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The Hero Journey December 19, 2009

Posted by jassnight in Change, Life.
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Change has been depicted metaphorically throughout the ages with the story theme called the hero journey. It commonly takes the shape of the protagonist, or ‘hero,’ thrust into change. The change is depicted as an unwilling departure from home and then the ensuing struggle to return to their original origin. The efforts, mistakes and setbacks are huge and bring our hero to the brink of disaster every time. However, he manages to learn and grow from each experience and with that, he eventually returns to safety. Here is where the hero journey becomes powerful. Almost always, our hero does not return to his original life but instead, finds that there is a new existence waiting for him – one that is more aligned to his purpose and wisdom gained on the journey.

Odysseus

The earliest piece of known literature to follow the hero journey theme is the ancient Greek poem by Homer, the Odyssey. In this epic story, Odysseus, our hero, reluctantly sets out from his home of Ithaca to fight in the Trojan War. On his journey home, he encounters sea monsters, shipwrecks, witch goddesses and sirens to name a few. When he finally returns to Ithaca, not only has he changed but his home has changed as well.

More modern depictions of the hero journey can be seen in movies such as the Wizard of Oz and Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks. Both films depict the hero (Dorothy/Chuck Norland) thrust abruptly away from their homes. There are terrible trials that they encounter in their struggle to return. When they eventually find their way, they encounter a new reality that is cast out of their wisdom and experience during the journey.

In the Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939,) Dorothy is swept up in circumstances beyond her control. When the dust finally settles, she finds herself in a land of witches, munchkins, strange magic and dark forests. On her quest to return to her home, she finds unusual friends with diverse backgrounds (to say the least) that she otherwise may have never befriended within the confines of her normal world. She also gained insight and knowledge by experiencing powerful events that would have never transpired in the comfort of the familiar land she came from. During all of this there was always the red shoes. Metaphorically, the shoes represented a talisman with untapped power that could only be realized from a new perspective born from the growing enlightenment within Dorothy. In the end, Dorothy only had to come to the realization that “there is no place like home.”

In Cast Away (2000, DreamWorks) we see the hero, Chuck Norland, thrust in a much different situation – a journey of silence and solitude that facilitates his progressive self-discovery. His encounters with struggle and pain are his own. He finds his enlightenment mostly by trial and error as he first learns to just survive in a new strange environment and later as he discovers cooperative and productive solutions. In this story, the foreshadowing talisman is the wing logo printed on one of the Fedex packages that washes ashore with him. Here is the representation of his future new world although he cannot see it just yet. Later it all becomes very clear to him. When presented with crossroads at the end of the story, the wings lead him to his new world.

The hero journey can be found in our own personal narratives. We all encounter an unwanted or unexpected turn into change at some point in our lives. With this there are trials that test us, darkness that misleads us, and pain that distracts us. But each event brings us closer to enlightenment. We grow in wisdom and understanding about who we are and what we can accomplish. Eventually, the efforts we make are more focused and effective as we work toward solution. In this path there can even be a talisman full of unrealized power or prediction that will come clearer as we reenter a new world more aligned to who we are.

In the movie Cast Away, there is a poignant scene where Chuck Norland tells a friend about his darkest moment. That moment when in the deepest of despair, there is still light. There is still hope. It is a powerful scene;

The only thing I could control was my own death so I made a rope and went up the summit to hang myself. I had to test it, of course, you know me. The weight of the log snapped the limb of the tree. I couldn’t even kill myself. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow I had to stay alive. Somehow, I had to keep breathing even though there was no reason to hope and all my logic said that I would never see [home] again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive, I kept breathing. And one day that logic was proven wrong because one day the tide came in and gave me a sail. And here I am, I’m back…

  • Do you have a hero’s journey in your own personal narrative?
  • Are you still on your journey today?
  • What was/is the darkest moment in your journey?
  • How did you find your way home?
  • What is the enlightenment that you brought back with you?
  • Did you have a talisman that stirred hope in you on your path?
  • Was your talisman’s power revealed at the end?
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My Run Today (repost from Oct. 4th) October 16, 2009

Posted by jassnight in fitness, running.
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2 comments
Mary and I after the race

Mary and I after the race

Today was my 4th running of the Wineglass Marathon and my 6th marathon overall. You can try to predict your run but in all the years I have run this distance, I have found that exercise to be a fruitless endeavor. Every marathon is unique. Every marathon brings with it new lessons to be learned.

Besides the staple worries of hydration, nutrition, correct training, rest, and yes, bowl movements, my main concern this year was that this was going to be my first solo marathon. In previous years, I had a bank of running buddies with me whom I trained with and ran with. In many marathons, a good friend in our group always served me well as my pacer since I tend to go out too fast. I didn’t have my anchor this year. It was just me. I had to focus on taking it easy and conserving energy as long as I could. This is hard for me. I tend to get caught up in the moment and run stupid. By mile 5 I knew I was not doing too well with pacing. I was ending up with 8.30’s when I wanted to start with 9 minute splits. I was off to a bad start. Then out of the blue, there was Mary. Mary and I started chatting like so many do in the early stages of the race and we found that we both had the same goal; sub-4 hour finish with a 3.50 as icing on the cake. We quickly decided to hang with each other as long as possible and work as a team toward that goal. There is nothing better than to have someone to talk to, to pace with, to support, to care, and as we both knew – to share the pain when the pain came. Mary and I talked about several things; from the weather to relationships but our main topic was our love for running. I found out that Mary, 42 years old and a mother of three, was diagnosed with cancer a few years back. It was bad and she went through 6 months of chemotherapy. When she was finished with treatments she told her doctor, “I am going to run a marathon.” He replied, “Why on earth would you do something like that?” She said back to him, “Because I can.” After a moment of silence, I turned to her and said, “You know Mary, I run because of people like you.” The miles melted away. There was more talk and more support. Then Mile 18 came. 18 is the landmark mile in a marathon because this is where problems start cropping up. Both of us checked in with each other. All was a go. Mile 20; still a go. We were elated and at this point banging out 8.30’s like it was a walk in the park. Our teaming up proved to be beneficial for both of us and we were on schedule for an easy sub-4 finish. By mile 24 however, I was feeling the fatigue and told Mary to not allow me to hold her up and I let her go. At Mile 25 I resorted to the “marathon shuffle” and tried to focus on just moving forward. The pain was incendiary but I was elated that it was happening now and not back at mile 18. Mary was about a minute ahead of me by then and I was close enough to the finish to see her cross the line. I was in shortly after way ahead of both my goal and my “icing on the cake.” My finish time was 3 hours, 46 minutes, 11 seconds. I found Mary and we embraced as we thanked each other.

Marathons can be very emotional for many of the runners. Just finishing can bring you to tears and I am no exception. There are always tears. I was holding it together pretty well after the race until a moment when I was finally capable of sitting on a bench with minimal pain. A young woman asked to sit on the bench with me. Of course I said yes. When she sat down she immediately broke down in tears. I put my hand on her shoulder and cried with her. It was cleansing.

Another year. Another marathon. Another lesson learned. Another celebration of life – because I can.

I would like to thank Nicki Conroy who was my support team this year. I could not have done it without her. She was instrumental in keeping the anxiety low by arranging all the logistics before the race and then facilitating my recovery after the race. I owe you big!