A client recently asked me where to begin the process of change. I replied that she first has to know where she was.
She didn’t understand. So, I explain to her about the hero’s journey. This is an archetypal path that we all go through many times in our lifetimes, that was outlined by Joseph Campbell. It’s a useful tool for moving through life’s challenges that parallels the sacred wheel in many ways.
In this article, I will show you how they complement each other.
The Hero’s Journey
We all start out in the ordinary world. Everything is normal, routine, and usually comfortable. There usually isn’t anything to complain about, but there may be a feeling that something is missing.
We’re living in an “ignorance is bliss” state, or an unawakened state. Things are as they are “supposed to be,” which generally means that we’re living up to someone else’s vision. It could also mean that we don’t know what we don’t know, so we aren’t asking enough of life or ourselves.
Now something happens that rocks our world. Perhaps it’s a death, a bequest, a great job offer, a betrayal, an accident, or a spiritual event. Whatever it is, it stirs something inside us that yearns to be explored.
REFUSAL OF THE CALL
Doubt sets in. We question our loyalties, our bravery, our sanity. Do we do this thing? Are we up to it? Do we stay in ignorance or do we risk uncertainty?
In the modern world, many adolescents refuse the call. Their parents have made it too easy for them to remain dependent. And even if they live independently, they haven’t had the hardships or discipline required to have healthy habits, boundaries, or learn emotional regulation.
Or maybe their parents don’t have those skills either, and they don’t know that emotional breakdowns, name calling, and staying in bed all day is not healthy. So, they remain adult-children.
It’s necessary to break out, do something hard, something that may even kill you, to prove to yourself who you are to reach adulthood. When life is too soft, many of us never do this because we don’t have to.
MEETING WITH THE MENTOR
They say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This is that moment. This is a parent, friend, someone who has done this thing and succeeded, someone who has attempted and failed, a professional, or it could be a supernatural being or vision. This person gives the hero the understanding of the importance of the quest and the courage to go on. S/he may also provide equipment, knowledge, and support.
Some movie examples of mentors are Yoda (Star Wars), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), the Good Witch of the East (The Wizard of Oz), and the Morpheus (The Matrix).
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
This is the “no going back” moment. Once we cross the threshold, we leave the known world and begin traveling in the unknown world. Typically, at this point, the hero has accepted that the mission is greater than the desire for comfort and has committed to it. S/he may also have an understanding that it’s something that has to be done in order for him/her to become all s/he’s meant to be.
Lots of people never cross the threshold. They stay their mama’s baby and never leave their comfort zone. If you are holding fast to your beliefs, live in a homogeneous bubble, and living from a space of habit (or white knuckling your way through life), you’re not crossing the threshold. Even if you have left home, have traveled, and done some exotic things. You may still be in the “known” land, avoiding the call.
TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES
We typically start our journey with enthusiasm, and then reality sets in. We’re in a strange world with unknown customs. We may join forces with allies. We will face enemies. This process teaches us many skills we will need to go beyond surviving to thriving. The experience shows us who we are.
As we get closer to reaching our goal, our resolve is tested again. Do we have what it takes to finish this journey? Life has ups and downs. We’re tired. We’re not there yet. Can we endure?
Now is the time to make the final preparations before taking on the big boss.
At this stage, we take on the big boss and vanquish the beast. This is our rite of passage. We’ve proven that we are not who we were. Our child self (or previous self) can die so that our new, adult self can be born. Without death, transformation doesn’t happen.
In A Monster Calls, this was the moment that the little boy spoke the truth that he didn’t want to admit. So, this doesn’t have to be slaying a dragon. Sometimes the enemy is an aspect of ourselves.
With all obstacles out of the way, we can now seize the treasure. This can be the princess, secret knowledge, gold, or some token that symbolizes the completion of the hardest part of the quest. But all is not over, we still have to get back home!
THE ROAD BACK
The road back is fraught with trials too, but now that we have done it once, it’s a lot easier this time. We have more knowledge and courage. It’s not the ordeal that getting here was. We’re moving away from what’s unfamiliar and back to what we knew.
The final hurdle is to confront oneself. If this happens, the hero accepts his new identity, responsibilities, and the joy and status that comes with it. This purification “seals” the initiation and the transformation that began with the ordeal is complete for the hero.
RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR
“Returning with the elixir” is about incorporating the changes we made during the journey into our every day lives. In my opinion, this is the hardest part because the people we left behind didn’t go on that journey with us. They may not see us as the new people that we feel inside. They may not understand the new knowledge that we possess.
When we live in a culture without rites of passage or initiations, our heroes can feel adrift when returning with the elixir because we need a society that celebrates our struggle and triumph. We need for our struggle to be celebrated. Returning with the elixir isn’t something that we do solely for us. It’s for the benefit of the community, and when we live in a community that doesn’t want what we have to offer, it can feel like rejection.
Although we must all do this journey alone, we’re always a part of the community we left behind. There is an unspoken contract that, if we return home. We can’t succeed if we don’t belong.
So, on that note, it’s important to know that not every hero’s journey will follow all of these steps. Yours may not have a mentor, allies, or return home, for example. The framework still holds true in a general way, however.
