Find Fulfillment in Midlife Through the Reflections of Joseph Campbell
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Find Fulfillment in Midlife Through the Reflections of Joseph Campbell

Arts & Culture Book Bites Happiness
Find Fulfillment in Midlife Through the Reflections of Joseph Campbell

Ben Katt is a meditation teacher, spiritual coach, and writer. He is a certified advanced meditation teacher, holds a Master of Divinity degree, and was an ordained minister for over a decade.

Below, Ben shares five key insights from his new book, The Way Home: Discovering the Hero’s Journey to Wholeness at Midlife. Listen to the audio version—read by Ben himself—in the Next Big Idea App.

Ben Katt The Way Home Next Big Idea Club

1. Give yourself grace, space, and (a slower) pace.

The journey to wholeness requires that you leave the familiar. This isn’t primarily about surface matters like who you’re with, what you do for work, or where you live. It’s deeper. It’s about leaving behind the operating patterns that are keeping you small and stuck.

In order to gain clarity about what you need to leave and the courage to leave it, new habits are required. These ritual practices, which include spiritual disciplines, mindfulness practices, and rites of passage, are activities that aid the process of self-discovery.

A few weeks after a rainy morning run, I was directed to my foundational ritual practices when I saw a Mad Men-era Jaguar luxury car slogan that seemed to have been written just for me: Grace, Space, Pace.

Pace called me to slow down, to rest, to simply be. Space prompted me to reflect and recharge through journaling, yoga, and meditation. And grace, through the hospitality of friends and strangers, taught me to embrace vulnerability and receive love.

As weird as it sounds, these three words from an old magazine ad helped me identify and relinquish my obsession with achievement, perfection, and the approval of others. But grace, space, and pace—and the host of restorative practices they inspire—aren’t just for me. They’re powerful for anyone who gives them a try!

2. Let nature be your teacher.

When you leave behind the roles that have defined you for so long—by choice or unwillingly—you are plunged into the unknown. It’s lonely and disorienting. While the accompaniment of a partner, friend, therapist, or spiritual director is critical as you walk through the darkness, nature is also a powerful ally.

The poet William Wordsworth once wrote, “Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher,” echoing what Indigenous cultures throughout history have always known. Even though this truth has been largely forgotten in the modern world, nature’s powerful wisdom will no doubt be revealed to you if you stay open and pay attention as you wander through the unknown.

“Nature’s landscapes and wild things will reflect truths back to you about who you are and why you are here.”

During my journey to wholeness, a jaguar stalked me in my dreams. An owl visited me in the woods. Hummingbirds always seemed to be appearing just when I needed to learn something. I stood naked before a wise cactus, wept beneath ponderosa pines, and descended into a lonely canyon. These encounters with the wild helped me surrender, taught me perseverance, and set me free.

Likewise, on your journey to get your heart back, whether it is deep in a wilderness area or on a path at a local park, visiting an animal at the zoo, or watching the birds in your backyard, nature’s landscapes and wild things will reflect truths back to you about who you are and why you are here.

3. Face your death.

Joseph Campbell, the twentieth-century mythologist, famously called this universal way home to wholeness “The Hero’s Journey.” It’s a single story that appears throughout history in myths, sacred texts, folklore, and fairy tales from across cultures and religions. You’ve also seen this pattern in modern movies, read it in books, and witnessed it in the real life of anyone you’ve ever met who is living their fullest life.

But even though the way is well-known, many refuse to follow it—because it’s too slow in a world that demands a quick fix. It also doesn’t guarantee success, at least not the “success” of self-help strategies that promise to improve your bank account, abs, or influence (spoiler alert: the way provides something greater—inner healing and fulfillment!)

The main reason this path is less traveled, however, is because it requires you to face your death. Your “false self ” must die in order to mature into wholeness. This might not sound all that bad up front. But here’s the tricky thing: when you begin this journey, the “false self” that must die doesn’t feel very false. Because it has protected you from pain, helped you fit in, and accomplished good things—sometimes.

It has also hurt you and hindered you, which is why it’s time to get rid of this expired version of you. Dying to your false self is an agonizing process, but this death is the doorway to your truest, fullest self.

4. Your calling is bigger than your career.

Embarking on the journey of self-discovery is not a selfish endeavor. In fact, claiming your wholeness is only complete when you return to serve your community, when you come back to the world with a gift to give. In a 1980 commencement speech at Spelman College, theologian, mystic, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman spoke to graduates about listening to “the sound of the genuine” within them. This is what the way home is about: rediscovering the sound of the genuine within yourself. It is your calling, your unique contribution to the world that flows from your true identity.

“Prioritizing your calling is crucial because it changes not only you but also the world.”

Work is one arena in which you might embody your calling. But your calling is also expressed in moments, relationships, projects, and beyond. A preoccupation with your occupation, which is common in our productivity-obsessed and achievement-oriented society, not only interferes with your growth towards wholeness but also constricts your capacity to be a conduit of healing in the world.

At times, there might be significant overlap between the sound of the genuine and your job, but remember that your calling is always bigger than your career. Prioritizing your calling is crucial because it changes not only you but also the world.

5. Stay weird.

Before Follow your bliss became his catchphrase for the process of pursuing and discovering your heart and calling, Joseph Campbell talked about being faithful to your “wyrd.” Wyrd referred to the ancient image of a trio of sisters who spun the threads of fate. It meant “having the power to control destiny.” Eventually, wyrd became weird, and its meaning evolved into “unearthly” and, later, “odd, strange.”

Considering these three definitions, being faithful to your wyrd might be the most fitting way to describe the path to wholeness. Because prioritizing your wholeness and living in a heart-centered way—not to mention engaging in Ritual Practices and becoming a student of the wild—is countercultural; it is a bit strange. It is also kind of unearthly to move through life with a sense of purpose, regardless of whether or not you are receptive to mystical messages. Finally, this way is also wyrd because living in alignment with your calling is a form of spinning the threads of your own destiny. Rather than settling for the status quo and passively waiting for some predetermined thing to happen, you claim the power to live what poet Mary Oliver called the “one wild and precious life” that is yours to live.

This journey to wholeness is wyrd in every way! So we might as well just say, “You have to be weird to get your heart back. And you need to stay weird to keep it.” But weird is the way to go. Because if you have your heart, you have everything.

To listen to the audio version read by author Ben Katt, download the Next Big Idea App today:

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