The hero’s journey is a theme that never grows old. In his work on the power of myth, Joseph Campbell brought the understanding of the hero’s journey into popular consciousness. The archetypal journey toward integration and wholeness can be found in many contemporary stories, like Star Wars or in a Marvel comic, as well as in timeless sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita.
In the first stage of the hero’s life, there is isolation and a feeling of being disconnected from others and the world. In fiction this is represented by the hero being an orphan, or having had their home planet destroyed, or having been abandoned by their family. The hero is alone.
Then something occurs to spur a journey. The hero meets their mentor, whether it is Yoda, or Lord Krishna, and begins to train. The old life and priorities are left behind, and the hero begins on the road to their true destiny.
Once training is complete, the hero must go on a quest, most often in service of the greater good. In devoting herself to service, the hero must learn what her unique gifts and strengths are and hone these abilities in order to face the obstacles on the journey. In the process of serving others, the hero finds out who he really is, and understands the meaning of his life.
While most of us don’t have light sabers or superpowers, we do have enormous capacity to develop ourselves, both for own well-being, and for the benefit of others. In a sense, each one of us is on our own hero’s journey to learn what we are uniquely suited to do in this world, to achieve personal fulfillment and integration. In yoga philosophy, finding this ideal life path is called seeking our dharma.
There are several yoga poses that contain the root word “vir.” Virabhadrasana is the Warrior, who trains body and mind in order to serve and protect others. Virasana is literally the Hero Pose. One of the pillars of yoga practice is virya, or vigor. In our yoga, we must work with courage and valor, making a heroic effort to move forward despite the impediments that we face.
In yoga practice, it can help to realize that the effort required is heroic, and that the aims of yoga are bigger than life. Like our friends on screen, in literature and in sacred stories, we will face problems, and have to search deeply within ourselves to solve them.
At some point in many of these stories, the hero is close to giving up. This might be symbolized by losing one’s tools and possessions or being alone in a dark forest or cave. But here, in the heart of darkness, the aspirant journeys inward and finds an inner power and light previously unknown.
In our inward journey of yoga, we seek the light within. We will need courage, faith, sharp memory and awakened awareness to reach the goal. But the fulfillment of the path – illuminated joy and boundless bliss – await us.
Karen, thank you for this reminder of how our yoga practice fits in the grander scheme of our lives. Beautifully written.
Thank you so much, Jan! I enjoy writing these posts, and it is so nice to get your feedback.