I wrote this in my December 2014 newsletter, in a section aptly titled, The Unschooling Journey in 2015:
I am very excited to dig more deeply into the unschooling journey next year on the blog!
For at least the last couple of years, I’ve been fascinated with Joseph Campbell’s idea of the hero’s journey. Each time I’ve come across bits and pieces of it in other contexts, I’ve been struck by how well it align with moments and feelings I recall from my own unschooling journey.
The idea of venturing forth from the common or conventional world, undertaking trials that help us more deeply understand ourselves and our lives, and returning from this mysterious adventure and reintegrating with society, seems ripe with parallels to the unschooling journey. I’m thinking that looking at the journey of learning about and choosing to live an unschooling lifestyle through the lens of the hero’s journey may reveal new insights and a deeper understanding of the process.
Though maybe not. LOL! That’s the adventure of discovery—you don’t know where your exploration may lead.
You don’t know where something might lead. And that’s okay! It doesn’t mean don’t start.
So, I began getting up early each morning while everyone else was still sleeping, sitting at the kitchen table with my journal and my copy of Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and taking notes. Chapter by chapter. Stage by stage. And then gathering my thoughts into blog posts.
I loved the boundaries of having an editorial calendar for the project: a new post each week. I also remember the most challenging section of the whole undertaking. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around Campbell’s stage seven, ‘The Meeting with the Goddess.’ It felt different than the stages that had come before. I had some leeway in my schedule, so I decided to go to the next stage, ‘Woman as Temptress,’ to see if there were clues that would help me put it in context. I still couldn’t put my finger on it! My worry grew as I scrambled ahead to stage nine, ‘Atonement with the Father,’ desperately looking for the thread that I believed would tie things together for me.
And finally, I found it! I realized that, through stage six, the ‘Road of Trials,’ we had gained a good sense of how day-to-day, hands-on unschooling works and these next stages were tackling the more spiritual, or bigger picture, aspect of the journey—our inner work. Now we were learning to accept the value of all our experiences, to accept ourselves and our human nature, and to accept the people around us where they are on their own journey. The thread was a growing understanding and acceptance of what it means to be human.
~ pages from my journal ~
Once I hit publish on the final post of the series on June 29, 2015, I wanted to leave things to settle out for a while. If the point of the blog series was to satisfy my curiosity around unschooling through the lens of the hero’s journey, it had kinda failed. What it had actually done was fan the flames! I wanted more, but I wasn’t sure what was next. I knew my subconscious needed some time and space to play, so I kept busy with other things and waited to see what bubbled up.
Eventually, the urge to turn the series into a book arose. But I didn’t just want to publish what I’d already written; that wouldn’t satisfy my thirst for more. But how? What “more?” It occurred to me that one of the things I loved so much about The Hero with a Thousand Faces was all the stories, myths, and legends that Campbell used to illustrate the different stages. But that felt super-intimidating to me! Researching a wide range of fiction stories to find those whose connections to the unschooling journey felt enlightening? That felt like I’d be stretching myself well beyond my non-fiction writing comfort zone.
I sat with that for a while, reminding myself that stretching inspires learning and growth. And that if I didn’t like the end product, I didn’t have to publish it. That helped.
So, I started researching. And reading stories. Lots of stories. I slowly began to make progress.
One of the books that inspired me to tackle a book around the hero’s journey was Christopher Vogler’s now classic, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. The story goes that, in 1985, Christopher, a story analyst at Disney, wrote a seven-page memo describing Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey through the lens of storytelling for movies. It’s reach grew, from Disney to Hollywood, and he eventually expanded it into a book which was published in 1992. One of the things I found interesting was that Vogler distilled Campbell’s seventeen stages into twelve stages. I understood his amendments, but when it came to my own work, I always felt, ‘Who am I to fiddle with Joseph Campbell’s brilliant work?’
Until May 2016. Something shifted. As I talk about in The Unschooling Journey book, it was probably sparked by something ordinary, but, in that particular moment, it made a new connection. I felt empowered to take ownership of my work in a new way. I saw where strictly sticking to Campbell’s structure was weakening my narrative around the unschooling journey and I was reminded again that the hero has a thousand faces. I realized I would be adding real value by tweaking the structure to more closely align with the unschooling journey experience. I’d finally found my voice!
Here’s what happened:
|The Hero with a Thousand Faces||The Unschooling Journey|
|DEPARTURE, SEPARATION||CHOOSING UNSCHOOLING|
|The Call to Adventure||The Call to Unschooling|
|Refusal of the Call||Refusing the Call|
|Supernatural Aid||Finding Our Guides|
|Crossing of the First Threshold||Crossing the Threshold to Unschooling|
|Belly of the Whale||Embracing Beginner’s Mind|
|DESCENT, INITIATION, PENETRATION||DESCHOOLING|
|Road of Trials||Challenging Our Beliefs about Learning|
|Shifting from Control to Connection|
|Meeting with the Goddess||Accepting the Value of All Experiences|
|Woman as Temptress||Accepting Our Nature|
|Atonement with the Father||Accepting Others Where They Are|
|Apotheosis||Cultivating Kindness and Compassion|
|The Ultimate Boon||Unschooling with Confidence and Grace|
|Refusal of the Return||The Trek Back|
|The Magic Flight|
|Rescue from Without|
|Crossing of the Return Threshold||Crossing the Return Threshold|
|Master of Two Worlds||Being Ourselves in the World|
|Freedom to Live||The Flow of Our Unschooling Lives|
Wow! What a difference those seemingly small tweaks made!
