The heroic journey was made famous by mythologist Joseph Campbell and even won Emmy Award for his series on PBS about the topic, but the heroic framework has been around since humankind. Found in every culture around our planet and in every spiritual tradition, the framework is timeless and universal and shows us that individuals, families, couples, communities, organizations and nations experience many examples of the heroic framework when we face challenge, rites of passage, loss and even trauma.
The framework is familiar to everyone – except we sometimes don’t know we know it, for it is used as entertainment. All of full-length animated movies for children by Disney and Pixar are built on the heroic framework and so are nearly every movie nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Also found in great literature for centuries, these all teach that the budding hero or heroine faces great challenge…the antagonist element of life. The antagonist is the element of life that threatens to stop, delay or sabotage us from reaching our goal or healing. In great stories, it is often portrayed by the bad guy, bad gal or a monster of sorts. The initiate (budding hero) must find a way to transcend the challenge. Many traumatic situations in life become the antagonist: abuse, trauma, profound loss,PTSD, a terminal or chronic illness or addiction – to name but a few.
The lessons embedded in the stories which capture the masses have the secrets of transformation and resilience. If we study the stories, rather than simply using them as mind-numbing entertainment they become a map of resilience or post traumatic growth. Once the “map” is learned, it gets reinforced anytime a person watches a blockbuster movie, read great literature or study the great writings of their spiritual tradition – if they have one.
What people can learn from studying the heroic framework is:
Each challenge a person faces can have great meaning in their life if it is successfully traveled
Some journeys will have solo times and also times where we have to learn (again) to trust others
Each journey will utilize strengths which helped us to survive previous challenges, but does also require some on-the-job training which will require new skills
The deeper journeys of trauma and/or profound loss will take us to “trench time” or what has been called “Dark night of the Soul,” “Night sea journey,” “Desert time,” “The dry well,” “The Abyss,” “The basement of the soul,” or even “Belly of the whale time.” Trench time requires us to release something to transform: maybe a belief system, a relationship, an old behavior which no longer serves us, or a no longer valid way to see ourselves.
The framework teaches us to discern when to be tenacious and tough and also when to let go.
The heroic framework also teaches ownership of our life and that when we face our greatest fears and negative voices within, we can transform.
Each challenge, when identified, grieved and transformed can reveal the strengths within us to grow from struggle and pain.
The framework also teaches every element found in all evidence-based treatment, as well as everything common with resilient people and systems of people and Post Traumatic Growth.
Learning about resilience through the heroic framework is also memorable and easily meshes with their favorite stories and movies, if we teach new ways to see that story.Storytellers for centuries have taught through story. What has been missing in our more recent culture is someone connecting the dots between the stories and the lessons and how they will teach them lessons all through the developmental stages of life.
Become like one of the ancient storytellers. Learn how communities and individuals for centuries found ways to make it through painful life experiences. Help them learn the lessons, like what Wayne Muller teaches in his quote below:
Within the sorrow is grace
When we come close to the things that break us down
We also find that which breaks us open
And in that breaking open we uncover our true nature