I’ve written of the hero in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey who doesn’t want out of the state of bliss and remains in nirvana for eternity. I’ve also written of the hero who takes the boon by force or cunning and then has to fly away. But we also have the hero who has to be rescued by an outside force and pulled back into the world. Sometimes it’s because he doesn’t want to return (and we really can’t blame him for that). At other times, he doesn’t know he’s willing to share the boon till someone puts the idea into his head.
The Nudge to Pay It Forward
In stories, rescues are a major theme. We enjoy hearing about the hero’s family, friends, or others going after him and having their own adventures along the way. Sometimes, the hero readily returns when prompted, showing he was always willing to share the boon but needed a little nudge. At other times, the hero is successfully coaxed back into the world by an appeal to pride, curiosity, or righteousness.
The supernatural helpers in myths are often involved because the world from which the hero must be rescued has other rules. Think of Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings. They were pretty sure they were going to die in Mordor, but along comes the wizard Gandalf and some of his eagle pals to swoop them away from the crumbling land.
His consciousness having succumbed, the unconscious nevertheless supplies its own balances, and he is born back into the world from which he came.
Death is the disintegration of consciousness and unity with eternity, but the magic helpers can’t quite let him do it because his work in the world isn’t over yet.
Giving What We Have to Give
From a practical point of view, when seeing the Hero’s Journey as a process of change, “rescues” happen all the time. I’m not thinking here of rescuing someone who’s in trouble because we must remember, we’re talking about rescuing the hero with the boon. When we’re in trouble (addiction, destructive relationship, poverty, etc.), we don’t yet have the boon.
Once we’ve gone through change and gained wisdom, we might not even think of ourselves as having received a boon. Countless others have gone through what we’ve gone through and learned what we’ve learned, so what we’ve done is no big deal. It isn’t until someone else connects us with a fellow sufferer and we share something of our journey that we realize we have something to give that others need.
Outside forces may also “rescue” us by bypassing our reluctance to return. This is what happened to Elie Wiesel. As I recall reading once, he was a journalist as a young man in Paris soon after World War II. He had gone to interview Francois Mauriac, a Nobel Prize-winning writer. Mauriac was a devout Catholic and apparently spoke to Wiesel quite a bit about the suffering of Jesus. Irritated, Wiesel finally interrupted him by telling him that many Jews had suffered worse than Jesus and they didn’t talk about it so much. Mauriac grew silent for a few moments and then said, “You should talk about it.” This eventually led to his novel, Night.
Those who push us to return are really all helpers because they help us see beyond the boundaries of our personal triumph and “pay it forward.” As Anna of Wonderland Wanderer noted in a comment in the post “Refusal of the Return,” the boon can be shared subtly through indirect support and understanding rather than direct guidance or teaching. The point is that by nudging each other to share our wisdom or boon, we spread it around.