The Seeker Journey; Seeking a New Arc

Written by Savannah Jackson; ed. assistance by Nancer Ballard.


The Seeker Journey grapples with the reality that we live in a world in which our selves, our relationships, and our environments are constantly changing. We must adapt and evolve throughout our lives, and we must do this with no guarantee of safety or success, and with no final destination. In this post, we will explore the experience of the Seeker Journey and how this journey differs from Hero’s and Heroine’s journey arcs.

In the Hero’s Journey, the story typically ends with the protagonist reaching a final destination or ultimate success that resolves their conflict and the conflicts in their world. In the Heroine’s Journey, Maureen Murdock recognizes that someone can be at multiple stages within the journey at once, and that the journey can be completed multiple times. You are not necessarily done with the journey when you reach the “final” stage. When you reach the end, you can start again. 

The Seeker Journey encompasses this idea that we are continually called upon to begin anew, but it does not envision our journeying as an infinite loop. The Seeker Journey recognizes that we move forward in a variety of ways and that life has no permanent resolution. The Seeker Journey “stages” are neither prescriptive (one does not have to move through all stages each time) nor necessarily sequential (the stages do not always have to occur in order, and one can move through them many times within a journey). For this reason, it may be more helpful to think of them as “process points” that the seeker might check in to as they move through their journey. We’ll look at each of these process points now.

1.The seeker begins the journey with a functional and meaningful form of wholeness.

At the start of the Seeker Journey, the seeker has a functional and meaningful understanding of themself, the world around them, and their relationship to the world around them. The seeker also experiences a satisfying balance between a feeling of belonging or inclusion and a sense of agency or autonomy. This network of understandings, together with the balance between belonging and agency, forms a way of making sense of life that creates a sense of wholeness (as we refer to it in this blog).

Finding and creating a form of wholeness helps the seeker to navigate the ups and downs of life. The Heroine’s Journey is one way of reaching wholeness, but it might not be the way that the seeker came to their form of wholeness. What is important in this stage is that the seeker’s wholeness is legitimate and complete–in the sense that it effectively and meaningfully organizes the seeker’s understanding of and approach to their life. 

2. Something about the seeker and/or their context changes.

In the Heroine’s Journey, wholeness is what the heroine reaches in the last stage of the journey. Despite Murdock’s emphasis on the continuous nature of the cycle, this often means that the wholeness that is achieved by the heroine at the end of their journey then works for the rest of the heroine’s life. It is tempting to believe in, and to search for, a wholeness that is so encompassing that it accounts for all possible futures, but the Seeker Journey builds on the understanding that this is unlikely. 

The reality is that we will change, and our context will change, and we may reach a point where our understanding of ourself, of the world, and/or of our relationship to the world no longer works for us. This does not mean that the wholeness we reached in the past was false or incomplete, only that it no longer works now. 

For example, consider Anna, who has been taking care of her children for the past two decades while her partner has worked outside of the home and been the family’s sole financial provider. While her kids were growing up, Anna felt that her family relationships and her work within the home were important, and she felt wanted and needed. Anna understood who she was and how she fit into the world around her. Taking care of her family was meaningful and fulfilling for Anna, and she enjoyed focusing her time and energy on these things. Later, as Anna’s kids grow older and move out of the house, less of Anna’s time is spent directly focusing on her children, and she begins to feel lost. She is no longer sure of what to do or how to fill her days with a sense of purpose.

3. The seeker recognizes (consciously or unconsciously) that something about their worldview and reality no longer match.

A sense of mismatch–resulting from the disconnect between our understanding of life and our actual lived experience–clues us into the fact that our wholeness no longer works for us. This sense of mismatch may happen abruptly or it may slowly occur over a long period of time. In either case, the seeker may realize that the mismatch exists in a sudden moment, or come to acknowledge it gradually. It is likely that the seeker will feel some sense of disequilibrium before they recognize the mismatch. However, it is the recognition of the mismatch that prompts the journey.

4. The seeker acknowledges that they want to find 1) a new worldview or 2) a new reality to resolve the feeling of mismatch.

After recognizing the mismatch, the seeker must acknowledge that they want to resolve the mismatch. They might seek to adjust their worldview to match their reality, or to adjust their reality to match their worldview.

