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When the Adventure is a Drag,” with Mark C.E. Peterson, Ph.D.”

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    Mark C.E. Peterson, Ph.D., joins us in Conversations of a Higher Order to discuss “When the Adventure is a Drag”, his latest entry in JCF’s MythBlast essay series (click on title to read). Please join this discussion and share with Mark your thoughts, questions, and observations about this week’s essay.

    Mark – such an important theme, navigating the doldrums of myth.

    I recall when I first encountered Joseph Campbell’s ideas, I enthusiastically embraced what felt all sparkles and glitter to me. At the time I had been mired in the Wasteland, facing a difficult medical diagnosis and coming to terms with my own mortality. Learning about the Hero’s Journey and locating where I was on that path didn’t change my physical or financial circumstances, but the resulting shift in perspective pulled me out of deep depression and helped me fall in love with life again – “saying ‘yea’ to it all,” in all its agony and ecstasy.

    An awareness of the trajectory of the hero’s journey helps me deal with the agony, but who knew there’d be doldrums and drudgery as well (the “horse latitudes” of the soul)? At such times it can feel like I’ve lost the thread and will be stuck wandering limbo forever. Your essay reminds me that I am not alone in that feeling, so thank you for addressing this (especially with such great verve and wit!).

    I especially identify with your experience re picking out new floors (we have been remodeling our kitchen in stages for months now; even with hired contractors doing the bulk of the work, that’s a task I would have preferred delaying for just another, oh, say two, or maybe three lifetimes; if a relationship can survive that ordeal, it just might be a keeper).

    But what I really want to focus on is the epiphany that transformed your drudgery:

    It’s embarrassing to say this, but it must have taken two weeks before I realized that we were picking out new floors for our relationship.

    I’ll repeat that: A new relationship needs new flooring.

    I hate it when it’s this obvious. The observation was metaphorically rich in ways that could not be ignored and, boom—all the fires roared back to life.

    Suddenly I found meaning again, a new pathway to bliss, and all it took was to notice the myth, the metaphor, hiding in plain sight—in the literal sense of picking out new floors. Suddenly the flooring was no longer something in a List of Sisyphus; it became symbolic: transparent to transcendence, in Campbell’s language. Picking out new flooring became more than flooring. It became an acknowledgement that our new lives needed a new foundation and, just as suddenly, picking out a new garbage can became a search for the Holy Grail.”

    It’s not difficult to catch your excitement and renewed sense of enthusiasm, seeing the metaphor hidden in the mundane. But how is this possible? Are you suggesting that we can approach the dull, dreary, demands of daily life the same as we would the images in a work of literature, poetry, art, or even a dream?

    Works of imagination are one thing, but to see symbolism in concrete, literal, physical reality? What is at work here – and why does it work?

    Is this what Jung means by “living the symbolic life?”


    Hi Stephen,

    Nice to be back fishing for coho with everyone!

    I like your description of the mythological blah’s as “doldrums”… that gets at it nicely.  You’re aboard your own version of the Argo, you have provisions, you’re well armed and ready for the adventure, you’re out of sight of land on your way and then….. the wind dies and you’re just sitting there.

    This happens all the time, doesn’t it?   And you know, occasionally when you feel abandoned like that, and you endure it, you get the experience of the “dark night of the soul” — which is terrible and wonderful and, at least, reminds you that you’re still on the adventure.  But that’s not EVERY TIME the wind dies.  The world requires our attention in ways that our idea of the adventure doesn’t always meet.  It’s…. what’s the right word…. icky?

    Boring.  Prosaic.  Mundane.  Tedious. Exasperating. Dull. Pedestrian.

    Now that I think about it, there’s a great song in the musical Pippin that captures this.


    We all feel like this sometimes.

    You summarized the core idea here:

    It’s not difficult to catch your excitement and renewed sense of enthusiasm, seeing the metaphor hidden in the mundane. But how is this possible? Are you suggesting that we can approach the dull, dreary, demands of daily life the same as we would the images in a work of literature, poetry, art, or even a dream?

    Works of imagination are one thing, but to see symbolism in concrete, literal, physical reality? What is at work here – and why does it work?

    Is this what Jung means by “living the symbolic life?”

