Sailing the Turbulent Seas

Closed                               -                      Open
Certainty                           -                      Uncertainty
Solid                                 -                       Liquid
Known                              -                       Unknown 
Actuality                           -                       Potentiality
Rest                                   -                      Motion
Attach                               -                       Detach
Being                                -                       Becoming
Control                              -                       Chaos
Fragile                               -                       Resilient

Come from the safety of your castle,
there's somewhere else for you to be...

Come lose your self in the forest,
and sink it in the sea ...

In narratology and comparative mythology, the monomyth, or the hero's journey, is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed.

The concept was introduced in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell, who described the basic narrative pattern as follows:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man

'Hero's journey'

< --------------------- 0 ---------------------- >

There is nothing, neutral point, ground zero. And then there is something, which is always a departure from zero, in one direction or another.

Things have a tendency to remain the same, to (appear to) be balanced. In order for a thing to change it must go through a period of unrest, a transformation. This may be a great disturbance.

The hardest thing is always transitioning from one balance to another. For example, when my leg was injured it was always most painful when I going from being still to moving. Once I'd grown accustomed to either state it was fine; only the transition was painful. Getting out of bed/getting into bed. It's fine once you're out, fine once you're in.

We see this pattern everywhere. In sports, for instance, in order to raise our level of fitness we must push ourselves beyond current boundaries, or "overload" as it is known by weight lifters. Overloading involves placing the body under stress, giving it something it is not used to in order to adjust its norms. After a period of transformation we reach a new balance, a new level of fitness.

It is the same with stretching: our muscles will have a default length, which is really the length that our day-to-day activities (our environment) require them to be. In order to lengthen them we must continually stretch them - i.e. engage in new activities that require them to be a longer length. If we keep up these new activities - if our stretching becomes part of our day-to-day routine - then our muscles will remain at this new length. As soon as we stop stretching, our muscles will adapt to the new circumstances: they will shorten.

Stretching is like Acting. If our default mode is primarily selfish, then in order to counteract this we must "stretch" regularly - in other words, we must make a conscious effort to be unselfish.

We must understand what our default is. Default seems to be defined by environment. We can see strength as our ability to stray from our default, in other words our ability to Act or change. Through Acting we come to know our weaknesses; these are like ceilings on our ambitions, or boundaries beyond which we cannot stray.

In order to reach a new destination, you must be prepared to sail the turbulent seas.

Conscious stretching and Acting is only necessary outside the bounds of a structured community. It is the action of a responsible individual. Within a structured community, we stretch and act automatically without knowing that this is what we are doing. In other words, we are constantly stretched to the right length in order to function in harmony with our surroundings. The necessities of this kind of life demand as much. Currently the individual must Act because he is not contained within a harmonious community, and he must carry various ideals within himself.

There is currently little motivation to Act or to stretch. We live in such comfort that we may not see the necessity of staying in good shape, either physically or ethically. There are supports that will catch us when we fall and that will prevent us from having to feel the consequences of our ill-health. We have devices that keep the body comfortable and that prevent it from having to exert itself; and we have devices that prevent us from having to be ethically responsible and that remove us from the outcomes of our ethical indiscipline.

Our default, as defined by our environment, is imbalanced, unhealthy. It is in poor shape, both physically and ethically. The individual who decides to depart from this default - who begins to stretch and Act in order to 'get fit' - will be fighting an tough battle, and may have to fight it alone. In departing from the general default - from the general requirements of his environment, his culture - he becomes an aberration; an obsessive; a misguided fool; a curious novelty. It is much easier to maintain a level of fitness if we are surrounded by others who are also striving to remain at this same level, or to reach higher.

Society sets the default. If the individual is displeased with this default then he must depart from the conventions of the society. He will be at odds with many "normal" things. If we live in an ethically excellent community - in other words, a community that is in balance with itself and with its environment - then we need no longer stretch and Act because our default will be sufficient. This is why the traditional community required little stretching or Acting. The traditional community hovered around the "0", the point of balance. The individual did not need to strive for excellency, this was a communal undertaking, a communal default.

Hormesis is when a bit of a harmful substance, or stressor, in the right dose or with the right intensity, stimulates the organism and makes it better, stronger, healthier, and prepared for a stronger dose the next exposure. That's the reason we go to the gym, engage in intermittent fasting, or caloric deprivation, or overcompensate for challenges by getting tougher.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
'Hormesis Is Redundancy'

Hormesis, on the social scale, means “letting people experience some, not too much, stress, to wake them up a bit.

