At the recent Independent Educational Consultant Association conference, I attended a session discussing Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell asserts that many important stories and myths from around the world share a common structure. Campbell explains that in this shared structure, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (p.23).
This framework can be found in religious texts (think Moses), common folklore (The Odyssey), and pop culture (Star Wars or the Karate Kid), but few practices in today’s world provide a clear hero’s journey for modern day youth and young adults. The presenter of the session discussed how an individual’s pathway to recovery reflects the hero’s journey, and how professionals can use that framework to improve student success rates. As he discussed the prevalence of the hero’s journey in ancient and modern culture, I realized that, unintentionally, the program we’ve designed for BaMidbar perfectly follows the structure of Campbell’s monomyth.
While many parents may not see their struggling son or daughter as an epic hero, those challenges are the first step of the hero’s journey. As emerging adults make the transition from adolescence to adulthood, they may find themselves struggling with motivation, purpose and the skills that allow them to achieve independence and healthy decision making. As these young adults struggle with substance use, depression, avoidance, or unhealthy behaviors that limit their potential, the individual and family come to recognize that change is needed. These challenges are central to the “Call to Adventure,” where the family seeks out a program and the student begins his or her journey with BaMidbar.
In Campbell’s monomyth, the call to adventure is oftentimes met with resistance, before the introduction of supernatural aid or the meeting of a mentor, resulting in acceptance of the call As students leave the comforts of their familiar world, BaMidbar’s caring and compassionate staff are there to guide and mentor students through the inevitable questioning of, “Is this the right choice?” and “Who am I, to be on this journey?” BaMidbar’s call to adventure begins with a focus on kavannah, the setting of intentions and recognition of a need for change, and a focus on yirah, or awe and majesty of the natural world, that invites vulnerability and recognition of something greater. Through the guidance of staff and the humbling nature of the wilderness environment, students accept the great journey that lies before them.
In all Hero’s Journeys, the hero is faced with challenges and tribulations. By facing setbacks and overcoming challenges, the hero realizes his or her potential and unique ability to contribute. During this stage, the hero oftentimes forges a team or discovers allies, and this support structure is critical as the hero finds him or herself facing a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, before achieving victory.
Through the use of eustress and challenge by choice situations, BaMidbar students will face their demons and realize their strengths. They will go on solos, hike mountains, and learn independence and interdependence in the mountains. Through a focus on tahalich, students will forge a path and build skills in the face of challenges. Through the lens of kesher, students will reflect on self-care and healthy relationships. As students go through a road of trials, build a support network, and gain confidence, they will learn to believe in their potential, and in the supportive people around them. With the help of staff, their family, and peers, students will find victory in the face of defeat and realize their unique gifts.
As BaMidbar’s program draws to a close, our heroes will return to the ordinary world, and bring with them the skills, experiences, and self-confidence they’ve gained through their journey. As they work to integrate lessons learned within the program to the “ordinary world,” a focus on kehillah will help students realize the role their community and support systems can play on their continued journey. With a focus on avodah, participants will be able to share their unique gifts, and explore how they can be contributing members to their home community. Having experienced a parallel process at home, the family will see the great challenges their child has overcome and their unique abilities. With honor and respect, they will provide continued support on the hero’s pathway to recovery.
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Bamidbar Wilderness Therapy is a program of Ramah in the Rockies.