    Going back to my working hypothesis about how “myth” works makes sense of this dilemma I think.  Myth is a kind of story, a narrative, that relates us to something and so any “myth” in itself isn’t a fact of some kind, but a way of relating us to the situation we find ourselves in.  The reason we get bored with life, or with anything (and here’s another one of my working hypotheses… but I’m almost sure I’m right about this :^), is that we aren’t taking it personally and when we fall out of relation with something, we aren’t taking it personally anymore.

    That idea of boredom is really powerful.  (I should dig into this in my next MythBlast… Hmm.)  Think about it.  If it’s the case that boredom happens to us when we aren’t taking something personally,  then:

    • When we’re bored with politics, we aren’t taking it personally anymore.
    • When we’re bored with our relationships, we aren’t taking them personally anymore.
    • When we’re bored with religion, it’s because we aren’t taking our religious life personally anymore.   AND
    • When we’re bored with our lives…..

    You get the idea.  And so… what happens?  Something happens that puts you back into relationship with the things you’d fallen out of relationship with.  Moving, my example here, is so exhausting that you really don’t want to be in relationship to it anymore.  Think about difficult times with loved ones, or with your own spiritual development… these can become so taxing that you just can’t bear it anymore…. so you fall out of relation to these experiences.  They become less meaningful.  They become boring.  Zzzzzzzzzzz.

    But then, if you look directly at the reality in front of you, and think about how you are in relation to it, you might discover the relational narrative, the story, the myth, that puts you back into relationship with that thing/experience/trial/etc.

    There’s a link in all of this to Martin Buber’s ideas of I/Thou and I/It.  Something to think about maybe as our conversation moves forward.

    I’d say that when you find relational narratives to keep you in touch with your life, and with the world, you  are living exactly that symbolic life Jung was getting at.

    Ha, moves.  I can’t escape it.  ;^)


    I love this Mark! Transcendence buried in the mundane and grind of life. Or even hiding in plain sight! Just waiting to be noticed! This is really beautiful. And true!
    I’ve put off cleaning ha ha sometimes. But then in the case of an attic, when I start clearing even a little, “treasure reveals itself to me.” Maybe not as strong a metaphor as the new floor/foundation of a relationship (love that by the way!) but something meaningful to me in its own way: a painting my Mom did of Roger Maris…a missing sun dial…or something else misplaced.
    So in these ordinary mundane processes something extraordinary to each of us seems to be revealed?

    And it seems right in alignment with the mythic themes of looking beyond surface appearances and not all is as appears! Sometimes, a little digging is required and sometimes the PAUSE is needed to realize oh my God! It’s been right in front of us all along!
    The AHA! Hand to forehead.
    And there is the treasure!

    I think you are right about the disconnection, Mark. So well said in your response to Stephen above. Is the trick then to see the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary? Or to appreciate the simple things? To look deeper?
    To go back to the relation of “Thou” instead of the mechanical “it?”
    Who knows?
    But what a lovely way of presenting treasure in the seeming ordinariness of life! Thank you Mark!


    Hey Sunbug!

    Right?  It kind of goes back to my Mythblast about leaky transcendence.  It leaks into immanence in all sorts of unexpected places…. including attics.

    But I think that’s a great way to illustrate both how the weird little treasurers emerge.  For example, while digging through the basement I discovered boxes I hadn’t opened since THE LAST TIME I MOVED which was, like, 20 years ago (!).  Gasp.  Fortunately they were happy finds — some journals I’d kept when living overseas at the end of the 90s.  That was fun.

    However, if we’re talking about the attics of our psyche’s sometimes rooting around in there doesn’t turn up bits of gold, but those venomous toads that have been slowly poisoning pieces of our lives for years and years without having been discovered — the mundane can be hiding that stuff as well.   All of which might be a reason why we avoid looking for the transcendent in the everyday — it might not be gold we’ll find at the end of that rainbow, but icky mud.

    Whew… that was a rapid change in metaphors.

    And this kind of goes to my point that maybe boredom can be understood as a protective device — a way that the ego can wrap itself in the mundane to keep the anxieties of self-discovery at bay?  That’s one of my working hypotheses.   What do you think?  Do people take refuge in the mundane to avoid the extraordinary?

    Back to my floorboard metaphor:  you never know for sure what you might find under there.  ;^)


      Hello Mark, it’s so great to have you back with us. I have a quick question which you may or may not think applies here. It concerns an Eastern Daoism concept called: “Wu-Wei”; “of doing by not doing”; and I’m wondering if you see some kind of connection to this concept with your topic?

