How to live according to your ideals

Myths provide a general formula for life and show that obstacles are everywhere. Use your values as a guide to stay following your ideal path.

How to live according to your ideals

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Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshifts of ignorance; regrets are illuminations come too late. The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. Therefore it is formulated in the broadest terms. The individual has only to discover his own position with reference to this general human formula, and let it then assist him past his restricting walls. Who and where are his ogres”? Those are the reflections of the unsolved enigmas of his own humanity. What are his ideals’? Those are the symptoms of his grasp of life.

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

If you were on a bus trying to go east in a maze of dirt roads in a large valley, you might not be able to tell your direction from moment to moment. If someone took a series of snapshots, sometimes the bus might be facing north, or south, or even west, even though all the while this is a journey to the east.

Paths are not straight because obstacles sometimes prevent movement in the desired direction. A person who values creating a loving family may nevertheless have to go through a divorce. In that situation, the intention to be loving may be revealed only in limited ways, such as not establishing oppositions between yourself and your spouse that will negatively affect your children, or treating a soon-to-be ex-spouse fairly in the division of assets. Only over time will the underlying value become evident, like tracks left in the snow that show, even though the path is not straight, it is headed east.

Paths are also not straight because we are human. We may intend to go east, but our attention may wander, and we may find ourselves heading north. Someone in recovery from a drug addiction who values sobriety and helping others may still relapse. That person’s mind may be screaming, “See, you can’t go east! You are a liar and a failure! You can’t be trusted!” as if to say, “Because you are heading north, as usual, you cannot value heading east.” In such an instance, that person’s task will be to thank his or her mind, feel the sadness and pain that comes from relapse, and then turn and head east once again.

Steven Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.
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