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Merlin . . . & the Lost Art of Mentorship, with Dr. John Bucher

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  • #73842

    Author, strategist, and cultural mythologist Dr. John Bucher serves as content curator for JCF (a designation that fails to capture everything he does he does for the Foundation), as well as a regular contributor to our weekly MythBlast essay series. Dr. Bucher has graciously consented to join us this week in Conversations of a Higher Order for a discussion of his latest essay in the MythBlast series (“Merlin, Mystic Master of Warrior Princes, and the Lost Art of Mentorship“) posted on JCF’s home page). Please feel free to join this conversation and engage John directly with your questions and comments.

    Dr. Bucher is the author of six books, including the best-selling Storytelling for Virtual Reality, and has worked with companies including HBO, DC Comics, The History Channel, A24 Films, The John Maxwell Leadership Foundation, as well as serving as a consultant and writer for numerous film, television, and Virtual Reality projects. John has spoken on 5 continents about using the power of story to reframe how products, individuals, organizations, cultures, and nations are viewed.

    I will get us started with a few questions and comments, but no telling where the conversation will go from there. It will be your thoughts, reactions, observations and insights that expand this beyond just another interview into a communal exchange of ideas – true “conversations of a higher order.”

    So let’s begin:

    Dr. Bucher – one observation that stands out for me from your essay is,  “Many mentors-in-waiting have not yet answered the call because they feel they don’t appear to be the type of wisdom-bringer media culture has sculpted for us.” One doesn’t necessarily apply to be a mentor – rather, it’s a calling. Considering the Call sometimes sneaks up on one, is it possible to be a mentor and not know it? Or is a mentor always conscious of her or his role?

    And a second question: how would you describe the difference between the role of a mentor, and that of a teacher – or is there a difference?

    #73874
    John Bucher
    Keymaster

    Hello Everyone,

    First, let me say it is truly a delight to be interacting with you all about this topic. Thank you, Stephen, for this kind invite to chat with everyone about my MythBlast. Let’s get into it, shall we?

    Indeed, one does not apply to be a mentor. It is a calling, for sure. However, I believe far more are called than answer the call. I think this is especially true in Western cultures. Numerous indigenous cultures in Africa and South America continue to practice a structured form of mentorship, which we often lack. However, as a society becomes more Westernized, and especially individualized, I believe we see less of it. In the United States, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, our “leisure” time for pursuing activities that are not related to either entertainment or capitalism or both, have dwindled further and further. I believe most people are open to the idea of mentoring someone else, if not for two key reasons. 1) They believe they don’t have the time and don’t want to commit to it. 2) They believe they really don’t have anything to offer. I am suggesting that 1) our willingness to mentor has far greater impact on someone than the content of what we might have to offer and 2) we seem to make time for the things we really believe to be important or desire to do.

    I have given a bit of thought to your question about our ability to mentor without knowing it. I think the answer comes down to how we define the term “mentoring” or “mentor.” While we might give someone wise advice or helpful knowledge, which is great, I think the type of mentorship that is most transformational is intentional. It is recognized by both parties. It likely even has some sort of loose structure, even if that is as simple as a monthly coffee date. I know that I have considered individuals a mentor to me without them formally recognizing that role, but I also believe the relationship and thus “mentoring” would have been more powerful had they been able to commit and acknowledge that role. I am not saying that unconscious mentoring can’t or doesn’t happen or that it isn’t valuable. It is just not the ideal that I believe is most powerful and that our culture needs more of. It can easily come down to a question of semantics, but I long for mentors that are intentional about their guidance in my own journey.

    The differentiation between a mentor and a teacher can easily become another issue of semantics. However, I would offer a few thoughts to consider. In many ways, I believe being a mentor is more about who you are in someone’s life than what you do for them. There was a process in different historical moments where a “master” would sit before a “class” with his (unfortunately for history, it was usually a “he”) back to the class and paint or sculpt a creative work. The apprentices or students would sit behind the master and create the exact same work, mimicking the master’s actions. There is something inherent to teaching that involves asking someone to either mimic something that has been previously demonstrated or to imitate a method that has been demonstrated. I recognize, as a teacher in higher education myself, this is greatly reductive, as ideally learning is about creating a sense of understanding in the student that goes far beyond mimicry. However, this type of learning is usually, at least initially, based on mimicry (often through the medium of memorization). In my opinion, mentoring is different from teaching, as what is “taught” is not done through activity. It is instead, as I’ve mentioned, more about who someone is — which may involve unspoken issues of character and wisdom. A teacher shows a student how to solve a problem. A mentor may very well only share their experience of how they once incorrectly tried to solve the same problem. This said, I had a number of “mentors” in my years of public schooling that were more effective at preparing me for life than some “teachers.” But I am grateful for the teachers as well. I needed to know the teacher’s lessons as well as the mentors. Again, this can easily become a matter of semantics, but the roles have been quite different in my experience. I think we as a culture have a great number of (both vocational and non-vocational) teachers (who are usually under-appreciated and certainly underpaid) but we don’t have enough mentors.

