The Hero’s Journey interests me partly because it is a dramatic structure. As I spend more time delving into it I see that it is also a metaphor for my own life’s journey. But, if it is a map of the journey, where exactly am I?
I see indications are that I have been at the mid-point turn or “Ordeal” for quite some time–much beyond the three days and three nights of death and resurrection in many myths. Wouldn’t it be great if I had completed the Ordeal and was about to begin the Return with my boon?! Unfortunately, well, at least unfortunately from my ego’s point of view, I may still be in the Descent and have not yet have reached the nadir.
In the language of the Hero’s Journey, the choices we face require us to leave the Ordinary World, a world that is familiar although possibly unpleasant. The “familiar” may be an attitude, a value, a behavior, some stance we hold in our life. Uninvited and unwanted, we feel stirrings. Because of this quickening, these familiar things that we never thought to question become curious, even odd. In the language of Robert McKee, we reach a point of intolerable imbalance.
There are many ways to cope with this quickening we feel: deny, anesthetize, avoid, or heed. “The real choices in life will always involve the conflict between competing values, each of which has some considerable claim upon us. Or there would be no difficulty in the first place.” (from “On This Journey We Call Our Life” by James Hollis).
“Choices” and “conflicts”, words common to any screenwriter. How do we choose between competing values that we hold dear? Only one of the various coping mechanisms in the Crisis of the Call leads us to take the most courageous option: Leave the Ordinary World and head into the Special World; that unknown and therefore frightening world. To enter the Special World we are called to tolerate higher levels of anxiety, ambivalence and ambiguity. What do we risk by taking this journey? Everything. What do we gain by taking this journey? Everything.
Well, guess what? I am very clear that I have passed the first threshold and have entered my version of the Special World. Wherever I am on this path, I can look back and see growth. But that growth has been painful, challenging, and confusing. And, I wouldn’t go back for any price.
“To know what is true for us, to feel what we really feel, to believe what makes sense of our unique journey—this is the essence of living a life of spiritual integrity. Not easy, not common. Much harm is done when the integrity of one’s personal experience is violated on behalf of the group’s neurosis. Damage is done to those who are denied permission to take a journey of personal discovery.” – (from “On This Journey We Call Our Life” by James Hollis).
Spiritual integrity is a new concept to me, but integrity is not. In a world where honor is often equated with pride, integrity is losing to efficacy. If you feel these stirring that I have been talking about, you will intuit the truth of your own spiritual integrity. You discern that your journey to wholeness demands that you must step back and test the majority opinion. To quote a famous song title: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.
Upon reflection it seems to me I can be in different parts of the Hero’s Journey in different aspects of my life. For example, I could be in the Return in a personal goal to get in shape for a marathon run. At the same time I could be in the Ordeal in a personal relationship and Crossing the First Threshold as I start a new job. Regardless of where I am on the journey, I must see this through. It is, after all, my life.