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On the Hero's Journey Everything Changes

Updated: Mar 6

“The fundamental human experience is that of compassion." ― Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work

Let's do a little recap. (Have a cup of tea, ready yourself. This may take awhile.) Regularly noticing, appreciating, savoring the good in life, the “roses,” is hugely beneficial according to researchers. The practice seems to increase flourishing and psychological functioning (including resilience), health and longevity, and motivation for example. (And thank you for the pictures and reflections you have had on roses.  I hope to share them at some point).

Systematically dwelling on the good in life can even help how we think about and approach problems, the “thorns” in life. When we are bolstered by our mindful appreciation of the good, we are strong. Unafraid of thorns.  We may even see them as helpful.

One way to totally and positively (as well as compassionately and psychologically healthy) reframe how we go about living our life is to craft it into a narrative called the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell, a mythologist, introduced the idea that many of our most loved and impactful stories follow a certain arc.

If you’ve ever seen Lord of The Rings, Star Wars, even Harry Potter and Hunger Games, you have seen the Hero’s Journey being played out, though sometimes simplified or slightly modified. Here’s how I think about it using Lord of the Rings as an example of the Hero’s Journey.

It starts with a Call to Adventure.  Frodo receives the call to adventure when he inherits the One Ring and learns of its dangerous power. Often, initially there’s some inner turmoil, some reluctance to follow the call, but it’s accepted with an understanding of the danger involved. A commitment to the importance of the goal wins out over one’s fear as it does for Frodo.

On this dangerous journey, there’s usually a Meeting of a Mentor (or several allies). They guide and provide wisdom throughout the journey as Galdalf does for Frodo.

At some point the initiation begins, clearly one has clearly left his (or her as in Hunger Games) home base and can’t count on things to go as “normal.” There are numerous challenges – tests, enemies. Frodo leaves the shire. Encounters enemies like Sauron and his minions. (Please notice, friends and family of Sam Benson - official guardian of all things Hobbit, that I am not infringing on any copyrighted images here.)

At some point there is an Ultimate Test.  For Frodo, he must resist the temptation of the ring and totally defeat Sauron which he does and restores peace to Middle-earth. But it's not over.

The Road Back involves embodying The Legacy, bringing home an elixir of sorts which has been gained by learning the lessons along the way, becoming stronger by facing demons, and being forever transformed by the journey.

The point here is that when we view our lives as an adventure in which we are called to be more, help the world in some way, everything changes for us. Our lives have more meaning.  We are more satisfied with them.  We accept that we will have to step out of our comfort zones, we must summon the courage (with help from our allies and mentors) to face demons, challenges, obstacles – thorns.

And we expect to be changed, we believe we have something to offer of value because of what we have experienced – the lessons we have learned, the strength and wisdom we have built, the friendships we have made. It's a noble and compassionate way to go about living a life full of both roses and thorns.

I’ve talked before about a happening we have around here called Elderspeak.  I love going to it because it often sounds to me like I’m hearing various versions of the Hero’s Journey.  I took one of my granddaughters to the last one because I wanted her to experience listening to older people, people whom others looked to as examples of lives well-lived.

They told their personal stories of adventure – tragedies, challenges, rejections, lessons learned, mentors, and achievements. I don’t know the questions they are asked to help them see their lives as a hero’s journey, I very much doubt that specific wording is ever used, but somehow, they do.

There are questions we can use ourselves.  Researchers continue devising questions to help folks see where they could use a reframe of their lives. But before we go there let me give you a brief look at how differently the narratives play out in life.

Viewing oneself on a hero's journey involves reframing life's challenges and experiences through the lens of a narrative where you are the protagonist. It's a way of interpreting your life as a series of adventures, trials, and growth opportunities, much like the heroes in myths and legends.

Let’s create two hypothetical characters – Sarah and Mark. You can easily see which one is more using the framework of life as a hero’s journey.

Sarah grew up in a small town. From a young age, she was inspired by stories of heroes overcoming adversity and achieving greatness.

Sarah sees every challenge as an opportunity for growth and adventure. When she faces obstacles, whether in her career or personal life, she tackles them head-on with determination and courage. She believes that setbacks are just temporary roadblocks on her journey to success.

