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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Finding the Hero in Your Story

One of the most influential teachers in my recovery was Joseph Campbell.  Often cited as his best book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a one of those books I read whenever I’m searching for inspiration, guidance, and wisdom from the mythological heritage of our ancestors.  It’s one of the most important books I've ever read.  For those of you who haven’t read Joseph Campbell or are unfamiliar with his works, he was the preeminent scholar on the mythological tradition found in every culture in every civilization throughout history.  He states, in the first chapter of his book, “It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.” [1] All of our religions, philosophies, art forms, the first discoveries in science and technology, the social forms of early and historic man, all come up from this place called myth. 

Myths have a primary function to supply us with the rites and symbols to carry the human spirit forward. In this book, Campbell talks about the many myths throughout mankind’s history, up to and including the modern day (watch the movie Star Wars), which have an archetypal hero who embarks on a transformational journey, filled with danger, trials, and tribulations, all of which brings him to the point where he must confront the Supreme Ordeal of his life, and if successful, return back to the temporal world (the world in which we all live) with the elixir he or she set out to find.  He calls this, the hero’s journey.  Myths help to guide us through the transitions and passages of our lives.  When we identify ourselves as the hero of our own life, we begin to connect to the inestimable psychic power contained within the mythic tradition.  

Anyone who has suffered from PTSD intuitively knows in order to get to the other side you have to go through the transformation, you have to let go of the old self, the old self has to die psychically, for the new self to emerge.  The hero’s journey provides the rites and symbols one must travel through for one to be reborn, returning to the world transfigured – perfected, eternal, universal – and then teach the lessons he or she has learned of a life renewed. 

Now, I believe we are all on our own hero’s journey.  Every single one of you is capable of being the hero in your own life.  When you see yourself as the hero of your story, you can see where you are on the path in relation to this archetypal journey found in all the traditions and cultures of any age throughout the world.  This is empowering.  We want to find out where you are on your own journey, so that you don’t remain stuck, so that you know your story continues on, and when you connect to this absolute truth, as a consequence, you begin to embody the energy of the hero in your story.    

There are several steps of the hero’s journey which I will illustrate for you briefly.  As you are reading this, think about your own life, and identify where you think you are in the adventure story of the hero.  With honest and deep reflection, you will be able to see where you are, which will give you the knowledge, wisdom, and courage to continue on and face within you all that needs to be faced.
The Hero’s Adventure
  • The ordinary world – this is where you are introduced to the audience.  You don’t know what you’re potential or calling is yet.  You are innocent, naive, and unprepared for what is coming.  
  • The call to adventure – this is the point in your life, when you are given notice, that something, everything, is going to change, whether you notice it or not.  The call rings up the curtain; the familiar life one has grown accustomed too has been outgrown; old beliefs, emotional patterns, ideals, no longer fit or work; and the time for crossing the threshold is close at hand.
  • Refusal of the call – this is often when the future hero, which is you, refuses to heed it.  This comes about from a sense of duty and obligation to a way of life, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or an array of reasons that keep you locked in your present circumstances.  This refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one thinks as one’s own best interests.
  • Encounter with the wise mentor – once the hero has committed to the quest, whether consciously or unconsciously, he meets with a wise mentor signifying support of our conscious personalities by the other, larger system of the unconscious as the hero prepares for the journey.
  • Crossing of the first Threshold – it’s a point of no return; it’s where you cross into the field of adventure, which is your life.  You leave the known limits of your world, and venture into an unknown and dangerous realm, where the rules and limits are not known.  In this realm there are tests, there are allies, and there are enemies.  The road of trials that you go through are a series of tests, tasks, and ordeals, which are all brought to you and must undergo for you to initiate your transformation.  Often the person is going to fail one of these tests or more, and they often occur in threes.  
  • The Supreme Ordeal – this is described as a person’s lowest point or darkest moment.  You have made a complete separation from the old world and your old self, and are at the cusp of a new world and a new self.  When you enter this stage, you are demonstrating to the universe you are willing to make a change, to die (the ego self) and become a new person (ego and spirit united).  I know exactly when this moment occurred in my life. 
  • Revisiting the mentor – you revisit the teachings of an old mentor, or you meet someone new, and you learn from this mentor, and then you return to the path you originally set out on
  • Return with New Knowledge – the trick is you must return while retaining the wisdom you gained on the quest.  You must find a way to integrate it in your human life, and maybe figure out how to share this wisdom with the rest of the world.  This is usually extremely difficult.  Just as you needed guides and assistants to get you out on the quest, often times you are going to need powerful guides to get you back to everyday life, especially if you’ve been wounded or weakened by the experience. 
  • Seizing the Sword or the Prize – this is where the hero, you, confronts and defeats all the old enemies, whether they are without, or more importantly, within.  With this new power and knowledge gained, you are able to overthrow and defeat this opponent.
  • Resurrection – The old self dies physically or spiritually and moves beyond the normal human state.  It’s a god-like state, where you acknowledge your new stature.  It is often experienced as a period of rest, peace, and fulfillment prior to the hero’s return.
  • Coming back with the Elixir – this is the achievement of the goal of the quest.  It’s what you went out on the journey to get.  All the previous steps prepared you to purify you for this final step.  In many myths, the elixir is like a plant, or a magic potion, a medicine, which supplies the hero with immortality.  What does that mean for us?  For a human, it means achieving a balance between the material and spiritual worlds.  That is the freedom we seek.  To live and be free from the fear of death, and that is sometimes described as ‘living in the moment.’

You all have the capacity to be the heroes in the stories of your own lives.  You need to find out where you are on this quest.  Are you returning with the elixir?  Are you at the supreme ordeal of your life?  If you are at the supreme ordeal of your life, all that means is that you are on the verge of transformation, if you will allow it and give yourselves permission to undergo the process.  This program enables you to do it.

Identify what stage you are in in the hero’s journey.  You are the hero of the story of your life, claim it, and once you've identified where you are, write out what this means to you?  Are you at the beginning, middle, or end?  If you’re just past the first threshold, how can you embolden yourself to keep pressing forward undaunted by the challenges you may face knowing this is part of the journey?  What resources could you access (mentors, books, support groups) to give you the keys to making it to the next level?  Who are your mentors and guides?  What are the obstacles and challenges you must face to effect the transformation in your life?  Answers to these questions can help to re-contextualize your experiences, place them in a broader perspective, and help you to understand the process of transformation going on within you on a psychic level.


Charlie Pacello is a PTSD, Depression, and Healing Trauma Recovery Expert and Life Coach, a former US Air Force Lieutenant, and creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program.'  He can be reached by visiting his website at