“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself,” wrote Joseph Campbell, the iconic mythologist best known for his work The Hero's Journey.
Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, historically designed to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Unfortunately, some of those brave individuals no longer walk with us on Earth because they have chosen to make a life-ending decision, often due to the complications of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that roughly 11-20% of veterans who have served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD.
With these numbers in mind, let’s explore the Hero’s Journey and consider how we can better honor our veterans on this significant day…
1. Recognize that we are all on our own Hero’s Journey!
As Joseph Campbell illuminated, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” There are predicable milestone in everyone’s journey:
- We will hear a calling— one that often those around us will not understand.
- We will be called to leave the nest and take on the quest for which only our soul knows the way. For this reason, it may feel like we are lost much of the time.
- We will encounter some life-changing challenge which actually becomes the point of our life quest.
- We may momentarily lose hope.
- We will likely meet a messenger/mentor/teacher along the way, or we will discover that our teacher/guide is our deep intuitive internal wisdom.
- We will have an “ah-ha” moment of profound realization.
- We will experience rebirth.
- We will hear a new calling, and we will start again.
Listen again to the prediction: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Today, on Memorial Day, let go of what you have planned, and embrace what is waiting for you! Furthermore, if you are remembering and honoring a departed loved one on this day, choose to release any thoughts about how you wished their life had played out. Campbell said it best: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Honor that. Honor them exactly as they were—imperfections and all.
2. Choose the meaning you will give to your life and the memory of the ones you remember today.
Campbell offers this thought: “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning, and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” What is the meaning you choose to bring to life? What meaning did your loved one bring to their life? Were they a veteran? Was being a father, mother, brother, spouse, or friend to you what brought meaning to their life?
When I think of my step-son on this first Memorial Day after his decision to end his life, I can see the meaning he chose for himself. He found value and purpose in choosing be a soldier, a family man, and a Christian. He ultimately also believed his PTSD-driven decision was in the best interest of his family. While it is hard for me to fathom this kind of devastating choice, today I will honor his journey and the beauty he offered to those who he touched while on Earth. I will no longer ask the question, “Why?” Rather, I will choose to ponder: “How can I make meaning in my life from this?”
3. Embrace the dark days of grief and growth.
While grieving for those who have departed the earthly plane is never an easy process, today we can choose to focus on the truest meaning of what the infamous 16th-century poet John of the Cross describes as the “dark night of the soul.” This mystical priest-poet wrote from a deep place of understanding about the path our loved ones have walked. Although it may not seem like it, the phrase "dark night of the soul" doesn’t actually refer to the difficulties of life; rather, it symbolizes the joyful experience of being guided toward the Divine.
As warriors, soldiers, healers, and wanders of any kind—and we are all wanders!—we will all have a “spiritual crisis” in our journey toward union with the Divine. It is what has been researched and documented as part of the Hero’s Journey. Knowing this, perhaps today we will not grieve for the souls who are communing with the Divine from above and instead celebrate the nature of growth. Campbell says this: “The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation.” Honor your revelation!
4. Say “yes” to living the rest of your days as “living heroes.”
As a long-time coach, I often imagine what life coaching people like Joseph Campbell would have offered to others. He did say this:“You've got to say yes to this miracle of life as it is, not on condition that it follow your rules.” Memorial Day is a perfect day to take a moral inventory of who you are and how you are showing up in the world. Whose hero are you? Are you willing to be your own hero? A part of the Hero’s Journey is to wander, get lost, find yourself again, and to find deeper purpose in the process. Campbell counsels: “Life is not a problem to be solved… rather a mystery to be lived. Follow the path that is no path… follow your bliss.”
When you think of the one you are choosing to remember today, think not of their imperfect path; think instead of their soul’s bliss. Indeed, their soul is in bliss serving on the other side, perhaps even as an “over-soul” guide to us. Today, take a few minutes to listen for the messages that come from above and within. Allow for miraculous messages this Memorial Day!
5. Go outside. Be in nature! Commune at the highest level.
A wise Joseph Campbell postulated with great insight, “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.” Was he suggesting that we should go to the forest or mountains more often? Maybe! Today or on any other day you choose to honor your heroes, consider getting out into nature. The word nature is derived from the Latin word natura, which in ancient times literally meant “birth.” May your Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, be a day you commune with nature and re-birth your appreciation for the journey those you have loved have taken. The last phase of the Hero’s Journey is that of renewal. May today be a natural day of renewal for you. Blessings!
SWIHA is committed to holding safe space for and honoring those who have bravely served our country in pursuit of their destined path and found themselves struggling with PTSD as a result. We welcome you to explore our evidence-based holistic solutions for PTSD, including Yoga, Mindful Guided Imagery, Life Coaching, Holistic Nutrition, and our newly developed Mind-Body Wellness Practitioner Diploma with a Veteran-Friendly Concentration.