Humankind in every culture through time has revered storytelling as a vehicle for creating order and meaning out of the chaos of existence. On an individual level, the stories we consciously and unconsciously tell ourselves have a great influence on how we perceive and experience our life – and this in turn influences our physical (and mental) wellness. Thus I believe it is vital to become conscious of our internalized stories and to ensure that they are aligned with our hopes and aspirations for better health.
Here is a little story about how I came to learn this for myself. Since my story contains elements that are really quite universal, and because I am writing this story for you, I encourage you to identify with and to “try on” whatever aspects feel right and helpful.
Before I fully understood the role of personal story as an integral part of my healing process, I simply tried to endure my sick-person life with grim determination. My career as an internationally-recognized documentary filmmaker and teacher had stumbled and collapsed under the corrosive effects of neurological Wellness disease and three other tick-borne illnesses. The invisible realms of microbes and misfortune seemed to be conspiring to grind my life into bitter and insignificant dust, and everything felt dark and difficult and muddled and futile.
And yet… and yet there were also brief moments of comfort and clarity that visited me at unexpected times, usually late at night, through some kind of mysterious and benevolent grace. And in one of these visitations the guidance emerged that I could improve the experience of my circumstances by first adopting the eyes and heart of a storyteller who is telling a tale about someone else having the same experiences I was having. There was wisdom in the guidance directing me to tell a story about someone else, for that is what I already had decades of experience doing through my work for National Geographic and others, and besides – I didn’t know yet how to apply these skills to myself (a classic case of “Healer Heal Thyself”, I know…) I knew how transformative storytelling could be, so I figured it was worth a try to consciously reimagine my personal story through the mental yoga of pretending it was someone else’s – I mean, why not see what happens?
As I began this process I became acutely aware of the inner “story” I had internalized about life in recent years, a story of darkness and victimhood born from negative unconscious habit and sustained adversity. But very soon this exercise of telling a third person story of my travails allowed me to step out of the “victim trance” I had been in and to recognize that much of what I had been going through with my health had the hallmarks of the classic mythic Hero’s Journey story. The next step, my guidance told me, was to identify with this motif as if it was my own. Adopting the framework of the archetypal hero story through the particulars of my life was a surprisingly natural and compelling fit, and it elevated my personal tale from that of hapless victim to a more universal story of being on a sacred quest for better health and wholeness.
The Hero’s Journey story provided a compassionate context for both the dark and the light aspects of my healing process. I could see that I had been on and was continuing on a long and sometimes dangerous journey that was full of difficulties and setbacks. Along the way I was encountering outer and inner antagonists and at times I felt loss, confusion and despair. And yet the hero myth helped me to see that I was also on a path forward, and that I was being helped by outer and inner allies in many forms. Along this path my health was improving, and I was gaining gifts of knowledge and wisdom and friendship that held the promise of transforming my life in powerful and life-affirming ways.
My emerging tale had many elements of the timeless “death and resurrection” theme common to many hero myth stories. And through identifying with this larger and more universal theme I immediately felt the presence of benevolent archetypal forces larger than me that were dedicated to furthering my life rather than destroying it. This was a major turning point in my healing journey, and boy did it feel better on all levels..
Allowing your healing story to embrace the myth of the hero is not about making a huge effort to feel heroic. It is about allowing yourself to be accessible to the archetype of the hero so that you can enter it and it can enter you. When you do, you will be able to access energies of benevolence that transcend the circumstances of your life and which will benefit your journey on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels. Why is the myth of the hero so powerful throughout human cultures? No-one knows – it is just that somehow the hero myth in its various forms is built into the fundamental design of who we are.
May the blessings of well-being be with you.