the year of living creatively

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” – Joseph Campbell

During the past 50 years, quite a few researchers, social scientists, and psychologists have written passionately about the creative process, offering a number of models to help clarify its various stages. All of their models are deeply considered and relatively easy to understand. The best model I’ve encountered, however, is one that was never conceived to explain the creative process, but the archetypal human adventure we are all on — a model conceived by the extraordinary mythologist Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth.

Campbell’s original Hero’s Journey model consisted of 17 stages. At the risk of oversimplifying Campbell’s construct, I offer you, below, a modified version of it — one that captures the essence of Campbell’s wisdom and is much easier to remember — a kind of GPS for your creative process.

What I like about the Hero’s Journey model is that it accurately describes the process human beings go through when attempting to create anything truly meaningful to them. In my experience, the creative process is very much a classical hero’s journey. The more we understand the nature of that journey, the better our chances of actually embracing, enjoying, and completing it. Are you ready?

1. THE CALL TO JOURNEY: 

Have you ever felt called — like the universe itself, was tapping you on the shoulder to get your attention — that there was something for you to DO that absolutely HAD to be done and that if you DIDN’T do it you would end up feeling like you had chickened out? This calling is always preceded, according to Campbell, by some kind of disruption — the end of the status quo and the recognition, as Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ so memorably stated that, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.”

This disruption can take many forms. It can show up as a traumatic event, like a near death experience, the end of a marriage, the loss of a job, your home burning down, or Covid-19. Or, it might show up in a more intoxicating way — like a dream, epiphany, or visitation from your muse.

Most commonly, human beings resist The Call to Journey. Where letting go would, ultimately, be the right move, we hold on. We tighten, clench, dig in our heels, cling to the past, and procrastinate.

If YOU are on the cusp of an inspiring, new project it is highly likely that you are feeling called — that something deep within you has gotten your attention and you are now at the intersection of “Life As I Know It” and “I Have Absolutely No Clue.” Welcome to the fun house. Let the games begin!

2. THE PREPARATION: 

In order to transform nothing into something, you will need to prepare for the transformation. There is no way around it. Farmers do this every season. Committed to having a harvest, they roll up their sleeves, plough their fields, fertilize the soil, and do whatever is needed to help nature take her course. You, too, will need to roll up your sleeves. You, too, will need to prepare for your creative journey. What, specifically, this preparation looks like is completely up to you.

3. THE ENCOUNTER: 

Every aspiring creator eventually runs into obstacles. Every fairy tale has its Big Bad Wolf. Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader. Cinderella had evil stepsisters. And Jesus had Judas. That’s just the way it is. Or as the Buddhists like to say, “No mud, no lotus.”

The obstacle is not the problem. The problem is how you relate to the obstacle. Do you freeze, procrastinate, stick your head in the sand, and eat another quart of ice cream — or do you summon your courage and proceed?

The good news? In the Hero’s Journey, allies and mentors show up all along the way to offer their help, bearing all kinds of gifts — winged sandals, mirrored shields, magic beans, and maybe a foot massage.

4. THE HOMECOMING: 

All major rites of passage have some kind of honeymoon period associated with them — the intoxication phase when everything is new and our lives are animated by the energy of anything is possible. That’s a good thing. It keeps us in the game and provides the fuel we need to keep on trucking. Eventually, however, this phase comes to an end. The buzz wears off. Holy Grail having been discovered, head of the Minotaur having been decapitated, we need to integrate what we’ve learned. We need to sustain the effort on a daily basis — the “chopping wood and carrying water” phase of life when we practice what we’ve preached (or what’s been preached to us).

In Joseph Campbell’s taxonomy of life, this is known as The Homecoming — the part of the process when the hero, after all kinds of adventures, gets the chance to LIVE their wisdom. The mountain has been climbed. Now it’s time to do the laundry with the same consciousness that received the Ten Commandments the week before.

5. THE TELLING OF THE TALE: 

Storytelling is our species’ most powerful way of sharing what it knows — a form of communication that has been going on forever. Indeed, neuroscientists tell us that human beings are hard-wired for storytelling. It’s what we do and how we do it — translating our life experiences into a form that not only attracts attention, but delivers our message in the most memorable way possible — the message of what we’ve learned… and what we know… and what will be useful for other people to consider as they continue on their journey — or, perhaps, return from one.

The Telling of the Tale is the final stage of the Hero’s Journey and, for those of us attempting to unleash our creativity — a way to clarify our wisdom and be of service to others at the same time. YOU, as someone on the journey will not only be on the receiving end of many tales, you will also be the teller of tales — the deep expression of what you’ve learned along the way. Your insights. Your moments of truth. And, ultimately, your wisdom. And all in service to the greater good.

If you are on the cusp of creating something wonderful and realize you can use some help along the way, you might be interested in enrolling in The Year of Living Creatively, a two-month, online course I have developed for anyone attempting the seemingly impossible.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” – Joseph Campbell

PS: Scholarships available.

If you would like more information about the course, feel free to email me: mitch@ideachampions.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at August 12, 2021 03:05 PM

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