Applying the Heroic Journey to Healing From Sexual Trauma

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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

The Gift of the Story: Learning Resilience Through Movies and Books

Once upon a time

 

In the United States alone, the publishing industry sells over $29.5 billion books yearly. The motion picture industry has grossed over a half-a-trillion dollars in U.S. history alone and these numbers don’t tell the whole story financially, nor does it explain the reason for the popularity of a good story. Stories are not simply entertainment. Stories provide us much more than a way to pass time, the ability to zone out or to get an adrenaline rush. Stories are natural mentors and guides. In order for the message to be useful, the story must be studied, not just experienced.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

The combat vet stood on the stage, extremely drunk as he was trying to make a sale. He had been reeling ever since that horrific battle. His commander made showed he was not the leader the now vet thought he was. What hurt most is he violated his own code of honor and could never forgive himself for that…or so he thought. There came an unexpected group of people – those he once thought were his enemies – helped him to heal. One was a warrior himself, he found self-forgiveness and could be honorable as well. The vet learned to be present and to silence the frantic voice within. He found peace again. He found new sense of purpose. Is this a case study? No. It is from the movie The Last Samurai.

What about a family who was hit with tragedy and the loss of many family members? The father developed PTSD, yet a new crisis actually lead him to his own healing. He met someone who taught him how to face his fears directly, to change the ways he thought, to commit to the journey of healing and to be transformed, even in the midst of new crisis. The father and his only living child found a way to survive and to discover new and positive life, in the midst of loss. Another movie…this time an animated children’s blockbuster movie Finding Nemo.

What about a family who was hit with tragedy and the loss of many family members? The father developed PTSD, yet a new crisis actually lead him to his own healing. He met someone who taught him how to face his fears directly, to change the ways he thought, to commit to the journey of healing and to be transformed, even in the midst of new crisis. The father and his only living child found a way to survive and to discover new and positive life, in the midst of loss. Another movie…this time an animated children’s blockbuster movie Finding Nemo.
All full-length children’s movies and the majority of blockbuster movies, as well as those nominated for Golden Globes, SAG award and Oscars are built on the heroic journey framework. In fact, throughout history we have found this same framework playing out in the sacred texts of all religious traditions as well as the primary cultural stories around the world.

Movies and stories are the way to help us learn resilience, but not without guidance. As a society, we are inundated with stories even now, but it can be used as mind-numbing entertainment and not the valuable resource it can be. Throughout history, leaders of communities and families have used stories to teach skills, life lessons and eventually, self-awareness. As individuals learn the most common aspects of making it through life challenges – even trauma – a story about resilience acts as a “pacer” or even mirror for their own story and giving hope as a result.

Another example, the recent award nominated movie “Wild” is a true story about Cheryl Strayed and played beautifully by Reese Witherspoon. As Strayed (Witherspoon) faced a deep and painful loss, she became unable to pull out of her self-destructive spiral. Serendipitously she starts off on a 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. Never a serious hiker, her decision appears dangerous and reckless. As she faces the trials, challenges, doubts and fears, they provide a perfect metaphor of her emotional journey. The scenery of the movie provides the external equivalent of her emotional winter, the desert time, the wilderness wanderings as well as the time she times she wants to quit her journey. The emotional exhaustion turns into finding the strength to keep going, one small step at a time when every step is an act of great courage.
When you think about your own favorite stories in the form of books or movies, what comes to mind? As you consider that story, let’s look at a few questions that might show the depth that story brought you.

As you that story, if you were to explain the story to another person using only five sentences and no more, how would you describe it?

Was there a particular character that captured your attention in that story?

What was it about that character that captured your attention?

What were the strengths of that character? Areas of weakness?

How did that character change over the course of the story? What lessons did they learn?

Was there a favorite scene in the story? Describe it in as much detail as you can recall.

What challenge did that character face?

Who/what helped them to meet that challenge? (i.e. a belief, a person, medication, group support, etc.)

Was there anything which threatened to stop/delay or sabotage that character’s progress on their journey? Did that provide anything useful to your character – eventually? How?

How did they transcend that challenge or come to a place of acceptance? Or did they?

Was any other character transformed or changed by what your character did or did not do?

In your own life, do you resonate with anything with the story you chose?

In what way do you relate?

