The Mentor and the Abyss
Posted on August 14, 2015
This week, we meet our hero in the Abyss of spiritual and emotional death. Here, the overstory, or what others see, is a life of failure and struggle. The understory, or what is happening to the hero on an emotional and spiritual level, is one of suffering and pain. To the outsider, who is just seeing the overstory, the hero seems to be making one bad choice after another and has, for some reason, chosen a life that no rational human being would consciously choose. The reality of the understory is one of loss of access to the mind.
We have discussed the mind in many previous blogs (if you are interested in these, just type “mind” into the search bar at the top of the page). I define the mind as a relational, environmental, and biological emergent phenomena that has the power to regulate the flow of energy and information. What is important to understand when speaking of the Abyss is that most individuals who find themselves in this darkness live without many healthy relationships to help them regulate emotionally and socially. Existing in highly stressful or traumatic settings, energy is directed towards survival reactions and not strategic thinking. This furthers the damage that traumatic stress and addiction cause on the biological functioning of the brain.
The combination of these factors make it nearly impossible for the mind to emerge. In other words, the hero has limited ability to control the energy and information in their body. The systems needed to make new choices, consider future actions, create and maintain healthy relationships, and regulate emotional reactions all are off-line or greatly weakened. There is little or no control in the Abyss. Lack of economic resources limit choices around basic needs such as food, shelter, and safety. Damage done by trauma and addiction limit the ability to see hope and find the necessary volition needed to exit the Abyss.
“Losing one’s mind” is a real scientific tragedy of the Abyss. The more we understand trauma, the more we understand the reality that few people can, or should be expected to, emerge from the Abyss without tremendous help from a caring and compassionate person. Enter the mentor.
Mentor is a word Campbell uses interchangeably with helper. I had not thought much about this until I learned the origin of the word mentor when reading Phil Cousineau’s work. “The word mentor comes from the Greek root men – to think, remember, counsel – and the Indo-European word mens, for ‘mind.”’ The mentor is the counselor of the mind. In the monomyth, all cultures recognize that it is the entry of the mentor that changes the hero’s story and situation.
To counsel the mind, the mentor takes their own journey into the Abyss. This meeting is not just the meeting of two people – it is a meeting of understories. The wisdom and experience of the mentor connects with the pain, suffering, and uncertainty of the hero. In many cultures, the mentor or healer was not allowed to practice until around the age of 40, or the earliest age where someone had enough strength, experience, wisdom, and practice to take on this powerful role. This demonstrates the respect and danger that historically was connected to this important work.
In the next couple of weeks, we’ll examine this meeting of understories in much more detail. The power of your understory confronts the pain and suffering of the Abyss in a very direct way. Today I would like to leave you with something to reflect on. What is it about your understory that brings you to the role of mentor? It is from your understory that you bring forth strength, experience, wisdom, and the healing energy and information that provides hope and recovery to your clients.