There are times when life is predictable and mundane. We know our place, we know who we are and we accept that things are the way they are.
But every once in a while, things get stirred up. We decide to go on an adventure of some kind or are confronted with life-changing events.
A new career. Becoming a parent. Illness or divorce. Starting a business. Doing inner work. Trump becoming Presidential candidate.
Such events upset our status quo. The old ways are no longer adequate and we have yet to develop an alternative way of being in the world.
These events, while wildly different for each of us, unfold in a more-or-less predictable pattern called the Hero’s Journey.
This archetypical process – described by Joseph Campbell in his seminal book The Hero with a Thousand Faces – has a clear beginning, middle and end.
Essentially, the Hero’s Journey is a process of profound psychological transformation.
It confronts us with external foes and inner demons, takes us beyond the edge of our abilities and forces us to overcome our limitations.
After much pain, struggle, and loss, the Hero’s Journey rewards us with great treasures: we realise hitherto hidden aspects of ourselves and become more whole.
With this new identity comes more inner peace, wisdom, compassion and strength and the ability to bring good into the world.
Called to go on a journey
Here, I want to focus on how this process begins. Because every Hero’s Journey starts with the Hero – you – being called to go on that journey.
The calling can be an internal one. Something inside of you awakens, a desire to become a parent, an ambition to start a business, a longing for a better life.
And sometimes the calling is prompted by outside forces. You get fired, your company reorganizes, your partner leaves you or you become seriously ill.
Whatever the source, the calling requires you to leave the safety of what is known and go on a perilous journey with an uncertain outcome.
Which is why, quite often, the calling is initially refused or ignored. Superficially on the grounds of rational reasons or practical concerns:
“Who am I to go on a journey? I don’t have what it takes. I don’t need this. Things are okay the way they are. Why commit when success is not even guaranteed.”
Or: “This will blow over. Now is not the right time. I am too busy, too tired, too weak. Others need me. I will do it later.”
The deeper truth is that these arguments are prompted by our inner demons. It is our fear, our insecurity, our sense of inadequacy hijacking our heart and mind.
Suppressing our life force
Which is understandable. Physically and psychologically, the Hero’s Journey is hard, dangerous, and scary. It is far easier and safer to stay at home.
Or so it seems. Because in the long run, it isn’t.
Think about it. The external calling cannot be controlled and will impact your life whether you want to or not.
For example, you can temporarily ignore the reorganization, but then find yourself without a job and not having prepared for a new job market.
Or when your partner leaves you and you do not look in the mirror, your future partner will bring you the exact same troubles as the previous one.
The internal calling, meanwhile, is simply too strong and determined.
The desires, longings and ambitions that arise from the depths of our psyche are powerful life forces that demand to be fulfilled.
Unfortunately, we can ignore them. We can rationalize them away, keep ourselves busy with endless to-do lists or suppress our feelings with narcotic substances.
But we pay a devastating price.
Ignoring our inner calling means cutting ourselves off from our source, means suppressing the very life force that gives meaning, joy, and direction to our life.
As a result, we enter what the poet T.S. Eliot called The Waste Land: a life of depression, cynicism, listlessness, and a constant sense of being meaningless and unfulfilled.
The Waste Land is also a place of surviving rather than living, sleeping rather than being awake, of functioning on auto-pilot instead of living a rich inner and outer life.
The Waste Land is arid and barren, filled only with poisonous resentment and regret.
Heed the call
We are not built to live in the Waste Land. We are explorers, travellers, and adventurers. We were born to discover and transform.
Going on a Hero’s Journey affirms our innate strength and our natural longing. And it affirms the creative, generative nature of life itself.
Now, people who ignore the Journey’s call are not stupid, sick or defective. But their inner demons are stronger than their natural desire to grow and become whole.
Eventually, some people overcome their fears and cross the threshold to set off on their Hero’s Journey.
They muster the courage to venture into the unknown and trust that they will find the inner and outer resources that will aid them along the way.
Those who don’t, will roam the Waste Land forever, or until they find inner strength or circumstances overpower their resistance.
Life calls you and will keep on calling you to do what is best for you. My wish for you is that you heed that call sooner rather than later.
Ilja van Roon
P.S Feel free to contact me to discuss your Hero’s Journey or book a half-day Free Exploration to give you journey some more attention. Alternatively, you can read blogs about your inner life, the power of seeing someone and the fact you already know the answer to life’s most pressing questions.