The questions can be limitless, depending on the ability of observation. With younger children, obviously the questions would be adapted for their ability…but having children really experience the story fully, begins to provide a resilient framework, because a story which shows ineffective choices can still teach.

If you would like to join The Omnibus Center in a movie discussion experience, all you need is a computer, a webcam and the desire to discuss. Check out www.theomnibuscenter.org and go to the Pay It Forward Series and see which movie we will be discussing and when. Registration is required…no payment necessary. Learn how to use stories to help people see the resilience and lessons in stories. One hundred percent of all children’s full-length animated movies and 95% or more of the award nominated movies are based on the heroic framework.

Bravery Is In the Eye of the Beholder

Bear penguins and cymbals croppedThis morning I was felt inspired. I read a blog post by the wise young soul Hannah Brencher who wrote about the anatomy of brave.

You don’t actually get to stand beside someone and tell them whether or not they’ve reached a level of bravery. You don’t actually get to determine what does or does not make a person brave, or lovely, or worthy, or good. That’s not your right. That’s not your calling.
Here is the truth about bravery. Here is her essence– she can’t defined by a measuring cup or a yardstick or a square foot. Bravery isn’t the kind of thing you measure; it is the kind of thing you activate. It’s pretty obvious to everyone– we walked into a life that isn’t always kind or bearable or comfortable or good and it takes a real chunk of bravery to just get through a day sometimes.

Bravery– if you ask me– is the day my best friend told me that she was getting sober and I watched her hands tremble over the hurdles of what would come next. Bravery– if you ask me– is watching a dear friend of mine raise four beautiful children with all the grit she’s got, and showing up for those children even when she is tired & broken & worn. That, my friends, is titanical bravery to me. Bravery– if you ask me– is the day he was diagnosed with cancer and the only response on his lips was this, “I will fight this thing. I will be relentless and I will fight this thing.” Bravery– if you ask me– is just her showing up at my door, the one with the big red handle, and speaking the truth out loud, “I want more. I have been afraid to say it for a really long while but I want more for this life of mine.”

So no, you don’t get to stand here and tell someone that a hurdle that has taken them years to finally get over is something they should have learned to limbo under several yesterdays ago.

Hannah’s words about bravery were reminders that bravery is in the eye of the beholder.
Bravery is an experience from within for none of us can externally judge the level of bravery of another because we rarely have a clue of the work of the internal antagonists which the saboteurs which live within creating resistance, paralyzing fear and excuses.
Bravery does not necessitate the absence of fear.
(Author Unknown)

It’s safe to say we have all experienced darkness in our lives. Darkness comes in many forms – physically, emotionally and spiritually. There are so many quotes and works of art based on the interplay of lightness and darkness. Day and night are parts of the Laws of Nature. Darkness is something we are often scared of and lightness is often connected to hope. Why is that?

We usually have a different view of the world at night? Fear, panic and dread seem more intense at night. When the light of morning comes, sometimes life can feel manageable again.

In the FIVE STAR book by Barbara Brown Taylor Learning to Walk in the Dark, Taylor speaks of how we – as a society – are conditioned to be afraid of the dark. Even in spiritual traditions, such as Christianity (which she is an Episcopal Priest), darkness is often perceived as the absence of faith. She spoke of a man who was terribly afraid of the literal dark. She shares:

The darkness never stopped terrifying him. Every single night it took all the courage he had [to do his nightly chores]. But while his fear of the dark may have been baseless, the bravery it drew out of him stayed with him for the rest of his life. “Courage,” he writes now, “which is no more than the management of fear must be practiced. For this, children need widespread, easily obtained, cheap, renewable source of something scary but not actually dangerous.” Darkness, he says, fits that bill. Most parents would give their darkness challenged child another chore or offer to go with him. How do we develop the courage to walk in the dark if we are never asked to practice?”

And by John Patrick Shanley:
“I am not a courageous person by nature. I have simply discovered that, at certain key moments in this life, you must find courage in yourself, in order to move forward and live. It is like a muscle and it must be exercised, first a little, and then more and more. All the really exciting things possible during the course of a lifetime require a little more courage than we currently have. A deep breath and a leap.”
• What helps you find your sense of brave?

• When have you stepped out in true bravery (remember, it is when you faced what was scary to you, not someone else)?

• If you had not stepped out during those times, who would you be now?

