All of these heroes start out with the most essential quality we can identify: they start out as ordinary and exactly like us. Every hero in every story begins as we begin...making a human life under human circumstances with human fears and struggles. We recognize this in the face of every hero. But, then something in the story shifts. The hero receives a call. For Neo, it literally is a phone call from his mentor, Morpheus. For Charlie Bucket, it’s the discovery of the golden ticket in the bar of chocolate. For William Wallace, it’s witnessing the brutality of the English soldiers toward his new wife. The call may be subtle. It may be violent. It may be joyful or it may be tragic. But, the call always comes; and as watchers of the story, we all know what happens next.
The hero must answer the call.
What begins the movement of the hero from ordinary human being to transcending mere humanness is this initial step toward their own hero’s journey. In one way or the other, the hero answers “yes” to their own call. It may be an ecstatic “Yes!” as in the case of Charlie Bucket, an angry “yes” as in the case of William Wallace, or they may go kicking and screaming toward their adventure as Neo does. Either way, the hero must absolutely answer this call and begin, otherwise they remain stuck in their own meager, deteriorating circumstance. This would be detrimental not only to their personal growth—as in, the hero would never actually become the hero at all—but, also to those of us who are inspired by these stories. Without the hero’s initial brave step toward their journey we would have no example of what it means to transcend our own fear, boredom, mundanity or exhaustion. We would have no shining illustration of what it means to pursue our own heroic path because each of us is meant to become the hero of our story, to discover our own unique gifts and cross over our very own thresholds from ordinary to extraordinary by following our bliss.
Joseph Campbell’s most famous statement, “Follow your bliss, (Power of Myth, 120)” illustrates saliently the sentiment behind the call to adventure. It is our bliss, which is already active inside of us, that calls out, challenging us to realize our fullest potential. This bliss point is encoded within us—whether we believe it to be encoded in our DNA or a part of our own soul’s journey—it is the call that inspires us to step up and become fully realized human beings. When we respond to that call, we enthusiastically affirm our own life and all of its trials and joys, we fully inhabit our own body and revivify our existence moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary and transcendant. The doldrums and boredom of a meaningless existence comes from an inability to recognize this life-affirming practice while turning away from our own inevitable inner call to adventure.
And the call will come.
Our journey is inevitable. The path is already beset before us based on our own unique circumstances and all the choices we have made throughout our lives. Joseph Campbell described the personal journey in relation to the Arthurian legends where before dinner, it was customary to have an adventure. The knights set off toward the dark forest, but it was thought to be a cop out to enter into the forest at the point anyone else had already entered. Each knight knew that he must embark on his own adventure, and slay his own dragon in order to retain the honor of a knight at court. Campbell says, “You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential. (Reflections on the Art of Living, Campbell, 19)” If Charlie Bucket had gone the way of all the other children, he would have blown up like a blueberry, been sucked up by the chocolate vortex or fallen down the chute like a rotten egg. Charlie has to make his own decisions based on his own life and circumstances. All heroes do. Including us.
But, it’s hard to answer the call. Many of us will shy away from the initial telephone ring, as Neo does when he surrenders into the hands of the agents. Answering the call means beginning a journey into unknown territory—the dark forest of the Arthurian legends—which is the unknown matter of our own psyche. There are magical forces buried within there, but there are also monsters and dragons. The proverbial forest is fraught with danger, but it is also where we find the grand mystery. While the call to adventure is a signifier that it is time to leave the relative comfort of our day-to-day existence, it is also the beginning of a journey into the great unknown. This can be an incredibly daunting endeavor even for the most staunch heroes, which is why many heroes refuse the initial call. However, the only reason anyone refuses the call is that they are scared of what their journey will entail and what it will reveal to them. It will require the hero to step outside of the boundaries of their current comfort and convenience. It will ask them to bring forth all that is within them—both their positive qualities, and those they’re not proud of. And it will reveal to them the meaning of their own existence and bring to life their greatest fears as well as their greatest potential. The journey into the dark forest is often scary. And, truth be told: fear is the hero’s greatest enemy.
This is not a new or uncommon motif in the history of humanity. Everyone gets scared sometimes. Many of the world’s oldest philosophical and mythological texts suggest that fear is at the source of the limited, encumbered ways of thinking that prevent us from fully manifesting our potential and journeying into the deep dark forest of our own psyche to embark upon our journey. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. (Pagels 20)” The work of every hero is to accept the call to adventure, which is really an internal call, one that asks the hero to delve deeply into the dark forest within to bring forth their own greatest gifts. When Neo is called by Morpheus to become “the one,” it is his internal transformation into that state of being that makes him the hero of the story. It is the way with all heroes, but this journey leads us into realms we’ve never even attempted to explore, and so it is often tempting to ignore the call and continue along our misguided, disconnected course because the idea of venturing forth into the unknown is often more fear inducing than remaining stuck in our current realm.
