In the lead-up to the Referendum, I had struggled with how I might vote. Neither “Yes” nor “No” in itself would or could solve the problems we face. The public debate and commentary was too rigid but I sensed an energy and a movement that was hard to pin down. The same old self-satisfied and smug posturings seemed to dominate the media. For the first time in my life, I deliberately abstained from voting, because even though my sympathies were with the “Yes” campaign I found the public arguments too simplistic and I feared that some of the allegedly “feminist” rhetoric was too phobic towards men. I do not believe in the mythology of virgin birth so how could I support a cause that was apparently excluding men from the solution as well as implicitly vilifying them as being part of the cause?
I am Irish, I live in Ireland and we have just voted in a referendum that has shattered the old political structures and brought world-wide attention to the Emerald Isle. Nostalgia for an old romantic view of Ireland has been dispersed by a wind of change and a new confident electorate is emerging from the chrysalis of romantic Celtic dreams. I needn’t have worried, This convincing win for the “Yes” vote was not carried by the old politics no matter how hard they may try to convince themselves. This battle for a new Ireland was not planned nor fought in the old “smoke-filled” environment of political parties. It was fought hand-to-hand, doorstep-to-doorstep, street-by-street with courage and conviction by people who must be trusted.
The impetus came from a groundswell of grass-roots activism, dominated by younger people and by some new women and men who were not shackled by the old political system or personal religious convictions, but who brought a vigorous and vibrant force to bear. “A terrible beauty is born” (W.B.Yeats). It has brought activism to the fore and relegated old fashioned revisionist politics to “crying the catch cries of the clown”. It has gone further than the now-hackneyed phrase of “new politics” dared to go.
The democratic process in Ireland has shown a new face, a new vigour, a renewed belief in the power of One-ness. We should now, in gratitude, turn to face the rising Sun of change.
Remember that each one of us will, at some stage or another or even at many different stages in our life, come to a door or a path or a life option that is closed to us. We have the choice to turn away or to open that door, to travel that path, to make that choice.
I first heard about the “Hero’s Journey” back in the early 1970s. A colleague of mine, Paddy Walley, mentioned it in passing around the time that I was recruited as a Training Specialist in N.E.T., the fertiliser plant in Arklow. I didn’t know much then about the “Hero’s Journey” other than that occasional references to it appeared in the media dealing with training and organisation development issues. About the same time, I was encouraged by an Irish consultant, a behavioural scientist, the late Pat Quinn, who was working with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, based in the U.K., to attend their annual Leicester Working Conference.
This “conference” was unlike anything I had ever experienced up to then. It was (and still is!) an experiential learning event. Unlike most conferences, where there is a lot of socialising and networking contacts, a lot of talks by panels of experts, and a “jolly good time” is had by all, financed usually by the sponsoring employers (think: scaled-down Davos and a rite of passage for aspiring executives), the Working Conference is an intense learning experience driven by the participants themselves, both consciously as a result of their desire to learn, but also unconsciously by their subliminal needs and desires and personal make-up.
A Working Conference as an experiential event is certainly different. There you learn from your own direct experience of interacting with others in the “here-and-now” as you work with them in an emerging organisational structure and struggle to understand what it’s all about. At one level, you are thinking about the work you are trying to do from scratch, while at the same time, you are being encouraged to examine the process in which the group is engaged, communicating, thinking, doing, arguing, agreeing, visualising. That is, you are dealing with the what and the how of the Task but at the same time, struggling to understand the emerging dynamic of the Process of working together.
The conference consultants focus on analysing what the various groups and sub-groups are doing and interject from time to time with their hypotheses about what is happening in the group, as-a-group. They rarely if ever interact with individuals in the group, because their focus is the group as a group, as if it were a separate “animal” and the individuals merely different, but intrinsic, aspects of that “animal”. The focus is on the dynamic way in which the Task and the Process interact, on how that interaction affects and is affected by the individuals in the group, at the level of both conscious and unconscious awareness, thinking, and behaviour.
The group consultant’s only information is what they see and hear and sense around them. From that they develop a working hypothesis as to what might be going on in the psyches of the group members. It is impossible to describe the effect this has on each participant. Suffice it to say that on the morning of the second day (the conference lasted for a fortnight), I spent almost an hour before breakfast, on my knees, in the toilet bringing up what felt like everything I had ever eaten in my life. By the end of the fortnight, I was aware that the world had changed for me and that I had choices to make. In many ways a Working Conference is another example of the Hero’s Journey in a limited time frame. My career took a radically different direction from then on. I would now in retrospect describe my life as surfing from one wave to the next, even from one Working Conference to another, caught up like a small canoe negotiating dangerous but exciting rapids. I have also attended three further working conferences and trained as a group relations consultant with the Tavistock Institute.
