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The Hero's Journey For Real, Take One

“Mythology is to relate found truth to the living of a life.”

How does this thinking of ourselves as being on the hero’s journey work in real life - in terms of helping us perform better, be healthier, and more resilient when we encounter adversity, the "thorns"? The results of my first try are coming up, but first, a bit of talk about the thorns of life .

I know some of you. I am aware of some of the adversities you have encountered. You or a close family member or friend has had cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's, stroke, arthritis; lost a limb or sight or hearing. You've dealt with financial set backs, lost jobs, been disappointed by dreams that didn't go as hoped, lost people you love; had mental issues with anxiety or depression, bipolar, or suffered with personality disorders; you have been an exhausted caretaker; you have been hurt by rejection or trauma, betrayal, divorce, been molested or abused. You've lost houses to fire, lost possessions to burglary, had basements flood.

We all have dealt with thorns. They all affect us, hurt us. We all suffer. That calls for a lot of compassion, a lot of resilience. That is where the hero's journey comes in. It's a compassionate, positive, resilient approach to life...especially when we are dealing with thorns. It even helps us flourish (more on that next blog).

My little thorny story may not seem like much against the backdrop of such tragedy. And I'm going forward with it because some of those little prickly thorns really aggravate us and set us back emotionally. Even bring us to a halt, especially when they involve relationships. And we can see the hero's journey framework in action.

Here goes. It's a story from last Sunday.   I am out with five kids.  My hope was that we would have some fun together and enjoy each other’s company, strengthen our relationships…and perhaps if there was a problem, I could step right up with a hug, understanding, and wise counsel. And we would all sing kumbaya sort of thing.

It didn’t go that way.  The setting is the mini golf course in Leavenworth.  None of us had ever played before but had the general idea. After the first two holes, the group started to split up.  The fast group seemed to being doing their own thing. One kid accidentally hit another kid with the golf club and since the hurt kid was standing right in the way, very little empathy could be mustered. 

Kids were crying, some stamping off.  Others had found a little heap of dirty snow to wallow in and throw at each other. I felt my temper flaring. I was triggered. Reactive. And…

“I am not putting up with this,” tumbled out of my mouth.

Initially, the plan had been that we would explore around Blackbird Island, then dinner out together. Now, I was set on taking all the kids home. And I was ashamed of myself. What sort of example was I being? 

I huffily took the clubs back to the front desk. By the time I reached the car, the kids were having at each other.  Pointing fingers. Spewing venomous words. Telling each other how mean they had been all day…which elevated to how they had hated each other from the beginning of time.

This was bad. I was mad. They were mad. And we were all a little sad too. And what was making me the most miserable was not the kids, but my own behavior.  My lack of skill in showing compassion, wisdom, and leadership. In fact the kids seemed better at quickly processing the debacle and their emotions than yours truly. More shame and guilt and regret.

Ok. Step back. Switch it up. When I view this situation through the lens of the hero’s journey, I have a much better chance to grow and transform, not to mention improve my relationships and lower my stress - all huge. I can still learn by doing this in retrospect. 

There was an initial Call to Adventure – the hope of having a fun outing with kids.  It represented an opportunity for bonding and enjoyment. All good there.

The Refusal of the Call came when the trouble started – when things started deviating from my expectations. There was the temptation to retreat or react impulsively by the desire to abruptly end the outing.

Though there is not an official Meeting of the Mentor in terms of an external sage, there was a moment of being aware of my inner mentor.  The one who wants to help me remember my goal.  The inner mentor can help if I am willing.

The chaos in the car, the kids pointing fingers and assigning blame can be thought of as The Road of Trials or Testing.  Not everything goes as planned on the hero’s journey. The challenges must be faced.  There’s an opportunity to learn valuable lessons if the hero (the protagonist) in the story (me) can confront their (my) own shortcomings and failure...

and this is the point where transformation can occur, where one (me) has the opportunity to grow, to embark on a deeper level of self-understanding, compassion, and improvement, a higher state of being where I can embody the qualities of a true mentor.

The hero (me, in this case) can return (best scenario) with the Elixer, new found wisdom and self awareness, self development, self mastery… better equipped to handle challenges in the world at large, not just with this little band of kids.

By reframing the experience within the context of the hero's journey, I can find meaning and purpose in the challenges I faced instead of spending time useless time defending my behavior, beating myself up – stressing out (this is big in terms of performance and resilience!), blaming others, or just ignoring the whole thing…allowing my world shrink into a little sphere where I am never challenged…devoid of growth and reward opportunities (also a big deal in terms of resilience and growth).

