14 - Magic Flight - It's All About Flow
Magic Flight refers to the hero having to make a speedy egress after he completes his task. This stage is like Refusal of the Return in that it’s is completely optional, and not seen in every story. Typically, it manifests due to existential threats that come from the environment, a specific enemy, or a combination of the two. In Star Wars, after Luke fires the torpedoes into the exhaust vent to set off a chain reaction within the Death Star, the pilots had to fly away as fast as possible in order to avoid being consumed by the resulting explosion. In the classic tale of Jack the Giant Killer, once Jack had snatched the treasure from the giant, (either the golden harp, or golden-egg-laying-goose) Jack had to make it down to the bottom of the beanstalk and chop it down before the giant could get to him. The first three installments of the Halovideo games feature a finale in which the player has to escape threats from both enemies and the environment after landing the decisive blow.
It is important to note that while the hero must face a range of challenges throughout the journey, including the need to beat a hasty retreat, what makes this a stand-alone phase of the monomyth is its timing, because it occurs only after The Ultimate Boon. Hopefully you won’t have to deal with anything too overtly similar in your own life. Assuming that you live in a moderately stable part of the globe, you’re not typically going to face existential threats immediately following a personal success. However, as we’ve talked about in other sections, it’s often not threats from the environment or other people that can do us the most harm, but those within that can sabotage us as we work towards our goals.
Tai Lopez, the massively successful entrepreneur who is renowned for reading the equivalent of a book a day, is also known for firing off inspirational quotes in his lectures. One that he uses often came from one of his legendary mentors, Joel Salatin, who says, “A fence that goes up fast, falls down fast.” Similarly, social media icon Gary Vaynerchuk, (aka: Gary Vee) has repeatedly admonished his throngs of followers to focus on patience as a key to winning in life, and these are just two of some of the more powerful thought leaders out there who agree on this point. Now, I know it might sound weird to talk about the need to have patience in conjunction with the stage of the monomyth known as “Magic Flight”, but hear me out.
Imagine you’re playing a game like Halo. You’re at the end. The place is going to self-destruct and there are explosions going off and debris falling all around you. You’re trying to escape as two kinds of enemies are attacking you. What’s your best strategy, to run around in any direction, shooting wildly all over the place? Or is it better to quickly but carefully run along a strategically chosen route, conserving your ammo by firing only at the most immediate threats in your path? While it’s easy to see the solution in the case of a video game, it’s a little harder to do when it comes to our own lives. I personally believe that’s mostly due to the insanely slow respawn rate, but that’s a rant for another time.
As Gary Vee said in a blog, “You must believe that life is long! There are just wayyy too many of you acting like it ‘ends tomorrow’ and that, if you don’t ‘get there’ right this second, then you never will. That if you don’t get that promotion, raise, introduction, car, watch, or vacation, then you never will. Trust me, it’s not true! You have to understand that you have so much time. Whether you are 14 or 44, patience is the answer.” Tai Lopez calls this particular form of existential panic, “FOMO” or “Fear of Missing Out”. That’s because humans are social creatures, so we react strongly to the cues from those around us, and to see so many young “influencers” on social media posting pictures of themselves on private jets, or on beautiful beaches, surrounded by gorgeous people, makes a lot of today’s youth think that they’re falling behind because they’re not experiencing the same life. However, as Gary, Tai, and so many others have stated, much of that “lifestyle” is fake, and even if it IS real, it’s one-dimensional, and usually short-lived. This is of course does not mean that we shouldn’t set goals and dream dreams, but we need to get some perspective on the entire process, and truly internalize what the hero’s journey is really all about.
Another one of Gary’s oft-repeated phrases is, “Eat shit for ten years – eat caviar for the rest of your life.” In that same blog Gary added, “You’ve gotta deploy patience and you gotta love the process. I’m addicted to the process of the battle scars, the setbacks, the lack of, you know. ... Wouldn’t you rather guarantee millionairship by 36, by doing long term marathon running versus doing a bunch of bullshit sprints that guarantees never having it? And I promise you, a funny thing happens to your self-esteem when you’re 31 and not a millionaire because you’ve been chasing fast fucking cash, and you’re now six years removed from not hitting your goal. Your self-esteem starts fuckin’ with your head.”
