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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Coaching on the radio this weekend 

I'll be appearing on "The Edge" with Kathy Fettke this Sunday night. On KNEW Talk Radio, 910 AM in the S.F. Bay Area (or on streaming audio on the web), I will be coaching live on how to promote yourself and become better known for what you do. Listen in on August 31 from 8-9 PM Pacific.

"The Edge" is launching a Dream Challenge reality-radio contest, and I will help kick it off as 90 contestants go for their dreams over 60 days. You can call in, too for free live coaching on your dreams, at 1-800-345-KNEW, toll free in the U.S.

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The hero's journey redux 

I've reworked my steps for becoming a hero to include some new discoveries I've made, and incorporate some thoughts about presenting the material. Here is the up-to-the-minute version:

1. Develop your heroic qualities. The way to begin is by putting yourself in situations that evoke your higher self rather than your lower. Even if you do not yet know what your heroic quest will be, you can prepare yourself for it. And in preparing for the quest, you will develop those same faculties you need to hear the call to heroism that has not yet arrived. You are trying on the hero's mantle. Colloquially speaking, your task in this phase is to fake it 'til you make it.

2. Listen for the call. The call is the inspired message that describes your mission in life, vision for a better world, or heroic quest. You may experience it as a strong intuition, sudden realization, divine transmission, or just a subtle wondering. But to hear it, you must first listen for it. Many heroes-in-the-making find specific structures like meditation, prayer, journaling, or artistic endeavors helpful to open up their listening.

3. Take action. It's not enough to suspect or even know what your mission or quest might be. To become a hero, you must act on your heightened awareness. Even if you aren't sure you interpreted the call correctly, it is only by beginning to take action on your understanding that you will be sure. To move into action, you must get past the initial refusal of the call that every hero experiences.

4. Meet the dragon. Your worst enemy on the hero's journey is your own internal dragon of negativity, fear, and self-doubt. This piece of yourself tries to prevent you from fulfilling your heroic destiny. This dragon cannot be slain; you must meet it in its lair and develop strategies for continuing to take action. The dragon will continue to co-exist with the positive qualities that make it possible for you to be heroic.

5. Commit to the quest. It's entirely possible for you to get this far in the hero's journey without yet having made a commitment to your mission. You may be unsure of the authenticity of the call, lack confidence in your abilities, or be surrounded by unfavorable conditions. Regardless, without commitment, your mission will ultimately fail. This is the point when you must declare yourself a hero, ready or not.

6. Seek guidance. The hero's life can be lonely and difficult without the aid of human and spirit guides. Finding sources of ongoing guidance to support your mission can be critical to its success. Books, films, music, and art can all provide guidance, but the best guides are real people and a connection with the divine.

7. Stay the course. In my initial formula, I left this stage out. But yet, it is the most difficult one of all. The hero must keep going despite opposition, catastrophe, and the small, distracting details of everyday life. It's just as hard to be a hero while taking out the trash as it is to be one while your marriage is falling apart. To remain on the heroic path, you must be vigilant and develop perseverance.

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of Heroes-R-Us.

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Spirituality at the supermarket checkstand 

I just finished reading James Redfield's The Secret of Shambhala, third in his series of spiritual parables that began with The Celestine Prophecy. Redfield's books remind me of the "young readers" editions of timeless classics that I sometimes read as a child -- the plots are oversimplified, the language too plain, and the exposition heavy-handed. Real classics have some subtlety; they require pondering and interpretation. But regardless of my literary criticism, I read Redfield's books because they have captured popular attention in a way that other wiser and better-written books have not.

To me, it shows how widespread the hunger for finding a higher purpose and deeper meaning in everyday life has become. Instead of being a pursuit limited to philosophers, clerics, and intellectuals, the quest for a spiritual life is attracting people who might otherwise be reading Danielle Steele novels. This has to be a good thing.

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Medals for enlightenment 

The process of becoming enlightened is rarely comfortable and often quite painful. Buddhists describe the path of enlightened heroism as requiring bodhicitta, the awakened heart.

When you wake up in the morning, it can be a difficult and painful process if everything is not right in your world. Your worries rush in, body parts may ache, you remember recent upsets and sadness. Waking up in your whole life can be several orders of magnitude more painful than your daily awakening.

My teacher Pema Chodron suggests that we heroes-in-training view the discomfort and pain of waking up in life as a trophy of our struggle. It is a valiant endeavor, and Pema believes we deserve a medal for our efforts. "Award yourself a hero's Purple Heart," Pema says, for the wounds you sustain in your battle to attain enlightenment.

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Ready or not 

According to Joseph Campbell, "the hero is ready for the adventure he gets." When the adventure arrives, it is often not what we expected. We've waited for it, looked for it, hoped for it; suddenly it is here... and it's not quite how we pictured it.

Perhaps we thought we would be excited and energized, and instead we feel apprehensive and overwhelmed. Maybe it's not exactly the best time for an adventure. Just when we thought we had our lives under control, here comes this big messy interruption.

