What is the name of an adventure you are currently on? What stage are you in?
Joseph Campbell describes the archetypal monomyth of the “Hero’s Journey”. The monomyth is a design pattern for human experience. Understanding this pattern can increase awareness and resources available in one’s own adventures. It also deepens the experience of these journeys. Keep in mind that humans have been having adventures for a REALLY long time and are quite good at them — we have plenty of resources to draw on!
Ok, here are the primary stages of the Hero’s Journey:
1. The Call to Adventure
The Call might be obvious and not leave any room for the Hero to decline the adventure — think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who’s call to adventure was a tornado picking her house up and transporting her over the rainbow.
The call might also be more subtle and voluntary like John Dunbar, the hero in the movie Dances With Wolves, who is tired of war and just wants to see the frontier before it disappears.
Sometimes the call provides an option to decline, such as when Neo (of the Matrix franchise) is presented with the option to take the red pill or the blue pill. Or when the Hobbit has the option to decline the unexpected journey arranged by Gandalf.
WARNING though…if the Call to Adventure is declined, the Hero may never be satisfied with life as it was…or may continue to be called to the adventure in ever more insistent terms.
Another feature of the Call to Adventure is having to pass the “threshold” …this may take the form of a “point of no return.” Often, there are Guardians at the Threshold who’s job it is to scare the Hero back from the adventure. These Guardians can be external or can take of the form of internal doubts or parts of one’s psyche that are intent on keeping the status quo (such as negative self-talk: “I can’t do that”, “I’m not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough”, “I don’t have time”).
2. The Road of Trials
Once the call to adventure has been accepted, the Hero encounters all sorts of obstacles, internal and external, along the adventure’s road. There are also allies (Dorothy’s party included Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion), tricksters, and danger along the way. Many times there is special help provided in the form of a mentor or guide (like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda or Morpheus).
3. Symbolic Death
At some point, the Adventurer is forced to confront some part deep inside and “slay the dragon” (think of Luke Skywalker slaying himself). This symbolizes the Hero letting go of who the Hero has been in the past in order to be recreated as who the Hero is going forward.
4. Rebirth & Transformation
The Hero is reborn with new knowledge, a new identity, a new way of being in the world. This transformation provides a boon…the pot of gold, a gift, special insight or power that can now be shared with the world. Think of Neo being able to see the Matrix and stop bullets. Dorothy realizing there is no place like home and her companions realizing they had all the resources they needed inside them all along (e.g., courage, heart, brains). Siddhartha becoming the “Awakened One.”
5. The Return
The Hero returns to the starting place, ready to share a boon with the world; ready to be called to a new adventure.
So what is your current adventure and what stage are you in? 🙂
Check out this diagram for a more detailed look at the monomyth: