How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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Listening like a hero 

On a 1-to-10 scale from whitebread to woo-woo, I'm probably about an 8. I speak fluently the language of business and am well known for my practical, down-to-earth, step-by-step writing and teaching. I operate my day-to-day life and work on a fairly pragmatic basis. But I also believe strongly in the world of spirit. At crossroads, turning points, and crises, I'm much more likely to rely on intuition, inspiration, and divine guidance than on logical analysis and flowcharts.

On the whitebread to woo-woo scale, my mother was an 11. In the 60's, she served on the board of the Parastudy institute for the study of the paranormal, practiced the spiritual discipline of Subud, and at one point placed me in the home school of the Temple for Spiritual Learning, where we worshipped the Egyptian gods. A typical Saturday night for me as a 10-year-old was to sit in the Parastudy library, reading Edgar Cayce, Joan Grant, instructions for reading auras, and accounts of alien abductions.

I became fascinated early on with stories of divinely-guided heroes. Joan of Arc is the one I recall affecting me most strongly, probably because she was also a young girl. I wished that the spirits would come and speak to me, to tell me what I was supposed to do with my life, to give me a mission. Standing in holy places, like circles of trees and rays of sunlight, I would listen for a message. But I wonder...

If the spirits had spoken to me, would I have had Joan's courage? To not only tell the world what I had heard, but to act on it? This is what I mean when I speak of stepping into your greatness -- once you have had the vision, to be brave enough to share it, and committed enough to act upon it.

Actually, I think I heard many divinely-inspired messages -- at age 10 and 20 and 30 -- that I ignored. I think we all do. Whether you interpret that message as coming from the world of spirit, from inside yourself, or from the person on the other end of the phone line doesn't matter. The way to become a hero is to recognize the importance of these messages, share them with others, and take action to bring them into the world.

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Business or pleasure? 

I'm a strong advocate for pursuing one's avocation as a vocation. The reason is simple -- it makes it possible for you to do what you love full time instead of relegating it to your spare time. If your desire is to be of service, you can make a much greater contribution if you are able to serve while making a living.

This crucial area is one where stepping into your greatness becomes essential. You must have the courage to Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. It is possible to follow the path of right livelihood as an employee -- challenging enough in itself, when you must break away from a more comfortable career. But I find that for many seekers, their true vocation requires some form of self-employment.

This becomes a triple challenge. First, you must leave your former occupation and learn a new one. Second, you must remain steady on the course of pursuing your dream in the face of numerous outside influences that oppose you. And third, you must rely on your own resources instead of a paycheck to earn your way. It's truly a feat worthy of a hero, and one which requires the use of all your heroic qualities to accomplish.

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Changing the world a step at a time 

In my Way of the Bodhisattva class this summer, one of the weekly homework assignments is to memorize and contemplate a verse from Shantideva's text. Here is the verse I chose for this week:

"To cover all the earth with sheets of hide --
Where could such amounts of skin be found?
But simply wrap some leather round your feet,
And it's as if the whole earth had been covered!"

The hero's journey must begin with changing himself, but also, changing oneself may be a much simpler task than taking on the changing of the whole world. Shantideva implies that by changing yourself you do change the world. At the personal level, the world seems to change when your perspective of it does, but in fact, a change to your own being can have an observable effect on everyone who comes in contact with you. So, before you start slaughtering cattle, put your sandals on.

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Chop wood; carry water 

An often overlooked challenge of being a hero is how to maintain your heroism in between epic adventures. When you are back at home with your family and expected to once again cook dinner or take out the trash, how do you hold onto your heroic qualities... especially if those closest to you are more aware of your warts than your gifts?

This is where the paramitas of discipline and patience can be supremely useful. One must continually practice being a hero under the most trying conditions -- which may turn out to be those of daily life. Instead of looking at mundane chores as tasks that interfere with your growth and development, try viewing them as a training ground for heroism. They are opportunities to perfect the essential skills of discipline and patience by practicing them in real life situations. Remember that one of the feats that made a hero of Hercules was cleaning out the stables.

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Heroism in Marin County 

I have been invited to give my first talk on the topic of becoming a hero at a meeting of the Marin Coaches Alliance on August 4. This is exactly what I hoped would begin to occur when I began writing about this subject less than a month ago. The talk came about due to a chain of events I couldn't duplicate if I tried.

I am thrilled by this example of what I call the "Persistence Effect" in action. Whenever you get serious about a goal and begin to act in a focused, consistent way, results occur in unexpected places. It's almost as if the universe notices how hard you are working and decides to reward you. But these opportunities are not accidents. There is a direct connection between the level of effort you put into achieving your goal and the results you get out of it, even when it seems as if the results are completely unrelated to your efforts.

I could say that I did nothing to make that talk in Marin occur, because I didn't solicit it, or even intend for it to happen. But in fact, I did many things. I have spent ten plus years building a reputation in the coaching profession that results in groups seeking me out to speak. I launched this weblog to discuss the topic of becoming a hero, and have been posting here consistently. I mentioned my weblog to the organizer of the Marin group (in a conversation that had nothing to do with my speaking there) as an example of how people were exploring new topics on the web. And, abracadabra, an invitation to speak materialized.

The next time you read a hero's story where events seem to happen by accident, look below the surface. When John F. Kennedy was asked how he became the hero of PT109, he said, "It was involuntary; they sank my boat." But what were all the deliberate actions leading up to that moment that made it possible for heroism to "suddenly" occur?

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Not found in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles 

Pursuing the path of heroism is intertwined with discovering one's right livelihood. The term right livelihood has Buddhist origins, and has been described by writers such as Marsha Sinetar as "work consciously chosen, done with full awareness and care, and leading to enlightenment." Such work must also be "ethical," a tricky term for which I found a helpful definition in Natural Life Magazine: "...consistent with the principles of honest living, treating with respect other people and the natural world... being responsible for the consequences of one's actions."

To become a hero, one must find one's true calling. Some find it before walking the hero's road and that is what points their faces in that direction; others simply begin down the path and discover it on the journey. But regardless of when it occurs, uncovering your right livelihood is what makes is possible to be a hero every day of your life. Without that key element, you may still have a grand adventure and hopefully make an impact, but then your story ends.

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Send in the kleshas 

In my Way of the Bodhisattva class last night, Pema talked about kleshas. She described these as negative emotions that block us from developing ourselves and helping others. The five kleshas usually named are ignorance, self-absorption, craving, aggression, and possessiveness.

These are the flaws of the hero I spoke of yesterday, when I mentioned that the hero could use his flaws to good purpose. Pema suggests that it is sometimes possible to use the energy of a klesha to overcome the klesha itself. For example, if you are plagued by anger, get angry at the anger. The trick is not to let your anger "hook" you in doing so. It is the clear seeing of the true nature of your kleshas that eventually disspells them.

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Essential qualities of the hero 

I've begun a list of what I believe to be the qualities every hero must have; those elements that one must work to build in order to wear the mantle of heroism. The list is incomplete, and there will be much more to say about each of these qualities, but here they are:

Impulse to action
Willingness to risk
Desire to serve
Sense of purpose
Spiritual guidance
Openness to learning and change

The last quality may be surprising, but all true heroes are flawed in some way. The hero must find a way to use his flaws to help others, or to rise above them.


Heroic guides 

On the path to becoming a hero, the hero-in-training often benefits from having a guide. These guides take many forms -- mentors who the hero knows personally, and who give the hero advice; role models the hero tries to emulate, teachers who give the hero instruction in how to develop his skill; spirit guides, real or ethereal, who deliver guidance from the other world; healers who provide tools for the hero to improve his ability to function; coaches who encourage the hero to perservere and help the hero effectively channel his efforts.

I most often look at developing heroes through the lens of coaching, because it is the paradigm I know best. And certainly the umbrella of coaching can include many elements of the other forms of guidance. But the key to effectively guiding heroes is to provide guidance in a form that they respond to.

The pragmatic hero may not listen to words from a spirit guide; the loner may not accept guidance from a mentor. Each hero is unique and must find the sources of guidance that will penetrate his natural defenses against dramatic change and therefore serve his ongoing development.

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Everyday heroes 

In the class I am taking with Pema Chodron on Way of the Bodhisattva, we are focusing this year on discipline and patience. These two qualities are the 2nd and 3rd of the six paramitas -- principles of enlightened living as taught in Tibetan Buddhism.