• What would you have lost if you had not found the courage?

• What did you risk when you found your moment to be brave?

• How do you ask the darkness to teach you what you need to now? (from Barbara Brown Taylor)
Finding our sense of “brave” can be continuing to show up even when we worry that our current life events will never change. Of course thing can’t NOT change, because change is inevitable.

The Gift of Resilience: A Parent’s Great Legacy

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The holidays are complete for another year, yet I continue to reflect on the gifts received and one of my favorites is one that I have opened daily the last 55+ years. The gift given to me by my Dad has been one of the two best, for I use it personally and professionally every day. From the time I was three or four, my Dad taught me the heroic journey framework of resilience through story-telling.

Children do not learn resilience by osmosis, or having a roof over their head and food on the table. Love alone does not teach resilience. All those things are certainly important, but children can actually be resilient without those things. A child surviving without love, consistency and safety is not necessarily going to be an empowered child – and neither is one who is given everything they request with truckloads of affection on the side. Teaching your child resilience is an additional and conscious process. Role modeling resilience is helpful, but intentionally teaching a child the framework gives them an added aspect of assessing, learning, perceiving, giving hope, changing perception and taking action.

My father began by sharing stories– some fictional, some real, and some embellished – and those stories continue to teach me significant things about life through them. For instance, I was taught how there are times people will experience doubt and confusion or that fear was a normal part of life, particularly when we try something new. He taught the difference between imagined fear and the type of fear that is essential in intuition. As he normalized those emotions through the different stories, he would then teach how to get through those feelings. He gave me many gifts in the framework and how to transform a challenge. As he did mentored, I began to learn the very pattern of challenge…the separation (or the call), the initiation and the return. I learned that life was a transformational journey.

He taught me about the “antagonists” or antagonist energy that threatens to stop, delay or sabotage the journey and that how some antagonists are actually mentors in antagonist persona. He didn’t portray the antagonists as inherently bad or evil for we all end up playing that role sometime whether we intend to or not. If you have ever been the parent of a teenager, you probably relate to being perceived as your teen’s “antagonist” and that teen doesn’t see the mentor persona underneath at those times when you are trying to teach boundaries or allowing them their logical consequences from unwise choices.

By teaching me the heroic journey framework I became an initiate on a journey – not a victim to life. Teaching me the framework did not keep me from experiencing trauma, but it gave me the tools of resilience and the ability to come through trauma and eventually learn positive things from it.

My father also taught me wisdom that comes from the hardest journeys. Dad role modeled how a person could survive and thrive after horrific childhood trauma which also include losing a beloved parent at age nine and live through the Great Depression. He was a positive and wise man who was always teaching inspiring me daily. I was shown about getting through without being jaded by life.
Many decades have passed since his death yet I learn daily from his teachings. I had to use his powerful lessons to get through one of the greatest losses in my life – losing my father who was my very own Obie Wan Kenobi. It was so terribly painful and terrifying, but I had the tools – his legacy – to make it through.

Having never birthed any children in which to pass the torch, I teach my clients – as a psychotherapist & resilience coach the framework and wisdom of the journey. When they come to me in their grief, trauma and loss, I hold the sacred space of that loss and eventually begin to weave in the elements for them to see their own heroic journey…for that is how trauma and loss can eventually be transformed.

Movies and books are the great story tellers now and mentors like Obie Wan Kenobi are not the norm. Children and adults are inundated by heroic framework stories, with no one to connect the dots – “how is that like your life?” We need to return to the great story-tellers who don’t stop at the story, but teach great wisdom with the story being the framework of resilience.

Would you like to join me? Learn how to take the great stories around us and utilizing them to teach how we live our own version of the journey…the mentors, the allies, the antagonists, sometimes the dark night of the soul or belly of the whale moments. All the elements teach us something essential in our journey. Every time we go through a journey consciously, we develop a bit more trust in self and trust in our life journey.

Some initial questions to identify a journey in your life:

• When you think back over your life, identify a time of great personal challenge that no longer holds great emotional intensity.

• When you were in that time of challenge, what was your personal self-talk (i.e. “I can’t do this” or “This isn’t fair” or “This is going to kill me.” Maybe it was something more positive like, “You can do this” or “You will learn from this”)?

• What was the most difficult part of that personal challenge?

