The Wilderness Story is all stories

You and I may think, in the depths of our Wilderness Passage, that the ordeal we’re undergoing is unique. And it is, in the sense that our passage is ours alone; no one else has ever, or will ever, go through the same initiation.

But in a far deeper sense, all Wilderness passages are the same. The Wilderness Story is all stories.

Every book, every movie, every legend, every myth is a wilderness story. They are all about a character or group of characters who are estranged or cast out from some aspect of their deeper selves.

The Christ story is a wilderness story. It even has Jesus literally in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil. Buddha’s story is a wilderness story. Muhammad’s. Krishna’s. Pick any spiritual saga or myth. At bottom, they’re all wilderness stories.

Every vision quest is a wilderness story. Every legend, every myth. The Odyssey, the story of King Arthur, of Theseus, of Siegfried, of Buffalo Wallow Woman.

Brad Pitt in “World War Z”

Every Western is a wilderness story, every love story, every gangster saga, every Zombie Apocalypse. 

War and Peace is a wilderness story. As is Beloved, Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Augie March.

The Godfather (at least I and II) is a wilderness story. So is Top Gun (both versions) and Chinatown and Casablanca and The Wild Bunch and Alien and Avatar (both versions.). 

Songs and albums. Hotel California is a wilderness story, along with Revolver and Pet Sounds and Beggars Banquet, not to mention Fight the Power, Straight Outta Compton and Mind Playing Tricks on Me.

The point I’m trying to make is that if you and I are in the midst of a wilderness passage, painful as it may be, it may help us to remember that we are living out a universal passage that humankind has been enacting for hundreds of thousands of years.

Every story is a wilderness story.

P.S. My story of my own passage through the wilderness—GOVT CHEESE: A Memoir—was just published a few days ago (in hardback, eBook, and audiobook), 1/30 to be exact. Signed first editions can still be ordered at www.stevenpressfield.com.

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A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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31 Comments

  1. Krzysiek on January 18, 2023 at 2:27 am

    Thank you, Steven. Absolutely, mastering archetypes of our psyche, through the script written for ourselves by souls that we are (limitations of mind and body providing our wilderness, our challenges) it’s all stories we chose to create for self realisation of love and unity that binds all of us and everything.
    This is, like yourself, what I too try to convey in my writing and art (check the link if you’d like).
    I loved your interview with Aubrey Marcus and other interviews on net. Love your story of overcoming resistance and actually doing what we came here to do – what lights us up deep inside.
    Lots of love,
    Krzysiek

    • Joe on January 18, 2023 at 4:56 am

      I enjoyed looking at some of your art, Krzysiek.

  2. Peter Brockwell on January 18, 2023 at 3:11 am

    I find Steve’s post this week to be quite encouraging, since it feels like post-childhood we’re always exiled from ourselves and it’s a matter of degree. Does anybody else feel the same? The only times I feel I’m fully, although temporarily, living my true self is during and shortly after writing. And maybe when I’m doing a long hike or I’ve just completed an exercise session. Those are the times we get free of our annoying selves for a short while and make contact with the divine ground that Steve talks about.

    Steve is correct that every story is a wilderness odyssey, therefore each of our lives in their entirety must also be trek through the wilderness?

    Hugs from the UK,
    Peter

    • Jackie on January 18, 2023 at 4:54 am

      Peter,
      In answer to your question, yes to some degree I feel exiled from myself in what we call the “real” adult world. Ironically, it’s in the actual wilderness where I find myself. I call it vitamin N, nature. Nature does not tolerate tall tales. For truth, I take a hike, sit under a tree, climb over rocks, jump the waves, etc. I find my answers are in the wilderness.

      • Joe on January 18, 2023 at 5:03 am

        Jackie, I read this piece on Aeon last week: https://aeon.co/essays/we-will-never-be-able-to-live-on-another-planet-heres-why

        Clipping this:

        “There is no planet B. Our future is here, and it doesn’t have to mean we’re doomed. Deep down, we know this from instinct: we are happiest when immersed in our natural environment. There are countless examples of the healing power of spending time in nature. Numerous articles speak of the benefits of ‘forest bathing’; spending time in the woods has been scientifically shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and to improve sleep quality, thus nurturing both our physical and mental health. Our bodies instinctively know what we need: the thriving and unique biosphere that we have co-evolved with, that exists only here, on our home planet.”

        *****
        A window pops open in my mind when I consider this: Being in the woods doesn’t just “calm us because it smells good and the colors are pretty.” We evolved together, those woods and us. At some subconscious level, I’m sure that’s what gives us that “I’m home” feeling of being amongst the trees or waters or hills.

