‘Elbow Room’ cried Daniel Boone

In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the late comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell listed as one of the stages of the hero: The Return with the Elixer/Boon. For a young hero, this transformation occurs in the outer world as a hero’s adventure. After midlife, the hero takes a similar journey into the inner landscape, sacrificing the ego and transforming the psyche. One of the joys of a well written myth, such as “Star Wars” is that it addresses both the inner and outer worlds simultaneously, thus has appeal as a black/white adventure story and a multi-dimensional resonating story at several levels of understanding.

So, after the adventures, young and elder heroes return to the ordinary world with something to offer ordinary people. The young hero brings something tangible: a holy grail, a solved mystery with golden treasures, museum artifacts, something that benefits all. The elixir of the elder hero is another matter (pun intended). The boon is a direct result of retirement or retreat via scholarly activity (think Faust or Nietzsche) or sometimes a plunge into the underworld (think Carl Jung). There is danger if the hero becomes lost in the land of intellectual pursuit (Mephisto) or the underworld, land of dreams, metaphors and the dead. Regarding the latter, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung’s epiphanies came after having offered psychoanalysis to schizophrenic patients who lacked handrails to hold onto and hurled into the unconscious, unable to return (most of them, anyway). Of great interest were the dreams and visions of these mentally ill patients because their metaphors opened the world of the unconscious for Freud and Jung, benefitting ordinary people like you and me. The courageous Jung held tight to his handrails of family and psychological practice as he allowed himself a voyage to the underworld where he was visited by mythic figures and provided sermons for the dead based on his emerging custom-made spirituality. The elixir he gifted us with is enormous.

What are these boons that elders bring back? For the late neo-Jungian analyst, James Hillman and for poets and lyrical essayists such as myself, it is metaphors. For writers, artists and musicians, it is masterpieces. For the scholar, it is refined and conscious insights presented in oral (teaching, storytelling) or written form.

The joy of such a boon is paying a debt to society for spending time away from the hurly burly of life, often in seclusion. Perhaps this metaphor is a bit reductionistic: Think of a well-meaning parent who must leave his family and friends for a business trip. When he or she returns, there will be presents for all and stories to tell.

In his later years, Daniel Boone stated that he regretted misunderstandings concerning the quotation associated with him: “’elbow room’ cried Daniel Boone” lest others believe he continued to move further and further away from society. He preferred that people understand his need to explore new territory. Past midlife, the hero needs a large quantity of psychic elbow room, space to spread out and experience inner journeys. There is always the promise of boons and elixers