    I look forward to interacting with you all on these ideas and others that you will undoubtedly bring to the table!

    #73873

    Dr. Bucher, can you recommend stories with female mentors?

    Thank you,

    Tracy Coffie

    Atlanta

     

    #73872
    jamesn.
    Participant

    Greetings Dr. Bucher, and a most warm and hearty welcome and so glad you are here. Along with Stephen’s thoughtful opening suggestions you have started this conversation off with many things to consider.

    First off this subject reminds me of the Senex/Crone Archetype which has many manifestations; some of which would be the “Mentor/Sage” or wisdom guide; but in more human context might be that of an “Elder figure” who passes on wisdom; but I was also reminded by your suggestion that the: “Wounded Healer”; could be another form it presents itself.

    One of the most important set of examples of this archetype growing up was that of the: “Person behind child”; this was someone who represented some kind of relationship to the child that could give them a long range sense of themselves; that could take on obstacles without losing their sense of direction in accomplishing their goals. A relationship that told them: “Don’t give up; don’t quit; you can do this! A kind of: “can do” attitude that gives them a sense of self-worth and belief in themselves that they not only have value as individuals; but they also have something to offer to the world; a boon or perhaps something the world lacks that is their gift. (So when I first encountered Joseph’s work from a crisis I was experiencing this rung me like a bell!)

    I was particularly moved by your suggestions that mentors are everyday people and are all around us if we can only have the eyes to recognize them; both as student; but more importantly as potential teachers. Your point about being a mentor; but being unsure if the qualities are there was especially helpful for as you pointed out the need now is so great in modern society that so many of our youth are left without the emotional support they so desperately need to find themselves. It is not just a skill that is taught; but: (that self-knowledge and psychological center that Joseph talks about that their inner hero is to exemplify); it’s an understanding there will be hurdles to overcome and inner dragons to battle and darkness to navigate; but there will always be the memory of their guide(s) that whispers to them; “yes you can”!

    I also think these mentor relationship(s) may be either male or female; not just gender related; for how many males have had: mothers, aunts, and grandmothers as mentoring elderhood figures, as well as men; and these bonds that are formed from these deeply personal friendships in our lives have provided meaning, purpose, and insight where those of our own gender could not? But most of all I think if we are lucky we can have the privilege of having more than one mentor to help us; and maybe then by learning from others we too can become that person you suggested: “it’s who you are in someone’s life”; not just: “what you do”.

    I so much enjoyed your post and look forward to hearing more of your offerings on this.   Namaste
    _____________________________________________________________________________________

    Traci; I have a suggested resource that might be helpful in your quest. Maureen B. Roberts has a wonderful Facebook discussion group called: “Psyche, Myth, and Archetype”. It’s a closed group set up specifically to explore and share meaningful material and experiences concerning these kinds of interests. It’s tremendously supportive for both female and male participants, and covers a huge range of topics focused on mythical and other related material for people to share. It’s got somewhere around 5,000 members so there is a rich ongoing conversation; (that is strictly monitored); so the usual social media behavior is always: warm, cordial, and inviting.

    (Your category of interest comes up regularly concerning similar mythically related pursuits. I highly recommend this group because it is one of my favorites and I go there all the time.) Just a thought to consider if you’re interested.

    #73871

    Hello John (and all),

    Tracy’s question is one that was bouncing around the back of my brain as well this morning – what does mentoring in myths and/or folktales look like from the female perspective?

    I also thought those participating in this thread might appreciate a link to your MythBlast essay earlier this summer on The Tiger King, which highlights the critical role a mentor plays, both in the favorite Joseph Campbell tale you share, and in your own life. That essay inspired its own discussion in Conversations of a Higher Order.

    #73870
    John Bucher
    Keymaster

    What a wonderful question, Tracy! I am delighted to report that mythology, speculative fiction, and of course history all have stories of female mentors. But not nearly enough! Male mentors are far more common in our older stories, which is a shame. Here are a few to consider, however:

    I immediately am reminded that it was Athena that disguised herself as Mentor when she appeared to Telemachus in The Odyssey. She is actually the one that encourages him to seek out his father.

