As you grow beyond your familial conditioning into your unique vitality, it is helpful to be aware of the mythical path that underpins every human journey to authenticity. To elucidate your true calling and authentic nature, you can write your own fairy tale, as described in Joseph Campbell's metaphorical Hero's (Heroine's) Journey.
"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." ~ Joseph Campbell
The path to authentic self-expression is truly a mythic journey. As you travel along the path of expressing your True Self, you join with Universal forces and your life will feel progressively magical - full of signs, symbols and synchronicities that contribute to your emotional healing and your soul's development.
The following art journal directive offers a fairy tale journal outline - with you as the Heroine/Hero of your own life journey. Use your real-life details, but feel free to imaginatively/metaphorically embellish them too. If you find imagery to depict your writing process, collage it along the margins or in between your writing in your journal.
The 12 Stages of The Hero's Journey - A Journal Exercise
1. Ordinary World
You begin your story in the ordinary world before the call to authentic living begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It is here that you exist in the familiar cocoon of your habitual ways. Living within your family conditioning, there is an uncomfortable unawareness at this point that does not have a name or a direction, yet something is pulling you to grow.
In Your Journal: Choose a name for your main character and describe the details of your conditioned nature and learned limitations. This anchors your story in the universal human fate of familial conditioning and describes the challenges that you will face in leaving your conditioned limitations behind.
2. Call To Adventure
Your heroic adventure to authenticity begins when you receive a call to action, such as through a crisis or a sudden change in life circumstances. Something happens to threaten your normal ways of doing things. Or, perhaps a poignant moment disrupts the comfort of your ordinary world, presenting a challenge or quest that must be undertaken. The call to adventure may also come from sudden inspiration or the deeper desire to pursue a passionate dream or goal.
In Your Journal: Write about the call to action that incited you to change your life. If you have not yet had a wake-up call, what would happen if your current comfort zone or regular supports fell away? How would you need to change? What inspires you to change? What goal or larger purpose would you be willing to stake your life on to pursue? Who do you most want to be in the world? Write down and complete this statement, "My call to action is...."
3. Refusal Of The Call
Although you might be eager to accept the quest, at this stage, you will have fears that need to be overcome. There may be second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether you are up to the challenge of venturing out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. When this fear arises, you will refuse the call to authentic actualization, and as a result, you will suffer.
Perhaps an illness, a misfortune or a loss of income arises when you refuse to follow your authentic life path. The fear of moving out of your comfort zone may seem too much to handle, and the familiarity of your habitual social conditioning may be far more attractive than the perilous road of change ahead.
In Your Journal: Describe your fears of the road ahead. What hassles, changes or outer objections might occur? What are you afraid of losing? Describe what you fear might happen if you moved towards your highest purpose.
4. Meeting The Mentor
At this crucial turning point, when you desperately need guidance, you will meet a mentor figure who gives you something you need. Symbolically, you could be given an object of great importance or offered an insight into the dilemma that you face. You might receive wise advice, practical training or even experience new self-confidence. Whatever the mentor provides the Hero/Heroine with, it serves to dispel doubts and fears. The mentor offers the strength and courage needed to begin the quest.
In Your Journal: Write about your wisest mentor, either real or imagined. Your mentor might be a spiritual helper that is not in a human body such as a guardian angel. A mentor might be a colourful imaginal character, someone famous who you admire, or a real person in your current or past life. Describe your mentor in story form, and envision the symbolic gift of strength, encouragement or insight that she/he offers. Record the insights you receive.
5. Crossing The Threshold
With your symbol of courage, you are now ready. You now have enough wise insight to act upon your call to adventure and to truly begin your quest whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional. You may start willingly or you may be pushed. But either way, you finally cross the threshold between the world that you are familiar with and a world that you do not yet know.
You may be leaving home for the first time in your life or just doing something you have always been scared to do. However, the threshold presents itself. This signifies your heroic commitment to your journey, and whatever unknown adventures may be in store for you.
In Your Journal: Write about crossing the threshold. Describe the comfort zone that you are leaving. At this point in the story, feel the point of no return. Know that you can never go back to the ignorance of unconsciousness again. Your regular coping mechanisms will no longer work as you journey into the unknown. The only way forward now is by using the strength of your intuition.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
Now, finally, out of your comfort zone, you are confronted with a difficult series of challenges that test your character in a variety of ways. Obstacles are thrown across your path; whether they be physical hurdles, people bent on thwarting your progress, or an aspect of your personality that does not want you to progress towards your purpose.
At this point in the journey, you need to find out who can be trusted and who can't. You will learn that allies and enemies, each in their own way, will help to prepare you for the greater ordeals yet to come. This is the stage where your skills and powers are tested to the maximum.
You might feel like giving up as you experience setbacks and failures. Yet, every obstacle that you face helps you gain a deeper insight into the strength of your character. Each battle won contributes to the actualization of your purpose and strengthens your deepest resources.
In Your Journal: Write about a trial that is challenging your movement forward. Who in your life is acting as your enemy? Who does not want you to grow into the light of your authentic nature? How does this outer enemy reflect how you treat yourself internally? Also, write about an ally. Who in your life encourages you to be your genuine self?
7. Approach To The Inmost Cave
The inmost cave may represent many things in your heroic story, such as an actual location in which lies a terrible danger or an inner conflict that up until now, you have not had to face. As you approach the cave, you must make final preparations before taking that final leap into the great unknown.
You likely will be torn apart by challenges as you approach the inmost cave and must go within and put yourself back together in order to be powerful enough to face the ordeal to come. This process involves understanding and empathizing with your enemies in order to get past them.
