Elizabeth Lesser
The transformational journey is a voyage with a hundred different names: the Odyssey, the Grail quest, the great initiation, the death and rebirth process, the supreme battle, the dark night of the soul, the hero's journey. All of these names describe the process of surrendering to a time of great difficulty, allowing the pain to break us open and then being reborn—stronger, wiser, kinder. Every religion includes in its texts stories of descent and rebirth. From Jonah in the whale to Jesus on the cross, and from the Hindu hero Arjuna on the battlefield to the prince Siddhartha leaving the castle in order to become the Buddha, the great ones have gone before us on this journey.

In a conversation between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, who was the 20th century's greatest interpreter of myths, Campbell talked about the hero's journey: "A legendary hero is usually the founder of something—the founder of a new age, the founder of a new religion, the founder of a new city, the founder of a new way of life."

In response, Moyers said to Campbell, "But doesn't this leave all the rest of us ordinary mortals back on shore?"

"I don't think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal," Campbell answered. "I always feel uncomfortable when people speak about ordinary mortals because I've never met an ordinary man, woman or child. ... You might say that the founder of a life—your life or mine, if we live our own lives, instead of imitating everybody else's life—comes from a quest as well."

I have my own name for the quest. I call it the Phoenix Process—in honor of the mythic bird with golden plumage whose story has been told throughout the ages. The Egyptians called the bird the Phoenix and believed that every 500 years the Phoenix bird renewed his quest for his true self. Knowing that a new way could only be found with the death of his worn-out habits, defenses and beliefs, the Phoenix built a pyre of cinnamon and myrrh, sat in the flames and burned to death. Then he rose from the ashes as a new being—a strange amalgam of who he had been before and who he had become. A new bird, yet ever more himself; changed, and at the same time, the eternal Phoenix.

3 rules of the Phoenix Process


Next Story