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What are we really doing when we decide to live and parent consciously?
In longing for a more peaceful and healthy life, what drives us to defy the chanted “You’ll spoil that baby if you pick it up,” or reject the GMO, the overused antibiotic or weapons of mass distraction, and say, “No, I think there’s another way”? Could it be that in these seemingly small but life-affirming gestures the parent is “following the hero’s call”?
One of the seminal works of the 20th century, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, presents the revolutionary insights of the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions—and our daily lives. As Campbell discovered, there is really only ONE story at the core of all of our stories. The impact of the Hero’s Journey cannot be underestimated, as its archetypal model influences modern storytelling, and storytelling is how we make sense of our lives and the world around us. George Lucas credits Campbell’s book as the inspiration for Star Wars, our modern mythology of personal and world transformation.
As a seventh grader in 1977, I vividly remember sitting slack-jawed in a dark theater watching Luke Skywalker run out of his uncle’s desert home in frustration, stand on a windy dune and stare wistfully at Tatooine’s two setting suns. Luke was hearing the hero’s call to a transformative adventure. It meant rejecting everything that did not support his heart’s wisdom, even though he had no idea what it meant to follow that call, or where it would lead him. I still play that scene on YouTube when I want to remember the enchanted feeling of the hero’s call to adventure. It is magical. And so is our brief, transformative adventure with our children.
What calls us as parents to envision a better world for our children and act on our heart’s wisdom? What is the cost of rejecting our culture? Should we think of ourselves as victims of an oppressive world and give up, or follow the call that will lead us through a journey that promises to transform ourselves and the world as we go. And that last part? That is not a fairy tale. That part is true, especially for parents who read Pathways.
Pathways readers belong to the segment of the population who are actively seeking to tip the world toward peace and sustainability through their individual and conscious living choices. Cultural Creatives were identified for the first time in 2000 by social scientists Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson in their research-based book The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. Ray and Anderson defined Cultural Creatives as people who “care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, and about self actualization, spirituality and self-expression. Surprisingly, they are both inner-directed and socially concerned; they’re activists, volunteers and contributors to good causes more than other Americans.”
If there are so many of us—millions—why doesn’t it seem that way? Ray and Anderson answer: “However, because they’ve been so invisible in American life, Cultural Creatives themselves are astonished to find out how many share both their values and their way of life. Once they realize their numbers, their impact on American life promises to be enormous, shaping a new agenda for the twenty-first century. What makes the appearance of the Cultural Creatives especially timely today is that our civilization is in the midst of an epochal change, caught between globalization, accelerating technologies and a deteriorating planetary ecology. A creative minority can have enormous leverage to carry us into a new renaissance instead of a disastrous fall.”
So, we are invisible in our culture to one another unless we make an effort to find each other? This effort to find and create community consciously can feel awkward when we labor under the industrial world’s value that “going it alone” is heroic. But looking at Campbell’s model, we can see that for thousands of years, heroes have always been surrounded by beloved companions on their adventures. Tragically, studies show that while our culture is profoundly lacking in social connections of any kind, parents in particular are the least likely group to create social bonds.
For example, the oft-cited Better Together Report by the Saguaro Seminar of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government warns that “the national stockpile of ‘social capital’—our reserve of personal bonds and fellowship—is seriously depleted.” And the Building Strong Families Initiative shows that most parents are, just as predicted, “going it alone”—even though the benefits of a social support system include better parent-child relationships and better school performance for children.
The study also showed that lonely parents were more likely to have lonely children.
Isolation and lack of a support system has been identified as a top contributing factor to postpartum depression in new mothers and fathers. Yes, even fathers suffer from lack of community: “Despite media images, as many as 1 in 4 dads experience postpartum depression. Having no visible examples in our culture of men like this, a father with postpartum depression usually suffers in isolation —sure that he’s the only one. And, of course—with no examples to look to—he doesn’t have any idea what to do about it,” says psychotherapist Dr. Will Courtenay of PostPartumMen.com.
Echoing science’s recognition of the necessity of community for wellness, Campbell’s Hero’s Journey illustrates the need for the community of beloved companions. What Hollywood epic doesn’t show that really, a hero would never make it through the crisis without their version of Han Solo and Princess Leia for backup?
In addition to needing companions on our journey, heroes also need to heed the advice of wise guides. In seeking out a few Yodas to talk with us about the importance of heeding the hero’s call and creating community, I asked some of Pathways’ wise guides to share their insights for this column.
Our first Yoda, Thom Hartmann, author of Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture, says the obstacle to creating community is larger than some of us care to imagine or admit. When we say “our culture doesn’t support wellness,” this acknowledgement can sound like an understatement or an impossibility, depending upon your worldview. But Hartmann says parenting today, especially conscious parenting, is like playing cards underwater.
“If you were sitting next to a pool and playing a game of cards, you would enjoy the game. If you tried to play that same game in the pool, underwater, it wouldn’t work. I know that is an imperfect metaphor, but really, you could say that our culture is interfering with our ability to play the game of life,” says Hartmann.
In his daily radio show, The Big Picture, and through more than two dozen books in 30 years, Hartmann has explored avenues to a healthy renewal of our culture. His observation is that most people, parents included, don’t see this big picture and therefore do not understand the seriousness of what they are up against. In meeting together as strangers in a group for the first time, Hartmann advocates that we “focus on what we have in common, which is our commons. Our air, water, soil, food and shared experiences unite us, as they are the foundation for our wellness.”