I had watched a video this morning by Like Stories of Old (LSOO) on some differences between stories and reality, titled Your Life is Not a Hero’s Journey. LSOO is an amazing channel with wonderfully insightful analyses of the significances of modern stories, particularly those in cinema, and their relations to ancient mythological themes and forms of story-telling. In this particular video, I had been somewhat put off by the title, and watching the video, I thought that it was a good analysis of the change in form that the “personal adventure” or “hero’s journey” had undertaken in the last couple millennia, but I also thought that the video rather poorly dismissed the significance of personal metamorphosis and transformative, psychedelic stories of self-discovery. The owner of the channel reassured another upset subscriber in the comment section that those and other related issues would be covered in part 3 of that video series relating stories to reality, but it left me with my own ideas about the relation of one’s life, an experience of reality, to stories.
While a person’s life may not have the cosmic significance of something like a mythological demigod’s right of passage into adulthood, it is nonetheless, and I would argue evermore, significant in totality to the person for whom the life is lived. In other words, your life may not be a hero’s journey like that of Hercules, but the names and details of the story are only arbitrary, artistic colorations. We still must struggle with virtues and vices, moral dilemmas, suffering and fulfillment, and other great dualistic dynamics that give life its meaning, but in a modern society, this obviously cannot be the same for everyone as the dilemmas and struggles of ancient people living surrounded by unknown wilderness. I would even venture to say that only the circumstances of our lives have changed, but our imperatives as human persons remain the same, to find our place in these moral dilemmas and fulfill our roles. The steaks are high with suffering, death, oppression, and alienation being the worst most people can expect to face, and self-satisfaction and fulfillment being the prizes to win. However, what exactly self-satisfaction and fulfillment means for any particular individual can only be determined, as the concepts demonstrate, by one’s self.
I would argue that the claim “Your life is not a hero’s journey” is one that is falsifiable, and better expressed as this: Your life is not THE hero’s journey. You are not THE hero of ancient myths who must battle monsters from the depths of the unknown expanses of reality to protect the haven of order that exists for your people. Instead, you are one of literally billions of people with unparalleled potential for either great suffering or great joy, and you have a personal responsibility to accept this challenge and determine for yourself how your life will be. This is incomprehensibly complicated by the fact that our circumstances and conditions are increasingly uncontrollable and insurmountable without exceptional privilege and luck, but this is where the abstract significance of meaning comes into play. One’s imperative is not to determine whether or not they can live up to the standards of heroism as determined by their culture or the perspectives of others, but by the nature of one’s own being and the limits of one’s capabilities. No, not every can become famous, rich, well-liked, or masters of some ultimate art, but everyone must perfect the art that is their own nature. Your imperative is that whatever you are, you must be ultimately faithful to your nature, for that is the only way in which your Self can be satisfied. Not in imitation of some other being, but only in the fulfillment of your own being.
People nowadays in some communities express this as finding one’s purpose, but that is just to say that what you are is effectively the same as what you do in your circumstances because you cannot be separated or made distinct from the details and circumstances of your story anyway. This is somewhat dismissive of the personal aspect of life experience and can potentially distract someone from effectively being themselves, but it is not the most self-alienating ideology to be subjected to. In my opinion, personal metamorphosis is a better concept to try to understand one’s life in regards to. With a perspective of metamorphosis, you maintain the significance of what it is that you are and what it is that you do without compelling yourself to fulfill some destiny or purpose that is given to you as an imperative. Instead, your personal fulfillment is accomplished immediately, and the changes and progress you make in life is like that of the maturation of an acorn into an oak, or the metamorphosis of a lion cub into a full grown adult. Each stage of existence is whole in its own without needing the others to retroactively fulfill the existence of past modes of being. Moral progress is arbitrarily necessary, just as moral meaning is arbitrarily significant, and the meaning and significance of life itself is not attach to what one can accomplish, but to its existence and expression as a matter of fact. With the perspective that your life is something that happens, that you have a hand in doing and fulfilling, and that one cannot fail at simply existing, one has a more metaphysically accurate perspective of reality as the expression of nature, and you leave the significance of accomplishments and objectives open to interpretation without supposing that one person’s or one type of perspective is the “right” one. Considering the notion that no one can definitively say what experience and existence are or what they serve, this is likely the most liberating and existentially considerate and accurate perspective of life as a story.