Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing with our life? This topic has been of inquiry and debate for millennia and across cultures. To further understand such questions, comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell has studied the answers among religions, mythologies, tales and folk stories across time and the globe. I used to think myth was just the ancient and somewhat naïve stories the ancients told each other to explain what we already know, like why the sun rose and rain fell. But mythology is so much more: the stories are the symbolic representations of humanity’s understanding of ourselves and the world.
One common and universal theme in stories throughout the history of man is described by Campbell in Hero With A Thousand Faces as the hero’s journey. The purpose: to enter into one’s unconscious to revive and restore the lost dreams of one’s generation. This universal process is the individual discovery of self and one’s own power. The hero returns to share his lessons with others, which then enriches each person’s understanding of self and humanity.
This physical or moral journey is a personal transformation that each one of us may either choose or refuse. To refuse the call results in a life devoid of meaning, creates personal psychological havoc and a world that is a wasteland. Refusal also destines one to battle against the summons of the journey, both internally and externally, until the call is heeded.
To engage the call can be a high, historical undertaking, be a matter of life or death, and provide religious illumination and self-awakening. The hero must battle his own limitations and, in so doing, transcends to battle beyond himself and taps into the visions and inspirations of humanity itself. Along the way, the hero will encounter obstacles, perils and good fortune on the journey. There are no shortcuts on this journey; taking a shortcut means crucifixion by one’s violated psyche or chaos when the uninitiated hero assumes unearned life roles. The hero that embarks on the journey will die to the world with respect to his former self but will learn to penetrate to a source of power, which he finds within his own heart. He learns who he is, and learns how to exercise his power. Destiny is on his side, and guides him to success and victory.
How is this concept of the hero’s journey relevant for each of us? We’re not literally meant to become Hercules or Wonder Woman. But what myth tells us is that we each have an authentic purpose in life, and we have a choice as to whether we heed or refuse the summons to our destiny, which is to tap into and share our authentic power. Paul Coelho, author of the Alchemist, calls this your Personal Legend, or whatever it is you deep down want to do more than anything. Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star, refers to such as a quest as finding your essential self. Refusing the call means to be living as one’s social self, the part of oneself that is living based on expectations and should/should-nots instead of authenticity. According to Beck, problems and obstacles (physical, emotional, and/or psychological) are encountered when one refuses the call, but doors open and success and fulfillment are realized when one heeds the call.
Often we do not even know that we are not living as our essential or authentic self. A trauma or even a major, positive life event may take us to ground zero like a great self-perception reset button. Once we shed our own and others’ expectations, we may take a fresh look at our authentic self and our life’s purpose. We may finally sense the summons that has been present our whole lives.
The blog I reposted on New Year’s has to do with acceptance of self. We may choose to accept our social self and continue to live in a way that fails to respect our authenticity, our north star or our hero’s journey. But a much deeper acceptance of self, the one that perhaps we’ve pushed away, can lead to discovering one’s power and personal meaning. Where are you on this path? Are you pursuing your hero’s journey or have you refused the summons?