The hero’s journey is symbolic of the path to transformative change.
A hero confronts her own demise. Her own annihilation. In popular culture, this journey happens in the external world. The journey can be witnessed and commented upon. We see it in adventure, war, unfortunate circumstances, outside threats. The hero is put in a position that pushes her to take definitive action in the face of terror. Her livelihood, or her life itself, is at stake.
These external conditions push the warrior to her limit, challenging her internal resources. If she succeeds, she feels herself transformed.
She isn’t transformed by the journey, however. She is instead transformed by the self-confrontation that the journey demanded. This is an important distinction.
The transformative power did not lie in the external world. The external world simply forced her to go to internal places that she otherwise wouldn’t have ventured to. It was her willingness to be in relationship with these internal forces – her fear, her panic, her grief, her rage, her despair, her anxiety, her loneliness – that brought about transformational change.
In our modern, first-world society, there is less obvious external threat. Many of us manage to get by without facing our worst fears. Our survival is rarely, if ever, at risk. We can afford to coast. There is no external demand that we push ourselves past the point of internal comfort and familiarity.
Many of us use this an excuse. Life is monotonous, predictable, boring. We resign ourselves to this dreariness.
But the distinction from above still holds true. It is not what the world does to us that causes us to change. It is, instead, what we do internally when faced with the world.
If we sharpen our perception, we will awaken to a multitude of opportunities to confront ourselves on a daily basis. Life has a way of triggering our vulnerabilities. We have a way of denying that this is happening, carrying on in our familiar patterning and perpetuating our familiar suffering.
Instead, we might actively look for those places where our vulnerabilities are being triggered. We might, in a distinctly counter-instinctual way, seek out our vulnerabilities. Once aware of them, we can make the conscious choice to go into them.
This is akin to the traditional hero described above. We, like the hero, turn directly towards what we have spent our life avoiding. This feels like self-annihilation. It feels like we won’t make it out alive.
The work is all done internally. We simply use the outside world as a catalyst. We then use our body as a crucible. We let the intensity of the emotions – the panic – move through us and we do absolutely nothing about it. We let ourselves feel like an abandoned person, feel like we are unworthy of love, feel our rage, feel our profound grief, feel our existential aloneness. And we feel it until it passes.
As we progress on this path, we develop the confidence to stay with ourselves and to stay with the world without unconsciously employing our habitual defenses.
The path of the hero is the path to transformative change. Which is, in the end, the path to freedom.
1 – Become aware of our core vulnerabilities and the ways we defend against them
2 – Do the counter-instinctual work of turning towards our core vulnerabilities/of inviting them into our conscious awareness
3 – Use our body as a crucible, staying as embodied as we can with precisely that which we would rather avoid
4 – Develop the confidence that our core vulnerabilities – our worst fears – will not kill us
5 – Experience the fruits of transformative change – the freedom that results from no longer being tied to our historical conditioning and our psychological patterning