Becoming the Hero of Your Own Journey: Q&A with Jean Houston
OWN TV | November 21, 2012
It's been said that truth is greater than fiction, but according to philosopher and author Jean Houston, the greatest truths of your own life can often be found in pages of your favorite stories. Her new book, The Wizard of Us, uses the classic film as an example of how the life lessons found in the greatest myths of our time can help you become the hero or heroine of your own life—a life full of purpose, heart and courage.
Q: So what is a myth?
Jean: Well, a myth is a great story. A myth is a kind of story that puts us on the road to adventure, shows us that we are larger than we ever thought we could be. Gives us experiences that enlarge our humanity. Experiences that often begin in a call. I feel called to something—"I'm in a state of yearning."
Just like little Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She feels called to move beyond an outmoded situation in dreary old Kansas, somewhere over the rainbow. In fact, sometimes it takes a big thing to get you going, like a tornado. And she lands in Oz, where she meets the parts of herself that have been put down: her mind, her heart and her courage. And therein often myths are filled with these symbolic characters, as in The Wizard of Oz.
I wrote a book about this called The Wizard of Us. She meets the Scarecrow for the mind—who turns out to have a brilliant mind, though he thought he didn't have one. The Tin Man, who is stuck, and she helps him. She has tremendous compassion, and she helps him release and become able to move again. And he has incredible love and sympathy and gentleness. And then the Cowardly Lion, who turns out to be able to do extraordinary things.
It's like the world today. We are in teams. We are working together across the great divide of otherness. We really take on the larger venture, the larger experience of finding out what our deepest challenges are that hone our pluck and cunning, make us grow up into who and what we can be, and in our own way, save our world. That's what a myth does.
Q: Are there any telltale signs you're on the journey you're meant to be on?
Jean: Well, there are many different parts of it. You may feel called, and you don't know for what, but you know you have to get out of an outmoded situation. You may find curious allies showing up. Sometimes the book opens to the right page. Or, that telephone call, or that unexpected grace of a meeting. But mostly, it is a yearning that will not go away.
Q: How do you know if you are currently the hero of your own story? Can you be the antihero of your own story?
Jean: You can be both at the same time, and most people are. You're a hero when you accept the fact that you're on the road of challenges calling you to a life larger than the one you thought you were in. And you're the antihero when you're always in the state of resistance, frustration, pulling back. But often the heroic role is "Let's get on with it!" You're only alive once, as far as we know, and this is the time in which we are—especially in this time—where we are the ones who will make a difference in this world.
Q: Can different myths guide different parts of your life?
Jean: There tends to be an overarching narrative path, which is called the Heroine and the Heroine's Journey, which is something we described on "Super Soul Sunday." But, yes, sometimes you're living the life of little Dorothy—going into new worlds, new experiences. Sometimes it's the life of Percival, who's on a quest to find the Grail. That about which can be said, "Abundance is scooped from abundance, and still more abundance remains." And sometimes it can be a story like the Odyssey, where you're always on another island of unique experiences. Where you are growing into the larger and more passionate possibilities.
Sometimes, it's the great stories of death and rebirth that we find throughout so many of the world's myths. Like the story of Inanna, who descends into the depths and dies for a while before she is reborn for renewed purpose and renewed possibilities. Persephone also buried down into hell, or Hades. And what does she do? She civilizes hell. And there's her mother, who is longing for her and turning the world bleak and gray until her daughter can come up in six months, a year or more. Many young women today find themselves in the "Persephone"—in a place of not knowing but knowing that they have to find their way through. And someone back home still, or some great friends, who are holding their excellence for them while they're in the dark night of the soul.
Q: Is there a myth that you identify with?
Jean: Well, I love Odysseus, who is always in travels, and I'm always in a state of travel. I'm always on islands of experience and learning so much from different people and countries. The character, the archetypal character that I like the most for my own life is the Athena character because she is the principle of wisdom and also a principle of helping to make the world work better.
Q: Can you choose your own myth, or does it choose you?
Jean: It's both-and. It's always both-and, plus much, much more. When you talk about myth, you can never say either-or. Either-or is never so. It's both-and, plus much, much more.