You must integrate the messages your enemies bring by seeing how they mirror your inner poisons. You neutralize their poison by learning how to be with your own shadows, and by having a working relationship with the personality parts that you disown and deny.
At the threshold to the inmost cave, you as the Hero/Heroine may once again face some of the doubts and fears that first surfaced upon your call to adventure. You may need some time to reflect upon your journey and the treacherous road ahead in order to find the courage to continue. You may need to strengthen certain characteristics in your being to be prepared for full success. This brief respite helps you to prepare for the final test.
In Your Journal: How do you need to rest, restore and repair yourself so that you can carry on through the upcoming challenges? What areas of your being do you need to love before you can move forward? What qualities must you develop more fully before you can progress? What positive practices will you maintain to bring yourself into a more permanent higher quality of being?
The Ordeal may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero/Heroine must face in order to survive. Whether it be facing your greatest fear or your most deadly foe, you as the Hero/Heroine must draw upon all your skills and your experiences gathered upon the path to the inmost cave in order to overcome your most difficult challenge.
Only through some form of "death" can you as the Hero/Heroine be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants you the greater power or insight necessary in order to fulfill your destiny or to reach your journey's end. This is the high point of the Hero/Heroine's story where everything you hold dear is put on the line, and you realize that any old way of functioning that holds you back from your higher self must now be relinquished.
In Your Journal: In order to move forward in life, old limiting beliefs and unhealthy ways of doing things must "die" so something positive and original can take their place. Write about a major detrimental habit, a self-defeating thought pattern, a negative person, or a challenging life circumstance that most limits the full expression of your highest self. How must you stand up to this challenge? What long-standing pattern must you change irrevocably in order to move forward?
After defeating the enemy - inside or out - and overcoming your greatest personal challenge, you as the Hero/Heroine are ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person - often with a prize.
The reward may come in many forms: an object or power of great importance, a deeper sense of self-love, greater knowledge or insight, a new determination or strength, or even a reconciliation with a loved one or an enemy. Whatever the treasure, the Hero/Heroine must quickly put celebrations aside and prepare for the last leg of the journey.
In Your Journal: What is the reward for the efforts of your inner work? What is your new solidified resolve that will now irrevocably change who you are forever? Who are you now in your fullest soul stature? Describe your best self in full detail. How do you now live out each day as your finest self?
10. The Road Back
This stage in the Hero's/Heroine's journey represents a reverse echo of the Call to Adventure in which you had to cross the first threshold. Now you must return home with the reward - which is your new way of being. But this time, the anticipation of danger is replaced with that of acclaim and perhaps vindication, absolution, or even exoneration.
But the heroic journey is not yet over, and you may still need one last push back into the Ordinary World. The moment before you finally commit to the last stage of your journey may be a moment in which you must choose between your own personal objectives and that of a Higher Cause.
In Your Journal: Write about how your personal life now has been universalized. How has your growth path enlarged you and led you to express a larger purpose in the world? What do you feel called to give to life? How must you walk through the world now? How will you offer your gifts to others?
This is the climax in which as the Hero/Heroine you must have a final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than your own existence, with its outcome having far-reaching consequences for your Ordinary World and the lives of those you left behind.
If you fail to universalize your gifts and talents in a way that can creatively and spiritually contribute to others, you will suffer. This places more of a requirement to rely upon divine support so that you have enough energy to carry out your larger tasks. At this point, you must be integrated enough emotionally to be able to hold an open intuitive presence.
Ultimately, with devotion to staying open enough to receive the help of Spirit, you will succeed in your larger task of giving something unique to life. You destroy the enemy of your negative counter-pulls, stay whole and integrated within, and emerge from battle cleansed and reborn.
In Your Journal: Write about your highest possible self. Contemplate your willingness to allow the divine sustenance to feed and sustain this higher-nourished self. How will you let the divine energy inform every area of your life? What spiritual practices and devotions will you implement to open up your divine channel so as to permanently embed your unique spiritual truth into your human existence?
12. Return With The Elixir
This is the final stage of the Hero/Heroine's journey, where you return home to your Ordinary World a changed person. You will have learned many things and faced many terrible dangers - even death. Now, you look forward to the start of a new life. Your return home may bring fresh hope to those you left behind, inspire a direct solution to their problems, or perhaps offer a new perspective for everyone to consider.
Sometimes, the return home is a very challenging part of the journey. The profound inner transformation that has occurred can make it difficult to reintegrate with your old life and familial relationships as they used to be. Your return can disrupt the status quo, and feel uncomfortable for others. There can be pressure from significant friends and family members who want you to stay the same as you were before so that they do not have to change to accommodate your new growth.
The final reward that you obtain in the heroic change process from your conditioned fate to your authentic destiny may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization, or an end to strife. But whatever it is, it represents three things: change, success, and proof of your inner soul journey made material.
Each day, no matter what negative outer feedback you receive, you can ask, "Did I live from my deepest self today?" Ultimately, on the heroic journey to authenticity, you return to where you started. You have reclaimed your original soul essence, but things will clearly never be the same again.
In Your Journal: We live in a world that is largely unconscious of the higher creative possibilities of life. How will you embody your highest principles amidst such unconsciousness? Write about what your return to the ordinary world would look like. How would you enter the human realities of your workplace, your family, and your hometown as transformed within?
What does your luminous inner life - in this largely unconscious material world - look like? How would you act and communicate with other people as your true self? How do you live into your deepest calling each day? Describe your transformed inner life in full detail, even if it is not recognized and reflected by others in your life.