Do you know any movie that doesn’t use the classical hero’s journey scenario, when a hero abandons his ordinary world for the sake of a special mission, ventures into the unknown territory, fights the demons, surpasses the obstacles, gets the magic elixir and returns home? “Harry Potter”, “Spiderman”, “Star Wars”, “Matrix”, “Lord Of The Rings”, “Kill Bill”, “Pretty Woman” are just a few out of a countless number of movies and books that follow one and only script. It turns out his script is not so new. Joseph Campbell after analyzing myths from all over the world throughout the history of humanity discovered that they all have the same framework. In his book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” (1949) he coined all the stages of Hero’s journey into 17 steps that have been repeated in myths, books, movies for at least 5000 years.
What is more interesting is that many of us are on this journey, whether we are aware of it or not. Some of us get on this path consciously, the others not so much.
Every journey begins with a certain yearning, some kind of dissatisfaction with the present, and desire for something new. The scale might be different. From a desire to spend a vacation in a very special place to urge to change the whole life. I’ll give you an example. One of my clients, let me call her Helena, worked in the corporate world for 24 years. In the beginning, it was new, exciting, and stressful. She had to learn a lot. Then as she advanced in her career, it was challenging, still exciting, and very stressful. And then at some point, she realized it was complex, demanding, stressful, exhausting. She had this crazy idea of starting her own business of healthy fast food eatery chain. No matter how hard she pushed this idea away, it came back again and again. Helena kept stumbling on newspaper articles and podcasts devoted to healthy diet trends, she noticed the unsuccessful examples of eateries in this niche that triggered active thinking. After a while, a strange, seemingly insane idea turned into a business plan. But it remained as a plan for two and a half years, because of so many reasons: mortgage, kids’ school and clubs, father’s illness, sister’s divorce, and the feeling of responsibility at her job.
I have done this journey myself. And through coaching and training practice I have had a privilege observing almost magical transformation of so many audacious heroes. These have been beautiful manifestations of intuition, courage, desire to evolve, and live a better life.
I invite you to dive in and discover at what stage of the journey you are now and maybe it will help you not only complete the mission successfully but also enjoy it along the way.
STAGE I. DEPARTURE
1.The Call To Adventure.
“It may sound the call to some high historical undertaking. Or it may mark the dawn of religious illumination. As apprehended by the mystic, it marks what has been termed “the awakening of the self.” […]But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration—a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.”
Bill O’Hanlon described four energies, four driving forces behind the calling. There might be one or more out of the four reasons why we start the journey. This topic deserves a special post on my blog. So you might want to subscribe to my newsletter to find read how to identify and use those energies in your journey. Now I just want to mention that there might be one or more different reasons why new unfamiliar energy stirs up certain thinking, feeling pushing you towards the unknown. At first it seems odd.
- Adam (let’s call him Adam) is a successful managing director of the big company. He has everything people dream of: highly paid job, wonderful family, nice house, twice-a-year vacations in luxury resorts, exclusive club membership, and so forth. Although he enjoys all benefits of the civilization, he feels a certain dissatisfaction with his rat race that doesn’t allow him to truly engage and enjoy his life.
2. Refusal Of The Call
“Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.”
This is the stage when we want to have a quick fix, ignoring our inner voice because of our autopilot mode that we seldom questions. What for? We have no tangible reasons to do so. “Life is great!” Besides, the focus of attention and therefore energy is on the effort to keep up with the ultra-high-speed rhythm of life rather than question the pillars of our well-being.
It’s probably not a surprise to you that the predominant majority of our mental, emotional, and behavioral activities are repetitious. Our brain wants to conserve energy through habits. Without systematizing, generalizing, and habituating our brain will have to over consume the energy coping with every situation as unique. So on a mental level, we tend to stick to habitual known. Everything new is met with caution behind which is the fear of unknown.
- The ideas of quitting it all and move with his family to Bali or going on around the world trip sound bizarre to Adam. They are too far out of his habitual thinking so at this point, he rejects them labeling as absurd and explaining to himself that he’s tired and just needs to plan a longer vacation this time. Three weeks might do the trick.
3. Supernatural Aid
“For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. […] What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. […] Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side.”
These days instead of the old crone or old man a role of a protective figure plays a life coach or a mentor. Once he or she already went this hero’s path and through inner transformation acquired profound knowledge, experience and wisdom that he/she is ready to share with others.
Enneagram is one of those special powers that give a profound understanding of the main programming that runs our autopilot mode. Or rather one of the nine programs that each of us has chosen in early childhood.
- Adam overwhelmed and annoyed by his strange to him feelings and thoughts connected them with his certain dissatisfaction with his job. So he started looking for alternatives. After a little bit of active networking, he received two job offers and he couldn’t decide which one to choose so he booked one coaching session. During the session, his dissatisfaction was not only about his job. He decided to explore what is the feeling of deep satisfaction is for him in the first place. Otherwise, all those nice cars and houses and effort at work didn’t make any sense.