      To me this concept seems to speak to this situation of being in limbo as it were. There could be different forms of course such as being stuck; or being blocked by some kind of obstruction you may be working through, or even just plain homebound by the pandemic and trying to figure out what to do with yourself. But your sense of movement, whether by emotional or physical concerns has become severely restricted for whatever reason which may “produce” a tension, blockage, obstruction, or feeling of frustration you may have to confront that is for some reason or another been conjured from out of your unconscious.

      Now in some situations we could say we are being tested by some kind of “conflict”; which to me speaks to a very important Jungian concept concerning either depression or some kind of emotional polarity or blockage that must be resolved to move forward. (Note the term: “Axiom of Maria”); which I believe refers to what’s known as the “Transcendent Function” in relation to the “libido”.

      However, your topic may not actually be addressing that kind of emotional turmoil situation, hence part of the reason I’m asking my question. It just seemed to strike me as possibly relative because one’s movement has become all of a sudden restricted where one’s unconscious might want to come out and play, so to speak, and something long buried decides it wants to pay a visit and demands your attention asking to be heard or resolved, or at least given proper attention to listen to its’ message.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you feel it has any relevance to what you have been discussing. Again, a warm welcome back.


        Let me add a quick reference to your previous points about uncovering something while: “rooting around in the attic of our psyche”; as you put it, and something gets triggered. Synchronicity and The Self, (not the ego), may become engaged as part of an overdue evolutionary process from one’s past that’s been triggered by something you “trip over”; (if that makes more sense). I came across a piece that goes into a longer explanation about Jung and this concept of Daoism which may or may not relate to what you are talking about. Plus, Stephen may have something to add here as well since he is much more versed in Eastern philosophies than I am. I’m mainly providing the link as a reference, not necessarily to be read through since you are busy and may already have thoughts on this anyway. But it is an Eastern, not Western concept, that seems to be part of the psyche’s evolutionary process toward wholeness if I’m understanding this concept correctly.

        Sunbug, you may have thoughts to add on this as well. I’m just bringing this idea into the conversation since it’s something I’ve been curious about and seems relevant in some way to some things I’ve come across and might add a different dimension since Joseph was familiar with some of these ideas and cross-referenced a lot of mythological concepts. And this was certainly one of them he would know about. The “I-Ching” would be a perfect example many people might already be familiar with and would relate with a wider range of this kind of ancient Eastern cosmology. But I’m going to stop here and see if any of what I brought up rings a bell with anyone, (but) at the same time I don’t want to distract from Mark’s topic either.




        Leaky transcendence! Love it Mark!

        Transcendence will find a way!

        Sorry for the borrow of the ol’ Jurassic Park metaphor of life will find a way.


        But maybe there are some metaphorical dinosaurs lurking in the dark we subconsciously try to avoid.

        Makes sense to me!

        The icky mud in the attic…

        The obvious possibility: rat signs tale-tail. Trails of icky for sure!
        No venemous toads in a literal attic with that much heat in summer. But once upon a time, small black venomous  dragons of a sort would March down from our attic with their scorpion tails held high in venomous attitude. Bold and angry.
        So maybe a scorpion could hide in the psyche just waiting to jab.  I remember one time when Dad was in the backyard, a scorpion stung his ankle multiple times! Yow!
        Angry little creatures!
        And then it’s those un-explained creaks in Attics that maybe we would rather avoid?
        Last year, I had a harrowing experience in my house with a hornet and it felt symbolic went right into the psyche attic for sure…know there was more at play than just the bug! Or maybe because of my childhood memory of Dad’s encounter with a swarm. Well he did spray their nest (heh) but he fell as he ran and they attacked. So bad he went to the hospital and his wedding ring had to be remolded.  But thank God he recovered!
        BUT your quote: “Do people take refuge in the mundane to avoid the extraordinary?”

        Brilliant! And Yes, Yes, Yes! I think they do!

        Maybe you are right! Maybe they do partly in fear of the icky things in the dark. Maybe fear of confrontation? Highly understandable! Or fear of what they will see in the mirror? I think you did a piece on reflection last year and Medusa right? The stone turning?
        So a snake could be up in the attic?

        But that’s 3rd eye stuff as well as um venom. Unless rat snake. Haha.

        But sometimes, I think the greatest fear is the unknown and not necessarily because it might be a monster to avoid, but rather because what if the unknown  “does not fit,” cannot be easily “categorized?” That has always seemed to be the role of transcendence to me!