        • Jackie on January 18, 2023 at 6:04 am

          Thanks for the read , Joe. We are always on the lookout for somewhere better, something better, a “plan”et B. Where we need to look is inside, but that takes work, like a walk through wild country, the wilderness. Are we aware of the harmony that exists around us? I doubt it. We wouldn’t be so lost.
          Who takes time to contemplate mycelium and microscopic organisms that feed soil, plants, and trees which in turn feed us? Nature reminds me of our connections to each other and to all things. We’d all do a better job here if we took a walk on the wild side, the wildernes within and the wilderness without.

    • Joe on January 18, 2023 at 5:04 am

      Peter… “each of our lives in their entirety.” I was having the same thought.

    • qanishque on January 18, 2023 at 7:02 am

      Our limitations are what gives our story it’s meaning. And thank God for no one’s truly the exact same, yet the opposite revelation is as necessarily required. Everyone loves an underdog!

  3. Joe Jansen on January 18, 2023 at 4:53 am

    I’m thinking how every human life is a sequence of stepping into successive wildernesses — regardless of any kind of grand adventure. Stepping out of the comfortable and the known, and into the unknown. A baby takes its first steps and leaves the comfortable world of being carried around everywhere, and into the scary world of a biped. A young adult leaves university or trade school and into the world of work. We can even place death into this framework, leaving the comfort and familiarity of this life and stepping across the boundary threshold into…

    • Peter Brockwell on January 18, 2023 at 12:09 pm

      Jackie and Joe, such thoughtful ideas. And ‘…our connections to each other and to all things…’ exactly. We are each a system embedded inside larger systems all the way out to the cosmos, and to the Divine Ground. And in a way our individual wilderness journeys cumulate to make a planetary wilderness journey. If I was religious I would say that the exile from the Garden of Eden sent the entire race on an epic Wilderness trek.

      Speaking of which, Steve wrote a fascinating book with the theme of exile. Perhaps this is it. Closing the loop on our wilderness trek perhaps brings us home from exile? Although I have to say, until the final day it seems to only ever be temporary lifting of exile.

      P

      • Joe on January 19, 2023 at 3:36 am

        Systems embedded in systems. I’m with you, PB.

  4. Maureen Anderson on January 18, 2023 at 5:50 am

    Speaking of wilderness stories! When I heard Steve was publishing a memoir I ordered a book before its pub date for the first time in my life. “Steven Pressfield” + “memoir” = “I’m a goner.”

    A few days after it arrived I was at my screen and needed a break. I knew if I resumed reading I’d want to take a longer break than I could justify, so I went online and (only for fun) looked at some early reviews. I was surprised a self-described “Pressfield fan” abandoned the book after almost thirty chapters because Steve went into such detail about, for example, his days driving a truck.

    “How interesting!” I thought. “Why doesn’t that bother me a bit?”

    My guess? If Steve thinks that much detail is important, by God I’m going to hang in there.

    Until moving to the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania, where every time I get in my Honda Accord I’m at the mercy of still another semi on my tail, the most thought I ever gave to truckers was this…

    https://www.instagram.com/p/CcOfQgVLxcU/

    The reviewer’s comment reminded me “boring” is only on the surface. The deeper you go, the less boring things get. Now I practically genuflect when I see a truck driver! That’s not nothing. And it’s such a small part of why I loved this book.

  5. Lance Fogel on January 18, 2023 at 6:36 am

    Probably the original wilderness story, Moses in the desert and the Jews fleeing Egypt, provide a good illustration of the challenges that mold a person…..

    I very much enjoyed the audio version of “GOVT CHEESE”…..

  6. Robert W. Enzenauer, MD on January 18, 2023 at 8:52 am

    Hey marine. Just received my THREE signed copies of your book – for me and two other veteran readers.
    Thanks Kewep up the good work. DOC ENZ, BG Retired

  7. Peter Brockwell on January 18, 2023 at 1:33 pm

    Just ordered a signed copy of Govt Cheese to the UK. Can’t wait to read it and learn about Steve’s journey! Great comments in the blurb by Jack Carr and James Altucher, two very different characters, both extraordinary.

    Thanks Maureen for reminding me to get my a** in gear and order. (Hmm, does that metaphor work for you guys in the land of automatics?)
    P

    • Maureen Anderson on January 18, 2023 at 1:51 pm

      You won’t be sorry! I cried at the end, and not just because I was sad it was over.