• What internal qualities do you possess that helped you to get through that time? Things like beliefs, past experience, character like tenacity…

• What external factors assisted you to get through that time? Maybe people, groups, activities, books, classes, medication and other things helped you through. What are yours?

• What POSITIVE things did you discover about yourself and life in general from coming through that time in your life?

• How has at least one other person been positively impacted because you made it through that time?

• If we could take that scene in your life and plop it into a movie, what would be the soundtrack running in the background? What type of music, specific song or even noise would be playing?

• The Scouts get a badge when they learn a new skill. If you were to design a badge or have an object you could place on a necklace or a keychain that would symbolize the wisdom that came from that time in your life, what would it be?

• As you reflect on the answers to the above questions, what do these answers indicate about your ability to make it through future challenges?

• Is there anything you would wish to do differently?

You have just found some important elements about your own heroic journey….a small gift from my father to you.

2015

Additional resources:
The film: Finding Joe
Heroic Journey webinars, discuss groups, clinical continuing education seminars and more at www.theomnibuscenter.org

Tao of the Road Warrior – There is No Place Like Home (Revised)

© November 29, 2005/ Revised November 2013 – Melissa (Missy) Bradley-Ball. The last teaching tour of the year is upon me and with it the approaching holidays. With Christmas trees in every corner and holiday music playing everywhere I go, leaving family gets more and more difficult. The lyrics: “there’s no place like home for the holidays” really speak to me today.

But what exactly is “home?” It is sometimes said that home is where the heart is, so is “home” a place or an emotion? Is it a structure or maybe a state of being? [Read more…]

What Finding Nemo Has To Teach Us

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The full-length animated movie Finding Nemo is on a powerful story about life’s heroic journey and begins with a series of traumatic events in the lives of Marlin and Coral, expectant parents of 400 children (clown fish) about to be born.  As the movie begins, Coral and 399 of their children-about-to-be-born are lost to a barracuda attack, leaving only one “child” to survive – Nemo. Marlin must deal with the profound losses, his guilt that he could not stop the attack and having a “special needs” child, Nemo, who was born with a defective fin.

The loving and traumatized widower/father would probably be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in our Western Medical model.

Nemo, an adventurous and vibrant little fish, wishes to break out of his father’s hypervigilence by getting outside the “perimeter wire” of the reef and see what life holds.  Through a series of events, goes off on an accidental journey, leaving his father with the dilemma of choices: What will rule his life?  Will it be love or will it be fear?

As actor Albert Brooks does so brilliantly, Marlin is anxious, pessimistic, terrified of what will happen because he knows that very bad things in life can happen, worries constantly, but becomes willing to change and heal. He chooses to face his fears for the love of his beloved son Nemo, and sets out on the journey to find and return him to the safety of their home.

Early in the journey, Marlin meets up with the seemly dingy blue fish – Dory – who is played beautifully by Ellen DeGeneres. Dory appears ditsy, forgetful, goofy and seemingly not very smart, but this wonderful mentor/ally/trickster is going to play a pivotal role as the initiation guide and mentor during Marlin’s transformation and help him find exactly what he needs to thrive in life…to truly live his life fully.

They begin to traverse the challenges of the initiation time (The Jellyfish Jungle), they come in contact with some challenges which are very dangerous. They meet a group of sharks – 12 Step-style – which are struggling to give up fish (Marlin and Dory are fish). Marlin reluctance and doubt to continue is met with Dory’s persistence  to keep him going.  As Winston Churchill once said, “If you find yourself in hell, keep going.” Dory’s version of Churchill’s statement is a catchy little ditty she repeatedly sings, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

As they travel deeper and deeper into the dark and scary sea, into the metaphorical basement of Marlin’s soul, he becomes more frightened that he will never see his son again and his life – as he knows it – will be over forever. In this journey, however, a part of Marlin is going to die and another part will be revealed…The Hero Within. The feeling of hopelessness washes over him. It is during this time of complete and utter emotional and physical exhaustion – which is not uncommon at this point in the journey that Marlin and Dory encounter with a whale when they are in the deepest part of the sea. Although it appears to be quite similar to a profound Major Depressive Episode, it is clinically and energetically different and is an extremely transformative part of the journey.

