Transmute Crisis into Opportunity

The word pain has an ugly sound-ugly because of its associations,-sickness, disease, death and suffering. It is used synonymously with misery and unhappiness. It is however in this very struggle for existence that values are evolved.

To remind us of this eternal truth, various scholars have introduced theories on hero myth narratives, including Edward Burnett Tylor, Otto Rank, and Lord Raglan. Eventually hero myth pattern studies were popularized by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Carl Jung's view of myth. He was an expert in literature and comparative religions. He wrote and edited numerous books, lectured around the world, and taught at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. But his most important cultural contribution is arguably his work on what he called “the hero’s journey.” This journey is a 12-step path that recurs in the mythology of the world and has guided many cultures throughout human history.

Here are the three stages of the hero’s journey:

  1. The Departure Act: the Hero leaves the Ordinary World.

  2. The Initiation Act: the Hero ventures into unknown territory (the " Special World ") and is birthed into a true champion through various trials and challenges.

  3. The Return Act: the Hero returns in triumph.

Along the way, they are tested, meet allies and enemies, and prepare for an ordeal—some kind of showdown or difficulty that will truly test their mettle. The ordeal forces them to face their worst fears. And when they survive this, the ordinary person is a hero and is rewarded, usually with knowledge or insight.

The reward’s not the end of the story, however. Next, the hero must return to the ordinary world where the journey began, transformed by their experience. Finally, the reborn hero shares what they’ve learned on the journey with others.

This classic formula that Campbell identified remains popular in contemporary culture. The movie Star Wars was based on Campbell’s hero’s journey, for example, and the professor became good friends with the film’s creator, George Lucas.

The hero’s journey isn’t just for classical heroes, but for all of us. It is, essentially, a path of maturation that all evolving humans follow. It’s a fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo. We are in our childhood for at least 14 years, dependent on others psychologically, materially, and physically. Slowly, we trade dependency for psychological self-responsibility. Eventually, when we’ve successfully faced challenges, we are enriched and have wisdom to offer others. This process requires a [metaphorical] death and resurrection. which is the basic motif of the hero journey, leaving one condition, finding the source of life to bring you forth in a richer or more mature or other condition.

Campbell’s formula is not just a way to interpret the great tales of historical and contemporary myths. It also lends meaning to our everyday existence, putting our individual struggles in a noble context. The trials and tribulations we face and survive may not seem heroic. But knowing that we grow as a result of them, and that this can make us into better people, makes it easier to be brave.

Indeed, myths were created to model bravery, and to guide ordinary, fearful people and inspire us. They help us embrace adventures and ordeals despite our fears, and gain the wisdom that enables us to contribute something to society. We have not even 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 find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

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