While doing some research on Joseph Campbell today, I stumbled across a paper I had previously saved that talks about The Hermeneutic Loop as the foundation for The Hero’s Journey. The reason I’m bringing it up is because there’s a diagram within the paper (shown below) that reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to talk about for sometime and how it relates to the paradox of visualizing our inner selves.
For most people, this is how they visualize vertical psychological growth. It’s a spiralling upwards at an ever greater breadth. For the longest time though, this has always intuitively felt wrong to me because the inner journey within ourselves has a paradox to it. The space that is created within us emerges from our very deepest core which is our edge.
Pemba Chödrön describes this similar to climbing a mountain to the center of the earth.
In the process of discovering bodhichitta, the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky.Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
I believe Joseph Campbell touches upon this as well when he talks about mandalas and how they’re used to figure out your own cosmic order within yourself.
In working out a mandala for yourself, you draw a circle and then think if the different impulse systems and value systems in your life. Then you compose them and try to find out where your center is. Making a mandala is a discipline for pulling all of those scattered aspects of your life together, for finding a center and ordering yourself to it. You try to coordinate your circle with the universal circle.Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
For myself, this is similar to how I’ve spoken about understanding yourself like a constellation or solar system, with a core sun and planets orbiting it. In other ways, it’s similar to how I’ve described it like being within a tornado, whereby at times you’re spinning around chaotically, not making sense of things. But then you have moments where you’re in the center eye of the tornado and everything around you that encompasses your life is calm and makes perfect sense…in that moment.
So unlike ancient maps where the outer edges would say “Here be dragons” to warn travellers of the unknowns dangers there because it’s unexplored, maps of our inner selves have “Here be dragons” at their very center core because that’s where the unexplored and unknown lies within us. In effect, our fears are our dragons standing in the way of exploring and discovering the depth and breadth of our very selves as a whole.
The pain, their loss… it’s all I have left of them. You think the grief will make you smaller inside, like your heart will collapse in on itself, but it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside of me like a building with rooms I’ve never explored.Dolores Abernathy, Westworld
What’s interesting about this all is that as you journey through your life, your center will change and shift. Early on your life, you will think you’ve found the center of your life that stabilizes and grounds you. But then something comes along, shakes your world, and you’ll realize that center was just an aspect of your life, not the center of it. Then you’ll find another center, thinking the same thing, and then it will shift again.
After repeating this heroic process of rediscovering the center of your Self at least a few times by “shedding the skin” of your old self, you will eventually come to your true center, the essence of who you truly are. For myself, what I’m finding interesting is that the center of my life at the start has become the same center again as I progress into the latter stages of my life but in a completely different and larger context than I could have possibly ever imagined.
It reminds me of Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist, whereby the heroic journey ends where one began but the journey itself has given us the recognition and awareness to see the treasure that has been lying dormant within us the entire time.