POINT TO PONDER
Follow your bliss.
- Joseph Campbell
STORY LINE by Rajiv Shah
To mark the anniversary of Friday Reflections we want to revisit one of our favorite stories, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. On first glance, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a story about marching to the beat of your own drum, following dreams, pursuing your passion in the face of adversity and forgiving others when they condemn you for doing so. It incorporates all these elements, but I realized upon my viewing of the entire film (which can be viewed on youtube here: http://youtu.be/I6aBl7tAJCo) that JLS follows the classic Hero's Journey myth structure.
The Hero's Journey was popularized by Joseph Cambell who was a writer and mythologist. Campbell found that many classic stories follow a pattern (including Jonathan Livingston Seagull) and an extremely abridged explanation is outlined here that we can apply to our own lives:
- The Call to Adventure - This is where the main character is at a point in their life where they are at the brink of change. Either the character can be seeking the change or the call to adventure comes from an unexpected source (death of a loved one, fired from a job, life is in danger, etc). In JLS this step is represented in Jonathan's need to fly faster and higher than any seagull before. In your own life is there something that you seek? A higher sense of fulfillment whether personal or professional, a yearning to explore, or a need to challenge? Whatever that thing is, that is your calling.
- Refusal of the Call - The main character avoids the call due to doubt, familial obligations, expectations (societal, personal, or familial), or fear of the unknown. In JLS (around the 20 minute mark) Jonathan has flown higher than he ever has before but crash lands into the ocean. Injured and alone he floats on a wooden crate - for the first time doubting his calling, his belief in himself. He thinks, "I've got to live with what I am. I promise this day that I will be a seagull like every other seagull." Sound familiar? I don't think I need to illustrate how this applies to our own lives as many of us get stuck in this phase of the hero's journey, doubting our passion and ability.
- Crossing of the Threshold/Road of Trials - The point where the main character reenters their journey is sometimes with encouragement from another and sometimes from an internal calling growing stronger within them. At this point there is no turning back, the main character ventures further into the unknown, past fear and doubt. The character will undergo a transformation from the experience (usually tough) and emerge with a new understanding and/or a new self. In JLS as is true in other works, this is can be the point of death though it is not always the case. In our own lives, and since you are reading this - you are not dead yet (at least I hope not...) - it can be a metamorphosis from your old way of thinking/self usually into a new one.
- Apotheosis/The Ultimate Boon - The achievement of the goal. Moving to divine knowledge, transendence and attainment of the calling. In JLS this is the point when Jonathan has learned to fly highest, fastest, and is even able to transend his physical body. For us, well... I wouldn't know what this looks like and it would be foolish for me to try to teach anyone this as I'm searching myself. But I think it's in the search for this that we find peace and bliss, however brief or lasting. Some may find this in family, some in career achievements, and some might find it in jumping from one thing/place to the next. But when we find it I hope we take the next step:
- Master of Two Worlds/Freedom to Live - With this new knowledge, bliss, and transendance the main character returns to his place of origin in order to share those experiences with others and the world at large. This is so that others might find their own path and their own peace. In JLS this is done when Jonathan returns to the flock seeking to teach them that they can fly as high and fast as they dream. For us, it is the need to teach, to pass on what we've experienced in order to help another on their path. Paying it forward.
The Hero's Journey is one that all of us have within us. It reflects the nature of our search for meaning. We all find it in different places but the calling is always there. Sometimes the fears and doubts get so loud that we don't take the journey and find what we are truly capable of. It's easy to given in and stop searching, deciding that what we seek can't exist.
This need, the quest for meaning, is not only reflected in stories like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but is ingrained in spiritual texts such as the Bible and the story of the Buddha. It permeates most TV shows and movies, from Lost to Batman. It can even be found in the cycle of birth. It is a mythology that is interwoven into the very fabric of our existence - in the little place inside of each and everyone of us that dares to answer the call and seek our greatest potential.
Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them and they flew.
~ Guillaume Apollinaire