Healing: The Heroic Journey

The Healing Journey
The Healing Journey

I’m very fortunate to do what I do.

One reason is that I get to be around lots of people struggling with health issues. That probably doesn’t sound like much fun to you. And it isn’t “fun” per se.

But it is often amazing to see how different people deal with their health challenges.

As you might imagine, people are often overwhelmed when they are struggling with chronic illness. They often need lots of support and direction to get well. And for various reasons, their loved ones aren’t always able to provide it.

What often emerges from this battle with illness is a stronger, more resilient person. They have faced challenges and overcome them. They’ve learned lessons to share we can all benefit from. They can help us find the courage to overcome illness. And they can become our guides on the heroic journey to better health.

Why call dealing with a health crisis heroic? Because the act of facing serious health issues take courage, persistence and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. And yes, sometimes even facing death. These are all traits of a hero.

Probably the most well-known authority on the heroic is Joseph Campbell. In his classic work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he offers insight into the journey any hero takes. He draws from ancient myths and finds a common thread in all cultures. This is often referred to as the hero’s journey.

What he finds is that every culture has a version of this heroic idea. And there is a common theme shared by all these stories.

You have seen it many times, although perhaps without knowing it. That is because it shows up repeatedly in films, books, artwork and songs.

People ranging from George Lucas (Star Wars) and Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) to Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia use this idea. One of my favorite interpreters of the hero’s journey is Disney storyteller, Christopher Vogler. He breaks the journey into 12 stages. Here is a quick overview of the 12 stages and how they relate to healing.

  1. The hero is going through life as usual. But at some point they know something is wrong. They don’t feel right about things. Symptoms show up.
  2. Because of this new awareness, it becomes important to do something. They need to take action. And this action is almost always outside of the hero’s comfort zone.
  3. Next comes resistance to taking action. The hero says, “No, I can’t.” They may be dealing with fear in one way or another. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of death.
  4. The hero must overcome their fear. This usually means finding a guide or mentor. In the case of a health crisis, this is often a doctor or other health care professional.
  5. At this point, the hero enters unknown territory. They are dealing with a new situation and have things they must learn.
  6. These lessons come in a variety of ways. They notice their response to treatment. They take new actions and see what happens. They fine tune their adaptation to the new situation.
  7. All of this prepares the hero for what they will ultimately face. By now they are deep into the new view. They are getting ready to face the big question, battle or struggle.
  8. This stage is called, “The Ordeal.” It is a severe test that may involve facing death. The hero needs their new learning and awareness to help them survive.
  9. If they survive there is a reward. The reward of surviving a health crisis includes new perspective, new resilience and a new sense of purpose.
  10. At this point the hero re-enters the normal world. This is often another challenge to face. They must keep their new learning, while dealing with people who haven’t gone through what they have.
  11. This re-entry is the hero’s final test. They face the death of their old way of living and a rebirth into a new, healthier way of life.
  12. Finally, the hero can share what they’ve learned. Their journey can benefit and enrich others.

These stages aren’t carved in stone. Not every healing crisis involves every stage. But if you have ever gone through such a crisis, you will recognize many of them.

A Request

Because facing a health crisis is a heroic journey, it is worth sharing. That is why I am compiling stories from those who have taken, or are on this journey. These will be published once they are ready. Some of these stories will be from people who have survived their own healing crisis. And some will be from those at one stage or another of the process.

If you, or someone you love has a story of facing a health crisis I would love to hear from you. Most of these stories will be gathered in phone conversations, and email interviews. You will have complete say in what you share. I will not use your name or other personal information without your permission.

To contact me, you can reply to this email. If you prefer, you can also use the contact form on the web site. You can find that form by clicking here.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

Dr. Bruce



Wikipedia entry on the Hero’s Journey

MovieOutline.com article on the Hero’s Journey

The Hero with a Thousand Faces on Amazon.com

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