“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
― Joseph Campbell, The power of Myth
Last week I had the flu and it forced me to stay in bed where I landed up scrolling through YouTube. I stumbled across a film about Joseph Campbell called “Finding Joe”, directed by Patrick Takaya Solomon. The film explores Joseph Campbell’s legacy or concept that is called “The Hero’s Journey” and except for the aesthetic (which I didn’t like) the message felt like it was divine intervention . The film profiles people from different backgrounds who share their stories that intertwine with Campbell’s idea of what the hero’s journey is. The hero’s journey is explained in the film not being the type that is only found in movies or made by Hollywood directors. It is a journey that is experienced by every human being on this planet.
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” ― Joseph Campbell
In the early 20th century, while Joseph Campbell was studying mythology, he discovered a hidden pattern in every story. He studied all these different mythologies and he started with the mythologies of the Native Americans and he fell in love with them when he was still very young. He continued by studying all stories of the world: Aboriginal mythologies, Greek mythologies, Christian and Islamic stories. In doing so he drew from all of our stories.
He came up with a methodology to approach storytelling but more importantly, in doing so he came up with the contents of the archetypical journey we all go through in life. He unveiled the one story in all stories. The story we can all relate to regardless of where we come from and he called this ‘The Hero’s journey’.
It is important to see this one story in all stories because it allows us to see how similar we are – what we have in common and perhaps bring us closer. In today’s world, many stories are told that emphasize our differences and many of us focus on what drives us apart. We focus on the superficial, the things we can see on the outside of a person. We stop being interested when our eyes reach the skin and make a judgement about that person. But this has happened throughout our centuries where war was based on differences.
And this is why “The Hero’s journey” is more relevant in these times because of the opportunity we have to bring about change . We are living in a time where we have a choice. A choice to start viewing our human species and our connection to the planet and all living creatures in a different way.
So what is the one story in all stories. The Hero’s Journey basically has the recipe to understand each other and to bring us closer. It contains three parts: separation, initiation and return. The hero lives in a world that is familiar to him. What follows is a call to adventure where separation from the familiar world happens. During this adventure the hero arrives in unfamiliar places where he or she meets obstacles on the way. People will help, doors will open but doors will also close.
It is like the awareness that arises when you feel uncomfortable in task you have to fulfill. A job you are doing or an education you are in. Every now and then we feel this call to adventure. To take a step back and evaluate. Are we following our path or are we on a journey of obligation that is not really ours anymore. It is up to us at that point to answer to the call to adventure or not. It is up to us to embrace the ‘not knowing’ and try new routes. Investigate. Experience. Fall and stand up and by doing so find out what the adventure is that is brought to us.
Continuing the journey, the hero may come across a dragon and he or she is guided on his or her unclear path towards their inner story, their inner quest. This experience is what Campbell calls the initiation: experiencing hardship and success. In this hardship the hero finds their unique path. After this initiation he or she returns to the world they knew, bringing their learnings back to the community.
I believe in this recipe on how to live in this world is where his legacy resides. If we are open to exploring life – take on the adventure and go beyond our own comfort zones, mentally and physically – discover new ways of thinking, we may come up against our own judgements and blindspots but then we can find a unique path to each other.
“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” ― Joseph CampbellBut Joseph Campbell didn’t just leave us with this recipe. He also left us with the concept of bliss. It is such a simple word that conjures up thoughts of serenity. The Hero’s Journey is what Brian Johnson in the film ‘Finding Joe’ describes as the courage to look within and asking yourself, what am I here to do? What am I most passionate about in my life, what are my greatest gifts and how do I give them to the world? This is what Campbell captured with his phrase “Follow your bliss”. This is the essence of the hero’s journey. It does not mean only follow your pleasures, it does not mean hedonism or egoism. It means listening within and hearing what story is yours. Then following that story – that bliss.
While lying on my bed sick with flu, I wondered why this hero’s journey inspires me…
In experiencing todays’ world, it is difficult for me to stay energized to discover why I am here and what I bring to the world. To remember what is important and beautiful in my uniqueness. We live in times where the challenges we face are global and I personally find it harder to find my path and commit to it and even to trust in it. I find it harder to overcome my inner resistance and embrace the possibilities of the present. Even to say : “I will follow my bliss”, is a very big deal. It is almost as if in these current times we are experiencing a global initiation. And in this global initiation it is hard to keep an eye on our own special gifts that we are asked to bring to the world. It is harder to keep an ear to our own inner voice because other voices are so loud and so overwhelming.
Now is the time to go on a quest, walk on a path that is uncertain, experience everything that comes our way, be challenged and bring our wisdom back to our communities both global and local. We need to share our personal stories with the world and bring them alive for present and future generations. All those stories together will bring the realization that in all those different stories we find the story that resides in all of us.
This realization and the wisdom that was given to us by Joseph Campbell so many years ago, has the potential to change the world and the way we live together.
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure ” ― Joseph Campbell