Jacob Nordby believes the most heroic adventure in life is inward.
I will never forget when my own private Hero’s Journey began. It was one I had been eyeing, denying and running from my entire life. An outwardly successful entrepreneur, I began to have metaphysical labor pains at age thirty-four. It scared the shit out of me. I had this deep sense that the Great Inevitable was finally upon me. Yes, this was an adventure of the spirit and I was terrified of what I suspected would change my whole life.
What followed was an unwinding of everything that once held my American Dream exterior together. I did not like that. I no longer knew who I was—and neither did anyone else.
If you can imagine yourself playing the big game as a businessman, living in a beautiful home, commanding the respect of the community and generally viewing yourself as a stud, then you’ll be seeing the world through my eyes about six years ago. I thought I was living life to its fullest. I thought I knew who I was.
And I was wrong.
Now fast forward almost two years and imagine that same person living in a tiny rental in a distant city where no one knew me, working a couple of menial part-time jobs just to pay the bills, spending lots of time by a creek with a journal and leaky eyes.
I was a cautionary tale and probably the embodiment of every modern man’s worst nightmare. But somewhere inside, I knew that for the first time in my entire life I was walking the Path With Heart. Somehow I trusted I would find myself, stripped though I was of everything which had bolstered my self-concept.
As Alan Alda once said, “At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”
And so it was with me. For the first time, I could feel that raw, solid ground under my feet. It no longer depended upon my bank account or credit score or approval rating. It only required me to get up each morning and face the world as myself and continue putting one foot in front of the other. I had to live honestly before my family without the shields of masculine infallibility. I had to let them see me try and fail and get back up again. I had to let them see me be weak and then find new strength.
But that is a terrifying journey and I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to embark on it. Why would any man voluntarily risk ’emasculation’ in this way? What do I mean by that?
Here is a guaranteed recipe for a really uncomfortable evening: Walk into a sports bar, sit down at a table with ten guys and say, “Hey, I’d like to share something about my spiritual journey.” It makes my stomach hurt to imagine what comes next. First, everyone’s shoulders hunch over their beer. Eyes lock on the table. Jaws clench. Silence yawns like an open grave waiting for the offender to fall in and never, ever crawl out again.
Why is this? I mean, if you said, “Hey, I just bought a new four-wheeler,” or “I’m about ready to pull the trigger on a new business deal,” you just provided fodder for rousing conversation. More importantly, you fit in with what men love to talk about—what we love about life: conquest, adventure, and challenge.
So just why are we men so afraid to talk about our spiritual side, let alone explore it?
Sure, there are many reasons to avoid spiritual discovery and most of them are common to both sexes, but men face a particular obstacle and it is time we get over it. We are cheating ourselves out of the most intense, rewarding challenge—and adventure—of our lives.
For most of us, the word adventure comes as a surprise when juxtaposed with spirituality. We are so accustomed to pairing spirituality with images of Buddha meditating in the sunrise or women doing yoga poses. We imagine soft music, misty paintings, incense in the air and hushed voices. We suspect that it might require owning a Prius, eating grilled tofu and memorizing Sanskrit poetry.
Brothers—fellow bearers of testosterone—hear me well! This is no lecture about how you should feel badly for not wanting to sit on cushions and chant. In fact, at least for now, I’d like you to delete “spiritual” from this conversation altogether. Like so many other words, it comes with too much baggage. It makes us feel afraid we’ll have to turn our backs on what makes us men in the first place.
You see, we are comfortable with our boxed-in lives. We hate the constricted feeling at times, but we were conditioned from birth that men do life a certain way. We don’t remember putting on the armor that covers our raw, wild soulful magnificence, but here we are decades later clanking around in heavy, ill-fitting roles we don’t know how to shed — and even if we did, we’re afraid we might get our balls cut off in the process.
There could be nothing further from the truth.
This is a call to the greatest adventure of your life. I’m talking about a conquest so intense that it will require all of your courage and strength and stamina. I’m talking about a hero’s journey into the most powerful version of you. One that will tax you to your limits and demand that you take the fullest measure of yourself.
And isn’t that what we so deeply want? Isn’t that what we secretly long for when life becomes a predictable cycle of work and routine and comfort? Don’t we really wish something would come along and seduce us into a heroic journey that will not let us rest, a journey worthy of us?
What if you ventured off the common map and were forced to blaze your own path with heart?
This is what I’m talking about and it has nothing to do with weakness. It has everything to do with learning what it means to be a spiritual warrior—and then living it out. Adventure, my friends. High adventure, indeed.
I am here to tell you that a hero lies within you. A creative, inspired being inhabits your man’s body and it wants full expression in your life. It wants you to stretch yourself to the limit and end your days on earth satisfied that you had the best possible run.
This is what it means to become aware of the suffocating web of cultural conditioning and expectations. This is what it means to face and embrace your fears of vulnerability so that you can experience the electric, breathtaking energy of who you really are.
I’m not asking you to apologize for being a man in this lifetime. You showed up here as yourself, in your body, absolutely laden with talents begging to be developed and potential insatiable to be revealed (now, ask yourself, just who is this being who showed up as me? That might be the very first step on your own expedition).
Since humankind began telling tales of epic adventures around campfires and in the agora and in novels and on stages and movie screens, something in us has always risen up to cheer the hero who ventured into the unknown to face insurmountable odds and returned weary but victorious.
You probably don’t need a sword or Viking ship in your daily life anymore. Your dragons don’t guard castles and you probably haven’t been required to fight to the death with any villains recently. But you are still a man and that spirit lives within you. Your foes are the forces which say you must not stand up, stand out and discover the treasures of your own adventurous heart.
And now let’s return from this fanciful language and bring it home. You, as a man, are being asked to find yourself in the thicket of work and responsibilities and all the tangled rules which dictate how men must be. When you do, you will love your life more than ever before because you will know who you really are. This adventure will lead you into deeper love, richer expressions of your talents and more exciting ways to be yourself.
Now every time I used the words inspired or authentic or vulnerable, replace them with “spiritual”. You see? I don’t differentiate between these anymore—and nor should you. Spirituality isn’t reserved for the temple or meditation room. This is about real life all the way, baby!
If you were honest, what practical dragons block the path and keep you from this adventure?
Stay tuned. There’s a lot more to this story, of course, and I’ll be back to share more notes from the road.
Oh, and you should know that my own life is unspeakably richer now. I no longer wake up at 3 am with a knot in my gut wondering “…is this all there is?“. Every day has become a new step on the path with heart–an intense, honest journey which delights, terrifies and inspires me to be more than I thought possible. In very real terms, I now enjoy my career, a true partner relationship and many other features of my life are now light where once they were heavy. These are the real-world rewards of answering the call to inner adventure.
(Author’s Note: The “Hero’s Journey” was explored in-depth by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. He shows us how this theme is repeated in collective myths and legends from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to Lucas’s Star Wars. This perennial archetype continues in popular culture in movies like The Matrix. In the introduction to his book, Campbell summarizes the hero’s journey this way- “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.” The Hero archetype lies dormant in modern man and asks us to rouse it from slumber so we may experience lives rich with meaning and satisfying challenge.)
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Featured photo: Michael Julian Berz Photography