Preparing for the Journey

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(4/12 of the Heroic Journey)

Skills and Talents
Meeting Your Mentor
Magic Tools and Secret Weapons
Lack of Preparation


“May we be brave. May we be bold. May we be brave and bold together.”Terry Tempest Williams

Preparing for the Heroic Journey is notoriously difficult because you are per definition venturing into the unknown. How can we prepare for something we don’t know?

On the other hand, we may safely assume that when the Call to Adventure lands in our imaginary inbox, everything that has happened before in life has prepared us for precisely this moment. All we need to do now is be discerning.

How am I going to travel?
What should I take with me?
What can I safely leave behind?
What do I need to acquire, just in case?

In the narratives of mythology and folk tales the preparation for the hero’s or heroine’s departure is often the first scene of intense activity. Maybe the hero has to travel overseas to meet his destiny. A ship or fleet have to be made seaworthy and filled with provisions. Suitable companions are gathered to accompany the hero on his dangerous voyage.

For the heroine the challenge might be to hatch a secret plan and prepare an escape route from an undesirable and unsustainable environment.

In everyday life the preparations for the journey depend on the nature of the Call. Therefore they can vary greatly from one heroic traveller to another. However, there are some common elements to look out for.


Skills and Talents

“Be faithful to that which exists within yourself.”André Gide

The Heroic Journey always requires competency in specific skills. These may be activities you are already familiar with, or they can be new skills you need to learn. Often it is a combination of both.

Your unique combination of skills and talents can be regarded as your special vehicle that will carry you to your destination. If you want to travel somewhere different from where you are now, you’ve got to be prepared to stretch your comfort zone and do new things.

Sometimes dormant talent is awakened by accepting a challenge and jumping before you are ready. This happened to me several years ago, when I was asked to work as a simultaneous interpreter at a homeopathic conference.

I was trained as a linguist and translator of written material. I had a degree in homeopathy, and I’d been working for publishers specialising in complementary medicine for a while. But I had no experience whatsoever as an interpreter. I agreed to do the job thinking that I would have time to go back to my ‘alma mater’ for a few days and practice in the language lab.

Before I got the chance to upskill myself, the organiser of the event phoned and asked if I was available ‘next weekend’. Without hesitation I said ‘yes’ and frantically tried to prepare myself with a tape recorder and headphones. It was a complete mess!

My first day in the interpreters’ cabin was probably one of the most stressful days of my life. However, in the course of that conference I discovered that I had a natural talent for simultaneous interpretation.

I learned extremely fast and enjoyed the almost telepathic experience of tuning into the minds of the speakers as they were giving their presentations. As a result of taking the leap I became a sought after expert in that particular niche market virtually overnight.


Meeting Your Mentor

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”Ernest Hemingway

At the 4th stage of the journey the main character usually meets a personal mentor. Joseph Campbell refers to this as Supernatural Aid because the mentor often comes in the form of a wise non-human figure.

In his book The Writer’s Journey Christopher Vogler explains the role of the mentor as follows, “The names Mentes and Mentor, along with our word ‘mental’, stem from the Greek word for mind, menos, a marvellously flexible word that can mean intention, force, or purpose as well as mind, spirit, or remembrance. Mentors in stories act mainly on the mind of the hero, changing her consciousness or redirecting her will.  Even if physical gifts are given, Mentors also strengthen the hero’s mind to face an ordeal with confidence. Menos also means courage.”

The mentor might give the heroic traveller a special gift, or share a secret, or both, which will reveal their value later on, especially when the route takes a dangerous turn. The mentor might also give specific instructions of how to deal with particular threats.

The mentor’s advice is a vital piece of information, although this is impossible for the heroine or hero to grasp at that stage. S/he just has to remember it, trust the higher wisdom and interpret it in the right way at the critical moment.

Sometimes the mentor can also be the evil character in the story. Such is the case in the Italian fairy tale  Snow-White Fire-Red where an ogress (a hideous female version of a man-eating ogre) holds the princess captive in a far away place. The ugly witch has great magic powers. Using a simple trick, the princess manages to extract the secret about how she can free herself from the jailer herself.

In everyday life the mentor often shows up in a fragmented kind of way. You may pick up something from a book here, or a website there. You may also meet a ‘real mentor’ in person or in a virtual setting. The most important mentor figure, however, lives somewhere in your inner world. The Inner Mentor can be accessed in various ways; one of them is offered in the complementary newsletter published in parallel with this article.

