Your Personal Hero Quest
How to Solve the Doing vs. Being Paradox and Live More in Flow
Art by Andrea D'Aquino
About 4,000 years ago, young Sumerians dutifully copied wedge-shaped symbols that had been pressed into clay tablets with a reed stylus. The tablets they copied recorded a poem about King Gilgamesh, a tyrant who ruled Uruk in what is now Iraq. The poem is about the king’s quests for immortality through great deeds, but it’s ultimately about transformation: a man who finally conquered his own inner fear of not being good enough and gained the strength to be. The “Tyrant King” grew to be called “The King Who Saw the Deep.”
Even 4,000 years ago the poem was ancient. Something about the Epic of Gilgamesh had kept the poem alive around cooking fires for a thousand years before it was first pressed into clay. Then, as Andrew George noted in his excellent modern translation, it became a common practice for Sumerian and Akkadian schoolchildren to press this epic story into their own minds as they practiced cuneiform. It was the unearthing of these ancient homework assignments in 1853 that allowed new generations to rediscover this ancient quest for wisdom, compassion, and kindness.
Nowadays, the Epic of Gilgamesh is known as the first recorded Hero Quest. Like Dante’s Divine Comedy and Star Wars, these timeless quests are ultimately as much about confronting our own ego shadow as they are about slaying monsters. That’s not to say we ever get rid of our shadow—or should even try. As Carl Jung famously wrote, “How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” Instead, these great tales remind us that, like Gilgamesh, each of us must befriend our own version of the fear that we are not good enough and become more fully alive.
“The great paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change,” wrote the psychologist Carl Rogers.
In other words, to allow oneself to be is to get unstuck and feel the flow. Our consciousness expands and we can do more—if that is what we choose. Indeed, because of its simple power, the Hero Quest path has become the central tool I use in my work as a therapist and coach to help guide others toward more joyful and creative life paths.
I encourage you to honor your own Hero Quest by exploring this simplified version of what is typically a weekend workshop. The main point here is not to try to slay monsters “out there” but rather to take the time to sit with the chattering voice of your ego shadow. And when you are feeling those old fears, talk them down with your heroic inner voice, which states, “I am free to be and create as I am.” And then simply notice whether you have cut the edge off an old irrational fear—or maybe even slain one of those old inner monsters that have held back your joy and creativity and compassion.
These timeless quests are ultimately as much about confronting our own ego shadow as they are about slaying monsters.
Your Hero’s Quest Map
On all great Hero Quests, the most important moment comes not when the hero slays the monster, but rather when the hero honors his or her strengths, virtues, and fears. This map was designed to unleash your hero mind and to honor your personal quest to create a more joyful and unbridled future for yourself and others. And, like all great Hero Quests, it follows a basic path:
1. WHERE ARE YOU NOW?
Joy has many facets, and each can be a marker for living in flow. Highlight your most potent Facet of Joy, which you will rely on in your quest.
2. ACCEPT THE CALL TO EXPLORE AND CREATE
Because this quest is internal, the call is from where you are right now. Choose a personal, relationship, or work goal— or all three.
3. GATHER YOUR HELPERS
Who is helping you or will help you on your quest? How will you enlist their aid?
4. ASSESS YOUR MAGICAL WEAPONS
A “weapon” is a tool for winning something, and early on we arm our egos with a special set of tools to win in the quest of life. These sets of “weapons” fall into four broad ego behavioral trait categories that we can call Thinkers, Doers, Feelers, and Persuaders. Our choice is not conscious and yet it determines both how we approach a quest and what we hope to gain from it.
Thinkers win when they figure out the answer/truth Doers win when the list is done perfectly Feelers win when love is accepted and returned Persuaders win when opinions/ideas are heard and accepted
We tend to become specialists with a particular set of “weapons” to keep us safe and successful. The problem is that we tend to overuse the set, and so we get lazy—which is another way of saying we tend to get stuck in our shadow mind, which keeps us from developing the other tools that would help us become more present and more fully alive.
One payoff of the Hero Quest is to move our preferred “weapon” type from the shadow mind to the flow mind (e.g., for Doers the Quest payoff is limiting Tyrant actions and opening up Creator actions). In doing so, we open up our ability to use the other tools as well (e.g., the Doer adds some Feeler skills, like empathy). In this way we open up our Whole Mind Living, which is another way of saying we become more present.
5. VISIT THE ORACLE
Once you have recognized the strengths and weaknesses of your magical weapons, it’s time to visit the Oracle for two sparks of real magic.
First, the Oracle bestows the gift of naming your shadow. Choosing a name acknowledges that your shadow exists, that it will never go away—and that it is not sup- posed to. Think of your shadow as your Ego Trickster. Being present means that you are alert to your shadow and ready for whatever tricks it will throw your way. The gift is to identify the core belief/fear that animates your weakness and detracting behaviors.
Common Core Shadow Fears/Beliefs
1. Fear of not being good enough 2. Fear of not being lovable or loving 3. Fear of not being controlled 4 Fear of being out of control
Contemplate the root of your fears that feels like the source and write it down. It may help to give your shadow the name of a character in a book or movie who best represents your own shadow. That way, you can literally greet her/him by name.
Second, the Oracle confers the Gift of Insight in the form of a special kind of mantra or affirmation that is actually a new aspirational core belief—a “mind hack” that increases your probability for both deeper success and joy.
The Gift of Insight comes from contemplating your steps thus far: Where you are? What is your quest? Who is with you? What are the strengths of your magical weapons? With all that in mind, choose the magical words that will transform your quest. Critical here is that your Gift of Insight combines both Being and Doing—and could be as simple as “I am Content + Creating.” The goal of a new aspirational belief is to reduce the fear that has blocked your compassion for yourself and others—and thus
BEING Words Free to be blissful, Content, Empowered, Rock star, Loving, Playful, ME, Joyful, Potential
DOING Words Creating, Exalting, Exploring, Teaching, Learning, Loving, Problem-solving, Seeking, Giving
Each of us must befriend our own version of the fear that we are not good enough and become more fully alive.
6. YOUR 3 GREAT DEEDS
Now that you have enlisted support and are armed and ready with your Gift of Insight, it is time for the real adventures to begin! Use your Gift of Insight like a mantra to increase flow in your cre- ativity, connection, and compassion.
7. THE RETURN HOME
Celebrate your new creativity, connections, and presence at your triumphant return.
8. WHERE ARE YOU NOW?
Congratulations! You have now completed a quest cycle. The best guide for knowing where you are now—and for anchoring where you’re going next—is in reference to your journey thus far.