The Inner Journey

Posted by: Hailing Huang on June 6, 2013 3:38 pm

If the inner journey is the fundamental element of the spiritual path,  how  then  do we venture upon a path that can evoke the life force within us?  The world has dramatically changed from what it was fifty years ago, or five hundred years ago, however, the inward journey, the path toward maturity remains the same. By studying, and learning from these old wisdom teachings, we can acknowledge the paths of those heroes, the kinds of life quests they faced, how they felt when they faced these cross roads.  What was the life force that helped them overcome obstacles and achieve their goals? Acknowledging and learning from the old stories can provide us with a road map for our life journey. Embracing the greatness is the first step of the spiritual journey; in order for transformation to take place.

If we picture ourselves as a traveler, then to ensure that we reach our desired destination there are three essential tools that we need to gather together before embarking on the journey.  First, obtaining a road map; second, understanding the roadblocks and the third is finding a lodge for the traveler to rest.  A traveler of an inner journey requires these same tools.  

How do we get this map for our inner journey?  I think it can be discovered, and defined through your iconic figure. First, to identify your hero, ask yourself the question: who is my hero? Then study and clarify your hero’s journey.  Second, what are the roadblocks on the inward journey? They can be interpreted as challenges, temptations, and barriers that may cross your path. Furthermore, it should include the aids that the traveler or hero received and the resources they relied on. These challenges and barriers function like traffic signals, such as red, yellow or green lights which lead us to overcoming the barriers and to pass through the threshold of each of the psychological stages.

Third, just as the traveler needs a place to rest, on the inward journey we need to define our place of lodging, and this place can be defined as – a personal sacred place, where you can relax, can connect with the life source, your heart.  It is a place where you can reflect on who you are, what you have done, and where you want to go. It is the centre from which the peace, life force, or energy flows.

The Road Map: A Hero’s Journey

When we regard life as a journey, and ourselves as the traveler, before departure, we ask: What is our destination?   What is the road map? Or which path should we take?  And how do we embark on this journey?  The answers be can found in the thoughts of wisest, and spiritually advanced ancestral scholars. Although we live in a different time, are from different ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, and have different technologies than our ancestors, nevertheless, we share the same heart space.  It is the same energy or life force that has flowed through their bodies that flows through ours. We all follow a very similar path, in terms of our psychological development, from the state of infantile ego to bringing forth a mature adult; from dependent, to independent and then the interdependent; from the cradle to the grave.

Joseph Campbell, a modern mythologist, well known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion, discovered similar commonalities among the motifs, and myths  that appear in the West and the East:  he explains that the human psyche is essentially the same all over the world, the psyche is the inward experience of the human body, which is essentially the same in all human beings, with the same organs, the same instincts, the same impulses, the same conflicts, the same fears (Campbell, p.60). Therefore, our task is to acknowledge those forces and live with them.

Dr Wayne Dyer (1998) also pondered the question: what would those wise teachers and spiritual leaders want us to know? He further noted that in order to deepen our inner spiritual change, we need to not only know wisdom but also be able to live in those wisdoms (1998). In his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell generates a hero’s journey formula which consists of, the departure, the initiation, and the return.

The departure implies that the hero   hears the call to adventure, finding aid from the supernatural that will lead him, enable him to cross the first threshold, and enter the Belly of the Whale – the first step of taking on the mission. The second stage is  referred to as the  “Initiation”; it indicates that the hero embarks on the journey and encounters the road of trials, a journey of tests, and meeting with the Goddess, again facing challenges and obtaining sources of aid. The hero then passes the second stage of threshold.

The third stage is the return journey, which indicates that the hero will come back and share what he had achieved with his communities. It is at this stage that the hero becomes the master of the two worlds- the conventional world and the spiritual world. He has crossed the returning threshold, transformed and transcendent.  Campbell (1942) describes this hero’s path as one of the archetypal mythic hero’s patterns whose life has been replicated by many people from different time and places.

As travelers, keeping this model in mind, we will find our hero’s path. It Identifies and verifies our road map.  Significant questions to ask ourselves are: what kind of path, what stages has this hero been through? What is his/her destiny? The hero’s journey becomes our road map that provides us with a concept of the territory, and direction to the journey. This path is a scientific approach to the quest of the life journey; it starts with acquiring knowledge, and includes objective observation.

Road Blocks:  Temptations, Fears, Barriers and Aids

As we read the hero’s stories, we see that heroes do not just simply follow the steps of the path and then achieve the goal and reach their destiny. On the road they encounter numerous challenges, temptations, and barriers. They also receive aids from different sources, and also discover and cultivate strengths of their own along this journey. Those moments could be understood as the roadblocks of their journey, and these roadblocks can become our signal lights, red, green or yellow. If we apply the signals accordingly, they will guide us through the traffic and make our path much easier and quicker. They show us how to respond to certain crises of disappointment or delight, failure or success.

Let us explore two hero’s journeys, and get a glimpse of the challenges they entail. The first story is about Jesus:  when Jesus spent forty days in the desert, he underwent three temptations. The first is the economic temptation, the second is the political temptation, and the third is the spiritual inflation. At first, the Devil invites Jesus “You look hungry; why not change the stones to bread”. For the second temptation, Jesus is taken to the top of a mountain and shown the nation of the world and the Devil says to him: “Bow down to me, then you can control all these.”  Finally, the Devil says: “You are so spiritual, let’s go up to the top of Herod’s temple and let me see you cast yourself down, and let God bear you up”. This is what is known as spiritual inflation (Campbell, 1991). In the end, Jesus overcomes these three temptations and crosses the second threshold.  