Now rather than saying I'm never doing THAT again (taking kids out for the day), I am looking forward to the next outing… and doing better - catching myself sooner.  Reminding myself from the very beginning of the journey that I’m on.  Practicing in my imagination... taking a breath, getting re-oriented and centered in my values and goals when I see myself heating up. And I can see this is going to take some perseverence and patience.

I looked at 21 statements from research (to be published later this month) from the newly unveiled Hero’s Journey Scale. I started to rate myself on a scale from 1 low to 10 high and see where I might bump myself up - use the hero’s journey framework more effectively. This is not actually how the scale is scored, but I am using it as a reflection and learning tool. Maybe you'd like to try it too.

1.      I often think of my life as a story (getting better, 6)

2.      My life has a clear narrative arc (ditto)

3.      I am a hero on a journey (ditto)

4.      I often have new experiences (yes, and yea for me being willing to get out there with the kids)

5.      My life never changes* (no)

6.      My life is full of adventure (well, yes, I am starting to see that even when I don’t think I’m on an adventure, I am, 6)

7.      My life has a clear objective (yes – compassion, self-compassion, pretty clear here)

8.      My life has no mission* (no)

9.      I don’t know what I’m striving for in life* (no)

10. I am supported by others (yes, I have friends, family, a compassion circle of allies and mentors and many books, DVDs, etc. to help me on the journey, 9-10)

11. I have mentors to guide me (ditto)

12. I lack people to turn to in times of need* (no)

13. I have worked to overcome difficulties (yes, definitely, 9 or 10)

14. I have had to overcome obstacles (yes, ditto)

15. I have not faced major challenges* (no)

16. I have become a better version of myself (I believe so, and my husband agrees, so I am going with yes, 8 or 9)

17. I have learned from my experiences (I’m still on this journey, of love of learning is a strength I lean on, 8 or 9)

18. I have grown as a person over time (same as #16 to me)

19. Others won’t remember me* (This one is hard to answer.  I believe the compassion work will ultimately have an impact on others – hard to pick a number here, come back to this later after a little reflection time )

20. I will have a lasting impact on others (ditto)

21. I have little effect on people* (ditto)

* denotes reverse-coded items

What did I learn from this? Sure, I have work to do. But I’m not feeling defeated. I'm pumped up...on a better track just by being exposed to the concept of being a hero on a journey. I note where I am progressing. I can give myself a sincere little cheer for being on a quest in my 7th decade of life.

Being on a hero's journey in our late years feels like spiritual work to me. I can see the end of the line. There's more priority to doing my inner work for the sake of others. It's clear to me that I can't do everything, but I can do something. And I want it to come from the best (love) place within me.

I saw my father do this after he had a massive heart attack at 49 (his anger toward a lot of financial ups and downs didn't help his health). The doctor told us he would not live until the end of the year. And he did lose many of his capacities. But he became urgent about a couple of missions - one was what he called his "birthday ministry. "

Dad had church directories of people which listed their names and birthday. Each day, his primary work was to see who had a birthday, call them up, and talk to them or leave a message assuring them that their lives were important. He finished up with a sincere rendition of Happy Birthday.

My father lived 31 more years. It do think his quest made a difference in the quality of his life (the meaning and satisfaction he experienced) and even the longevity. Certainly his legacy, not only in terms of what he was remembered for, but also for the positive impact he had, was all about his commitment to the quest.

Dad knew nothing academically about the hero's journey nor quest terminology, but he lived it. He did believe those calls were crucial. People needed to know their lives were important. Turns out he was right. When he died there was a receiving line of folks. People he had called. That's what brought us all to tears. Some even said, "I hate even thinking about my birthday now. Your dad was the only one who ever called me. Who will call me now?"

It's never too late (nor too early) to go on a quest...and it may make all the difference...

How might we learn to use the Hero’s Journey framework and the hero's journey scale (as well as the hero's journey prompts from the previous blog) to set us up for success, perseverence, good relationships, growth, resilience in adversity, leaving a legacy ... and sojourn together to the Good Life?

(Any reflections on how you might use or have used a Hero’s-Journey-like perspective? We can learn from each other, be allies and mentors for each other.)

“To translate knowledge and information into experience: that seems to be the function of literature and art.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work

And 3 stanzas from a poem contributed by Glen, thank you!

For A New Beginning – John O’Donohue

In out-of-the-way places of the heart, 

Where your thoughts never think to wander, 

This beginning, has been quietly forming, 

Waiting until you were ready to emerge

Then a delight, when your courage, kindled, 

And out, you stepped onto new ground, 

Your eyes young again with energy and dream, 

A path of plenitude opening before you… 

Awaken your spiritual to adventure; 

Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk; 

Soon you will be home in a new rhythm, 

For your soul senses, the world that awaits you.



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