For example, Sarah was laid off from her job unexpectedly. Sure she is surprised and understands she's being faced with a challenge. Instead of becoming hugely discouraged, she saw it as a chance to explore new opportunities and pursue her true passions. She talked to people who gave her support. Afterwards she started her own business and ultimately found more fulfillment and success than she ever had in her previous job.

Mark, however, tends to take things as they come and doesn't see any narrative or purpose to his experiences. All is a random crapshoot as far as he's concerned. When faced with difficulties, he often feels overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed. He tries to avoid risks and stick with what's comfortable. Buries his worries with drink or drugs.

Then Mark also loses his job unexpectedly. He feels totally dumped by life… and unsure of what to do next. He struggles to find another job and eventually settles for something similar to what he had before, even though it doesn't bring him much satisfaction or fulfillment.

Mark and Sarah’s different framework to life (and how they think about their role) shapes how they handle challenges and ultimately influences their paths and outcomes. AND affects how meaningful and satisfying they find life.

By adopting the framework, the perspective, of being on a hero’s journey we:

1. Find Purpose and Meaning: Each obstacle becomes a step on our path to personal growth and fulfillment.

2. Embrace Challenges with Courage and Compassion:  Instead of seeing challenges as burdens or setbacks, we can view them as opportunities for growth and development. Every challenge we overcome brings us closer to becoming the best version of ourselves.

3. Develop Resilience: Just like heroes face numerous trials on their journeys, viewing ourselves as a heroic protagonist can help us develop resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. We learn to see setbacks as temporary obstacles rather than insurmountable barriers.

4. Take Ownership: By seeing ourselves as the hero of our own story, we take ownership of our life and choices. We become the protagonist who drives the narrative forward, making conscious decisions to shape our destiny.

5. Celebrate Successes: Just as heroes celebrate their victories, we can celebrate our accomplishments and milestones along the way. Each success becomes a triumph in our personal journey.

See how adopting the hero's journey perspective is a powerful positive way to reframe challenges and experiences, empowering us to navigate life's twists and turns with courage, purpose, and resilience? It totally changes our view of the thorns in life.

Here are a view questions we can ask ourselves to help us view our lives from a heroic (and compassionate) perspective.


1. What significant challenges or opportunities have you encountered in your life that required you to step out of your comfort zone?


2. Have there been moments when you were hesitant or resistant to embrace change or face difficult situations, but you did?


3. Who are the influential figures or sources of guidance and support in your life who have helped you navigate challenges and grow as a person?


4. What obstacles or setbacks have you encountered along your journey, and how did you overcome them? Who were your allies, and what lessons did you learn from your adversaries?


5. Describe a particularly challenging experience or period in your life. How did you endure it, and what did you learn about yourself in the process?


6. What achievements or personal growth have you experienced as a result of overcoming obstacles and persevering through difficult times?


7. How have you integrated the lessons learned from your journey into your daily life, and what goals or aspirations are you working towards now?


8. In what ways do you feel you have contributed to others or made a positive impact on your community or the world as a result of your experiences and personal growth?

(If all that sounds like too much for today, we can watch Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or Hunger Games to boost our heroic imagination. Or we can get the ball rolling by noticing the characters in books we are reading, or in real life - what perspective or narrative arc do they have and how does it lead to various consequences?)


Often John goes out the door singing or whistling Man From La Mancha.  It’s his humorous way of seeing himself on a hero’s journey… come what may (sometimes even fighting windmills). I’m not sure it’s the best example, but it’s the right idea around a quest.


We decided a few years back to Journey toward the Good, the Good Life, following the uniquely personal yet cosmic call of compassion (aiming our intentions toward alleviating suffering and promoting flourishing).  And it’s hard and we have setbacks, AND it's worth it to us.... we do our best to view our struggles as avenues for growth (remember the preacher preaches what he/she most needs to hear).  And we are MOST happy for our allies and mentors along the way. We hope we are allies for you on the journey.


How might we journey together to the Good Life by taking the perspective of being on the Hero’s Journey?

“You enter the forest

at the darkest point,

where there is no path.

Where there is a way or path,

it is someone else's path.

You are not on your own path.

If you follow someone else's way,

you are not going to realize

your potential.”


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