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

Susan Gabriel: One Writer’s Heroic Journey

 

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Susan Gabriel is an award-winning author of a seven novels and a Kirkus Best Book Award 2012. In the month of August, The Heroic Journal takes a look at her personal heroic journey and a bit about the characters which keep us riveted to the stories.

As one of my  favorite authors, Gabriel’s books capture the attention of the reader from the first page. Whether the story is of someone going through powerful rites of passage to see the impact our decisions have on the lives of others, or finding our way in life when the challenges have been painful, these novels not only entertain, but also inspire and teach us about our own journeys as well.

Join The Heroic Journal in welcoming Susan Gabriel’s featuring her own story of what inspires her, how she found her way from being a psychotherapist to highly acclaimed author:

 

 

Missy Bradley-Ball: You have been a musician, a psychotherapist and an award winning writer of many books I have not wanted to end. If you were describing yourself as you would one of your characters, just who is Susan Gabriel?

 

Susan Gabriel: I consider myself a resilient person with a deep and rich inner life. A person who tries to follow my creative process and then give something back to others. When I was young, life had some rough elements, and music saved me. Playing music (as a flutist) gave me something to feel passionate about and to spend my time developing. Music sustained me through quite a few years. I even majored in music when I first went to college.

 

Then after having two daughters, I became more and more passionate about women’s issues. I created a nonprofit Women’s Center in Charleston, SC, where I was the executive director and head counselor, before transitioning into a private practice, where I continued to counsel women and lead support groups.

 

Twenty years ago my passion shifted to writing stories, mostly novels, about people who go through rough times, yet are resilient and courageous as they solve their conflicts.

 

So I guess you could say I am someone who tries to follow wherever my creative energy leads. I am always in the process of carving out time to be creative in the midst of a very busy life, even in the early years while raising my daughters as a single mom. I can’t say my life has been that easy, but without an ongoing creative discipline and the pursuit of an inner life, I’m not sure where I’d be. Being creative, at this point, seems as necessary to me as breathing.

 

 

Missy: When and how did you begin to get the call as a writer? Can you take us through your process of owning the writer self?

 

Susan: I was sitting in my office between therapy clients and the thought went through my mind: you know, I could die doing this, and there would be a lot of people at my funeral, I might even be beloved, but I would have never done what I most needed to do, which is to write.

 

That ‘calling’ turned my life totally upside down. I knew that if I continued to be a therapist that that was how that particular storyline would play out. I also knew that there was another story waiting for me that I needed to live. So I began the long and absolutely terrifying process of living into a new story. I moved from Charleston (where I had a good therapy practice) to Asheville, NC (where I was totally unknown) and began to write. There was some overlap. I still saw clients for a while, but then I started doing different odd jobs, whatever I could find that would allow me to write in the mornings. I was a cookie cutter for designer dog biscuits. I worked at Lowe’s for a while. I was a first grade reading tutor. A typist, etc. I downsized my life. I put my daughters first, but I wrote while they were in school. It was like that saying where you jump off a cliff and build wings on the way down.

 

Believe me, I asked myself plenty of times: what were you thinking?!? I was so naive, and I had no idea what I was doing. But for me, it was the only way to do it.

 

 

Missy: When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a librarian, teacher and spy and now I am a psychotherapist/clinical educator with a great library. What were your adult dreams as a little girl?

 

Susan: I was very athletic and played a lot of golf with my father, so I wanted to be a professional golfer. My family didn’t have a lot of books when I was growing up, and sitting around reading was tantamount to being lazy. My parents were both incredibly hard-working, regular folks who were raised in a small mountain community like the fictitious Katy’s Ridge in my novel, The Secret Sense of Wildflower. They left the country and moved to the big city of Knoxville to have a better life.

 

All that to say, I never would have dreamed that I would one day have written 7 novels (even more, if you count the ones not yet published). Or that I would make my living as a writer and have a house full of books. All that came to me later in life. I had always written letters that people loved and had impressed my college professors with my case-studies (very close to developing characters in novels), but I didn’t actually start writing novels until I was 38 years old.

