The Hero’s Journey of Optimal Childhood Development: Part 1
by Zachariah Fisher
'Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.' Howard Thurman
From the dawn of time, man has searched for deeper meaning to how we got here, who we are and why we are here. These sparks of deep unquenching wonders and curiosities have evolved over millennia, but the answers to these burning questions have remained subjective at best. There simply seems to be no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answers to life’s deepest questions. You may ask, what do these esoteric inquires into the nature of life itself have to do with education and optimal childhood development? If life’s deepest mysteries remain unanswered, let alone the constitutional make up of each unique individual, how can we begin to think we know exactly what and how we should teach our children?
Children are natural explorers, in a fervent exploration to remember the essence of who they are. Their surroundings serving as doorways into the infinite world of wonder for which one can endlessly explore. Why indeed do children desire to explore this world of wonder, what answers do these mysteries hold for them and how can we as adults support them in this uniquely intuitive quest?
Ancient Wisdom Teachings, Mythology, and Neuroscience
Eastern traditions teach us that innate in every human being is our unique blueprint seed and that our life is a journey to unlock the dormant treasures within it. In Sanskrit, the ancient sacred language of India, the word for this seed is dharma, translated as ‘purpose’ or ‘duty’. Vedic teachings around dharma teach us that our every inclination, impulse, desire and motivation is rooted in unlocking this treasure so our dharma seed can blossom and bear the fruits of our purpose. They teach us that our life is paving the way to discover who we are and that our relationships and experiences are perfect mirrors to see the mysteries that lay deep within.
“People are not looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell is renowned for decoding the human psyche through myths of ancient and modern times. In his famous breakdown of the stages of the Hero’s Journey we see the map of our own lives. Neo, Skywalker, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter, Frodo, Simba, Moana just to name a few, each have to go on their own hero's journey of discovering who they are. They cannot stay in the ordinary confines of day-to-day to life and find the answers that elude them. Neo felt a "splinter in his mind" and couldn’t rest until he awoke from the Matrix. In setting sail on this “Call to Adventure”, he had to face many dark nights of the soul, shadows, trials and tribulations as he crossed a multitude of thresholds to return to the remembrance of who he was all along. Once our treasures are remembered, we must return back to our communities (ordinary world) and bring the gifts of our purpose back. This “ordinary world” is anything but ordinary to the hero now as he/she has come of age and completed an essential rites of passage.
This story repeats itself over and over on the screens of our own life. The characters on the screen are simply reflections of the characters within our psyche. These seeming supermen and superwomen are attractive to us not merely as forms of vicarious escape, but because they remind us of the powers that lay within. Submerged under the dreary fog of the status quo lay this bright world of wonder and awe. Deep down, we know we possess great purpose, power and value. Why else would we be do drawn to observe it outside if it wasn’t pre-existing within? We are drawn to these character arcs because they serve as reminders to awaken our own inner powers. This map decoding is priceless wisdom that provides direction in how to holistically support the whole child on their quest to remember who they are and why they are here. The Hero’s Journey education of the “Whole Child” is ultimately helping to cultivate the child’s unique dharmic blueprint.
“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold." -Joseph Chilton Pearce.
Throughout time, man has attempted to transcend the limiting confines of the ordinary and enter into the realm of the sublime. Neuroscience is showing us that these altered states of optimal performance can and often do lead to altered traits. Deep play or getting into the flow, promote a flood of feel-good chemicals firing off in the brain. Dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and serotonin measure off the charts when brain scans are performed on participants that are tracking in high flow, what athletes call “the zone” or musicians often call “the pocket.” Flow States are a fascinating treasure trove of wisdom that helps to unlock some of the mysteries of peak experiences and lends a hand in the discovery of the importance of, as Campbell states, “following our bliss.”
10 reasons why supporting our children to follow their bliss or “getting in flow” is essential in optimal childhood development:
Mastery: Children will practice what they enjoy. Whatever you practice you develop the skills to get better, and if you practice a lot, you become a master. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory has proven to be cut in half based on research when flow is a key component of that practice. Essentially, flow makes learning more fun and and thus accelerates the path to mastery. The reason is that flow helps retain information from short-term holding to long-term storage, which promotes learning, memory and focus. In short, wisdom is best retained when it is embodied as a practice in our lives. Children intuitively know that through play or getting into flow states, they can learn wisdom that simply cannot be gleaned by intellectual understanding alone.
Healthy Habits. Instead of turning to drugs or other unhealthy addictions, flow is a safe container with clear intentionality and benefits. With proper guidance, containers can be set that allow for both prolonged, sustainable and healthy flow states to enrich our lives for years and years without dependency on outside forces, conditions or substances.
Trusting Intuition: When we do what we love, we are moving with the forces of the Universe instead of resisting, thus learning the art of trusting our intuition. By ultimately learning to trust our innate passions, we are progressing on our journey of self-discovery because it has been meticulously architected to support us.
Courage: Flow puts us into the zone which we will need when facing our biggest challenges in life, obstacles, innermost cave/abyss as Campbell describes it. When we look at our deepest fears/obstacles through the lens of limited perception or false identification with ego, our fears/obstacles appear to our consciousness as often insurmountable. This is why flow is so crucial in transcending limited parts of the mind and entering into expansive/limitless new viewpoints. From this lens, our fears and obstacles that once seemed so daunting loosen their grip on our psyche and we can “move confidently in the direction of our dreams.” - Henry David Thoreau
Purpose in life because our superpowers exist deeper than our rational mind. This dharmic blueprint seed is at the very foundational root of our entire journey. It carries with it all the potentials for its blossoming. The journey to discover it and ultimately share it with the world is the center of the whole quest. Simply put, whatever a child is most drawn to is a fantastic indicator of their most optimal self directed path towards living their purpose.
Rhythm: The way of the world is often very robotic and one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter rhythms geared for industrial productivity. Nature flows in sacred geometrical patterns of regeneration and connectivity. Plants, animals, bodies of water flow with their own instinctual rhythm and patterns. This rhythm is essential to find within ourselves because our purpose exists beyond the shackles of robotic linear pattern thinking. Whether it’s dance, drumming, singing, rapping, art, sports etc, finding our natural rhythm through flow is essential in the self-discovery process.
Getting Out of Comfort Zones. The enjoyment factor of flow is so high it is considered to be the single most addictive feeling in the world. When we enjoy an activity or state so much, it provides incentive to do that activity over and over again. Flow experiences can be intentionally molded as tools for getting out of comfort zones because the rewards of the experience outweighs the fear of “staying comfortable.”
Self-Rewarding Passion: Instead of searching for extrinsic motivation, flow is intrinsically rewarding, which helps us to enjoy the journey and not obsess over the destination as the only measurement of success.
Quieting Inner Critic: Neuroscience research shows that in flow, the part of our brain that manages lateral thinking (past, present, future), the “inner critic” shuts down. By experiencing prolonged states of STER (Selfless, Timeless, Effortless, Richness) we free ourselves from the shackles of critique and open ourselves up into an infinite world of possibilities.
Emotional Alchemy. In Ayman Sawaf’s neuroscience research known as ‘Drops of Joy’, the results show that joy brings our emotions into their higher octaves. By adding a drop of joy to anger, it turns into courage, another drop of joy and it turns into passion. Same with fear, by adding a drop of joy to fear, it raises to concern, another drop, compassion. So the next time your child gets angry or scared, watch how inviting their joy raises the frequency.
For more information on the Hero’s Journey, Flow States and Transformational Education please visit www.peaceguardians.org.