Hello again! Following my somewhat spontaneous seasonally-inspired departures into sermonising, I think it is time to retire my Church-of-England vicar altar-ego, along with the tinsel and the tree-lights. I would like to thank any regular readers of this blog for indulging any sentimentality that may have crept in – possibly a bit of homesickness going on there (I really like Christmas).
So, time to get back in character as this Buddhist monk that I normally attempt to impersonate. And to pick up the previous thread, which was how to identify and establish sincere and powerful sources of motivation. These are going to be vital now, because make no mistake – getting free of any kind of chronic substance-dependency will not be any exercise in tinkering. It requires massive fundamental changes to our accustomed thinking and behaviour. Most non-Buddhist thought would probably say to the self [to wax psychoanalytical] to the character [to wax old-skool], or to the identity [nu-skool]. Now, Buddhists on the whole don’t get quite so hung-up about “selves” and suchlike as most other kinds of folks do, and technically should deny that any such thing even exists, at least in any kind of permanent or essential form [I explored that concept in this earlier piece]. But for most practical purposes here I find it perfectly possible, and quite useful, to speak from a point of view from which it does. In which case:
Massive fundamental changes to the self/identity – well, ouch. That’s going to hurt. That is going to be frightening, and in a particular way, actually, where the more effective our work is, the more frightening it gets, resulting often in a thing sometimes called “rubber-band syndrome” in which you have so nearly made it when – BOING! – it all just snaps right back to where it was, under the increased tension of coming close to success. Because the thing about a self, you see, is that it wants to live. It tries to survive at all costs, and it generally perceives attempts to significantly re-jig its ingrained habits (even the bad ones) as a murderous attack. So it will fight back.
And it will fight back very effectively and craftily, because it is on home turf. It will be tenacious, knowing how to live off the land; and elusive, knowing how to hide in plain sight. It has been born and raised in your body, your mind, your environment – it’s like trying to fight the Viet Cong, or the Taliban. And, no matter how good your invasion plan is, he knows everything you know, instantly – it’s like trying to fight Mark Zuckerberg. Well – if Mark Zuckerberg and the Taliban loved each other very much, so much so that they had a demonic forbidden-love baby together, what would that be like? That’s right – it would be the worst thing you could possibly imagine.
This shaky new half-baked notion of an unaddicted self, this interloper, this Johnny-come-lately have-a-go-hero, well – he’s got quite the monster to contend with. Not a monster – the monster. The monster perfectly constructed to be his mightiest, scariest adversary. The most artisanal of bespoke tailoring creates your own personal Satan that fits you and only you perfectly, because it is in fact constructed out of parts of you. So, hopefully a little better looking than Zuckiban The Destroyer, but more fearsome by far. More? Why?
Why, because he is also constructed out of the bits you don’t really know all that much about – the subconscious. This makes him the worst thing that you can’t quite imagine, which is the only thing worse than the worst thing that you can. He can only be glimpsed in visions, and nightmares. That is where he is seen, and so the place where he is spoken of – that would be in legend. That’s where the dragons live, but it isn’t all bad news, because someone else lives in legends – heroes do.
Now, before I went off on that Yuletide excursion I pulled a blatant cliffhanger move – finally working my way around to opening the discussion of my own most inspirational ideals and icons, after extensive dissection of things I didn’t see as being such great motivators – only to immediately cop out and sign off. Sorry about that – had other geese to fatten.
I also dangled the disclosure that one of the earliest of those, and quite possibly the mightiest, was this fellow:
Ideally, I would slickly achieve this simultaneous change of authorial voice and re-connecting to where I left the subject matter in early December by means of a tidy punning reference to monks and monkeys. But I can’t be arsed. I just pondered it for a few minutes without result, and I don’t really think it will be all that funny if I get one, so – I’m a monk, and that’s a monkey:
I am not sure how much that image means to people who did not grow up in either Japan, or Britain, in the 1980s. Although I hope it means at least something to many of you. Not just so that you’ll understand what I’m saying, but also because he was awesome. Monkey was a straight-out-of-left-field surprise hit on BBC children’s television. A long-running Japanese dramatisation of a classic Chinese myth, in which a monk is sent to fetch scriptures from India for the edification of the Chinese people, accompanied by a pig-spirit, a water-demon, a dragon (who has been turned into a horse, of course), and the multi-talented, but cocky, rowdy, and famously irrepressible King of the Monkeys.
