The Journey

Every good story is a heroic journey. And not just in literature, but in all forms of art and creation. Music (songs, albums, periods and eras are all journeys of different lengths), painting, theatre, architecture, design and film all follow a similar pattern of development. The heroic journey involves a departure, struggle, and return. What separates great works from mediocre creations is the length, depth and complexity of the journey. Catchy pop tunes use basic structures of chords, melody, rhythm and vocals, and are usually short and shallow. Their journey is like walking to the corner store and back. Other forms of music and art allow for much longer, deeper and more complex journeys, and one may even feel lost partway through. In the end, all stories intertwine in a rich colourful tapestry, and it is this realization that can sustain us during our most trying moments.

Life itself, being a story, is also a heroic journey, a great work of art, a deep dream in which we are all players looking to find our part. The greatest reward that can be found is not in riches, achievements, pleasure, power, status, or anything achievable in the outer world, but the discovery of one’s true self, one’s true identity. To fully and deeply understand one’s personal history, identity and purpose in the world reveals a happiness and wholeness for which there is no substitute.

The spiritual journey begins with dissatisfaction. Having had one’s fill of the usual pleasures and pastimes and left with a feeling of dissatisfaction and emptiness, one’s soul yearns for something greater. It is then that one hears the call from Spirit and is compelled to leave behind familiar circumstances to seek out higher, deeper and more enriching paths.  This is the departure.  The struggle is to know ourselves, and in doing so we return to our spiritual home.

I first learned about the metaphor of the journey through the writing of Joseph Campbell, and to illustrate what the journey is like, I’d like to use the analogy of climbing a mountain.

Each of us has a mountain to climb in this lifetime. The mountain represents the major struggle, the great lesson, the unique journey that has been laid before us in order to progress our spiritual growth and evolution. It is not a single task or event but a series of challenges – some small, others large – that point the way upward and are woven together to form a great journey. On this path, we cannot move forward until we have understood and overcome the challenge that we are confronted with at each point.

The mountain is inside each of us. It lies within, but we experience it as if it is outside, in the world of the senses. It is the challenge we set for ourselves before being incarnated in the flesh.

When we confront the mountain it can be a daunting experience. It is not easy to take up the challenge willingly. Most of us would rather take cover in a comfortable cave, and have to be pushed onto the path. If we are courageous and wise we accept our journey and embark willingly, but as it happens, many people do whatever they can do avoid climbing the mountain.

There are many strategies to avoid the necessary suffering, transformation and learning.

Some people say: “I see the mountain but I don’t want to climb it” and dig their heels into the ground and refuse to move. They spend their lives stagnating at the bottom of the hill, with their familiar sufferings and habits, learning little. Their days are spent living unfulfilling lives, which they may come to regret only on their deathbed when it is too late.

Some people say: “It’s not my mountain; someone else is responsible for this mess and I want them to handle it”. They offload their fear, anger, frustration and suffering onto other people rather than taking it upon themselves. This is the method of projecting the burden, like passing the buck or hot potato that creates conflict between people. It gives rise to blame, hatred, and the roles of persecutor and victim. Once again very little is learned because of a mistaken orientation – outward rather than inward.

Some people say: “I see the mountain but it’s too hard and painful to climb; I want someone to airlift me directly to the top.” They seek a saviour, a rescuer who will take the burden off their shoulders and save them from the long dignified march to the top. Rather than finding their own answers they look for a book or guru that promises to provide all the answers and fulfill their every need in exchange for unwavering devotion and adoration. Both traditional religions and modern cults, when taken literally without using our own judgement to question and interpret the lessons offered, often fall into this category. The truth is that there are no shortcuts. We can and will be assisted by others at various points along the path – and this may include others who have gone before us – but the path is ours alone to take and it does us no service to skip the parts of the journey that we don’t like or seek pre-packaged solutions. The long slow way may be painful but it is the only way to make the profound lasting transformation of consciousness that is needed to reach the top.

Some people say: “I see the mountain but the trail is clouded and uncertain. I don’t want to take another step until I can see clearly where I’m going. I don’t want to run into anything threatening or dangerous.” This is the method taken by those who profess to be guided by the principles of science, reason and evidence. The fact is: the bottom of the mountain will always look like the safest place of all because there is nowhere to fall to and it is familiar. By trying to predict all of the twists and turns that await us along the journey and demanding to know the final outcome before taking a step, we deny ourselves the joy and mystery of venturing into the unknown and we hinder our progress. Faith and courage are needed.

What all of these strategies share in common is a refusal to take the journey out of a desire to avoid suffering. The truth is that suffering is inevitable in life, but we have a choice: do we suffer with dignity, or without dignity? The only question is whether you will remain at the bottom of the hill, suffering in the same old familiar ways without learning and growing, or whether you will use your suffering as a catalyst for your maturation and development as a person by continuing along the journey upward.

Some people begin the journey and refuse to ask for help or guidance as soon as they get stuck along the way. They then either turn around and go back down or they remain stuck and do not progress further. This is the method taken by those who think, out of pride, that they have to go it alone, and who cannot admit that they need help for fear of bruising their own ego or because they don’t trust others and don’t want to become dependent on others for assistance. Just because your journey is your own doesn’t mean that you have to take it alone. You can be accompanied by others along the way – your spouse/partner, friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, and fellow travelers are there to guide you in the right direction and give you support when you need it. They cannot take the journey for you but they can give you advice and help you find the inner resources to keep going. What you need is humility and an open heart to allow the help in.

Some people begin the journey and reach a certain point where they feel comfortable enough that they decide to stop. They think: “this is good enough; I’ve got a nice view now; I don’t need to go any further”. This is the aborted journey and is very common. Many people will work to get themselves to a point where their immediate survival is fairly secure and they are not suffering greatly. They then think that the journey is over and there’s nothing more to do but maintain their position and keep themselves entertained for the rest of their days. This is a small-minded view of the journey that misses the whole point. The journey takes us far beyond mere survival and avoidance of suffering into the heights and depths of ourselves. It is a call to claim our integrity and dignity, one that asks us to transcend our childish needs for constant security and satisfaction in exchange for the rewards of fully realizing our spiritual potential in all its aspects. This may require us to willingly welcome suffering upon ourselves in order that we may grow stronger and more resilient and adaptable as a result of it.

At each stage of the journey up the mountain we are faced with new challenges. A challenge is really a call toward expansion of self by assimilating something which we had previously seen as foreign, unfamiliar or hostile. In order to do this we must become bigger than the things we would absorb. We must listen and pay attention to the messages they are trying to send us so that we can incorporate those lessons into ourselves. We must take them in, digest them and grow from them. With appropriate-size lessons and healthy digestion we can grow and evolve well. When the lesson appears too big to swallow we must divide it into smaller pieces, and when digestion is poor or incomplete (as can happen with difficult childhood experiences) we must clear out the backlog in order to make room for the new. We do not need to go looking for lessons; the journey presents them to us in due course. What we must do is to keep our senses, hearts and minds open and create physical, mental and emotional space to allow new lessons to come in and be processed. The journey is all about pushing our limits one step at a time, one lesson at a time, to overcome challenges and take in ever greater swaths of creation.


~ by spiritualseeker1 on May 22, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: