The hero with a thousand choices

Mythologist Joseph Campbell writes about the hero with a thousand faces, identifying the hero figure within the stories that cultures have told throughout the millennia.  These stories are explorations of what it means to be human, maximising our capacity to think, feel and do.

The hero with a thousand choices is an attempt to point out that within each of us there are so many ways we can choose to live, though some will be more important to us than others.

Here’s the first of a number of Campbell quotes to help us explore this concept – bliss is his word for the discovered and lived purpose for our lives:

‘if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one that you are living  When you see that you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss and they open the doors to you’.*

This notion that the life we ought to be living is the one we are living is right where I find myself working with others, in what I am increasing seeing as hero’s journeys or adventures.  Not some “Look at me, I’m special” kind of hero.  Such a way of thinking just shows how far we have wandered from the stories of heroes.

Hugh Macleod writes about bringing an idea to life, how we can be misunderstood by those around us when the possibility we imagine is very young; it’s just that:

‘win or lose, you really don’t have a better reason for being alive’.**

Macleod is one of those I have “met” in my own field of bliss.  He has opened doors to me:

‘Furthermore, we have not event to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us.  The labyrinth is thoroughly known.  We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to have found an abomination, we shall find a god.  And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.  Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the centre of our own existence.  And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.’*

These have misunderstood the need for adventure.  It is not to conquer the world (of money, of business, of sport, of social media, of ….) but to conquer ourselves, not to gain but to give:

‘A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.’*

Those we meet who’re struggling in their everyday existences – with busyness, with boredom, with people issues and all the other things we think we can do nothing about, Campbell has this to say:

‘The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels something is lacking in the normal experiences available or permitted to the members of his society.  This person takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir.  It’s usually a cycle, a going and a returning.’*

This hero’s journey or adventure is intended for everyone in the everyday, and it is so close to us; we mistakenly think it can only take place in some far off place when it’s within the life we are living.  I read these words from Keri Smith as a metaphor for this when I read them alongside Campbell:

‘It’s up to the wanderers to remake the city into something that ignites the imagination.’^

This adventure includes challenge; transformation comes through trials and revelations.  Perhaps aware of these and those who are met in Campbell’s field of bliss, Alex McManus writes of change:

‘Whatever the reasons change comes, there seems to be three Events that instigate change: Contact with outsiders, Significant events, and Epiphanies.’^^

We prefer the attempt to change the things around us before we attempt to change the things within.  It’s why life slows down and eventually stagnates.  We can obtain many bigger and better things, from jobs to houses, from clothing to electronic devices, but only adventure can stir up the life within:

‘If you want to put it in terms of intentions, the trials are designed to see to it that the intending hero should be really a hero.  Is he really a match for his task?  Can he overcome the dangers?  Does he have the courage, the knowledge, the capacity, to enable him to serve?’*

(*Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(**From gapingvoid’s blog: Great ideas have lonely childhood.)
(^From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(^^From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire.)

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