As part of my morning spiritual reading and meditation, I just finished reading the collected works of Joseph Campbell in a delightful little book entitled, Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor. This book set me into deeper contemplation on connecting Campbell’s powerful insights on society’s myths, stories, and symbols with my life journey.
As I was conceiving and wrestling with how to write my previous book, Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work, a few years ago, I was studying Joseph Campbell’s 1949 classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and watching DVDs of his 1988 PBS television interview series “The Power of Myth” hosted by Bill Moyers. I was intrigued and inspired by his findings that across all cultures and times, every society’s stories, fairy tales, novels, and movies follow a similar “hero’s journey.” Part of my own writing journey then became creating the story of the fictional hero of Moose on the Table®, Pete Leonard, and his journey through fear and avoidance to find the courage to lead.
Campbell outlined 17 common steps, or “legs,” of the hero’s journey. I group them into three main sections or acts: the call for action, the struggle, and the breakthrough. In the first act, the hero is called to adventure (action) but often refuses the call. Usually a mentor or some other kind of help appears or becomes available. The hero then “crosses the first threshold” and enters or is pushed into the “belly of the whale.” This takes the hero into the struggle at the centre of the story.
The story’s second or main act is the struggle in “the innermost caves.” This is often where fear and courage do battle as the hero faces dangers and numerous tests and trials. As Campbell points out, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Drama and tension is at its peak here. Will the hero win or will he or she be killed or thrown off course? After ups and downs, wins and losses, there’s a breakthrough and the hero succeeds in some way. Key lessons are learned and his or her life has been changed.
In the third or concluding act, our hero returns to his or her previous life (“the ordinary world”) with a new perspective, mastery, or learning (“return with the elixir”.) The story concludes with a sense of closure or completing the loop, and often a happy ending.
It seemed to me, as I followed this storyline for Moose on the Table®, that we are all living in a novel of our own making, with the three acts repeating over and over again. As Campbell explained to Bill Moyer, “I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.”