Leaving Wonderland: A Real Hero’s Journey

By Geoffrey Geddes

Life calls to each of us with a singular, persistent appeal: live!  Heroes answer. Cowards disregard life’s plea and die before they bask in the light of authentic living. Late Bloomers doggedly delay their response. Circumstances or conditioning may defer the Late Bloomer’s foray. But life compels fruition. We bloom victorious, or we die unfinished.

The fictional hero, not unlike the Late Bloomer, might first refuse adventure’s call. In myth, the refusal serves to heighten dramatic tension and reveal character flaws. In reality, a delay only delays. No reader or audience will cheer your belated revelation. You live; then you die. So, why not answer life’s call and live well?

The mythic hero’s refusal to take up arms exemplifies the maladaptive power of ego and the consequences of negative conditioning. When Achilles sulks in his tent while Trojans slaughter Greeks, he does so from a petulance born of an misguided upbringing. When Jesus cries in anguish at his sacrificial fate, he expresses the self’s last, desperate attempt to trump fate with a craving to survive. When any Will Smith character first answers “hell no” to a plea for help, he does so from streetwise caution borne of a lifetime of negative outcomes.

The universe ignores the details of your life. You are free to choose your path in each moment. Your strength derives from taking responsibility for the consequences of your choices, and from making choices that offer you the best chance to live a more effective, authentic life.

Our capacity to choose is effectively nil at birth, and our fate remains other-directed throughout childhood. Parents, teachers, crossing guards, and bus drivers all have a hand in shaping our destiny. So do priests, pedophiles, and panhandlers. In a perfect world, our adult guardians would guide us to independence and imbue us with adept life skills. In a perfect world, Santa Claus would bring us everything we ask for.

Notwithstanding the tales of Romulus and Remus or Tarzan, infants would die without at least one human caretaker to see them through their first few defenseless years. The caretaker may buck tradition and take the form of a tolerant neighbor or an older sibling. Still, neither nature nor nurture will permit human development to occur in complete solitude. Instinct drives the infant to seek the nipple; early conditioning teaches the child to bond with the closest available protector, regardless of that person’s parenting skills.

Nature also encourages eventual separation from the parent to complete the life cycle. Unfortunately, competing self-interest often perverts the conditioning process, prolonging dependence and delaying the pain of separation. The result: inhibitions, resentments, anxiety, regrets, stunted development, maladaptive behavior, and religious fervor.

Ego craves the least resistant path; heroes attack the steepest face of the mountain. In the end, the hero discovers that there is no Grail, there is no Atlantis, there is no Fountain of Youth or Wizard of Oz or Maltese Falcon or One Ring to Rule Them All. There is only life. Authentic living requires patient practice. Stop pining for the Quixotic quick fix and get to work. Endure your hardships without complaint or regret and pursue your joy without fear. Accept adulthood and willingly bid farewell to youthful innocence and naiveté. Answer life’s call.

Fair warning: the hero’s path is not painless. Making life-affirming choices affirms life, but might not relieve discomfort. Humans feel lonely; we feel frustrated; we feel depressed; we feel lost. Whenever unpleasant feelings arise, so does our self-protective impulse to seek relief as quickly as possible, by whatever means possible, consequences be damned.

Walking an authentic path requires a marathoner’s tenacity. A marathon is long; a marathon is painful. After a certain distance, each mile challenges the runner’s commitment. Eventually, each stride becomes a test of will. Relief would be so easy. Just stop! But stopping represents a false surrender; it represents surrender to ego rather than to truth. Truth is the next step. To stop is to step off the chosen path. To stop is to give up.

“But it hurts! I don’t deserve this! I am free to choose!”

The voice of self-interest is aggressive and persuasive, especially in the midst of pain. It derives strength from deep within our lizard brains, where survival is paramount. How can we possibly defend against such a deep-rooted, insistent foe?

Persevere. The greater the pain, the harder ego fights. But the power of ego is not limitless. It fatigues with each determined step. Ego concerns itself not with consequences or benefits or accurate measures of ability. Ego seeks only relief. Yes, the human body will eventually reach its physical limits and stop running. But real, human limits more than outmatch ego’s limits.

Only adults can bloom, so grow up. Set aside comic book comfort and frantic escapism. Look not to a supernatural parent for guidance, but rather to reality and to your authentic self. Take each step along your path honestly and courageously. Ask not for salvation, but rather for clear vision and assistance from your fellow travelers. Open your eyes, unclench your fists, embrace reality, and live.