4. Crossing The Threshold
“With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. […] Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger.”
Any new, unfamiliar path that we take, whether its a new job, a new city, a new partner, a new status, or self-discovery through coaching means passing the threshold between known and unknown. It is a point when the fear of the unknown is less than the discomfort of the present.
- During the coaching session, Adam realized that he tried to make all his decisions on a solely intellectual level, taking into account the pragmatical side but completely ignoring his feelings and desires. That is why dissatisfaction was creeping in and stacking up.
5. Belly Of The Whale
“The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died.”
It signifies deep dive into Self, self-exploration, where the old image of ourselves dies. It’s the time when we challenge our values that most of the time we inherited from our parents. We also ask ourselves questions so deep that we have no immediate or clear answers to them. Our previous experience is not much of a help, as we are in a totally new place.
- After discovering his Enneagram type Adam decides to take inventory of his key emotional, mental, and behavioral habits that shaped his personality, questioning each and every one of them and understanding how each of them affects his life in general and his discontent in particular. Enneagram gives him a clear direction where to “dig”. He feels excitement and anxiety at the same time.
STAGE II. INITIATION
6. The Road Of Trials
“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. “
This is one of the most adventurous parts of the journey, full of new experiences when we encounter and fight the “demons” – we become aware of our limiting beliefs, unuseful emotional, mental, and behavioral habits that ran on autopilot without us noticing them. During this stage, the coach helps us discover blind spots. Mistakes are an integral part of this journey as we not only realize our unhealthy habits but we also try new strategies that might now be immediately successful. This is a trial and error period with mistakes being an integral part of our growth.
- Thanks to Enneagram Adam discovers his main unconscious defensive strategies. For example, he easily suppresses his emotions for the sake of achieving results. In fact, he realizes, he has difficulties understanding his emotions. He also understands that he was used to putting himself under the constant pressure of achieving goals. Even his family was more like a project and less like a place of intimacy, closeness, relaxation, fun. So he decides to change that.
7. The Meeting With The Goddess
“The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart.”
Enneagram says we have three centers of intelligence: mental, emotional, and bodily. Depending on the Enneagram type, we overuse one mental center and underuse the others. In our Western society, we usually overthink, disregarding the emotional and body centers.
This stage of the hero path represents contact with the suppressed center. Once we do this, we balance out our life in many aspects. It’s as if we would start walking on both legs instead of hopping on one.
- Adam realizes that despite his excellent social radar that has allowed him to “read” other people immediately, he didn’t have contact with his own deeper emotions. Learning to use his emotions as an additional source of information and decision making, he feels his life becomes richer, more enjoyable.
8. Woman As Temptress
“The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else.
But when it suddenly dawns on us, or is forced to our attention, that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh, then, not uncommonly, there is experienced a moment of revulsion: life, the acts of life, the organs of life, woman in particular as the great symbol of life, become intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul.”
From the psychological point of view, this is an important part of the discovery of what Jung called the “shadow self”. The shadow is everything that we tagged as “bad” and have denied in ourselves and felt guilty or ashamed of. It depends on the personality type. For example, type 9 denies his anger, believing it’s bad, while type 8 finds it a very resourceful emotion. On the other hand type 8 considers weakness and vulnerability as flaws. At this stage, we discover and embrace our “sins”.
- Adam realizes how much attention he paid to the attributes of success: career, achievements, respect even admiration of others, wealth as a verification of his successful accomplishments, suspending his feelings and emotions, especially negative ones as an obstacle on the way to yet another goal. He put into shadow his emotional part. At the beginning of the coaching, he had difficulty even identifying his emotions. With time he learns to integrate his once considered “unattractive” part that felt all those “ugly” emotions like fear, shame, guilt, disappointment, sadness, and so forth.
9. Atonement With The Father
“Atonement (at-one-ment) consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster — the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself, and that is what is difficult. […] It is in this ordeal that the hero may derive hope and assurance from the helpful female figure, by whose magic he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the father’s ego-shattering initiation. For if it is impossible to trust the terrifying father-face, then one’s faith must be centered elsewhere (Spider Woman, Blessed Mother); and with that reliance for support, one endures the crisis—only to find, in the end, that the father and mother reflect each other, and are in essence the same.”
This encounter with something of incredible power is the central point of the journey. This is the time when we endure the major crisis, go through the deepest pain just to understand that it was not an outer obstacle but an inner limiting belief that caused us suffering. Any event or situation can trigger our suffering: our failure, or loss. This process reminds me of a sprout breaking through the seed coat.
