What a terrible thing it is to grow up without a single alien invasion or zombie apocalypse. If you’re like me, then in all the years since you were born, never has your home town been attacked by a ginormous space beetle or fire breathing trampoline. No old men have imparted unto you any words of wisdom that would help you to slay a rampaging Lochness Monster/Vampire hybrid. Nor has destiny itself handed to you the Sacred Sword of Vancouver, so that you, and only you, could take down the hover-boarding wizard of miscellaneous evil doings.
No sith, no borg, no green goblins… Not even a Prince Humperdink. Where are all the simple, in your face villains?
I know. It’s not that you want the people around you to be in danger. Quite the opposite in fact. But if there is no T-rex stomping around town, gleefully gobbling up pedestrians, then what are you supposed to fight? How are you supposed to develop your courage, find meaning in your life, and ultimately save the world?
Shortly before he died, the famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, gave an interview where he answered exactly that question. Campbell is loved around the world by millions for his work on deciphering human stories, their commonalities and meaning. His teachings about the hero’s journey are basically required reading for novelists and screenwriters alike, and even Star Wars was based off of his ideas.
According to Campbell, stories are and always have been a way of explaining unexplainable truths to people, giving us a metaphor for how to live our lives. But we must not get “stuck in the metaphor” he says. In real life, the hero’s journey is not about going out and saving the world by “shifting it around and changing the rules.” Instead the journey is simply this: to save ourselves. And “by saving ourselves, we end up saving the world.”
Now what does that mean?
In stories, the hero may literally go out to slay a dragon (or foul tempered bunny rabbit, or acid blooded alien, and so on), but in real life we don’t usually have the luxury of that kind of simplicity. There is no acid blooded alien hunting you and your goldfish (I hope). Instead, Campbell teaches that the acid blooded alien is in you. The “dragon” as he calls it, is your ego.
Ego = enemy (egomy).
But what precisely does he mean by ego? What is this mysterious enemy inside of us that we have to slay in order to save the world? Is it like that time that Lord Voldemort hid inside of Professor Quirrell and you could see his face all gross like on the back of his head?
Kind of but no. Okay not at all. In the simplest terms, the ego is everything that you think you are, but in fact are not. It is what your environment has moulded you to think/believe/desire/etc (all the crap that is covering up your true inner being). It is an incredibly fearsome enemy for most people, nebulous, hard to pin down, and even harder to vanquish, but Campbell believed it to be slayable in this one simple way. He called it “following your bliss.”
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Easy, happy, and well… blissful. Think again. For many people the battle is such a glorious and terrible affair that the ghost of William Wallace himself shows up to cheer them from the sidelines. It is no easy thing to listen to your heart. Not with the loud and insistent ego blathering on between your ears at all hours, tossing rainbow sparkles in your eyes with one hand and punching you in the nose with the other. And once you do finally realize what your heart is saying, find that hint of bliss to guide you, well then things get even worse. Because your bliss ends up not being what you wanted it to be, and now it just won’t shut up and leave you alone.
Seriously, what if your bliss wants you to trade your lawyer suit in for a green and purple striped onesy and red nose that honks? How is your perfectly manicured governor pop going to feel about that? What if your bliss is helping elephants in Africa but your life is here and Africa is scary, and there are scary things there, and no, you just don’t wanna go!
Just like in stories, in real life, the hero’s journey can be a very frightening thing. You must leave the world you know behind (spiritually and sometimes physically) and move into the unknown. And as it always is when things change, there will be trials, there will be fear, there will be doubt, and that is a good thing. That is where the hero in you is born. You come out the other side as the person that you were meant to be. Someone that is truly alive. Someone that has not only followed their bliss, but captured it, that are living it.
So here it all is, broken down into four not-so-simple steps:
Step one: Start listening for your bliss.
Step two: Do what your bliss tells you even if it’s really embarrassing/hard.
Step three: Keep doing what your bliss tells you and don’t stop even when it gets tough.
Step four: Make it through the hard times and joyfully light up the world.
Good luck hero!
Author: Eowyn Miral
P.S. If you enjoyed this article, then let me know! Press “like” or leave a comment, and of course, it’s always cool to share! Next week’s article “How to be Fearless. Advice from a Warrior Monk.”
“The presence of a vital person, vitalizes.”
(All quotes by Joseph Campbell)
Cover image by: Lucas Werneck (lucasgomes on Deviant Art)