Connecting to the Hero’s Journey
Mark [0:00] I’d like to introduce Michael Lauria to the World Heart of Connection podcast. I’m your host, Mark Randall. Michael is a men’s coach living in Melbourne and I’ve known Michael for quite some time. He is the author of a book called “Forging Excalibur.” He holds a 12 month Hero’s Journey Program. Welcome, Michael.
Michael [0:17] Thank you, Mike. It’s a pleasure. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?
Mark [0:20] Nearly 9- or 10-years mate.
Michael [0:22] Yeah, absolutely.
Mark [0:24] It’s a small world really?
Reconnection Through Social Media
Michael [0:27] Yeah, it is, isn’t it? It’s interesting how we connected again. This thing called social media is very powerful, isn’t it? Because we now live in different cities altogether, compared to where we lived before. Yes, it’s amazing that we’ve reconnected.
Mark [0:48] You know that six degrees of separation. There’s so much to it, that six degrees of separation and I think this is one of those moments of that 6 degrees of separation. Michael, do you want to share with the audience a little bit about your book “Forging Excalibur.”
Michael [1:09] Yes, sure no worries.
Mark [1:13] And your connection ~ how did your connection to the book come about?
Connection to My Book ‘Forging Excalibur’
Michael [1:19] So, when, when I first reached out to you – probably over a decade ago now. That was whilst I was going through a divorce and it was a very difficult divorce with a couple of children. And there was a period where I didn’t get to see them for about 18 months or so. That led me down a path of anxiety and depression and I almost took my own life one morning. So, coming from that place, to where I am now has been a long journey. I like to call it the Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. We’ve all heard about that. The journey has been one of those that a lot of men go. Where you face some deep, dark adversity. And then there’s a challenge that issued. To step into that in some way and make a story out of that challenge and that adversity. And be a victim of circumstance or the other choice is to step out of it, learn from the experience, grow from the experience, and then move on.
Contributing to Other Men’s Healing
And hopefully with some purpose and contribute towards others, as a result of the adversity that you’ve gone through. Then contribute towards others to help them through similar things. Because I’m a big believer in the fact that our greatest adversity is also our greatest strength if we choose for it to be. We can learn a lot from those lessons, which we can then go on and help others through their adversity as well. Hopefully quicker and better than we got through ours. And so that really led me on this path. I then had this very deep desire once I opened my eyes and looked at my life. with different eyes, after almost taking my own life, I started to realise who I’d become.
Becoming a Better Version of Myself
It was very different from who I would want to have become. And so, I chose the path towards where I am now. Which is really embodying a version of myself, that could be a good role model for my children. Because, of course, I came to the realisation that everything is transitory. So, whilst I wasn’t seeing my children then, I knew that at some point, I would. And I’d have to be a better version of myself when that time came. So, I could be a better role model for them. I’ve got a son and a daughter from that relationship. So, they’re now 22 and 18 years old. I’m very glad that I went on that journey for myself and for them. The future version of myself from then that I’ve created is so much different. That journey started with me, coming to that realisation. Then I thought okay cool, I want to go and have help other people, other men through a similar situation. I went off and I got my counselling diploma and then over the years, I started facilitating men’s groups, both where I was living and in Melbourne as well. This just rolled and evolved into life now where I coach men through a 12-month Hero’s Journey programme.
My Book ~ “Forging Excalibur”
Michael [4:24] I’ve written a book last year, which you mentioned “Forging Excalibur,” but the inspiration behind that was I wanted to connect with men in a way that would resonate with them. Because over the years, what I found was that men weren’t really all that eager to sort of step up and say, “Hey, I’m struggling here, and I might need some help.” The odd guy did, the odd guy does step up and say that. But most, of the time, they choose to stay in pain, rather than step into empowerment, and they live a life that is very disempowering. It is without purpose; they really don’t know what they value. They ruin relationships, etc, etc. And so, they live life very unconsciously. So, my objective for this book was to really create a symbol, which was recognisable, which people could look at and go, “oh yeah, I know, Excalibur and that’s a cool cover, and it’s for men, I want to read that. In the pages of really, I’ve really created an experiential journey for people, for men, where they can read this book, do some exercises, and through the book as well. It’s really a journey of deep self-reflection and deep self-awareness, which is a journey that most men don’t go on. The purpose of the book was really to create something that resonates that was a strong symbol, which resonates with men so that they would just step into something, and it seems to have worked.