The entry point on the path of becoming a bodhisattva -- an "enlightened hero" -- is developing generosity, the 1st paramita. But once generosity has awakened in you, you must practice discipline and patience to keep it alive. It's where the rubber meets the road.

Many of us have experienced achieving some level of enlightenment in a weekend workshop or transformative life event. But then you return to your daily life, and it gradually drains away. Heroism requires the discipline and patience to practice, and to fail, over and over again. "Any fool can be brilliant in a crisis. It's the everyday living that wears you down." (Who said that?)

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Power to the people 

In Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins gives his definition of a hero: "A hero is a person who courageously contributes under even the most trying circumstances; a hero is an individual who acts unselfishly and who demands more from himself or herself than others would expect; a hero is a man or woman who defies adversity by doing what he or she believes is right in spite of fear."

In the chapter where this quote appears, Robbins describes what one person can do to change the world. It's a valuable addition to his book on developing personal power. His message is that once you gain control of your own destiny, you can help others to change theirs.

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Dragon slayer 

An important task of the hero is to slay the dragon. But according to Joseph Campbell, the dragon is not always an external enemy. In an interview about the hero archetype in The Power of Myth series, Campbell said, "Your ego holds you in. It's too small. It pins you down like a dragon with what you can't do."

To fully step into your role as a hero, you must first slay the dragon inside yourself that holds you back with all the reasons you can never become great. Campbell says, "In saving yourself, you save the world."

P.S. At the urging of "blog coach" Hal Macomber, I have added a commenting feature to my weblog. Please stop by and post a comment.


What if it were easy? 

The 8th century Indian monk Shantideva describes a simple path to being of service:
"All the joy the world contains
has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself."

To the modern ear, this could sound hopelessly co-dependent. Perhaps the trick here is to be joyful yourself. If in working toward the happiness of others, you make yourself miserable, how can that contribute to the overall well-being of the planet? But if you experience your service to the greater good as a cause of joy in your own life, then misery is lessened everywhere.

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True courage is in facing danger... 

"...when you are afraid." Pema Chodron in her Way of the Bodhisattva class last year described three levels of courage -- that of the monarch, the ferryman, and the shepherd. The monarch develops his own strength to be able to help others, the ferryman works in the company of others to help everyone, and the shepherd puts the welfare of others before his own.

Pema used the metaphor of eating to teach more about this. The monarch eats to gain strength, and so be better able to serve his people. The ferryman shares his food with others in the same boat. The shepherd feeds the others first.

Often we think that heroes must be shepherds and sacrifice all for those they serve, but this is not so. Monarchs and ferrymen can also be heroic when their intentions and actions are to be of service.

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Guards, guides & bridges 

I am steeped in The Way of the Bodhisattva this week, preparing to begin this year's class on the subject with Pema Chodron on Saturday. Listening to the tapes of last year's class, one verse from the chapter on "Commitment" stood out: "May I be a guard for those who are protectorless, a guide for those who journey on the road. For those who wish to go across the water, may I be a boat, a raft, a bridge."

The three examples in this verse illustrate different models for heroism -- the guards who protect their charges from harm and fight on their behalf (Thich Nhat Hanh); the guides who lead people to safety, better fortune, or enlightenment (Carl Jung); and the bridges who carry those they serve on their backs by working directly to keep them fed, healthy, and free (Mother Teresa).

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Channel-surfing to enlightenment 

I use my television these days mostly for watching movies on digital cable, but I haven't had my usual 50+ movie channels the last couple of weeks due to a cable system snafu. So in searching for other video entertainment, I discovered it was PBS pledge time again, which means Joseph Campbell is back on the air.

One click later, I found myself watching the first episode of The Power of Myth, titled "The Hero's Adventure." (There are no accidents, right?) I've probably watched this series a zillion times, but each viewing I find something new. This time, I was struck by Campbell's advice about how to become a hero: "Put yourself in situations where your higher self is evoked rather than your lower."

