Updated: Jun 19, 2019
The force that compels the hero to leave their ordinary world, which Campbell named, “The Call to Adventure”, comes in many forms, but can be easily divided into two main categories: Internal and External. The external call comes from outside of the hero, whereas the internal call is an impulse or feeling that comes from within the hero; from their mind, heart, or soul. These two categories can then be further broken down by the hero’s willingness to participate in the adventure, that being: completely willing, completely unwilling, neutral, and midway.
The stories of The Alchemistand Moana give us examples of heroes that answered an internal call to adventure. In the case of the shepherd Santiago in The Alchemist, it took little more than a dream to inspire him to sell his sheep and board a boat for Africa. Moana, on the other hand, wanted so badly to leave her small, isolated, ordinary world that her call to adventure was little more than an excuse to push hard against the threshold guardians that sought to keep her in place.
By strong contrast, the film The Patriot, which was loosely based on the life of Francis Marion, told the story of Benjamin Martin, a French and Indian War hero that wanted nothing to do with the American Revolutionary War, and was completely unwilling to join either side in the fight. However, when a sadistic British army captain murdered one of his sons, and kidnapped another, he found himself at war with the Empire. While he had no internal drive to adventure at first, his sense of honor compelled him to foray into a new world, one in which free men governed themselves.
Then there are the four young hobbits of the Lord of the Ringstrilogy, who were neutral, as they wouldn’t have thought to leave the Shire if not for the appearance of the Ring of Power, and Gandalf’s warning of the looming threat that it posed. However, when the time came to sojourn out into a wider world, all four had a mental makeup inclined to adventure that no other hobbit possessed, making them fit for the journey ahead.
In Star Wars, young Luke Skywalker wanted so badly to leave the familiar world of his life as a farm boy and travel across the stars, but when Obi Wan Kenobi insisted he join him on his quest to help the woman in the message stored in the droid his uncle had purchased, Luke turned him down, lamenting that he couldn’t leave his aunt and uncle so suddenly, just before the harvest. It wasn’t until after the Stormtroopers had killed his family and torched the farm that he agreed to join Obi Wan. In this case, Luke was at the midway point between being completely willing to answer the call, much like Moana, but without a strong activating incident, had refused to answer the call, much like Benjamin Martin.
The purpose of this analysis is to give you the guidance needed to better understand how the call to adventure may very well manifest in your own life, and what you need to do to answer it. It’s not always as obvious as being handed an ancient artifact, or receiving a clearly decipherable dream, and often times we hesitate to the degree that makes the second and third stages blend together. Of course, this is not always the case, which is why Campbell’s analysis left the third stage of “Refusal of the Call” completely optional. A hero doesn’t always refuse the call because they are completely unwilling to leave their ordinary world, but because life is complicated, and taking a step into a larger existence isn’t always as simple as stepping through a door from the familiar, orderly world, into the unfamiliar realm of chaos.
As Dr. Jordan Peterson said on the Joe Rogan ExperienceEpisode #877, “Your nervous system is adapted to exist on the edge between order and chaos. Chaos is where things are so complex you can’t handle it, and order is where things are so rigid that things are too restrictive. In between that there’s a place – a place that’s meaningful, where you’re partly stabilized and partly curious, and you’re increasing your scope of knowledge. So, you’re inquiring and growing, and at the same time you’re stabilizing and renewing – you, your family, society, nature; now, next week, next month, and next year. When you have an intimation of meaning, then you know you’re there.” As long as the hero remains in his ordinary world, nothing meaningful will happen to him. He needs to have a certain curiosity about him, and as my partner Tom reiterated in episode #2 of our podcast, the need to question our reality, or to at least know that there is something about it to question, is paramount. To know that there are things you don’t know, and to know what those things are, and how they might affect you, is critical to your survival.
Even after Obi Wan had gifted Luke Skywalker with one of the few light sabers left in existence, he was still no different than any other farm boy in the galaxy. However, once he had gotten in his land speeder to go into town and find a ship to take them off-world, he had already become a hero, although he wasn’t even close to being realized at that point. The later scene where Luke pushes back on Han Solo for not believing in The Force, even though Luke was just learning about it himself, has been widely ridiculed by fans for displaying Luke as a naïve zealot, but what it actually shows us is that he was already beginning to change. He found something that resonated with his soul – that even though he was physically far outside of his comfortable, familiar world, he was beginning to feel that he was getting closer to where he needed to go, in order to go through what he needed to endure, so that he could finally become who he was always meant to be.
Joseph Campbell said that the hero’s journey is about the transformation of consciousness, which means that the hero is changed from one state at the beginning of the story to another state at the end. The person who has answered the call to adventure is taking Campbell’s oft-repeated advice, “Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else.”
As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.” When we answer the call to adventure, the fully tried, tempted, atoned, returned, mastered hero begins to come into being. We start to change into the truest, most authentic version of ourselves; which is closer to who we were as young children, before the people around us started to program us with their dictates (these directives are often well-intentioned, or at the very least, functional) of how and who we should be. But we aren’t looking to revert to being children, so we need to strike that balance between the authentic, but low-resolution and dysfunctional childhood self, and the effectual, high-resolution status as strong, capable adults.