Can Men be Stuck in Pain?
Mark [5:51] So, what do you believe keeps men connected to their pain?
Michael [5:56] I think it’s difficult for men to acknowledge that they’re struggling and suffering. Because that flies in the face of everything that we’re told. We’re supposed to be as men, which is stoic and resilient to a point where we just suppress and deny ourselves. I think there’s that part of it and I also think that not only is the stigma out there in society, but that’s also a sign of weakness. But also, there are also these communities out there, which I believe are quite toxic to men. Where men get together, and they gather in what I call circles of pain. I call them circles of pain and they’re good for a period. They’re good for men to express feelings in and get out from the inside, what’s in there and what’s causing them pain.
Men Connected to Circles of Pain
Michael [6:50] But then what I find is they stay there because they hang around and they continue to hang out with the same kind of people who are in the same kind of pain. They then all kind of validate each other and continue to enable this environment. And there’s really nothing for them to step out of because I feel very comfortable and safe and secure, and held and heard in these environments. That just continues to perpetuate the story and to perpetuate these feelings of being a victim. There’s a couple of factors here and it’s probably a lot of other things too. I’ve observed that they’re the main two things, (a) that’s just not what you do as a man – that’s what society tells us. And (b), it’s easier to stay in the pain and seek out others who will continue to validate and enable that for us. And we connect with others through their pain as well, then to step into a place of deep self-reflection, self-discovery, taking responsibility, and something a little bit more courageous to really step into a better version of ourselves.
Men Connecting & Healing the Dark Night of the Soul
Mark [8:03] Would you describe your journey through the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ awakening ~ that other men need to embark on?
Michael [8:12] I believe that the initial stages – well, the whole hero’s journey is something that all men should embark on. They could choose to – I would invite every man to because we do live life, everybody, men and women, we usually live life very unconsciously. Until we start to become more consciously aware of what is held within our subconscious mind. That’s around what Carl Jung calls the shadow. I fuse a lot of that – there’s a fusion of all of that in my book as well. Because Carl Jung is big – I guess you can call him a mentor of mine. He has inspired a lot of the work that I do now. So, I think all men should really go on this hero’s journey and delve into this shadow and start to integrate aspects that are causing them undesirable results in their lives. When we start to do that, we start to realise, who we can become and what we are capable of. We start to realise that we’re limitless in our potential when we choose to take 100% responsibility for every result that we have in life.
Men’s Gift of Integrating Our Shadow
Mark [9:21] And what was it like for you to connect to that awakening and come out the other side? Can you describe that experience, the joy, the gift?
Michael [9:32] Oh, look, I won’t – I’m not going to butter this up. This was a difficult experience. There was – there’s been a joy at the end. But in the initial stages, and if we keep using the language of the hero’s journey, you get the ‘call to adventure’. Most people rejected and I did several times, and that’s really the inner journey. And so, then when I choose to acknowledge the ‘call to adventure’ and go on my ‘hero’s journey’, you then come up against threshold guardians. They’re the ones that really test your mettle. They really test your commitment and your determination to move to the next level of the ‘hero’s journey’ and that was me. I would face the dragons, the demons, the inner demons, whatever it is, you want to call it. It’s messy, and it’s uncomfortable, and it’s hard. And you don’t get to the joy and the happiness until you cross the threshold. You overcome the threshold guardian which are your demons in slaying dragons, that you start to feel a little bit freer. That doesn’t have to take a long time, but it’s certainly a journey that we should all be going on.
Men’s Call to Adventure ~ Healing
Mark [10:48] I believe Jung was known to have said, that the ‘subconscious is always wanting to become conscious’ but in the process, it’s a very tumultuous journey.
