Is it just me or has the whole world been called to pass the threshold right now?
Joseph Campbell’s universal depiction of the hero and his or her calling toward a lively adventure is perhaps the most widely recognised archetypal story of our day. It is considered that the hero archetype lies in the psyche of every human being that has and will ever walk this earth, which creates a natural magnetism towards story. From Hollywood movies to gossip within communities and workplaces. Wherever we gather and engage, we understand the world through story. There is none more relatable than the Hero’s Journey.
Absorbed in the ebb and flow of our daily subsistence, sometimes we forget that our own lives represent story. By taking some time to zoom out and give deliberate context to the events of our own lives, we can empower ourselves with a one of the sharpest personal resilience tools that ever did exist: perspective.
A journey of transformation
The Hero’s Journey is about transformation. It represents our departure from the known and familiar toward somewhere new and uncertain. Through the trials of the journey, the hero reaches a new level of understanding of him or herself as well as the environment to which they relate.
For those new to the concept and for a fresh recap – let’s look at the main features of the Hero’s Journey before we consider how we can (re)create our own narrative.
Stage 1: Call to adventure
The familiar world is left behind as the hero crosses the threshold into adventure. Perhaps driven by the unbearable current circumstances of life, or inspired by the pursuit of something greater. Whatever the reason, there is a distinct departure from the safety of the comfort zone.
Abraham Maslow, famous for the development of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, wrote in his book Toward a Psychology of Being:
“We grow forward when the delights of growth and anxieties of safety are greater than the anxieties of growth and the delights of safety.”
Read it twice. And again, if you need to. This succinct statement so aptly explains the call to adventure and the tipping point at which we are required to take action.
Stage 2: The initiation
As the hero embarks on an expedition through adventure, he or she not only confronts challenges resulting in triumphs and achievements but also failures and loss. The hero will meet many opponents. Likewise, many allies, mentors and helpers will line the path. As they say, we can go far alone, but further together.
Part of the journey may be in determining which category to place each character. Think about your own journey – those friends and family who cast doubt on your dreams – where do they fit? In any case, the hero must identify and overcome the obstructions in order to realise a successful mission.
Many heroic stories include wise elder or supernatural mentor who propels the hero’s success throughout the mission. Think Gandalf to Frodo, Yoda to Luke. Understanding that these stories are but metaphor, we may also like to think of our personal guidance system, our intuition or gut instincts as our “inner sage” in our personal stories.
During initiation, the hero will ultimately encounter a single most important challenge. The ‘belly of the whale,’ ‘the dragon’s lair,’ the significant challenge which puts the hero’s safety ay great risk. This great challenge may lead the hero to believe they will fail, that this is the end. The hero awash with despair. The future bleak. But never fear, this is the great challenge the hero needs to dig into the depths of his or her soul, to take hold of those inner resources and harness them powerfully to overcome the presenting challenge.
Overcoming the great challenge is the peak of the hero’s story. The objective is achieved. The hero has accessed a new part of his or herself that has now been brought into realm of the known. Any attached prize or reward becomes secondary because it is the transformation that is the real gift.
Quoting from one of my favourite current day transformative guides, Peter Crone:
“Life will continue to present us with people and circumstances to reveal where we are not free.”
If we don’t overcome our challenge and learn what needs to be learned, the same challenge will continue to block our path until such time as we muster the inner resources that we need to deal with it. Some people will spend their whole lives living out the same patterns as they could not find a way through. This is where introspection is perhaps most powerful. What are your patterns?
Stage 3: Homeward bound
After an adventure beyond the known realm, entering into the abyss and coming out the other side, one cannot be the same person who embarked on the journey.
The homeward journey is not without challenge and in order to bring home the gift and re-integrate, one must continue with introspection and understanding, seeking to resolve old challenges that were left behind upon the call to adventure. New learnings must be integrated. There may also be atonement required – forgiveness or redemption of some form. This is the final threshold and one which solidifies the transformation within the individual.
During this final trial the hero becomes the master of the known as well as the unknown. He or she gains comfort both in him/herself and his/her own skin, as well as in the pursuit of his or her own development.
The hero has evolved.
Evolution is not static. It is a continuous process of growth, transmutation and adaptation. Though we see the Hero’s Journey depicted as a single circle and a complete process, a more accurate representation would be an upward spiral, where each circuit represents a new plane and even greater level of growth and personal development. Of true transformation. There is no “ultimate” transformation. When we stop transforming, we are no longer living.
The Hero’s Journey can be a useful tool to bring the experiences of our own life into context. To give a place to our challenges. To characterise our experiences with difficult people as well as those with people who inspire us, lift us up and motivate us to do better. To bring us some peace in how we relate with the cycles of life. Some of which see us triumph. Some of which see us struggle. But all of which make us grow and expand the world as it is known to us.
Write your story
It seems a common human trait to write oneself into the story of our life as the victim, rather than the hero. To perceive something as happening “to us” and not “for us.” Perhaps at the subconscious level we feel we are not good enough for the title of the hero. Perhaps it feels too grand. Too entitled. But really, it’s not.
This is not to dismiss the experience of anyone who has gone through trauma at the hands of another or gone through events which seems unjust. This is to empower oneself with perspective, that ever-powerful tool, and get back in touch with our own resilience and perseverance. What if you could challenge the notion you have of yourself?
Don’t let reading this post go to waste – practice re-writing your narrative and sharpen your most powerful tool. Here’s how:
Draw a large circle on a blank piece of paper
Draw a fun stick figure of yourself at the top of the circle as if you are about to embark on your mission!
Draw a line from left to right across the top third of the circle. Above the line write ‘known,’ below the line write ‘unknown’