However, refusing the call because of fear brings great detriment to the potential hero. When we refuse our adventure—and we will only refuse it because of fear—we are haunted by what could have been and get muddled in negativity. Fear and angst grow inside of us and we are rendered incapable of living out our own personal mythology. Our story becomes stuck inside and like a wound in the mouth that would heal if only we could stop tonguing it, our personal mythology festers and continues to knock at the door of our imagination. The internal struggle becomes more pronounced the more fervently the call is refused. When we refuse the call, we refuse the expansion of the mystery, the numinous, the encoded DNA, and the infinite potential that lives within. Campbell says, “The myths...make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest. (49)” The refusal is fueled only by fear–be it a fear of change, a fear of (literal or metaphorical) death, or a fear of being alone.
All fears are rooted in the same place. While traditional wisdom (both eastern and western) would likely tell us that the greatest fear we have is the fear of death, there is a deeper, more pervasive fear even beyond that: the fear of disconnection or aloneness. True disconnection is the greatest fear, as it leaves us isolated from everything that we know, everything that we love or have loved and everything we believe ourselves to be. Disconnection leaves us lost within the void. It renders us without a lifeline or anchor to all that vivifies us. As social creatures, humans are hardwired to need connection with others in order to maintain their wellbeing. Without it, we suffer greatly both physically and emotionally as disconnection leads to apathy, boredom, stress and anxiety which are at the root of much disease in our population. These days, to try and stifle this debilitating disconnection we have numbed it by becoming the most medicated, addicted and overweight adult cohort in human history (Brown, web).
The disease of disconnection is systemic within anyone who remains gripped by fear. The two go hand in hand. The remedy is to discover the source of connection from within. The folly of fear is that it leads us away from our innermost bliss point—the core connectedness of our being. To journey back into this inner state is to realize that disconnection is actually an illusion and that there is a part of us that is always connected to a source, no matter what we call it—our ancestors, our soul, collective unconscious, the universe—there is a place within us that is illimitable and ever-sustaining. If we can only make contact with it, we will have alleviated the greatest fear of all and realized that the power of our aloneness exists in infinite connections to the world around us.
In order to get to this realization, a deeper part of us calls out from within to let us know that the journey must begin. This initial call to adventure might be a small, still voice in the back of our mind, or it may be a shove from the brink like a tidal wave or hurricane. No matter how the call comes—and it will come—it demands to be answered. Now, many of us will refuse this initial call to awaken what is most alive within us. Fear will grip us even more tightly as we try to settle in and hunker down inside the status quo. But, this limiting “comfort zone” will become too small. The edges of it will start pressing against us like a snail who has outgrown its shell. And, the call will come again...and again, until we stand up, answer its cry and take the first step on our own journey.
At some point, all heroes must take this initial step and begin to walk their journey alone, for each of us has our own personal mythology to realize and bring forth from within. We must be willing to challenge the status quo in order to free ourselves of the shackles of a meaningless existence, to transcend a life that fails to enliven our soul. Each one of us must die to who we think we are to become what we know ourselves to be. For, if we don’t, as Campbell says, our “flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones, and our life feels meaningless. (49)”
Whether or not we respond to the mighty call to adventure might be the most important choice we make in our lifetime. The stories that inspire us are always of heroes that have said “Yes!” to their adventure and answered their call, like Charlie Bucket, Neo and William Wallace among countless others. Each of these heroes had to enter into their personal forest at the darkest place in order to embark upon their adventure and become the ones who inspire each of us to do the same. Perhaps the greatest legacy each of us can leave behind in our own singular lifetime is to live a heroic life that inspires others to follow their own bliss.
But, no one said it was going to be easy. Remember, the heroic knight always enters the forest at the darkest place. There are dragons and demons and monsters in that dark forest. We will have to tread our path alone for the darkest stretches because as Campbell says, “your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior. (Art of Living 97)” There is no security. There are no rules. If there were, it wouldn’t be an adventure. Inevitably, when we begin to live out our own personal mythology, when we bring it forth from the shackles of our heart, we find that we must face our biggest enemies, our worst fears and the parts of ourselves long hidden from the sunlight. However, as we progress along our journey, we will find, as Campbell says, that “if you are ready for it, doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else. (Art of Living 97)” Then, we reveal to ourselves that the ultimate source of connection comes from the contact we make with our own bliss.
And so, the journey begins.
By Alanna Kaivalya
Alanna Kaivalya has a mission: to convey a sense of joy and freedom through harmony and synchronicity, which she does beautifully through her classes, workshops, writing, and music. Alanna is known for her ability to translate the ancient practice of yoga into a modern day context. Visit Alanna's website and learn about the Kaivalya Yoga Method at AlannaK.com.
This post was originally published on alannak.com.
"Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability." Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability. Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading, Dec. 2010. Web. 08 Mar. 2013.
Campbell, Joseph, and Bill D. Moyers. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988. Print.
Campbell, Joseph, and Diane K. Osbon. A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1991. Print.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1968. Print.
Pagels, Elaine H. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House, 1979. Print.
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