Updated: Jan 20, 2021
The third step on the hero’s journey is critical; it could be seen as do or die - or even you’re dead, now do (as it were on the river Styx). This is the place where the hero is headed, whether she likes it, wants to, or not.
To review, we began in the Ordinary World, we heard the Call to Adventure and now we meet the guardian of the threshold and, if we’re lucky, a mentor. In fictional terms, particularly in films, these things become quite overt in order to mark the journey clearly (e.g. the Tusken Raiders as guardians and Obi Wan Kenobi as a mentor for Luke in Star Wars). In one’s own personal journey, the guardian and mentor may be much more difficult to identify. They may, in fact, be internal - e.g. “voices in our heads”. As many have experienced, the voices we hear can be positive and supportive (mentors) or negative and destructive (guardians).
In improv, this is important to recognize as we consider where to go at the beginning of an exercise. For example, it may feel very strange at first to be asked to share an emotional reply based on an emotional reply with a word in the middle that has no context. In the game of “fish ladder”, this is exactly what we do. In a two person setup, one player chooses to go first. The second player chooses the word (e.g. “peanut”). The first says that word with an emotional intent (e.g. joy) at a level one - very little joy. The second player repeats that word at the next highest level of emotion (level two) - effectively saying “yes, and” to the first player’s offer. The first player says the word again, at a slightly higher level of emotion. Back and forth it goes, with the players heightening emotion until they get to a level 10. At that point, they come back down, one level at a time until they reach a level one.
Our players enjoyed the simplicity of the game - which is key in teaching a new endeavor that encourages people to stop thinking and start feeling. One pair reported feeling emotionally relaxed afterward - showing the positive effect of emotional expression - and, perhaps, how guarded many people are with their choices in their everyday lives.
You may have heard, “the hardest step in a journey is the first one”. So it goes with crossing the threshold. Any steps up to this point have been within the Ordinary World. They may have felt safe or at least familiar. It is now time to face the unknown, trust that you have enough within you to face the Guardian(s) and know that a Mentor will appear when you are ready.