The sets and the monster make-up were delightfully low-budget, and the acting more ham than a hellfull of pig-demons. The English dubbing would probably be regarded as eye-wateringly racist these days (although I’m pretty sure Bert Kwouk’s voice-over at the start is his actual voice, rather than some Rupert from RADA doing a comedic flied-lice accent), but the stories were enchanting. And the character of Monkey was A DUDE.
Monkey was a warrior, and liked nothing more than a good punch-up, but he fought without malice. Fighting was fun. And while he seemed to have “good” instincts, and to feel obliged to oppose “evil” where he found it, this would always appear very good humoured and non-condemnatory. He would square up to a whole posse of cannibal ogres with much the same bearing as Steve Irwin plucking his finger just out of reach of a striking black mamba, chiding, “naughty little snaaiik!!!” He never seemed to take the slightest offence when they were trying to eat him and his friends, or to bear a grudge. He would sometimes sulk a bit, but never for long.
Often such sulks might follow a scolding from Tripitaka, the “monk”. For some reason “he” was played by a very pretty actress – which may have given rise to a number of unsettling issues for pre-adolescents of that era, since we were mostly more gender-solid back in the days of steam, top-hats, and empire (as young ‘uns these days seem to imagine everything pre-broadband to have been). Anyway – Tripitaka was a boring square-o, and never seemed to appreciate that Monkey’s deplorable talent for gleeful violence was precisely why he had been selected for this mission, since they wouldn’t have lasted five minutes on the road without him.
Anyway, Monkey never killed any of the priest-eating monsters. He didn’t slice them up with swords – just bashed them over the head with his cool black & gold stick (I had one – a painted broomstick – the envy of my peers) thereby causing them to stagger around making droll racist “Ah-tatata-taahhh!” noises, and usually end up saying they were so solly, and would be good Buddhist monsters from now on.
Monkey was unquestionably my first major male role-model, outside of my family. I wanted to have his cheerful fearlessness, his energy, and his unambiguous, instinctive, simple decency, unencumbered by any hi-falutin’ pompousness or prissiness (take note – Tripitaka). Also, his cool boots, big leather belt, and neckerchief (already had the stick). But of course, the key element of his style – his flash, his panache – was his irreverence. Monkey took everyone and everything precisely, exactly, and very democratically; as he found them. An attitude that enraged the King of Heaven, and all his vain, effete godlets and sprites, who considered Monkey to be outrageously disrespectful, which was of course utter nonsense. Monkey respected all beings, which meant that he couldn’t bow or scrape to any particular one. Okay – he was also pretty cheeky, but he was a monkey! What else did anyone expect?
Later on, in my teens, I discovered that this portrayal, by Masaaki Sakai, was largely lifted from the character of Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai played by the late, great Toshiro Mifune – that colossus of Japanese cinema. But that didn’t spoil it one whit – such a mighty creation was certainly worth recycling in kid-friendly form. I guess the two characters got conflated in my mind. Kikuchiyo starts out impersonating an aristocratic samurai (badly), but once his true origin as a farmboy becomes known, he drops the act and then keeps on dropping it even further, transforming into someone so overwhelmingly “real”, sincere, and utterly himself (as well as rock-hard) that even the snooty samurai drop their social superiority, and accept him as a kind of unique force of nature. His absolute integrity regarding his own rules, frees him from society’s. Kind of like Monkey.