In the context of the Seeker Journey, seeking refers to the intentional search for a new understanding of yourself, the world, and/or your relationship to the world. This search may stem from a subconscious yearning or from a self-awareness that something new is needed due to changes in yourself and/or the world around you.

5. The seeker identifies some change that they think will resolve the mismatch.

After the seeker decides that they want to change something, they have to decide what they want to change. Even once they decide whether to focus on adjusting their worldview or reality–or some combination thereof–there still exist many ways to go about doing so. 

We can return to the example of Anna. Eventually, her lack of direction grows into a feeling that she can put into words. She tries to get out of the house more and meet new people–she tries joining a book club, picking up gardening, going to the gym more, and takes a few art classes–but her original sense of wholeness or purpose doesn’t return. Eventually, Anna decides to try a more concrete change in her life. She has always enjoyed cooking and previously worked as a chef, and she decides to go to culinary school, which is something she had considered doing before she had her first child.

6. The seeker pursues this change.

Many things are, of course, easier said than done, and the desire to do something does not always indicate that someone actually will do something. It’s not enough, then, for the seeker to simply identify something that they think will resolve the mismatch. The seeker must also actually set out to accomplish this change.

Depending on the change, this first step can take the form of a great many different actions, and the pursuit of the change may operate across many different time frames. It is also possible for the seeker to pursue more than one type or level of change at the same time. Each change that the seeker pursues at any point in their journey faces three possible outcomes. 

Outcome A. The seeker cannot achieve the change they want…

First, the seeker may not be able to achieve the change that they are pursuing. Anna might not be accepted into any of the culinary schools she applies to, or she might be accepted only to realize that she can’t afford the tuition. Or there might not be a school near where she lives, and she and her partner might not be willing to relocate. When this happens, the seeker may seek a different path towards the same goal. The seeker may become frustrated, angry or hopeless. The seeker may try to return to a previous process point, worldview, or reality. The seeker may go through all of these responses, in any order, and any number of times, or they may only go through one of these responses. If the seeker continues making progress on their journey, then they must ultimately identify and pursue a new change.

Outcome B. The change is achieved but it does NOT resolve the mismatch…

Alternatively, the seeker may achieve the change they are pursuing, but it might not end up resolving the mismatch after all. Anna might get into a school, but feel out of touch with her studies because she has been out of school for so long, or feel unable to connect with other students because she is older than most of them. Like before, the seeker may become frustrated, angry, or hopeless. They may try to return to a previous process point, worldview, or reality. To continue their journey, they must ultimately decide to pursue a new way forward. 

Unlike in Outcome A, the seeker is more likely here to intentionally recalibrate their journey through a series of questions. For example, the seeker may ask themself: Is what I’m doing getting me closer to the match I’m seeking? The answer to this question and any follow up questions (How is it getting me closer? Why is it not getting me closer? What part of it is or isn’t working? What might do a better job of getting me closer?) will likely cause the seeker to adjust the change they are pursuing, or the ways in which they are pursuing this change. 

Anna already has some experience as a chef, and she might decide that she doesn’t need to be a sous chef working at a prestigious restaurant, so a culinary degree isn’t necessary for her to find a satisfactory position. Instead, Anna might focus on returning to the workforce and finding a job based on the experience and knowledge she already has. She might talk to other chefs that she knows, talk to restaurant owners, and/or visit local community gardens.

The seeker might also–or instead–question whether the match they are seeking is actually the match that they need to create a new form of wholeness. In the context of the Seeker Journey, a profound match is a match that will most wholly resolve the experience of mismatch. A profound match is a “true” or “complete” match between the seeker’s wholeness and reality. It is functional and meaningful. This match places the seeker in a new state of wholeness, and the search for this match is what guides the overarching seeker journey. There may be shallow (rather than profound) matches that the seeker makes during the journey on their way to making their profound match. These shallow matches may still be important. With all this in mind, during the process of recalibrating, the seeker might ask themself, Is the match that I’m working towards a profound match? The answer to this question and any follow up questions (What parts of it are or aren’t a profound match? Why is or isn’t it a profound match? If it isn’t a profound match, why was I seeking it? If it isn’t a profound match, is it still a worthwhile one?) will likely cause the seeker to reassess and possibly adjust their desires, discontents, and current (still incomplete) sense of wholeness.

