As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.”
When we think of adventure and the outdoors, many possibilities come to mind. There are rugged mountains to climb, rushing rivers to navigate, and new trails to trek. The growth that comes from challenging our mental and emotional stamina, as well as our mental acuity, is often an important part of the journey. Inviting fresh experiences, the joy of exploration, finding solutions to obstacles, and the lessons we learn from nature are other aspects. Perhaps we deepen our bonds with our companions or become more aware of ourselves through solitude. Yet is there another dimension to adventure that we are missing?
Joseph Campbell, a 20th century mythologist, believed that the stories we tell are vital tools that guide us through the mystery of life. While studying myths from around the world, he noticed that the stories contained similar and recurrent themes. He found that these commonalities transcended culture, time, and geography; civilizations that appeared very different on the surface somehow produced myths that were remarkably alike at their core. It is important to note that these cultures often had no contact with each other and had no means of sharing their tales either orally or through writing. Campbell thought this was evidence of a shared human consciousness and a common human experience. His favorite mythological theme was called “The Hero’s Journey”.
The Hero’s Journey is an archetypal framework that outlines the protagonist’s odyssey. The model can be broken down into three main parts- The Separation, The Initiation, and The Return.
The Separation occurs when The Hero first sets off (either willingly or reluctantly) in search of adventure. The story always begins in the ordinary world where The Hero is living an ordinary existence. Everything changes when The Hero hears The Call To Adventure, a summons to leave what is familiar and venture into uncharted territory. Leaving the known world for the unknown always involves a search for treasure which can be an internal discovery, such as a quest for knowledge, or for literal riches. Sometimes The Hero simply knows it is time to go or s/he may be pulled away from his/her life by an external event. Once The Call is answered, a mentor appears to prepare The Hero for the journey ahead. The wise guide provides advice and tools but cannot accompany The Hero on the path.
The next section, The Initiation, is where our main character “crosses the threshold”. The Hero is now fully committed to the process and enters the new, often supernatural realm of the unknown. The Hero faces obstacles and makes both allies and enemies as the story unfolds. The challenges culminate in a great trial where The Hero’s strength, skills, and courage are put to the test. It is possible that The Hero fails or even dies during the struggle. However, if our protagonist succeeds, s/he will be rewarded with the much sought-after prize. Looking to make the jump? Check out our guided adventure focused on your own Hero's Journey.
Now that the battle has been won, it is time for The Hero to return to the ordinary world with the treasure. It is at The Hero’s discretion if the prize is to be shared with others or kept to him/herself. It is also possible that The Hero does not return to the known world, choosing instead to stay in the magical sphere. These steps can be seen in numerous myths from around the world as well as in classics like The Odyssey and Beowulf. It can even be found in more modern books and films such as Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Shrek, and the Harry Potter series.
While the tale itself is entertaining, the Hero’s Journey is a metaphor for the process of growth and rebirth. We must walk away from what we know and enter the realm of uncertainty if we wish to receive a boon. The treasure may be an external reward or accomplishment, or perhaps wisdom we garnered on the path of self-discovery. Sharing these riches with others has the capacity to benefit the community and even society as a whole. The journey has transformed us; we are not the same people at the end as at the beginning. The tests strengthened us and we are more aware of the power that lies within. Life provides us with many opportunities to enter the unknown. Natural transitions such as entering adulthood, committing to a partner, having children, or becoming an elder are all situations in which we must shed our old selves and grow into a bigger role. Creative projects, new jobs or responsibilities, and business ventures also give us the chance to challenge ourselves and realize our skills and talents. However, the most profound manifestation of the Hero’s Journey is to look within and discover a sense of wholeness. This is the ultimate prize.
The Call To Adventure is only the second step in the monomyth, but it can easily be the last. It is not uncommon for The Hero to refuse The Call for a period of time before surrendering to the process. But answering The Call is first and foremost a choice; some would-be heroes simply refuse to leave home. This may literally mean staying in our hometown where we feel unfulfilled. Or maybe we endure a miserable job or unhealthy relationship instead of deciding we need more. Perhaps we have always had a dream but convince ourselves it is impossible and refuse to make it a reality. In some tales, The Call comes in the form of soft, otherworldly music heard playing in the woods. Following the melody leads The Hero into a different dimension which begins the quest. Those who ignore the music must live with the knowledge that their lives will be half-lived.
Spiritual seekers, artists, and thinkers and innovators of all kinds frequently go into nature for inspiration. The natural world has a way of centering us and creating greater harmony both within ourselves and with our environment. In nature we become more attuned to and aware of the process of life. The modern world moves so quickly that slowing down can seem impossible and society’s many distractions can drown out The Call. Don’t miss out on the great adventure of life. We are all heroes.