Using the hero’s journey as a spiritual practice

Consider that as a human beings, we are born into a culture of story telling. Story telling predates language and there is evidence to suggest we used images to depict our hunting battles long before we could speak. Now, we use language to describe our worlds, to stimulate the imagination and to find meaning in all that we do. You and I share a common ancestry of story telling which is as much an intrinsic part of being human as it is to have eyes or ears.

Notice that the format of a good story has a familiar structure. The late novelist John Gardner suggested that there are only two kinds of stories; A person goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. Another account of great story telling suggests that the hero of the tale should be an orphan. Think Batman, Cinderella, Harry Potter, or StarWars. If you want more examples, Wikipedia has hundreds of pages in the category of fictional orphans.

At the very least this sense of being orphaned starts with a lack of belonging, follows a story arc with insights and answers, and involves a battle which ultimately ends in a victory for the hero. Whether it’s a pilgrimage to Oz, or an invasion from outer space, we identify with these stories on a daily basis and they have a familiar and comfortable feel. So it is little wonder that we play out our own dramas in life based on these formats.

Consider that in human psychology our point of view, or who it is that we believe ourselves to be, stems not from a something or a someone but from a character in a drama or play of our own choosing. You and I are literally the authors of our own lives and while we can’t necessarily change the circumstances that life bestows upon us, who we are in the face of those circumstances is not written in stone. It might even be that victim stories follow this format because the victim can often be seen as the hero of a limiting or negative belief.

So how do you use this information in your spiritual practice?

Consider that as a person, or personality, there are many aspects to your character. Depending on your level or authenticity, each of these aspects could almost be thought of as a different character. Who I am for my Mum, for example, is not the same person that I am for my friends. Who I am for my boss, is not the same person that I am for people who share my spiritual practice. I create my identity moment by moment out of interpersonal interactions with others as well as from my ideas about how they might perceive me. It follows that as a multi faceted character, I must be the subject of many story lines.

My relationship with my wife has its own story arc. The story about how I wound up living here has another. My story about anxiety, is harrowing and some of the things I did in my youth would make your toes curl. The character I present now, has been on the spiritual journey to enlightenment, gave up everything to become wise and now shares some kind of wisdom here on this blog.

Can you see a situation in life, where you started out with a sense that you did not belong in some way?

Are you midway through a battle with an illness, or someone who just doesn’t see things the way you do?

If you learn about story arcs you can start to see where you are on your journey in relation to this particular problem and given that human beings are unconsciously driven, then perhaps you can predict quite clearly where the story goes next? Unless you step outside of your comfort zone, as individuals, our lives are pretty much guaranteed to end up where life is comfortable. If the story is familiar, it feels safe.

Here is an exercise you can do this month.

I invite you to look and see where in your life there is a sense of not belonging. Then notice if there is a story around that, perhaps even take some time to write it down.

See you on the other side of the looking glass,


Mark Ty-Wharton

Mark Ty-Wharton is the author of A FOOL’S JOURNEY and THE SYSTEM and is a music technologist who lives in Glastonbury.