    One of others that comes to mind is from Judeo-Christian mythology — Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth.  There are several moments in the narrative that demonstrate Naomi’s role as a mentor. However, none more profound than how she counsels Ruth to approach Boaz.

    Lysistrata was a mentor of sorts to the women that followed her lead. and lest we think that women can only mentor other women, I am reminded of Aphrodite, who could be argued was a mentor to Pygmalion. Great-Grandmothers also serve as mentors in a number of folk tales. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald would be an example.

    I am glad to see MANY more female mentors in modern narratives, but still not enough!

    #73869
    jamesn.
    Participant

    Stephen; thank you for bringing this up:

    “All of us can point to elder tigers that have been formative in our lives. They are those who offered well-timed words of wisdom. They are those who introduced us to new food, food which we might have initially rejected, but later came to love. They are those who helped us see who we really were and returned to remind us when we began to lose sight of it. One of the unintended ironies of Campbell telling this story, of course, is that he has served as the elder tiger for so many. Scores of seekers have come to understand who they are a result of his words. I never got the opportunity to meet Joseph Campbell in person, though he has influenced me greatly. I have been fortunate enough to meet people who knew him, and who have dedicated themselves to seeing his work sustained. One of those men has invested in me over the past year. He has been that elder tiger — a Tiger King of sorts — more interested in my maturation than his own ego. He has seen things in me that I was unable to see in myself, and I am forever grateful. He knows who he is, and I am confident he will read this. I’ve tried to take every opportunity I can to let him know about my appreciation of his investment because we live in a world where people tend to hear plenty about what others dislike about them and far too little about what they do. It’s crucial that we honor our elder tigers, and that eventually we, too, take the time to guide younger cubs that we encounter to that quiet lake and invite them to see who they really are.”

    The above was so movingly stated.
    Unfortunately most of my Elder Tigers are gone; but I now have new ones to learn from.  But the memory of the old ones live on within me!

    #73868
    John Bucher
    Keymaster

    Thank you for that warm welcome, Jamesn. I am glad you brought up the Senex/Crone archetype as I blieve there is much to be gained from that exploration. Hillman’s book on the Senex and the Puer was instrumental in areas of my thinking. The Crone archetype, of course, is that bringer of wisdom we find so important in mentoring. I saw a film that has not been released in the U.S. yet called LUXOR. In the film, a woman travels out to the desert to visit a Crone in modern Egypt. Her experience with this mentor in the film is POWERFUL, thought it only lasts one night. I am reminded how someone can serve as a mentor to someone else, even if the time together is limited.

    I deeply appreciated your words reflecting on my passion for imperfect mentors in our modern world. It is a key piece often missing in our society. I couldn’t agree more that mentors come in every expression of gender, including those free from that restraint. Some of the most impactful mentors in my life have been wise women that have walked the path beside me.

    #73867
    John Bucher
    Keymaster

    Yes, thank you, Stephen for bringing up my previous essay on The Tiger King. JCF’s own, Bob Walter, inspired that MythBlast. Bob has selflessly offered mentorship in my life, remaining a constant source of insight and wise counsel.

    Thanks to all of you, and especially Tracy, for rising this question about female mentors. Dr. Maureen Murdock, author of The Heroine’s Journey, has been a mentor in my own life and served as the chair of my dissertation, guiding me through my own explorations of Campbell while always encouraging me to hold a feminine lens to his work. Maureen is one of many women that have journeyed with me as a mentor, offering wisdom and insights at moments I needed them most.

    I wonder who you might identify as mentors in your own journey? What was it that they provided that meant the most to you? Did you ever take the time to express your appreciation to them? I believe that appreciation (however ritualistic you can make it) is an important part of the mentorship process and cycle.

    #73866
    jamesn.
    Participant

    John; you are most kind in your thoughtful response. Hillman’s: “Daimon” from the Soul’s Code I like a lot. The Male Tigers in my life; although some longer than others in time spent; were important in their influence and presence. Each had their gifts they bestowed; as did the privilege of the Crones. The Senex as guide when I think of him now takes on a different form than as a young boy; the man must also think differently than just as a warrior-hero role for induction into life; for I was also introduced to a more gentle and thoughtful perspective; as someone like Atticus Finch as well as magicians and noble Knight Errands. The world changes even though there are constants to be patterned after; and one of the most important things I learned from Joseph’s ideas was that one’s own interpretation of life must be developed as well. “This is the left-hand path of the maverick way”; the one who must often go into the forest without counsel to find their own path. The modern world may borrow from the old; but the new has it’s own realities that must be incorporated as well.