When they find themselves in the mouth of the whale, Dory has the discernment and wisdom to quit singing “just keep swimming” – for she knows better. With her companion and initiate exhausted, he is in the perfect state of being for the next step of the journey. This complete lack of energy, ego and stamina is actually Marlin’s greatest gift. When we no longer have any emotional or physical energy left, we are much more likely to surrender to the very thing which transforms us. Surrendering is, ironically, the only thing which allows us to continue this journey because our ego or false self has been shattered. This is also the dangerous opportunity for transformation and why Joseph Campbell once stated,

“Madmen and saints, swim in the same waters, what drowns one, will transform another.”

For people who their sheer will and intestinal fortitude have gotten them through, the belly of the whale time may feel like they have completely been broken in two, having failed completely. Yet, it is the greatest sign of wisdom about to spring forth. When we have reached a bottom of our understanding and we resign – to God, a Higher Power, a universal force or what is to be or to who we really are – we can be transformed. Illusions are shattered, the false self is gone, the authentic self and authentic life can be revealed.

Mentor Dory speaks very important words to Marlin. “Just keep swimming” is no longer appropriate at this place in the journey. She instead says, “Just let go.” Since Marlin doesn’t have the energy to argue with her, he seemingly has no other choice. Instead of clinging tenaciously to the tongue of the whale, Marlin and Dory let go for the ride of their life…first into the belly of the whale and then, and only then, do they get blown out the blow hole so they may continue their life journey (to find Nemo and other marvelous things). When we reach the end of our rope, life is usually calling us to let go and allow life to carry us for a while as we release control. In essence, transformation comes in the form of becoming a whale loogie.

I won’t spoil anymore of the movie for you, for this is only the first half!  Many more adventures and transformative moments occur as Dory and Marlin are free to continue their journey, all while Nemo is having his own transformative journey. With the most difficult aspect of the journey over, they have the strength and hope to continue after they realize the importance of letting go so a new part can be reborn.

The belly of the whale time or dark night of the soul is an extraordinarily frightening and exhausting time. We tend to have tunnel vision, a sense that we are losing everything in our life which we hold dear, yet it is not until we surrender our will, that we find we are transformed. Theologians and philosophers – for centuries – have written about this very topic. One of my favorite authors, was Henri Nouwen, who wrote 40+ books before he died. Nouwen said of this time,

“I was forced into the basement of my soul, to look directly at what was hidden there, to choose

 in the face of it all, not death, but life.”

The heroic framework is a Universal Monomyth, found in every culture around the world, in every spiritual tradition.  During the deepest and most transformative life journey’s such as trauma and loss, perhaps with a trusted “initiation guide” such as a therapist or clergy we can transform the pain into beautiful and transformative life gifts.

Journaling or discussion questions:

 

  • Have you had a “jellyfish jungle time”? If so, what did you fear most? How did you come through that time?
  • What or who helped you through it? How?
  • What were your feelings and thoughts about yourself and life as you traveled that time in your life?
  • Have you find yourself in the mouth of the whale, where you were completely physically and emotionally exhausted?
  • What illusions were you being asked to let go of?
  • What did you have to grieve?
  • What positive realities began to come to you?
  • What happened? How did move beyond that belly of the whale time?
  • How were you transformed by the event?
  • How did that transformation help others later?
  • What would you tell others about that time in your life?
  • How has the wisdom and lessons from those deep journey times been helpful to others?

Lost in New Jersey – Redux – Tao of the Road Warrior

It is April 2002. Another trip and another lesson learned for this rookie road warrior. I now understand what it feels like to be a rat in a maze.  After getting lost for up to three hours daily this past week and the  frustration was exhausting. 

[Read more…]

One Moment At A Time

She looked to be only three or four and her disheveled ‘I’ve-been-traveling-all-day hair’ was held by a pink ribbon. A fuzzy jacket and leggings matched what held her ponytail, while her long black eye lashes rested on flawless cheeks as she slept peacefully. [more…] [Read more…]

The Great Ride: The Heroic Journey

This photograph an obvious product of photo shop, symbolizes most of the process of THE INITIATION in the heroic journey.  The idea about “no fear” is typically not accurate – although we all wish it were so.  For successful initiations, we eventually have to learn to discern helpful fear from unhelpful fear and not allowing that fear to stop us from progressing on our life journey.

