November 13, 2022

Life Coming Full Circle: How to Master the Personal & Collective Hero’s Journey.

Many things seem to have come full circle in my world lately.

I imagined becoming a writer when I was a kid but gave up without trying. Now I am writing on Elephant Journal and feeling like I belong in this mindful community.

I spent two decades working in hospitals, learning about medicines and health care on the frontline. Now I am un-learning and re-learning many things I know through my own health journey and being a carer to my father.

I chose not to travel overseas this year, even though I would be taking a career break and that most travel restrictions would have been lifted. Now I am thankful for having the time and space to look after things that matter: health, family, and home.

I experienced emotional breakdowns after a heated conversation with a friend two months ago. Now I am making significant breakthroughs in processing and healing my childhood wounds.

I was worried about how quitting my job might impact my career trajectory. Now I am realising opportunities and making connections that would not have been possible otherwise.

These events remind me of what Joseph Campbell described as the Hero’s Journey.

“The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.” ~ Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

The Hero’s Journey narrative has been embedded in myths and folklores since the beginning of humankind. It shows us what it means to be human, what we may encounter in the journey of life, and what it takes to return home. From Odyssey to Star Wars, from The Sword in the Stone to Harry Potter, from Jane Eyre to The Handmaid’s Tale, all these stories share a similar pattern:

>> Departure: The hero receives a call to adventure that they may hesitate or resist. With the counsel of a mentor figure, the hero follows the call and leaves the ordinary world.

>> Initiation: The hero enters the special (or unfamiliar) world where they face many tests and trials. Eventually, the hero achieves the final goal of the quest.

>> Return: The hero returns to the ordinary world with their prizes and wisdom. The hero also realises that they have been transformed and are set free from the past.

Let’s take a pause and look back at our own lives so far.

We would start to recognise many past events (they might not be as dramatic as a Hollywood movie) played out in a similar cycle.

Sometimes we may miss, ignore, or even refuse the call for change because of the lack of awareness, curiosity, and courage.

Sometimes we may not be able to take the leap because of concerns with the timing, safety, and/or resources.

Sometimes we may give up too early or get stuck in a rut because we get distracted by noises, speediness, and temptations around us.

Sometimes we may feel as if no progress has been made because we are moving forward at a snail’s pace. Success comes only after we have learned the lessons we need.

Sometimes we may forget to return to our true self after achieving success because we become attached to the glory and fanfare outside.

We are travelling through our own Hero’s Journey.

We are also a part of the collective Hero’s Journey with people around us—at home, at work, and in society.

“All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you.” ~ Joseph Campbell

Last year at a leadership program (I would like to acknowledge Mr Peter Burow, author of NeuroPower: Leading with NeuroIntelligence, and the NeuroPower Group for their passion and commitment in creating values and impacts through a human-centred approach in personal and professional development), I learned about creating the mindful path to personal and collective transformation through the Hero’s Journey.

1. Call to adventure and refusal of the call: Reflect on where we are now and decide where we want to be. Set intentions. Create a vision. Define purpose and values.

2. Supernatural aid: Seek advice from mentors and trusted allies. Do research, consider options, and make plans. Be conscious of self-sabotage behaviours or beliefs at this point.

3. Crossing the first threshold and belly of the whale: Take a breath, leap, and just do it.

4. The road of trials: Follow the plan and persevere through obstacles. Be brave. Solve problems and learn from mistakes as we go.

5. Meeting with the goddess, the woman as temptress, and atonement with father: Identify and manage potential or actual risks. Beware of analysis paralysis and risk aversion at this point.

6. Apotheosis: Track progress and analyse data. Make inform decisions on adjustments and changes. Be willing to unlearn and re-learn ways of working.

7. The ultimate boon: Achieve the intended outcome and success.

8. Refusal of the return, the magic flight, and rescue from without: Celebrate success but remember to learn from achievements. Be aware of pride, vanity, and over-indulgence at this point.

9. Crossing the return threshold, master of two worlds, and freedom to live: Embrace and enjoy the new status quo. Share wisdom with others and be of benefit. Seek new opportunities. Renew and innovate. Be ready for the next quest.

Deep in the heart of this finite lifetime, it is always about fulfilling our core emotional, cognitive, and social needs. To feel a sense of belonging in the world. To express and create freely in a safe space. To have a sense of autonomy and agency and take actions. To understand and connect with people. To learn new things and see progress. To inspire, feel inspired, and have hope for the future.

We have everything we need to make the most of our personal and collective Hero’s Journey.

Everything within us and around us is fundamentally, basically, good.

Transformation starts when we let go of our habitual busyness, connect with our inner being through silence and solitude, welcome each day with loving-kindness, and give wholehearted attention and appreciation to the present moment.

As it is articulated beautifully in Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s book From Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior:

“With the great problems now facing human society, it seems increasingly important to find simple and non-sectarian ways to work with ourselves and to share our understanding with others. The Shambhala teachings or ‘Shambhala vision,’ as this approach is more broadly called, is one such attempt to encourage a wholesome existence for ourselves and others.”

“If we are willing to take an unbiased look, we will find that, in spite of all our problems and confusion, all our emotional and psychological ups and downs, there is something basically good about our existence as human beings. Unless we can discover that ground of goodness in our own lives, we cannot hope to improve the lives of others. If we are simply miserable and wretched beings, how can we possibly imagine, let alone realize, an enlightened society?”

“It is not just an arbitrary idea that the world is good, but it is good because we can experience its goodness. We can experience our world as healthy and straightforward, direct and real, because our basic nature is to go along with the goodness of situations. The human potential for intelligence and dignity is attuned to experiencing the brilliance of the bright blue sky, the freshness of green fields, and the beauty of the trees and mountains. We have an actual connection to reality that can wake us up and make us feel basically, fundamentally good. Shambhala vision is tuning in to our ability to wake ourselves up and recognize that goodness can happen to us. In fact, it is happening already.”


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