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Heroes, Joseph Campbell, and Jordan Peterson

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Joseph: Another thing Pellagius said is that you cannot be saved by another's act".Pellagius was defending a doctrine of individual responsibility. I don't know where it comes from, but certainly it was typical, I would say, of European as opposed to Eastern points of view".

Tom: That sounds like the line in the King Arthur legend . . .

Joseph: "Each knight entered the forest at a point he had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no way or path." That's from The Quest of the Sangral, 1215 or so in France.

Tom: How do they expect to find their way then?

Joseph: By questing.

Tom: And that's what we all do in life?

Joseph: Yes. Otherwise, you'd follow someone else's path, follow the well-tried ways. No one in the world was ever you before, with your particular gifts and abilities and possibilities. It's a shame to waste those by doing what someone else has done.

It appears that Campbell and Peterson would both agree that the heroic journey toward healing is a kind of questing in which the person takes responsibility, meaning making an active response to the illness in an effort to find wellness. What fascinates me about these quests is their uniqueness. No two paths to healing are the same. Each person finds his or her individual uniqueness. The well-tried ways of the biomedical model are present and available, but so many stories of healing venture far afield of what the doctors prescribes. The hero steps outside the conventional narratives about how to behave and what to choose in the face of illness.

Perhaps the art of healing is the shared construction of a heroic journey in which the afflicted person, in conjunction with helpers, undertakes a journey, often psychological, often transcendental, often deeply spiritual, and crosses into the unknown territories, enters into dialogue with adversaries (sometimes the illness, sometimes other forces, strangers, or beings), overcomes obstacles, finds a deeper state of wellbeing, which may or not be associated with various levels of curing, and returns to his or her community to share the wisdom which has been gained.

Healing may not always mean curing. We know healing has occurred when the story uplifts and inspires us, even if the patient dies. The end does eventually come for us all, anticipated by Alfred Lord Tennyson [4], in his poem, Ulysses, which speaks to the attitude of the hero when the adversary is illness and the threat is death:

"you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods".

Come, my friends,

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)
 

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