In Dr. Jordan Peterson’s best-selling book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaosthere is a section about lobsters and status, where he explains that there is a part of our brain which assesses our place within the social hierarchy, and that this cluster of neurons is extremely old, so old in fact that it’s also found in lobsters, which first evolved over 350 million years ago. He explained that if this part of our brain perceives us to be in a low place in the local dominance hierarchy, then our bodies produce low amounts of serotonin and high amounts of cortisol, which causes us to react poorly to even minor stressors. That’s because when we are living towards the bottom of the hierarchy, resources are scarce, pleasure is rare, and mating options are few; every inconvenience is a potential catastrophe, for which there is little hope of recovery. Creatures low in the hierarchy, regardless of the species, are constantly on edge, treating every annoyance or minor setback as an existential disaster, because it can be, and evolution has implanted that lesson in us, which is an effective survival mechanism. In the animal world, it keeps creatures going instead of simply giving in to the vicissitudes of the environment or the desires of a predator. Humans, on the other hand, are more complicated, and require more out of life than the mere state of substantive existence that such a system would allow. For humans, such primitive impulses leave us fighting against the things that would allow us to get out of our own way and make our lives better, and we often make our lives worse in the process.
The Buddha taught us that attachment leads to suffering, and another word for attachment in that context is “expectation”. Entrepreneur David Meltzer says, “Detach your happiness from the outcome and enjoy the positive, consistent, and persistent pursuit of your potential.” The hero’s journey is about development, and that is a lengthy, complicated process that must be worked out in each avenue of living – personal, professional, romantic, sexual, financial, etc. Just because you’re doing great in some areas of life, doesn’t mean that you should expect to be doing great in all of them. Likewise, just because you’re doing horribly in some facets, it doesn’t negate all the progress that you’ve made in others. This is an extremely complicated, nuanced, dynamic, and profound understanding of existence, so of course it does not appeal to the part of your brain that remembers a time before anything on earth had lungs. That part of your brain wants to count the number of sexual partners you’ve had, multiply that by your salary, and compare that number to everyone else’s before calling it a day, but that’s not how life works.
In December of last year, I had a couple of weeks where I felt constantly agitated and on-edge, and I would eventually figure out that it was because I hadn’t been processing my feelings of personal inadequacy. So I took some time to manage these feelings appropriately and I got my mood and behavior under control. For me it was a matter of acknowledging the fact that I was unconsciously attempting to measure my station in life by standards that don’t apply to who I am as a person.
I’m not the kind of man to sleep with random women, nor am I so insecure that I HAVE to be in a relationship all the time, but my primitive lobster brain still considers romantic and/or sexual conquest a necessary metric with which to gauge my status in society, and since I’ve been going through a dry spell that would make the Atacama Desert look like a swamp those neurotic neurons had a lot to sink their crustacean claws into. Once I really sat down and made peace with the vast gulf between those unconscious desires and my current, tangible reality, the agitation went away. It was a good thing too, because as I said in episode thirteen of the podcast, about a month later I started to experience a slump in both of my businesses, which could have done a lot to push me into a downward spiral of negative emotion and action. Admittedly, I was a bit of a wreck for a week or so, but not in my usual fashion; I wasn’t more agitated or irritable, I was just full of nervous energy that was begging for an outlet. I was less like a caged animal snapping at passersby, and more like a bored sled dog, in danger of chewing off one of my own limbs without something to do. Still, I knew that it was all part of the journey, and I proved that I had learned from my past mistakes and I managed to do the one thing that smart, ambitious, impatient people like myself are quite awful at doing: Nothing.