EXAMPLES OF REAL LIFE CALLS TO ADVENTURE
- transitioning into adulthood
- leaving an abusive relationship
- death of a loved one
- leaving a job you hate to pursue your dream
- being fired
- surviving an accident or illness that robs you of your health or mobility
- going on a spiritual adventure that changes your life
- leaving your religion
If you are called to do something life changing, take it. It will grow you. Too many people die without having ever lived. If you don’t want that to be you, heed the call.
The Sacred Wheel
The sacred wheel is nature’s path through life. All life forms follow it.
Surviving is a time after death that includes resting and conception that ends just before birth. It’s the rough spaces in life where we aren’t really living yet. We’re gestating or getting ready to live.
If you look at many creatures, more offspring are born than actually survive. Only 10,000 acorns in 1 become trees. The best guess is that of the 2,141 eggs that a female leatherback turtle lays in her lifetime, only two will survive to adulthood.
Winter is rough. It’s designed to test us. If we don’t break and aren’t eaten by something else, we move to the next trial.
The lessons here for humans revolve around being embodied. It’s the Earth energy. Earth is the energy of what’s physical, like taking care of our bodies and homes, becoming self-supporting, appreciating beauty, and being down to earth and grounded.
The corresponding space for the Hero’s Journey is the mundane world. The hero hasn’t moved anywhere yet. Being in survival mode may be a catalyst for moving forward. We may hear the call to adventure and refuse it, but we’re typically not moving anywhere. We’re don’t have the energy, the conditions are too inhospitable and unstable, and we’re we’re just trying to survive.
Coping is a time of birth. It’s spring. We’re coming out of survival mode, but that’s just the start of the journey. In the human life cycle, it’s the time between birth and adolescence.
In the beginning, we can’t walk, talk, or feed ourselves. There is a lot to learn and lot of development that has to happen before we can take control of our lives.
This is a hopeful time, but there are many setbacks.
Spring is the season of Air. Air is mental, cerebral, and communicative. The focus is on sharing ideas and engaging your imagination. It’s about possibilities.
Think of the toddler who is always asking, “Why?” If the toddler’s curiosity is rewarded and encouraged, the Air energy may flourish and s/he learns how to create and figure things out on his/her own. If not, s/he may learn to outsource wisdom to someone else.
When the latter happens, coping becomes a way of life and the person never goes beyond this stage. Vibing, Tribing, and Thriving are unattainable.
The corresponding space for the Hero’s Journey hovers somewhere between crossing the threshold, tests, allies, enemies, and the approach. The challenges often surpass the hero’s abilities, so he can never really progress and often has no idea what he needs to know or do.
Meeting with a healthy mentor is so essential at this stage, and the mentors he’s had thus far have either been unhealthy and/or unwise themselves, or don’t have a great grasp of the required wisdom to coach someone else to develop a fulfilling, natural, connected, life.
Vibing is summer. We’ve reached maturity. The pangs of survival and coping are behind us. Because we have a great relationship with the physical and mental worlds and have developed great coping skills, most of life’s problems are manageable and we can turn our attention to self-development.
Vibing is the time when we’ve left mom and dad’s house. We’re free to discover who we are and what we want. We make our own money, are the master of our own time, and give ourselves permission to explore!
Summer is the Fire season. We put our ideas into action. We can be passionate, dynamic, and temperamental. It’s time to learn to nourish that fire so it doesn’t burn ourselves or others or burn out.
The corresponding space for Vibing in the Hero’s Journey is the transformation stage. It’s death/rebirth, gaining the treasure, and we’re up to the road back.
Tribing is fall. What goes up must come down, and we’ve peaked. We’re heading into our retirement and elder years.
Tribing is the Water season, the element of Water. Water is about emotions, intuition, and mysteries. It’s a time to go deep within and see what’s hidden, explore spirituality, and ask the big questions. And since we know who we are, we are better able to connect with others and really love deeply and truly.
Many people love the fall because the colors of the trees are so gorgeous. Everything is mellow. We can be outside and enjoy nature at her most lovely time. Moving into thriving is the same way when we do it well. We are best able to share ourselves now and are open to receiving what others have to offer in a way that is mutually rewarding.
The corresponding space for Tribing on the Hero’s Journey is the hero’s return – the road back, atonement, and returning with the elixir. Ultimately, the hero’s journey is one of service. We didn’t make the journey only for ourselves, but to enrich ourselves and then share that light with others.
Thriving can be seen as existing in the center of the wheel, or being the entire wheel because it is whole, or even transcending the wheel. It contains all elements of the wheel. It’s the place where we are no longer separate from ourselves, other people, or the universe itself.
Thriving is the element of Spirit.
The corresponding space for Thriving is beyond returning with the elixir. We’ve brought back the goods and shared it. We’ve incorporated it for ourselves. The community has embraced it and been transformed by it, and now we’ve evolved to a new level of connection and wholeness.
The Point of the Journey
Everything real and true is interconnected. So, whether you view your path through life through the hero’s journey or the sacred wheel, the point of the journey is the same – to remove the barriers to wholeness.
If you go around the wheel holding on to your beliefs, people, things, and desires, you won’t transform. You will simply mark time.
Let the process transform you.
The Dao De Jing says, “If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, give everything up.”
Let it all go. Let go of “winning,” and the idea of having the “treasure.” The Dao also says, “Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.”
Your journey matters. The Talmud says, “Save one life, save the entire world.”
If you want support and mentorship for the journey, join the Surviving to Thriving online community.