Michael [10:58] It really is. You almost feel trapped within your own psyche sometimes. And this is why, when I encourage people to go on this journey, what I do say is – if you can find a coach, a mentor, a guide, somebody to kind of – that’s already walked the path. I think that’s important, one whose already walked the path, they’ve already gone on their ‘hero’s journey’ and has come out the other end. And now they can be a mentor to you. That is the ideal situation because it is I think, the best terminology I can probably use. It is deeply internally disruptive before we get to the good stuff.
My Process to Connect with Me
Mark [11:40] Michael, do you have a process? Since you’ve been on this hero’s journey? What’s your daily process to connect to yourself to the light and perhaps also to the dark?
Michael [11:54] I do a lot of journaling every morning. I engage in gratitude and journaling and I meditate as well. I also reflect on who I’ve chosen to be, the previous day. I do this first thing in the morning, who I’ve chosen to be the previous day, and what shadow aspects might have come up. I then work to understand and then integrate them. So, for me, my practices are about – my practices are all obviously internal. This is about building my level of self-awareness, more and more each day. I integrate my shadow more and more each day as well.
Integrating My Shadow
Because the more of our shadow we can integrate, the more we’re consciously aware of – which means we can start to choose our thoughts very intentionally. Or what we choose to focus – the thoughts that we choose to focus on, we can choose them very intentionally. This then influences how we feel and determines our behaviour. And of course, our behaviour gives us results and outcomes. So, I really look at my results and my outcomes that I’m getting in life, whether it’s in business relationships, friendships with my children, whatever it might be. I kind of go – have I stepped into this as much as I possibly could and could I have done better. This is what my daily practice is all about plus deep connection with myself in terms of meditation.
Connecting Physically, Mentally, Emotionally & Spiritually
Mark [13:23] Are you connecting on all realms physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, as you do that process?
Michael [13:29] Absolutely. I do believe that there is a – some people might call it our gut or our intuition. I think it’s all of that and it could also be a higher self that guides us through life. I’ve learned that yes, that’s the spiritual connection that I have really tried to absolutely connect with very deeply, and nurture that connection. Because when I don’t listen to my guidance things go wrong. And when I do listen to my guidance, things seem to just flow in life. So yes, in answer to your question, there’s a spiritual aspect, which is that – there is a mental aspect, which is all about observing my thoughts. And then there’s an emotional aspect which is about observing how my feelings manifest within me and the physiological reactions that happen as a result of that. So, it happens on all levels.
Men Not Repressing the Shadow Down the Rabbit Holes
Mark [14:33] So, it’s sort of learning to accept our and our dark. Our light and shadow, rather than pushing the shadow down the rabbit holes which I wonder whether we men have been taught to repress a lot of that due to our social conditioning?
Michael [14:49] Yeah, we certainly have. We have learned to suppress, deny and avoid as much as possible because we must have this persona. This persona is strength and resilience, which is a good thing if it’s authentic, and if it’s real, and it’s genuine. But if it’s a mask, and of course, the longer we wear that mask, the bigger the shadow gets. The more we deny our true self, the more we avoid the expression of who we truly are as people. The darker and bigger as shadow gets until we choose to step into it and integrate those shadow aspects into our psyche and into our conscious mind. The integration process is very important because – I said this to one of my clients yesterday. Every single time you do not express yourself, every single time you do not deal with something, every single time you avoid, or you procrastinate, and you add to your shadow. And so, if you can possibly deal with things at the moment and resolve things within you at the moment, then at least – if you’re not working on integrating your shadow at least you’re not adding to it.
Men’s Mask Effects our Connections
Mark [16:03] You talked about the masks before. Could it be those masks that we men carry ~ be the thing that’s prohibiting connections to our self and connections to other men?
Michael [16:19] Yeah, I think it’s the masks. I also think it’s the sense of responsibility that we all feel in our different roles in life. So, we have all these different roles as a partner, and perhaps a father, a business owner, or an employee, a son, a friend, etc, etc. We have all these roles, and within those roles, we might wear masks. I believe that that does inhibit connection, but mostly with our selves. And yes, of course, because we must put on this facade, or men feel like we must put on a facade. Then, of course, that does get in the way of connecting with other men too.
Energy to Keep Up the Facade
Mark [17:06] And putting on that facade, I imagine takes up a lot of energy, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
Michael [17:12] Yeah, it certainly does. It’s very draining. It’s almost like we have sort of an energy vampire within us, which is the shadow. Which literally, sucks the life out. It sucks the psychological life out of us and so then we can’t show up, as we would like to.
