There comes a time, for many when the sufferance of victimhood becomes unbearable. At that time, some will shrink back into their day-to-day never fully realising that they have the power within them to change the way they live. To change, learn, and grow is a big step because it requires that you go beyond the boundaries of your own inner world – or your comfort zone if you prefer.
To go beyond the confines of your psychological, emotional, and intellectual comfort zone/s is to reach out beyond what you think is possible.
For some people, it becomes unbearable to continue to suffer as they have for so long and they begin to feel a “pull” into unfamiliar territory, which can cause more stress.
Many people choose to live with the mounting stress and manage to avoid the change that this “pull” demands for many years – some, even to the grave.
This “pull” is the beginning of what is known as “The Hero’s Journey”. – Sound familiar?
Chances are, you have already gone through a hero’s journey of some description, at least once, if not several times, depending on your age and/or life experience.
The purpose of the hero’s journey is twofold. First, that you, with courage, become the person that you most admire, and respect – for yourself, and secondly, that you stop living according to your yesterdays and/or the expectations of others.
Let’s set out on a brief hero’s journey together.
First, we have The Calling
Sometimes we begin with facing a dilemma, an unfortunate event, or some other type of external pressure. This might be something that catches us off-guard because of the abrupt nature of a certain incident.
The incident might be something like being treated unfairly, losing a job, the death of someone close, a sudden relationship breakup, being the victim of a criminal act, fire, flood or other “act of God” as it were, or even a traffic accident or a sudden illness, or anything that might shock us and might concern only ourselves or someone we know.
On other occasions the calling will be more subtle, feeling like a sense of uneasiness or discontentment. We might know why we feel this way or it might be difficult to “put your finger on it”.
This type of ‘calling’ is more likely to occur for anyone who is aware of their feelings and their inner voice or innate wisdom. It happens as something not feeling quite right or like a longing to pursue something. This yearning feels like it rises from deep within.
Sometimes, the calling is a combination of both something that rises from within and external pressure.
With this type of calling “the pull” can be extremely difficult to ignore. You might know that you have something that you need to do, some sort of change needs to be made and, even if you don’t like it, only you can make that change. You may not know exactly where the change in direction will take you, or how long it will take to complete, but, ultimately, no one else can do it for you – it is your mission to bring to completion.
Resistance, avoidance, or the inner battle, against the call, is the most common reaction. Most often we desperately want to stay in our existing situation – I.E. the comfort zone. In our Hero’s Journey, this is called The Refusal.
Fear of change is the fear of losing our currently comfortable way of life. We are afraid of losing all that we consider to be good about the way we live now. We fear that reaching out beyond the psychological, emotional, and intellectual boundaries that we have set for ourselves will lead to our destruction. And, we doubt whether we are capable of making the changes that are necessary to complete the exploration, mission, or journey.
As I stated above, many people manage to avoid or refuse change for many years – even decades before they stop doubting, resisting, or avoiding the call. All that is required is the commitment to your journey and determination to get through whatever it takes, wherever it may take you.
At the very moment we commit to our hero’s journey, the fear will slip away, being replaced by a sense of relief that we have made a start.
Another thing that happens when we become committed to our journey is that we will find someone who is able to give suitable counsel, (or they will find us). In our hero’s journey, this is where we Meet The Mentor. You may be familiar with the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. It’s sort of like that.
The “teacher” is a seasoned traveller, who is able to provide, guidance, tools and/or training that will help on the journey. The mentor is often able to teach spiritual truths as well as practical suggestions or pointers.
At this point on our hero’s journey, we may start thinking about a “Higher Power” or God, and consider such things as our spirituality, and our place in the universe and such. We might also begin to experience certain insights and realise certain truths that we had never previously considered.
(Note: It is important to keep an open mind. Otherwise, you are very unlikely to make the changes that you want.)
Eventually, as we progress in our hero’s journey, we will be required to leave our familiar, comfortable way of life and Cross The Threshold into unfamiliar territory, where we will discover new rules, laws and limits.
