A Path For All To Follow
I fell in love with the Heroine’s/Hero’s Journey myth on a hot day in August, here in Maine, sitting in a dark and thankfully cool, library auditorium. I listened to a woman explain Joseph Campbell’s schema or model for how the story hero traveled through a cycle of events that evolved an ordinary character into a transformed character, a hero. She used the example of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz to walk us through, a story example that I had used for years in my women’s empowerment workshops to explain how we have the power to attract and accomplish what we want.
I was transported! On fire! As an empowerment coach, I knew I had found a coaching model to inspire women to greater confidence. I would show them how they are actually walking this same transformative journey pattern and have them identify with the heroines who had been through these same milestones and evolved. And for me, working with human development from a story-perspective, was far more interesting than from a psychological-perspective. I offered my first Heroine’s Journey workshop for women in 2008 and I’m still at it – sharing what I’ve learned now with the added experience of hearing the heroine’s journey stories of real-life women! Talk about inspiring!
Here’s the gist of what I’ve been teaching and sharing.
We humans have been telling stories, well, since the beginning! Thousands and thousands of years ago, our ancestors were sitting around a fire, trying to stay warm, telling stories to entertain. Many people have studied our enormous heritage of stories, told through the ages, looking for patterns that can teach us life lessons and how to be better people. Are these messages still applicable today? What can we still learn from them?
Turns out there’s lots we can learn from them and they are still very applicable! The pattern that Joseph Campbell is most known for, the one I learned that day in the library, is the one about the journey of the hero which dates from the beginnings of oral storytelling to today. Yes, it’s very present still in stories today – told in books and in film.
Now, I’m not a storyteller or a mythologist or a folklorist - or a psychologist. I’m a coach, a coach of real people, real women. My work has been about connecting women to this archetypal story pattern so they can see the relevance in their lives – and see that they walk the same path that heroines walk in books and in film. They are no different – just no one wrote their story and put it up on the big screen. Their trials and how they overcame those trials are even more important because they’re real – affecting them and their circle of influence in a positive way.
People tell stories to teach and share what they’ve learned. They’ve been doing this forever. Someone way back – 1500 BC or so, tells a story to illustrate how if we just dare a bit, take a risk – try something new, confront what scares us - it will help us grow….that the “safe way” might not be the best way. Maybe you need to challenge yourself – confront your fears – slay or get to understand your personal dragon, whatever that may be.
We’re still telling the same story and it’s so very applicable today to those of us who want to be empowered and fully expand into all that we can be. And I’ve learned that when women know the framework of this old heroine/hero myth and place their own life experiences, their own leaps, into the milestones of the journey, they see themselves with different eyes. They’re not ordinary but extraordinary!
Here’s the short version of the heroine/hero myth:
A seemingly “ordinary” person has something happen to her or him that takes her from her known world to a very different world where she is met with all kinds of challenges that culminate in some sort of monumental task, like dragon slaying (or killing an evil wizard, or destroying a ring of power, or killing a witch to get her broomstick…) and which simultaneously, transform the “regular” person into someone much more – a “realized” person who has a new awareness about herself and what she’s capable of. The journey has “birthed” her into who she really was all along – a Heroine. Helpers, usually magical, come to the aid of the Heroine. Dorothy has the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. Harry Potter has Professor Dumbledore. Neo in the movie, The Matrix, has Morpheus. Huckleberry Finn has Jim. After accomplishing her dragon slaying, the hero returns home, usually with a gift that comes from her new level of awareness and she now can share this gift with her community.
Our real-life version of the myth, of our transition from a known world into a new world is rarely about finding a broomstick or a ring of power but rather leaving a comfortable job and leaping into a new one, or into a new relationship or leaving an old relationship that’s not working – or some other growth-inducing change from a “comfort zone” out into the unknown – into a new situation. That’s what a real-life heroine’s journey looks like and it is hugely transformative to the traveler – and to the world. The more we take the journey (and we go on many in our lifetime) to develop into our full selves, the more we are equipped to serve others and the world.
It takes a lot of courage to accept a call to go on the heroine’s journey. Many women hover over the threshold, waffling about whether to make the leap or not. My mission is to make sure real-life heroines know they’re not alone; that they have the support they need as they travel and to encourage them to do what their soul is urging them to do.
“It is about fearlessly leaping off the edge of the known to confront the unknown, and trusting that when the time comes, we will have what we need to face our dragons, discover our treasures and return to transform the kingdom. It is also about learning to be true to ourselves and live in responsible community with one another.”
~ Carol Pearson - Awakening the Heroes Within