With this stage we have reached the midpoint of our journey, so let’s get right to it!
Now we’re confronting “the ogre aspect of the father.” (p. 105, Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces) This one’s all about power, with the father representing whatever the hero (that’s you!) feels holds the ultimate power in their life. Campbell describes the crux of this stage succinctly:
[Atonement] requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself; and that is what is difficult. (p. 110)
<< Side Quest >>
I had already written bunches of this post, but yesterday I still wasn’t quite sure whether I was on the right track with the “attachment to ego” thing, so I went searching and came across this quote from Deepak Chopra about letting go of one’s attachment to ego:
If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time. It’s very important to be aware of them every time they come up.
It made me smile because I wrote about relinquishing the need to judge just a couple stages ago, and the section titles I already had broken this post into were “The Need to be Right / to Control Others” and “The Need for the Approval of Others.” Okay then, I think I got this!
<< End Side Quest >>
The Need to be Right / to Control Others
Earlier this week I caught a couple of scenes from an episode of Frasier, and Daphne, preparing for her wedding, shared what her mom would always say to her growing up: “Just do it my way, you’ll thank me later!” That the writers would put that in to connect with the audience is a clue to how ubiquitous the need to control others is. I thought it was a fun connection.
Have you ever thought, of someone else, child or friend, “If they’d just do what I told them, their life would be so much easier!” I seem to encounter that attitude pretty regularly in the world, and as part of our unschooling journey it’s helpful to ponder where it comes from.
I don’t think it’s meant with any particular malice. I think that if that person found themselves in that situation, the actions they are suggesting would likely work well for them. Yet I came to realize that, yes, in those moments I was seeing the situation clearly, but through my own filters.
Human beings aren’t interchangeable clones. We cannot feel the signals from someone else’s body—their relaxed or racing heart, the hair rising on the back of their neck in fear, or the adrenaline pumping with excitement. We can’t know the memories being triggered—from last week or from a decade ago. We can’t know the goals that lie deep in their heart, yet to be shared with anyone.
And again, learning these bigger picture lessons about life came through watching my children’s lives unfold. I saw them making choices that, looking through their eyes, were clearly wonderful choices for them! Yet when I put myself in their shoes, I would never have made the same choices. How could we both be “right?”
I came to see the profound difference between putting myself in another person’s shoes and thinking about what I would do, and seeing a situation through their eyes and contemplating what they might want to do. I realized that there are probably as many different workable paths forward as there are people involved in a given situation.
And as I began letting go of thinking I knew better than others about their own lives, the need to control them in an effort to get them to implement my “right” action plans, “for their own good,” faded.
Pretty soon the idea of judging another’s actions as “right” or “wrong,” or telling them in no uncertain terms what they should do in a situation, was very uncomfortable. Yet that didn’t mean staying at a distance and leaving them to figure things out on their own! I could still commiserate with those involved, share my thoughts and the nuances of the situation as I saw them, the pros and cons I could envision from their perspective, and even what I’d be likely to do in a similar situation—if asked.
But I would no longer attach expectations to the outcome, nor feel slighted if they chose a different path forward, because I knew there could be pieces of the puzzle I was missing. Maybe even that everyone was missing. We do our best in the moment and see what happens.
Where does that lead us?
The Need for the Approval of Others
Let’s bring that understanding into our other relationships—the ones where we’re feeling judged and manipulated by others. Where we feel others are trying to exert power over us.
But now we have a new perspective on things. We understand that those trying to wield power over us are seeing our situation through their filters. Interesting!
Now we understand why they are so sure that “if only we did what they said, things would be easier for us.” They are putting themselves in our shoes, rather than looking at the situation from our perspective. Their suggestions actually say more about where they are on their journey, than they do about us on ours. As that revelation solidifies, the impact of their judgemental pronouncements fades. Power struggles dissolve. It’s not really about us, so there’s no need to feel defensive.
And conversely, no longer comfortable trying to control the actions of others, we don’t feel the need to rush them along on their journey; to convince them we’re “right.” Instead, we can meet them where they are, if we like. We realize their path may be different than ours. The need for their approval slowly evaporates. They will get there in their own time. Or not.
We are very comfortable with our choices, and now that seems to be enough.
This brings to mind a situation from years ago. We had been unschooling for a while, and Lissy was getting ready to go on her first overnight Girl Guide camp. Us moms were huddled around the troop leader a few days before and she was sharing the guidelines and asking us questions.
“Do you give me permission to let your daughter call you from camp?” “Can she asked to be picked up?” All the other moms said, “No, she has to stay for the whole camp,” and “No, she can’t call.” I could hear the relief in their voices, grateful to pass the responsibility of saying no on to someone else, avoiding any guilt-inducing phone calls where they would feel manipulated by their daughter, because to bring her home early would be seen as failure on their part in front of the other parents.
I just said, “Sure, she can call me.” “Yes, I’ll come get her if she wants.” I didn’t want her to feel left alone to fend for herself in a situation where she wanted my help. I was surprised that nobody else said yes. But I didn’t feel “right” or better. I do remember feeling very comfortable making the choice that was best for us, no matter that it would be likely perceived as “failure” by the other members of the group. I also remember the dawning realization that I felt no need to apologize for my choice, nor to explain it. It was just the best choice for us and I was happy to take full responsibility for it. It felt refreshing. Relaxing. I saw everyone making the choice they wanted. And I didn’t need to know how the weekend played out for other families, because it didn’t matter—those were their lives to learn from, not mine to meddle or judge. How could I know the nuances at play in their lives?
As for us, Lissy called. And I picked her up, at midnight. It was a wonderful, bonding moment. She was grateful when I arrived. Her trust in me grew. We had a lovely conversation on the way home. She slept at home in her bed feeling safe and cared for. (As did the girls that were excited to stay at the camp.) Next time there was a camp, she went. I answered the questions the same way. She didn’t call. I would have gone if she did.
Campbell explains that in this stage we are striving for “a better balanced, more realistic view of the father, and therewith of the world.” (p. 107)
We’ve moved beyond seeing our father-figure as all-powerful, all-knowing, and realize they have their own experiences and filters through which they see the world, just like us—we experience our “at-one-ment” (p. 107) with them, moving beyond the need for their approval. We no longer feel the need to be “right” and control others to act accordingly, no longer engaging in the power struggles that entails. And we are comfortable accepting others where they are on their own journeys.
We no longer feel the need to hide or apologize for our choices, nor flaunt them—just live them.
In the end, the hero realizes that they hold the ultimate power in their life. And only in their own life.
We are all being in the world.
And remember, it’s one thing to read about my journey here, and maybe even nod your way through my process if it makes sense to you. That’s great! But it’s another thing to process these ideas through your own life experiences, your own filters, and eventually reach your own understanding. One that feels good deep in your bones.
That’s your unique journey. 🙂
If you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments! Here are a few questions about the “atonement with the father” stage to get you started:
1. Have you ever thought, “If they’d just do what I told them, their life would be so much easier.”
2. Have your children made choices different than what you’d choose for them? How did you react?
3. Is there someone, or group, that you feel has power over you? Does their judgement influence your choices?
4. Has there been a time you made a choice the went against expectations, yet it really worked out well for you?
Next stage: Apotheosis: Moving to Compassion
The road so far …
Departure phase of the journey
Call to adventure: We discover unschooling and excitedly imagine the possibilities.
Refusal of the call: The many implications of choosing unschooling hit. Do we commit?
Supernatural aid: Our children guide us on our unschooling journey.
Crossing of the first threshold: Confronting the guardians who claim to protect us.
The belly of the whale: Transitioning to a learning mindset.