Average Joes and Volcanoes

Leap of Faith — Leaping into the unknown is the only way to find yourself, and to find your path of purpose.

joe volcano

A client was here last weekend, doing one our Weekend Residentials. I was thinking about what to do on the Saturday evening, and I flashed on ““Joe Versus the Volcano,” a 1990 comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Now, I saw the movie back in the early 90s, but it wasn’t until I was out at The Haven for a couple of courses that I “got” the movie. Bill O’Hanlon was teaching, and I was attending. He showed excerpts of the movie, and commented relentlessly. He pointed out tons of themes running through the movie (the factory where Joe works has a similar look to the volcano, the lighting indicates the person’s mood, it’s a movie about “soul / sole,” and there’s a real issue with “Brain Clouds.”)

I greatly enjoyed watching it again a week ago But the highlight was when we hit “the Quote,” and I remembered how great the dialogue is:

Patricia: “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

Or, from a Buddhist perspective:

One of his students asked Buddha,
“Are you the messiah?”
“No”, answered Buddha.
“Then are you a healer?”
“No”, Buddha replied.
“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.
“No, I am not a teacher.”
“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.
“I am awake,” Buddha replied.

Interesting. Of all the claims the Buddha could have made, he makes only one.

To be awake. But awake-ness of a peculiar kind. It is a state of awareness free from judgement, labelling, distraction, or “politics.” (Winning, losing, power, force.) Awake, with no other motivation than to experience life fully and deeply, while never, never clinging.

All about Leaps

The move fits with our sub-theme of late — making the “leap of faith.” You could say that this is the key theme of the movie — how one overcomes “fear” through leaping.

What is it about leaps that turn most folks into tubs of jello? Why is security prized so highly, when most rebel (quietly, usually) at what they have to do for that security? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known over the years who have settled for loveless relationships, boring jobs, blocked chances, all to be able to say, “Well, at least I have… something!” It seems to take an illness or a career collapse — something dramatic — to really shift the ground. Then, it’s leap or “drown,” leap or fall.


This first stage of the movie is all about fear, “the rut,” being mundane, being “stuck.”

This is captured in the slogging, slowly moving conga line of factory workers, trudging into a company that makes medical implements (“Home of the Rectal Probe!” — a requirement for moving past Freud’s anal stage, but I digress…) and 40 gallon drums of petroleum jelly. Nice to see they have their bases covered.

Once Joe is diagnosed with a Brain Cloud, (described in the movie as a rare, fatal disease, with no symptoms: “A condition when one’s mind is elsewhere and something is forgotten or done incorrectly because of it.”)

This condition describes the way most people live life.

Joe gets (and “gets”) the diagnosis, and with 6 months to live, decides to shift things around.

First off, he quits his dead-end job, and says the following to his boss:

And why, I ask myself, why have I put up with you? I can’t imagine, but now I know. Fear. Yellow freakin’ fear. I’ve been too chicken shit afraid to live my life so I sold it to you for three hundred freakin’ dollars a week!”
(1990, remember 😉 )

The Brain Cloud diagnosis is sort of what is offered to us at each “jumping-off point.” We can do more of the same and stay where we are, or we can “leap into the volcano” and confront our fear, our desire to be safe, our all-too-human tendency to hunker down in the familiar, no matter how dreary.

Life, aka. a Brain Cloud, is always fatal. Life, as they say, is a fatal disease.


Closed off, clenched fist

Meg Ryan plays 3 women in the movie, each perfectly fitted for the “level of understanding” Joe is at. Joe immediately asks the receptionist (DeDe) out an a date — but with DeDe, all Joe has is his diagnosis and a desire to do things differently. He doesn’t know how, he just knows he’s “dying.”

For example, DeDe sees Joe looking at his shoe and asks him what’s wrong. He says “I’m losing my sole.” Get it?

Joe has decided to shift gears, but doesn’t know how.

His date with DeDe goes nowhere — he reaches out to hold her hand and she gives him her closed fist. She simply can’t get past Joe’s “diagnosis.” Joe, however, is undeterred. He says, [to DeDe]

I mean, who am I? That’s the real question, isn’t it? Who am I? Who are you? What other questions are there? What other questions are there, really? If you want to understand the universe, embrace the universe. The door to the universe is you!”