Our readiness for whatever has arrived for us in this moment is a matter of perception. If we believe we are ready, we will enter into the adventure wholeheartedly. If we believe we aren't ready, the adventure will simply carry us along. Either way, the adventure will proceed. Wouldn't it be better to have faith in our readiness and fully take part in what is already here?

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Conference for heroes 

Coming to Berkeley Sept. 26-28 will be the 2nd annual Wisdom and Action Conference. Presented by the California Institute of Integral Studies, this three-day conference is "dedicated to the positive relationship between wisdom and action... this conference honors the person, work, ideals, and influence of Joanna Macy, a wise activist in the tradition of Thomas Berry, Thich Nhat Hanh, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. All of the presenters at this conference are in this same tradition. In similar yet diverse ways, they espouse and exemplify the ideals of peace, justice, and environmental health."

Other presenters at the conference include Marianne Williamson, Daniel Ellsberg, Matthew Fox, Starhawk, and Brian Swimme.

I will be out of the country at the time of the conference and won't be able to attend, so please check it out for me and report back.

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Keeping it simple 

Indigo Ocean's weblog recently echoed some of my thoughts from yesterday. Indigo says, "We have been taught to equate having 'more' with being more happy, yet we actually feel less happy when we take the attitude that we need more." She cites the article A Declaration of Independence from Overconsumption by Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life. Robin declares, "Our habit of overconsumption enslaves many of us to longer hours at tedious or morally questionable jobs... Once we have enough for survival and comforts, quality of life suffers when we continue to focus on quantity of stuff. Studies show that good relationships, meaningful work and restorative leisure are core components of quality of life."

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Sharing the wealth 

From time to time in these posts, I hope to share stories of modern day enlightened heroes. One that I have admired for some time is Dan West, founder of the charitable organization Heifer International. Dan founded Heifer in 1944 based on a remarkably simple idea. Instead of giving food to hungry families, Dan convinced Midwestern farmers to donate young dairy cows. The gifts were given with one condition attached: each family who received a heifer had to give one of its offspring to another hungry family in their village. Today, the Heifer organization provides farm animals for food, wool, or draft power to needy areas in 115 countries and trains the recipients in sustainable agriculture. Each donation is tailored to the environment and culture of the area, and may include cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, guinea pigs, bees, camels, donkeys, oxen, water buffalo, or llamas. The requirement for "passing on the gift" continues, and families who receive animals say that one of the most rewarding parts of the program for them is being able to help another local family feed themselves.

In a recent issue of Heifer's World Ark magazine, West's daughter Jan West Schrock talks about her father's belief that we should all "live simply so that others may simply live." He often said, "If a person has more than three pairs of shoes in their closet, someone is doing without." Instead of working hard to accumulate more, we should let go of what we don't really need and give it away. Dan West's courage to share his simple idea has directly helped 4.5 million families around the world, and improved the lives of millions of others through pass-on animals.

If you know of modern-day heroes like Dan West who exemplify stepping into one's own greatness to be of service to others, I'd love to hear about them. Please post a comment on the "Hero" web site or email me.

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The opposite of greed 

I just returned from a brief trip back in time, touring the historic mining towns of Virginia City, NV and Bodie, CA. Both towns at one time had populations of 10-20,000 people. The former silver mining town of Virginia City has a population of around 1,000 now, almost all of whom cater to the tourist trade. The gold mining town of Bodie is a true ghost town. The only residents are the rangers who preserve it as a state historic park.

On the drive over the mountains, I was reading aloud to my sweetheart Dave from Silver Kings by Oscar Lewis. In short vignettes, Lewis describes the lives of the founders and early residents of the Comstock Lode region. Despite the fact that over 400 million dollars in silver and gold was taken from the area, most of the miners and businessmen died poor, many of them quite tragically -- shootings, suicides, hangings, starvation, exposure, accidents, and illness. In story after story, the cause of so much tragedy was clear: greed.

The boom years of mining in the Sierras provided ideal conditions for the making of heroes. At every turn, there were endless opportunities, heart-stopping adventures, few constraining boundaries, and many people in need. But instead of heroism, the legends that survive are of violence, avarice, and addiction. The Friends of Bodie tell us, "Bodie bustled with robbers, gunfighters and prostitutes... there were 65 saloons (in a town of 10,000)... The mixture of money, gold and alcohol would often prove fatal. It is said that there was a man killed every day in Bodie." Lewis says, "...for 20 years the Californians had skimmed the cream off the Comstock and, having made their pile, shook the dust of the silver towns from their boots and hurried westward with never a backward glance. Thus, while the new plutocrats indulged their taste for display by ornamenting San Francisco with a series of massive hotels and office buildings and residences, the bonanza towns received no part of the wealth they produced." When the boom was over, Nevada was left with 575 abandoned mining camps and ghost towns.

