Luke Skywalker wanted something different.
Bored with a life of farming on Tatooine, a backwater planet in the Galaxy’s Outer Rim, yet owing loyalty to his uncle who raised him, Luke aspires to attend the space Academy and become a great pilot, as his father was before him.
Knowing the dangers, his Uncle Owen strongly discourages this route
Seized by youthful enthusiasm and restlessness, a frustrated Luke reluctantly agrees to stay with his uncle for another farming season.
During this difficult time, and unbeknownst to him, Skywalker’s life’s trajectory is altered the day his uncle buys C-3PO and R2-D2, two droids that carry a plea for help from Princess Leia.
I’m sure you all know the story that follows.
After initial reluctance to heed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s exhortations to join the Rebel cause, Luke’s path is set when his aunt and uncle are murdered by the Empire.
Luke embarks upon The Hero’s Journey, and, well, becomes the hero.
The Hero’s Journey
According to Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey is a narrative theme that exists in the mythology of every culture around the world. From Homer’s The Odyssey to George Lucas’ Star Wars, elements of the Hero’s Journey is found everywhere in stories, movies, painting, and poetry.
The Hero’s Journey follows a familiar format that includes the following aspects (though there are often more)
1. Living an ordinary life in the ordinary world, but with a dissatisfaction of the ordinariness of it all.
2. “The Call” to adventure. The Call can derive from external circumstances, people appearing or events occuring in the hero’s life, or from an internal desire.
3. Resistance to The Call due to fears and the unknown.
4. A guide appears that helps the hero proceed with the journey.
The length of the journey is undetermined, it could be 40 days and 40 nights, 10 years, or 40 years, but the journey includes a transformational experience where the hero grows and fulfills his or her destiny.
While Star Wars is clearly fiction, the mythological themes it is based on are not.
Mythology is Life
Mythology is the use of stories to tell how life is.
It alerts you to the spiritual potentialities of life that you may be missing due to being unaware. You know something isn’t quite right. There is a fire burning inside you, a yearning, a desire residing deep in your subconscious, but perhaps you haven’t yet figured out what it is or what to do about it.
Mythology isn’t giving the answers to life, mind you. The answers to life–if there are any–are for you to discover.
And it’s not the search for the meaning of life.
The Hero’s Journey is an essential aspect of the human experience, born out of the universal human psyche, of our need to fulfill our own potential.
Thus, the Hero’s Journey is the true experience of life itself!
The Call Finds You
The Call usually finds you when the time is right: when your life’s experience and opportunity align. It won’t call when you aren’t ready.
So how do you know if you have experienced The Call?
From my experience, you know it because you feel its intense burn. The appearance of some person, an event, a discovery, makes you question your current situation or previously held beliefs. You may feel conflict. You may feel confusion. You may question yourself, or doubt your feelings.
As I have written numerous times, the defining moment in my life was the sudden death of my father when I was 28. I learned how fleeting life is, and I was faced with the choice:
Stay safe and secure in my corporate IT job with its regular paycheck and great health benefits. Be a responsible white collar worker like most everyone else I knew from my high school and college years.
….And feel like I was wasting my life in the process.
Or, I could go off into the great unknown with nothing guaranteed. No guaranteed paycheck, no health insurance, no paid vacation.
In hindsight, the appearance of The Call was obvious, though at the time I didn’t recognize its mythological importance.
It took about 6 months from the death of my father until I quit my job. So it wasn’t an overnight experience.
But once I accepted The Call, with very little idea of how to proceed, there was no turning back.
Was I scared?
Hell, freaking yes!
And, quite frankly, ten years in and I’m still on my journey. The journey is not something that necessarily ends. My journey could take many different paths in the future, I just have to be open to everything. But the main call, the one that got me out of the corporate world, happened at 28.
What Does Your Call Look Like?
Your call could occur in any number of areas of life, and not all of them have to be as drastic as mine. Maybe you aren’t in a position, due to family obligations and financial constraints. to change your career. But calls can appear in many forms, all are important, and all can enable you to experience life more happily.
– Create something
– Do something that opens you up to criticism (like writing a blog)
– Step outside your immediate community and its expectations
– Move to another city, state, or country
– End an unfulfilling relationship, or step into a new one
– Become a better parent, or realize it’s ok that you don’t want kids
– Get healthier. Lose weight.
– Become financially stable
– Learn a knew skill
– Conquer your counter-productive desires
When you hear The Call, you automatically become the potential Hero. You won’t be saving any galaxies–your hero’s journey will probably be one of inner exploration. It’ll probably be an anonymous journey. You’ll be overcoming your deepest fear, or numerous fears, and saving yourself in the process.
What if your call is a big one, like mine was?
You’ll be scared, no doubt.
And you’ll have two options.
You can choose to accept the challenge, stepping into the unknown, without a clear way forward. It may run opposite to the expectations placed upon you by your family and community. It may be a lonely journey at times. It will necessarily involve perceived setbacks and obstacles to overcome.
If it involves relationships, be they romantic, familial, or friendly, you may find yourself single, cut off from family, or with less friends than before. But that has to happen if your Call has appeared. The Call appeared for a reason; your heart has placed it in front of you.
You don’t accept the challenge. You play it “safe”. Stay in the confines of what is comfortable to you.
Safe and comfortable, yet ultimately unfulfilling, which in my mind is completely life-negating. I suspect this is what most people do. This is where regret comes from.
The real danger isn’t change. The real danger is not listening to your heart. The real danger is not trusting your feelings (and by feelings I’m talking more about intuition and instinct, rather than amorous feelings). The real danger is letting your conscious brain scare you out of authentic experience, the experience that your inner being is trying to push you towards.
What If I Fail?
Hero’s die all the time; their lives taken in the service of a cause, of a greater ideal. Often they die before their task or vision is realized.
Famous people like Lincoln, JFK, MLK, RFK, John Basilone, as well as countless numbers of anonymous men and women who never receive any recognition for doing great things.
Is that failure?
Of course not.
The Hero’s Journey transcends silly notions of success and failure.
Living an authentic experience is not something you can keep score of. It’s not measured by income, what you drive, or how hot your girlfriend is. It’s beyond that. This fact will be lost on most people, but you’ll know it to be true, though perhaps not explainable.
Since it’s spiritual in nature, the experience will be unique to you.
And if you can’t wrap your head around how success and failure will recede into the background, consider this:
The pain of trying and not succeeding is nothing compared to the pain of being trapped in an inauthentic life. Pain is temporary, but suffering is entirely man-made.
By living the safe life, the person who aspires to more will ensure their eternal suffering. They may rationalize it, “my idea couldn’t have worked”, “we were too different”, “I didn’t have the skills”, but they’ll know it was fear that dissuaded them from their rightful journey.
You either go on your journey, overcoming your internal fears and doubts along the way and in the process discovering a better way to live, or you don’t.
I leave you with this famous scene from Braveheart (read it in your best Scottish accent)
Wallace: Sons of Scotland, I am William Wallace.
Young soldier: William Wallace is 7 feet tall.
Wallace: Yes, I’ve heard. Kills men by the hundreds, and if he were here he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse. I AM William Wallace. And I see a whole army of my countrymen here in defiance of tyranny. You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are. What would you do without freedom? Will you fight?
Veteran soldier: Fight? Against that? No, we will run; and we will live.
Wallace: Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!!!
If you don’t answer your call, never go on your journey–aye, you may live–but will you really be living?
That is the question.
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