Today, on our last full day together, we had time to choose our own adventure. Explore Mykonos town, venture out on foot, ATV, water craft or…should we be so lucky…yacht…or, to simply enjoy the plunge pool in front of our room with friends.
We gathered tonight for our final Mythical Happy Hour in which we talked about the Hero’s Journey, our own journey, what called us to action, our initiation and our impending return.
In the Hero’s Journey, the hero is separated from what is comfortable and familiar, is met with a call to adventure or to action, leading him or her on a long quest, or as some might say, an odyssey in which s/he overcomes great obstacles and generally evolves as a human. This phase, the initiation, is the one of greatest growing pains and may last for long years (or what feels like long years). Once successful in overcoming these hardships, the hero may return home, to give back to the community that created him or her.
This cycle probably sounds familiar. If you’ve read the Homeric poem The Odyssey, or even if you’ve seen Oh Brother Where Art Thou?; if you remember The Wizard of Oz, or maybe Star Wars, you are familiar with the Hero’s Journey. This journey, the hero’s journey, is not just the lives we read about or watch in literature and movies. It is not just a phase in our own life. It is the life cycle, and it repeats itself in microcosm with every journey we take, including travel.
Why do we travel? To see new places, experience new smells, sights, flavors, languages. To learn about the people who came before, and in part created us. To gift ourselves that tangible link that connects us physically to human experience. We travel to remind ourselves of our humanity. We travel to remember. We travel to live.
The past weeks, months, years, have been heartbreaking chapters in our humanity. We tune into the radio or the television every week to learn of new tragedies brought upon humans by humans. The past weeks, months, years have chiseled away at our confidence in actively participating in our world because it has instilled fear in many of us, and for good reason.
I would like to thank this group of intrepid investigators of the human experience. Thank you for contributing to the dialogue of civilization. Thank you for paying attention. Thank you for engaging with your world. Perhaps this is our own initiation. Perhaps the obstacles we must overcome lie not in what we can control, but in how we react. And when we have overcome this challenge, how will we give back to our own community? I hope that we will all come home, tell a story or two about the kind people we met, the riches we gained in knowledge and experience, and inspire others to choose life over fear.
Below I have included a poem, my favorite poem, which was handed down to me at a pivotal point in my life. I had joined the Peace Corps and was about to depart for the remote island that would be my home for the next two years. My fellow volunteer gave me the poem below and invited me to read it often, to reflect on its meaning and to let the words penetrate my experience with their truth. When I arrived in my village, in my host family’s house, I hung this poem on my bedroom wall and revisited it almost daily. This poem became my call to adventure. It kept me committed to my journey even when I wanted to surrender and return to the comforts of home. It saved me. And it has guided me through every journey since.
The poem was written by a Greek poet living in Alexandria, Egypt around the turn of the 20th century. I pass it on to you, as an invitation, a call to adventure, a reminder of why our journey matters. It needs no explanation. By now, you must surely know what Ithaca means.
When you start on your journey to Ithaca,
then pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Do not fear the Lestrygonians,
and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon.
You will never meet such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your body and your spirit.
You will never meet the Lestrygonians,
the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.
Then pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many,
that you will enter ports seen for the first time
with such pleasure, with such joy!
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds,
buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can;
visit hosts of Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.
Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for long years;
and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,
rich with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have taken the road.
But she has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.
With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience
you must surely have understood by then what Ithaca means.
Constantine P. Cavafy
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