(5) The Belly of the Whale - First You Take the Journey, then The Journey Takes You
Updated: Mar 3, 2022
After crossing the First Threshold, the Hero enters a dark place of introspection, disappearing from the previous world, ready for a metamorphosis.
When we undercome a change that really touches our inner world, we may be totally absorbed into the transformation. It's like going undercover in a Lab where to experiment a new way of being before using it in real life.
And for people who have remained in the Ordinary World, the Hero has disappeared, like dead.
Does this resonate with any specific experience of your life?
The next, and last step of the Departure Phase in the Hero's Journey is called by Joseph Campbell "The Belly of the Whale".
The metaphor comes from the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale.
God commands Jonah to sail to Nineveh to tell its inhabitants to repent of their misdeeds.
The man refuses, and boards instead a ship to Tarshish. As a divine punishment, a storm hits the boat and Jonah asks the crew to throw him overboard, where a "giant fish" swallows him.
During his three dark and lonely days inside the belly of the fish, he ponders about his choices and circumstances and repents of not having accepted the mission that God has assigned to him, and finally accepts to go to Nineveh.
Then the giant fish regurgitates him on a shore, from where Jonah can continue his mission.
This step involves a physical separation from the world as it has appeared so far.
We've entered a new realm, and there's no turning back.
Moreover, the metaphor of being swallowed by a whale represents an impairment of the Ego.
The Ego was fully functioning in the Ordinary World, knew its rules and were able to set the next steps. But now, right after crossing the First Threshold, all what was known seems no more valid.
It's required that the Ego, or the small self, "dissolves", sets itself aside, in order for a new sensitivity, a new feel, to emerge and for the Hero to continue with the Journey.
The Egyptian myth of Osiris resonates with this. Here’s the short version.
Set, brother of Osiris, killed him in an attempt to gain his kingdom and dismembered him into pieces. Isis, wife of Osiris, found all pieces and wrapped them up, allowing him to return to life. Since then, Osiris became the God of the Afterlife, Dead, Resurrection, Life, Fertility, Agriculture, and Vegetation.
The dismemberment of the self and subsequent reconnection into a New Whole allows life to evolve and new potentials to take form.
And if the self resists the change, Life continues and does its own thing anyway.
In other words, if thus far You have taken the Journey, now it is the Journey that takes You.
There's a feeling of abduction, of not being in control. We've taken the previous steps to cross the Threshold, but what is happening right now is no more in our hands.
What may look like disempowering, though, is going to turn into an opening to a much wider sense of direction.
It’s time to stay flexible and trustful, because the truth is going to show up, if you let it.
After a life spent in the illusion that we can control the events around us, we are going to discover that we can take the weight of the world off our shoulders.
Stay flexible and open, and you'll enjoy the ride.
As for me, I’ve observed times and times again that it's up to me how the experience will show up.
It's not intrinsic so much into what's "out there", if there's even anything like that, as well as to the thoughts that I attach to my experiences.
To be more clear on this, let's see with two examples what happens when, in this stage, we relax into the flow, and when instead we resist to it.
The young Alice, intrigued by a Rabbit with a clock in his hands, chases him in his lair (Call to Adventure, and no Refusal).
After a few steps into the dark "Rabbit Hole" (Crossing the First Threshold) she suddenly falls down, initially without control (The Belly of the Whale).
And then something mysterious and counterintuitive happens. Alice starts falling down lightweight as a feather, and she even enjoys the view of the objects along the walls of the channel, until she safely lands on the ground.
The flexible and dreamy mind of Alice is not scared by what she's leaving behind, and she's just naturally curious of how events will be rolling out. She's enjoying her journey, and for how dark the rabbit hole could be, all is good.
Neo swallows the red pill. He's crossing his First Threshold.
He wants to know the truth about the Matrix, and, even if with some hesitancy, he decides to trust Morpheus.
