Heroes in Disguise

It’s not a title we’d claim. It’s awkwardly acknowledged when part of other’s praise. Yet it is the most important discovery we could ever make – that we are heroes in disguise. Why is it that our inner child rejoices at such an idea – that we have the innate power and character of a hero – while our adult self shies away from the notion?  Are we really that magnificent?

Hero's Mask

The mask of the bodhisattva—a warrior of compassion. Photographed at a Buddhist shrine while on a meditation retreat.

Michael discovered his inner hero as he faced cancer. He had a brain tumour. Treatment required clamping his head to the radiation table with a meshed mask. But Mike was claustrophobic; he had already panicked during an MRI. How could he get through this?

Michael and I used mindfulness to work with the energy of his fear. And then, imagery; the mask would be his warrior’s mask, the radiation beam his lightsaber. He was Luke Skywalker, and the Force was his own consciousness. Mike became the hero he was looking for. Energized and empowered, he sailed through treatment, and felt his life as never before.

Angie was another amazing soul. She enjoyed being cast in hundreds of commercials and films – but never held a leading role, until the moment she took part in a music video for our hospital. It portrays how we meet suffering and illness with compassion and expert care. If These Walls Could Talk, written and sung by Lennie Gallant, portrays the heroic journey far better than my words ever could. Words did come, however, when we shared a prayer of gratitude shortly before she died. “Finally,” she said, “I get to star in the most important role of my life – as myself.”

Mike and Angie experienced what Joseph Campbell calls the monomyth – the universal model of the hero’s journey. Adventure (diagnosis) pulls you from ordinary life.  Then, through trials and struggle, you grow into more than you ever thought you could be. Along the way you meet mentors and allies (the medical team, other patients), who train you for battle. You encounter enemies (fear, nausea, mortality), setbacks (infection, relapse), and ultimately new life through survivorship or, eventually, through death.

Mike and Angie were true heroes. When faced with initial diagnosis, they set their sights on life and did what they could to extend it. But, when medicine could no longer help, they did something astonishing: they used death to love more deeply than ever. They did this by applying three spiritual principles:

  1. When we are deeply loved, we feel safe. Love creates that sense of home, of belonging in which we are fully known and cherished (sometimes despite ourselves!). Mike learned to love the scared part of himself. Angie used mortality to amplify her love and affirm her eternal connection to others. While we practice love imperfectly here, we are received by its perfection in the life to come.
  2. When we love deeply, we feel courage. This is the big surprise – courage is a result of being authentic and grounded in love. You are able to be vulnerable and strong. You are able to be what the Buddhist tradition calls a bodhisattva—a warrior of compassion. I saw this in Angie, and see it in our staff as wellThis quality is expressed so beautifully in the video.
  3. Gratitude creates what we seek. This one is difficult, especially when what we seek is a cure that may not come. Too often, that desire is driven by fear, not love. For Mike and Angie, instead of seeking the perfect moment, they used gratitude to make this moment perfect.

When we are deeply loved we feel safe. When we love deeply, we feel courage. – David Maginley

As mentioned in my last post, I speak of love here not as an emotion, but as the highest state of evolutionary consciousness. God is love, so as we love we resonate with God’s very nature. This makes immortality possible. I bet Mike and Angie never imagined they were such evolved beings, such heroes. They know now.

 

Question: As you watch If These Walls Could Talk, how does it cause you to look upon your own hero’s journey? How might you become a warrior of compassion? You can leave a comment below.

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