Kikuchiyo was born for battle, and the farm couldn’t hold him. Again, his ferocity isn’t really driven by anger or hatred, even though he does actually kill bandits, unlike Monkey – but he fights with similar playful excitement. Although he also enjoys clowning and giggling, battle is ultimately the only appropriate container for his gifts, and his energy, so he has been looking for a worthy struggle, and finds it in the village of starving, miserable farmers, constantly bullied, robbed, and humiliated by bandits one year, and warring samurai the next. In one of cinema’s most gripping and extraordinary monologues (with any other actor, it would have seemed horrendously overplayed) he reveals another side, ranting at the complacent samurai for their contemptuous disregard for the quiet tragedies they thoughtlessly inflict on these wretched people, but not really with anger, as such – more in wild grief and fierce compassion. But he also turns his fury onto the peasants, for allowing themselves to become so debased that they have forgotten how to respect themselves and others.
The scene ends with the room trashed, Kikuchiyo weeping in a heap on the floor, overwhelmed by the inevitable pathos of human life, and all the other characters now united. Shamed by their own pride, meanness, and a bunch of other things, and with no remaining distinctions between them, they will fight as one – win or lose – for human dignity and decency, and comradeship, and all the good stuff; in the face of a cruel universe – and damn the odds! I could go on..
Believe me – I could go on, and on. But that would be sheer self-indulgence, and completely beside the point. Because, while I would of course be delighted should my enthusiasm serve to introduce anyone to the Mifune/Monkey fanboy club on purely artistic grounds, I am certainly not trying to make a case that these particular characters necessarily have any special wisdom-message for you. Or anything else that is unique, and crucial to apprehend before tackling your challenges in life. Nevertheless they most certainly did for me. Why? Because I liked them. And I liked them so much that they became my heroes.
It sounds incredibly lame and trite put like that. Some unpacking may be in order. There are two things there – the hero thing. Which has a specific meaning – it isn’t just some character that you like very, VERY much. And then there’s the matter of the liking. Let’s look at the first thing first:
Something that all hero stories have in common is that they are not really about what they purport to be. All that are any good, anyway – people make up stories all the time, and most of them are soon forgotten, because they don’t really have much relevance to most people’s lives. If it truly is just about monkeys vs. ogres and no more, then it might be briefly entertaining, but there’s no particular need to remember it, or re-tell it, because most of us don’t really get all that much bother from actual ogres. Not on a typical day, anyway.
But then there are other stories that stick. They get repeated, and grow in the telling. And they shrink – unnecessary parts get forgotten, until the story is honed and perfected by the concensus of the unconscious as the world votes, over many generations, on what means something to them and what doesn’t. Common themes and elements of the best stories give rise to rules and principles, which we all know, even if we don’t know we know them. And then new stories get made up, but still using these principles, and the best ones take their place in the culture, and stick around. We are still telling stories of Jesus, and don’t hear so much about Mithras, for instance. And some of the Bible stories are far, far older than even the Jewish people or Hebrew language.
These stories, or “myths” as they’re often called, work a bit like jokes. Think of those jokes that everyone knows. Usually we have no idea where they came from. Think of all the stupid stuff that people say to amuse their friends in pubs, every single day, all over the world. Nearly everyone is collectively working on the joke project, and putting in a lot of hours (for unpaid work). Nearly all of it isn’t that funny. Some of it works – you hear a lot of laughter in pubs – but most of that is one-time-only stuff. Relevant only to that situation or those people, so not worth remembering or repeating. A small amount of it is, and gets retold, and that starts an intensive natural selection process, in which we find out very quickly which ones have potential. It’s a very honest process, because we have very little control over whether something makes us laugh or not, and it’s also a very brutal one, because it feels awful dropping a punchline to stony faces, or embarrassed floorgazing.