As she talks to people to try to find a job as a chef, Anna learns that there is a center in her community that provides nutritious meals at low prices to working parents. Anna might question whether working as a chef in a traditional restaurant position is actually what she wants to do, and she might instead explore working or volunteering at food co-ops, food pantries, or community organizations, or she might consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group.

It is also possible that the seeker will believe that they have realized their match, but later recognize that they are actually still experiencing a sense of mismatch. This recognition is likely to spur a recalibration.

Outcome C. The change is achieved and it DOES resolve the mismatch…

Finally, the seeker may achieve the change they were pursuing and find that it does resolve the mismatch. The resolution of the mismatch may occur suddenly, or over time. In either case, the seeker may recognize that they have resolved their mismatch in a sudden epiphany, or it may take time for the seeker to feel sure that they have resolved the mismatch.

At this point, the seeker has not returned to the start of the journey, because although they are once again in a state of wholeness, they are not in the same state of wholeness. The seeker might stay with this form of wholeness until they or their context changes, at which point the seeker might embark on a Seeker Journey again, this time moving through a markedly different series of steps and changes, and seeking a different match.

Anna might find a job as a chef at a local restaurant that sources its food from a local farm, where the pay, hours, intensity, and creative freedom are exactly what she needs to feel that what she is doing is important, wanted, and needed. Or she might find a position volunteering at a non-profit that provides nutritious free meals to after-school programs and discover that the connections she forms with those creating and receiving the meals give her a sense of family and a sense of purpose. Anna might shift to creating traditional meals from her Italian heritage for her friends, and expand this into a small business within her community. Whether it is a few days or a few months later, Anna comes to realize that she has a new understanding of herself and a meaningful way of relating to the community around her.

Throughout their journey(s), the seeker moves forward through a series of questions and recalibrations. The emphasis here should be on the process of asking the questions, not on finding a “correct” or “permanent” answer. The consideration of these questions and the desire for greater clarity or satisfaction prompts the seeker to keep moving, to keep seeking, and to keep readjusting and trying new paths. Because of this, the seeker must be willing to dwell in and tolerate some uncertainty and ambiguity. 

The Seeker Journey has a clear end goal–achieving a profound match and finding contentment within this–but exactly how to reach this state, or even what this state will look and feel like, is not explicitly known at the outset, nor at any point of the journey until it is realized. The guiding principle of the Seeker Journey is the search for this profound match. This is what makes the journey distinct from wandering, despite the fact that multiple stages of the journey embody a sense of unknownness and the seeker may at times feel wandering. It is also worth pointing out that there is not one set way to resolve the mismatch; a number of different combinations of actions and changes may result in finding a profound match.

Banner and closing graphic by Evan Hildebrandt.

In an upcoming post we will explain how a seeker’s journey might be visualized as a river ecosystem.

Introducing the Seeker Journey

Written by Savannah Jackson; ed. assistance by Nancer Ballard.


“Dalinar’s sense of wholeness may be challenged again as his reality changes, his sense of self changes, and he must recalibrate his worldview. This future wholeness that Dalinar may find will not negate the validity or meaningfulness of the sense of wholeness he has found at the end of book three. Neither context nor wholeness is static. As our context changes, and we ourselves grow and change, so too must our understanding of wholeness evolve.”

– Dalinar’s Wholeness: “Journey Before Destination”

These are the concluding words to the final post that I wrote last year about the fictional character Dalinar and his narrative arc(s) in Brandon Sanderson’s series, The Way of Kings (see also parts one and two). Consistent with the Heroine’s Journey, Dalinar had developed a sense of wholeness by the end of his narrative journey at the end of book three (which, at the time, was the most recent book in the series). However, Dalinar had gone through nearly three complete iterations of the Heroine’s Journey, and two of the Healing Journey, before he was able to reach this point. As a prominent character and narrator, it struck me as unlikely that he could continue through future books unscathed. Surely something new would happen in future books to once again challenge how Dalinar understands himself and the world he lives in.

Dalinar’s many struggles and his complex, non-linear journey towards health and wholeness in the first three books of the series exemplify the obvious that we frequently overlook: life—and life rendered semi-faithfully in literature—is never static. Often, life is not even stable for very long. The past year and a half have given many of us a harsh reminder that even if we reach a sense of wholeness, dramatic changes in our circumstances can require additional journeying.