I mention all the above, because over the past few years since 2002, when I returned to Ireland, I have been struggling to cope with the consequences, some good, some bad, others yet to be evaluated, of my life in general. But I have learned how to look at these these situations in a more useful way, and most importantly, to accept life as it is rather than wish it were different. As part of this developing scenario, the name of Joseph Campbell arose again and again. He was the originator of the “Hero’s Journey”! In this, his work is invaluable if you struggle at times to make sense of what is happening to you in your own life. The diagram below is just one of many different examples of how the different stages of the Hero’s Journey may occur.
Joseph Campbell was born in White Plains, New York, the son of Josephine (née Lynch) and Charles William Campbell. He was from an upper-middle-class Irish Catholic family. He was a scholar and was strongly influenced by the work of James Joyce. His book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, gives a good overview of his ideas. His work has influenced many modern writers and film-makers, such as George Lucas and “Star Wars”, “The Matrix”, the Harry Potter series, and many others. The popularity of those films and others like them, including folk tales, mythology, and fairy tales, is in large measure due to those stories being built upon a simple framework that we instinctively recognise and respond to as being rooted in our shared human nature.
Today I came upon the film “The Timeless Tale of the Hero’s Journey”. [NOTE: This link will take you to a YouTube video summarising the Hero’s Journey and that is then followed by a one-hour film expanding on the first video and pointing out the implications of the myth]. I have no regrets that it has taken so many years for my life to come full circle since then, with many repeated cycles of the Journey, from Paddy Walley’s reference to it nearly fifty years ago right up to now. You will always find the Hero’s Journey relevant to your search for meaning in your life, as well as helping you to recognise the “Here be Dragons!” sign.
The key point for anyone watching this film is to remember that this is not about a pantheon of heroes to be admired from a distance. Every human being since the dawn of our history is unique. We live in a gigantic, multi-dimensional, mind-boggling, cosmic arena that we still struggle to understand, so there is still plenty of room for your and my and his and her uniqueness to emerge and flourish. Remember that each one of us will, at some stage or another or even at many different stages in our life, come to a door or a path or a life option that is closed to us. We have the choice to turn away or to open that door, to travel that path, to make that choice. You don’t have to be famous, or fantastically clever or skilled or wealthy see your life as your Hero’s Journey.
I have always been intrigued by the names give to hurricanes by the meteorology folk. The hurricane now sweeping across Ireland from South to North has been labeled “Ophelia”. I presume that this name refers to Hamlet’s girl-friend in Shakespeare’s play. If this hurricane is seen as feminine then she certainly is a mad, crazy woman who has no respect for those around her. Is that fair to the fair Ophelia? And is it fair to the hurricane?
Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet”, was on the curriculum the year I did my Leaving Cert. back in the 1950s. Or was it for the Inter Cert? I can’t be sure but I really loved that play. I was also fortunate that my English teacher was a very good teacher. He challenged us to analyse the characters in the play and helped us to articulate our own understanding of the characters rather than learn off set answers by heart for the exams. I am grateful to him for that because it was a skill that has stood me in good stead during my working life, encouraging me to trust my own judgment of others while allowing room for ongoing re-assessment. Human beings, like characters in a Shakespeare play, do develop and change over their life-time.
Life for women in Shakespeare’s time would not be acceptable in today’s society. In the opening scenes of the play, Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, was, in effect, advising her to keep her knees together and told her “Be wary then best safety lies in fear” because he knew his pal Hamlet! Well, that is advice that we might well bear in mind today when Ophelia hits our town or parish! Her father, Polonius, got in on the act as well, cutting short her protestations that Hamlet had “importuned (her) with love in honourable fashion” by telling her she was speaking like a “green girl”! I thought she was a bit wimpish when she gave in to her father and said: “I shall obey my lord“. Later when Hamlet flips his lid and behaves mega-strangely, he appears to succeed in getting her to support him in his plan to “out” his uncle as the murderer of his father. But the audience has the advantage of knowing that Hamlet’s “madness” is an act wherein he planned “to catch the conscience of the King”. In a turning of the tables it is actually Ophelia who goes mad and kills herself by drowning in the river after Hamlet kills her father.
So in looking at this hurricane through the prism of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and the tragic character of Ophelia, I am looking past the drama of the hurricane at the global stage of climate. This hurricane is making us in Ireland face a mere fraction of the horror of a planet in agony. My personal spiritual understanding of planet Earth is that it is a conscious entity, together with other “living” components such as rocks, plants, and animals, each with its own level of consciousness. We humans are a responsible part of that great unified Consciousness.The Qigong mantra, “I am in the Universe, the Universe is in me, the Universe and I are One” is particularly relevant. Hurricane “Ophelia” is a call from Mother Earth and if we have any sense we must listen. We do not own the planet. We cannot control Nature. We must learn to bend with the wind, otherwise we shall break like the reed in the wind. And we must also beware of those of our leaders who either are mad or who are pretending to be mad in order to manipulate us for their own advantage. In the words of Polonius, father of Ophelia:
“We are oft to blame in this, —
“Tis too much proved – that with devotion’s visage
“And pious action we do sugar o’er
“The devil himself.”