This manifests in our world as the young entrepreneur who works a crappy job so that he can save up enough money to buy the gear he needs to get his business off the ground, and he doesn’t complain about it. When something falls through, he adapts; when others ridicule him, he ignores them; and even when his girlfriend leaves him, he carries on. He knows that with every test, he’s one step closer to coming into his fully realized form and achieving his life’s purpose, which in The Alchemistis referred to as his “Personal Legend”. Much the way a caterpillar’s instincts drive it to spin a chrysalis, that young businessman knows that he is meant for more than the wake-eat-work-sleep-repeat cycle of the NPC’s around him. The call to adventure compels him to put in the hours, and do the work needed to succeed, because when he’s in that activity he feels that intimation of meaning the Dr. Peterson talks about. He may not have all the details about how he will succeed; he may change the route many times, and even get stalled at points, but he knows the direction in which he’s heading, and he’s going to get there, no matter what.
The main difference between heroes and NPC’s is not simply that the former is capable of original thought while the latter only manages to regurgitate pre-programmed dogma upon command, it’s that a hero has answered the call to adventure, and an NPC has still ignored it. This means that all NPC’s, even the most violent, pepper-spraying, bike lock-swinging, racist, fascistic ideologues are potential heroes. What’s more, the scores of stories from around the world, and throughout time, prove that heroism is not limited to any specific type of person in terms of their physical, mental, or emotional makeup. The only factor that determines whether or not a person will answer the call is the choice they make. So, if the world’s heroes are the NPC’s that chose to answer the call to adventure, then the villains are the NPC’s who chose to refuse the call, and who continue to make that choice.
The villain is always going to stand in opposition to the hero, stopping him in his every pursuit, and at every turn. The hero attempts to bring light and freedom to the world, but the villain attempts to snuff out that light and restrict others. And while it’s easy to focus on what the villain is doing to others externally, we need to remember that they have already done it to themselves internally. They don’t just stand in opposition to the heroes they meet, they stand in opposition to the hero that they could have been, and have restricted their own potential for transformation and growth. More to the point, they try to make everyone like them – miserable and plagued with regret. You can see this all the time in the real world as the bitter divorcee who warns every twenty-something to avoid marriage, or as the parent who insists that their child needs to “be realistic” about their life goals, regardless of their child’s potential. The most glaring examples are seen on college campuses across the Western world as more and more professorship positions are filled by weak, bitter, angry, vindictive cowards. These parasites coral their students into tracks of thought that are founded in dogma instead of facts, and then they whip their students up into an ideological fervor, yet they rarely have the spine to show up at the mobs they inspire, except to hit bystanders with bike locks and duck away into the crowd. The hero must, eventually, learn to live on the border between order and chaos, but the villain does not. The villain needs only to choose one, and to remain there, regardless of what evidence is presented that might sway them from their chosen role as either arbiter of order, or avatar of chaos.
To use myself as an example, the call to adventure presented itself in my life as an inescapable feeling of discontentment and dread within the walls of my church. Despite my innate aspiration for bigger things, I had no desire to leave the faith; it was all I knew, and I was certain it was all I needed to know. When I was about 20 (around the same time I was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and dysthymia) I thought a change of scenery might help alleviate this feeling, so I joined another congregation that shared the building with the one I grew up in. I had already made some friends there, so it was an easy transition. Of course, the discontent did not fade, so I distracted myself in the life of someone else, and that worked for a while. One of the friends I had made there, whom I had known off-and-on since childhood, suffered from bipolar disorder. He had come and gone from the church throughout his teens and early twenties, but the events of 9/11 shocked him into making a serious effort to be a “good Christian”. I did my best to help him “come back to Christ” since I was one of the few people in his life who could not only understand his ramblings, but who wasn’t scared off by his violent outbursts, because I too had touched the same void which tortured him. One day a pretty new face joined the church with her mother. She calmed the savage beast within my friend and stabilized him like no one else could. They eventually got married, and I found myself drifting further and further from relevance in his life, and as that happened, the feeling of discontent swelled back upon me. I then thought it would be best to return to my home congregation, believing that I had only left because God wanted me to help him, but within a few months I would leave the faith entirely.
Years later, after my marriage crumbled, I came to understand just how much damage that religious institution did to me, emotionally and psychologically. Now, I could be bitter and angry about it; I could do my best to “fix” the problems I see and attempt to “save” others from “suffering” my fate. I could fancy myself as the hero returned, throwing the elixir of truth in the face of anyone from the church I would encounter, but that’s not the hero’s purpose, nor is it my Personal Legend, and I know it. To be perfectly frank, I can’t say that I haven’t been tempted to do just that, nor can I say that I haven’t, in fact, tried to sway the many socialists, or socialistically-leaning friends I had, both online and in the real world. You’ll notice I said that I “had” those friends, because in the end, all that results from such a path is more anger, more division, and the awareness that I am no closer to finding meaning in my life. What I DO find instead is just the same comfortable distraction of meddling in other people’s affairs like I’m the hero of their story when I was more akin to a villain, and not an important one at that.
So, instead of being burdened by glorious purpose, I’m plagued by the shockingly cold reality that my problems are my own, and so long as no one makes their problems mine, my jurisdiction ends at my skin. It took years, and many cycles through the monomyth to come to that painful conclusion, a journey that cannot be traversed alone, but more about that in the next blog.
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