We can be heroes in our own unique ways
EARLIER THIS year, I wrote about the mythology of the hero’s journey. I invited your thoughts on whether you believed the stories that had been handed down for centuries had any relevance today.
Your responses left no doubt at all that you felt they had. I began to craft a course. As I did, a group of people, who had been curiously drawn to this project, formed a team around me.
Each of them brought their own unique experience and expertise in facilitating people across difficult thresholds in their lives.
Together we shaped a course for young men that we called The Mindful Hero. Two writers in particular informed the development of this course: Joseph Campbell and Paul Rebillot.
Campbell is known to many as someone who revealed the gift of mythology to the 20th century man. Paul Rebillot worked for several years with Campbell and converted the steps that Campbell identified as key stages of every heroic quest, into a series of psychological and psychodrama exercises.
His book, The Call to Adventure , describes in considerable detail the programme he evolved to enable each of us to follow the hero path in our own lives. We invited applications from men who felt something in their existence was calling them to make more of their lives.
We all thought that while women potentially had several options for personal growth, there seemed to be few enough personal development options available to men.
The course focused on the key stages of the hero’s journey: hearing and responding to the call to adventure, struggling with our fear of and resistance to change, and discovering some truth that we can bring back to the wider world in which we live.
Choosing to embark on our personal heroic journey takes courage. We may get hurt, because every hero is wounded in some way; we may even die, or experience a profound letting go of some part of our comfort, that feels like a death.
This is why the heroes of all time have been graced with “spirit guides” to support them and to guide them through places of darkness.
In our lives, these guides may be those teachers, therapists or friends who help us across some particularly difficult threshold. They show us how tiny adjustments in our navigation can bring us through troubled waters.
They show us how we may need to accept what is broken and hold it with compassion, viewing it not as some obstacle but as something that gives us a unique way of seeing in the dark.
The most powerful guide we have is our own awareness of where we are at any given moment in our journey. The practice of mindfulness sharpens our awareness and breaks it out from the narrow confines of superficial consciousness.
Just as Ariadne’s silken thread guided Theseus in and out of the Cretan Labyrinth in ancient Greece, mindfulness connects us with where we are in our personal journey and allows us to see more clearly the options that are available to us at any given moment in time.
One of Paul Rebillot’s most ingenious ideas was to have his course participants symbolise each step of their journey in a physical posture.
He then taught them to join these postures together into a form of flowing movements that he called the Fool’s Dance .
In our Mindful Hero course, we adapted this idea with the 12 men who signed up. And last week, on Bloomsday, they performed their personal fool’s dance to a packed auditorium at The Art of Being Still conference in Dublin Castle.
This was the final act of the hero’s journey they had begun together in March of this year. For each of them, this represented the stage in the hero cycle that Campbell calls “The Return” – that moment where the hero returns and shares with their community the truths and insights that have been revealed to them.
Their fool’s dance was how they chose to share what they had learned. Their “performance” was a moment of tremendous vulnerability for each of them; one that could have landed in any number of ways.
But this audience responded with deep respect and were very moved. They generously expressed their appreciation to these men in a standing ovation.
The wordless movements of these mindful heroes told the story of what they had suffered and what they had learned. But they did not only express their personal struggle – they represented the struggle of everyone present.
And through their “dance” they expressed a truth we all need to hear: that we have within us the capacity to make it through, and that we are not alone.
As we watched these men and felt the impact their journey had on them, we shared a moment where we were all heroes.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times. Headstrong would like to thank the Irish Times for their ongoing support.