Some of us are familiar with “The Hero’s Journey” that Joseph Campbell describes in his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces as a pattern of narrative describing the typical adventure of the hero archetype. Elizabeth Gilbert also described her own real-life adventure in Eat, Pray, Love as following this pattern Campbell defined. Gilbert, in a talk she gave at Oprah’s Live the Life You Want Weekend in Atlanta, Georgia in 2014, urged women and men alike to save money, even if its change in a coffee can as one woman she spoke of had done, toward their own soon-to-be life adventure with themselves as the Hero. I loved hearing her say this, for I had had my own real-life adventure after my divorce when within a few years I traveled to Kauai, Maui, the Island of Capri in Italy, and finally to Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for yoga teacher training. There is something to being able to travel out of your comfort zone and give in to the flow of where the adventure might take you.
Gilbert shared stories she had heard from other women about how they saved enough money, sometimes over a lifetime, to finally take themselves on a trip. Some of these women went on this much anticipated adventure after raising kids alone with little resources or dealing with other hardships over many years. As I listened to her speak I imagined all the women out in the world, raising children or taking care of elderly parents, balancing work with care-taking or turning down opportunities to stay at home with kids, trying to make ends meet, with or without a spouse. I was overcome by the desire to share with all these women another alternative to waiting for the money to add up for that hero’s journey. One that would give them that great escape and sense of adventure without having to wait until the money was saved, without having to leave their own backyard. An alternative that would put them in this Hero’s role in the most important journey of all, the inward one. An alternative that could still take them out of their comfort zone and push boundaries they might not know were there or needed to be pushed, all without so much as leaving the house.
For anyone who has ever felt stuck in life in a seemingly monotonous daily routine, beaten down, no light at the end of the tunnel, or simply feeling like you are still waiting for life to begin, for anyone carrying around feelings and emotions from the past that you have no idea how to let go of, for anyone haunted by that great big question mark following the “what ifs” of life, this inward journey can be your great escape and can lead you to find your inner peace and guidance even while in the place you have to be now: your own home, your own back yard, your own daily life. And most importantly this inward journey will most likely lead you to the realization that you probably already are exactly where you want to be. And if you’re not, then this inward journey can help you find the guidance from within that will help you find peace wherever you are and eventually lead you to where you want to be.
Nothing ignites the inward journey like the ancient practice of yoga. My journey started in the living room in the house that I lived in with my ex-husband where I would roll a mat out and practice yoga while watching t.v. (yes, I practiced in front of the t.v. before I knew better). That’s where my hero’s journey began. That’s where I answered what Campbell describes as the “call to adventure” as I kept coming back to my mat for reasons I didn’t fully understand except that it made me feel more settled afterward. I didn’t realize it until years later, but yoga gave me the ability to face my own ego, an enemy I never even realized was the cause of all the emotions that were stirring inside of me: my deep-seated fear, anger, deep sadness, horrible jealousy, insecurity, and intense loneliness that I had bottled up and wrestled with for many years. Emotions that prevented me from truly enjoying the here and now. Yoga helped me find the courage to know that my relationship with my ex at the time wasn’t what I needed or wanted to live life the way I wanted to live it. After my divorce, my journey continued in an extra bedroom that I had turned into my yoga room. The catharsis continued as I practiced and released layer after layer of baggage that I was holding onto from childhood that I knew was there but until now, had no idea how to rid myself of.
On my mat, in that yoga room, I met what Campbell describes as the mentor of my journey when I was re-introduced to my higher self, what Christians call Holy Spirit. I faced my enemy, the ego, with all the patience, courage and guidance that my higher self afforded as this trapped, negative emotional energy resurfaced through each focused inhale and posture hold. With each focused exhale I brought this enemy to peace through the yogic practice of balance and equanimity. As the worst of these horrid emotions rose up before me in my mind, heart, and soul, as I sobbed for what many times seemed relentlessly, nothing less than God and my higher self enabled me to face it fully, feel it all fully.
I watched in amazement as the beast reared its ugly head, fought with all it had to drag me down into the familiar fear, guilt, and depression that had plagued me for so long. And then I experienced what Campbell describes as the “ordeal” as my allies allowed me to stay strong, stay with it, keep breathing, until the beast of the ego gave up and released into a wellspring of peace, love and forgiveness. This is when I realized that this peace, love and forgiveness made up the bulk of who I really am as a spiritual being. This is when I found myself, those two words that people describe as the end-all to a modern hero’s journey similar to what Campbell defined almost 70 years ago. And I did it without having to leave my house, without having to leave my yoga mat. My travels were icing on the cake, but the real work was done in that extra bedroom on Luling Street.
Campbell describes the second to last phase of the hero’s journey as the “resurrection”, when the hero is faced with death closer to home and experiences a re-birth. For me, this phase of my own journey came after I began reading concepts from the teachings of a modern sacred text called A Course in Miracles. These course concepts were the final thread I needed to make sense of what was happening within my yoga practice and ultimately within my soul. As I read this book and learned all about the ego, my enemy that I had already battled and (so I thought) won against through my yogic practice, the enemy rose up again and tried to take me out once more. I spent the next 2 years battling trying to find meaning in life again and wondering what it was all for.
I finally figured out how the ego was manipulating me once again, this time pulling out the biggest trick in its book. Both yoga and A Course in Miracles teach that we are already whole, perfect and eternal in our truest nature as Spirit. When I heard this concept I was still working with my own ego and it was pretty devastating to me from an ego point of view that this drive I always had inside to be better than others and more “special” than others was no longer necessary or meaningful on a spiritual level. It took two whole years to finally realize the ego was manipulating me yet again by making me feel that life was pointless and meaningless if I couldn’t compete for “specialness”. It was as if this feeling of “specialness” could no longer bring on the “ego high” that had usually accompanied it because I could now see through the facade. I could now see through to the immaturity of the ego and its petty wins no longer felt important.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, I allowed myself to mourn the loss of wanting and needing to be “special” and I let go of the ego’s power over me once and for all. Now I understood and basked in the truth that we are all, every last one of us, special as united in the same Spirit. The acceptance of this truth is what truly allows us to live life spiritually “awake” and therefore guided by Spirit rather than driven through life by the ego and all of the expectations it lays upon us.
The ego is still very much apparent in my life, but it can no longer drag me back down into depression or the never-ending ego search for meaning or individuated “specialness”. I have found the meaning in my life, in the very basic, everyday moments, whether alone or with others. I am tuned into my higher self, Holy Spirit, my higher guidance, and am fully aware of God’s presence surrounding me and surrounding everything else, within me and within everything else.
Now I have reached the final phase of the hero’s journey, what Campbell termed “return with elixir”, in which I now bear the treasure that has transformed my own life. The rest of my life will be spent sharing this elixir as I continue to share the ancient practice and teachings of yoga and the spiritual teachings of A Course in Miracles. I want others to know that they can walk this hero’s journey within their own vast heart and soul and come out filled with the meaning of their own precious life and the ability to be grateful for and fully enjoy every single moment of it: the good, the bad, and everything in between. I want to help others to find exactly what they want to be doing in life, whether it looks good to others or not, and know, without a doubt, that they will look back one day and have not a single regret. What more can we ask for?!
Ginger Graf Dunaway holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in human development from the University of Alabama. She is a nationally certified and licensed massage therapist and Kripalu certified yoga teacher. She is the author of Choose Spirit Now: Wake Up to an Exquisite Life and creator of www.ChooseSpiritNow.com, your tool for Spiritual awakening. Today she lives happily with her husband, daughter, four dogs and three cats in beautiful southern Alabama.