        What you thought you knew, you did not know!

        But logic wants its say as well, which is logically to be expected.
        Transcendence probably tests the patience of logic Hehheh. So is the trick finding the balance?
        So here I go pulling up Robert Mirabal again Stephen (of course;-)  At the end of one of Robert’s concerts, he said something I had never heard before.

        But it certainly appealed to my psyche and (Joe Campbell philosophy cells) Grin.

        “Drive safely and see you in a non-ordinary reality.”  I love that!
        I think it also speaks to what you say Mark!!
        But I have this sneaking suspicion that you are right, the non-ordinary is feared. And I think it’s feared even when it’s not icky scary.

        Isn’t there a little bit of a different kind of fear even hidden within the word Awe?
        Or when one thinks of the Universe and feels humbled by their tiny-ness within it? Do transcendent moments not take the breath out of us? Did some poets not refer to that which was so beautiful it “hurt?” Or maybe the re-connection hurts because one has been so long without it? So ironically it’s easier to keep it at bay so one won’t have to remind themselves of that pain.

        But alas! Transcendence will leak its way back into that attic, when one lets their guard down and is less pre-occupied with controlling.

        Oh boy here come the toads! But do they have jewels in their heads?

        Now the perspective of the universe…

        That I find to be very, very interesting.

        I have seen some posts with gorgeous photos (from James Webb telescope I think?) which do a comparison of sizes from earth to largest planets in our solar system to our sun…to larger stars to our solar system within our galaxy and our galaxy becomes very, very small…and so forth…it’s beautiful, humbling, awe-inspiring and breath-taking!
        So I don’t remember which science site this was…but it’s gorgeous.

        Then recently saw a post from NASA with a photo-diagram of the “entire observable universe.”
        It is glorious, fantastic as well! And reminds me of my Mother’s love of observational astronomy. 🙂

        But here was the interesting part to me…

        In the first size comparison post, one is moving metaphorically as well as literally outward, looking from inside out towards a growing horizon…

        Whereas the 2nd post kind of does the opposite (bringing a balance in a way)


        (i.e. “here is the whole observable universe.” And all of these galaxies and nebulas are within a “circle.” The known observable universe)

        But that “circle” has now become very sizable. I could even imagine it held within the imaginary hand of a giant galactic wizard!
        The first impression I had is “it is bounded.” But the unspoken question is “what is beyond?” Yet to be discovered?

        The first post of photos evokes something infinite…something which points beyond itself…the unknown…

        The second singular photo evokes something manageable, knowable and written.

        Guess it’s just the yin/yang or the journey go out to go back within.
        (The whole universe in the palm of the hand.)

        It is extraordinary! But it is hard not to feel even here, there is a little bit of a fear that the extraordinary unknown STILL exists beyond those current borders of years of hard won knowledge.




          One last addendum to my questions after you finish answering Sunbug if I may, which has to do with one’s “Core Complex”. Here is one quick explanation from James Hollis. What I’m actually attempting to address is the relationship between the personal and collective unconscious, and the possible Eastern as well as Western way of addressing it within a set of circumstances where one is in a state of “static” arrest. And the Archetypes and the Complexes that can affect someone’s mental and emotional state are stimulated or, “triggered” if you will, by some sort of symbol or experience whether in waking consciousness or dream state, that has a certain emotional tone attached to it that sets it in motion. (There is an old saying that goes: “we don’t have complexes, they have us”; would be an example). And much of one’s personal system of complexes are tied to one’s sense of self-image or self-esteem, or self-identity if I’m understanding the concept correctly. Joseph’s talks about the Hero going into the abyss to slay a Dragon which actually has to do with the “ego”-consciousness assimilating what is down there, would be “one” example, I think. And my questions have to do with the: “tripping over something you mentioned”; and what may come to greet you.

          (My apologies if my explanation is rather clumsy for I’ve been working on this problem for quite a while of trying to figure out what my “Core Complex” is which is related to much of my past.) Here is one of Joseph Campbell’s explanations from the: “Power of Myth” concerning the dynamic interplay between the individual and their unconscious that I’m using to help better clarify what I’m trying to get at. Again, I’m not trying to distract from the original direction of the topic, and I realize this may be a somewhat different take on it. But I think it still applies, only in a different way. Namaste

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