The Hero’s Journey
Joseph Campbell, mythology expert and philosopher, studied all the great myths of the world and found that there was really only one story, the Hero’s Journey.
In this story, the hero is separated from his or her tribe, goes through a period of initiation and finally returns to his or her community to tell the story and share their hard earned wisdom. You can see this Hero’s Journey in many contemporary movies like the Wizard of Oz, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars and more.
The myth of the Hero’s Journey is so potent and engaging as it’s part of our own lives too. When we watch the characters on screen or read about them in a book, we realise that the seed of the hero’s potential is within us all, and is just waiting to be actualised.
We go on many Hero’s Journey’s in our lives. Sometimes willingly. Sometimes (more often than not) we’re dragged kicking and screaming. If we understand our own Hero’s Journey, we can step bravely into the unknown and trust that the trials and tribulations are in service of a higher good.
Let me walk you through the Hero’s Journey:
The Known/Ordinary World
This is the world that our hero lives in. Life is usually pretty ok and the hero is pretty comfortable with the way life is. The hero knows how to ‘do life.’
The Call to Adventure
This is where the adventure really begins. The call may come as an internal yearning for change or growth, or we might be dragged into it unwillingly, like in the case of illness, relationship breakup or financial crisis. Whatever the case, the call comes with the opportunity to step out of the known and into the unknown, and in doing so gain something of value.
Refusal of the Call
Leaving behind the comfort of the known and stepping into the unknown is often anxiety provoking, and it’s not unusual for the hero to ignore or refuse the call for some time. Eventually the hero feels they have no choice but to listen to and act upon the call to adventure.
Once the call has been accepted, whether consciously or unconsciously, help often appears to aid the hero on their journey. In mythology and movies this often takes the form of an older mentor who presents the hero with a talisman that will aid her later in her quest.
As the hero approaches the threshold, people, circumstance or even the hero’s own fears and doubts block the hero’s path. They may be testing the hero’s readiness to cross the threshold, protecting her from taking the journey before she is ready.
Crossing the First Threshold
It is at this point where the hero journeys from the known into the unknown. When the hero crosses this threshold, she does not know what will happen next, and there is no going back.
Road of Trials
After crossing the threshold, the hero must survive a succession of trials. While they are difficult, she grows in confidence, maturity and capability as a result of each of these trials.
Helpers and Mentors
During the road of trials, the hero is aided by the advice and amulets of the supernatural helper she met before crossing the threshold, and by helpers and mentors who show up just at the right time to support her on her journey. These may be actual people or they might be the right words at the right time, read in a book or heard in a podcast, that aid and support her.
This is often the most challenging part of the journey, where the hero must face her greatest fears and perhaps even death (actual or more likely metaphorical). The hero enters the Dark Night of the Soul and risks loosing it all.
As the hero conquers the abyss and overcomes her fears, she undergoes a transformation. As old ways of being die during the Abyss, new ways of being in the world are born. The hero is rewarded with the holy grail and hard earned insight and wisdom. Her quest has been accomplished, but her journey is not over yet.
Refusal of the Return
It’s the hero’s duty to return to her tribe to share the rewards of quest but, it can be tempting to refuse the call to return. Even Buddha, after reaching enlightenment, doubted whether his message of realisation could be communicated and received.
Crossing of the Return Threshold
Eventually the hero crosses the threshold from the unknown back to the known (ordinary life). The hero might do this willingly, or she might be ‘rescued’ or brought back across the threshold by her tribe.
Having returned, the hero’s challenging task now is to re-integrate into every day life and to communicate her experiences and wisdom with her tribe. In this way, her quest has not just been for her own personal gain, but for her community as a whole.
Can you relate to this Hero’s Journey? Where are you now on the journey?
Many people who come to me for counselling or coaching, or take Living Your Heartfelt Desires eCourse are hearing the Call to Adventure or are somewhere on the Road of Trials or perhaps even in the Abyss. It’s an honour to be a helper or mentor on this journey. And because I’m on my own Hero’s Journey, we’re actually journeying together for a time.
I’d love to hear in the comments below about where you are on the Hero’s Journey right now.
With love and gratitude,
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