We are all living mythic, archetypal lives – Hero’s Journeys – to one extent or another, whether we are aware of this fact or not. It goes with the territory of being both innately spiritual and imperfectly human. The more conscious and intentional we are on our journeys, the more empowered and heroic our lives will be, and the more likely it is that we will manage, against all odds, to fulfill our destinies. With so much at stake during this time of accelerated growth and collective awakening, it is crucial that we understand the lay of the land.
What follows is my understanding of this vitally important path to wholeness, acquired through almost six decades of life in a female body, spent primarily in the US, spanning the latter half of the 20th century and early part of the 21st. I’ve lived this journey full out, so what I have to share in this and subsequent blogs is very close to my heart and informed by direct experience.
Like any good story, there are three main acts to the Hero’s Journey: Act I) Ordinary life before receiving the call of your soul; Act II) Receiving the call and embarking on the great adventure of initiation, which, ideally, results in the cultivation of great courage, compassion and clarity along the way; and, Act III) Returning home with newly-acquired and hard-earned inner riches in order to make a positive, soulful contribution to the lives of loved ones and the greater human community.
Within the three main acts, there are several stages that are worthy of note, so I have described them below. Keep in mind that no two Hero’s Journeys are exactly the same, of course. In fact, you may say NO to your journey, altogether, skip some of its stages entirely, or even experience certain stages repeatedly, at increasingly deeper turns of your own unique evolutionary spiral.
Receiving The Call
The call can come at any time in almost any form. Typically, it waits until you’ve become an adult, though not necessarily. It can be something relatively subtle like a still, small voice within that whispers “Is this all there is?” or “What’s the point of all this?” or “You were born for something more than this.” More often, it comes in the form of a sudden, shocking occurrence, a seemingly worst case scenario: the unforeseen death of a loved one or the diagnosis of a terminal illness; a near-death experience; getting caught up in an extreme weather event or mass tragedy; an accident that causes you or someone you love serious injury; the discovery that your spouse has been unfaithful and wants a divorce; getting fired from your job; relocating to a foreign country whose language, culture and climate are very unfamiliar and unsettling to you; or losing your home during the housing market collapse, etc. It may even come in the form of something very positive that is, nonetheless, sudden and shocking, such as falling in love with a soul mate or experiencing a profound mystical awakening. There are also ways your soul may call out to you slowly and repeatedly over time: a chronic illness; the gradual dissolution of your marriage; growing dissatisfaction with your work; the aging process; children growing up and leaving home; or increasing awareness of the suffering and injustice in the world, etc.
Refusing the Call
When you first receive the call to awaken into a more soulful life, the tendency is to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. There are many ways to rationalize this initial refusal, for example: “I can’t afford to take the time off from work right now.” or “I need to make a living.” or “People will think I have lost my mind!” or “It’s too hard and I’m not that special.” or “I’m just being self-indulgent. I need to buck up and be practical.” The bottom line, though, is that we initially say a big NO to our soul’s calling because on some level we know that saying a big YES would require everything we have and more. In order to eventually emerge from our relatively safe and comfortable cocoons as the beautiful butterflies we are meant to be, we must repeatedly undergo a process of surrender and dissolution, which feels a lot life death, at least from the perspective of the out-of-balance ego. If a caterpillar could speak, he’d tell you it’s not for the faint of heart.
Meeting the Mentors
During one of those times when you’ve hit the snooze button again but haven’t quite gone back to sleep, you may have the good fortune to meet or become aware of someone whose life is an inspiration to you. You may even begin intentionally seeking out and cultivating mentor relationships at this stage. These may be with people who are currently alive, people from the recent past or the history books whose life was the stuff of legends, even saints, avatars, enlightened teachers, or empowering mythological figures and archetypes. Through these shining examples, you catch the glimmer of a possibility and hold onto it for dear life.
Crossing the Threshold
The crossing of the threshold is definitely a birth canal experience, and like any birth, it’s unavoidably messy. On the verge of taking the leap into a new, more soul-centered way of life, forces will align to try to stop you in your tracks, thereby testing your resolve and strengthening your character for the long road ahead. You can count on this happening. It’s so predictable it’s become a cliché: the boss who tells you you’re making the biggest mistake of your life; the father who threatens to disown you; the husband who questions your sanity and withholds his affections; the child who throws a tantrum when you’re no longer selflessly available 24/7 to anticipate and meet her every desire. Often these “guardians of the threshold” express sentiments that mirror your own worst fears and self-sabotaging tendencies, and though they initially appear as adversaries, they may later morph into your biggest cheerleaders – but only once you have fully demonstrated an unwavering commitment to your new life path.
(to be continued…)