    I came to Joseph’s work later than many and the influence of them all; both male and female was rekindled. The life experience of those among us we often never know much about; and I’m constantly reminded after Joseph’s influence that what I see and experience from others is only a part of what may actually lay hidden from view. Their heartache and suffering as well as my own may mirror parts of something of which I may be only partly aware; and though my own blind spots may be in the way; it was Joseph’s connection to Jung that helped to open a doorway or a window into a much deeper understanding of myself and those around me. We grow up in a culture that provides only partial instruction for what life may hold; and our trajectory may lead us down many paths; but it’s mystery; as Joseph suggests; may intervene and cause unforeseen circumstances to dictate something else of which we have no idea.

    Most of my own life I had to learn to be my own hero; but I did not know of Campbell’s existence. I had already found a life path but that is only part of the task to be completed; one must then incorporate and face whatever difficulties that may lie ahead by taking this journey into deeper realms as the Sun-Chariot crosses over one’s life meridian toward old age; and part of that life journey was only beginning. Life crisis situations can take many forms; some of mine included great loss; including losing the family house and taking on yet more tasks; and a revisit from other former crisis may sometimes be included as I was to find out more than once. This particular one involved losing one’s berings; which Joseph calls the: “long season”; where a rebuild is in order. I was completely lost and for two years tried every religion or change of perspective I could think of. As Joseph said about religion: “these paths can often lead nowhere”; and one day walking the several miles back home from a church which held nothing for me but a brick wall in deeply depressed reflection; upon reaching home turned on the television to find Joseph Campbell talking to Bill Moyers and my world just stopped; “who was this person that could speak in a voice where everything suddenly made sense?”; and from then on everything changed. That was 1988; and my life has never been the same.

    One of the great joys has been sharing this new world with those who have the same love for his work; and it continues to transform my life ever since. So in another sense you could say Joseph has become a mentor to me. And others I suspect may feel the same way. There is something he talks about where the calamities in ones life may actually be the defining moments; but it is only after looking back in later life this realization becomes apparent. This was one of the most important moments of my understanding of where it all started; and like the realization of: (” the Marga” or animal path back to it’s den) Joseph mentions; what appeared on the outside was not the true reflection of what happened on the inside. Every day I am more and more grateful for discovering Joseph Campbell; for in my mind his mentorship has saved my life from where it had begun so very long ago; and this appreciation will stay with me till my journey’s end. Everyone has a journey they are on; thank you for your kind thoughts regarding mine.

    #73865

    Hello John,

    Thank you for your your wise and wonderful words, and also thank you for the questions:

    What was it that they provided that meant the most to you? Did you ever take the time to express your appreciation to them? I believe that appreciation (however ritualistic you can make it) is an important part of the mentorship process and cycle.

    “I wonder who you might identify as mentors in your own journey?” John, your question made me think, and reflect as to whom have I considered as my mentor, you mean real life mentor, one you had the good fortune of spending some time with.  I’d have to begin my answer with a question. Could you have held your mentor in the back of your brain, lived and followed their ways, with a very foggy sense of why you do what you do?

    If yes, then for me, my mentor is my Uncle who came into our lives when we were in our teens, and whose ways, were so different from my father’s (his brother) and so unimaginably magnetic, that every thing about my Uncle just went deep into my skin. His wise words still ring in my ears, but more than that, were his noble deeds, that I had not seen in any other relative or friend, and those deeds left an indelible impression on my being.  A few years later, our families had a parting of ways, and with that my Uncle’s memories faded.  That’s what I thought, but did they really? No, I find most of my actions, in life have been so similar to my Uncle’s. His name was Atthur, (Arabic version of Arthur).

    Campbell writes, “doom breaks loose from the shell of our very virtues”.  That would describe my Uncle’s last days, and as I reflect back, I find that unconsciously, I have followed in his footsteps, calling it my own journey. Much more to write and reflect on this topic.

    “Did you ever take the time to express your appreciation to them? Unfortunately No, not then and not for many years, but about fourteen years ago, I visited Hyderabad India, and visited his grave, and expressed my gratitude.

