Updated: Jun 20, 2019
The Belly of the Whale starts the moment the hero realizes that he’s “not in Kansas anymore”, and begins to examine the Special World for the first time. This can either happen immediately upon crossing the first threshold such as in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy exits her transplanted home, and is greeted by Glinda and the Munchkins. Sometimes, though, this stage is delayed for a short time, such as when Luke Skywalker and company fly on the Millennium Falcon to what they thought was Alderan, only to be dragged in to the Death Star. The Belly of the Whale stage has three phases: Envelopment, Initiation, and Rebirth.
I think The Matrix did the best job with depicting this stage in cinema. After Neo takes the red pill (crossing the threshold) Morpheus (the mentor) explains that it’s used as a tracer. Neo is then sat before a mirror that serves as a kind of portal. He touches it, and is slowly enveloped by it, but not before his signal is located and the slow crawl of the mirror’s “material” is sped up, as part of his initiation. In terms of the story’s mechanics it is here that he is first “derezed”, which isn’t actually visualized for the audience until the sequel, Matrix: Reloaded. He then awakes in his pod and breaks out of it, after which he’s flushed down a drain and picked up by the Nebuchadnezzar, where he is nursed back to health, all of which is an almost literal rebirth.
When discussing the monomyth, the “Belly of the Whale” and the “Road of Trials” stages are often considered together, simply because the former is the realm in which the latter occurs, and in many stories, the hero endures a set of trials immediately upon crossing the threshold. However, it should be understood that the trials experienced in the former stage often represent more of an initiation than a battle, which is what the latter stage typically presents to the hero. It’s tempting, especially when examining our own lives, to believe that the “Road of Trials” stage begins the moment we enter new territory, but that’s a much more emotional and myopic belief, typically based on nothing more than our own personal perspective. If we could consider our lives objectively, however, we would see the difference between a “trial” and an “initiation”. In any case, the most important thing to remember is that this stage is designed to represent a descent into the subconscious or unconscious minds – the former being the realm of the active memory, or programming that empowers our daily tasks such as tying our shoes, and the latter being the part of our brain that stores more ancient memories and traits that we’ve collected since childhood. For the hero, becoming initiated into this deeper, larger world requires confronting that which is often difficult to face, but must be confronted.
For instance, once I left the restrictive confines of my family’s sheltering belief system, I was free to associate with whom I pleased, when I pleased, without having to consider the opinions of those in the church (yes, really). In such cases I found myself entering into situations which I had little familiarity with, or the understanding of, the nuances of proper behavior, especially when it came to women. Sometimes I was, in a very literal sense, swallowed up by the darkness of the unknown; going into dimly-lit bars and house parties, where I would be tested, judged, and sometimes even brutally mocked and taken apart. It would leave me feeling hurt, lost, and uncertain about the future, but knowing that I had to go on. For me there was no going back; I crossed that threshold and now had to figure things out for myself, or pray that God would in some way help me succeed.
Now, it’s true that I had dealt with such situations before I broke away from my family’s faith, having already lived through nearly two years of self-enforced sobriety. If I’m being honest, however, that time period was more of a stereotypical exercise in “rebellion” that all youth seem to go through, than an actual foray into the unknown. I would enjoy myself with “the wrong crowd” when I could, but then be back at church that Sunday, espousing my purity to the Lord, which was easy for me to honestly justify. That’s because before I made my threshold crossing, if I were to go to a party of some sort, I would simply drink to the point where no one expected proper behavior from me. I would use intoxication to obscure my nervousness and other personal abnormalities, while at the same time, ensuring that my “precious” Christian virginity would remain intact, because no girl, not even one that was obliterated, would want to bed someone who was both weird AND drunk.
Once I crossed that threshold, however, with no one else’s religious morays to hide behind, I was in a new, more adult world, one in which I was often responsible for driving my friends around, so I couldn’t just get blind drunk and expect to be excused for being so obviously out of place. I had to learn, and learn quickly, how to behave properly so that I could successfully navigate this new realm and grow as a person. I had to pick up the nuances of human behavior, especially when it came to relations between the sexes. I had to learn that there’s a subtle, abstract process to such things that have no definitive methodology, save for one, “Relax, be yourself, be in the moment, and enjoy her.” I didn’t know how to do that in the slightest, and it caused a lot of problems for me, socially. I made a lot of enemies that I wouldn’t have made if I could have just behaved better, but I didn’t know how. To be perfectly blunt and not in any way self-deprecating, when it comes to making advances toward women, I’m still laughingly inept, but at least I’m not hiding anymore, which is a step in the right direction.
