The hero’s journey begins with a call from deep within that finally surfaces and can no longer be ignored. The call is almost always met with insecurity and fear, as the safety and comfort of the known must be left behind. The hero stands on the threshold pondering the risk of losing everything to the unknown that’s so urgently and inexplicably calling.
“So you’re at home here?
Well, there’s not enough of you there.
And so it starts.”
For both adopted people and first/birth parents, the need to search for the lost other can long lie dormant or be a long burning desire that has never been acted upon. Finally, the point of no return is reached and, standing on the precipice, the realization comes that we have to “let go of the life we thought we were meant to live and discover the one that’s been waiting for us all along.” It will take a long time to understand that the search for the other is really a search for oneself – the missing pieces of our spirit we never knew we had. That is the true call, but we don’t know that yet.
As soon as the first step is seriously contemplated, and the mysterious dangers shrink in their power, the first trials and tribulations are met and are where you begin to meet yourself. Loved ones may mirror your own fears by overtly or covertly declaring your journey is a rejection of them, or throw shade on your new path by warning you might be opening the proverbial can of worms or, worse, disrupting people’s lives. Records are closed. Authorities that hold the key are not helpful. Those that have made the journey only to find more pain and loss can take the wind out of your sails with their warnings. At this point, it would seem easier to refuse the call and return to one’s ordinary way of life, what feels like safety and comfort, or at least is predictable.
But, if the call to search is strong enough, a mentor will appear who gives you what it is you need to go on: words of encouragement, a book, wise advice, hope – something that serves to replace the doubts and fears with the strength and courage to continue on, and finally commit to crossing the threshold between a life that is familiar and one that is not. The courage seems to come from the mentor but is really one’s own unrealized and untapped strength to face whatever challenges the search presents. Each ordeal on the way demands more courage and resolve and often reveals untapped talents to get around obstacles, and gives new insights into one’s own character. Along the “road of trials,” helpers are often found in unexpected places and new friendships are forged that strengthen resolve. Still, there remains the awareness that the journey can only be shared so far, that the true journey must be taken alone.
“You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else’s path …
Your own path you make
with every step you take.”
Nearly all hero journeys involve the necessity at some point of entering a metaphorical cave – a pause along the path, where doubts and fears creep back in and a time of reflection is required. Is this the right thing to do, or is it selfish? What if the worst is encountered? The initial call may have seemed innocent enough – I need to know my medical history, I need to know if my child is okay or even alive. But overcoming each obstacle along the way has already naturally deepened the meaning of the search. From seemingly simple needs that initiated the search, now, in the “cave,” evolves a growing realization of the true reason for the search – a deep need for connection with the other, a need that is harder to face with its inherent emotional risks.
As frightening as the cave may seem, it holds the treasure the hero seeks. The cave is a place of awakening – awakening to long suppressed feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, victimhood, sorrow and anger – all feelings that are normal for adoptees and first/birth parents, given their circumstances. But then a choice must be made – do I entertain these feelings and feel righteous about keeping them, or do I look for a deeper understanding that will help to transcend such feelings and emerge a stronger person? Where we face powerlessness and helplessness, we can take steps, even little ones that have the power to change a situation, so that we change our perception of being a victim to being a person who can now begin to advocate for them selves. Anger can be transformed into action and sorrow into compassion. By doing so, we are as prepared as possible for the final “ordeal” – finding and meeting the other.
When the hero is finally ready to emerge from the cave and reach the journey’s end, there is awareness that a kind of death must be faced. Everything that is held dear is put on the line and the life the hero knows will never be the same again. But, instead of fearing the final challenge, the hero deep down realizes that inner strength and spiritual growth has been developed that he or she can never lose, despite the worst outcome. Holding onto the awareness of how transformative the journey has been is essential when contact is made with the other. Some reunions are welcoming and joyous from the beginning, for some there is outright rejection. But the reward of our time in the cave is that, the more we have come to know ourselves and discover the missing pieces of our spirit, the fewer expectations we will have that the missing other will provide what we perceive as missing in us. We will also bring to the hoped for relationship a certain confidence that might just offer enough reassurance to put the one found at greater ease.
It may be that, when the call becomes too strong to ignore, the one being searched for has also put out a call, either consciously or unconsciously. If the other’s call is conscious, then they, too, have been on a journey. But, if unconscious, the hero needs to understand that time and patience are needed for the other to accept what is perceived as a threat or at least a disruption to what in reality has been a false or incomplete life. Adoption reunions and the resulting relationships are ultimately about healing old wounds.
No matter the outcome of the reunion, the hero will continue to be tested and may have to retreat back to the cave to remember the strengths developed and insights gained there, in order to deal with the new challenges presented, challenges that may take a long time to resolve and a new resolve to see them through. Still, there is a deepening awareness of an inner power that has replaced a sense of victimhood and a growing compassion that replaced anger and sorrow – the true rewards of the journey.
One final test awaits the hero – the return to the ordinary world that was left behind when the journey began - and realizing things can never be the same again. Loved ones may have a difficult time adjusting to the changes they see, and will try to get the hero to become again the person they knew. Everything will be seen with fresh eyes and greater wisdom. The heart has been awakened, if the journey was made consciously, and the deepest levels of the soul have been reached with each new challenge met. Fear falls away and we can love anyway.
“Life has no meaning.
Each of us has meaning
and we bring it to life.
It is a waste to be asking the question,
when you are the answer.”
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” When the hero realizes that at the end of the journey he or she is no longer defined by others but instead by his or her own inner truth, there comes the understanding that “where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.”
The Hero’s Journey is one of the great archetypes wired into our souls to help us get through life with grace. We consciously and unconsciously respond to its universal path in books, movies, even jokes – all forms of great story telling. Joseph Campbell mapped out the hero’s journey, as found in all cultures throughout the world, in his seminal book, A Hero with a Thousand Faces, and then went one step further. He showed us how to put our own lives in the context of a hero’s journey, so that we can reap the rewards from our trials and tribulations, instead of falling victim to them. Whether contemplating a search, facing reunion or still dealing years later with rejection, try contemplating the journey from the point of view of a hero’s challenges met and see if you can gain a deeper appreciation of and compassion for your own life story.
(Quotes are from Joseph Campbell.)