Your Inner Mentor’s main job is to give you confidence, support, and the courage to help you rise to the inevitable challenges that will present themselves en route. We can start activating our inner support system ourselves any time. (I wrote an article on courage, which might provide some further insights.


Magic Tools and Secret Weapons

“Not only will your teachers appear, but they will cook new foods for you.”Alice Walker

In the story of Snow-White Fire-Red the ogress turned mentor shares her secret with the princess and tells her precisely how she can get out of her prison safely. In her drunken state the old witch also offers her prisoner a secret weapon – some balls of yarn with magic powers.

Valerie Estelle Frankel, author of several nonfiction books exploring the heroine’s journey, observed that “While heroes almost always receive a sword (wand, lightsaber…) from their kindly old mentor, girls walk away with household objects.”

In everyday life magic tools and secret weapons are not so gender specific. They usually relate to a particular piece of insider knowledge, which enables the heroine or hero to accomplish the challenging task.

Magic tools and secret weapons enable the heroic traveller to turn difficult situations around and find surprising solutions to apparently unsolvable problems. Meditation and mindfulness practice can fulfil this role. Many forms of creative pursuits can be helpful too for this purpose. One of the most underused and deceptively simple ‘secret weapon’ for making fast and significant changes is to raise our awareness.

Magic tools and secret weapons are important provisions for the Heroic Journey. They allow us to access hidden resources and deal with unforeseen events in new ways. The intended function of such tools is to expand our horizon. They enable us to see things differently and gain a new understanding.

Why would I want to expand my horizon and see and understand things differently? – Because it allows me to experience life in a new way. My internal experience has an immediate influence on my outer world. External changes follow on naturally from the internal shift.


Lack of Preparation

“The more friends and resources one has the stronger one seems to be in the face of disaster.”Victoria Lynn Schmidt

In her book Story Structure Architect author Victoria Lynn Schmidt reminds us of the importance of this preparatory phase as she writes, “What defeats the character is usually not the villain but the character himself. He is his own worst enemy. Perhaps he gives up, or he doesn’t take the time he should to prepare himself for his task.

For the classic Hero’s Journey one of the main functions of this preparatory phase is to infuse the main character with enthusiasm. Good preparation gives him the confidence and determination to fulfil his mission. Without a strong internal motivation and conviction he will be unable to carry out the task and complete the journey.

In the classic Heroine’s Journey the character is usually faced with a negative situation right from the start. She is caught between a rock and a hard place so to speak. Her situation is miserable and unsustainable; her only option is to ‘get the hell out of there’. She doesn’t need enthusiasm. Her motivation comes from desperation; her determination is driven by a healthy survival instinct.

In everyday life this scenario is represented by a crisis. If the Call to Adventure comes in the form of an acute crisis the heroic traveller may not have ‘the luxury’ of contemplating ways to upskill herself, actively searching for a mentor, and hoping to receive a magic tool or secret weapon. Although all of these factors may appear on the scene spontaneously.

In the case of a ‘negative Call’ the heroine or hero is already prepared, albeit in a less deliberate and graceful manner. An acute crisis forces us to pull out all the stops, focus on the task at hand, abandon old habits and draw on all resources we can access. Dormant talents may be awakened spontaneously out of necessity.

In the crisis situation the heroine or hero is usually seen as a victim. In this case the ‘mentor’ may appear in the form of a friend – or a complete stranger – offering unconditional support. I have personally experienced this scenario and can confirm that it happens in real life. It feels as if an angel suddenly steps into your path – apparently from nowhere – doing and saying all the right things. When the crisis is over this ‘magical higher being’ disappears again from the scene, just like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight.

A crisis is usually an accumulation of negative events over a longer period. Therefore, what appears as lack of preparation, is in reality a prolonged lack of attention. The heroine or hero may have received warning signs over the course of many years and ignored them, probably due to lack of skill or knowledge with regards to handling the situation.

Please note that a crisis can only become a Call to Adventure, if the heroine or hero receives the Call. It can probably always be regarded as an opportunity. However, if the opportunity goes unnoticed (due to Resistance to Leaving) – as is so often the case – no mentor, magic tools or secret weapons will be able to work their charm.


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