- After the “discovery” of his emotional center, Adam learns to manage it. In the beginning, when he tried to observe the emotions as they appeared, the process turned into a battle between the old habit to suppress unknown scary uncomfortable emotions and the new desire to live life fully that is possible only when allowing the emotions to arise. It allowed him to connect deeper on an emotional level with his colleagues and enjoy the interactions with them instead of constant mental checking his to-do list. To Adam’s surprise being authentic with others, risking not to look good or admired or successful, brought respect from others. All his life he wanted to win respect by creating an image, and only when he gave up this strategy, did he achieve this goal.
“Like the Buddha himself, this godlike being is a pattern of the divine state to which the human hero attains who has gone beyond the last terrors of ignorance. “When the envelopment of consciousness has been annihilated, then he becomes free of all fear, beyond the reach of change. […] at the conclusion of the hero-task, at the moment when the wall of Paradise is dissolved, the divine form found and recollected, and wisdom regained.”
The self-development process goes though the nihilation of old concepts and believes mostly learned in early childhood and learning new ones. For example, one of the most common is “making mistakes is bad.” Or “I’m loved/respected only when..” followed with the condition that each Enneagram type created in his/her head based on his/her relationship with his/her parents. For example type 2, the Helper has a belief that he/she is loved only when he/she cares about the other. Type 3, the Achiever believes that he’s loved only when he’s successful and admired, type 8 believes that love only causes pain so he/she unconsciously prefers to dominate, control rather risk to be vulnerable. Our emotional suffering allows us to pay attention to the belief that caused it thus helping to re-evaluate it and possibly change it. When we decide to drop the old belief that maybe served its purpose in childhood but not anymore, we grow.
- Adam realizes that his desire to gain admiration for his achievements and success was a catch. He notices that not everybody likes it when he expresses his negative feelings. But most of the people respect him even more for his courage and authenticity. His unconscious belief that nobody will like authentic him was a myth that lived up until now. He also realizes how much energy he wasted trying to create a certain impression.
11. The Ultimate Boon
“What the hero seeks through his intercourse with them (meaning gods and goddesses) is therefore not finally themselves, but their grace, i.e., the power of their sustaining substance. This miraculous energy-substance and this alone is the Imperishable…”
At the end of almost every coaching session, I ask the client: “What is it that you take with you as a result of our session?” On the macrolevel, Enneagram gives this holy grail in the form of “virtue” – a metaphor for a particular resource. Each type has a virtue that leads to a specific blissful state for each type. For example type 6, the most fearful and anxious types of the Enneagram by practicing Courage comes to the state of Faith signifying trust in oneself and the Universe, something that 6’s struggle.
- Through Enneagram and coaching, Adam discovers that by practicing Honesty, by being sincere with himself and others without trying to look better or be more successful, he has this deep feeling of self-respect, no longer needing to gain the respect and admiration of others. His self-esteem and self-respect have made him self-sufficient.
STAGE III. RETURN
12. Refusal Of The Return
“The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds.
But the responsibility has been frequently refused.”
Once experiencing the elevated blissful pleasant state, many people want to experience it again and again. Some came to this state through inner work, others through the quick and easy use of psychedelics. In any case, the overpowering blissfulness of the state is irresistibly attractive, tempting and that is why addictive.
- After one of the coaching sessions during his regular morning run along the ocean, Adam suddenly felt an amazingly pleasant, elevated, ecstatic, somewhat euphoric state with the combination of so many positive emotions from joy and happiness to awe and reverence. He never felt anything like this before. It was so potent, resourceful, and empowering and with seemingly no reason. He wanted to be in this state again and again. He expected this state to come back during his regular jog. Then he signed up for the meditation class.
13. The Magic Flight
“If the hero in his triumph wins the blessing of the goddess or the god and is then explicitly commissioned to return to the world with some elixir for the restoration of society, the final stage of his adventure is supported by all the powers of his supernatural patron. On the other hand, if the trophy has been attained against the opposition of its guardian, or if the hero’s wish to return to the world has been resented by the gods or demons, then the last stage of the mythological round becomes a lively, often comical, pursuit. This flight may be complicated by marvels of magical obstruction and evasion.”
This is the stage when we go back to our ordinary life. After living through extraordinary self-development experiences we have two types of reactions when going back to normal life: either we are excited to begin a new chapter in our life, or we face certain inner resistance. Ordinary life might seem too dull and trivial compared to the highly elevated experiences of transformation.
- Adam looked at the old things, places, and people with new eyes. He starts noticing things he never noticed before. He becomes aware that during his usual Monday meetings he becomes slower in reacting and responding, taking time to observe his assumptions, emotions, before speaking up, making decisions, or acting.
14. Rescue From Without
“The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without. That is to say, the world may have to come and get him. […]Society is jealous of those who remain away from it, and will come knocking at the door. If the hero […] is only delayed—sealed in by the beatitude of the state of perfect being (which resembles death)—an apparent rescue is effected, and the adventurer returns.”
