A few weeks ago I purchased and watched and uplifting movie called “Finding Joe”. This unusual documentary pays homage to controversial yet influential mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-87), and evaluates the impact of his teachings on contemporary culture. The centre of the film is the defining concept that Campbell referred to as “The Hero’s Journey” – the fears, challenges, struggles and battles that one must endure, to evolve over the course of one’s life and emerge a changed person.
Joseph Campbell was a leading mythology experts and a philosopher. Someone who had an ability to see the truth when most of us have lost it. He studied the native Americans, the Greeks and many other civilizations. He compared the philosophies and found a common story within all the stories regardless of where they came from – the hero’s journey.
The hero’s journey is a pattern that has three basic parts:
- Separation – you are in one kind of reality in one kind of a place and you are separated from it
- Initiation – you are put into a different place where you are initiated in some way
- Return – you come back
All of the experiences (depicted by dragons in the movie) we have to face occur along the journey are our personal challenges. Once overcome, we bring those lessons back to our community thereby enabling us and our kin to be better people because of those trials we have been through and the lessons we have learned.
If Campbell is correct and if all of these stories boil down to a similar map then we can all use this map to guide us because we are all the same. The whole idea proposed by Campbell is that we discover meaning through these experiences, by following this pattern.
It’s a great narrative for how to live life, slay our dragons and become our own hero. It’s like going form the dark to come out into the light, going from the unsatisfying to the satisfying by pushing through the scariest things we can imagine.
Campbell says that the most important thing that myths teach us is to go beyond what we perceive as the limits of our possibility. Mythology is a metaphor for our human existence.
Your life is the fruit of your own doing. You have no one to blame but yourself.
Campbell believed that most people live their life under a mass hypnosis and there is a pressure to keep people in their in place- happy tranced out consumers. It’s about collecting things and stuff and making a lot of money and you get stuck on a treadmill you can’t get off. We become bundles of conditioned reflexes and nerves that are being triggered by people and circumstance and display predictable patterns of behaviour – there is no creativity. We are guided toward a weird sense of what’s real in our lives and those ideas that are impose on us from the outside about what we should and shouldn’t do.
With all of these externally imposed requirements, we lose touch with our souls, our inner beings.
The call to adventure signifies that destiny has summoned the hero.
Campbell says that the universe calls us to join the hero’s journey and it keeps ringing us until we answer the call. If we are not paying attention the wakeup calls come in the form of a sledge hammer, if we are paying attention we get a gentle tickle. Often it comes in the time of a crisis and this is really when we are tested.
People usually wake up to the fact that they are the hero of their own life when they get tired of being the victim of their own life.
When we reach the point of ‘enough’ we can either surrender to victimhood or we can surrender to a fundamentalism or we can say – I have a choice here and I am responsible. Being a hero requires responsibility.
In the hero’s journey there is a type of death where some old has to go and some new has to stay – “any snake that cannot shed its skin must perish.”
Campbell says that the whole key to blessing death is to recognise is that it is the death of a form that has no purpose any more. Like the phoenix rising. To keep transforming we must learn to keep dying.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us
Campbell says the forest in a myth or story represents the darkness that we are ready to enter and explore. The people in our community are urging us not to go there but the hero’s journey pulls us in. We have to enter the forest on our own and where there isn’t a path. If we enter following someone else then we are not on our own path.
The hero’s journey is about asking ourselves ‘what am I here to do, what am I passionate about, what are my gifts?’ Campbell says we must follow our bliss. “Follow your bliss” means following your heart and your truth.
Your bliss is the thing you can’t not do. The idea is to trust what brings us bliss and follow that! Bliss is not escapism, hedonism, selfishness – its about following the things that puts us in that serene state.
So how do we find our bliss?
Ask – “what am I passionate about?”
“What are the things that I do that makes time fly?”
Find out what you most love to do and then do more of that thing.
“What was it that set me apart as a child – what made me different?”
“If I never had to think about time or money, how would I express myself?”
“When do I get lost and totally absorbed?”
Joseph Campbell always had one piece of advice for his graduating students. “Don’t do what daddy says – because daddy only has one interest in mind for you and that is your security and if you bargain away your life for security now you will never find your bliss”
The fact that you don’t know what you want doesn’t mean that you should stick your head in the sand. The fact that you are open to looking will put you in the best place to discover your bliss.
Put yourself in uncomfortable situations at least every 7 days. Stretch yourself.
When you follow your bliss the universe will open doors where there were only walls
This will only happen when you trust and take that step of faith. Keep doing it and then you will ‘get lucky’
What will they think of me must be put aside to follow our bliss
Our family and friends are often the first demons we have to stare down at the start of our journey. They help us to create stories which talk us out of following our bliss.
Rumi said “I want to sing like birds sing, not worrying about who listens or what they think” and if we can do that then we can achieve the impossible.
Find a place where there is joy and the joy will burn out the pain.
Joseph says that when we go on the hero’s journey there is a dragon that we must slay. A dragon is our construction of the rules and social obligations that have made us feel that we either have to or can’t do certain things.
The one thing that keeps people small is their fears. Fear is anything that gets in you. Fear that is unfaced has a tendency to creep and move through your experiences and toxify our experiences. Love is what we are born with and fear is what we learn.
Fear is an inherent part of the human experience but it is not about getting rid of it – where is it going to go? It’s about facing it and doing what you want to do anyway.
Monsters are powerful when they are dark and in the closet but they diminish when we face them head on. Once we face our fears, the death of the fear becomes certain. Fears should never stop us – they are a healthy warning but they shouldn’t stop us.
We choose our monsters – what is outside is a reflection of what is inside. The greatest obstacle for most of us is ourselves and if we can open up and accept that we can all be heroes. The best way to overcome it is to stop fighting it and coming to terms with that part of yourself that you think is bigger than you and in doing that then you grow a bigger sense of yourself. Another way to overcome this is to love your dragon – this also feels better!
When you love the dragon whatever the dragon was hoarding is given to you. Disengaging from the fight opens you up to what might come to you. There is always a gift in battling demons and overcoming them. As we overcome our fears we gain power. In life, the best and most rewarding moments have come after a struggle.
“Every minus is a plus waiting for a stroke of vertical awareness”. Yes you may have struggled but what awareness can you add to it to help you master it?
The hero’s journey is about you coming to love yourself for exactly who you are- this ability to love yourself gives you an awesome power.
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are
After everything we go through what we bring back is a story and Campbell says that the circle never ends – we go, we experience, we come back we share and then it starts again.
“No matter how long you get to live, life is ultimately very short and before we know it we are all going to be dust and the street sweeper gets buried next to the CEO and all that really matters at the end of the day is how big we showed up and how courageous we were.”
“When we are on our death beds what fills our hearts with the greatest regret is not all the risks we took and not all the opportunities we seized and not all the times we went out on a limb and looked silly, what fills our heart with regret at the end of the day is all the risks we didn’t take and all the opportunities we didn’t seize.”
Grab a copy and enjoy the movie over and over again!