Mark [17:32] In the hero’s journey, are men needing to connect to the feminine archetype within themselves?
Connecting to Our Feminine Archetype
Michael [17:39] Yep, absolutely. In my book, I list what I call the seven standards of men. Which are the seven standards of men that I believe all men could embody, on their journey towards, becoming a knight if you like, because that’s part of the symbology? One of them is compassion – a lot of people might argue or say that that is a very feminine – compassion is very feminine energy. There are others, of course, because there are seven standards. I always talk about that one, which is compassion, which is very strongly connected to the feminine archetype. There are absolutely, I mean, there are other parts of this as well. I teach these men that to be a fully embodied integrated man there is, we need to have the capacity for compassion. We need to have the capacity to be able to nurture the people we love, hold them, listen to them, hold space for them, etc, etc. And step into who it is that we’re being right and being as opposed to doing is feminine energy. So absolutely, there’s a lot of feminine work here but it is mainly the integration of the feminine and feeling comfortable with the feminine. And knowing when it’s appropriate to bring that out. But it’s definitely – my work is based more in – learning how to be a fully embodied and integrated masculine man understanding when those feminine attributes and energy can come in and support that growth as well.
Integration of our Feminine & Becoming Whole
Mark [19:17] We become whole doing that, don’t we?
Michael [19:20] We do. That’s definitely the idea.
Mark [19:26] What’s the energy like in your body when you’re in that wholeness?
Michael [19:32] It feels very peaceful, but it also feels very invigorating. If you can imagine the feeling that you might get on the top of a waterslide that is quite long. Maybe you know, you’re going to go fast is that feeling of exhilaration but also mixed in with a little bit of hesitation. Because there’s always a delicate dance between masculine and the feminine within us. And it’s up to us to learn how to really balance the two well and understand when it’s appropriate to bring each out in different circumstances. I can say that it’s a mixture of elation and exhilaration – mixed with joy, mixed with peace, mixed with an element of, let’s say, an element of courage that is required to feel strong enough to step into this.
Connecting & Owning the Peace of Wholeness
Mark [20:36] And own it?
Michael [20:38] And own it and take responsibility for it.
Mark [20:43] How would that then improve men’s connections to each other and connections to the community?
Michael [20:52] Well, let me start to get to this point. What we’ve done along the process is started to connect very deeply with our core values. And we have more idea of what our purpose is in life. Like a well-defined purpose because that’s really the core of what I do. I helped name to connect deeply to a powerful set of core values and a well-defined purpose. Along this hero’s journey, as we do that, what we end up with is a very intentional, integrated, embodied and purposeful man who can be decisive, confident, compassionate, courageous, he lives life with integrity, and he takes 100% responsibility for every result and every outcome and everything in his life.
My Men’s 12-month Hero’s Journey
Michael [21:40] And he usually sits – so by the time the men go through my 12-month hero’s journey, and I get to the other end, they’re sitting at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is around self-actualization. Because the other three or four levels before that – underneath that have been satisfied just because of the fact they have gone on this journey. The way that helps then connect with other men – is other men are then inspired by the version of them. The version of their friend or brother or partner or whatever they see in front of them. They’re inspired to then go on their own hero’s journey. Because what I’ve done is created really good quality strong leaders.
Mark [22:24] When they’re in that self-actualization process, one of the terms that I use in this podcast is the connection to the ‘All That Is.” Is the self-actualization process, a similar process to connecting to the ‘All That Is’ whatever that is to you?
Connecting to the ‘All That Is’
Michael [22:42] I think that’s part of it. I mean, self-actualization is the realisation that the journey towards the realisation of one’s own potential, and if we can expand our thinking and accept that – we all may have that spark of divinity within us, then absolutely. It absolutely, it incorporates that part of it as well.
Mark [23:11] What helps you hit that point in yourself, that divinity within yourself?
