I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. –John Muir (Scottish-born American naturalist 1838-1914)
The impulse to go out, get out, hit the road, take a vacation, nearly always holds within its volitional energy the urge to re-create or re-vision one’s life. We think of these common, even mundane responses to life’s regularity, schedule and regimen as almost a mechanical release valve, and although it is certainly that, our urge to retreat can also be a deeper message from the unconscious soliciting or signaling a call to ritual and its symbolic cycles of death and rebirth. We may be happy with the vacation, hike or bike ride we promised ourselves for too long to take and finally succeeded at pulling off. But we may also return home with just a twinge of dis-ease and longing still floating around the periphery of our consciousness if we don’t address the deeper call and hope for some new life or new vision.
The deeper call to head out is a plea from psyche to loosen the confines of an overly literalized and hardening of the structure and story of our lives. By shifting the context of our life we give ourselves an opportunity to reflect on the re-visions that might be available to us. The more imagination, intention, and stripping away of those calcified literalisms that we live with day in and day out, the more authentic restoration and new life we can access and bring back to the life we left behind. Ancient rites of passage, the pan-cultural tradition of fasting from food, shelter and companionship—or the vision quest--and Carl Jung’s inner journey of individuation are both traditions that answer this deeper call to symbolically leave what is known and lived for the sake of harvesting something more sustainable, energized, and meaningful, from the unseen and unlived life.
As James Hollis (depth psychological author of great guides to this deeper human journey like The Middle Passage, What Matters Most, and Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life) is quick to remind us, we are all summoned to a larger life; in fact life asks more of us than we are usually willing to admit. Standard modes of escapism (vacationing, a binge on drinking, sex or consumerism, to name a few) seen through the lens of rites, quests, and depth psychology appear as small and feeble relief the morning after and surface as repressed and unfulfilled longings waiting for some greater re-creation or re-vision of the one life we have to live: more often than not a burying of our true connection to psyche and its unconscious gifts waiting to be enacted and lived. Those old standards of distraction and escape eventually become stale and hollow when psyche recognizes and awakens in our consciousness how empty the calories it is being fed really are. “…And then the knowledge comes to me that I have space within me for a second, timeless, larger life,” says Rilke in his poem “I Love My Being’s Dark Hours.”
It may not be convenient for you or me to go to a desert and fast for four days and nights to wait, cry or pray for a vision that will change our lives. It may in fact not be convenient, comfortable, or pleasant to even think about abandoning our common assumptions and habits in order to approach the Mystery on bended knee for some morsel of a more meaningful or fulfilling life, but it also might not be sustainable to go on living this half-life—a “divided life” in the words of Quaker author Parker Palmer--or one that never really addresses our longing for deep change, wholeness, and fulfillment. Our individual-ness, in fact at its root is “in” plus “dividere,” not divided or whole.
The work of living a deeper and more meaningful life, the seeds of the impulse to head out in order to see better what is within, asks of us again and again, in the words of the School of Lost Borders director, Joseph Lazarus: What is life asking of me now and what may I need to let go of to participate in my own unfolding?
Archetypal psychologist Carol Pearson cuts to the chase, “Those times of depression tell you that it’s either time to get out of the story you’re in and move into a new story or that you’re in the right story but there’s some piece of it you are not living out.”
Going out for the hell of it is always fun and a perfectly healthy, normal and human outlet. But when we recognize the impulse as part of a larger archetypal and mythical impulse to change and deepen our lives, we give ourselves the gift of creativity and consciousness to aid our evolution as individuals and species. Going out in order to go in takes some courage and mindfulness, but the payback is in new life energy that may better sustain and enliven not only us but also the people we serve and surround ourselves with. Going out to go in is an opportunity for whole making and soul making: bringing together the wholeness of ourselves and of the world.