What happens when we are faced with a challenge, a crisis or an invitation to change something from our everyday life? What is our most common reaction to a new situation, or to an important decision to take?
The second stage of the Hero’s Journey deals with it.
The last time you have been confronted with the possibility of a life change (big or small: quitting your job, moving home, ending an important relationship, having to start a diet…) what was your answer? Let’s face it, unless the change was really welcome, or you are a true adventure lover, probably the answer was something like this
Or maybe “Not now, please. Can I wait a little longer?”. Or even “I am perfectly fine as I am, I don’t want to change!”. And so on.
To be honest, it’s an absolutely natural reaction to have. We all love a little bit of stability in our life, leaving our comfort zone sometimes is really not that easy, and we feel protected an safe in our “Ordinary World“.
It is, as said, a healthy and common instinct that keeps us confined to our familiar territory. Maybe the reason is that if we go back to the time when humans were living in caves, going out was really a dangerous business. Inside, there was the protection of the community and a warm fire that kept many dangers away. Outside, we would be without shelter or company, and the environment was extremely hostile, full of predators and potential threats.
There are many different studies (here just one, for example) to support the idea that we fear change because at the end of the day it’s a lot of hard work. That’s why even when we are rationally convinced about a particular solution, there comes something subconscious, a tingling in our spine, or maybe goosebumps, telling us “mmmh are you really sure?”. Maybe it’s better to check all the small letters, first.
This human, very human reaction is of course reflected in the Hero’s Journey. It comes right after the Call to Adventure and is closely connected with the Guardians of the Threshold, of whom we will talk later. It’s a series of actions that stop the hero from starting the journey. Maybe it could be somebody trying to stop him (or her). Or a condition, an event, material obstacles of some kind. Or simply, very commonly, just self doubt? Stories, excuses, the little voices in our head telling us that we are not ready, not brave, strong, old, young, qualified enough? (and if you are thinking “I don’t hear such voices in my head” right now… it’s exactly of them, I am talking about!)
We have already seen the reaction of Odysseus when the messenger came to call him to take part to the war of Troy. He would rather pretend to be mad, instead of leaving his beloved wife and his newborn baby boy. He didn’t want to go to adventure – maybe he was feeling that his Journey would be a particularly challenging one?
Our tradition is very rich with stories when the main character is stopped, or stops him/herself, from answering the call. This is to reflect this familiar, very natural instinct we all have. To make us feel free from judgement and make it easier for us to identify with the main characters of the tale. As we said, change is always hard work, and the road of our Hero’s Journey can indeed be full of challenges. If Heroes such as Odysseus, Kate Winslet’s Rose from “Titanic“, even Superman were waivering with self doubt before accepting their fate and jumping into action, why can’t we?
This is the important teaching of this phase. Self doubt, fear and anxiety are normal before a test, natural reactions we all have, possibly with reasons well rooted in our evolution as human beings. It’s really OK to feel inadequate. What matters the most is what comes next. What do all legendary heroes do at this point? What happens when we are hit by the moment of self doubt and uncertainty?
There is no question here. Once the Call to Adventure has been heard, it’s only a matter of time before the Journey starts. Actually – it has already started! Because remember, The “Refusal of the Call” is part of the story, not of some foreword.
So this is the lesson to learn: when facing these nasty self-sabotaging, paralyzing actions or judgements, don’t fight them: accept them. Embrace the voices as part of yourself – maybe they are even familiar voices? Can you associate real faces, to them? Try to wonder why. But avoid judgement. Don’t feel guilty, don’t victimise yourself. It’s all part of a story, and deep inside you know it.
You are in good company: you are just the last of a long, long series of heroic characters who all exitated in their moment of challenge. And then, gathered their resources and went on to adventure.
That’s why I especially like this phase of the Journey. It’s about letting go of self doubts and all the unnecessary burden that we carry with us all the time. It reminds us that when a challenge comes, our first instinct is to close our eyes, or run away from it. And that it’s absolutely normal. We are all the same in this: heroes and ordinary people, fictional semi-gods and regular guys. It can be really beneficial to learn how to recognise this pattern when it emerges, so we identify it, welcome it… and STOP IT.
Modern psychoanalysis identifies neurosis, or even psychosis, that can manifest here. They are semi-conscious, subconscious or even inconscious behaviours that are activated when we feel under stress. And change is always stressful. Actions of self sabotage that are triggered to stop us from going to adventure, and oh boy, they can be nasty, much more real than some voices in our head!
A bad sore throat, or a rash on your face just the day before a job interview. Somebody in our family who has something unexpected happening to them. A flat tire. A twisted ankle before a decisive football match. The feeling of not remembering anything at all just before an important school test.
Do these stories sound familiar? I bet they do. It’s because they are part of our story. And it’s all been written and told before, countless times.
Remember, you are not alone. Just like Frodo is tempted to give the One Ring back to Gandalf, the moment he realises all that it will bring into his life, his beloved County, the people he loves. He really doesn’t want to become the hero of such a big, big story. But can he turn down the challenge?
Even if change can be scary and we might feel not ready for it, from it we depend. Our life is about constant change; every single cell of our body changes (even if not exactly every 7 years); and we simply need new inputs and novelty in our life, to thrive. In other words, once the Call has been heard, the story is spinning already, and there is no stopping it.