This then creates a huge evolutionary pressure on the joke, and people who like to think of themselves as amusing try very hard to make it a bit better every time they tell it. The fact that it’s good enough to retell also very quickly gets a lot more people working on it simultaneously, and also brings in a very efficient natural editing process. That works like this: You only remember the bits of it that you think are really good, really funny. You’ll quickly forget anything unnecessary. Everyone has a different sense of humour, and you’ll get some odd mutations, but these will quickly die out unless a lot of other people agree with the joke-teller’s judgment that this version is really funny, and they’ll vote by re-telling it themselves. It is truly astonishing how quickly this completely spontaneous and un-managed project spreads, develops, refines, and standardises jokes.
Then there’s the test of time. Some sweep in, hang around for a while and fizzle out. Their humour was clearly very dependent on current events or attitudes, but others touch something more universal and timeless, so they endure. Some are very language, or culture-dependent and won’t translate well, but others go multinational with surprising speed. Well, myths do that, but with meaning as the yardstick. With perceived relevance to the attempt to understand the mystery of life, and the need to solve the problems it presents. And the evolutionary pressure is even greater, because we generally consume a lot more humour than seriousness, but when we want seriousness, we’re very serious about that. So there’s no room for lame ducks here, and that’s how some stories emerge that penetrate far deeper into the human condition than any lone genius could hope to manage.
We still see this process going on today, as cinema develops “tropes” that seem to be somehow “right” by consensus, even in the most fantastical of stories, where you might expect there to be no “rules” (trust me – fast running zombies are a fad. There will be no fast zombies within a few years). And when a new hero comes along, even if he/she is completely of our time in outward respects, or in an unfamiliar setting, we know in our bones who the real, eternal ones are. So Harry Potter of course gets a seat at King Arthur’s round table, but “Hawk, the Slayer” doesn’t. Who? Precisely.
It would be easy to be sceptical. Not so much about this process happening (which it clearly does) but perhaps more about how powerful and significant and rooted in our being it is. “Okay – so a story is popular” you might grant, “but isn’t that kind of random, or just imposed by the dominant culture, or these days mainly just by marketing budgets? And anyway, it’s just entertainment, right?” Well, sure you could make a case for all that. This piece is going to make the case that there might be something a lot more fundamental to it than that, and that you could perhaps find a lot more use in it than just taking your mind off your troubles for a while. Here goes, I’ll set out my stall:
So what then, are they about? Every decent hero story is about defeating yourself (but in a good way!). The Misty Mountains then are your internal obstacles, the goblin caverns the dark side of the unconscious mind, the orcs are every ugly, crude, destructive impulse you have, and Smaug is your selfish greed. Or… The Slytherins are your own arrogance and entitlement (the Sorting Hat, you will of course recall, initially suggested House Slytherin for Harry) and so Voldemort could be your potential for embittered narcissism (a similarly talented, orphaned outsider, turned nihilistic and vengeful). Or something like that, and so forth…
The classics never just put two things, two characters completely unlike each other, in opposition. That would be exceptionally boring. Harry carries a part of Voldemort’s soul, just as Luke carries Vader DNA. Sherlock Holmes can unravel the most devilish of crimes, because he would be using his laser-intellect to commit them, if he didn’t keep himself busy preventing them (or, of course, shooting up coke and morphine!). I could go on…
But again, I will reluctantly restrain my exhaustive and list-inclined nerdiness, because it would probably be more useful for you to quickly review your own favourite mythical heroes and their villainous nemeses, in order to confirm that they are indeed all about the dark side of an individual psyche. The appearance of an external adversary, who happens to have traits in common with the protagonist, is a metaphor for the struggle to resist those traits turning toxic and destructive in oneself. To not become the adversary. Some stories really spell this out, as in: Frodo + a few bad decisions = Gollum.
Most are a bit subtler, but that is why every (decent) hero myth is in fact the single most important story in the world – the one that you most need to hear, and to understand. Okay – that’s a bit over-simplified, but I’ll return to that point in a bit, when I get to thing number two – the liking thing.
