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What is the Hero's Journey?

When I was in my early 20s and my father was dying, a friend gave me a painting. It depicted a river wending its way through soft mountains, with a small sailboat in the distance floating down the river. It struck me at the time as a metaphor for my life. And I was left with the sense that our life is like the journey in a fairy tale, a small vessel following the currents, passing through different terrains, in search of what’s around the next corner. The river knows where it’s going, but we on the boat do not.

On this life journey, we are each discovering the geography of our own inner world. And yet, when we take a step back and look at it from a larger perspective, that geography, and our life journey, is not so different from the basic story that humankind has been playing out since the beginning. Birth. Separation. Initiation.

Return. This shows up in our own lifecycle, and then in the countless ways that we are called to leave what is familiar to us and venture into the unfamiliar. Each of us slaying inner dragons and facing outer obstacles, to be reborn in a new version of ourselves, more true to who we are.

This death and rebirth motif shows up in stories and myths all over the world; is at the heart of some of our great religions; and animates our most powerful films.

George Lucas, struggling for years to create a film his heart had been calling him to write, was able to finish the Star Wars story while reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a 1000 Faces, which lays out the basic bones of the human story. Just as the heroes and heroines in that saga overcome fear and attachment to the familiar and rise up to be of real service to the Universe, we are each doing the same thing in our own universe.

Each of us is rising above our self-imposed limitations and outer challenges to expand our sense of self and walk our path of destiny. Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey gave us a map to guide us, and signposts along the way, as we take our journey.

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