If inspired, check out: An Open Letter to Maskless “Rebels.” ~ Waylon
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell
COVID-19 has become the pressure exposing the fault lines in our lives.
The strain of grief, worry, and financial concerns is creating a relentless tension in most of our worlds, and on a global scale.
Having personally lived through a life constructed of multiple cycles of transformational change, I now recognise that within any crisis there is invariably a gift—more often than not—the potential to force us onto the path of our very own hero’s journey.
It’s a chance to step into a metamorphic adventure that has the potential to crack open the most impervious of protective walls we have built around us and tear off the most securely of fastened masks, put in place to create a socially and culturally acceptable version of ourselves, also known as our quest to “be normal.”
The hero’s journey is a soul level passage that offers us the obstacles and challenges needed to finally confront the restrictions—often self-imposed—that limit our true potential from unfolding. Opportunities arise along the path to face and reclaim parts of ourselves that we sidelined, climaxing in a journey into the darkest parts of ourselves to battle and satiate our inner dragons (the stuff we don’t like about ourselves or don’t think is socially acceptable) that we spend so much energy repressing and ignoring. When we make peace with them, it is the ultimate way to allow their release. This cyclical alchemy ends with a return back home, an opportunity to share this gift with others.
Where did this idea of a hero’s journey originate and how can it help us during the COVID-19 crisis and, indeed, any life change?
The hero’s journey has been the red thread that runs through archetypal myths since time began. However, it was Joseph Campbell, an American scholar born in 1904, who finally recognised this commonality within folklore and stories—originating a framework for this cyclical model of personal transformation.
Campbell spent his life studying global mythology, beginning with the legends of the Native Americans. He noticed that within each story from the Greek tale of Odysseus’ journey after the fall of Troy to the Celtic legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, there sat at the heart a similar cyclical journey—a call to adventure—leaving one’s home, a journey of initiation, and returning back with a lesson to share with the community the hero or heroine left behind.
Each hero’s gift was, ultimately, finding their authentic selves and personal dharma in the world.
“Star Wars” is the modern hero’s journey that most will recognise. George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” formed a close friendship with Campbell as he was creating the movies. Within the series is the classic hero’s rite of passage: Luke entering the cave at Dagobah and fighting the spirit of Darth Vader; as Darth is slayed, his mask opens revealing Luke’s own face—the ultimate battle with our shadow self.
However for me, the story that always captured my imagination was the journey of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”—so beautifully simplistic in its archetypal imagery. Her steps along the Yellow Brick Road presenting her with aspects of herself reflected in others that she needed to reclaim to honour her inner potential.
There are so many examples of these heroes on our library shelves: Alice, Harry, Lara, Bilbo. But they all start with the main character receiving a call to adventure—or a crisis, such as the one we’re all facing with COVID-19—a catalyst that caused all our heroes to wake up from their comfortably uncomfortable, numb lives of surviving in a world where they never really fit in the first place.
“This first step of the mythological journey—which we have designated the ‘call to adventure’—signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.” ~ Joseph Campbell
What follows in all our hero’s stories is a series of meetings along the journey of initiation: mentors appearing en-route that inspire passage through the obstacles—Gandalf, Serafina, Glinda, Yoda—along with these lost aspects of themselves showing up in others in order to be recognised and then reclaimed.
Ultimately, the climax of any hero’s quest, the meeting of a metaphorical dragon that needs to be slayed so the gift can appear—Lord Voldemort for Harry, The Queen of Hearts for Alice, and The Wicked Witch of the West for Dorothy—is the chance to show how they’ve reclaimed their thoughts, their heart, and their courage. A chance to prove that fear no longer has power over them.
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.” ~ Joseph Campbell
The return home is the final part of the odyssey—bringing back the gift found along the path and using it to help others back in the community from where they set forth.
Like Neo in “The Matrix,” I chose the red pill fairly early in life. My crisis came at 23; the death of someone I loved was my first taste of being thrown onto the hero’s path. I moved continents to San Francisco (after falling in love with the book “Tales of the City”) with no job or place to live and £500 in my account—my version of “down the rabbit hole.” What followed was a journey across the globe, meeting my Mr. Tumnus, Mad Hatter, Duchess, and Aslan, making peace with my own White Witch, and finally returning to the United Kingdom, having reclaimed and outed parts of myself that I had shut down in order to be “successful” and “normal.”
It is how I found my voice in life.
And the cycle has continued for me. These days, the journeys are not physical ones across the globe, they are events or choices that happen or that I make around my external reality that serve as catalysts for the small or, often, large revolutions in my inner landscape.
Do I have days where I wish I could be happy sitting comfortably numb on the sofa of mediocrity watching box sets (I still do this, by the way), planning my next dinner party where discussions center around what other people we know are doing, how successful we all are, and the ultimate brain paralysis of “the next home improvement project” (in my experience people with the most perfect houses are hiding the most from themselves)?
Damn right! Being out in the real world is too hard at times.
Do I think it would be easier to drink the cultural and familial Kool-Aid that tells us that we are what we have or do or own? That the purpose of a life well lived is chasing security, achievement, and ownership of material possessions?
It would’ve been so much easier to have kept on my beige suit after university, stayed in a corporate job (I lasted two years), and married a man with Lego hair and a sensible job, and lived the Bricksburg, executive home dream (yes Emmet’s story was also a hero’s odyssey).
However the one thing I do know is that each time I am thrown back onto the Yellow Brick Road and am brave enough to follow my bliss, synchronicities happen and people appear in my life just when they should, often manifesting things that I could never have dreamt for myself.
“When you follow your bliss…doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Modern life makes it easy for us to disconnect from the quiet inner voice that tells us, “There is more to life than fitting in,” and it provides so many opportunities to anaesthetise ourselves into submission and follow security, not joy. Social media seems to be the current go-to place to find the next reinforcement that our lives are okay because, “The people on Instagram are doing it too.”
In the Western world, we have become completely disconnected from the archetypes that help us recognise how multifaceted the human character is—that one size doesn’t fit all—that when we are truly living life and following our bliss, it is a rich tapestry of love, hate, joy, grief, and, at times, dark nights of the soul. That life is a series of cyclical changes and evolutions. And if we aren’t experiencing all of this, then we are not truly being human.
May 2020 provide the tension that helps more of us find our inner Emmets or Dorothys. May it inspire us to be brave or broken enough to disconnect from the subtle cultural conditioning and step onto our own version of the Yellow Brick Road.
May 2020 be the time to journey into finding our bliss, our true selves, and, most importantly of all, to embrace the messy, beautiful, sad, joyful, furious, scary, and passionate expressions of what a life well lived truly looks like.
Inspired, in parts, by the movie “Finding Joe.”