Walking by the source of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. It joins with the White Nile in Khartoum, The Sudan – where I also walked.
No one tells the oceans or the trees
or the mountains that they’re too old.
They talk of how powerful, how grounded,
how awesome they are.
Imagine if we thought the same way
about ourselves as we got older.
Maybe we’d realize how spectacular we are.
– Becky Hemsley
A glimpse into Session 3 begins with some insightful words by Paul Weinfield:
Leonard Cohen said his teacher once told him that the older you get the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love you need. This is because, as we go through life, we tend to over-identify with being the hero of our stories.
This hero isn’t exactly having fun: he’s [she’s] getting kicked around, humiliated, and disgraced. But if we can let go of identifying with him [her], we can find our rightful place in the universe, and a love more satisfying than any we’ve ever known.
People constantly throw around the term ‘Hero’s Journey’ without having any idea what it really means. Everyone from CEOs to wellness-influencers thinks the Hero’s Journey means facing your fears, slaying a dragon, and gaining 25k followers on Instagram. But that’s not the real hero’s journey.
In the real hero’s journey, the dragon slays YOU. Much to your surprise, you couldn’t make that marriage work. Much to your surprise, you turned forty with no kids, no house, and no prospects. Much to your surprise, the world didn’t want the gifts you proudly offered it.
If you are foolish, this is where you will abort the journey and start another, and another, abusing your heart over and over for the brief illusion of winning.
But if you are wise, you will let yourself be shattered and return to the village, humbled, but with a newfound sense that you don’t have to identify with the part of you that needs to win, needs to be recognized, needs to know. This is where your transcendent life begins. So embrace humility in everything. Life isn’t out to get you, nor are your struggles your fault.
Every defeat is just an angel, tugging at your sleeve, telling you that you don’t have to keep banging your head against the wall.
Leave that striver there, trapped in his [her] lonely ambitions. Just walk away, and life in its vastness will embrace you.
Here are some shattering words I would like to share with you, my village. It’s a purge of sorts – and an invitation for us to consciously have more compassion for ourselves and each other.
Not long ago, the legendary athlete and Vikings coach, Bud Grant, died at the age of 95. Uniquely, he played both professional basketball and professional football. And, as a coach, he led the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl four times. One of the things I saw as I watched his memorial service on TV was a recent video where this giant among humans was in a wheelchair. How did that happen? Having been such a powerful athlete, I wonder how he came to peace with not being able to walk on his own. If he did.
Aging is a dragon that is currently slaying me. One source of deep grief for me is that I have difficulty walking. That’s something in itself. But the depth of it is that I can no longer go for silent, solo, meditative walks with my camera in this beautiful and abundant world.
For many decades, I walked nearly every day – winter or summer, rain or shine.
In addition to my Minneapolis park walks, I walked in such cities as Yogyakarta, Delhi, Lima, and Dubrovnik. I walked in villages of Somalia, The Gambia, Papua New Guinea, and the Dominican Republic. I walked in the parks of Paris, London, Banff, and Moab. I walked across bridges in Budapest, San Francisco, Avignon, and Sydney. I walked in and around the cathedrals and temples of Chartres, Borobudur, Koln, and Bangkok. I walked in ancient stone circles of England and Scotland; ancient cities of Lebanon. and Israel; by ancient water wheels of Syria and ancient pyramids of Egypt. I walked through modern airports of Tokyo, Istanbul, Singapore, Bombay, and New York.
I walked in the Tatra Mountains, the Himalayas, the Alps, and the Rockies. I walked by the Nile River, the Mississippi River, the Charles River, and the Ganges River. I walked by Lake Superior, Lake Lucerne, the Sea of Galilee, and Lake Louise. I walked by the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea. I walked on the dry earth of New Mexico, the Serengeti, The Sudan, and Spain. I walked among both the giant sequoias and the coastal redwoods of California, among deciduous forests of the St. Croix Valley on the MN/WI border and the boreal forests of the BWCA bordering Canada. And once, in Nepal, I walked through a rhododendron forest.
To use Hemsley’s word from the opening quote above, how spectacular! I’m ever so grateful to have walked on six continents. Each and every place I walked holds a story. I’m also glad I took a few photos. Yet, while photos are evocative and reminiscent, they cannot replace the refreshing, awe-inspiring, and life-enhancing ‘nature’ of direct experience.
I’m doing my best to allow this slaying dragon to become an angel tugging at my sleeve.