“Where you spend your attention is where you spend your life.”James Clear
The Hero of Heroes
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been obsessed with discovering what makes people win. I used to think what made someone good at one thing was different than what made them good at another, and while there is some truth to that, I’ve noticed that there are a few things that make people good at everything. It’s almost like a Pareto distribution of skills necessary for winning. There are a handful of skills and traits that we can learn which can help us get to the top of all the pyramids, so to speak.
While analyzing the “winners” of our society, I’ve noticed that they all possess certain trains to get to the top of their fields. What makes a successful professor is different from what makes a successful athlete is different from what makes a successful musician, or businessman, or mother, or soldier, or fashion designer…you get the idea. Each one of these people has developed themselves in the areas they need to in order to reach the top of their game.
Well, life is more than just one game, it’s a series of games.
So that poses the question, what are the traits and skills we need to develop to win the series of games?
In some ways, that’s different from what it takes to win one particular game, but in other ways, it’s also the same. That led to me looking for patterns, not only in successful people of my time but in the heroes of the myths of all cultures.
For generations, even predating written history, people have been trying to figure out this question and share their findings with the ones who inherit their world. They shared these ideas through stories of heroes that would display the traits and ways of being necessary for “winning.”
Let me give an example, Hercules is a kind, strong, brave, and persistent young man and because of that, the story ends well for him. When little boys are told the story of Hercules, they want to emulate his heroic qualities and be one themselves. Adults are happy to tell them this story because they know (on a subconscious level) that these lessons will help the children in winning the game of games, life. The same can be found in religious stories, ancient myths, and popular culture. The Avengers is a perfect example of this. Spider-man is my personal favorite.
So I started thinking, what if I analyzed what was common among all of these hero myths?
Will I find the skills needed for success everywhere?
I don’t think I know exactly what will make someone successful everywhere, but I have compiled some commonalities between the heroes in every story I’ve come across. This is a pretty big idea so I’m going to be going over each of them with their own blog post.
These series of posts will not be an exhaustive list of these traits and skills, but they are the ones that I’ve found to be most important. This post is going to focus on the power of attention.
This story has a similar arc to Disney’s famous The Lion King, one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ll be making various connections to The Lion King and it’s relevance to the modern world throughout the story.
This story is one of the oldest, but most elaborate and influential, myths of the Egyptian Gods. This is the Osiris Myth.
It begins with the god Osiris, the King of Egypt, ruling a fair and prosperous kingdom. Osiris is extremely wise and well-liked by his subjects. He’s harsh with his judgments but fair with his punishments.
Osiris is analogous to Mufasa in The Lion King. They are both a representation of The Wise King archetype.
Osiris was married to Isis, the Goddess of health, marriage, and fertility. They had a good marriage and Isis was lovingly devoted to Osiris. Osiris also had a brother named Set, the God of deserts, disorder, and violence.
Isis seems to be the ancient Egyptian representation of the anima. Set is analogous to Scar from The Lion King. Like Scar and Mufasa, Set’s relationship to Osiris represents “the hostile brothers” archetype.
Set was jealous of Osiris and his power. He wanted to be the King of Egypt. Osiris knew his bother had these feelings but chose not to acknowledge them. Instead, he was willfully blind to his brother’s hostility. Set used his brother’s voluntary ignorance against him and killed Osiris. Set chopped Osiris up into little pieces and spread his body parts across Egypt.
These different pieces ended up representing the different districts in ancient Egypt and were thought to be the origins of their old borders.
Mufasa was killed by Scar because Mufasa did not want to see the evil in his brother. He chose to be willfully ignorant. Just like in The Lion King, Set was able to kill Osirus because Osirus didn’t want to see the evil in Set. This is one of the biggest lessons I took from this story: Willful ignorance is strong enough to take down a good, powerful, and wise leader. Or maybe the ancient Egyptians were trying to say that only willful ignorance is strong enough to take down a wise, powerful, and good leader. Either way, willful ignorance is destructive and the forces working against us will use our ignorance to catch us off guard. Choosing to not see the evil will kill us, maybe when others may need us the most.
Of course, when a king dies it’s big news and it’s not long until Isis finds out. She’s furious and goes around to each district gathering Osiris’s parts. Eventually, she finds his phallus and impregnates herself. Once she’s pregnant, she leaves for the underworld where she can raise her baby, the hero, Horus the Younger, away from the disorder and violence of Set’s reign.