Meanwhile though, I’d first like to just quickly review the mother of all hero-myths in Western literature. That of the daddy of all heroes – Hercules. This is where we see a number of important tropes start to firm up. I’m just going to cherry-pick a few key elements, because there are a number of variations on the myth, and no one definitive version.
Now Herakles (as he was called in the original Greek version, as opposed to the Roman Hollywood remake) was a tough guy. The strongest in all Greece, and also a skillful warrior – handy with a bow, so not just a brute basher. Nobody could take him on and get decent odds from any bookmaker. So obviously, this is going to be about fantastical monsters – straight away, we’re heading for the subconscious.
He was also quite a good guy. Or, at least as “good” as any of the early Greek heroes were, who by most modern people’s standards might appear quite petty, vain, thin-skinned, greedy, sulky, and surprisingly childish in general, at times (as indeed might the gods – and don’t even mention the whole marital infidelity thing since they were all constantly banging one another silly). But hey – we don’t go judging people in one age by the standards of another now, do we? I have little doubt that we wouldn’t have overly impressed him, either.
So Herakles was cool. He often stuck up for the weak and vulnerable (NOT a common virtue back then) and he loved his wife and kids very much. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that he murdered them. For some reason (opinions vary) Hera, the queen of the gods, had hated him since birth. She even sent two deadly serpents to bite him as a newborn, and when his parents found him the next morning cheerfully playing with their strangled corpses, that was when it was first noted that this kid might have something a bit special going on. Now, it doesn’t really matter what exactly put sand in Hera’s buttcrack, because what’s important in symbolic terms is just that she doesn’t like him.
Hera is Zeus’s wife. So in classically cisgender trans-exclusionary stereotypical style [the ancient Greeks were pretty slept, by today’s standards – multiple trigger warning] she is the matriarch. She is the counterpart to Zeus’s patriarchal style, representing order and stability, the Yin to his Yang. So when she’s happy, she’s all lifegiving, nurturing, empathy, growth and creative possibility; but if you’re not on good terms with her, then she is destructive chaos, and her fury can be quite hair-raisingly disproportionate and limitless. Kind of like the Shakti/Kali dual avatars in Hindu myth (before anyone says anything about this being some kind of “western” or “colonial” concept, about which – more later).
If we were in any doubt about this, it is dispelled a couple of decades later when she finally nails him with a fit of madness during which he slaughters his entire household. Now, I find it revealing to look at this early stuff, before the tropes got a bit more sophisticated and the themes more disguised, because this so obviously indicates to me a story about someone who wasn’t in touch with their feelings, intuition, or empathy (or something); leading to mental problems which festered and grew until they became destructive to their own happiness and the lives of people close to them. Perhaps the readers didn’t know the script so well yet, so the writers had to lay it on with a trowel.
By the way, I’m stuffy and old-school, but if anyone really wants to, I’m fairly sure an at least interesting case could be made for this actually being about toxic masculinity (since Herakles was such an undiluted über-alpha bro-bear) needing to face up to its potentially more “fluid” true nature in order to work on their issues around domestic violence. Although I would probably counter that this could be an unfortunate reduction of the broad scope and relevance of myth, to an overly narrow and literal reading in which just because he’s a “man” (as they said back then, when zeppelins flew and mammoths roamed) this story is therefore only about male-identifying people, and furthermore that it is terribly unimaginative to assume that the actions performed in the story could mean only those precise actions. And we could take it from there – could be an interesting debate…
Anyways – whichever way we might like to spin it, it’s clearly a mental health story, and there in fact we see one of the characteristics of a properly mythical myth, that is going to endure down the millennia, long after fashionable obsessions are forgotten: that it might mean something intensely specific, relevant, and personal to you, and something a bit different to me, but with those three adjectives remaining just as applicable. Because they’re all ultimately about human internal striving and overcoming. These are themes relevant to everyone, in every age (or gender, or ethnicity, orientation or… well, everyone)
Herakles comes around from his episode, and discovers that this is similar to, but A LOT worse than; that time when your parents went away for the weekend and you thought it might be rather droll to have a few friends over and score a load of ketamine, laughing gas, and monkey-glands. He feels quite shitty about this. Even though – by a literal reading of the story – this tragic destruction could be said to be not his “fault”, since it is due to a fit of madness sent by a vindictive goddess, he completely “owns” it and he makes no excuses. He takes responsibility (or at least acknowledges that only he can try to clean up this mess) but he knows that “sorry” won’t be enough (not that there is anyone left to apologise to). He has to atone. To perform some action that will not only demonstrate his remorse, but also his commitment to changing into someone who would not have stuff like this going on. This is his job now.
