The presidential inauguration of Donald Trump has stirred us all. I was up until all hours of the night last night worrying about our country, my women friends, my gay and trans friends, my muslim friends, my friends of color, and frankly, afraid for myself, too. I quietly wept throughout the day yesterday, for all the reasons we’re all scared right now.
Then, I started to see the stories of the marches and the protests. I started to see the wave of people–galvanized by ideals and principles of unity and equality–descend on Washington and my own hometown of New York City. My social media feeds were filled with the strength and courage of those lending a voice to quash the hate.
I realized something.
This is a story I know. This is a story I recognize. This story is the same story that has been told since the beginning of time. The way this story plays out is well-scripted, and we all know how stories end.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life studying mythology, tracking the path of transformation and translating the journey for others. What we know about the trajectory of a myth is tried-and-true, it is time tested, it is set within the collective unconscious. Each of our minds, hearts and spirits know this path, even if we don’t consciously know it ourselves. Understanding how myth works makes our work as humans a little easier. It sheds light on who we are now, as well as who we will become: heroes.
In mythology, every story needs a hero. But, the thing we often forget, is that every story needs a villain, too. Without the villain, we never get a hero. The hero only qualifies as such by the challenges he or she has overcome. It is the dramatic tension that makes us pay attention to the narrative, that keeps us awake, and that ignites passion within us to invest ourselves in the story.
This is our story.
We had eight good years. We had eight years where we knew we were safe, where our rights were honored, and we even won more rights for more of us to stand on equal footing. During these times, we are Luke Skywalker, slightly annoyed at our uncle’s request to help because it gets in the way of our errand to Tosche Station. Or, we are Frodo Baggins, quietly enjoying the Shire while our biggest concern is what time to meet our friends for a drink at the pub.
We’ve never left our comfort zone. In fact, the comfort zone has become so small, that we are frightened by what is beyond it. It feels too scary to venture outside of, and so we resist the call to adventure when it comes.
The call came for us last November on election day. It was the day that many of us started to awaken to the fact that danger was looming ahead. We now have the villain in our story; the arch-enemy whose character and ideals stand in stark contrast of our own. Last November, I remember the shock of waking up and hearing the news. I remember my own response of going quiet for a few days, simply trying to process the shift in power and what it meant. I think for many of us, this is the moment we were truly moved to action; the moment we knew that this is going to be a time in our lives that none of us can remain small, complacent or quiet.
This may be the first time in our lives that we’ve been called to action like this. I know for myself, my country has always meant the world to me, but it’s also been relatively easy to stand back and watch it do its thing, with the faith and trust that it will all work out just fine. Even during 9/11, I remember the initial shock, but then the overwhelming feeling of togetherness that followed. During the financial crisis, I lost my house, but also gained a lot of wisdom and personal responsibility as a result. The recent movements are more intense–Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, and gender equality, for example–and hit at the root of who we are as a nation…what do we stand for?
It is a question like this that calls us to our adventure, that forces us to be complacent and quiet no longer; to brace ourselves against the oncoming storm.
It is a question like this that make us dig deeply to find out exactly who we are.
We had a period of a few months to let this question stir within us. This is the moment before the inevitable quest begins; the moments of our own internal resistance. Like, when Luke Skywalker denies Obi Wan Kenobi’s request to join him to fight the Empire, or when Frodo simply wants to hide the ring away and stay in the Shire. We all know what must happen next.
We know it. Even if we don’t want to do it.
Frodo doesn’t want to leave the Shire. Luke wants to stay on Tatooine.
But, circumstances force us forward.
It is only when things become so big, so powerful, so evil, so unavoidable that we are forced into action. I wish this wasn’t the case, but this has been the human condition since time immemorial. That’s why myths are written this way. They are written to reflect an inner truth that we all share:
We resist change.
We do. Like it or not, few of us run toward transformation. Transformation is rarely comfortable. Change comes at great cost. It requires self-examination and forces us to look at things we would otherwise be happy to ignore.
But, for any of us to become heroes, we MUST look. We cannot ignore what is within us.
If we remain ignorant of complacency, if we repress what we know to be right and true, if we do not look at our shadow: it destroys us.
When overcome what we resist, when we reveal our shadow, when we pull it into the light: it sets us free.
This is the fundamental quest of the hero. This is what transforms the hero from ordinary to extraordinary.
We now have a villain in our story. We now have circumstances which force us to recognize what we have hidden in the shadow for too long. We now have to stand up and fight for what we believe in.
For if we don’t, it will be lost, and our story will never be told.
No one recounts the myth of the hero that never finished the journey. As difficult, as painful, and as tumultuous as it will be, we have to keep moving forward.
Yesterday, we crossed over from the lives we knew, from the people we were, from the times we lived in, into the unknown. We are treading through dark and deep waters.
Here is the good news: We are not alone.
This heroic journey is not made by one of us, it is made by many.
Just as Frodo had Sam and his fellowship, and Luke had Leia, Han and the members of the rebellion, we have each other.
This road of trials will be long. It might even be terrible. Who knows what evil we will encounter on the darkest part of our quest. No matter what, there is only one way this plays out:
We become heroes.
The next part of our trajectory is no doubt the hardest. It requires more strength than many of us have mustered in a long time. Maybe, ever. There is going to be progressive darkness, until it looks like all the light has been snuffed out. We will need to face our demons–both on the inside, and the outside–in order to conquer them.
And, at the moment when we feel we are defeated, while we’re sitting in the pitch blackness, we will come to realize the singular thing that all heroes who have gone before us know:
What we do, we do not only for ourselves, we do it for all others. We are not alone.
At the moment of the turn of the tides, the hero knows him or herself to be the agent of change, because he or she has recognized the oneness and value of all life.
This is why Frodo spares Gollum, and in the end is saved by him. This is how Luke wins against Darth Vader. He chooses the path of compassion, lays down his sword and connects with his father.
This is how our story turns out.
In the end, equality, justice, human rights, and compassion prevail. It does in every mythology we know.
Understanding how we get there brings more consciousness and awareness to our journey. We know this is not a haphazard fight. It is a knock-down, drag-out, fight to the finish that requires every ounce of strength we possess. And more.
But, this is our story.
Each of us has our personal narrative within it, but never forget that the collective is walking on this path, too. In our dark times, we need our friends. We need our community.
We are here for each other.
In the end, the fight will be worth it. The galaxy will be saved, the Shire will be safe. What happens in between is what makes us who we are.