Crossing the Threshold in a "Hero's Journey"

This week marked what I consider the second most important event in my entire life in this incarnation (after my birth itself) though it's still more symbolic. It's a professional one in nature, but it will also affect my entire life from now on. I've received an "official ticket" to crossing the threshold for a kind of "hero's journey" of my own - a concept used by later scholars to refer to the idea originally presented by Joseph Campbell in his seminal work The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

"Hero's journey" is a kind of typology of heroes and their adventures, which are seemingly external but actually internal, as narrated in various myths and novels. Campbell enumerates the following 17 steps:

  1. The call to adventure
  2. Refusal of the call
  3. Supernatural aid
  4. Crossing the threshold
  5. Belly of the whale
  6. The road of trials
  7. The meeting with the goddess
  8. Woman as temptress
  9. Atonement with the father
  10. Apotheosis
  11. The ultimate boon
  12. Refusal of the return
  13. The magic flight
  14. Rescue from without
  15. The crossing of the return threshold
  16. Master of two worlds
  17. Freedom to live

Naturally, I don't consider myself a hero, but since this is the first time in my life that I feel I'm embarking on such an internal adventure of this magnitude, I allow myself to call it my "hero's journey". In retrospect, I reached the first stage about one year ago when I felt instinctively I shouldn't remain in the present "comfort zone" or "cave" for my spiritual growth.

When I started telling about my plan of this journey to my close friends and colleagues, all of them objected. I myself continued refusing to accept this call, until I experienced one unprecedented incident that seemed a misfortune back then but turned out to be a blessing later, which in turn served as the decisive catalyst that made me decide once and for all to conquer the fear of uncertainty and take a calculated risk so that I might not regret for taking no action for the rest of my life.

I started to try crossing the threshold about a month ago even before I got this "official ticket" to do so. As is expected, I've already encountered the so-called "threshold guardians". They are internal, of course. In my case they are trust, humility and harmony with others, that is, I still have to improve these character traits of mine to cross the threshold completely.

I can't even imagine what awaits me after crossing this threshold though I do try to plan by calculating the risk and preparing myself the continuation of this hero's journey to the best of my knowledge. But one thing seems to be certain - my life won't be the same. Many people who found themselves failing to dissuade me have decided to leave me, but on the other hand I have found new supporters though naturally not many. I have also found two people who have already undergone their own hero's journeys before me whom I consider my symbolic mentors and from whose experiences I would like to learn for my hero's journey.


Steps to Recovery from a Special Type of Loss

About two months ago I lost what I can understand and appreciate now as the most important thing in my life (after my life itself). To my great surprise, I hadn't felt any pain, until I suddenly started feeling it this Sunday morning. Now it seems to me that this loss for which myself, including my stupidity, am responsible, has left some deep emotional scar in me. Even before I lost this precious thing, I foresaw the pain of losing it and bought one workbook. During these two months I even forgot this fact, but this acute pain has reminded me of it.

It didn't take me long to realize through this workbook meant specifically for this special type of loss that my pain derived mostly from my own shame and guilt, and I have to forgive and accept myself, which doesn't mean, of course, justifying myself.

I've followed the following six steps explained in detail in this workbook as a kind of psychological self-(re)evaluation:

  1. Cultivating a willingness to move forward
    • Rate yourself on how stuck you feel on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means you're able to easily move through the difficult emotions related to your divorce and 10 means you're completely unable to let go and move forward.
    • Write down the emotions you're experiencing that may be keeping you stuck.
    • Are there any benefits to being stuck emotionally?
    • What do you stand to gain if you move toward becoming unstuck and healing emotionally?
  2. Identifying your hurtful mistakes
  3. Taking responsibility
    • Hurt experienced by the person who was affected by your actions.
    • What aspects of this person's pain directly resulted from what you did?
    • What aspects of this person's pain may be less connected to your actions?
    • Write down some words that describe your emotional state.
  4. Becoming an owner of your difficult emotions
    • When you experience these feelings, what is your typical response?
  5. Identifying and letting go of negative attitudes and behavior patterns
    • Name an attitude or behavioral pattern that contributed to your
      hurtful actions.
    • When and how has this attitude or behavioral pattern been beneficial to you?
    • When has it harmed you or others?
    • Do you know others who exhibit this pattern? How have their behaviors or attitudes affected you?
    • How might letting go of this negative pattern benefit you and
  6. Making amends
    • For the hurtful behavior on which you have previously focused, is a direct apology possible or appropriate? Why or why not?
    • If it is possible, how will the benefits of a direct apology outweigh the costs associated of not directly apologizing?
    • Describe your plan to make amends (either with or without a direct apology). Then act on it.