Horus the Younger is commonly depicted as a falcon-headed man because he represents attention. The agent of attention is born from the wise king and the anima. I think it’s also worth mentioning that Horus is raised in the underworld. To the modern person, the underworld has connotations of Hell or other terrible places but in ancient Egyptian mythology, the underworld was another dimension where the gods could watch the humans from afar. Horus, the agent of attention, is raised in a world separate from the one he will inherit. Similar to how children are raised in environments separate from “the real world.”
This is where the Osiris myth diverges from The Lion King a bit. In The Lion King, Simba (Horus analogous) “grows up” with Timon and Pumba singing Hakuna Matata, whereas Horus was raised in the underworld by Isis. Those are obviously different, but in some ways they are similar. Both of our heroes are learning the ways of the world in a safe haven away from the real burden of responsibility.
As Horus gets older, he learns the truth about his father. That Set usurped him and is running Egypt into the ground. Horus decides to return to Egypt, confront Set, and avenge his father.
This is like when Simba decides to leave Timone and Pumba to go take his rightful place as king. This is the quintessential coming of age story (at least for boys), a boy leaves his friends so he can go an answer the calling to be greater. Usually catalyzed by a woman, in Simba’s case, it’s Nala.
When Horus returns, Set tries to win Horus over the same way he did with Osiris. But Horus has something is father didn’t, the gift of true attention. With his attention, Horus could see Set for what he was, an agent of betrayal and malevolence. When Horus confronts Set, they have a great battle. Set tears out one of Horus’s eyes, but Horus ultimately defeats him in the end. Since gods cannot truly be killed, Horus banishes Set from the Kingdom.
This is one of my favorite parts of the story because it has so many of the lessons that make this story worthwhile. 1) Attention is the one thing that will give us a fighting chance against the forces of malevolence. 2) When we are confronting the forces of malevolence and disorder, we will get hurt in a serious way. 3) We’ll never truly destroy the forces that are working against us, we can only fight them off and make them leave temporarily.
Horus picks up his eye and returns to the underworld, where Isis had kept all the pieces of Osiris. Horus gives Osiris his eye, restores attention to the old corpus of wisdom, and together they both rule Egpyt into prosperity and peace.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the pharaoh represented the union between Osiris and Horus. A good ruler needs to have the wisdom of the past as well as attention to the present in order to lead the people into a prosperous future. I think it’s great that Horus knew that to do what’s best for Egypt, he needed to give attention to the wisdom of his dead father. There is powerful meaning to be found in the journey of giving the attention of the youth to the wisdom of the old that runs deep within the soul of every human being. There are so many myths that depict that exact journey. It is not solely attention nor wisdom that will lead us to freedom and prosperity, but the union of both in a way that allows us to recognize and overcome the forces working against us.
Attention is what’s needed to brings us to the top of every hierarchy and overcome the forces of evil, so to speak. This idea has been expressed through archetypal images and myths throughout history and cross-culturally.
I think the image on the back of the American dollar bill depicts this perfectly. Attention is the thing that is at the top of the pyramid, but it’s also more than that too. Attention transcends the rest of the pyramid, it’s almost as if the ones who are paying attention are no longer part of the rest of the pyramid. (I’ve noticed this to be true in my experiences as well.)
Attention is the thing that will take us to the top of every hierarchy and overcome the forces of evil, so to speak.
But why? Why does attention sit on top of the hierarchy?
I’m not sure if I’ve come up with the answer to this question, but one of the answers I’ve come up with is that with the power of attention we can plan for the unknown, create the future, avoid danger, and predict the future.
I believe this is a huge part of the reason why so many internet influencers (and the Kardashians) make so much money. When you harness people’s attention, you have the ultimate power. Our attention is the most powerful thing any of us has to offer. That’s why companies are willing to pay millions of dollars for advertisements and people will dedicate their lives to being famous. Attention is the real currency, everything else is illusory.
Paying attention to where we pay attention is critical for living a powerful and fulfilled life. When we pay attention to our minds, we can improve our mental health. When we pay attention to ur bodies, we can improve our physical health. When we pay attention to anything, we can improve it. What gets measured gets managed, and what gets managed gets improved. Attention is the first step to all of that.
I recommend looking into mindfulness exercises and practices. Meditation is a fantastic way I try to train myself in paying attention to my mind and myself. There’s so much research today that grounds the value of paying attention to ourselves in hard science.
Pay attention to where you pay attention. It’s the most valuable thing we have to offer.