But he doesn’t know how to begin, so he consults the Oracle – a priestess who channels divine wisdom. If there are still no objections to a traditional binary-gendered reading, then I’d like to take a punt that he tries to build a relationship with the “sacred feminine” in a more constructive way. I find that interesting – that he doesn’t appeal to Zeus (who is well-disposed towards him, and may in fact be his dad) to perhaps “control his wife” a bit, as one might expect were this as it appears at face-value – a simple account of goings on between individuals (some of whom happen to be gods). Even if we are averse to ascribing specific and differentiated psychological characteristics to masculine and feminine principles, then at the very least it seems clear to me that this is someone taking a closer look at this same side-of-the-Force that has destroyed his life. As opposed to rejecting it, cursing it, and turning to something different. Put simply – it’s a dude finally facing up to his “issues”.
NB. When I state what all “this means” I am not claiming to be any authority on this story, or any kind of classical scholar at all. I am just conveying how, as a dude with problems to solve, I read the story as having important useful meaning to me. This saves a lot of time, since I a) don’t have to justify anything or give contrasting views for “balance”, and b) can miss out all the bits I have forgotten, since those (clearly) didn’t “speak” to me so much. Phew – I feel so much better, so much lighter and freer, having said that.
So what does the Oracle tell him? Perhaps to his disappointment, there’s nothing he can do to directly fix things with the gods, either by sucking up to Hera, or appealing to any of the others. He is cut off from Mount Olympus, and has to do his work in the human world. Prayers won’t save you, sonny, or offerings or rituals, or any of that malarkey. He has to go and offer his service to a king called Eurystheus [okay, I had to look that up – despite what I just said about doing this from memory] and do whatever he is told, for however long he is told it. Interestingly, Eurystheus seems neither a good nor a particularly clever king. Or indeed a brave or mighty one – the storytelling usually shows him as quite a sniveling yet spiteful man, and plays his scenes as mocking comedy. So again, you could say that it looks like there isn’t any patriarchal Yang energy (even a “non-toxic” version of it) that is going to fix this. And/or you could certainly say that Herakles isn’t going to learn what he needs by submitting himself to the instruction of any wise master – just by submitting. So I guess humility is what is mainly needed right now.
Humiliation even, perhaps – since the mightiest hero in Greece is now the servant of the most pathetic king. And so I guess following on from that is that the stated reasons behind the ten tasks he is then set don’t matter, since they are not directed by wisdom, or kindness, or anything good. I suppose he just wants cool stuff – he’s greedy, but also cowardly, lazy, and exploitative.
So what matters? Well it must be the tasks themselves, or rather what it will take for Herakles to become able to complete them. Okay – so this is a story of personal growth, and of being willing to seek for sources of it in the most unlikely, unwelcome, or even distasteful of places, without complaint, and being prepared to give up (or at least put on hold) everything that we otherwise might hold dear, or consider to be cool and awesome about who/what we ourselves normally value or expect approval/admiration for.
Alright, so about these tasks [and now I really will try to stick to my word, and just write about the ones I can remember]. The first one is to bring the skin of the Nemean Lion. Two problems with that – firstly it is still on the live lion, and secondly, that this is a fearsome beast and it’s a magic skin that no enemy’s weapon can pierce. This is no biggie for a guy like Herakles – he just stuns it with a club and then throttles it with his bare hands. I’m pretty confident though, that I can state that this is the only one of the tasks in which he immediately solves the problem using only his super-strength. But then, almost immediately, even that isn’t enough. Because he still has to skin it, and his knife (or any knife) will not work for that. So what now?
Herakles sits and thinks until he solves the riddle. He breaks off one of the lion’s own claws and uses that to get the job done. I haven’t yet really penetrated the symbolic meaning of this action to my own satisfaction, but in a larger and more general sense, this speaks one very loud and clear message to me, and one that matches my own personal experience very precisely. To wit:
Playing to your strengths isn’t going to solve a problem like this. Self-evidently, since you are in an awful state, all of your (many, I’m sure) excellent qualities have not prevented this state from arising. Ergo you will need to now develop new qualities. It is untapped – perhaps even unsuspected – potentials that will get you out of this mess. From my own experience I can take this still further, and make it even more categorical, thusly:
A problem like addiction (plus, I’m sure, many other kinds of persistent destructive mental compulsions) hijacks and uses your own strengths against you. If your strength is, like Herakles’, actual physical strength, then obviously you too will be able to do more damage, and create worse situations when you lose control. But also, and to put this specifically into an addiction context: You will be able to do a lot more damage to yourself before you have to tap out. You may not have to accept that you can’t take this pace anymore until all your internal organs are rotten. If you are clever, then you will be better able to justify and excuse bullshit things, both to yourself and others. If you are charming, or attractive, then other people will put up with you and indulge you until you become completely disgusting and insufferable. If you are forceful and dynamic then your friends won’t challenge you with necessary truths. If you are wealthy, then it will be easier to develop a huge habit, and it will take longer to lose everything. Worst of all – God help you if you are successful.
I had the great good fortune to blow my own life and career to smithereens in my late twenties – forcing me to face up to some harsh realities when there was still plenty of time to try to salvage something later. Others were not so lucky, and did much better in their careers in the entertainment industry. Russell Brand is well worth a listen on this topic – he was peaking big-time, and on a roll, when a friend from his management team (those words don’t often belong together in the same sentence) gave him a straight talking to. Told him in no uncertain terms to stop everything – drugs, bad craziness, and working. Told him whom to talk to, where to go, and to take as long as he needed. Or he’d die. And to not come back if he didn’t. That’s amazing – they never tell you that, as long as you keep bringing the big bucks in. For every Russell Brand there are many, many Amy Winehouses.
Oh, and there’s another lesson coded in there (this stuff is dense!) Having removed the magic skin, Herakles decides to wear it as armour thenceforth. Surely the message here is so clear that it hardly needs discussing in-depth [and I have previously ranted on this theme at length] – it is literally a thicker skin. He has to drop any victim stuff right here at the start. When he gets triggered, everyone dies, so he takes on the responsibility for that not happening. And no – it is not easy. It has required, in this order: humility>courage>strength>smarts. But he does it, and so now he can proceed.
And just as well, because right after that, Herakles had to deal with the Hydra – a monstrous many-headed serpent with the most potent venom in the world. Alright, so that starts out pretty bad, but it gets worse. Because every time Herakles lops off a head two more grow immediately from the neck. I think we have all felt like that sometimes.
Aaaaaand I think I am going to take a break there. Quite enough to chew on, but I’ll pick up again in a week or so with the second labour, and then on to pastures new. Meanwhile, we could try an experiment with viral joke writing – “I’m not all that up on Greek mythology – it’s my Hercules heel…” See? Now that works, there’s definitely something there. But it didn’t really make you laugh, did it? Aaaaaaand…GO! FLY, MY PRETTIES!!!
And now, here’s the original trailer for Seven Samurai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ1TOratCTo
In grateful and loving memory of Matt Taylor. Not (for once) another drug-casualty, just, cause of death – life. Short life. A magnificent bluesman, a fine joker, and the true friend who gave me that timely talking to. Now I’m still here, but he isn’t. Thankyou. Miss you.