Heroes are not born but made; made by choices and the paths that they take. Contrary to popular belief, the heroic life is not characterized by a single incident of courage that offers hope, salvation, and safety to others, but rather continuous steps in a long trajectory of courage. It is the brave act of daily owning one’s story, as Dr. Brené Brown states, and offering that story as a source of inspiration for others. Heroism, courage and bravery have less to do with feats of strength and more to do with habits of vulnerability, rhythms of authenticity, and compulsions of compassion.
The hero, the courageous, and the brave embrace all of life – its circumstances, its twists, its turns, its straightaways, its joys, its valleys, its peaks – unearthing amidst challenge and darkness the infinite power of light and love within them. They emerge as empathic guides able to lead, support, and encourage others to do the same.
Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
In his seminal work, A Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell outlined a universal pattern of this Hero’s Journey toward authenticity and enlightenment. Discovered through his research over the course of his lifetime, Campbell identified several stages of growth and transformation of the hero regardless of culture, race, and religion. Like Homer’s Odyssey, and other great stories of Greek antiquity as well as modern-day narratives such as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, the Hero’s Journey begins with a call, an invitation to overcome a threat or to see with fresh eyes. From there, it subsequently weaves through a circuitous route of challenge, test, assistance, reward, loss, resurrection, and return. Though the story unfolds with exterior situations and characters, the real landscape of the narrative is a personal one, when and where the hero confronts internal fears and shadows finding the hidden gifts and talents that lie buried deep within them. By embracing the journey of self-discovery, the hero returns wiser, more compassionate, actualized, and centered.
The second week of the Lenten pilgrimage reminds us of the great gift of our own lives, our place, our calling, our beauty, our belovedness. Like the great narratives of the past, Lent invites us to embrace the journey of living fully meandering through the interior world of emotion, leaning into challenge, making alliances with helpers and guides, facing our fears, overcoming obstacles, welcoming charity, and rising strong.
The hero, the courageous, and the brave embrace all of life – its circumstances, its twists, its turns, its straightaways, its joys, its valleys, its peaks.
Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and subsequently our own, begins with an acceptance of the call to a deeper life, to walk the path, to start the journey. No doubt many refuse to take the first step; however, as Dr. Brown reminds us in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy … Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Robert Frost, in his famous work, The Road Not Taken, concludes his poem with these words:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Hero’s Journey of courage and bravery is not a glamorous one; often, it is manifested in the mundane of daily life and activity; it is the road less traveled. However, to choose the journey of owning your story, whatever that story may be, is the path that will make all the difference, not only for you but for the life of the world.
Week Two: Yoga Pose & Meditation
Yoga Pose: Virasana (Hero Pose)
Step 1 Kneel on the floor (use a folded blanket or bolster to wedge between your calves and thighs if necessary), with your thighs perpendicular to the floor, and touch your inner knees together. Slide your feet apart, slightly wider than your hips, with the tops of the feet flat on the floor. Angle your big toes slightly in toward each other and press the top of each foot evenly on the floor.
Step 2 Exhale and sit back halfway, with your torso leaning slightly forward. Wedge your thumbs into the backs of your knees and draw the skin and flesh of the calf muscles toward the heels. Then sit down between your feet.
Watch This Video on Hero Pose
Step 3 If your buttocks don’t comfortably rest on the floor, raise them on a block or thick book placed between the feet. Make sure both sitting bones are evenly supported. Allow a thumb’s-width space between the inner heels and the outer hips. Turn your thighs inward and press the heads of the thigh bones into the floor with the bases of your palms. Then lay your hands in your lap, one on the other, palms up, or on your thighs, palms down.
Step 4 Firm your shoulder blades against the back ribs and lift the top of your sternum like a proud warrior. Widen the collarbones and release the shoulder blades away from the ears. Lengthen the tailbone into the floor to anchor the back torso.
See also: Give Yourself Props in Hero Pose
Step 5 At first stay in this pose from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Gradually extend your stay up to 5 minutes. To come out, press your hands against the floor and lift your buttocks up, slightly higher than the heels. Cross your ankles underneath your buttocks, sit back over the feet and onto the floor, then stretch your legs out in front of you. It may feel good to bounce your knees up and down a few times on the floor.
Step 1: Gently close your eyes and draw your attention to your body and the physical space that you are inhabiting.
Step 2: Scan your body looking for places to soften or disengage your muscles – beginning at the crown of your head; slowly making your way down, across your forehead, eyes, jaw, neckline, shoulders, torso, etc. making your way to the soles of your feet.
Step 3: Focus your attention on your breath; noticing as your belly and chest rise with each inhale and release with each exhale. As you breathe in through your nostrils, breathe out through the mouth by ever-slightly constricting your lips (e.g. like your blowing out a candle on a birthday cake). Establish this slow and rhythmic breath, deepening your breath with each inhale and lengthening your breath with each exhale.
Step 4: Now, draw your attention to the mind. We often buy into the lie that we can be in two places at once, we cannot. We can only inhabit the here and now; the gift of the present moment. Therefore, any thoughts that would seek to draw you away from the present moment, allow them to pass by. And any thought that would help facilitate your awareness of the present moment, hold onto lightly. When it no longer serves you, allow it to fade as well.
Step 5: Now with a calm body, a rhythmic breath, and a still mind, begin your meditation by setting an intention, a prayer. The suggestion for this meditation is a phrase from Matsuo Bashō – 17th century Japanese poet and teacher – “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” Repeat slowly this phrase, matching the phrase with your breath (e.g. “Every day is a journey” on the inhale breath, and “and the journey itself is home” on the exhale breath). Repeat intention/prayer for several minutes.
Step 6: To exit practice, return to natural breath and softly open your eyes. Next, take a moment to journal your experience.
Images and Article by Mark Carter and originally published on March 4, 2020 by MC Photography.