In college, I took a class called World Literature, without much expectation beyond the credits. Long books, archaic language. Instead the professor started the first class with this statement: “We’re lost. And we’re trying to get home. That’s the starting point of literature and the spiritual life.” He had me. At the time, after spending most of my youth overseas and longing to return to the US, I had quickly realized the journey home would take a lot more than a plane ticket. I felt stuck and rudderless, and the professor was pointing the way through myth and story.We all have times in our lives we feel stuck. We’ve been in a holding pattern and need a change, or life dunks our head underwater and forces the realization that the way we’ve been living is no longer working. Even so, we don’t know how to get where we need to go. The myths teach that the way up is the way down. From Christ to Odysseus to Dante, it’s Hell first. Then heaven.
There’s even a term for this descent.Embarking on this kind of mythical journey takes courage. It usually involves stepping out of our comfort zone and old patterns and risking loss to pursue a higher state of some kind, whether developing a deeper spiritually, embarking on a new career, or finally starting your purpose-driven project.Even if you have a clear sense of orientation, purpose, and a vision of what you want to achieve and where you want to go, it can still be daunting to put start the journey. Like all mythic heroes, we need guides. Odysseus had the goddess Athena. Dante had Virgil and Beatrice. Luke had Obi-Wan.It’s important to reflect on who your guides have been along your own path to keep faith that you will find others as the need arises. It’s important to step forward anyway! Guidance can come in various forms, and with so much noise out there, we can be easily sidetracked. How do we know who to listen to and who to let go of?
1. Embrace your guides One thing that keeps people mired in self-doubt, immature spiritual states, and negative patterns is that they know that there is too much they don’t know. They may have a vague sense of where they want to get to, but feel they could never get there. They know the what, but not the how. In whatever direction they look or whatever discipline they find interesting, there are so many much more seasoned and developed, more mature people.Adopt a posture of humility, not resignation. Open your eyes, ears, and intuitive faculties to voices of wisdom and encouragement that can guide you along the path in your specific field. Different ones will emerge at different times. Keep knocking on doors, ask people out to coffee, share your story, your passion, listen to theirs.Even if they’re not a direct guide, they may lead you straight to one. Maybe the guidance you need comes in the form of a video, a book, a podcast, maybe a combination, rather than a person. Be open to the fact that these things will come as the occasion arises, but if you don’t start on the journey, you won’t meet the guides.
2. Articulate your purpose. (Who, what, and how)Over time, based on your interests, gifts, and guidance, develop a clear, refined statement of your inner drive, what you bring to the world. My purpose is to help those who want to deepen spiritually (who) process their wounds (how) to find purpose, direction, and wholeness (what). What’s yours?
3. Stay oriented by your purposeLike me, you probably have a hundred different interests and are easily side-tracked because so much interests you, but during the specific times you’ve set aside to pursue your clarified purpose and vision, learn to say no to things (even otherwise good things) that don’t support the purpose and vision.If we haven’t processed our core wound (deep egocentric need for stability, affection, or status) in some fashion, we will likely continue to be easily sidetracked. In our information saturated time, listening and learning from your guides will require tuning into your intuitive faculty of who and who not to listen to, and being ruthless about saying no to distractions. Stay the course.
4. Be gracious with yourselfIf you have at least a trace of perfectionism or pride or self-consciousness, then you likely compare yourself to an ideal that you have not yet achieved. When you fall short of that ideal, you feel incapable of achieving your goals. Part of spiritual maturity is seeing ourselves through the eye of God, which frees us up to see others through the eye of God.The picture isn’t always pretty and in some seasons we need to go through extended periods of processing our internal wounds to move forward; this is the downward way of confronting our shadow, or manifestation of our core fear and is part of the mythic journey. You’ll make mistakes along the way. Notice them. Smile at them. Keep walking. Be on the lookout for new guides. Or go back, seek guidance and draw strength and wisdom from the ones you’ve already found.To deepen spiritually we sometimes have to take the mythical journey, walking downward to confront our core fears and process inner wounds, even ones we hold unconsciously, before we can turn and live a life of purpose and direction. To walk this road successfully we need guides, but don’t stand still if you haven’t found them yet. Start walking. Guides will come. Listen. “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid” – Basil King