The Buddha, too, goes into the forest and undergoes three temptations. The first is of lust, the second of fear and the third of submission to public opinion or doing as he is told.  In the first temptation, the Lord of Lust displays his three beautiful daughters before the Buddha, their name are Desire, Fulfillment, and Regrets, representing the future, present and past. Then the Lord of Lust turns himself into the Lord of Death and flings weapons at the Buddha. Finally, the lord of lust and death transformed himself into the Lord of Social Duty and argues,” Young man, don’t you know what there is to be done today (Campbell, 1991)?”.  In the end, the Buddha overcomes the three temptations and crosses the second threshold, and that night the Buddha achieved enlightenment.

These three temptations of Christ, and of the Buddha, their journey and barriers on the road are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago. The point is that the messages of the great teachers such as – Moses, the Buddha, Christ, Muhammad – may differ depending on their situations, yet their visionary journeys are much the same. However, it does not mean that all of these hero’s journeys, can be directly or literally implanted in today’s society, or someone’s specific context.

The development and changes in society, the technology, and human rights, social, or political movements do require us to revisit, and reinterpret some of the stories. For example, in Christianity, there are stories about creation, of virgin births, incarnations, death and resurrection, second comings, and judgment days. Yet we wonder, what do these stories tell us about today? Buddhism talks about the four noble truths, karma, interdependent origination, the five aggregates, the three universal characteristics. Again we have to ask- how do we apply those traditions and teachings to our current specific situation?   Given that society has changed, the concepts of human relations have changed, these stories and traditions need to be revitalized, re-interpreted into today’s specific contexts and concepts, so that we are able to apply them. To revitalize the tradition is a kind of hero’s deed as well. The hero is the person who can reinterpret the tradition and make it valid as a living experience.

The  Lodging- Personal  Sacred Place

The word “sacred” stems from Latin, it means to make holy that which is set apart from the ordinary world. Here, I would take the sacred to be a personal sacred place, which functions as a resting space; as a traveler, we not only need physical rest, we also need a mental break. The sacred place is a psychological lodge for us.  It could be a place where the psychological transformation occurs. In more detail:  the sacred place serves three functions: it is where we get in touch with self, renew our energy, and reflect upon our knowledge.

First, it is a place for resting where we can get in touch with ourselves, where we can simply put aside our social duties of the day, where we can listen to our heart, and be the first witness of our own feelings.  Furthermore,   it is the place where we can verify and validate those feelings.

As per self psychology’s theory, we all need the function of mirroring, which means our voice needs to be heard; our stores need to be told. And we can be both the listener and our own closest friend.  Especially when no one else is around to listen to our stories, we become our story teller and the audience. It is the conversation and relationship between us and our hearts.  It is the place to confirm and reward ourselves psychologically for each increment of progress, and achievement, or effort we have made along the way. This is an inward journey; the heart will tell us its story when we create the space and time and readiness to hear.

Second, the sacred place is the center where you can renew your energy. It functions as a Cathedral, Temple,   or a retreat centre – a personal sacred place where everyone defines it according to their own beliefs, or value system.   Just imagine: when you walk into a cathedral during a day of busy work to have a break, suddenly you realize the silence, the sight of the Cross take you into different realm. It is a different atmosphere from the outside world, you feel peace, stillness, may be love. You can almost sense there is a different energy level here then when you come out of the cathedral, with the bright lights, and the sound of the busy traffic, suddenly, you realize that stillness and that energy are gone. It is the same experience for the Buddhist practitioner coming back from the retreat, the first week after is the most delightful period of time  when one senses that the Buddha is within , one is able to act, think, and feel like a Buddha. However, after a week or two, the chaos returns, the energy level drops, the mind is cluttered with ten thousand items on the agenda.  

As modern people, we do not have the luxury to go into the sacred place when we need to; in order to hold that tranquil feeling, can we create a temple in our heart. Every day, at certain times, stay in that place, imagining, feeling ourselves in the temple, cathedral or retreat center. From the psychological perspective, such an experiment is called “visioning”.

Third, a sacred place is also a space for reflection.  It is within the sacred place that we can verify the truth. As indicated before, having the map and knowing the blocks are not enough. The wisdom teachings have to be verified by our personal experience. This point is made very clearly by the Buddha in his advice to the Kalama’s: the Buddha said, not to accept anything merely on the basis of purported authority, or because it is   contained in a sacred text, or on the basis of common opinion, nor because it seems reasonable, nor because of reverence for a teacher (Santina, 1997).  By verifying the knowledge, teachings through our personal experience, we are able to lead an authentic life, and live in our own skin. A sacred place is where you can reflect simply experiencing and bringing forth what you are and what you might be. It becomes the centre of the transformation.

Hailing Huang, MA
Canadian Certified Counsellor

Works Cited


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Geoffrey Simmins, Sacred Spaces and Sacred Places .Retreat on Feb 08 from:


*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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