      • Brian Nelson on January 18, 2023 at 3:41 pm

        Maureen,
        I was similarly saddened when I got to the end. I loved his final message–it is never too late.
        bsn

        • Maureen Anderson on January 19, 2023 at 8:54 am

          I just told my husband you, too, cried at the end. Then I thought, “No. I’m not quoting Brian accurately.” I checked here and revised my statement to: “He was similarly saddened.”

          Hubby cracked up. I speak guy!

  8. Ward C Degler on January 18, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Steven,

    I always get more than expected from your posts. I look forward to each Wednesday’s missive.
    I was interested this week in checking out your book. I did run into a problem however: If I don’t see a price on the first page of an offer, I look no further.

    Ward Degler

  9. Wanda on January 18, 2023 at 5:44 pm

    Like most things that happen to us in life our stories are both personal and impersonal. Personal because of our own unique journey through it, and impersonal because everyone else has or is going through the same thing; both historically and into the future. Our stories are not unique only our journey through it.

  10. Maureen Anderson on January 18, 2023 at 7:05 pm

    One more quick thing about Steve’s book, at least for now. Did anyone else love the (mostly) short chapters as much as I did? There’s something very satisfying about that format! And it makes any one particular concept “pop.”

    • Joe on January 19, 2023 at 3:39 am

      I do like the format. Bite-sized and digestible.

    • Chuck DeBettignies on January 19, 2023 at 3:41 pm

      Yes, I like that and noticed that too! As you said, there’s something very satisfying about the way he uses that format/technique.

  11. Joe on January 19, 2023 at 3:40 am

    Here’s something worth watching (~13 minutes). A 60 Minutes profile of music producer Rick Rubin. Talk about somebody who’s hearing the Muse:

    https://www.cbsnews.com/video/rick-rubin-60-minutes-video-2023-01-15/

  12. Maureen Anderson on January 19, 2023 at 8:50 am

    When I was nine, my mother gave me a blank journal for Christmas. It was the best gift I’d ever (or would ever) receive. I got in the habit of saving my story. And I’ll always wonder how my life has been different for having approached it AS a story.

    Even as a waitress, I was forever jotting down notes on cocktail napkins and stuffing them in my pocket. Many years later, the detail I can call up! Six tall beers come to mind, crashing down in slow motion as the entire restaurant falls silent and I try to figure out what to say to the woman in a stunning blue evening gown who’s now drenched in Summit Pale Ale.

    Is that why Steve could go into so much detail about different jobs he had? He must have been taking notes as he went along, but was he doing it because he couldn’t NOT do it (which was and is me)? Or was he doing it because (at some level, maybe self-conscious) he knew it would one day be in a book (which became me, eventually)?

    Has anyone who’s listened to Steve’s interviews about the book heard him address this?

  13. Tolis on January 19, 2023 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you so much dear Steve,

    Our own lives are a wilderness story too. We fight, we conquer, we strive to face all obstacles imaginable to what end? Death is at the end of the path of us all. If that isn’t a wilderness tale! To know that you will die, but to fight hard like crazy like a stupid and crazy and risky or prudent soul.

    Its also crazy to let oneself surrender to the shapes of antagonism and fanaticism etc with such an ending.

    Only a few years.

    Only one soul wandering in the universe.

    All is in vain. But the beauty of its light and its warmth is so… beautiful. No?

  14. Chuck DeBettignies on January 19, 2023 at 4:17 pm

    “Every book, every movie, every legend, every myth is a wilderness story. They are all about a character or group of characters who are estranged or cast out from some aspect of their deeper selves.”

    I’ve always found it fascinating how the “Hero’s Journey” framework is played out in so many classic/timeless stories and movies. The hero leaves the regular world, struggles, is transformed and returns.

    But Steve takes this to another level with what he mentions in today’s post. This idea of being “estranged or cast out from some aspect of their deeper selves” is really quite profound! This is no doubt part of why the “Hero’s Journey” framework is so satisfying and universal.

  15. GB on January 22, 2023 at 8:50 am

    tell me of whence you came, and what troubles ye have born

  16. Ed Hinman on January 23, 2023 at 3:14 pm

    So true, Steve! It’s all about battling thru the trees, blazing our own artistic path. Going A to B means trudging thru the wilderness. Thanks for the reminder of this universal journey.

  17. basketbros on January 26, 2023 at 7:39 am

    Yes, you said that correctly, Steve! It’s about cutting our own trail through the forest of convention. The path from point A to point B goes straight through the woods. Much obliged for the timely reminder of our shared path.

    • Albert Costello on February 7, 2023 at 3:37 am

      great post

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