However bumpy the ride, you can be sure of one thing: Most people undertake what's known as a heroic, or sacred journey sometime in their lives.
"It's a universal human experience because it's connected to our growing consciousness of who we are," says Judith Burch, who will lead a one-evening workshop on sacred journeys at the Wellness Institute, Monday, Jan. 12.
These trips into the unknown can be provoked by a career change, divorce, illness, death of a loved one, or just plain old boring middle age, says Burch, 53, who teaches meditation, spiritual growth and contemplative spirituality through community organizations and the University of Winnipeg's faculty of theology.
"Most people see illness as entirely negative, but it is asking us to let go and find a deeper meaning," says the mother of two university-aged children. "It (the heroic journey) is a hopeful model (and) it challenges us to seek meaning in our circumstances and continue to seek meaning."
American mythologist Joseph Campbell developed a theory that myths and stories in various faith traditions and cultures had similar characteristics. The hero of these myths is called to adventure from ordinary life, faces trials and challenges along the way, finally achieves a goal, and then might return to ordinary life to apply what was learned to improve the world.
Prominent figures like Prometheus, Buddha, Moses and Christ travelled on these heroic journeys, but every human, no matter what religious tradition, is called to undertake such a venture, says Burch. She says that is even more difficult now that the cultural myth has shifted away from the concept of sacred journeys.
"The stories were there to teach us and of course the religion stories were there to keep us connected to God," says Burch, who relates most closely to Alice in Wonderland and her journey down the rabbit hole. "It (the heroic journey) has been replaced by the myth of progress, that things will get better. Create a dream, work hard and life will always get better and better."
Taking a look at myths projected larger than life on the silver screen is another way to approach the spiritual journey, suggests Barbara Fawcett, one of the co-ordinators of a film series at St. Ignatius Adult Education Centre.
Now in its fourth year, the short course entitled Finding God in the Dark screens five Hollywood and foreign films after which participants discuss the universal and religious themes in them, says Fawcett.
"The act of going to the movies is a spiritual act," explains the freelance writer for several religious publications. "The act of going together, sitting together, sharing the experience."
Ultimately, sharing the experience is the goal of Burch's sacred journey workshop as well. Often attended mostly by middle-aged, mid-career women, the workshop provides permission to discussion personal topics with others within a safe context, says Burch.
She finds contemporary culture's emphasis on materialism and instant gratification doesn't allow people the opportunity to reflect on what is meaningful or sacred.
That's where the model of the heroic journey is useful. Although it's an ancient story of trials and tribulation, Burch says it can provide strength and courage to those on their own paths, and provide meaning in what may appear unnecessary side trips to what may seem to be dark and hopeless destinations.
"Life is difficult and the heroic journey helps us accept us," she says. "There's this deeper thing going on that can be ultimately liberating."
Sacred Journey Workshop, 7 to 9 p.m., Monday, Jan. 12, Wellness Institute. Cost is $35. To register, call 632-3900 or online at www.wellnessinstitute.ca
Finding God in the Dark Film Series, St. Ignatius Adult Education Centre, 925 Jessie Ave. This spiritual journey through films and discussion runs twice, Friday afternoons or Monday evenings, from Jan. 9 to March 9. The five movies include Fiddler on the Roof, Punch Drunk Love and God on Trial. Admission is free, with small fee for course materials. Register at 453-9243.