In the last couple of years before I became a coach, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. First I quit my job to become a consultant. I didn't think that was what I really wanted, but the job was definitely evoking my lower self, i.e., making me frustrated and angry. By leaving it, I was released from an overwhelming negative influence. Next, I opened an office. I didn't know what I was going to do there -- my consulting gigs were all on site -- but I felt strongly that I needed that space to do whatever would come next. What I found was that the office evoked my higher self. When I went there, I became focused and creative, even visionary. Getting that office led directly to my discovery of the path of coaching and everything that followed.

It seems that Campbell's words can be a guide when you don't know what else to do. If you simply remove yourself from situations that evoke your lower self and put yourself where your higher self is encouraged, you begin to step into greatness without even knowing what it looks like.

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Bodhisattva in training 

I spent the weekend with friends in Santa Cruz, and in addition to swimming and sightseeing, indulged in one of my favorite pastimes of visiting thrift stores and used book stores. You can tell a lot about a place by the contents of its used book stores, and the shelves in Santa Cruz are loaded with psychology, metaphysics, and spirituality titles.

I picked up a marvelous resource for the topic of this blog: Bodhisattva Archetypes by Taigen Daniel Leighton. Referring to bodhisattvas as "heroic benefactors," the book describes modern examples of archetypal characters from Buddhist tradition. Some of the named heroes are ones you would expect, e.g. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But others are surprising, for example, Muhammad Ali, Daniel Ellsberg, Bob Dylan, and Clint Eastwood.

Leighton describes bodhisattvas as "valiantly functioning in helpful ways right in the middle of the busy-ness of the world." Without a doubt, that fits my definition of a hero.

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Heroes are made, not born 

My third theme here, and the central one, is heroism. Heroes are those who have allowed themselves -- or been forced by circumstances -- to step into their own greatness. And here is where my definition of a hero may differ from others. I believe that the essence of heroism is being of service.

Sports stars or actors are often named as heroes, and I am skeptical of this practice. Is the act of entertaining one of serving? Perhaps it comes down to the motivation of the hero. If one plays a game or acts a part for the purpose of inspiring others, making them think, or just making them feel better, that might fit. But if the reason the star performs is for the applause, to hear the roar of the crowd, to get the fan mail, can that be considered heroic? I say not.

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Service vs. servitude 

The second of what I see as the three main themes of this blog is service. Being of service to others, to me, is one of the main reasons for being alive. Perhaps it is the reason for being here -- to care for each other.

I think service is sometimes confused with servitude. The latter I might define as involuntary service, stemming from duty and obligation. Voluntary service, on the other hand, can be a calling, based in empathy, compassion, and a desire to contribute. Where servitude often leads to suffering, service can lead to satisfaction, a sense of belonging, even joy.

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Around and around we go 

Having begun my blog in the middle, I feel I should circle back to the beginning and say something about the purpose of these reflections. In the 10+ years since I began working as a career and business coach, I have made a number of (to me) remarkable discoveries. One that stands out is that I find -- over and over again -- that people who first appear to be lost, confused, or stuck often know exactly what they want to do. They just think that for some reason they can't do it.

We, myself included, are stopped at every turn by ourselves. We think we can't, we shouldn't, we're not good enough, we don't know how. And the power of those beliefs is so strong that it drowns out our inner knowing of the right path for us. It seems that if only we could step into our own greatness, our questions of right livelihood would disappear.


The way of the hero 

One of my many influences on the subject of heroism and service has been the classic Buddhist text The Way of the Bodhisattva by the 8th century Indian monk Shantideva. This summer, I will have the incredible privilege of studying this work with Pema Chodron. Pema is an American-born Tibetan Buddhist, now living in Nova Scotia, Canada, who teaches each summer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The focus of The Way of the Bodhisattva is on attaining enlightenment for the sake of the deliverance from suffering of all beings. Powerful stuff, and the very essence of accepting the mantle of heroism.

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Once upon a time... 

Faced with a blank page here at the beginning of my blog, I rely on an old writer's trick and begin in the middle.

What are the essential qualities of a hero? One I know well is commitment -- that sticktoitiveness I hold highly as a personal value. Asked to give that value a uniquely personal name once in a workshop, I called it Whatever-It-Takes. Color it khaki. If you are truly committed to something, you do whatever it takes to make it happen.


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