 

When I was growing up, however, my mother had a set of oil paints, paint brushes, charcoal pencils and sketch pads in a drawer in the kitchen. Artist supplies that as far as I could tell were rarely used. I was absolutely fascinated with this drawer. I would study everything in it like it was a treasure trove. I think my mother would have been artistically creative if her life hadn’t been filled with working full-time, raising a family and keeping my father happy. But somehow this transferred to me as a spark. From her, I think I inherited this possibility or dream of having a creative life. In some ways, I am doing now what my mother never allowed herself to do because it would have been too ‘lazy’ and just too beyond the scope of her upbringing. Though we had a very difficult relationship, I am living the dream for both of us.

 

 

Missy: How do you find your own clearing when life is challenging?

 

Susan: I go out in nature. I take a walk by the river in Pisgah National Forest, which is in the mountains of North Carolina and ten minutes from my home. Whenever I feel lonely all I have to do is go take a walk by the river, and I don’t feel lonely anymore. It works like magic for me. It gets me out of myself and into a bigger world where we’re all connected. Nature is my cure for everything. Sometimes I sit and write while I’m by the river, and this is very clearing, too. If I can’t get out there, or if it’s too cold, then I sit at home and look out my window and watch the birds around the feeders and do some deep breathing and try to settle into my body. 

 

If that doesn’t work, I fantasize about driving to the grocery store and getting donuts, LOTS of donuts, which is the LAST thing I need to do. 

 

 

Missy: When you are writing a book, do you know the whole arc of the story before you begin?

 

Susan:  I am what out there in the writing world is called an “intuitive writer.” When I write a novel, I don’t use an outline, and I don’t always know where the story is going. My intuition guides me. Some might call it a muse, but I think of it more as a creative part of me. This is one of the most fun parts of my creative process. I start to write and then wait to see what will be revealed.

 

So with a first draft, I just let myself go with whatever shows up, and I make a pact with myself not to judge or analyze it. Anne Lamott calls this writing a “shitty first draft.” In later drafts I clean it up, move some things around if a scene would be more effective somewhere else. I think of a first draft of a story as the bones, then I flesh out the story. I add sensory details, things that will help the reader really be there in the scene with me. 

 

To expand, in my imagination, I’ll have characters show up and the scenes will start to play out in my mind. Then it’s my job to write it down. Sometimes I’ll know I want to write something funny next, so I’ll kind of have that in mind, but mostly it starts with a character or characters that I want to develop and explore. Or a conflict that I want the character to resolve. Even while I’m following my intuition, I also have a part of me that will know when I need to develop more tension in a particular scene, so I’m following that direction, too. That’s the part of me that has studied the craft of writing for years and knows what it takes to create a good story that will keep the reader turning the pages. The greatest compliment I get about my novels is that people can’t put them down and they stayed up all night to finish them. That’s when I know I did my job as a storyteller, and that’s what I always hope for when I read other people’s novels. I read a lot of novels myself.   

 

Missy: In the heroic journey we find that there is always an antagonist energy….something that threatens to stop, delay or sabotage the journey. What are some examples of that energy in your own life process and how did/do you transcend them?

 

Susan:  Having to make money always threatened to derail me, like it does a lot of people who want to be creative. Artists and writers aren’t really supported in our culture, so many of us have to do a lot of different things to keep everything afloat, in addition to our art. Then there’s the whole concept of time. Where to find the time. Where to find the energy. My antagonist tends to be the part of the patriarchal culture in others and in me that thinks that being creative is a secondary thing. Something we get around to when everything else is finished. But the world is upside down! Everybody I know who finds the time to be creative feels more fulfilled afterward. They feel like better people. They feel more whole. Instead, our lives are so hectic that we settle for crumbs when there is a feast just waiting to be eaten in the next room.

 

How I transcend these very real issues is that I put my creativity first, even if in the beginning it was for only a few minutes a day. In more recent years I’ve taught writing classes and done freelance editing, in addition to writing. But now that I’ve written several books and gotten some recognition, readers are finding and reading my books more and more. This has resulted in the luxury of focusing exclusively on my writing. A feat that only took me twenty years of writing to accomplish! I am also incredibly fortunate to have a very supportive mate. Our mates (and family members) can sometimes sabotage our journeys faster than anybody, but I’ve been lucky in this regard.

