The world is undergoing a troubling, yet essential transformation. On the outside, it appears we’re on the brink of collapse: environmental degradation is rampant, war is preached as an inevitable part of life, and COVID-19 makes us wonder if things are changed forever. Yet on the inside, many of us are awakening to the idea of a more meaningful life. Many of us are embarking or thinking about embarking on a personal hero’s journey.
The idea of the hero’s journey comes down to us from comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. You’ve probably seen Joseph Campbell quotes circulating the web. For example, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls,” is very recognizable, especially the “follow your bliss” part.
In many Joseph Campbell books, including The Power of Myth, The Hero’s Journey (an autobiographical work on Campbell by Phil Cousineau), The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and Myths to Live By, he explores what’s referred to as the monomyth. The monomyth cycle includes a hero’s call to adventure and eventual pilgrimage into the unknown where he or she returns with boons to bestow upon humanity.
The world is undergoing numerous problems that are too complicated for any single politician, government, or even group of governments to solve. It’s up to us to transform ourselves and thus rebuild the world from the ground up. Humanity needs us to put Campbell’s monomyth into action in our own lives.
Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as an Initiation
Humanity has lost the art of initiation. Gone are the days of powerful transitions from inability and ignorance to power and knowledge. Wisdom traditions used to guide us through to an intention and purpose higher than ourselves, to more meaningful ways of connecting to the world. Now, all too often, instead of seeking the next boost in character, we seek the newest materialist goods. We seek instant gratification.
But all of that is changing.
The troubling events we see on the news is our call to adventure. The world needs fresh waves of storytellers, healers, and guides to reincarnate important wisdom traditions on a mass level.
But what might our unique hero’s journey look like?
Many of us are living in reaction mode, blind to the signs and omens that appear in our every-day lives. Discovering our unique hero’s journey may just be a matter of nourishing the teacher within through meditation, exercise, nutrition, walking, spending time in nature, and other forms of nourishing self-care. By watering the seeds of insight, we can reconnect to the essence of why we came to the planet at this very special time.
Walking Our Very Own Hero’s Journey
“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”― Joseph Campbell
Following the myth of our lives will require us to consistently adventure outside of our comfort zones. If the life we planned is the comfort of what is known, then the life that is waiting for us includes the growing pains, ups, downs, successes, shortcomings, insights, and confusions that form the complete picture of the hero’s journey.
Now we’ll examine some of the hero myth patterns popularized by Campbell and how they might look manifested in our own lives.
The Call to Adventure
Here, something extraordinary occurs that disrupts the normal, often monotonous life of the hero. This is the call to adventure. The hero, however, often refuses to allow the event to pull him or her into the journey. Thus, the refusal of the call is played out, a common counterpart to the call itself.
Many of us are in jobs or relational circumstances that are diametrically opposed to our innermost yearnings, however conscious or unconscious those may be. Often, an event occurs that allows us to choose a new path. But journeying beyond the confines of the comfortable known is difficult, thus we often dismiss important omens as unmeaningful, or, we hardly notice them at all.
Belly of the Whale
If the hero accepts the call, her or she may experience some spiritual, supernatural aid before crossing into unknown terrain (the crossing of the first threshold). The hero then faces the final separation from their known world: they enter the belly of the whale where they appear to have died. This is a symbolic death, though, a vestibule supporting an important rebirthing process for the hero.
In our own lives, we enter the belly of the whale when we enter scary, yet regenerative spaces that force us to face harmful characteristics we’ve been lugging around for a long time. We began to change. Who we once were begins to die away, making space for who we are to become.
The initiation is by far the longest part of the monomyth cycle. This is where the hero faces a road of trials, meets goddesses, meets temptresses, atones with father wounds, gains knowledge, and eventually attains the ultimate boon or goal of the quest.
Initiation, as mentioned previously, is a component of coming-of-age that seems to be lost in our materialistic culture. Within the context of Campbell’s hero’s journey, our initiation is a painful, yet often blissful journey. It’s where the ups and downs of life happen, where we feel the full range of human emotion: anxiety, joy, despair, depression, and again, bliss.
The return marks the hero’s ability to bestow his or her boons on their community or all of humanity. Having a newfound love of the growth found in their new world, sometimes the hero refuses the call to return just as they refused the call to adventure. Once accepting the inevitable need to return, there are still challenges ahead: guarding the boon on the journey home, crossing the return threshold, as well as mastering a balance between material and spiritual.
Our very own return might look like reintegrating our renewed beings into the lives of friends and family. There, we inspire them to embark on their own hero’s journey.
A hero’s journey comes in an infinite number of forms. The journey is different for everyone and is by no means linear.
Often, the best way to start a journey is by, well, going on an actual journey!
We’re teaming up to launch journeys with storyteller, mythologist, author, and disciple of Joseph Campbell, Phil Cousineau. From writing retreats and mythic journeys through Italy to sacred journeys in the footsteps of the hero’s of Homer’s Odyssey—we host adventures that mirror the hero’s journey.
Our journeys inspire each of our pilgrims to bring home something special, often in the form of insight, epiphany, and a radical uplifting of character.
~Jacob Lopez, staff writer