The Three Steps of the Hero’s Journey of Growth and Mastery

Posted by: Tom Pappas
Category: Personal Growth

I previously explained how the archetypical pattern of growth always begins when the hero (read, you and I) hears a call and often refuses it at first. What follows in the journey of growth are 3 steps. These steps that Joseph Campbell outlines and Robert Greene explains are strikingly similar. They represent the recurring themes in each of our personal journeys to growth and mastery.

Departure & Apprenticeship – Answering the Call to Growth

Joseph Campbell explains in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that the first transformation on our journey of growth involves crossing a threshold into a new world. This part is about leaving the past behind – a departure. It’s a descent into mystery, a whole new unfamiliar world. Here the hero leaves behind many of the things that served him well in the past. He/She encounters the help of mentors who provide the hero magical aid.

This is in many ways an internal part of the journey into understanding and opening up limitless possibilities and opportunities. Greene’s study of masters parallels that of Campbell’s heroes. In his book Mastery, Greene explains that all great masters have self-directed apprenticeships. ‘We stand on the outside of our field, learning as much as we can of the basic elements and rules.’ Green continues his advice when he explains the goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position title or a diploma, but rather transformation of our mind.

Using Charles Darwin as an example, Greene encourages us to “….see your apprenticeship as a kind of journey in which you will transform yourself, rather than a drab indoctrination into the work world.” The apprentice practices towards the acquisition of skills. “Every human activity, endeavor, or career path involves the mastering of skills,’ writes Greene.

Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach. ~ Marcus Aurelius

“The knowledge that prepares the ground for creative activity largely comes from rigorous apprenticeship in which we have mastered all the basics,” writes Greene. The experience of masters of the past teaches us you can’t complete this journey on your own. That’s where mentors come in. This can be a manager, a former colleague, a coach, a blog (like this site!), a course you take or even a book you read. The mentor’s provide insight and wisdom to help you overcome the challenges and tests you encounter along the way.

Initiation / Awaken dimensional mind (breakthrough/insight)

Nothing changes without personal transformation. ~ W. Edwards Deming

The second transformation is an initiation where we find our gifts through a breakthrough of insight and awareness.

Let’s return to Campbell’s hero. The hero faces stiff challenges and a transformative crisis. As the hero progresses deeper on this quest he/she stares into the abyss. Here a transformation occurs and a revelation – a new way to view life. Our hero takes this discovered treasure and returns with it.

Greene continues to offer a complimentary view of the journey of mastery. After much practice and immersion during the apprenticeship stage “we see into the inside of the machinery…how things connect with one another, and thus gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.”

Awakening the “dimensional mind” is how Greene explains this phase of the journey. By this Greene means that by tapping into our creative forces the student of mastery can “explore more dimensions of the world…As your thinking grows more fluid your mind will become increasingly dimensional, seeing more and more aspects of reality.”

He was not a freak [Mozart], but a signpost of the outer reaches of the creative potential we all naturally possess. ~ Robert Greene

The master at this stage will achieve a creative breakthrough. The “dimensional mind” of Greene’s mastery journey helps create the optimal conditions for this breakthrough or insight. “It is active, transforming everything it digests into something new original, creating instead of consuming”

It’s a stage of heightened focus, filled with tension, creativity and insight. Max Planck, the great physicist, said that scientists “must have a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by an artistically creative imagination.”

Return / Mastery – bring back your gift to serve others

It can be said that life’s perhaps most fundamental dynamic is the attempt to move from a lower form of experience and consciousness to a higher (or deeper) level of consciousness… ~ Robert Moore and Doug Gillette (King, Warrior, Magician and Lover)

Finally, during the third part of the journey the hero returns with his discovered gift. As Joseph Campbell wrote, “the whole idea is that you you’ve got to bring out again that which you went to recover, the unrealized, unutilized potential in yourself.” This is the most difficult part of the journey; more difficult than going down to the depths in the first place. The hero uses the knowledge he gained during his initiation to improve his world and himself.

The mastery process of Greene continues to resemble the heroic journey of Campbell. “We come full circle and return to a sense of the whole,” is how Greene explains this next stage of growth.

Greene’s historical and modern masters practice such an “intense immersion over many years” that they “come to internalize and gain an intuitive feel for the complicated components of [their] field,” and an “intuitive feel for the whole.”

At this stage the masters fuse the intuitive with the rational. Greene highlights the master’s insight as a “mix of the instinctive and the rational, the conscious and the unconsciousness, the human and the animal.”

All of us have access to a higher form of intelligence,” Greene explains, “one that can allow us to see more of the world, to anticipate trends, to respond with speed and accuracy to any circumstance.

Like Joseph Campbell’s hero returning home with their “gift” to improve his world Robert Greene’s master achieves “the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people and ourselves.”

The “Return” stage of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is really the transformation into Mastery of Greene’s historical examples of extraordinary achievers.

The author of Healing the Western Soul, Judith S. Miller, compares the model of the Western Spiritual Path to the Hero’s Journey:

  • Spiritual awakening – Departure
  • Illumination – Initiation
  • Union – Return

Miller explains that “these three stage are universal in human consciousness, similar to the “Hero’s Journey” described by mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) as the journey to God. His model, identified in the writings of mythology and religion, have been embraced by world cultures.”

Author: Tom Pappas

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