In the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, when Aang returns to the city of Omashu to learn Earth Bending from his old friend, King Bumi, he found that it was overrun by the Fire Nation, and his friend was captured shortly after surrendering to the invading army of Fire Benders. The Avatar and his companions attempted a daring rescue, but before he could break him out of his prison and get him to safety, Bumi told Aang to stop, and that he had allowed himself to be captured. He then talked to Aang about “Jing” which he explained as choices in how a person could direct their energy in combat. There’s “Positive Jing” in attacking, “Negative Jing” in retreating, and “Neutral Jing” when a person does nothing. Bumi then clarified that it’s not actually “nothing”, but involves “listening and waiting for the right moment to strike.”
As Gary Vee said, you need to “love the process.” To get through this phase of the journey you need to let go of the expectations you’re holding, and allow yourself to develop in EACH degree of your life, at the right PACE. Just as humility is the only force to counter grandiosity, loving the process of development is the only effective counter to impatience. Because if you learn to really, truly, deeply love that process with every fiber of your being, then it won’t matter if you have to fractionate and repeat that procedure out to four, five, or fifteen dimensions, you’ll do it, and you’ll have a smile on your face the entire time. Again, it’s not that you would ever stop progressing, you’re just not allowing some arbitrary, predetermined expectation to force you into moving faster than you need to. Throughout January I realized that the gods were trying to tell me something, so I decided to stop running against a wall and actually LISTEN.
Instead of chaining myself to my desk and forcing myself to create something that would have come out like garbage, I walked away. I made some progress with my business where I could, but I spent more time away from my office, meeting up with friends, or just spending time in Nature; sometimes for hours, or sometimes for even just a few minutes. Sometimes when I went off to Nature I would intentionally meditate or pray, other times I would simply sit and just be as present as possible; doing my best to act on the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle, and allow the very real “isness” of the moment to overtake me in waves of awesome presence. I used to do this quite frequently when I was younger, but over time I would take these moments to connect to presence less and less, until I didn’t do it at all, and used alcohol to numb myself to the ever-growing ache inside. This time, however, I could no longer ignore my soul’s calling to come to a still point, and as I said in the last podcast, it wasn’t comfortable to do so, but it had to be done.
It has taken me a while to learn that life is so much more than the victories won or the horizons crossed. I had to learn and re-learn the lesson that life is an adventure of seeking out, not grand accomplishments that earn us international acclaim, but in finding the significance in the simple, mundane things in life, and sharing the joy we find with as many people as possible. What’s more, it’s so much easier to hunt out those small moments of joy when we’re comfortable and content, but it’s significantly harder to find when we’re depressed or overwhelmed with anxiety.
The past couple of months have been trying for me. I’ve been under a lot of pressure, and to my own surprise and credit, I’ve dealt with it fairly well. I’ve been hit with some rather unpleasant surprises that took a hatchet to my finances. My pride, however, got gutted with a chainsaw when I failed in some of my responsibilities to my friends. I had to miss a number of appointments with my clients, as well as recording sessions for this podcast. On and on it went, but the entire time I never wavered in my conviction that I was headed in the right direction, nor did I experience constant, intense outbursts of anger. To my credit, I managed to remember the painful lessons I learned as my marriage fell apart, so when things stopped going my way, I acknowledged my limitations, breathed into my feelings of nervousness, and paused. I accepted what was, and I did what I could do in order to get along without trying to force anything to happen. What came out of this is something I’ll have to save for a future blog.
In our lives, once we’ve surmounted challenges, resisted temptations, outgrown our shadow, have had our apotheosis, and achieved a boon that we once thought impossible, we can sometimes find ourselves acting like we need to keep up a break-neck pace in the rest of our journey, especially if we found that we had stalled at one point – as if we are trying to make up for “lost time”. I’m here to tell you (and myself) that this is not the case. Trust the advice of Gary Vee, Tai Lopez, David Meltzer, and so many other successful thought leaders: As long as you’re moving, you don’t have to rush anything. Do more than just enjoy the journey of your development, LOVE it. If there’s anything that you should run towards, it’s the process of growth in all degrees of your life, but do so in more careful and strategic manner. Become obsessed with the progression – every painful, boring, exciting, and rewarding aspect of it. Take it all in and LIVE it with every joyous breath; and above all, be patient, not just with the machinations of life but with yourself.
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