In my recipe for heroism, the first step is "evoking your higher self." The parallel in Buddhist teachings on the path to becoming an enlightened hero is the first paramita: cultivating compassion and generosity. To develop these qualities one must overcome their opposites: the negative emotions of self-absorption, craving, aggression, and possessiveness. Imagine what stories would have emerged from the Comstock if the silver kings had used their wealth and power to establish a culture of generosity, if they had shown compassion to those less fortunate, if they had discouraged aggression and addiction by contributing to the communities that created their fortunes.

It's easy to look at the tintype photos of men with long beards and longer coats and think that times have changed. And it's true that we have seen in recent years some compassionate leaders and corporate heroes. But every day's headlines show us that the world is still sadly lacking in compassion and generosity. Instead of bemoaning this, the place to begin is with ourselves. What can we do, each one of us, to cultivate our own compassion and generosity, and so evoke those qualities in the rest of the world?

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Not just waiting 

In my current formulation of the steps for becoming a hero, number two is "hearing the call." I'm planning to talk to people about their experience of hearing the call to a new vision, purpose, or mission in life -- what was it like, when did it happen, etc. But I'm also interested in what they did before hearing the call that created the conditions allowing them to hear it, recognize it, and let it in.

For example, here are some of the things that my clients and I have done in our own lives to open that kind of listening space:

journaling
meditation
writing poetry
prayer
taking improv classes
martial arts
working with a coach
drawing, painting or sculpture
inspirational reading
personal growth workshops
psychotherapy
shamanic journeying
pastoral counseling
personality assessment
leadership training
career counseling
dancing
hypnotherapy
ropes courses

All of these practices and strategies give you something to do. An important element of the hero's makeup is taking action somehow, not just waiting and hoping that inspiration will occur. But I also notice two prevailing themes throughout these activities: discovering who you are, and learning to express yourself authentically. In the waiting place, before you even know what direction your heroic journey will take, perhaps these are the hero's tasks.

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Is it transformation yet? 

It seems everywhere I go this week, people are talking about transformative moments in the middle of daily life. In James Redfield's Secret of Shambhala, I ran across this passage describing how to achieve enlightenment: "The legends say that first you calm yourself and look out on your surroundings. Most of us seldom look closely at the things around us. It's just stuff that takes a backseat to whatever is on our minds to get done. But we must remember that everything in the universe is alive with spiritual energy... All we do, when we open up to the divine, is raise our energy vibration and thus our perceptual ability so we can view the world the way it already is."

The September issue of Shambhala Sun magazine arrived in my mailbox and I opened it to an article by Aram Saroyan on the topic of "the ordinary experience that changes our lives -- if only we notice it." In the article, he mentions the Alan Watts book This Is It.

That title sort of says it all, if you allow "it" in. This is it -- not some other reality, or fantasy, or hoped-for future world. This is it -- really it is; enlightenment is right here and now; this is what it looks, feels, and tastes like. This is it -- what you've been looking for, the truth, the light, the answer.

Can the answer really be that simple? To deeply notice in all its complexity exactly what is already in front of you, and allow the experience of truly noticing to transform you?

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Heroes in Marin County 

I gave a talk on "How to Become a Hero" last night for the Marin Coaches Alliance. Sharing the "Hero" material in public for the first time was a rewarding experience, and I'm sure I learned as much as the audience did.

We opened with an exercise where I passed around photographs of some famous heroes of the past and present: Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr, Joan of Arc, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel, and Helen Keller. I asked the audience to name the positive qualities they thought these people embodied. They named many of the "essential qualities" I listed in my post of June 19th, but they added to the list substantially with a few surprising entries. Here are the new qualities the group suggested for the list:

passion
charisma
presence
humanitarianism
perseverance
optimism
certainty
intolerance for smallness
huge love
patience
integrity
wisdom
fierceness
curiosity
selflessness

I was particularly taken by the suggestions of "charisma" and "presence." Absolutely, these two qualities show up in the people I named. But it seems to me that unlike some of the other qualities on the list, they are a result of stepping into the hero's role, rather than existing beforehand in the proto-hero. Instead of being qualities one could deliberately work to develop on the path to becoming a hero -- like patience or compassion, for example -- I think that charisma and presence make their appearance when someone with a compelling vision allows his or her passion to show. Perhaps they are signals of heroism already at work, rather than requirements the hero-in-the-making should try to fulfill.

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In black and white 

I was with a group of people conversing on the topic of faith the other night, and my friend Jamie shared his perspective on a transformative moment in his life. Like many of us, he had been waiting for guidance from the white light of a spiritual experience. But when his guidance finally came, it was what he called a "black light experience."

Remember the posters those of us who are old enough all had on our walls in the 70's? Printed in neon colors on furry black, they depicted the emblem of our favorite band, counter culture hero, drug of choice, or beloved fantasy world. Under ordinary light, they were simply colorful. But turn on a black light, and the colors radiated and pulsed.

Jamie said his experience was just like that. "You've been sitting there surrounded by these things the whole time, then someone hands you a black light bulb. You screw it in and suddenly what's been right in front of you all along looks entirely different."

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