    “I believe that appreciation (however ritualistic you can make it) is an important part of the mentorship process and cycle.” While in India, my cousin gave me a tin box that belonged to him, and I do have a ritual. Every Friday, I place a candle on the tin box, and thank him for his love and his gentle ways that have guided me in my life.

    Thank you.

    #73864

    Hello John,

    Like Jamesn, Joseph Campbell is my number one mentor, a mentor whose books comfort me, guide me, give me courage to hang on.  I think Jamesn expressed it beautifully, and I quote him, “There is something he (JOE) talks about where the calamities in ones life may actually be the defining moments; but it is only after looking back in later life this realization becomes apparent. This was one of the most important moments of my understanding of where it all started; and like the realization of: (” the Marga” or animal path back to it’s den) Joseph mentions; what appeared on the outside was not the true reflection of what happened on the inside. Every day I am more and more grateful for discovering Joseph Campbell; for in my mind his mentorship has saved my life from where it had begun so very long ago; and this appreciation will stay with me till my journey’s end. ”

    “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes” (JC)

    In China, September 10th, is set aside to commemorate educators, teachers and mentors. It’s recognized as an official holiday. As a culture, as a society, we should too set aside a day to commemorate our mentors, our guides, our teachers, just my view.

    #73863
    John Bucher
    Keymaster

    Jamesn, thank you for those insights and stories. I found them meaningful as they brought me joy.

    Shaheda, I really resonated with your question – “Could you have held your mentor in the back of your brain, lived and followed their ways, with a very foggy sense of why you do what you do?”

    I believe we absolutely can hold mentors in this way. This foggy sense of why we do what we do, in my opinion, speaks to the involvement of the unconscious. Some of the strongest convictions and experiences I’ve had began as and remain foggy in their origin.

    I was delighted with the story of your uncle. He sounds like he was such an interesting man. I was also moved by the ritual you’ve practiced with your uncle’s tin box. Like you, I also keep momentos of the mentors that have influenced me.

    You both mention the role that Campbell has played in your life, providing mentorship, even across time, space, and the here after. I am reminded of one of the most powerful lessons Campbell offered to me, as a mentor I never met in person. While he mentions the idea elsewhere, there is a wonderful interview that he gave to Parabola Magazine (Vol. 7 No. 1) where he talks about a number of different cultures where Shamans, Medicine Men, and other formal mentors are working with seekers and initiates. He mentions two key lessons these mentors embody for those individuals. The first involved learning to rest well. The second involved waking up. The balance of these two essential functions has become part of my daily, weekly, and yearly mindful practice. Resting well has never been more important in our fast moving culture. However, waking up (a motif that consistently appears throughout myth and fairytale) is life changing. In many ways, Campbell was responsible for my “waking up” but I’ve never forgotten that part of his “mentorship” was also to “rest well.” Are there lessons that have become essential to your life practice that originated with Campbell’s “mentorship”?

    #73862

    Thank you, John for the female mentors!  I was not familiar with George MacDonald’s work – and am looking forward to diving into it during the upcoming winter.  Delighted.  Thanks again.

    #73861

    Hello John,

    Oh so many thanks for your answers on mentors, teachers, and in-person meeting with the mentors.

    “(Joe Campbell) He mentions two key lessons these mentors embody for those individuals. The first involved learning to rest well. The second involved waking up. The balance of these two essential functions has become part of my daily, weekly, and yearly mindful practice. Resting well has never been more important in our fast moving culture. However, waking up (a motif that consistently appears throughout myth and fairytale) is life changing. In many ways, Campbell was responsible for my “waking up” but I’ve never forgotten that part of his “mentorship” was also to “rest well.”

    I am ever so grateful to you for sharing these two key lessons. I had not come across them, although I know I needed them most, especially, the “waking part’. Now I shall  incorporate them into my life.  Perhaps, keep a journal to monitor my progress through these lessons.

    “Are there lessons that have become essential to your life practice that originated with Campbell’s “mentorship”?

    Yes, absolutely.

    1) Living authentically or at least trying to.

    2) Looking at life through a mythic lens. (I am not sure if this is a lesson or just a shift in perspective)

    3) Looking at the sky, and enjoying the sunset, the sunrise, the stars, the moon, and the rainbows,  like I never did before.

    4) Keeping a dream journal, remembering and honoring my dreams.

    5) Having a sacred space, and spending at least one hour a day in my space. (I must admit, I have missed a few days or many days, lately)

    6) Trying to dance, or incorporating it in my life. Something that had never been a part of me.  Thank you Joe, Jean and Nancy for opening another beautiful door.

     

     

     

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