This is not just a psychological and/or emotional step, but may also be a practical step. For example, we might quit or lose a job, we might choose to, (or suddenly find that we have to), care for a family member, we might decide to completely change our career path or break a close relationship – or absolutely anything that might have seemed unlikely only a short time before.
Most often we will not know what might be involved or how we will live, but, ultimately, it will be our own responsibility to close one door behind us as we open the door before us. You might, to begin with, at least, call this “an act of faith”.
Soon enough, on our hero’s journey, our determination and resolve will be tested. This is Temptation. It is the temptation to turn back on our journey. It is here that, in the past, we may have chosen to ignore our quest, and it will be the point at which we will be tempted to ignore it each time, now and in the future. This is the hope that everything can remain as it always has and that “the pull” towards the changes, (or the journey), will just go away and leave us alone.
Here, we are tempted by our comfort zone and our old, familiar manner of living.
Each time we yield to any temptation and turn back and indulge in an old, familiar pleasure, habit, or comfort, we will comprehend a little more just how unsatisfying they have always been – they are not the gifts we thought they were. All along they have merely been illusions of pleasure, comfort and safety.
So, what might these temptations look like?
We might be tempted to return to our former career or think about getting in touch with old friends we’ve lost contact with, or we might be tempted to move back home or to try rekindling a relationship with an ex. The temptation might also include relapsing back into old habits, or addictions.
When we find ourselves being tempted by familiar comforts, we can choose to rely on our inner voice, our innate wisdom, or on God or a Higher Power if you prefer. Whatever you choose to call it, or however you understand it, relying on it and slowing yourself down before making a decision can be enough to defeat the temptation an infinite number of times.
Each time we defeat our temptations we build our faith a little more, which bolsters a feeling that nothing is beyond our capability – nothing is impossible. In these moments we begin to catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be our own hero.
As we move forward on our hero’s journey we will have to confront that which we have avoided facing in the past. We will face our own shadow and our biggest fears head-on. This stage is known as Entering The Belly Of The Whale. It looks and feels like we are being devoured and fully consumed. But, when we encounter our fears and “inner secrets” or shadow-self head-on, whilst relying on our innate wisdom, inner voice, or higher power, we will inevitably come to know our higher-self as we feel it rise within us. This is our power, our confidence and our vision for our personal future.
This is when we realise that everything we have feared has been unfounded and illusory – that our true, unlimited self has been hidden deep within us all along. There has never been any good reason to fear what we have feared.
Then comes The Reward. By facing your shadow-self and your fears, you are gifted with the prizes of self-possession, personal sovereignty, fearlessness, courage, and self-assuredness. Feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and insignificance subside.
We have become someone we can look up to, a person we can now respect. We have become our own hero, transcendent and surpassing all of our previous self-expectations and perceived limitations.
We return to our normal way of life, or settle into our new way of life, shortly after we have gained our reward. The reward isn’t always something tangible, (e.g. a new career), but we have changed, sometimes profoundly. This is known as The Road Back. We have now become a seasoned traveller, and we are now able to offer guidance, tools and/or training to others in order to help them in their own hero’s journey.
Most importantly, we now have a duty to be the brightest guiding light we can be to light the way for others.
The ideas for this post are derived from the hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and is a template, of sorts, for many stories that have been told throughout history. You might say that the symbological nature of the hero’s journey depicts the human struggle with him/herself. And it fittingly describes many of my own experiences.
Some of my own experiences that fit, in some way, with The Hero’s journey might include:
My recovery from alcoholism
My recovery from depression
My decades-long struggle to kick nicotine addiction, (current status over one year nicotine free).
My many experiences of bereavement and grief – not least the loss of my mother and brother on the same day and, more recently, the loss of my wife.
My experience of overcoming issues of self-confidence and self-esteem.
My ongoing struggles with social anxiety – not so much a hero’s journey as an acknowledgement of an issue that might someday have to be addressed
My discarding the need to listen to others’ opinions before I make up my own mind.
My completely dropping my need of the approval of others for any purpose or reason.
If you have been struggling with any of these issues, or any others mentioned on this website, it may be time for you to reach out to someone who can assist you in your hero’s journey.
I am available for resilience coaching. You can contact me via this form.