I love the idea of the Hero’s Journey. The idea essentially that ALL OF US have to be heroes and periodically seek adventure so that we grow and transform.
We live in a world where we are encouraged to think we should be proactive and always achieving our goals. And while we should think like this, we should also acknowledge more readily than we do that there are going to be times when fate intervenes, throwing new, life-changing adventures our way. And often these experiences are going to be difficult and painful and force us to confront who we are, who we thought we were, and what we really want.
What I like about the idea of the Hero’s / Heroine’s Journey as a motif to live by is that it combines the ideas of taking powerful, scary, decisions while still heading in an unknown direction. It also offers the idea that there is a higher purpose to what we are doing than we are aware of.
What Is the Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey?
The idea of a Hero’s Journey came from American writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell. He observed that a common theme underlying all the myths from around the world is the idea that a(n often reluctant) hero is called on to go on an adventure which will confront them with challenges way beyond what they are used to. If they survive the experience, they return wiser for it, often with new skills or powers.
The Hero/Heroine monomyth is saying that we have to periodically seek adventure so that we grow and transform. The word “Adventure” may conjure up ideas of having to throw in your job and live in a jungle in Guatemala. But really the Hero’s Journey is talking about being authentic to yourself. You need to take on new experiences – experiential, psychological and spiritual – which thrust you out of your personal comfort zone and put you on a totally new course. The journey is unique to you.
Our Spiritual growth depends on embarking on adventures
Many people today are interested in finding their potential and becoming all they may be. Thanks to the self help industry, we’re becoming more aware that the road to happiness and wholeness is connected to living a life that feels filled with purpose and meaning. But whether its spiritual growth or psychological growth we’re interested in, an infallible law of the universe is that growth doesn’t just happen on its own. Nor does it happen just from reading books about growth. Real growth is experiential. So: first we have to go through a powerful experience, perhaps overcoming friction and resistance, perhaps opening ourselves up to great joy. And then we have to reflect on the experiences and understand what was it about those experiences that connects us to others.
We can’t always be living a Hero’s journey; we’d burn out. It’s great to rest a while after a major life change and absorb what we have learned. But we shouldn’t sit on our laurels too long; at periodic intervals we need to be searching for our next cycle of growth. And this is true even when there are economic, environmental, political or family crises.
No one likes risk
The truth is few of us really want to go on an adventure that takes us out of our comfortable patterns (even if those patterns make us miserable!). We often reject the call.
The great story tellers of the past knew human nature. And so in all the myths one of the basic milestones in the story is the Hero or Heroine refusing the call.
One of the great modern myths I grew up with was Star Wars. In a crucial scene in the original movie, the young hero Luke Skywalker rejects the call to adventure from the wise old Jedi master Obi-Wan. But fate has other ideas. Shortly after the conversation, Luke’s parents are murdered by the Empire and this is the spark for him to join Obi-Wan on an adventure which sees him truly become Luke Skywalker – a walker among the stars.
The movie Erin Brockovich is a true but also powerfully mythic story about a woman who accepted the call to mount a legal fight against an energy corporation, forcing them to accept culpability for contaminating water in Hinkley in California. The story is so inspiring because Erin Brockovich’s courage and persistence is actually so rare. Few would dare follow the call as she did.
What happens when you resist the call?
If you are lucky, the adventure comes to find you. You can hold fate off for a while but eventually it bursts in. You suddenly lose the job you hate and have to scurry to find a new one. Or the marriage you had grown to detest ends suddenly ends when your partner leaves you. Sometimes the adventure is horrible in the moment, but you definitely grow because of it.
A few years ago I was growing really bored with my job in a company when out of the blue I got made redundant. It was a scary time; there was some emotional turmoil. But I certainly felt more alive! And the change of circumstances eventually led to me finding a new job, finally also starting my own therapy business and then learning hypnotherapy. I doubt any of this would have happened very quickly if I had not been made redundant.
If you are really unlucky, you make yourself impervious and nothing happens. You carry on in the same old rituals, fire-fighting the threats to the status quo and slowly making yourself depressed. In the long term, this outcome is maybe the hardest because it leaves you trapped and utterly unprepared for the vitality and force of the energies in the universe that want to connect with you. You certainly don’t grow.
Don’t hold out too long
In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell notes that the entrances to temples “are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords…..These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silence within.”
These guardians of myth and legend are a reminder that we do better to accept the call of a new adventure rather than fight it. Because if we don’t go, we won’t grow, and we won’t be psychologically or spiritually ready for maybe bigger challenges ahead.
And the more Hero journeys we go on, the more we realise how much more we still need to keep growing before we can cross the next threshold.
Three final questions for you:
What have been your great Hero or Heroine journeys?
When did you really have to find the courage to embrace the call?
Are you currently resisting the call to start a new adventure?
Go well and I wish you success and great learning when you start your next Hero Journey!