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We’ve all seen a movie or read a book that shows us the universal story of challenge and the many fears and self-doubts they bring. Those same stories probably show the primary characters facing their fears, transcending their doubts and taking the actions which enable them to become stronger and more resilient. The life tests can be numerous with their overt difficulties, yet many more remain unseen…at first. Subtle but powerful challenges which live within us will feed off our most chronic fears causing them to grow even bigger or instead, the fears can feast on the small quiet voices within that whispers “you’ve got this.” This process is called THE HEROIC JOURNEY and is repeated hundreds of times during our life span.
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The heroic framework is universal and has been revealed throughout history, nature and every spiritual traditional around the globe. In nature, there can be devastation and destruction from hurricanes, fires and floods, yet new growth and beauty can emerge in the damage. Throughout history, there are a multitude of examples of cultural struggle yet most eventually make it through. In reflection, we witness this labyrinthine process of life, endings and new beginnings, learning and growth, despair and hope and finally the development of maturity, discernment and wisdom.
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It’s not always clear what the real issues are in the struggles we all face. The issues are typically more about the process of the Self in the struggle. An example comes to mind: when my granddaughter was trying to learn to crawl, she would face plant, flap her hands and feet in utter frustration and primal struggle. Afterward she would wail a moment, and tried again. I witnessed this pattern a dozen times one afternoon. If this Yaya of hers could have understood her internal process, I would have probably heard, “I can’t do this,” “I’m scared,” or “This isn’t fair!” Now two years later, I see the little beautiful ball of energy doing obstacle courses in tumbling class. I savor the witnessing the process of her moving from incompetence to competence, indicating resilience being developed.
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Within the heroic framework are mentors, allies and the not-yet heroes (or protagonists). Star Wars fans remember the mentor Obi Wan Kenobi. His initiate (hero in training) was Luke Skywalker. Early in their relationship, Obi Wan teaches Luke skills to be who he already was – a Jedi. Luke was a Jedi by heritage, but had yet to learn the skills and beliefs to back that up. Luke was schooled in the lessons of learning to trust his intuition, to envision what he needed and the ability to not be distracted by unimportant minutiae and to focus on what was most important. To hold these lessons, Luke was given an “Obi-Wanism.” An Obi-Wanism is a simple, succinct piece of wisdom which symbolizes the collection of important information needed to get through the challenges of life. The memorable messages given to Luke can be identified by millions of people around the world: “May the Force Be with You.” Later, when his mentor was no longer physically present, Luke lost his focus and short phrase “Use the force, Luke” popped into his mind and reminded him that he was a Jedi with all the skills and wisdom which goes with that. With practice, our Obi-Wanisms get integrated into our core.
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What are your Obi-Wanisms? If you are part of a 12-step group, phrases such as “Let go and Let God” or “Easy does it” might be meaningful for you. If you have a religious tradition you practice, then phrases from a spiritual text might be your go-to. If you have served time in the military, then you may have another. The most resilient among us have a multitude of these succinct nuggets of wisdom which become integrated over time. Most of our Obi-Wanisms are first spoken by our mentors or teachers, although not as succinct and marketable as the one first heard in Star Wars. When you think of your favorite movies or stories, what is the integral message imbedded in it? Examples of some of the Obi-Wanisms I was taught from various mentors and teachers:
There will be times you will be afraid, have doubts, will be unsure of your next step or want to give up and you will get through.
No one needs a doormat except people with dirty feet
God is with me and all is well
The suicidal moment lasts only seven minutes (this is a lie, but that lie kept me alive one day in 1984)
Pay attention, everything in life can teach you something.
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Among those traveling with you on your life path are the allies we find along the way. Allies walk beside us and provide shared support, laughter and lessons. People may share multiple roles in our lives, sometimes all three at different times, making relationships complicated and confusing.
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Ironically, the most pivotal roles of any “heroic” story is call the Threshold Guardian or the “antagonist.” The protagonist (the not-yet-a-hero person) must have an antagonist element to their life story. The antagonist can be a person, a fictional character, a chronic issue, behavior or belief and it is usually going to provide some of our most powerful lessons in life. This thorn-in-the-side element can inadvertently be our greatest teacher, without even trying. All of us will be antagonists to others at some point, whether you are a parent setting appropriate and healthy boundaries with your child or as a coach or manager getting people back on course after mistakes have been made. You may be a mentor/sometimes antagonist combination If you are trying to guide people in a healthy way. An example we commonly see in movies is the stereotypical drill instructor. A pain-in-the-neck person who rides the new recruits, yelling, directing and training them the skills which will hopefully keep them alive in combat.
The “gift” of the antagonist element is to first tick us off, wake us up and to be a call to action. Remember, the antagonist element may not be a human being, but a situation or a negative belief we have. That energy inadvertently calls on us to find our best self. Antagonists have no authentic power except that which we give them and we are solely responsible for transcending the antagonist pull.
We are each Luke Skywalker. What are the Obi-Wanisms which remind you who you really are under the fears or bravado? As a leader, advocate, or teacher what Obi-Wanisms to you give to others to help them be authentic, find their own purpose and strength? Who are the allies which share your struggles and celebrate your successes? Who or what are the antagonist elements in your own story? What is it you need to remember to transcend the challenge before you? When the dynamics of life play out – personally or professionally – they are variations of this heroic framework. Remember who you are. What is the script you are living this year?