The way in is the way out

This is the perspective we “sell,” week after week. Not only is the door to the universe you, it’s only you. For you, of course. So much for waiting around for rescue, for “the right time,” for the correct path.

Joe’s journey actually begins when a mysterious man, Mr. Graynamore (obvious, eh?) offers Joe a deal he can’t refuse. In return for a stack of unlimited credit cards, Joe will journey to a Pacific Island and throw himself into a volcano, thereby saving both the island and a mineral on the island Mr. Graynamore wants.

This trip comprises most of the movie — Joe journeys a “crooked road,” as do we all, to get to the “leap.”


I really need to get over myself!

The other two roles played by Meg Ryan are the daughters of Graynamore, Angelica and Patricia. Angelica is the wastrel. She has money, yet wastes her days in empty pursuit of nothing.

She says, “I am completely untrustworthy … I’m a flibbertigibbet.”

She cannot seem to set herself in motion. She claims to be a painter and poet. Her only painting hangs in a restaurant owned by her father. As for her poetry:

Angelica: Would you like to hear one of my poems?
Joe: Sure.
Angelica: “Long ago, the delicate tangles of his hair covered the emptiness of my hands.” Would you like to hear it again?

Joe is “all compassion”- he sees Angelica’s pain and loneliness, and treats her with great dignity. However, he is clear about his own path, and says, [to Angelica]

If you have a choice between killing yourself and doing something you’re scared of doing, why not take the leap and do the thing you’re scared of doing?”

Angelica cannot see past her stories, and her games, and has nothing more to offer.

Do it alone, in groups


Soul sick, and therefore, ready to leap…

At every stage, there is someone “right there” who mirrored Joe’s state of mind. In each case, Joe had to learn what he could, and move on, leaving DeDe, leaving Angelica, behind.

Joe meets Patricia aboard the ship that is supposed to take him to the Pacific Island. They get off to a rocky start, but later realize a deep attraction. They are on the adventure together, although they also seem to “get” that they are independent of each other.

Tossed into the sea of change, the sea of turmoil, each helps the other to make it to shore. Only the shore they make it to is the one they sought, and there’s a deadly volcano ahead.

They discover that there is more to volcano jumping than simply showing up.

The path is pretty much one person wide. This is clear in the assent up the volcano — but here’s the point. Others are walking the same path. You just have to go and find them — metaphorically cross an ocean to find them. There will be, as in the movie, shipwrecks, and your baggage always come with you (It’s his luggage that saves Joe twice.) That being said,

Joe: “But there are certain times in your life when I guess you’re not supposed to have anybody, you know? There are certain doors you have to go through alone.”

We encourage an active hunt for people who are walking on the path with you.

There are opportunities to stop and talk, reflect, interact “get married,” etc. But again, the walk to the lip of the volcano is a solo trip that most people resist.

Why? because the normal, mundane, day-to-day slog is so much fun? Because putting work (even fun work) ahead of “leap — work” is “what’s expected?” I offer “leaping” to many of my clients, and often that’s when “out come the excuses.” Maybe it would be best to re-evaluate.

Or, as Joe said to Patricia, his soul and sole mate, after all was said and done:

I saw the moon when we were out there on the ocean, shining down on everything. I’d been miserable so long. Years of my life wasted. Been a long time coming here to meet you. A long time, on a crooked road. Did I ever tell you the first time I saw you, I felt like I’d seen you before?”

He had.


It’s almost a requirement, this leap, if you don’t want to just lie there and take it. Dropping the excuses and walking to edge requires great courage, and leaping — well, let’s just say you can’t bet on there being a net. There may just be, however, an outcome you’d never have experienced, pre-leap.

Still, the reluctance runs deep. Few make the leap, and some drown in the process.

At the movie’s climax, Patricia joins Joe at the edge of the precipice, and they gaze into the flames.

Joe: Don’t do it [leap] for me.”

Patricia: “I’m not doing it for you! Joe, nobody knows anything. We’ll take this leap and we’ll see, we’ll jump, and we’ll see. That’s life.”

What, oh what, is so precious about putting in time until you die?

Go, watch “Joe Versus the Volcano,”. Then find your “volcano,” and leap!

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Go to the top of this article, click on the title, and leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.