Preparing for 2012: Discovering the ‘hero’ in yourself

In Changing life, Positivity, Resolutions 2012 on December 26, 2011 at 11:45 am

The short version of this blog post: It is that time of year when lots of people are thinking about the year ahead and what their resolutions will be in 2012. Whether New Years resolutions work or not is another debate. But what’s a good foundation that might help us to make ‘promises’ that are more than skin-deep and last for the long term? Joseph Campbell wrote a great little book years ago which has some valuable insights into adopting the values and characteristics of ‘the hero’ into life. I think these are important elements like inner focus, respect, humility, self-discipline and service. First published under a different title in September ’11.

The long version of this blog post:

Joseph Campbell’s illuminating chapter ‘The Hero’s Adventure’ in his popular book, ‘The Power of Myth’, sets out some of the qualities he thinks are important to unearthing ‘the hero’ inside each of us.

In our times, the most celebrated ’heroic’ deeds of the land, seem to be those won with little effort or cultivation of talent. Ability – steadily crafted and grafted – often seems to be replaced by puerility. The kind of heroism that inspires individuals to think of themselves in a different way, that leads to positive reflection and greater courage to take a risk on life, or even motivates whole generations to walk in a better direction, does surely still exist; but more often than not is muffled by the din of easy celebrity.

Heroes and heroism are important to any society and community because this provides a source of much needed idealism and inspiration. Maybe it is the hero a child sees in their parents (or hopes to see) and is awed by the positive instruction they are given. Or it could be the joint heroism that comes from the collective actions any community takes to overcome unexpected disaster. Or, maybe it is the stellar achievements of the great ‘legends’ of history, which at certain points of time break open personal and collective limitation, moving the world one little step closer from ignorance to knowledge.

Campbell basically argues that myths, when understood and interpreted properly, provide a valuable source of instruction in heroism. By this, he doesn’t mean celebrity (global or local) he means the kind of heroism that can be applied to daily life, as part of the bigger and personal journey of striving to make the best of one’s lot in life. There are certain qualities  – courage, enthusiasm, determination – that are typical of a hero. But it isn’t these qualities that make a hero’s character. Character is determined by how these qualities (and talents) are fashioned and applied on the hero’s journey. That is what ultimately determines who he is in the long run.  The way that the hero undertakes their journey (symbol for the journey of life), is also what will determine if he ultimately succeeds. And true success isn’t the princess won in a fairytale, or saving the world at the end of an epic action movie, etc.  It is really that the hero’s character, example and achievement, will inspire many people and generations to come – present and future, close and faraway.  In this way, the hero acts as a source of eternal growth to himself and others, because he reminds each of us what is possible.

So, some of the heroic acts that the hero in many myths and stories carries out externally demonstrate qualities that everyone can apply internally. Campbell argues that the better emphasis is to try and embody these qualities and extract their value so we can apply these in our own daily lives. In essence, how can we heroes to ourselves in whatever stage of our own personal journey we are on, whatever ‘dragons’ or ‘rainbows’ we are facing? In learning how to be a hero to yourself, you are more likely to eventually forge the direction and shape of your own life.

I think some of questions that Campbell’s lucid writing about ‘the hero’ poses to each of us are: How do I overcome difficulty? What might be the best way to get my life back on track? How can I contribute to the life of the world, friends, family and ‘neighbours?’ How can I demonstrate heroism to myself, and my ‘community?’ To manifest my wildest dreams, what must I commit myself to? How do I overcome terror and fear that lies deep in my heart? What is the best way to direct my passion and exuberance into something that is actually productive and tangible? How can I best live in a way that honours my values and what I believe in? How do I deal with reality and the randomness of life – especially when this seems cruel, underserved and unfair? How do I manifest and honour the creative?

My interpretation of Campbell’s insights into being ‘a hero’ to yourself on the journey of life, and the qualities it is worth striving to embody I think are:

  1. Inner focus: the hero walks ‘a narrow path’ and tries not to go off course from experiencing his ‘purpose.’
  2. Humility: the hero might think his path, circumstances and life are unique compared to everyone else, but realises this thinking will only lead to self-inflation.
  3. Acceptance: the hero applies perspective to trials, pain and difficulties, seeing these as chances for realism, focus and growth, not situations to keep him mentally or emotionally imprisoned. Every journey of life has good times and bad times.
  4. Rationality: the hero has a realistic sense of his limitations and strengths, but does not suppose these will always be the same, because he knows he can change (for better or worse) and life never stays the same.
  5. Awareness: the hero strikes the optimal balance in being self-absorbed in his tasks. Self-absorption is only to achieve his purpose, and at its root his purpose should give something back to his ‘community’ that is valuable. Otherwise the hero’s work and ideals can easily morph into activity of self-interest capable of ‘devouring’ him.
  6. Courage: a hero that cannot show selflessness and put his own interests aside, when this is needed, ultimately will achieve nothing of inner value.
  7. Self-discipline: the hero is careful in what he chooses to give him energy and replenish him. This includes what drives his thoughts, words and actions. This could make or break the success of his journey.
  8. Patience: the hero knows when to say ‘no’ to his own self and wait for the right (not perfect) opportunity. When opportunity comes, patience must be replaced by action.
  9. Compassion (for self and others): the hero knows how crucial it is to have compassion for himself, when he has committed an act of ‘folly’ that threatens the success of his journey or has harmed others. He knows how important it is to come back to his ‘centre’ and learns to take right action, instead of letting regret and decay take control.
  10. Flow: the hero realises that life turns in cycles and seasons (success and loss, clarity and confusion, fame and infamy) and attunes his personal will and power to go with these flows.
  11. Responsibility and determination: the hero never blames someone else for their ‘misfortune’ if in his heart he cannot say, he has truly done the best he can in whatever situation he faces. If he has, he does not allow guilt in his life.
  12. Honesty: the hero must be prepared to ‘go against the crowd’, not for the vain glory of being a rebel, free spirit or freethinker, but because he knows the greater prize is to follow one’s heart in all things if this will lead to growth, renewal and happiness.
  13. Love: the hero is conscious about the impact his thoughts, words and action have, both on himself and others.
  14. Respect: the hero respects equally the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ within him and others, understanding both are crucial for wholeness and success.
  15. Service: the hero realises the best kind of glory is that which is rooted in service. The hero doesn’t really see a big difference between ‘one and all.’ He knows his actions equally affect himself as well as others.

I’d thoroughly recommended checking out Campbell’s chapter, if not the whole book, or catching some of his interviews on YouTube. Another book he wrote, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ is another great work on the theme. Everyone is born in a particular time. The times one is born in can make or break the best in a person. What Campbell’s use of stories and myths does is to posit the kind of insights that help one to make more sense of your personal journey in the times we live in.

  1. Bravo! Things often come to us when needed most; such was this with me today.

  2. […] to take steps toward a goal, big or small (you might want to check out a previous post I wrote on ‘Being a hero to yourself’). The point isn’t whether you’ve succeeded or not. It might be learning something new, […]

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