 

I think any creative pursuit becomes on some level a heroic journey. Once you set off to do whatever creative thing you want to do, the journey very quickly becomes a pursuit of something we hope to be noble while in the midst of great obstacles. Knowing this, and knowing yourself, can help smooth the passage to a more creative life. I often say that I am the talent and the handler all rolled into one. If I didn’t know how to manage my emotional life–my fears, my doubts, my ability to procrastinate and waste a lot of time–I would never write a thing. I’ve spent years learning how to get myself out of the way so I can write what I hope will be something entertaining, as well as meaningful.

 

 

Missy: How has writing novels helped you in your own life journey?

 

Susan: These are all such great questions! I think in many ways the characters I create in my novels are like family. They are people I like to hang around with (except for maybe Iris and Edward in my latest novel, Temple Secrets!). After I release a book and the story is out in the world, I miss the characters because I end up spending years writing a book.

 

Like I said before, as a girl it never occurred to me that I would become a novelist. Yet now, as I look back on my journey so far, it makes total sense. I’ve been working on and trying to understand my own story for years. In a way, I’ve been developing my own character. So now I create characters and stories that I think will not only entertain readers, but will also help people maybe find their way. Perhaps that’s the counselor in me that is still trying to help out.

 

A lot of my characters are lost in some way and then find themselves. Sometimes they find themselves transformed. In a way, my mission is to give readers not only a good story but a map for how to live a resilient and courageous life. Maybe I write novels to remind me how to do it, too. I’m always trying to follow the breadcrumbs out of the forest of our modern-day distractions, and I leave breadcrumbs for my readers, too. But then at the end of the story, I make sure that there’s some kind of feast. I want to leave a reader with hope that things will get better, that all is well (at least for now), and that we are not alone.

 

To find out more about Susan Gabriel, go to Susan Gabriel

 

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.

Doorway of Life

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Today you probably walked through many doors…whether it was on the way to take a shower, leaving the house, stepping into your vehicle, or entering your place of work or school (or more).
For a moment, imagine a door…or an entrance way. You have one below if you need your creativity jogged today. Now, from your imagination, journal or ponder these questions:
1. Describe the door or entry way from your imagination. What materials make up your door? i.e. wood, glass, steel, etc.? What color is it? Does it have any type of special design? If so, what is it? Does it have a knob or latch? Is it locked? If so, who has the key? Where is the knob or latch located on your door? Is there any other hardware on the door, if so, what is it? Is there any design or words on the hardware, if so what is it? What does the door open into or out of? Draw your door or entry way.
2. Which side of the door are you on? If it is locked, do YOU have the key or combination?
3. If you do not have the ability to open it yet, do you wish to venture onto the other side of this door? What emotions or thoughts come up as you imagine being on the other side of the door? Who would you allow through your door (be specific)? Why them?
4. If you do have the key or combination, open the door and step through when you are ready. What is on the other side? Describe in great detail.
5. Is there a transition (or preparing to make a transition or decision) that you are currently making in your life? Is there anything you can take from this exercise above that is useful? Which part of the exercise above are you currently in with your transition?
Before you close this exercise, here is an affirmative writing:

I allow myself to transition into and out of different aspects of my life, knowing that the timing and speed of the transition happens in perfect timing for my soul. When I am ready, I will open that part of me and my new life. I integrate the lessons from the other side of the door, knowing that those times and experiences were essential to who I am today. I learn from what some call my “mistakes” because if I learn from them, they were never mistakes, but another way to learn and to be aware of the life that is calling me. The discomfort I experience from growing is a Universal Human Experience…and all those who live a conscious and meaningful life have gone through this growth pain. I consciously know that I join all the generations of wise souls that have gone before me. They have helped to pave my way as I will help pave the way of others. I can be grateful for lessons.

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…]

The Gift of Our Mirror: Threshold Guardian

Here is an article from a previous The Heroic Journal May 2010 by guest writer, Terri Schanks.