Hormesis can be likened to what Evans and Read call “endangerment” of agents in social systems which “is productive of life, individually and collectively”. Erik Hollnagel and David D. Woods also note the need to provoke complex systems in their epilogue to Resilience Engineering movement’s first publication: “Resilience requires a constant sense of unease that prevents complacency”.

This exact formulation also connects the resilience discourse with High Reliability Organization theory, as formulated by Karl Weick, with its emphasis on chronic unease, fear of complacency, and attentiveness to weak signals.

[Rasmus Dahlberg]
'Resilience and Complexity: Conjoining the Discourses of Two Contested Concepts'

This process of directing energy out of familiar into new and unfamiliar paths, as a means of changing the manner of reacting to stimuli, implies of necessity an ever-increasing ability on the part of both teacher and pupil to 'pass from the known to the unknown'; it is therefore a process which is true to the principle involved in all human growth and development.

[F. Matthias Alexander]
The Use of the Self, p.85

[...] creative thought must always contain a random component.

The exploratory processes - the endless trial and error of mental progress - can achieve the new only by embarking upon pathways randomly presented, some of which when tried are somehow selected for something like survival.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, p. 200

[...] a major revision of one’s construct system can threaten with immediate change, or chaos, or anxiety.

Thus it often seems better to extort confirmation of one’s anticipations – and therefore of the system that produced them – rather than to risk the utter confusion of those moments of transition. 

[George Kelly]
'The threat of aggression', in Clinical Psychology and Personality: The Selected Papers of George Kelly, p.  283

Peterson: That structure - verse, chorus, verse, chorus - out of what did that originate?

Andreyev: That’s an extremely old form. There are baroque forms, such as the Rondo or the Ritornello that have a similar form, where you alternate one fixed element that keeps returning the same way, and a secondary element that gives you a certain degree of relief [and] contrast with the preceding element.

Peterson: That’s a chaos/order interplay […] Why the three chord structure?

Andreyev: A three chord structure is the bare minimum you need in order to have any kind of harmonic tension. In tonal music you have a very simple and effective polarity between what’s called the tonic and dominant degrees, and that’s something that basically structured the entire classical period, and the baroque period as well to a degree.

[…] it’s a way of setting up an extremely rudimentary story. You start with a region that is established, that you have as your home base, and then you modulate to a different harmonic region; and through this process of modulating, you move from your home base to somewhere else. And that creates a tension, a nostalgia, and a need for resolution.

Peterson: One thing that made me think about, is the proclivity for small children to do that, with their mother in particular. The space around the mother is defined as home territory, partly because mother is familiar, but also partly because if something goes wrong and mother is there, mother can fix it. So there’s a zone around the child when the mother is there, where there is access to immediate resources that will fill in where the child’s skills are lacking.

And then what the child will do after obtaining sufficient comfort from being in the presence of mom, is to go out far enough into the world, driven by their curiosity […] to discover new information and extend their skills by pushing against the unknown. And when they either get tired, or when they go out far enough so that negative emotion as a consequence of threat predominates, they run back to their mother.

Its a microcosm of the hero’s journey, which is a journey from a safe and defined place out into the unknown, and then a return […] to stability.

[Jordan Peterson and Samuel Andreyev]
'Interview with Composer Samuel Andreyev'

Hero worship was an act of “true religious loyalty," the hero an embodiment of the spiritual exuberance and vitality that in Carlyle's idiom went by the name of wonder. The prototype of the hero was the prophet.

Carlyle's admiration for great men - Mohammed, Shakespeare, Cromwell, Frederick the Great - divided him further from those who counted on the weight of institutions, traditions, and social habits to provide continuity and discourage rash social experimentation.

Heroism was disruptive, in Carlyle's view. Its value lay precisely in its unsettling effect on habits and routine. It divided men and women more often than it brought them together.

Carlyle understood the dangers of hero worship more clearly than his critics have given him credit for. He understood that hero worship turned into idolatry when it attached itself not to the hero's insight but to his false claim of supernatural credentials.

At the same time, he praised the "indestructible reverence for heroism" as an important expression of the capacity for wonder and saw the modern disparagement of heroism, accordingly - far more freely expressed in our own day even than in his - as one of the more ominous among many ominous "signs of the times."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.232, 236

It’s all right for once, in the exuberance of youth, to celebrate mere vital excitement, la joie de vivre as a protest against humdrum solemnity. But to make it systematic, and oppose it, as an ideal and a duty, to the ordinary religious duties, is to pervert it altogether.

[William James]

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