In my article on Grit, I described my personal failing when I discovered that I really didn't have it in me. This was pretty difficult, but in retrospect I can see I needed to take a journey down the road of ashes. What is the road of ashes? It is the intense crisis or test that burns away everything we once thought good. Robert Bly's Iron John uses the crisis of ashes as a metaphor for initiation into manhood, that which literally separates the men from the boys.
In King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Gilette and Moore speak of the need to transcend the immature archetypes of boyhood in order to become a man. The crisis of ashes is a critical event that enables this transformation, because we need to learn to stop relying on things that are good, yet are not good enough any longer.
The "death" of the Hero is the "death" of boyhood, of Boy psychology. And it is the birth of manhood and Man psychology. The "death" of the Hero in the life of a boy (or a man) really means that he has finally encountered his limitations. He has met the enemy, and the enemy is himself. He has met his own dark side, his very unheroic side. He has fought the dragon and been burned by it; he has fought the revolution and drunk the bitter dregs of his own inhumanity....The "death" of the Hero signals a boy's or man's encounter with true humility. It is the end of his heroic consciousness.
As I mentioned before, I am not proud of my behavior during my crisis of ashes. Yet for all of its unpleasantness, it is perhaps one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I am different now. This is one of the reasons King, Warrior, Magician, Lover resonated with me. I had fallen by happenstance into a pattern the book describes.
There is a sense in which we have to die to ourselves in order to be men. Baptism, one of the Christian rites of initiation, is frankly described as a kind of death. This same intuition is widely shared across human cultures. You need to learn how to rely on providence, and the usual way for this to happen is through suffering. Having suffered, I see the sufferings and failures of others in a different light. In a very real sense, I can get inside what they feel.
I wouldn't wish my experience on anyone, yet at the same time, we all seem to need it.