As I wrapped up the Dalinar blog series in the midst of lockdown, and as events in my own life consistently caused me to question what I thought I knew, I could not help but wonder what would become of Dalinar’s wholeness in future books. I wondered what would become of my own attempts to readjust my worldview and sense of self as I tried to keep up with a world that was quickly changing around me. If something happened in a future book to render the wholeness that Dalinar achieved at the end of book three obsolete, did that mean that he had not really found wholeness? 

The answer I came to was this: if context is not static, neither is wholeness. We have often noted that wholeness rejects binaries. Wholeness includes both good and bad, happiness and sadness, joy and pain. This means that wholeness also includes completeness and incompleteness. Wholeness includes resolution, preparation, closure, and opening. Although these were things that I could assert at the time when I published the last of the Dalinar posts, they still felt like questions, not certainties. 

These questions led me to imagine a journey where even wholeness did not carry with it a sense of finality. A journey that recognized that life is inherently and perpetually in motion. A journey that would continue on past wholeness. A journey that would treat wholeness as a semi-colon rather than a period.

I do not like to think of journeys beyond wholeness as simply multiple back-to-back Heroine’s Journeys. To conflate the Illusion of the Perfect World with a sense of wholeness, or the Separation from the Feminine with a sort of fall from wholeness, brings with it complications that are too complex to address within this post. But trying to work through the questions that arise if the heroine begins their journey with a sense of wholeness led me to ask:

Is it possible for someone to reach wholeness—that is, develop an encompassing and functional sense of world and self—and then later need to adjust or rebuild their sense of wholeness, without invalidating the wholeness that they had first found?

I believe that this is not only possible, but perhaps a healthy way to approach change. To adjust what you are doing and to seek out something new that works better for you is to take care of yourself. It is how we can live consciously and creatively in an evolving world.  

All of these questions, contemplations, and hopes have led me to what I call the Seeker Journey, which documents the fluidity and impermanence of wholeness. Wholeness is no longer solely the goal or destination of the journey; it also becomes a starting point and process of arrival.

The Seeker Journey forces us to confront the possibility that we might leave something that has been good for us. The Seeker Journey forces us to confront the fact that whether we leave by choice or coercion, we will never be able to return to the exact same thing we once had. The Seeker Journey forces us to confront the possibility that what was once good for us might one day begin to cause harm.

As we will explore in our next posts, the Seeker Journey recognizes that there are many reasons to start a journey, and that there are many ways to move towards a functioning and healthy understanding of yourself and the world. The Seeker Journey recognizes that just because you are no longer fulfilled by or you no longer have access to something that was once good does not mean you can simply return to that same experience after the threats and uncertainties subside. Instead, you keep moving forward, in search of something new.   

Dalinar’s Wholeness: “Journey Before Destination”

This is the final post to a three-part series written by Savannah Jackson; ed. assistance by Nancer Ballard.


In our most recent posts on the the Stormlight Archive series, we examined Dalinar Kholin’s route through multiple cycles of the Heroine’s Journey and the Healing Journey. In The Start of Journey, we introduced Dalinar and his world and examined Dalinar’s first cycle through the stages of the heroine’s journey. In Healing in the Search for Wholeness, we examined Dalinar’s second cycle through the heroine’s journey and his complete healing journey (which encompasses two cycles).

Through the character Dalinar, author Brandon Sanderson demonstrates how complex, enduring, and protracted the search for a meaningful sense of wholeness can be. The Stormlight Archive also highlights the importance of internal healing as an essential part of wholeness. Healing internal wounds or fractures is necessary to find wholeness, but healing and wholeness are not the same concept. In this post, we will consider Dalinar’s third heroine’s journey cycle, in which he is finally able to push past the Moment of Truth to Return to World Seen Through New Eyes and find wholeness.

