Steve's Columns

Bridging myth and consciousness.

By Steven Barnes
February, 1999

Step #4: The Road of Trials

Theme: THE 1% RULE

The fourth step of the "Hero's Journey," a core pattern underlying all world myth and legend, is generally referred to as the "Road of Trials."

Remember the first three steps: #1, Confronting the challenge. #2, Rejecting the challenge. #3, Accepting the challenge. Now, in this fourth step we actually begin the process of achievement, or healing.

Several readers of this e-zine have asked if there is a difference between men's and women's journeys, a "Hero's Journey" as opposed to, for instance, a "Siren's Journey." I would say no, but different journeys are in different directions: sometimes externally focused, sometimes internally. A stereotypical male journey is a road trip to slay a dragon. A stereotypical female journey might be the establishment of a stable, nurturing home for said knight to return to. The task of creating a human balance between these stereotypes is to balance the true "Outer" journeys: (business, environmental threats, interpersonal conflicts, etc.) with "Inner" Journeys: (self-growth, self-love, healing, forgiveness, spiritual enlightenment, etc.)

Both men and women face journeys composed of both elements, and each human being must create her own perception of the proper pace and path.

But the most important aspect of the "Road of Trials" is the realization that life is, indeed, a path--and a long one. Every completion of the "Hero's Journey" pattern brings one to the next level, where new challenges must be faced. For example: reaching a goal of eliminating credit card debt just leads you to a new goal of mastering secure financial investments. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to try to sprint from one level to the next.

If it took you twenty years to get out of shape, going on a crash diet to slim down is sheer idiocy. If you have never learned fiscal responsibility, never examined how money is made in our culture, it is madness to try to cure bill problems with get-rich quick schemes, or buying lottery tickets. And if you have a terrible relationship history, hanging around in singles bars for quick pick-ups isn't likely to lead you to lasting romance.

In all of these cases, the "Lifewriting" answer is to analyze your current position in respect to your goals (and remember: for this system to work, you MUST have goals in all three areas). Subtract this from where you want to be, and what remains is the distance to be traveled. Then divide this work up into about 100 pieces, and do 1-3 pieces every week.

For instance:

Fitness. If you have 50 pounds to lose, commit to lose about 1 pound a week. If you want to run a marathon, but have never run, start by walking a mile a day, add a mile a month and over two years work your way up to running ten miles three times a week. After 20 months of this, take a 20-mile run once a month.

If you have a massive debt load, plan on working your way out of debt in 2 years through saving and studying the art of sales. (By the way-most people assume that they know how to sell, and don't need to study this. ALL top professional salespeople will tell you that their discipline is a science, and must be studied the way a doctor studies medical journals. To simply assume you understand this arena is nothing but ego. Unless you are making all the money you want, study sales!)

If you have a negative or dysfunctional relationship history, it might be best to abstain from all relationships for a year. During that time, HEAL YOURSELF. Meditation, introspection, counseling, self-improvement. All of these things factor in. If you were the opposite sex, would you want you? Could you have a relationship with you? What would you think of you physically? What would you think of you economically? Remember, you're all alone: no one is watching you answer this question. Tell the truth. If the answer is anything less than "Yow! I'd LOVE to have a guy/girl like me!!" then you have work to do. Men and women screw themselves up by getting into inappropriate relationships, doomed relationships, stupid relationships, all out of loneliness, desperation, weakness, anger, or fear.

In order to have a healthy relationship with another person, you must first have one with yourself.


If it sounds like I'm asking you to wait a terribly long time for your satisfaction, look at it this way: a chronic situation can be healed in about 1/10th the time it took you to develop the problem. If it took you twenty years to get out of shape, you can make tremendous changes in just two years of conscious effort. If you have lived with low self-worth for thirty years, three years of careful, conscious work will completely change your life.

The most important point is to set a good hard, sensible pace. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. If you try to change too much, too soon, you will rip your life to pieces, and find yourself giving up, as millions give up restrictive diets and punishing exercise programs every year. As millions have despaired of ever sustaining a relationship with married lovers, or creating a healthy marriage with a mate first encountered in an alcoholic haze. As millions involved in pyramid schemes find that gutting their families and friendships and neighbors never creates a stable financial future.

ONE PERCENT. Anyone can handle this much. How do you eat an elephant? One forkful at a time. You can't sprint a single mile, but you can walk across the country.

Life is, at times, a road of trials. Take it one step at a time!

One film that really details a "Road of Trials" is the classic "Sullivan's Travels." In it, a comedy film director wants to change to "serious work" and goes out into the world to learn about life. You should rent this film, and make a list of the lessons learned, the events endured, between his initial decision, and his final lesson.

How many of them are "outer journey" steps, and how many of them "inner journey" steps? What is learned at the different points, and how is the audience informed of these learning's?

For Writers:

  1. What is the gap between your character's goals and present life position? What lessons must she learn to bridge this gap? What unexpected twists and turns can provide these lessons? What is the worst thing that could happen to her, and how could it turn out to be the best? What is the best thing that could happen, and how could it turn out to be the worst?
  2. What is the gap between your character's self image, and the actual reality of her life? How does she delude herself? What will happen as self image and reality begin to collide?

For Readers: Think of your 5 favorite books or movies. Do they tend to be tales of internal or external stress? Do they move swiftly from plot point to plot point, or do they linger over the emotions and textures of the character's life?

Readers have asked if I expect you to find deathless wisdom in Hollywood films. Heck, no. But sensitivity to the UNDERLYING PATTERN behind all film, story and myth helps to synchronize conscious and unconscious thought patterns, giving us another tool along the path.