“At some point the hero’s conventional slumber is challenged by a crisis, an existential confrontation that calls previous beliefs and ways of life into question. The call can come from within or without. Outer physical crises may take the form of sickness, as with come shamans; a confrontation with sickness in others, as with the Buddha; or suddenly staring death in the face.
An inner call may take the form of a powerful dream or vision, as with some shamans, or of a deep heartfelt response to a new teacher or teaching. It may also emerge more subtly as ‘divine discontent’: a growing dissatisfaction with the pleasures of the world or a gnawing question about the meaning of life. No matter how this challenge arises, it reveals the limits of conventional thinking and living, and urges the hero beyond them. In our culture, this may appear as an existential or midlife crisis. Tragically, the deeper causes and questions of the crisis are rarely recognized, its potentials rarely fulfilled, and one of life’s great opportunities is then missed.
As Jesus said, ‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’ Indeed, few choose to even recognize the call. And no wonder! For those who hear the call now face a terrible dilemma. They must choose whether to answer the call and venture into the unknown realms of life to which it beckons, or deny the call and retreat into their familiar cocoon. If the call is denied then there is little choice but to repress the message and its far-reaching implications. Only by such repression can non-heroes fall again into the seductive, anesthetic comforts of conventional unawareness, suppress the sublime and sink into what the philosopher Kierkegaard so aptly called ‘tranquilization by the trivial.’ The result is a life of unconsciousness and conformity, which existentialists call inauthentic living and alienation.”
Roger Walsh. “The World of Shamanism. New Views of an Ancient Tradition.” Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, Minnesota, 2007.