During the full-day seminars on the heroic journey, I ask people to share what they most noticed about the photograph.  What do you most notice?

If you noticed it was a child riding a bike with training wheels on a rollercoaster, you might be connecting with the utter sense of vulnerability she may be experiencing.  Training wheels often indicate being a beginner or just learning. The good news, it is universal that we may feel some discomfort, doubts, vulnerability, sense of not yet knowing when we hit our life initiations.  The news some people don’t like is: we never outgrow it…even as we enter the latter stages of our life.

Do you remember when you first learned to ride a bike with training wheels? You may have over-steered, screamed a little, eventually laughed and became more comfortable as you adapted. Then maybe an adult had you take the next step of no training wheels.  Did you over-steer, have a controlled crash and squeal? Or did someone help you feel a bit safer as they held onto your bike seat or jogged nearby acting as extra protection? Eventually, you may have become fearless with your bike-riding.  Someone shared a story with me about riding her bike down a steep hill with her younger brother on her shoulders and they BOTH held their arms out as they rode down that steep hill – “look, no hands!”  Maybe you leaped ditches or jumped hills or rode down steps. The unsure child with training wheels was long gone and the adventurous bike rider was revealed.

What is it you are learning right now? Feeling unsure? Maybe even feeling like screaming out of fear? Or feeling no control? Is it true? Partially true? Do you believe you will come through this current challenge or transition?

When you return to the photograph, did you notice that she is wearing a helmet? A helmet symbolizes protection.  What protects you as you go through new experiences or transitions? Some things that often act as protection are: our ability to self-soothe in ways that are not destructive; breathing from our belly; past challenging experiences which taught you to be creative, adaptable, open to learning some new skill or asking for help. Maybe your faith tradition provides you with strength or a group of people had/or have your back. Was it has been a class or activity, like exercise, that helped?  You probably also notice that a helmet is not enough protection for what she is going to face and that represents that we rarely start a journey where we have everything we will need.  Part of the initiation is to think out of the box, pay attention to new choices and opportunities, trusting our judgment and others to provide some assistance. We can all pick up new skills and insights on the journey.  Life looks a bit different from the angle of the rollercoaster.

Did you notice the narrow track under her? Even though she will not have to pedal down the first hill, she will have to stay focused.  The initiation is a dangerous opportunity for transformation and if we are not paying attention, being present with the task at hand and not looking so far ahead that you get freaked out by what is coming, the journey will be easier…maybe at times exhilarating!

After the child goes down that first hill successfully, the momentum will carry her partway up the next hill…but not the whole way.  This is when we have to recommit…over and over to the journey.  Whether we have to recommit to a new way of life of exercise, or remaining clean and sober, or taking your medication, or attending a group, or trying again when you seemed to have failed or living through another day of grieving when you simply wish to give up at times…well, that is what begins to reveal the hero within. It develops our character and strengthens our resilience muscles. And, it is through this process that we eventually learn to make meaning out of the struggle.

Eventually, this part of the ride will be over and we move to the next part of the journey. The Great Ride teaches us a lot about who we are and what we are truly capable of.

When you think back over your own life:

Identify a time of great challenge that you eventually came through.

What was your self-talk when you were in the midst of the challenge (i.e. – “I can’t do this.” “Life is so unfair.” “This is going to kill me.” “I have the capacity to make it through this, even when I don’t feel like it is so.”)

What internal qualities do you possess that helped you to get through that time? (i.e. – tenacity, stubbornness, curiosity, healthy self-soothing, your spiritual trust, ability to see the best of the situation, to reach out)

What external factors do you possess that helped you to get through that time? (i.e. – specific people…name them, a book, a class, medication, therapy, rituals)

Was there anyone or anything which threatened to delay you or sabotage your success? (i.e. – an irrational person, your negative belief that you are unworthy or a failure) How did you make it through that?

What did you learn from that challenge? Do you have any proclamations? (i.e. – “Everything happens for a reason.” “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” “What I feared was mostly an illusion.”)

What do your answers to the above questions indicate about how you will come through future challenges?

Note: if you like your answer to the last question, savor it.  If you don’t like your answer, then how do you wish to do it differently? What would help you do that?

So, the next time you are on the Great Ride of an initiation on your journey, remember this photo and the lessons from the photo.  Or, what would be a good symbol for you, rather than a rollercoaster?