The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. (p. 101, Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces)
I’ve been quite amazed so far at how well the unschooling journey has aligned with Campbell’s myth of the hero’s journey.
By getting a general sense of where we are in the myth’s cycle we can use the patterns to help us discover roadblocks on our own journey. If we’re having trouble starting out, why might we be refusing the call? If our over-bearing aunt is upset with our chosen path, does placing her in the role of threshold guardian help us have more compassion for her, while at the same time loosening the grip of power she is trying to wield? On the road of trials, which pieces of conventional wisdom represent our monsters? This universal journey also reminds us to check in with our guides, which, with unschooling, includes our children. And it never hurts to pay extra attention to our children and see how things are going for them.
But I digress. Moving forward, this stage is all about the temptations from our old lives that may lead us to abandon or stray from our unschooling quest.
The Nature of Temptation
The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else. (p. 101-102)
We’re deep in our journey now—it’s probably been months since we started unschooling. This isn’t a quick trip! Sometimes things are exciting and wonderful. And sometimes fear cycles in as our minds replay the almost utopian unschooling lives we first envisioned, while our actual lives are playing out a different script.
We may paint a pretty picture for others, but the comfort of our old lives beckons—the comfort of feeling in control.
- Maybe the trigger is constant sibling arguments: Why can’t they get along? Wouldn’t it be easier to just send them to their rooms?
- Maybe it’s a child immersed in a previously controlled or limited activity: He is making me so uncomfortable. Why won’t he do other things? Would it be better if we pull the plug and insist he do something else for a while?
- Or maybe we think our child’s not learning: All she does is play with her toys. Maybe my kid really can’t learn without a curriculum and a teacher?
As our frustration grows and we feel more out of control, we often jump to blaming others for why our unschooling journey seems to be going off the rails.
- Maybe we’re tempted to blame the experienced unschoolers we know (in person or online) whose lives look so wonderful: that’s what we wanted, not all these challenges.
- Maybe the temptation is to blame our children’s friends for bringing these enticing things, like video games, into their lives.
- Maybe we blame our own kids, imagining that experienced unschoolers must have kids that are easier to manage than ours, kids that will do what they’re asked (because at least we’ve moved beyond thinking “do what they’re told”—yeah, we’re feeling a little feisty).
If our fears grow strong enough, we can be sorely tempted to quit unschooling and go back to our “normal” lives. But this discomfort needn’t be a sign that we aren’t cut out for unschooling. Change is hard. So universally hard that the temptation to turn back has its own stage in the hero’s journey!
And it’s common enough on the unschooling journey that it has rather playfully become known by some as Periodic Unschoolers’ Panic Disorder, or PUPD. (One of the reasons for its periodic nature is, as I’ve mentioned before, our children get older. Ha! Not a surprise. But, even if you’ve been unschooling for years, you’ve never unschooled, say, a sixteen year old, and once your eldest reaches that age you may find yourself surprised by conventional reactions to new situations as they arise. Time for some more work.)
One of the important steps in this stage is realizing that these moments are about us—they are part of our journey. And though we’re tempted to blame our discomfort on others, it’s not really about them. So try not to “fix” your discomfort by “fixing” your kids—by bringing in “just one rule,” or printing out some worksheets and insisting they do them to “prove” they are learning. They aren’t broken.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world if it happens. It’s kinda like landing on a snake in a game of Snakes & Ladders—you slide back on your journey and have some more work to do. Temptation wins for a while. It likely sets back deschooling, for you and your children, by sending the message that rules and/or curriculum are better. And as a result, everyone’s trust in unschooling probably erodes a bit.
But again, it needn’t mark the permanent end of your journey. Maybe you’re really still on your road of trials. That’s okay, it’s worth the effort to figure out what happened and get back on the path. It’s all living and learning.
What did I find helpful at this stage? As was (and is) so often the case, I looked to my guides. I could see patterns more clearly in my children than I could in myself. Looking at myself, it was often hard to remove the judgement piece that clouded the picture, those conventional voices in my head that challenged me with things like “What right do you have to question this stuff?” and “Temptation is a sign that our ways are better!”
But by watching my children closely I came to understand that the fears, challenges, and temptations they encountered on their own learning paths weren’t “wrong,” they were part of their journey. And eventually I was able to extend that kindness to myself. I learned that feeling the temptation to stray from a quest was not a failure of me as a person. Which led to the realization that my work isn’t about “getting strong enough so I am never tempted,” but about understanding that these moments are part of life so that I can more quickly recognize them for what they are and do the work to move through them.
I came to accept all facets of myself—the confident me, the fearful me, the tempted me etc.—no longer judging them as “good” and “bad,” but seeing and accepting them all as part of my nature.
And with experience, I came to notice these moments of temptation more quickly, which meant I could take responsibility for them before actively blaming others for my discomfort. And I developed a toolbox of ways to move forward. For me, accepting my nature and moving through challenging moments plays out through living mindfully.
Recently I came across an article reviewing Pema Chödrön’s book, The Wisdom of No Escape, by Maria Popova: Pema Chödrön on Gentleness, the Art of Letting Go, and How to Befriend Your Inner Life. Maria led with this quote from the book:
Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom. (Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape)
And later in the article Maria noted:
Chödrön, however, is careful to point out that holding one’s imperfection with gentleness is not the same as resignation or condoning harmful behavior — rather, it’s a matter of befriending imperfection rather than banishing it, in order to then gently let it go rather than forcefully expel it. (Maria Popova)
It connected strongly with my experience in moving through temptations on my unschooling journey. Being kind to myself and not actively resisting my discomfort helped me to accept all parts of myself. Rather than judging and trying to excise the pieces of resistance, I sat with them, befriended (I like that word!) them, learned what I could about myself, and then gently let go of the leftover bits I no longer wanted.
In the last stage, our meeting with the goddess, we moved beyond judging things as good/bad and seeing the value in all experiences. And now we’ve moved beyond judging ourselves: accepting—not fighting—our nature, helping ourselves move through these moments of temptation and continue on our journey.
So much work this journey is turning out to be! And so incredibly worth the effort. 🙂
If you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments! Here are a few questions about the “woman as the temptress” stage to get you started:
1. What temptations have you faced on your unschooling journey?
2. Were there times you were tempted to blame others for the challenges you were experiencing?
3. If you tried to ease your discomfort by bringing in some pieces of your old lives, what was your experience?
4. What helped you stop judging your fears and temptations as indications of failure and come to accept them as part of your nature?
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.
Initiation phase of the journey
The road of trials: The heart of deschooling.
The meeting with the goddess: Seeing the value in all experiences.