Going home is always interesting, but going home after a long time, is its own ball game. Things feel familiar and comfortable, but at the same time different. Everything has a quality of strangeness as you settle and reacclimatize to a space you haven’t occupied in years. You are different, home is largely the same, and every interaction is a renegotiation of hierarchy, atmosphere and energy.
For different people, home means different things. For some, they are happy places, for others not so much. As we grow older, what home means to us also changes. They evolve from spaces we occupy as dependents, to spaces we occupy as individuals with agency. But no matter what age we are, children or full-grown adults, going home has a restorative quality. Home is a place of memory and grounding.
Home is where our story begins…
The act of returning home has great significance to us. It is a thematic thread or component of many stories. The hero’s journey codified by Joseph Campbell outlines the typical stages of a protagonist’s adventure. The hero is called or dragged into a quest, goes on the long journey to defeat something evil or acquire something valuable, and then returns back home with the bounty, changed or transformed.
This pattern is recognisable from The Odyssey to The Matrix. They resonate because they are primal archetypal myths, metaphors and stories for our personal journeys. We recognise ourselves in these stories because we play out the same drama in our lives.
The journey to getting what you want is the hero’s journey. We leave the warm cocoon of our comfort zones and head into unfamiliar ground in search of the prize. Sometimes we go willingly, more often, our world is turned inside out, and we find ourselves thrust unwittingly into a quest. Guides appear to help along the way, trials arise to challenge, temptations and sirens sing to test us. On this tough road we press on. We do the work, we experiment, we break the rules, we confront ourselves, our previously held beliefs, our ideas, our expectations.
We lose our way, fall into holes, wind up in dark deep places where we are almost overwhelmed by the chaos. We deal with uncertainty, with fear, with our desires. We battle the dragons of doubt, the beast of a subconscious out of control, plagued and goaded by unresolved trauma and wounds from the past.
But we get through it. We learn lessons, we adapt, we improve. We evolve, we change. We slay the dragon, we win.
This journey necessarily separates us from home. We go into the world, and wrestle with it, and with ourselves, to come into our strength and to become fully formed individuals. If we do it well, we are able to build an internal locus of strength and form an internal compass. We become ourselves, honouring our specific inclinations, impulses and nature. We stand mature, able to engage effectively with world around us, of our society and our time. This journey makes us fully formed and realised people.
However, the journey is not complete once you have slain the dragon and obtained your goods. To complete the cycle, and it is a cycle because you will undertake this journey again, and again, you must return home.
Your expulsion sparked the process of the dissolution of your past self. From those ashes, a new you was born. To move forward, there must be an integration. You have to return, to reconnect with your past so you can move boldly into the future.
The other day, I was watching Joe Rogan have a conversation with Guy Ritchie, and the filmmaker broke down the story of the prodigal son in a way that I had never heard it before. In case you have never heard it, the prodigal son is a parable in Bible about a rich man and his two sons. The younger one asks for his inheritance and goes off into the world and just does the absolute most. Whores, partying, living and squandering his inheritance. Eventually he blows it all, and finds himself taking on a job feeding pigs, and being so hungry, he was tempted to eat those scraps.
This is rock bottom for him, so he finally comes to his senses and decides he is just going to tuck his tail between his legs and go back home. At least, he could get a menial job working for pops. No point dying out here for nothing.
So, he heads on home, and the moment his dad sees him, he is overjoyed, he embraces him, places fine robes, jewellery and orders the fattest cow killed for a feast. In the midst of the celebration of the prodigal son’s return, the older son is not impressed. He has stood by his father’s side the entire time, being the good and dutiful son, and here is dad, celebrating this good for nothing waste man brother of his. His father’s admonishment to him is that he should chill and be happy his brother is back.
On the surface, it is a weird read, why is the father so chilled about the younger son’s behaviour? What’s the deal with the response to the older son? Do we take the story as an admonition to not be like the wasteful brother, or do we embrace the idea that it’s fine to squander our inheritance because of the seemingly boundless redemptive love and acceptance of the father?
As with many stories and parables, there is the literal plot, and then there is the deeper esoteric meaning. In this case (according to Guy Ritchie at least) the story is about inner conflict. We are the father, the older son is our reason, and logic, the younger son is the more primal and indulgent emotions.
Reason teaches us the rules we must follow, the norms of society, the duties, the structure, the status quo that holds up the empire. It is safe. It is boring. In the younger son, we see our emotional selves, the rebel within, the need to break the walls and escape, to explore past what is ‘safe’ and to investigate what the world has to offer. It is exciting but dangerous business.
And both sides exist within us, and the balance between the two forms our expression.
It is that exploration that questions our beliefs and helps us understand why they exist and how to take them up consciously and powerfully.
It is the experience that allows us to become ourselves and stand on the strength of our experience and forged convictions. It is after this journey, that we are able to reintegrate. We are able to revisit the past, reconcile with the older brother of reason, and tradition, and navigate the middle path. A path that respects and honours the past but looks innovatively to transform and create into the future.
We come back to share the gifts we have won. We also come back to relearn, to recover and to strengthen ourselves, to enter a new phase, take on more responsibility, to embark on a new, even more challenging journey.
It is the Hero’s journey. We leave a child, we return to become King.