The Hero is Dead

When I was midway through my training period, at a time when I had developed a deep love and affection for the women that were training me, my teacher gave me this. She said,

“At some point, when everyone has gone from here and a time comes for you to stand alone, you will stand alone. There will be no choice.”

I reflect upon this teaching often, particularly these days. There is confusion everywhere. Of course, it is fully understandable that folks will try and remedy this confusion with life hacks, spiritual uprightness, inspirational urgings on and heroic narratives. As such remedies fail, as they must, the opposite rises in their stead: pragmatic musings, railings against sugary sweet narratives and progressive comings back to earth.

Both sides of the coin of these remedies express the same thing: powerlessness.

A person that has trained is not drawn to the tools and narratives of the dominant culture, no matter how fringe and seemingly anti-establishment. A person with background stands alone in the world and learns to accept a state of groundlessness as the foundation.

While the dominant urge is to find ground and solidity - through economics, social support and validation or spiritual practice - the truth is confrontational. There is no ground.

A native elder I spent a ton of time with back in the 1990’s when I was working with gangsters on the west coast gave me these lines:

In times of uncertainty

there is no greater certainty,

no greater possibility than with an invincible hero.

And on this night, the hero is dead.

Today we are all confronted with the weight of uncertainty. We are drawn to ease this uncertainty by creating narratives that replace the unknown with the known no matter how dark on the one hand, or hopelessly naive on the other. These narratives have been baked into our technology, our educational systems, our institutional structures, our reimagining of ancient ceremonies and the way we see the future. Look closely and you will see; everyone is trying to sell you something that replaces groundlessness with some form of certainty.

It is the most obvious thing in the world once you have trained yourself to see.

The hard question is this: when I come to the edge and face down the death of what I have always known, will my vision and training be adequate to carry me across? In this moment I will see that my heroes have all died and that I am utterly alone. I will be given but one certainty.

The choice I make, when it is my turn to walk alone, will irrevocably determine the arc of my future:

Into this wild abyss,

The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,

Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,

But all these in their pregnant causes mixed

Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,

Unless the almighty maker them ordain

His dark materials to create more worlds,

Into this wild abyss the wary fiend

Stood on the brink of hell and looked a while,

Pondering his voyage……

John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II


Andrew Markell is the Co-Founder of Exile, a company that creates, advises and helps capitalize transformative companies and market ecosystems dedicated to empowering people + planet.

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