Back to articles

Navigating The Hero’s Journey. Part 1

One of the hallmarks of successful and effective people is a deep sense of purpose and intention. Without this deep sense, it is easy to get lost in the infinite dramas of everyday life, to be pulled by the many forces trying to use you in one way or another. By sensing and aligning with an inner calling, it is possible to steer one’s life course in a meaningful way. One of the best models for describing this path is the Hero’s Journey,first described by the mythologist Joseph Campbell (1949 in his seminal book, The Hero with a thousand faces. Campbell examined stories of heroes, historical and mythical, spanning all ages, cultures, religions and genders. Campbell noted how across many cultures and throughout time there was a common deep structure pattern—that is, a basic myth—about a person who lived an extraordinary life that brought new gifts and transformations to both self and community.

The path of the hero’s journey generally follows three steps: 1) living in the garden, 2) exile into the desert, and 3) return to the garden with new gifts. That is, a person starts in the consensus «trance» or «identity box» of the mainstream community; then gets pushed out of the ordinary «box» of reality in ways that force him or her to let go of old maps and forge new resources and understandings. This heroic journey involves crossing a threshold into a new territory outside of his or her comfort zone, finding the proper guardians (resources), and facing and transforming inner «demons» or «shadows.» (i.e., major problems). Then, having successfully navigated the trials and tribulations of these thresholds and ordeals, the «re-born» person returns to the community as a different person, with many contributions to make.

There are many well-known examples of the hero’s journey—healers like Jesus or Milton Erickson, social change agents like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, artists like Bob Dylan or Picasso; inventors and scientists like Thomas Edison or Carl Jung. Each of these individuals went through long ordeals to transform themselves into a human being that had something extraordinary to contribute

There are many well-known examples of the hero’s journey—healers like Jesus or Milton Erickson, social change agents like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, artists like Bob Dylan or Picasso; inventors and scientists like Thomas Edison or Carl Jung. Each of these individuals went through long ordeals to transform themselves into a human being that had something extraordinary to contribute

There are many ways to practice sponsorship. The «yin» (receptive) aspect of sponsorship involves receiving, allowing your heart to be opened, bearing witness, providing place or sanctuary, soothing, gently holding, being curious, deep listening, and beholding a presence with the eyes of kindness and understanding. The yang (active) aspect includes relentless commitment, fierce attentiveness, providing guidance, proper naming, setting limits and boundaries, challenging self-limitations, and introducing the sponsored experience to other resources. Through a skillful combination of these and related sponsorship processes, an experience or behavior that seems to have no value to the self or community can be transformed from an «it» that should be destroyed to a thou than can be listened to, appreciated, and allowed to develop within self and community.

Of course, there are even more instances of lesser known people who venture on the hero’s journey—regular people who move through transformational paths as parents, children, citizens, and workers. The journey may be initiated by failed relationships, physical illness, career challenges, unexpected events, or significant traumas. Whatever the case, the myth of the hero’s journey provides a way to understand such crises as doorways into a deep journey of transformation and positive change. The hero’s journey is a beautiful guide for anybody interested in living a life with deep meaning and contribution; a life imbued with happiness, helpfulness, health, and healing to self and community alike.

To realize the hero’s journey, a person needs maps, tools, and resources. So what we’d like to do in this article is briefly overview how the hero’s journey may be navigated. We will first begin with an overview of what we call the Generative Self, which is a model for how to develop and maintain the extraordinary consciousness needed to meet extraordinary challenges. We will then examine what some of the major challenges of the Hero’s Journey might be, and suggest some ways in which they can be successfully met. Finally, we will briefly address the relevance of the Hero’s Journey for contemporary times.