The Threshold Guardian is always a mirror for us, a mirror which speaks to us our greatest fears, and therefore the thing for which we can hold the most hope.  If your fear is of failure, the Guardian will speak to you of failure.  If it is of success, the Guardian will speak to you of success.  The Guardian is the Illusion in your life, the proverbial Satan in Christian terms, Mara in the Buddhist.  [Read more…]

The Awakenings – The Next Decade

 

More than a decade ago this week, the lives of millions of people changed…many profoundly.  On September 11, 2001, at home after having just returned from a double lecture tour and preparing for another, I watched in horror how life can be turned upside down in an instant. At close to 9am central time, the news of the attacks on U.S. soil hit the airwaves. As billions of people around the world became riveted by the visceral reminder of life, death, impermanence and priorities, I experienced my second powerful awakening for that year and it literally changed the trajectory of my entire life and continues to do so.

Just six months and ten days before that pivotal September morning, I was outsourced (along with the entire department) from a job of which I gave my whole focus to. My work family of twelve years was split apart by a corporate board, but there was very little time for finger pointing, I was unemployed and I needed to focus on replacing my seemingly “secure” job. Although that pre-9/11 wake-up call was disorienting and terribly sad, it quickly forced me to launch the beginning of a new way of living “fearlessly.” For me, that key word, “fearlessly” means to disregard the fear and go forth anyway.  Aside from my adult career dreams, there was no idea what to do next. The choice was made.  There was nothing to lose at that point. Life dreams were chosen out of default.

The illusion of security in life is an interesting yet very uncomfortable process to untangle and if we are fortunate…we get to bust that illusion wide open.  People have a tendency to hook a sense of security to other people, things or situations as if our life depends on it, which it rarely does. It is a painful lesson it is to realize that illusion, one that is often filled with a sense of betrayals, emptiness and terror. Denial is strong and I don’t think I am the only one who has clung to magical thinking when illusions are shattering. In the midst of that evolution, it felt like I was working without a net, but the net was there, it just couldn’t be seen. The journey to learn how to trust the unseen was terrifying, and that journey continues to unfold ten years later. Perhaps it is an ongoing part of the life journey.
 
Six months after the outsourcing, I was beginning the early stages of finding my new professional footing when 9/11 occurred. That historical began to call me to look at my own mortality and my life priorities and the intention in which I live life.  As I boarded a plane a ten days later, the post 9/11 stories were starting to be made public. The search/rescue/recovery process was still ongoing, yet those of us on the outer circle of the event, were beginning being thrust into making meaning of the event. It would be years, if not a lifetime for those who lost loved ones.

The utter panic I felt every time the wheels lifted off the ground reminded me the actual parameters of authentic control in life.  While looking around the plane, I wondered if it was my last day in this life and if that last breath would be drawn sitting next to someone where no eye contact had even occurred. That is when I began to realize that much loneliness is a choice we make.
 
After September 2001, I began to leave my books and magazines unopened, my highlighters capped and started talking and connecting those around me (a bit of a stretch for a strong introvert).  Seatmates would often share stories of what and who they loved, what made them laugh and they would tell about their life passions and fears.  What made life their lives sing became clear…propelling me to reflect on mine.
 
During that time the wheels- up panic was replaced with a calm question: “Are you ready?” Meaning: if this was the last day of this life of mine, has it been lived with intention and courage? Am I living with regret or fear? What was I going to choose? Would love or fear be my life motivator?
 
How I was willing to live changed.  What I was willing to spend my time doing changed. Gratitude, courage, risks, openness and love became the predominant factors. If any given day was my last (which it will be at some point), I never wanted anyone I loved to feel unloved or disrespected by me.  Although I certainly haven’t done that perfectly the last decade, it is my conscious intention for those I care about to have no doubt they are loved. No one should leave this life without the experience of feeling cherished by someone.

No longer afraid to tell people what was appreciated and admired, with no regard to if they reciprocated, changed my life.  The transformation of the heart provides a freedom like none other. What a powerful living legacy for the thousands of people who lost their lives that day…that one person…maybe tens of thousands of people were inspired to open their heart and love without hesitation.
 
Life is uncertain. Most things are impermanent. What is it that is truly unchangeable?
 
If today was your final day, what would you wish to leave as your legacy? Love? Fear? The choice is ours…each and every moment. I choose love. 

 

www.theomnibuscenter.com

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?