Looking back on that time, I often think about how Dr. Jordan Peterson describes a situation like a party as a dragon – an agent of chaos that will consume you if you don’t handle yourself around it properly. In the new world in which I found myself, I had to stay awake, and pay attention, and tell the truth, and aim up, and pet cats, and all the other things he advised his audience to do in his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. In every bar, restaurant, party, and parking-lot-hangout there were monstrous beasts lurking everywhere, and I was learning for the first time how to be a man in relation to not only women, but to other men.
For a time, in whatever group I found myself drifting into, I clung to select alpha males who seemed to know what they were doing, as a kind of…no…as a literallackey. That’s because I was freshly reborn into this new world. I couldn’t “be myself” because I didn’t yet have a self to be. It would take years of contemplation and experiencing what I didn’t want and what didn’t fit me, for me to discover what I did want and what external symbols actually did represent who I really was on the inside. Until I got to that point of heightened self-awareness, I found myself being used and abused by my “friends” who decided to take advantage of the wide-eyed innocent that I was at the time. I don’t really blame them, of course, because that’s what they were there for.
If I examine that time in my life subjectively, I could potentially feelthat I had endured some rather tempestuous trials, but in reality, I was merely being initiated. The monstrous denizens of the strange world in which I found myself, with their odd behavior and expectations of me, acted according to a rather simplistic script, “Examine the newcomer, test him, and only accept him into the tribe if he passes. If not, extract what resources you can from him, and then make it so that he leaves, one way or another.” Like a roughneck baptism, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool of social order and left to either sink or swim of my own accord, which is the same for everyone else. I wasn’t a victim, nor was I in any way special, so I had to expect the same treatment that anyone else would get, and I had to do it without acting like a child in response. Most people don’t realize any of this, because it all happens on the playground, when they are literal children, while I began this process as a supposed “adult”. Admittedly, I owe a lot to the true friends that took pity on me and helped me integrate into society, especially my ex-wife and still best friend, Lauren. She not only put up with a lot, losing social currency while she took the time to teach me how to behave, she actually did bed the group weirdo, an arrangement that didn’t end until I once again became the group drunk, but that’s a lamentation for another time.
I didn’t actually experience a rebirth for some time; not until I had distanced myself from the tyrannical, and undeniably toxic people to which I had once clung. It wasn’t until I finally managed to stand on my own two feet, as my own man, with my own identity that I became ready to handle the stresses that the next stage in my journey would bring. If I had to pin that accomplishment it to a moment, I would say that my wedding marked such a point of transition. On that day I presented myself, not as a lost, sycophantic ideologue, but as a competent man, and the proverbial head of a new household. What that initiation ritual of marriage symbolized was a massive leap into true adulthood, with all of the trials that would be ensued upon me. I was no longer in need of acceptance by the larger collective, I was cleared to begin my own collective – my own tribe. In many ways, with Lauren’s help, I succeed in this, as our home became a base camp and oasis to many of our friends…at least for a while.
I ask you: Can you pinpoint the exact moment the Belly of the Whale stage started for you? Have you experienced all three stages yet? Do you have a moment of rebirth, or did that stage of your life blend into the next? Can you be objective enough to know for sure? If any of those questions prove too difficult to answer, then I suggest that you do something to obtain a greater level of objectivity. Perhaps you could speak with someone close to you that knows you well enough, like a parent, sibling, or spouse. If that doesn’t help, then journaling is often very effective, as Tom and I have mentioned before on our podcast. At the very least, I hope my experience has given you something to reflect off of.
Mind Program Page: https://www.phicenter.nyc/peak-performance
Dr. Jordan Peterson:
Jordan Peterson - His Finest Moment:
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos: https://amzn.to/2WQROn9
Joseph Campbell on Amazon:
The Hero With a Thousand Faces: https://amzn.to/31KzRKw
The Power of Myth: https://amzn.to/2XwiCO9
The Wizard of Oz on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XlQ8WZ
Captain America on Amazon: https://amzn.to/31L2F5Y
Light at the Edge of the World on Amazon:
Star Wars on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2RlYKrp
The Matrix on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XnFcbu
The Lord of the Rings/ The Hobbit on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2WT0J7J
AVATAR on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XmP7OG