At the start of the series, Dalinar, a young warrior, was already nearly a fully realized Hero. He was young, rich, powerful, privileged, and revered. He didn’t worry about bettering himself except perhaps in regard to his physical strength. When he was told to go fight somewhere, he did. When he was told to marry someone, he did. It was as if his (Hero’s) journey had been made for him. When his wife stood up against violence and urged him to spend time with his children and be a father rather than a heroic icon, Dalinar began to consider that there could be more to life than glory and blind bloodlust. But only when his wife died as a result of his actions did Dalinar truly question his world view and his place within his world. Dalinar did not, at first, seek wholeness, but he did need healing. When Dalinar met with the Nightwatcher to change his life and then chose to forget his past actions and his wife rather than do the harder work of facing his past and seeking forgiveness from himself and others, his healing journey was stalled. However, the relief from the unbearable pain of self-loathing and grief that memory loss provided Dalinar gave him the psychic space to question his way of operating in the world rather than spending all his time overwhelmed by intense pain.

Concept art of the Almighty by Botanica Xu.

Dalinar’s brother, Gavilar, was the first Stormlight Archive character to seek a sense of wholeness (although his initial efforts were primarily focused on simply living honorably). Dalinar did not yet understand this journey, but he started to try to copy the steps out of respect for Gavilar; he tried to reject blind bloodlust by reading The Way of Kings and following the ancient Alethi War Codes. Dalinar truly began to seek a new perspective—instead of just following a laundry list of steps—when he started to receive visions during highstorms. He moved in the direction of wholeness, but could not cope with the knowledge that the Almighty was dead and consequently began another cycle of the Heroine’s Journey. Again, he moved towards wholeness, but then he could not cope with his returning memories of his past actions and his wife’s death.

Dalinar’s experience of betrayal/disillusionment when he realizes the Almighty is dead is external and global in scope; his realization of his second (self) betrayal is internal and deeply personal. To address this pain he must embark on a second cycle of the Healing Journey. Wholeness requires both an internal and external realignment, and Dalinar experiences both in extreme ways.

Dalinar eventually learns and grows in addressing both of these betrayals and continuing to seek wholeness. Although he proceeds through three cycles of the Heroine’s Journey, each cycle is part of one single, sustained, complex attempt to find wholeness. Dalinar’s multiple setbacks and adjustments demonstrate how much determination and commitment can be required to sustainably and meaningfully integrate competing cultural expectations and the way of life you want to embody.

Depiction of Dalinar’s third journey through Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey cycle.

Dalinar’s memories of his wife slowly return. At first he is shaken, but he is determined to continue to recruit allies and Prepare for His Journey. He learns that he is able to enter his visions at any time and invite others to participate in them rather than having to wait for a vision to seize him alone during highstorms. Sharing his experiences of the visions helps Dalinar persuade other leaders that his cause is true, and he recruits allies by being authentic and open with them. He learns that he does not need to appear perfect in morals and strength in order to convince people to trust him—he needs to be himself.

The coalition grows and appears strong, and Dalinar enters the Eye of the Storm. But when the capital city falls and the king (Dalinar’s young nephew) is killed, Dalinar feels that All is Lost again. He begins to struggle with the Thrill once more and realizes that he never truly overcame it. The Thrill merely lay dormant for a while. The wisdom from the Way of Kings no longer comforts him and Dalinar considers using force (returning to his masculine, mythic identity) to make his allies comply with his wishes. He also returns to alcohol to numb the pain of his memories of his violent past and his present failures.

In Dalinar’s third cycle through Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey stages, Support comes from psychological/visionary higher powers. In a vision, a young version of the philosopher author of the Way of Kings tells Dalinar that he is neither a tyrant nor a hypocrite; he is merely a man in the process of changing. Dalinar does not yet believe this, but the conversation sticks with him and later rings true. 

Concept art of Dalinar Kholin by HW Lee.

In the third cycle Moment of Truth, Dalinar faces his past, but instead of being crippled by it, he grows and develops a more complex understanding of himself and the world. He engages with the possibility of forgiveness instead of masking his guilt with dichotomies.

Dalinar’s coalition dissolves and he enters the Thrill once more, but this time he does not use the Thrill to block out his pain. He accepts that his own pain is part of his life, and he accepts responsibility for the pain he has caused others. Crucially, he also recognizes that he is capable of good. With this new-found clarity, Dalinar is able to win the battle without causing the massive casualties that have been the hallmark of his past battles.

