The movie, “Wild,” opens with Reese Whitherspoon acting the role of the young Cheryl Strayed at the top of the mountain somewhere along the Pacific Crest Trail. Her hiking shoe has just fallen down the mountain. Her toenail is cracked and bloodied. She’s initiated her own journey to find her best self after her mother’s death, but she must deal with obstacles, hurdles and sadness the film juxtaposes with her past marriage, a rocky relationship with her brother and mother with the inner voices she must conquer on the trail.
The book which made Oprah’s book club, has captured the hearts of millions around the globe and many of Strayed’s lessons are the lessons of the hero’s journey. A hero’s journey is a story of transformation – the character of author Cheryl Strayed Reese Whitherspoon plays is not the same person we encounter at the opening scene of the film.
From the moment Cheryl eyes the book the Pacific Crest trail book after learning she was pregnant, we know she’s about to give voice to some of the biggest lessons in her life. Here’s what her life can teach us about the hero’s journey.
1. The hero’s journey is a soul journey. There’s gotta be something in the soul that urges us to turn our struggles into something bigger. You can’t do that if you just listen to your head. You need to listen to the voices of your soul.
2. The hero’s journey is unplanned and unattached to outcomes. If you go in thinking, “Well, I’m a hero and I’m gonna make a million bucks writing a bestseller,” then you’re attaching to outcomes. As Cheryl Strayed writes and Reese says, “What if all that I went through brought me closer to this moment?” Sometimes the journey itself is so thorny and painful that we don’t have the ability to find ways to comfort yourself. You just do what you have to.
3. The hero’s journey activates a different path – that which there are no answers or rules. If the hero’s journey would be neatly wrapped in a bow with a list of things you will find along the way and how you would change, then probably many of us wouldn’t take up that journey because we already know what’s in store for us. A hero’s journey is not supposed to safe and kind. but if we stick to it long enough, we’ll discover the power of redemption.
4. Once you complete your journey, you’ll change your trajectory forever. Because you’ve listened to your calling as Strayed did when she decided to take that 1,000 mile trek along the trail, you’ll never be the same person. You’ve reached higher heights of consciousness and awareness. You’ll impact different areas of your life you’ll never thought because now you’re open and willing.
5. Deciding to initiate your journey is probably the hardest thing. You come across voices telling you to stay put. it requires a lot of courage to do what Strayed did. You can’t get too much in your way otherwise, you’ll pull yourself off the path. How bad do you need to go on this journey? Focus on what you will gain versus what you will lose.
I see a lot of Strayed in my journey as a 19 year old leaving New York City and my Mom to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. I had all the odds against me to leave New York City and my Mom. There was pressure on me on me to stay, which shaped the best lessons I’d ever had through my service. And while these lessons were priceless and free, I went through hell. You can’t expect “gems” to pop into your life, if you don’t do your share of the dirty work, right?
The question is.. can you live with yourself without taking that journey. Eventually that nudge will get even nudgier.
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