That summer, I played with this next version of the book. Figuring out how to break the ‘Road of Trials’ chapter apart and how to combine the first few ‘Return’ chapters together. More writing and editing. Still researching and reading stories.
What else happened that summer? I discovered Hema Bharadwaj’s art! She attended our first in-person Childhood Redefined Unschooling Summit and while Anne Ohman and I were speaking and sharing, Hema was intently listening and drawing. By the end of the weekend event, we were all admiring the art in her notebook. After returning home, she decided to make prints! Maybe because a bunch of us wouldn’t stop asking. I now have two of her beautiful Summit-inspired prints hanging in my home. (Hema shares about the experience here.)
More subconscious bubbling, and when Hema attended our second Summit, in October 2016, I shared my newborn thoughts around the possibility of her illustrating the book. Was she interested? Yes! So, after we returned home, I sent the in-progress manuscript to her to look at. As Hema mentioned in our podcast conversation, I didn’t give her a lot of direction—I wanted to see what bubbled up for her. Here’s how she described it:
When I read your book, I found it so rich and I was like, “Oh my goodness, she has visually made this book so rich, what am I going to bring to this? I cannot possibly add to it.” And short of illustrating the actual stories and my theological inspiration and the hero’s path itself, I was wondering what would come to me. I really wondered for a little while. And I would sketch and doodle and then, all of a sudden, it became clearer to me that I am a hero right here.
So is Ravi, so are my kids; we are heroes of our path. What does that journey feel like to us? And so, it became my own, and then I was like, “Wait a second, this is becoming clearer.” So, I kind of followed my feelings towards these illustrations and they came from that space. I was not sure whether it would match your vision and I was so thrilled when you felt the same.
I was thrilled too!
So now it’s well into 2017 and I’m working on the manuscript with my editor and Hema’s working away on her illustrations. My subconscious is marinating in thoughts like, ‘this isn’t a “how to” book,’ and ‘no two journeys are exactly alike.’ I knew I wanted us—writer and reader—to take this journey together.
I think it was around this point that I began envisioning the print edition of the book as a journal—with Hema’s illustrations as colouring pages, lined pages for journaling, and some blank pages for doodling. Inspiration grew as I recalled my family’s love for the book, Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons. It’s a beautifully illustrated book presented as the journal of famed dragonologist, Dr Ernest Drake, containing all the knowledge he managed to gather about these rare and secretive beasts.
It would mean that each print copy of The Unschooling Journey would be, with its scribbled notes and doodles, a one-of-a-kind journal of its hero. YOU. A collection of the unique combination of a-ha moments and insights that have been most meaningful to you on your personal unschooling journey. It would be a place for you to go when fear or doubt creeps back, reminding you of the really important stuff you already know.
That thought still gives me goosebumps! It’s been a long time in the making, but I’m really proud of this book. And I’ve really enjoyed the unexpected but delightful twists and turns the journey has taken along the way.
Here’s how I summed up the last three years in the book:
What I’ve discovered through this project is that, while the book is (finally) done, my fascination with the unschooling journey is as strong as ever. As is so often the case, when our story begins, what we want and what we need are two very different things. When I began my unschooling journey, what I wanted was to learn how to create an unschooling learning environment for my children that would replace school. What I needed was to learn and grow as a person so I could create a fulfilling life that included my children as equal and whole human beings.
It turns out that the essence of the hero’s journey is about the exploration of what it means to be human.
It’s important that the journeys we chose to take feel meaningful to us. Those who undertake a journey from a sense of obligation will mostly be going through the motions. When we freely choose our path, our sense of self grows as we move forward. We discover that no experience is a waste of our time. That the challenges, the crises, and the transitions we find ourselves navigating all have value as we process and integrate them into our understanding of ourselves, our children, and our world.
Joseph Campbell talks about finding your bliss and following it. Not because that is what will be easy, but because that is what will be meaningful to you. Which means you will tenaciously fight your way through the tricksters, the monsters, and the many other obstacles you’ll encounter on the journey to get to the kindness, compassion, and grace that lies ahead on your path.
The unschooling journey is a splendid example of a hero’s journey that can be deeply meaningful for those who choose to embrace it.
Are you ready to embrace your unschooling journey? I hope so!
And if you’d like my company, pick up a print copy of The Unschooling Journey and make it your own. 🙂
Want to learn more?
Read an excerpt from the the book: Leaving the Ordinary World Behind
Listen to my podcast conversation with Hema Bharadwaj, the book’s illustrator.