation, meditative walking, writing. It is to give one sacred time to deepen into the depths of who one is and to really listen. We’re in a time of the rising of the depths. It is a spiritual rising that I personally find all over the world. So it is to give yourself sacred time, sacred space to really be available to the greater story that is rising in us and to the spiritual essence that is part of all our lives.
There is a great man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who I had the great privilege to know between my 14th and 17th year. He said to me, “You know Jean, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience."
Read an excerpt from Jean Houston’s book The Wizard of Us on meeting and embracing your entelechy