How can heroic narratives help teenagers?
We can look at “the hero’s journey” as a framework for what we are collectively experiencing as a society today. Joseph Campbell is perhaps the world’s most renowned expert on mythology and advisor to the likes of George Lucas, who based Star Wars on this archetypal journey. As adults, we need to help our students/children find their own archetypal journey amidst the grief and loss they are experiencing. We seek to reframe these challenging times in a way that is realistic, while observing quarantine protocol, but also give them hope for the future.
I want to talk about what has become an important topic during this time of isolation: the social-emotional well-being of our students. The stress and anxiety that adults experience are felt even more intensely by our adolescents. They may express their feelings in ways that are hard to interpret and even downright exasperating. That’s why the Hero’s Journey can be a useful template to young adults and I am including a diagram of the journey, as I think it might be helpful for you to share with your children.
The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is a classic story structure that’s shared by stories worldwide. Designed by academic Joseph Campbell in 1949. Many author’s draw on it to illustrate a wide-ranging category of tales in which a character ventures out to get what they need, faces conflict, and ultimately triumphs over adversity. The Hero’s Journey can be broken up into 4 main parts.
Part 1: The ‘Call to Adventure’
The journey begins with some event that pulls the hero away from the comforts of home into an unknown world. Resistance to the call (the pull to remain in a child-like state) is normal as venturing out into the unfamiliar can be a daunting task. According to Joseph Campbell there could be a supernatural guide or mystical item that encourages the hero to go forward.
Part 2: The Initiation
Once the call to adventure is accepted by the hero, the journey will be the ultimate test and reveal their true nature. The trials experienced on this road will force the hero to lose old coping skills and be pushed to new levels of self discovery. All energy in this phase is concentrated on resolution. A humbling of our hero occurs when there’s successes and failures, discovering new values, beliefs, and gains a deeper wisdom because of this. In this phase our hero may find a mentor or seek guidance from a higher power to aid on their journey
One example of the therapeutic use of the Hero’s Journey is by the CRC Health Group , which includes a wildlife treatment program that helps over 30,000 people every day overcome addiction and related issues. Meghan Vivo reflects on this issue in her blog “Slaying the Dragon: Teens Embark on the Hero’s Journey in the Wilderness.”
“Although the mythological road of trials is made up of ogres, demons, and three-headed monsters, today’s teenage hero faces obstacles like overcoming his use of alcohol, drugs, or other addictive and high-risk behaviors. His battle is with himself.”
Part 3: The Hero’s Transformation
The actions taken thus far on the journey have deeply changed our hero. There’s an inner and perhaps outer transformation that takes place when all tasks have been completed. This is necessary before the hero can return home with an expanded vision of life, a matured understanding of self, and lessons that will enrich the family as well as the community.
Part 4: The Return
The hero has a transformed perspective and is therefore “reborn” into an evolved version of self. Meaning has been found in the hero’s life where before there may have been a sense of purposelessness. Our hero has triumphed over the enemy and has returned with the freedom to live.
Life slows down and growth speeds up
You may be wondering what all of this has to do with being a teenager during a pandemic. Well many who study Joseph Cambell have related the coronavirus to a similar catalyst in the Hero’s Journey, the dark night of the soul. Here is an article by Vogler that he wrote a number of years ago explaining the hero’s journey. The website actually includes a new article that specifically likens Covid 19 to the “dark night of the soul.” Vogler explains in the following paragraph what that means.
“If it (coronavirus) really is the global darker night where the self-destructive complexity became as bad as it could get and in order to survive we had to hit a wall, then the virus is going to remain long enough to complete what it needs to do to create the circumstances needed to complete our transformation.”
Today’s experience of isolation can push us to the brink of what we previously were comfortable with in our minds. Perhaps we are forced to examine unhealthy habits of eating, or parts of ourselves that need closer work. This anxiety and/or depression that people are experiencing can be channeled into a drive for growth, adventure and challenge. One way that inner growth can be achieved is through the Transcendental Meditation® technique. To transcend, by definition, means to go beyond human limitations and to break boundaries. At Maharishi School, we teach you a technique to break internal boundaries and to sink deep into yourself, to tap into your essence and live in a state of flow.
To learn more about the Hero’s Journey during the coronavirus click here.
To learn about Transcendental Mediation at our school click here.
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