At the end of Oathbringer, the third book in the Stormlight Archive, Dalinar and his allies have won a significant battle, but the war is far from over. Dalinar is able to accept who he is as a complex being and accept the world as a complex space. He rejects dichotomies of Good vs. Evil and Past vs. Present vs. Future. Although reading and writing are skills reserved for women in his culture, he begins to learn to read and write in order to express himself in a new way. At the end of Oathbringer, Dalinar is finally able to answer the riddle posed by his dying brother in book one, who told him to “find the most important words a man can say.” 

The most important words a man can say are, “I will do better.” These are not the most important words any man can say. I am a man, and they are what I needed to say. The ancient code of the Knights Radiant says “journey before destination.” Some may call it a simple platitude, but it is far more. A journey will have pain and failure. It is not only the steps forward that we must accept. It is the stumbles. The trials. The knowledge that we will fail. That we will hurt those around us. But if we stop, if we accept the person we are when we fall, the journey ends. That failure becomes our destination. To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.

-Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer, bolded emphasis added

Thus, ironically but also inevitably, Dalinar finds a sense of wholeness when he realizes that the process of journeying does not end. Another book in The Stormlight Archive series is currently in the works, and Brandon Sanderson reports that there are many scheduled beyond that, so it is likely that Dalinar’s story and journeying will continue. Dalinar’s sense of wholeness may be challenged again as his reality changes, his sense of self changes, and he must recalibrate his worldview. This future wholeness that Dalinar may find will not negate the validity or meaningfulness of the sense of wholeness he has found at the end of book three. Neither context nor wholeness is static. As our context changes, and we ourselves grow and change, so too must our understanding of wholeness evolve.

“We Undertake this Healing Journey Together”; an Indigenous Peoples’ Pursuit of Wholeness

Written by Savannah Jackson; ed. assistance by Nancer Ballard.


“Everyone who belongs to the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities has been affected by the residential school experience …”

– Where Are The Children website 

Complicated stories rarely fit neatly into the theoretical stages of Mauren Murdock or Victoria Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey cycles, as we’ve seen in stories such as Willa Cather’s Coming, Aphrodite! and Barbara Leckie’s Kicking the StoneThe real life stories of people who struggle toward wholeness–and toward being recognized as an essential, respected part of the larger world’s narrative–are even more complex. In this post, we want to recognize and examine the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Canada.

Beginning officially in 1831 and extending to as recently as 1996, indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and communities, and placed in residential schools. The residential school system was ostensibly designed to help native youth assimilate into the settler Canadian society, but the schools functioned more as work-houses. In these schools, the children were constantly reminded that they would never belong in their own communities, nor in the settler communities. Virtually all of the children endured years of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse. An estimated 35-60% of the children did not survive the experience. The residential school “history” is a story that stretches into the present day. Today, native communities continue to struggle with survivor’s trauma, substance abuse, and interpersonal issues.

This post will view the experiences of the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis’ children and communities through the lens of a heroine’s journey framework. Can doing so can help us to empathize with those impacted by the Canadian residential school system and to become allies in the joint effort toward recovery and reparation?

Study Period at Roman Catholic Residential School

A study period in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories.

Using Maureen Murdock’s heroine journey arc, the indigenous children’s involuntary removal from their communities can be interpreted as a separation from the born-into culture (which Murdock terms “the feminine”). Similar to the so-called feminine approach to child-rearing, the traditional indigenous educational approach emphasizes guiding and nurturing children when teaching them holistic life skills, while also recognizing and respecting the integrity of the child.

Murdock’s separation from the feminine often involves a heroine’s voluntary decision to reject a limited identity that has been thrust upon them by society. However, the forcible separation of indigenous children from their identities better resembles Victoria Schmidt’s betrayal. This stage launches the heroine’s pursuit for wholeness. The indigenous communities experienced a profound betrayal when their children were taken from them. Although some indigenous community leaders had wanted to learn more of Western culture, and to consider how some integration might be beneficial, they never intended to reject the native identity, community, or way of life.

The non-indigenous narrative may have claimed that the residential school system would allow the children to identify with the dominant culture (eg. the masculine) and assimilate (eg. gather allies). However, this was not the reality. The children were discouraged from befriending each other and were punished for speaking their native languages. The “teachers” consistently humiliated the children and physically punished them for anything the teachers deemed to be mistakes or misbehavior. Few staff or faculty provided any comfort or support. Instead, they inflicted, or turned a blind eye to the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of the children by those in positions of authority.