Michael [23:17] The strengthening of the connection that I have with my – you might want to call it my guidance, my highest self. I think that’s probably the best terminology that I could use that he’s relatable. So, our higher self, the part of us which is that spark of divinity. Which is almost all-knowing, and wise. And kind of knows the outcome and guide you towards that – if you choose to listen.
Mark [23:49] Where does that come from within the body?
Michael [23:54] I always feel it as a warm feeling in my chest. I think it would manifest differently for different people. I always feel it as a warm feeling in my chest.
Connecting to Our Hearts
Mark [24:07] Around the heart area?
Michael [24:09] Yeah, around the heart area.
Mark [24:11] I have a bit of a bias for the heart?
Michael [24:14] Yeah of course. Of course, definitely. I think that’s – they say the heart is the second brain. But I almost think that the heart is almost like the connection to our higher self, our spirituality, our essence, if you like, our soul, whatever you want to call it.
Mark [24:38] And as men connect more to that, what impact do you think that would have on the energy in the world and the care of Mother Earth?
Men Deeply Connected Healing for Mother Earth
Michael [24:54] Well, look, when we start to talk about men who are that deeply connected, like what we’re talking about of course, what they will bring to the world is simply service and contribution at the highest level. Coming from a very purposeful place an intentional place, and very compassionate. But also, very decisive, and they have them – they have their eyes on an objective and the objective is always going to be to contribute to humanity, and really leave the planet better for the fact that they were here.
Mark [25:34] We might stop having wars, if more of us men could start connecting to that divine essence of who we are?
Michael [25:43] I think we’d stop having wars. I think we’d stop having – I think borders would just crumble away. I think we would be a united human race.
Mark [25:54] Fully interconnected?
Michael [25:56] Yep and all working towards a common goal. Which, who knows what that common goal is. But the point is, that we’re all intentionally directed towards a common goal and we all contribute with love towards each other and attitudes of service. You have higher levels of – deeper levels, I should say of integrity within people. And, yeah, can you imagine.
Mark [26:22] Well as I’m sitting having this conversation with you, I’m tuning into that space within myself, connecting to you in it. And I just get this strong sense that men are evolving. Like the window of opportunity is with us now. And men are wanting to step through that window?
Michael [26:24] I’m seeing more and more men step into this work of really the work of self-exploration and self- discovery, the hero’s journey. We’re seeing more and more men accept the call to adventure now and that’s encouraging.
Therapy Narrative Men Will Hear & Understanding
Mark [27:04] It’s good that it gets put in that language that’s sort of a narrative that men can relate to?
Michael [27:13] Yeah, I think it is. Because when we look at traditionally, and I’m going to be very broad here. I’m just going to be very general; I should say. Men usually enjoy watching things like Star Wars, and superhero movies and all the rest of it. So, we’re very familiar with the archetype of the hero. What we don’t really understand is that the hero started off as just a normal person whose whole world fell apart. If we have a look at – a lot of the people who talk about ‘hero’s journey’ talk about this character in this movie. If we look at Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and he was offered – there was a call to adventure and he rejected it. It wasn’t until his Aunt and Uncle and his home were destroyed. His aunt and uncle were killed, and he had nothing left. That it was then at the point where there was nothing to lose. Then he accepted the call to adventure, which is to go off with Obi Wan Kenobi, and eventually defeat Darth Vader.
Luke Skywalker’s Call to Adventure
And if we have a look at the sequence of those movies, one, two and three of the old ones, I mean with Luke Skywalker in them, we see Luke Skywalker on his hero’s journey. We see him except the call to adventure. And then he gets to his first threshold Guardian, which is about accepting the force and then there is the second threshold Guardian. And eventually what we see – is we see him face Darth Vader, and this is the threshold Guardian initially, but he can’t overcome. This is his dragon that he can’t slay. And so, what he needs to do then is like, I can’t do this on my own. I need a mentor. So, then he gets trained by Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi. They then mentor and teach him through this next stage, which then sees him to defeat Darth Vader. But along the way, he’s got to face his own shadow. And Joseph Campbell said, “the cave we fear to enter holds the treasure we seek”. And if we have a look at, I don’t know, which I think it might have been – The Empire Strikes Back, I could be wrong.
