By Rhonda Leifheit
Stories of heroes and heroines exist in all cultures, from ancient Greek mythology (Hercules) to childhood fairytales (Little Red Riding Hood). The purpose of these stories was to inspire the human spirit - not only to endure life’s hardships, but in some way, to rise above them. These days we see heroes on screen in classics like: Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Avengers. Their popularity speaks to something deep in the human psyche; something within us that admires those who face adversity, rise above “forces of evil”, muster courage, and display integrity.
Yet ancient tales and blockbuster movies put heroes on a pedestal and out of reach. Imagine instead that we are all on a hero’s journey. The teachings of Carolyn Myss, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung help us appreciate that we all encounter challenges and battle enemies of one kind or another - some outer, most inner - and strive to emerge the heroes/heroines of our own lives. This is also called “the soul’s journey”.
According to Myss, the evolution of the archetypal hero’s journey “…begins with a process of separation or alienation from the tribe, followed by a series of difficult challenges that the hero must meet along the way. The journey culminates in a descent into the abyss of self-doubt and a loss of faith in the Divine, but then results in a vital transformation and a renewal of trust, which in turn leads to a revelation of some new knowledge, insight or wisdom” (Myss 65) [emphasis added]
Translate these stages to your own world and you will see heroes everywhere. Think of a time when you (or someone you know) has faced separation and loss of the familiar. Examples might include: the end of a relationship, mental or physical illness, loss of income, death of a loved one, issues of gender identity, loss of home by foreclosure or natural disaster, and other forms of shock or trauma. Any of these experiences then leads to the next phase - A series of challenges.
Among the greatest challenges are the “inner adversaries” of despair and self-doubt. One might experience a loss of faith, encountering the “dark night of the soul”. If we get “stuck” in this phase, we can create what is known as “Samskaras” (or scars) in the Hindu tradition. These are the psychic or soul wounds that can travel with us from lifetime to lifetime and can be discovered and understood through past life exploration.
It is only by facing adversity that the hero emerges transformed. But what is it that transforms a human struggle into a hero’s journey? The beloved classic The Wizard of Oz gives us some significant clues.
Swept away from the comforts of home, Dorothy enters a strange land, encounters adversity, yet discovers allies on her journey. They each discover that what they would seek from the Wizard could actually be found within: Dorothy learns to believe in herself. Her three friends, who had become trusted allies on the path, discover that their coveted courage, heart, and brains emerge from the challenges they face. And, let’s not forget loyal Toto, whose intuitive instincts pull back the curtain to reveal the Wizard’s illusion.
When Glinda, The Good Witch tells Dorothy, “You always had the power to go home”, Scarecrow asks, “Why didn’t you tell her before?”. To which Glinda replies: “She had to learn it for herself”.
Each of us is on a journey - unique to our own soul growth. If we choose to view it as a hero’s journey, we too can find spiritual allies along the way and come to appreciate the gifts, strengths, and inner resources that are uniquely ours.
May you always find the light to guide your way,
Myss, Caroline. Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential. New York: Harmony Books, 2001
The Wizard of Oz. Dir. Victor Fleming. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939.
© 2019 Rhonda Leifheit – All Rights Reserved