On the rare occasions that children saw their parents, many children did not know how to communicate their experiences, which were so foreign to their native lifestyles. Some children reported feeling ashamed and did not want to explain what had been done to them, or they felt too distant from those in their native communities, which seemed to be a separate reality. Those who did seek help were ignored by law enforcement. Many children entered the residential school system between when they were four and seven years old and were forced to remain within the system for eight or more years. Their roads and trials seemed to stretch on forever.

“The residential schools thing is the biggest factor that has shaken the Indian people down to their roots and it’s the thing that has changed our total look on history.”

Basil Ambers, survivor

Indigenous children may have imagined that they would experience a boon of success when they survived, finally exited the residential school system, and could return to their communities. The community may also have imagined its children would be able to heal and reintegrate when they returned. Both the children and their communities suffered and continue to suffer from the trauma of the forced removal, separation, and abuse.

The community leaders were able to take control of and abolish the residential schools, but the trauma remains. This ongoing impact can be likened to Murdock’s feelings of spiritual aridity. In many cases, the children subjected to mistreatment within the residential schools grew up to have children who were also taken from them, as were their children’s children. Unsurprisingly, many survivors and their families are troubled by alcohol and substance abuse, depression, anger, doubts regarding their ability to control their own lives, an inability to fully connect with either native or settler identities, and/or a lack of experience creating and functioning within loving, supporting relationships.

Students at Blue Quills Residential School

Students at Blue Quills Residential School in St Paul, Alberta.

The children and their communities have been irreparably damaged in that they cannot reestablish the life and identity they would have had without the residential school system. The strategies that were forced upon them to help them contribute to mainstream Canada have not had the desired benefit. Neither their traditional (so-called feminine) nor Western (so-called masculine) living strategies work for them and this situation can be seen as parallel to the initiation and descent to the goddess stage.

Survivors have tried (and continue to try) to reclaim their indigenous identities, practices, and cultures. This is akin to Murdock’s yearning to reconnect with the ancestral (goddess). Their ability to reclaim their cultural identity is complicated by the fact that multiple generations have had their identities stripped from them.

Reconnecting with their indigenous identity and then reconstructing their relationship with a non-indigenous society is an even more complicated, reciprocal, nonlinear process. It necessarily contains provisional solutions that may later be changed or replaced, and effort on behalf of both non-indigenous and indigenous individuals and communities. Healing and the pursuit of wholeness involve both a yearning to connect to one’s own origins and the need to heal the original/dominant cultural identity (eg. the mother/daughter) split. Indigenous community members can provide some of the necessary support, but the burdens of healing cannot rest solely on those hurt by the experience and legacy of trauma. To expect indigenous communities to provide for all of their own healing for tragedies foisted upon them by the dominant society is to continue the marginalization of indigenous people. Wholeness is a process that involves all of us.

Cree Students and Teacher

Cree students and teacher at the All Saints Indian Residential School in Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan. 1945.

In our next post, we will focus on the present-day relationships between and among indigenous peoples, the Canadian government, and non-indigenous people. We will consider what the heroine’s journey framework might teach us about strategies for healing and pursuing wholeness.

“Everyone who belongs to the First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities has been affected by the residential school experience. Only through understanding the issues can we undertake this healing journey together.” 

– Where Are The Children website

For more information on the history of the residential school system, and the indigenous experience and perspective, you can visit wherearethechildren.ca/en 

 

 

Wholeness Introduces Herself to Promises of Happiness and Success

Written by Nancer Ballard; ed. assistance Savannah Jackson.


Unlike Heroines’ Journeys, The Hero’s Journey ends with the hero returning to his tribe, kinsmen, country, or home with the Elixir. In Hero Journey stories such as the Lion King, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Wonder Woman, the hero (male, female, or otherwise) finds the treasure, restores his tribe’s lost honor, learns the magic code, or discovers the key to success and is rewarded with recognition, status, and respect.

Maureen Murdock describes the heroine’s quest as an “inner journey toward being a fully integrated, balanced, and whole human being.”  Although Murdock focuses on the integration of feminine and masculine personality traits, the heroine’s journey can be understood as a quest to integrate almost any two dichotomies, binaries, opposing concepts, or ideologies. Victoria Schmidt’s version of the heroine’s journey concludes with a “Rebirth– the Moment of Truth” when the protagonist faces her own (and others’) fear with compassion and returns to the “perfect world” or  “the world seen for what it is.”  The reward for the journey is an integrated connection to the world and something larger than herself.

The Heroine Journeys Project team believes that the Heroine’s Journey is, in essence a search to affirm and experience wholeness. By definition, wholeness necessarily includes both sides of a binary including the masculine and feminine, but also success and failure, perfection and imperfection, joy and grief, happiness and despair, respect and disrespect, glory and stunning disappointment, etc. The world and human experience encompasses each of these things, so respite from disappointment or suffering is temporary so long as life, or the story, continues.

Creative Cycle by Nancer Ballard

Artist book by Nancer Ballard depicting pleasant and unpleasant aspects of  creative cycle

Throughout our lives, most of us are told that loyalty, hard work, sacrifice, and some notion of universal fairness (sometimes called Destiny) will bring us Happiness and Success and eradicate our suffering, frustrations, and disappointment. We are taught that it is possible to “make it,” and become our family/tribe/community leader or win a coveted personal relationship and live happily ever after…. or at least a relatively care-free comfortable life.  Many of us know differently but still secretly believe in the mythical hero’s journey arc because we have grown up in a binary-soaked culture and recoil from the unpleasant aspects of wholeness we have been led to believe are unnecessary.

A few months ago I was given a poem by Lynn Ungar (which she has graciously allowed us to share) that describes the kind of stories and lives that royalty and most of us commoners actually live rather than the make-believe myths we think we want to live.

The Story

I’ll tell you a secret.
There is no happy ending.
Also no tragic conclusion.
The prince and princess don’t
live happily ever after.
They live happily sometimes,
and sometimes they are stricken
with so much grief that they know
their hearts will explode—
which never actually happens—
and sometimes they are
well and truly and deeply
bored, and ready for the tiniest
of catastrophes to shake them awake.

They will not, of course,
live ever after.  No one does.
But they might have children
who carry on the royal line,
or friends who tell the story
of how the witch showed up
at the baby shower, or maybe
they planted trees. One way
or another the story
inevitably continues.
Pray that it is some kind of
story about love.

In this poem, love is viewed as the best glue for a full evolving life rather than the reward that ends the story-life arc with flatlining good fortune. A good working definition of “love” is an enduring, positive, attentive connection between two (or more) separate beings that creates a relationship.  The relationship is distinct and larger than its individual members or constituents. Love does not abolish loneliness and vulnerability, but having a positive, enduring connection with others can make the pain of being alone and being imperfectly understood tolerable. A loving connection also provides company in times of vulnerability.

In Maureen Murdock’s formulation of the Heroine’s Journey, the final step in the cycle is integration.  Integration has several meanings. It can refer to the act or an instance of combining disparate elements into an integral whole—as in the integration of personality.  But integration can also refer to harmonious behavior of individuals within a larger environment, or to the coordination of distinct previously segregated elements within a unitary system—as in the integration of a school system.  In other words, integration can refer to blending or synthesizing or to the coordination of parts in which the parts retain their individual distinctness and integrity within a larger whole.  Love draws upon both types of integration. Unless the individuals in a loving relationship maintain their individual selves and identities, the result is a merging of one person into another, or domination and subordination, rather than connection borne by love. Love’s connection also produces a relationship which neither person can create by themselves.  Their relationship, a product of their connection to themselves and each other, is a third thing that is something different than the sum of its parts—just as a story depends upon character, action, motivation, and result but is more than the sum of these elements. As in a relationship, each element in a story is necessary and significantly influenced by other elements but can still be somewhat differentiated from the other parts.

Integration of the masculine and feminine, and whatever other binaries are at stake, can involve blending, synthesis, or the coordination of separate elements that retain their individuality within a larger whole.  The best stories and fullest of lives involve evolving combinations of each of these.

DSC_1489

We appreciate Lynn Unger’s allowing us to share “The Story” in this post. To learn more about Lynn Unger’s work and/or purchase her book of poetry, Bread and Other Miracles, go to http://www.lynnungar.com.