‘The Cave we Fear to Enter Holds the Treasure we Seek’
Whereas Luke Skywalker is being trained by Yoda, and I get to a cave, and Luke says what’s in there and Yoda says, you must see for yourself. So, Luke goes into the cave and, and this spectre of Darth Vader approaches, and I have a lightsabre battle and Luke ends up slicing Darth Vader’s head off. Darth Vader’s head rolls around on the floor and then as a small explosion, which exposes the face. And Luke says his own facing Darth Vader’s helmet and that is the ultimate expression of how we face our shadow. Because Luke’s fear and his shadow aspect that he was facing in that movie – was that he was scared that he wasn’t strong enough to not turn to the dark side of the Force. And so there’s this beautiful – we can see it across those three Star Wars movies, the hero’s journey. Where he goes from rejecting a call to adventure, to eventually becoming the hero and defeating his dragon – slaying he’s dragon. And then we know in other comics and books and everything that Luke went on to then be the mentor himself, and he was a Jedi Master and he trained as a Jedi. And so, it is a perfect, I just love telling that story because that’s the hero’s journey. And so, men can connect with that very deeply and not to say that we need to go out there and wield our Excalibur or wield a lightsabre in order to go on our hero’s journey. But what we do need to do is, is enter the cave we fear to – in order to achieve – to order to get the treasure that we seek.
‘Enter the Forest at the Darkest Point’
Michael [31:20] And there’s another analogy that I use as well. So, when if I go back to the mythology of forging Excalibur. Excalibur and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and Merlin. If we look at how that worked, what happened was, when King Arthur and Merlin were training the Knights. Training men to become knights, it took them to a dark forest. And the legend says, they stood at the entrance of the dark forest and he said, ‘you must enter the forest at its darkest point and forge your own path through.’ This is the journey that men must go on. They have to enter this forest at its darkest points. The cave they fear to enter because if they then go on their hero’s journey that will get the treasure that they seek at the end. And what that is – it is the deepest connection with the self that we could ever possibly imagine.
Mark [32:11] And it’s a far cry from men retreating to the caves, licking their wounds that we ~ and suppressing all that stuff. It’s turning that around to ~ don’t go in there to lick the wounds ~ go in there to heal and find yourself?
Connecting to Our True Potential
Michael [32:27] Exactly.
Michael [32:29] And find and discover your true potential. Because this thing about finding ourselves, it’s not like we must go on this pilgrimage to find ourselves – we are ourselves and we are within us all the time. We just must peel and peel away the layers – de-layer, all the subconscious conditioning, the programming the beliefs, etc, etc. to expose the true essence of who we are. The hero that’s in all of us.
Mark [33:00] And the journey never stops mate.
Michael [33:02] And the journey never stops Mark. No, I’m still on my journey I will be for the rest of my life. (Laughter)
Mark [33:09] Any advice that you’d have for young Michael embarking on his hero’s journey at this point?
My Advice to my Young Michael
Michael [33:18] A young Michael. My advice would be to a younger version of myself would be, always be courageous enough to turn and face your adversity instead of cowing from it. Because it is when you turn and face your adversity, that you have an opportunity to overcome the adversity and become a different version, a different more empowered version of yourself. Which can then start to embody things like strength and courage and purpose. Take responsibility and create a life by design that you desire.
Mark [33:59] Well done mate. It’s been lovely to hear your conversation at this point in your life.
Michael [34:09] Thank you, Mark.
Mark [34:11] Go on.
Michael [34:12] I’ll just going to say, thank you, Mark. I really appreciate the chat.
Mark [34:16] It’s lovely to hear the growth, the journey and it’s a gift to yourself, mate and your family.
Michael [34:28] Yeah and I want to say thank you to you as well. Because a decade ago, I came to see you when I was in at the beginning stages of my own hero’s journey. I had entered the cave, and I didn’t know what to do in there. And I do remember that you were – my sessions with you, the few sessions that I had with you were a pivotal turning point for me back then, to put me on the path that I’m on now. So, thank you.
Mark [34:58] My pleasure. Michael, thank you so much for the connection and I look forward to the future connections – to each other and to the men we work with in the community.
Michael [35:12] Thank you, Mark.
Mark [35:13] Namaste.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai