There you are, happily working away, nothing much bothers you, and life is good. You smoke your pipe, you read your books and sit in your garden.
Then some old bloke with a grey cloak and pointy hat turns up with a bunch of dwarfs.
Apparently they need your help.
What would you do?
This is what happened to Bilbo Baggins in the story The Hobbit, written by JRR Tolkien.
These moments are special, they are The Call to Adventure. According to Joseph Campbell in his work on mythology.
Bilbo and other heroes have had similar moments in their lives too. Obiwan asking Luke for help in Star Wars. In Finding Nemo, it’s the loss of his son that propels Marlin onto his adventure.
There are moments in our lives when something beckons us onto a new path, but a part of us recoils at this idea.
A world Shattered
The calling comes in many forms, small and large. A new relationship, or job. A chance to travel, create art, change the world or help others. But whatever the idea is, it grabs you on some level.
Up until that moment there was the routine, what you are familiar with. This is the Ordinary World in Campbell’s work. Like Bilbo you are safely ensconced in this world of your own, knowing little of what lies outside it.
Now those ideas and beliefs have been broken.
This Herald has challenged your world-view. It’s as if the scales have fallen from your eyes and now you see things in a different light. The life you have lead is not what is possible for you. You see the illusions and falsehoods that have kept you a prisoner.
It’s an awakening.
The hero of course accepts the calling in the stories, stepping into the unknown. But I feel that many of us, including myself have refused it, often more than once.
A lot of emotion happens in these moments. You feel shock, doubt, fear, mistrust of your own instincts and perceptions.
The Internal Call
Instead from outside, perhaps the calling comes from within, a desire, a hope. Dreams of passion that burns within.
You feel the need for change. The life you lead no longer inspires or challenges you. The work is dull and does nothing to contribute to what you find meaningful. You have become bored with the same places and faces.
The coping mechanisms you used for living are breaking down. ‘The old ways no longer work.’
It’s the niggling itch that refuses to go away. Like a splinter in your mind that drives you mad. We want something more, we feel it, we know it in our hearts.
The call to adventure happens more than we think. So much that I feel we have become jaded to it. We see how other people are living, travelling the world, starting a business, writing a book.
The thought, that we could be more than we are, it torments us.
There is also fear, not of the unknown, but of regret. This the fear of the known. If we turn back now what would our lives be like? A life unlived, without passion or meaning. This can be a greater fear than even the unknown.
It all has to mean something. All the suffering, strife, struggle, joy and success has to be for a greater purpose. Right now it does not.
The life you are leading is no longer for you, you have out grown it. Now you need re-potting just like a plant.
I felt it, and it comes with the knowledge that time on this world is finite.
You know there is more to life than this. The passion, even desperation that you want something more, something greater. To fill your life with adventure, meaning and success.
This can be a trap, constantly working and never satisfied, a source of passion and suffering, but also life.
What has kept me here, why did I not succumb to despair and end it all?
What is keeping you alive, why do you stay?
This desire for something greater is the unconquerable part of your soul that refuses to die.
Refusal of the call
For many of us including myself the fear can be too much. Although we want to be bold, it’s too risky, too far, too much. The emotion itself is so unpleasant that we cannot go on.
What makes us refuse?
The first call is not always enough, sometimes we are called repeatedly because we shy away from it.
Bilbo initially refused the call too. He gave reasons why he couldn’t and should not go on this adventure. Gandalf reproaches him for it.
When the call happens even the best of us can refuse it.
Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.
Bilbo Baggins: You can promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
So we should not be so hard on ourselves for not wanting the adventure. The risks are great, the results uncertain.
Or perhaps we do notice the call, but distraction gets the better of us, other tasks take priority.
So we remain trapped in our old ways, we call it procrastination. We know we want to change, but the difficulties we see ahead discourage us, so we make our plans, but never put them into action.
We may afterwards convince ourselves that our decision was reasonable and rational, but in reality fear is what stopped us.
Caught between two worlds
So this calling leaves us in a bit of a bind.
Bilbo looks at the contract and you can see the struggle going on inside him. Caught between head and heart, known and unknown.
The nagging desire that our lives could be so much more if we just do something about it, but the fear that holds us back.
So a sort of spiritual dissonance is now set up.
There is further doubt, not just from the broken ideals and dreams, but now from the new world, the possibilities that you see before you.
You stand on a precipice, the edge of the unknown, looking backwards you see the world, you know. The dull, boring? Or the safe and happy?
What lies before you, the unknown. It’s seductive this place because it offers the chance to be a different person, a Hero.
What if you say yes? Pain and suffering, but the realisation of a dream perhaps. Success, happiness and meaning, everything you are looking for?
If you say no? Wondering what would have happen if you had said yes.
A question hangs in your mind. Could I do this? Really be the person I have dreamed of?
It’s in these moments where we really find out who we are, what we are made of, and what we care enough about to take great risks in getting them.
‘We are defined just as much by what we pursue as what we reject’ – Richard Collison. [tweet this]
So be aware of the opportunities that are brought to you, recognise them when they are upon you. I am not saying you need to say yes to every call. We are all juggling many different wants and needs.
But you have to figure out what is important to you. It’s a journey for the soul.
Those heroes we hear of, all had the opportunity to turn back, but they didn’t. Why? Because they understood. Despite all our fears there are some things worth struggling for, dreams both big and small.
All it takes is a moment for your life to change, a Pivotal Moment. They can define your life.
I would like to hear from you on those moments in your life where everything changed, where you chose a new path or refused it. How does it and did it make you feel?