Depression and the Call to Adventure

By Jason E. Smith

The Hero’s Journey

From the perspective of Jungian Psychology, myths and fairy tales are images of typical psychological experiences presented in story form. As Joseph Campbell demonstrated in his seminal book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the mythological motif of the hero’s journey is one of the most ubiquitous themes in mythology.

The journey of the hero is a journey to discover the deeper sources of life, to find renewal and a more meaningful engagement with life. It is the path of individuation in which the individual becomes aligned with the Self. “In a way,” says Jungian analyst Marie Louise von Franz, “the hero personifies the Self…the unified personality with all its strength.”

According to von Franz, stories about the hero are meant to inspire and encourage us:

“Now this unified personality is not what we are, but we identify with it when we listen to hero stories, to comfort and strengthen ourselves for the things we cannot do without help.”

The Call To Adventure

Joseph Campbell provides this understanding of the experience of hero’s call to adventure:

“Whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration — a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.”

woodsThe journey of the hero begins with a call. Something in the life of the individual feels in need of a change.

It may be a job, a relationship, or a system of belief — some aspect of life that once felt meaningful, but no longer seems to provide sustenance for living.

For example, you may find that one day you look up from your desk at work, see all the activity taking place around you, and ask yourself that most dangerous of questions: Why?

“Why am I doing this? What’s it all for? Is this all my life is about?”

When you hear yourself asking these questions, you are hearing the call.

Stumbling Upon The Call

It may not always be clear what the call to adventure is leading toward. In fact, the goal is usually unknown. All that is known is that where you are is not where you want to be. And so a journey is needed.

Many of us, I suspect, imagine that the call comes in the form of a sudden revelation. Like Moses, we will hear the voice of God speaking to us from the burning bush and telling us what we need to do next. But more often than not it is not so clear.

Joseph Campbell teaches that the call to adventure is frequently something we stumble upon by accident. It may, in fact, appear in the form of an accident, a mere chance, or a “blunder.”

Blunders “are ripples on the surface of life, produced by unsuspected springs. And these may be very deep – as deep as the soul itself. The blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny.”

The Jungian psychoanalyst, Aldo Carotenuto, in a book titled, The Call of the Daimon, writes of how the call usually begins in a feeling of being lost, what he calls an experience of the “shadows.”

 “A sensation of emptiness, that is, of loss and of something missing, often accompanies the shadows…It is important, however, to emphasize how the sensation of shadows is a necessary premise if the light of a meaning is to begin to shine, if something with meaning is to reveal itself.”

Depression as a Calling

tunnelGiven these reflections, is it possible to see in the experience of depression the first stirrings of our own call to adventure? The symptoms of depression, including feelings of hopelessness, loss of energy, loss of interest in one’s usual activities, and a pervasive sad mood are all also qualities of Carotenuto’s experience of the “shadows.” They may be signs that, as Joseph Campbell says, “the familiar life horizon has been outgrown.”

It is a natural response when confronted with such difficult feelings to wish, as many of my clients initially do, to “return to normal.” At the same time many models of therapy approach depression with the goal of “returning to a previous level of functioning.”

But sometimes there is no normal to return to.

Sometimes the “old normal” must be left behind and the journey to a new mode of living undertaken. The darkness of depression may be a signal that our life has reached a turning point and nothing will resolve our emptiness but to risk a new adventure.

As Aldo Carotenuto teaches us, sometimes the darkness is needed if we are to discover the light:

“A light cannot help but shine in the darkness. One could not speak of light and darkness if they were not complementary realities. The darkness that keeps us from proceeding along our way is the same that sooner or later allows a torch to shine in the distance.”

Another call to adventure on Beyond Meds: A heroines journey  See also: there is no such thing as a monolithic state called depression

jasonJason E. Smith is the founder of Heartsfire Counseling. As a Jungian psychotherapist, career counselor, and workshop leader he helps people discover the power of their authentic inner voice and to find ways to realize it in their lives. You can read Jason’s blog and find out more about his services at

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