There are many forms of courage including physical courage that enables us to face danger and perform daring feats of strength. Moral courage is where we stand up for what we believe in, and, for many of us, including me, the most profound form of courage is the willingness to stand up to deeply entrenched fears and self-limiting beliefs and overcome them. We can see obstacles not as blocks but as opportunities for growth.
It takes courage to move from victim to victor; from surviving to survivor.
A book that has influenced me during my difficult journey over the past two years has been Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” It tells the stories of heroes in different cultures and time periods and identifies a structure common to all of them.
In each of the tales, the protagonist is living an acceptable life but deep down there is a flaw. Early in the story, he is thrust into situations where this hidden flaw is revealed.
Things don’t go to plan, friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the rules the protagonist lived by no longer apply. He sinks into increasingly difficult circumstances, encountering one obstacle after another until he hits the bottom. This is the decisive moment. There he will remain, a failed hero, unless he finds the courage to rise back up.
If he does rise, the world he knew is fraught with peril but at least now he knows what he is fighting for. He encounters obstacle after obstacle, but this time his challenges make him more determined. At last, he arrives home, more fully revealed and with something to offer that he could not have given before. As Campbell put it, “The hero comes back… with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
The common denominator for all these stories is that the protagonist, through finding the courage to rise from defeat, each time grows a little wiser, a bit more skillful, and acquires greater inner strength. Even when he doesn’t survive the final battle, he dies a hero.
In difficult times, I like to read stories like these. They strengthen my resolve to get going and move ahead. When I am at the bottom of my Hero’s journey arc I remind myself of the qualities of my heroes. Something in my own nature resonates with these qualities. They help me bring out my own heroism so that I can continue on my personal journey.
The difference between those who successfully reach the end of their Hero’s journey and those who don’t isn’t better opportunities or superior allies, but the courage to get up and try again, even when the odds seem insurmountable and discouragement feels overwhelming. When we follow this simple precept, we grow from our struggles and, regardless of the external outcome, acquire stature and nobility that cannot be taken away.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”