Hearing The Call

Monday, October 08, 2018
Joseph Campbell is best known as the world’s foremost authority on mythology. Despite his death in 1987 his writings have continued to grow in popularity as new students find his journey of the hero, so popularly traced in movies, games and comic books, adds depth and dimension to the story on the surface.

His most famous book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) tracks the adventures of a hero or heroine through the typical phases of a quest. Not only must the individual rise to the challenges that come as part of the quest, but does so in order to seek and attain the treasure that spurs her into taking this action, before returning home to share the boon.

Yet no adventure happens without a call. The call comes to us all even though we can spend a lifetime ignoring it and pretending it wasn’t meant for us. Let’s not be mistaken - you are the hero or heroine that Campbell is referring to. We all are. Not just those with superhero capes, or with the title of ‘Goddess’ or ‘King’, or with a letter offering a place in Wizarding school. You. And me.

When you listen to Campbell speak about the Hero’s Journey, he unmistakeably says that the call to adventure is one that everyone faces, often repeatedly throughout life, but not everyone chooses to hear it. Even if you hear it, refusing the call is commonplace. With so many other things to be interested in or entertained by, ignoring a call to do something out of your ordinary world is a standard response for everyone at least once. However, refusal comes with its own consequences, and many people live those consequences through the monotony and drudgery of doing the same thing day after day in a safe but stifled world. 

Common Calls to Action

Maybe you aren’t sure if a call to something has ever come your way? Here are some examples of how a calling might have crossed your path.

The Blunder

A mistake was made. You ended up somewhere you weren’t supposed to be, or you found yourself caught up in something that you hadn’t planned. Campbell calls it ‘the blunder’. Many people find themselves on a new path through what appears to be a simple error or a minor glitch. From this error comes an opportunity. The choice is to go with the flow and see what eventuates or ignore it and return to the relative safety of the known. 

People in training groups often tell amazing stories of their lives and many of these relate to the blunder. A woman who accidentally bumped into the same man three times in six months across three different continents! A chance meeting with someone in a project who later offered a dream job. Walking into the wrong workshop at a conference and realising that the subject was the person’s true calling.

The Herald

Another way that you might hear a call is when someone turns up in your life and guides you to something you hadn’t considered before. Campbell calls this person ‘the herald’. They ‘herald’ the way forward, summonsing you into a new awareness or awakening. 

Examples of the ‘herald’ in your life might be a teacher who passes on particular knowledge or a new approach to an old problem. Maybe a book or film sparks your interest and moves you in a direction you hadn’t considered before. It can be a counsellor or psychologist who offers an alternative way of thinking about a situation. It can be a mentor in business, a life coach, a leader in your organisation, a psychic or a high profile speaker who plants the seed to a call to something other than what you have always done or thought.

The Mismatch of Beliefs

In my previous blogs I referred to the call being an opportunity that came about due to a mismatch of facts or beliefs. For Mohammed Yunus when founding the Grameen Bank, the world’s first micro-credit bank for the poor, the call came when his brain could not reconcile two facts that he knew went together – banks lend money and the poor need loans. When the banks wouldn’t loan to the poor, Yunus heard the call to action. He borrowed money and loaned it to them himself.

When John Wood founded Room to Read, the call came after he was faced with conflicting facts that he knew went together – libraries are built for books. With no books, there is no point to a library. Yet in Nepal, he was sitting in a new library without books. He hears a call to action stemming from the cognitive dissonance in his brain about what he believed to be a fact about libraries. He sources thousands of books and ships them himself to Nepal, founding a new enterprise in the process.

The Disturbance

There are other ways to recognise a call to action. The circumstances of the call can be disturbing and unsettling. You feel unhappy with your life situation. Your job is meaningless, and you itch to explore other areas. When once you were satisfied with your work, home, community, now you are not. The gloss has gone off the things you once found enjoyable. Or a trip to a new location, a holiday or just taking time out from your routine shows you a way of life that you hadn’t realised was available to you. The more you think about it, the more restless you become.

Childhood Experiences

Some people know their calling from a young age. Bruce Lipton, world renowned stem cell biologist knew from his first look into a microscope as a child that the world of cells was were he wanted to work. His work later established the field of epigenetics. Joseph Campbell discovered a lifelong fascination with American Indians from a childhood visit to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and a trip to the Natural History Museum, leading him into the study of mythology as a career. Campbell himself says that a calling is often discovered by “following your bliss.” 

Is a call on your horizon?

If you have been hearing a call towards a new path, it might be your ‘inner voice’ softly urging you towards something previously overlooked. You might not be sure what that something else is, but it whispers in your ear that maybe…maybe…this ‘thing’ over here that you keep thinking about, or trying not to think about, is something you should pay attention to.

Seeing the signs

In mythology a sign will often appear at this point, indicating you go in the direction of movement and action. If the sign is ignored another appears, and they continue with increasing force until finally you are pushed into action whether you like it or not. Being forced into action often occurs under dire circumstances, or because you simply cannot resist the pull towards the adventure anymore. The person who quits his job, sells his possessions and disappears travelling can no longer resist the noise in his head which says, ‘It’s time to go’.

The sign that compels actions can be the death of a loved one, a diagnosis of ill health or simply a realisation that resistance is futile – one must simply go. The sign could be money that turns up unexpectedly offering the realisation of a dream. Sometimes it is a sign to let go. A real estate agent offers you a great price on your house although you weren’t really thinking of selling… A relationship you love must end, and the more you hold on the worse it gets until finally it implodes under the pressure.

These ‘signs’ occur around us all the time but until we take the hint or collapse under the weight of disaster, they are often not seen as the summons they are designed to be. However, once we start a journey we release the pressure valve of life. Once there is action, the momentum propels us forward, like it or not.

Hearing the call is a signal that something in your life is seeking transformation. Large or small, the deeds may not appear ‘heroic’ on the surface, but in your life, at this time, they provide you with an opportunity to look out beyond what you have been doing and into a space that is there for you to create. That’s a cool thing! The question is, what will you do about it?