Draw the Circle Wide

Our task as human beings, according to Albert Einstein, is to free ourselves from the delusion of being outside of the circle of the entire universe. The delusion of separateness is a sort of prison. In Einstein’s words, “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Our task is to draw the circle wide.

To accomplish this task we need the guidance of those who have gone before us, the sages and the prophets who have left the comfort of the world they once knew, embarking on the hero’s journey to the center of the self. Joseph Campbell said that “There is a certain typical hero sequence of actions which can be detected in stories from all over the world and from many periods of history.” The hero decides to leave home to seek answers to life’s big questions. Along the way the hero will experience loss, pain, rejection and danger. The archetypal mythic hero teaches us how to leave the comfort of home, to expand our circle of compassion and how to be the hero of our own life.

Thousands of would-be heroes leave their homes every day for the promise of a new life. Theirs is not the conventional pattern of the mythical hero which, according to Joseph Campbell, always includes departure, fulfillment and return. Departure comes when a migrant leaves seeking work to support a family. Departure also comes when a political refugee leaves seeking asylum.

There are countless reasons for leaving home including to become a migrant worker or to flee religious, political, and social persecution. Many people leave home because of the effects of climate change.

The conventional pattern of the mythical hero is departure, fulfillment and return. The unconventional pattern of the everyday immigrant hero sometimes includes fulfillment. It also often includes enslavement. Undocumented immigrant workers are subject to abusive working conditions because of the threat of deportation. Industries that employ large numbers of immigrant workers, like poultry processing and meat packing often do not pay employees for all the time they work and expose workers to unsafe working conditions.

Families live in constant fear, never knowing when ICE will come and take parents away leaving children in an already crowded foster care system. Often immigrant families are separated for decades without a legal path for unification. Undocumented young adults are often deported to foreign lands they left as infants, deported to places they do not know and to languages they do not speak. Are they heroes or criminals? All of us are heroes, according to Joseph Campbell. The hero’s adventure is the adventure of being alive. The hero’s reward, the treasure unearthed during this adventure, is compassion. Our task on this journey through life is to widen our circle of compassion.

We leave home (ways of being that no longer work for us). We find fulfillment (answers to our unending questions). We return to the center of the self, at home in a universe where no one is outside the circle of compassion.

Elizabeth Gustwick