[In today’s language, that reads as follows:
“We are often to blame in this,
“As evidence shows, that with a religious face
“And an assumed holiness,
“We make the face of evil acceptable”]
I was stopped in my tracks by a quotation from Thomas Berry
These Cosmic dynamics have been active for billions of years and have enabled us to come this far.That, surely, is sufficient reason for us to believe that the guiding principle are still at work.
Having confidence in the future is one essential component, without doubt, if we are to tackle the problems. But we also need to develop new ways of working that make us an aware participant in evolution, …
Today I started on the 4th module of the Pachamama Programme, Game Changing Initiative, the primary focus of which is on Evolutionary Activism and how to engage collectively with the huge issues facing the world we live in. I was stopped in my tracks by a quotation from Thomas Berry [check <http://www.thomasberry.org/Books/>]. He reminds me a lot of a similar writer, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, [see: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Teilhard_de_Chardin>%5D from the 1950s who sowed the seeds for a break from the traditional ideas about religion to engagement with an ongoing spiritual process encompassing evolution and the cosmos. Initially he was rejected by both Vatican and Jesuits alike. Incidentally I was given a present of his book, “The Phenomenon of Man” by the late Val Rice (former Chair of Education at Trinity College Dublin (1966-2005)) who was a student with me in University College, Cork. Val gave it to me as payment-in-kind when I gave him a grind in maths-physics to help catch up after he joined our class late in the term (1961)!
Rather than present the quote (which I will do below, for the record), let me try to put it in my own words and in the context of our exchanges on Facebook. Most of us today are familiar with images of the Universe captured and delivered to us by the Hubble Telescope. Irrespective of religious beliefs or none, we all marvel at the sight of our galaxy, dwarfed in the midst of so many other galaxies in the unfathomable depths of the Cosmos.
When we look at the small blue planet, our home, which is in turn dwarfed by the size of our galaxy, we struggle to comprehend the relationship between that speck of life and the infinite space around it. We seem, however, to be agreed, in some way we don’t yet fully understand, that the dynamics of that Cosmos, from the very beginning at the Big Bang, right up this moment of Now, shaped the course of development of the heavens that we see above us on a starry night, they lit up the Sun upon which we depend totally for all forms of life, and they formed our own planet Earth.
These Cosmic dynamics have been active for billions of years and have enabled us to come this far.That, surely, is sufficient reason for us to believe that the guiding principles are still at work. Yet nowadays, Planet Earth is under severe stress, not only from climate change brought about largely by human activity, but also from the exhausting of irreplaceable animal and mineral resources. Even the survival of our own human species is under threat. At local levels, in every country, conflicts are emerging, governments are failing to provide a social and environmental setting in which people, all people, can live meaningful lives, work in jobs that have meaning and reward them, feel secure and not exploited. Every day, I see reports about problems filtering from colleagues around the globe, telling me about the conflict between the EU/Troika/IMF and an impoverished Greece. Within my own country of Ireland, there is mounting anger because of the way in which austerity policies continue to hit the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, established jobs have been wiped out, artificial employment as “trainees” and in “work experience programmes” are being offered to the unemployed whose skills have become redundant, while the richest individuals and corporations seem to be getting ever richer. From planetary destruction to the loss of jobs locally, what can we do? Just turn our faces to the wall and die miserable, neglected and alone? Or is there something we can do about it? There is! We can, therefore we must!
I believe that the framing of a question is critical to the answer we receive. Perhaps we should rephrase the question if we are serious about finding an answer to our current question. In reality, there is probably little that we can do from our own resources, at local, national, and some international levels, based upon the results of our previous efforts. The question that we face is: How can we work, together, at all levels in society, with the dynamics of the Cosmos, that have brought us this far, to adjust our lives to being part of the process of evolution rather than fighting against it, like some blind Titan, standing alone, upon a Hill in Hebron, cursing the Gods he does not know or understand?
This is the quotation from Thomas Berry, I mentioned above:
““If the dynamics of the universe, from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the earth… there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened our present understanding of ourselves and our relationship to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.”
Having confidence in the future is one essential component, without doubt, if we are to tackle the problems. But we also need to develop new ways of working that make us an aware participant in evolution, rather than merely an outsider to a process which appears to conflict with the main ideologies in current favour. How can that be done. As part of the Pachamama Programme in which I am participating with others from around the globe, I am trying to explore ways in which I can contribute, no matter how small and insignificant the effort of an individual may be in comparison with the enormity of the challenge. At such times as this, I am often reminded of a folk song I heard and sang in the 1960s. It is the rallying call composed by Woody Guthrie in the Dustbowl of the US in the 1930s – “Two and two and fifty make a million”!
I shall be writing from time to time about my progress, or lack of it, as the case may be; of the ideas generated by my colleagues and other participants in the Programme; and I would love to hear from readers of this blog about their views and any work that they are doing in this area. Let;s not turn our faces to the wall, just yet ;-D. I hear two calling another two, and I can see another fifty becoming active! We will get there. As Samuel Beckett, a great Irish writer and Nobel Prize winner, once wrote: “I can’t go on, I must go on, I will go on”.