As I wrote about in my book The Anatomy of a Calling, waking up to your calling is what Joseph Campbell would call a “hero’s journey.” If you’re like I was, back when I was a doctor in the hospital, you may have spent many years slogging through life in the Ordinary World, feeling lost, confused, depressed, and out of touch with your soul. Then one day, something inside of you sparks, and you hear the Call to Adventure. Of course, like most heroes, you’re likely to Refuse The Call because it sounds crazy, scary, and dangerously risky. But that’s when you’ll Meet The Magical Mentor, who empowers you with amulets, wisdom, and magical tools so you have the courage to finally embark upon The Road of Trials. Things won’t always go as planned on The Road of Trials, and the journey will get downright hairy when you approach the Ordeal in the Innermost Cave. But it will be worth the journey into the shadows of darkness, because there in that dark place, you will Find the Holy Grail, which you will be tempted to keep for yourself. But that’s not what heroes do. They share the hard-won holy grail, taking it back to those who still need it in the Ordinary World.
When I was facing the hardest part of my own hero’s journey, I didn’t realize that what I was going through was a well-understood initiation, one that every hero must go through in order to fully embrace and step into one’s calling. That’s why I wrote The Anatomy of a Calling, as a field manual for others who are on the path to becoming who you must.
Need some guidance on your journey? Here are a few essential tools that will help guide your decisions along the path of your hero’s journey.
1. Be aware that you have a choice.
The first step is to realize when you’re making a choice! When I felt like the medical system was forcing me to see forty patients a day, I felt helpless and victimized. But I was making a choice – choosing security over what was true for my soul. When you feel like you still have a choice, you reclaim your power. Recognize that you’re in choice and that you can always change your choice.
2. Question your choice.
If you’ve been making a choice (consciously or unconsciously) to do something that doesn’t feel good, be sure to inquire within yourself whether you wish to continue to make the same choice. When I realized I had a choice whether I saw forty patients each day, that choice became conscious, and it hurt to keep choosing to violate my soul’s integrity. When you question your choice, you can simply be curious. Stay open. Don’t judge yourself or beat yourself up. Notice your thoughts. Pay attention to what hurts and what feels good. Don’t attach to even finding an answer. Just be curious.
3. Notice when fear is taking the lead.
The cognitive mind always wants to be in control. It wants to weigh in, vacillate, doubt, argue, make lists of pros and cons, and, most of all, avoid uncertainty and loss at all costs. But the part of the mind that is always grasping at what it wants and resisting what it doesn’t want is really just scared. If you’re not aware that fear is making your decisions, you’ll keep looking to your mind to analyze your decision-making. Your mind will tend to choose what it deems certain and secure, even at the expense of your health, happiness, life purpose, relationships, and financial potential. Only by gently recognizing that the small, scared part of you is taking the wheel in your decision-making can you loosen the grasp of fear. This doesn’t mean the mind can’t serve a useful role in filing your taxes. But when it comes to matters of the soul or the heart, the mind needs to take a back seat.
4. Surrender your decision.
When you decide to let your soul make your decisions, you’ll likely have to drag your small, scared self with you, kicking and screaming. Your Small Self does not trust that we live in a friendly universe where the soul can make even better decisions. It can help to practice the art of spiritual surrender. In my new book The Anatomy of a Calling, I tell the magical story of how meeting Tosha Silver changed my life, and how she handed me this holy grail on my hero’s journey. (Bless you Tosha!) When you surrender your decision to the Divine and ask the highest part of you to help you make your decision, your Small Self can relax and your soul can take the wheel.
5. Ask for help.
Once you’ve surrendered your decision to Something Larger than your Small Self, ask for help. I imagine that on the other side of the veil between the human world and the spirit world, an army of unemployed spirit guides are just lolling around, waiting for us to ask for help, as if they’re not allowed to guide us until we make the request. Something magical happens in the wake of the request. It’s as if spiritual guidance leaps up and smacks us in the noggin sometimes! Sometimes we need human help, too. A good therapist, life coach, or spiritual counselor may be able to hold up a mirror for you and skillfully guide you to the decision that already lies within you.
6. Be present and look for signs.
Spiritual guidance is everywhere, but often we miss it, because we’re not paying attention. Once you’ve surrendered a decision and asked for help, be on the lookout for signs. Look for synchronicities, billboards with messages, song lyrics with answers, unexpected emails, and people with messages for you. I’ve even gotten answers from bumper stickers or license plates!
7. Trust your intuition
Intuition comes in many ways. Some people just know. Some people get visions. Some people hear a little voice in their ear. Intuition has a flavor to it, and you start recognizing it. Like, “Wow, this tastes like mint.” Once you learn how intuition shows up for you, and once you’ve started collecting evidence that things go well when you follow your intuition, you’ll recognize it more easily and trust it more.
8. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Your body is a compass that steers you toward that which is aligned with your soul and guides you against that which is out of alignment. Many people in our culture are completely disconnected from the body. But you can learn to listen to your body, even if you’re out of practice. When you’re trying to make a decision, start noticing how your body feels when you think about Option A. How does it feel when you visualize choosing Option B? Your body’s “Hell no” will often feel like gripping in your solar plexus. A “Yes” often feels like openness, especially in the chest. Sometimes a choice will feel scary, so you might be confused by butterflies. But are they the butterflies of excitement or the flutterings of dread?
9. Look for answers in dreams.
Often, your unconscious knows the right decision, even if your conscious mind feels confused. Pay attention to your dreams. Sometimes clear answers arrive in the veil of Dreamtime.
10. Notice what hurts.
As physical therapist Val Zajicek told me, PAIN signals Pay Attention Inside Now. If something hurts, it’s trying to send you a message, and this can aid your decision-making. Back when I was trying to decide whether to quit my job, I was in a lot of emotional and physical pain, but I didn’t trust the pain. How could I quit my job? How would I pay the bills? Ultimately, those things become less important when the pain of violating your soul’s integrity becomes too great. People often ask me how you know when it’s time to take a leap of faith.
When the pain of staying put exceeds the fear of the unknown, it’s time to leap. @Lissarankin (Click to Tweet!)
Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine and The Fear Cure, is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and spiritual seeker. Passionate about what makes people optimally healthy and what predisposes them to illness, she is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual; it also heals the collective. As she became aware of how fear dominates modern culture and how such fear predisposes us not only to unhappiness but to disease, she began researching ways to befriend fear so we can let it heal and liberate us, opening us up to greater compassion, not just for others, but for ourselves. Lissa has starred in two PBS specials and also leads spirituality workshops, both online, as well as at retreat centers like Esalen, Kripalu, and Omega. When doing what she can to sprinkle pixie dust on a fear-based culture, Lissa loves to hike, ski, and dance. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her daughter. Read her blog and learn more at LissaRankin.com.