The sixth step has been the most difficult one as unlike the first five steps it's solution-focused but I haven't been convinced if it can help make amends at all. In spite of this feeling I've taken this action step with a direct apology. Quite expectedly, I haven't received any reaction, which must show that what I have done is far worse than I've tried to (re)evaluated through the first five steps mentioned above. Now I wonder what specific alternative actions I can take without a direct apology. My full recovery from this loss still seems very far away...


What I have Learned from Jewish Life Coaching

This seems to be the perfect time to ask myself and write down what I have learned from my own experience of being coached intensively (in a group of a little more than ten frum Jewish men) by an amazing hasidic coach from BSD Coaching as I'm starting a Jewish life coaching program by an American haredi school called Refuah Institute here in Jerusalem next Sunday at long last. Here is a list of what I consider the most important things in the more or less chronological order of learning.

  • The gap between what we are/have/do and what we want to is a blessing for spiritual growth.
  • I'm much stronger than I thought I was.
  • I have untapped positive forces I can make better use of.
  • Learning without taking any action leads us nowhere.
  • We are spiritual beings with our souls as our essence.
  • Hasidism appeals to me much more than Lithuanian haredi Judaism, which used to appeal to me more.
  • My life, including my thoughts, emotions and behaviors, was hijacked and controlled by my ego, which had caused me a lot of problems in my life.
  • Life is a school for the soul and its growth.
  • Life is our best life coach.
  • Obstacles in life are divine gifts.
  • When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
  • The most important task in my life is to tame the ego and align with the soul.
  • I would like to help others help themselves do the same.
  • I've discovered the power of neuroplasticity with the help of prayer, meditation, affirmation, visualization and journaling.
  • I've (re)discovered my life (= soul) vision!

* Thuough I have learned these lessons from the specific Jewish life coaching I received, I have no claim that they are specifically Jewish or specific to Jewish life coaching.


Spontaneous Shmoozing with Strangers in Israel

Before I completely stopped drinking alcohol last November, I had become addicted to it, hoping to let go of my stress and subsequent anger through this unhealthy and toxic instant gratification. But paradoxically, the more I drank, the more stressed and angry I became on the one hand, but after stopping drinking, I've come to feel less and less stress and anger.

One of the positive effects of this change is that I've started to speaking to strangers on the street and in other public places and engaging in spontaneous, sometimes, long, shmoozing. Actually, when I was still addicted to alcohol, I could allow myself to do that only when I was drunk, but now I can do so when I'm sober and even mindful. I can't help too much someone who has helped me repent though this had to be done the hard way.

With this positive change I've also come to take every possible opportunity to start spontaneous shmoozing with strangers when I go out, and now I realize afresh that Israel is a perfect country for this kind of verbal interaction! I wonder whether this Israeli culture of spontaneous communication is originally Israeli and/or part of the traditional Jewish culture(s) of verbal communication.

This informality in verbal communication, coupled with the parallel informality in other areas of culture, may be interpreted negatively as too intrusive or aggressive by non-Israelis who are unfamiliar with this culture Since I don't make a fundamental change when I switch between languages I speak and my default mode of speaking is more Israeli, or at least, Jewish, than, let's say, Japanese, even when I speak Japanese in Japan, many people immediately detect my foreign "cultural accept" though my Japanese mustn't have deteriorated so much after starting to live here this time in August 2004.

Every time I visit Japan as an Israeli Jew now, I can fully enjoy what Japan has to offer tourists from other countries and cultures, and I can also understand why many of them become fascinated with Japanese culture. When I still lived in Japan, I didn't stop kvetching about Japanese society, but I have only good things to say about things Japanese except one thing - verbal communication by average Japanese speakers in not only Japanese but also other languages.

Even in Kansai region, where people are said to be more open, I've had few (or even no?) chances to start and continue spontaneous shmoozing after I spoke to strangers in Japanese. I would say this is stressful but definitely boring. Spontaneous oral shmoozing is quite rare there as long as they remain sober though more spontaneous written shmoozing may be more common especially it's anonymous.

This week alone I had more shmoozing with strangers here than I would have even in several years in Japan. I would even say that this is a cultural asset of Israel, which must also contribute to flourishing entrepreneurship here as such spontaneous shmoozing as a cultural norm must be an important, if not indispensable, factor in accelerating brainstorming.