Once you see the pattern of life in the Hero’s Journey, the next step is to apply it so as to gain leverage. The largest advantage is knowing AHEAD OF TIME what is going to happen to you as you seek to improve your life or solve a major problem. That allows you to lay in emotional or material resources before you get there. Women have told me that if they really remembered the pain of childbirth, they’d never have sex again. Good reason to forget some of the pain of transformation!
But on the other hand, if as a culture we didn’t remember that pain, and blood, and potential death, we would never have refined our understanding of the process so as to save more mommies and babies. Without birth, life ends. Birth is difficult, bloody, painful, dangerous…but also joyous, not to be placed on the same scale as other things that cause comparable sensations of pain. Either know BEFORE YOU GET THERE that the experience will be uniquely intense, or things are likely to go wrong.
The “normal world” you live in will remain your baseline unless and until you experience an epiphany that jars you out of it: a belief that you CAN and SHOULD and MUST change. And the thing that rips you out of your complacency will, if powerful enough, destroy your sense of self which (absent a truly remarkable level of personal integration) cannot survive if you are truly to move to the next level of your life.
So there’s a triad: the “normal world”, the “epiphany” that forces action, and the disastrous “dark night of the soul” moment when it feels all is lost. These three things should be taken as a whole.
As an example, let’s look at one of the clearest “HJ” stories: “The Wizard of Oz.”
In “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy is “trapped” in her “ordinary” black-and-white world of Kansas, but longs to go “over the rainbow” where she will find a technicolor dreamland. Her desire to find a new world is accelerated by her dog Toto being taken to the pound by the evil Almira Gulch. Dorothy runs away with Toto, is trapped by a tornado, and swept away to the land of Oz (or perhaps merely hit on the head and suffers a concussion-dream).
The tornado is an external transformative force that rips her from her life path. It functions as the “epiphany” that opens the door to a New Opportunity for Dorothy.
In Oz, she is dropped into an age-old war between warring witches, accidentally killing the Wicked Witch of the East, gaining an enemy of her sister, the witch of the West. Glinda the “Good” witch (who giggles at the death of WWE…just how “good” can she really be?) lies to Dorothy and tells her her only way home is to go to the Wizard of Oz. (This is, of course, a “bank shot” on the Witch of the West. I think it reasonable that Glinda knew she was aiming Dorothy at the “evil” witch, while keeping her own hands clean.) This Yellow Brick Road of action, along which she gains allies, will inevitably take Dorothy to the Dark Night of the Soul moment.
What follows is well understood: the quest for the evil witch’s broom (an assassination assignment), Dorothy’s capture, the sands running out as her friends overcome their own internal obstacles (lack of faith in their brains, courage, and emotion) to rescue her, the death of the “Wicked Witch”. They return to Oz, and the Wizard is revealed as a fraud. He then devises a way to take Dorothy back to Kansas in his balloon, but even that goes awry when Toto accidentally unties the anchor rope.
Then we hit the REAL “Dark Night” of the film. Dorothy has done everything anyone asked of her (including that assassination) and is still stuck in Oz. All is lost.
Then…Glinda swoops in, all cotton-candy and sparkle, and tells Dorothy that she ALWAYS had the ability to go back, just by tapping her heels together three times. Why didn’t she TELL Dorothy this before placing her life at risk? “You wouldn’t have believed me,” Glinda says. We’ll leave that alone for a moment.
Note that the Dark Night of the Soul relates directly to the “Epiphany” (external, the tornado) which ripped her out of the Ordinary World. When she first prayed to go “over the rainbow” she was asking for her old life to die, and by implication her innocence with it. The stories of “innocent” farm-girls running off with traveling salesmen, ANYTHING to get away from the “ordinary world” of their hum-drum lives, comes to mind here.
Dorothy was willing to kill her old self to become a new self. Went to war. Realized she always had the power to return home, and did, filled with the realization that “there’s no place like home”–the fantasy world of Oz melding with her “ordinary world” to create meaning and transformation.
But…back to Glinda for a minute, shall we? Why didn’t she tell Dorothy that she could always return? If you don’t ask what GLENDA gets out of it, you are missing the mark.
What is the status of Oz prior to Dorothy’s arrival? The power would seem to be distributed between the witches of the East and West, the “Wizard of Oz”, and Glinda. And after Dorothy leaves?
GLENDA IS THE LAST POWER LEFT IN OZ.
Could she be that manipulative? Kill two witches and trick the Wizard into leaving? Could she? Well…what do we know about her? We know that she laughs at the death of her rivals. The “Good” witch. Right.
I see a sequel, decades later, Dorothy in the dust-bowl, struggling to extract another crop from the failing soil, her girlhood long gone, her face riven with care, hair streaked with gray. The first decent crop in years, enough to pay off the mortgage.
Then…a tornado swoops in and destroys the crop. As she numbly sorts through the destruction, she finds a bottle. There is a note in it. She opens it, and there, scrawled in a Munchkin’s hand is a desperate plea: “Dorothy. Help. Glinda has gone insane. You are our only hope…”
Geeze, am I cynical this morning, or what?
Anyway, the point is that once you understand the Hero’s Journey you can not only peel back the layers on classic films, but also understand that the crux points for their heroes will also be the crux points for your own life.
- If you want to change your world, do you have a clean image of what your “new” world would be?
- Do you know what it will cost to get you there?
- What would you have to believe to get you moving? You have to believe that you CAN and SHOULD make this change, that it will cause more pleasure than pain to do so. If you don’t believe this, you will simply have to wait until a tornado rips you out of your complacency.
- What is the total despair, the “dark night of the soul” that failure will hit you with? Lying about this is like lying about the pain of childbirth. Get the doctors, midwives, dear friends and family, and the anesthetics ready BEFORE the water breaks, for God’s sake. Talk to other people who have experienced similar issues, and quantify the price they have paid. Make up your mind to pay that price, and get ready for the ride of your life.
Oh, and…watch out for the “Glinda” of the world. They always, ALWAYS, have an agenda.
“Good” witch my butt!