Dr. Steve Rissman, ND
It’s graduation time around the country. Who doesn’t get just a little emotional upon hearing Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance”? You know the one, “Daaa, da da da, daaa daa.“ For many, this is celebration of a journey’s end- high school, college, maybe nursing school or law school. I’m a college professor and the “pomp” of commencement and award ceremonies is everywhere, and I personally feel it, simply because it’s the end of a semester. But the “circumstance”, the reality of what it means, is also on my mind.
Separation from Comfort
Another journey has come full circle, in my case, the academic year. So what was the intent behind this year? What was the intention of your adventure? Most journeys start with a call to an adventure- schooling, travelling, or intent for some sort of experience. Some deeper part of us experienced a longing, a calling to go in search. We courageously responded to that call, which was followed by a necessary separation, from home, from parents or something familiar. This is commonly the barrier to many potentially great adventures, because we know the difficulty of separation from our comfort zone.
“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.”- Tacitus (Roman historian)
Following all the preparations and separations, there was an encounter with something greater than the self- a mentor, a deity, or some sort of inner directive that serves to shepherd our journey. It is in this stage that we uncovered what we went in search of- knowledge, understanding, purpose, etc.
The Challenge of the Return
Now the task of the journey is completed, and the next step is the return home, and this is the whole point I’m trying to make today. Journeys can be thrilling – both positively and negatively, and there can be a tendency to want to hang out there. The idea of returning home, to the place we left, is much less exciting and, often, anxiety provoking, but also necessary.
“Here I am, safely returned over those peaks from a journey far more beautiful and strange than anything I had hoped for or imagined – how is it that this safe return brings such regret?”
The return is often the most difficult part of the journey. In fact, in an interview on National Public Radio, Sebastian Junger, author of War, and The Perfect Storm, said that a soldier’s return is tremendously challenging, so much so, that many choose not to return to their lives and those who do, feel lost. Fascinating occurrences and engaging connections happen on journeys and we don’t want that to end. Leaving the group requires a new kind of solo mission. It’s the other side of the same coin of departure. It’s another “leaving” of the familiar and a return back home, to actually have to apply what we have learned. Return is a necessary element of the journey.
Addition and Subtraction
Another way to think about this is simple mathematics- addition and subtraction. In taking on a journey, we subtract old parts of our self that we no longer need, by stripping all away. Then during the journey, we add new perspective, new friends, another dimensions of self.
The trick of the return is weaving that which was gained, the new addition, into everyday human life. Too often, having made our way back to our community adventure, we get depressed. It’s not as much “fun” to be back in the routine of simple life, and we are often seduced into looking for the next journey, rather than doing the hard work of living what we’ve learned. Another challenge of returning is that people don’t recognize our new dimensions, or they see us only in ways they previously knew us. They keep us small, which doesn’t feel good, given all the growth that has taken place. It has been said that you can never go back home, which is true, except that the “you” that is returning, so not the “you” that left. You’ve grown new cells, new skin and hopefully a renewed understanding of some purpose.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
As you graduate from your own journey- high school, internship, resolution of an illness or even a triumphant sports achievement, here are three suggestions for a successful return:
- Commit: know that it is not easy to return, but commit to the task, at least for a period of time or until a new calling surfaces.
- Do your math: remember your additions and stay determined to keep the subtractions.
- Recruit support: find friends that can be allies in helping you to live true to who you have become.
- Serve Pomp with your Circumstance: Celebrate and ritualize your achievements, the fruit of your labor; it’s easy to get mired in your circumstances, so have reverence for your resolve to implement what you have learned.
Dr. Steve Rissman is a full-time associate professor in the Department of Health Professions at Metropolitan State University of Denver, teaching in the Integrative Health Care program. He teaches Clinical Pathophysiology, Men’s Health, Men Across Cultures, Men and Anger, and several other classes. Dr. Rissman has studied, taught and worked in the field of men’s health for over twenty years and has lead the way in lighting the path for young men embarking on the journey to better know themselves. In a new facet of his professional life, Dr. Rissman is the primary investigator in a research project looking at qualities of great men- men who know their purpose in life and hold a larger vision for what is possible.
In his practice on his farm, north of Denver, Dr Rissman works with men/boys confounded by behaviors related to anger/rage, anxiety, and depression in their lives.
Having grown up on a farm and spending a great deal of time in the outdoors, Dr. Rissman has a deeply rooted curiosity for the laws of nature, particularly the science of disease process. Consequently, he has an extraordinary ability to illicit the story of one’s unique dis-ease process and to perceive what needs to be cured in each individual man/boy, using psychotherapy, botanical medicines, therapeutic nutrition, homeopathic medicines, and other insightful methods intended to help lead men through the abyss of dis-ease toward a rich, purposeful life.