After deeper transformational processes, we might seem like a different person to the others. They might resist the changes that take place in us as the brain usually prefers everything known and habitual over unknown and uncommon. When we transform, our relationships with others also transform. This is the period when we adjust to the old world and the world adjusts to new us.
- Some people at work distance from Adam as his leadership style has changed from demanding and oppressive to mentoring and supportive. They considered it a weakness. The others welcomed and appreciated that he became more approachable and accessible to them. There was a certain period of adaptation for both Adam and his subordinates.
15. The Crossing Of The Return Threshold
“The two worlds, the divine and the human, can be pictured only as distinct from each other—different as life and death, as day and night. […]the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know. And the exploration of that dimension, either willingly or unwillingly, is the whole sense of the deed of the hero. The values and distinctions that in normal life seem important to disappear with the terrifying assimilation of the self into what formerly was only otherness.”
Some people naively believe that they can get enlightened in a remote ashram. But this is rather spiritual avoidance. The true growth is in the application of insights, new beliefs, acquired skills to ordinary life. It’s also about noticing divine in the ordinary. That is especially the growth path for Enneagram type 4 that we can learn from. Type 4 tends to downgrade common things always thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else.
- Adam used to be a human doer, who was constantly focused on goals, results, achievements. By giving space to his emotions in his life Adam feels more alive, even though not all emotions are pleasant. By allowing himself to slow down, he gradually starts enjoying things he has never even noticed: a beautiful new office building, delicious lunch, flavorous coffee, smiley passersby, and so forth. Maybe these are quick moments, but they are as he calls them “drops that make up the lifestream”. And now he realizes he can choose what to pay attention to.
16. Master Of Two Worlds
“The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity. The Law lives in him with his unreserved consent.”
Deep transformation also includes the revision of our values and conscious choice of those that are truly important to us. This in turn helps set priorities in life, both in the long term and in everyday planning. We start appreciating fundamental things like truly good relationships, good health, compassion for others, without being distracted by more ephemeral, superficial things. We find inner support that helps us face unexpected events and even hardships with more serenity, discernment, and wisdom.
- Adam was always very ambitious. After this inner work, he hasn’t become less result-oriented, but his desire to achieve is more light-hearted, playful. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t take it seriously anymore. It means that his overall happiness doesn’t depend on accomplishments. He has so many sources of life satisfaction that are valuable to him. He enjoys intimate, close relationships with his family, friends, different activities that recharge his energy from reading books jogging to meditating. His communication with others has got deeper, more sincere, without avoiding negative emotions. That made him value real positivity even more. On the other hand, he didn’t cling to this positivity, embracing everything that comes.
He is no more afraid of failure. He has got a type of gamer attitude. He knows he is doing his best to get on the next level of the game: achieving the goal, eventually winning the game, getting the reward, celebrating the victory and then … turning off the computer. This new attitude allowed him to enjoy his job, decreasing the level of stress to a healthy one, that motivated him, challenged him, but didn’t exhaust him. Getting out of a rat race rhythm he starts appreciating and enjoying more things about his job besides his lavish compensation package and opportunity to travel. He feels grateful for the ability to devote certain time for self-development, working flexible hours and the corporate culture that fostered self-development and a friendly environment.
17. Freedom To Live
“What, now, is the result of the miraculous passage and return? […] The battlefield is symbolic of the field of life, where every creature lives on the death of another. A realization of the inevitable guilt of life may so sicken the heart that,[…], one may refuse to go on with it. On the other hand, like most of the rest of us, one may invent a false, finally unjustified, image of oneself as an exceptional phenomenon in the world, not guilty as others are, but justified in one’s inevitable sinning because one represents the good. Such self-righteousness leads to a misunderstanding, not only of oneself but of the nature of both man and the cosmos. The goal of the myth is to dispel the need for such life ignorance by effecting a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will. And this is effected through a realization of the true relationship of the passing phenomena of time to the imperishable life that lives and dies in all.”
This stage signifies the completion of our transformation when newly acquired beliefs and formed habits and skills bring the person to the next level of development. We embrace accept the perfect imperfection of our human nature and at the same time, we are committed to evolving. The harmony between seeming opposite phenomena: acceptance of oneself and desire to continue to allows us to enjoy the process along the way.
We realize that the purpose of the destination is the journey.
- After a few months of active self-development process, Adam finally answers his question, which of the two job offers to choose. He realizes that it was not about his job but himself having been dissatisfied with his life pushed towards the desire to change work. He has learned to fine-tune his life balance to enjoy all aspects of his life: challenging and rewarding in many ways work, a loving family, fun time with friends, morning jog, traveling and many other things. And he finally finds time to learn to play guitar, something that he dreamed of all his life. Sometimes he practices together with his son playing drums, and they both enjoy their father-son time together.