They enter a room, filled with computers and other equipments. Morpheus' crew sets itself in motion to look where the Neo's physical body is really located out of the Matrix.
The guy takes a seat, sensors are put on his body, the red pill does its job, and reality starts warping. What appears at first as a fragmented mirror, a scattered self, turns then into a plain surface. He touches it, and it's gelatinous. His hand, then his arm, then his neck and face morph into that same substance. Neo panics. His fears are turning into his worst enemies, and now they look real.
A fraction of a second before he gets a heart attack, the crew gets the signal. Neo's body gets located.
The man wakes up in a pod filled with a liquid, slimy, gelatinous substance, his body naked, connected to wires. His muscles are atrophied and weakened after a lifelong inactivity. Neo opens his eyes and looks around. Hundreds of thousands of pods, all filled with human bodies, connected to an intricate electrical system.
A scary mechanical drone, guided by his crew, unlocks his wires, a channel opens below him, and he is swallowed into a tunnel that ends in a cavern pool. Gigantic pincers catch him, and he's finally brought to safety on Morpheus's flying ship.
To the people in the Matrix, Neo has been "swallowed by the whale". He has died, or anyway disappeared.
On the other side of the metaphoric veil, though, the adventure for the Hero continues.
And there I was, finally in Basel.
Since I was spending the whole working week abroad in Switzerland, I had literally disappeared for my family in Italy. On Sunday evenings I used to took the train, the belly of my own whale, and sleep in Basel so that on Monday mornings I could show up in time in office, and I then returned home on Friday nights.
I quickly learnt to approach the environment in the proper way, facilitated by the fact that the Agile Entrepreneur, my mentor at the time, already had had a long term and respectful relationship with the Client.
Every day was a learning day, in an exciting and positive sense.
The job title could have been new, but my 10+ years of work experience in diverse and multinational environments had already taught me how to stay flexible, curious, and adaptable when facing new situations and meeting new people, especially in work situations.
In that work environment there was a good mix of formality and informality with high attention to details, and it totally matched my style. For how different the environment could look like, this "Belly of the Whale" was looking so familiar.
On a parallel track, my whole story didn't go unnoticed.
I reached out to a couple of Podcast Hosts, whose work in the field of project management and agility I had been appreciating for the past few years. They were my Heroes. The quality and the content of their podcasts, with the diverse and eye-opening experiences of the guests they interviewed, had really nurtured me during my "transformation" thus far in ways I wouldn't have expected.
I owed them a lot.
They got interested in my story, we become friends, and voilà, I was showcased in their podcasts - Project Management for the Masses, with Cesar Abeid, and the Scrum Master Toolbox, with Vasco Duarte. My online visibility jumped almost overnight.
And that was the first time I had ever thought about my story of transformation.
The "Belly of my Whale" was becoming larger day by day. I kept on studying and reflecting on my change to increase my sensitivity into the new world and to integrate it into my new life.
The experience at the client's premises, the online world with Udemy and with those podcasts, a second online course published later that year, this time on the Project Management Professional (PMP)© Credential, another certification earned (ITIL), and several in-presence classes as a PM instructor in an Italian institute. I was learning, and growing, and expanding, day by day.
I was relaxed into my experience, and all was good.
It wouldn't have lasted forever though. The "Road of Trials" was just one step away, and I'll tell you about that in the next post.
Do you remember moments in your life when you were so much absorbed into a new experience that you disappeared from your previous world and "the world thought you were dead"?
Do you approach changes in your life with positive thoughts? Negative thoughts? No thoughts and no expectations? A mix of them?
Thinking of your story and on the question above, do you see trends of different results based on how you showed up, with or without thoughts attached?
What if you looked at what happens in your life without thoughts and expectations attached? What if this would allow you to see things as they are, rather than how you expect them to be?
When was the last time you did something for the very first time?
Is this post lighting you up? Are you willing to Open Up to Your Potentials?
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The Journey so far:
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