Most people who get really excited about Star Wars nerd out on the astronomy of the Perlemian Trade Route, or the mechanics of the Millennium Falcon’s Girodine sublight drives, or the evolutionary link between Wookies and Ewoks. When I nerd out on Star Wars, it’s because the plot impeccably mirrors Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces” — a bible for English literature majors who study the commonalities between world myths and legends.
What makes “Hero with a Thousand Faces” (and Star Wars, and the Odyssey, and Harry Potter, and a million other tales) so popular is that archetypal stories teach us something about our own lives. We may not battle Cyclopes or Dementors or Sith lords, but we can all relate — on some level — to struggles against darkness.
In his latest book, “Transitions: A Guide to the 6 Stages of a Successful Life Transition,” Dr. Elliott Dacher has written a handbook for recognizing and navigating those struggles, and using them as a chance to grow. Dr. Dacher’s six stages of a life transition (the Call, the Departure, the In-Between Time, Lessons Learned, the Return, and the Gold) are intentionally based on Campbell’s hero’s journey. They remind readers there is a path to follow through hard times, and more important, that we are not alone in having to take that road.
I never intended to review “Transitions.” When Dr. Dacher called to tell me he had a new book, I said of course I’d do something on it — meaning, as the Calendar editor, I would assign someone else to do it. I don’t have much time to write in August, never mind read. And self-help books really aren’t my jam. But when Dr. Dacher brought the book by the office, he looked at me very meaningfully and told my coworker, “Kelsey is going to review my book.”
Possibly it was a Jedi mind trick. But I do dig meditation. And I dig literary analysis. And I am going through a hell of a quarter-life crisis that’s continuing just a bit too long into my late twenties. I won’t bore you with the details, but my point is: If your life is at a crossroads, Dr. Dacher’s book itself may feel a lot like a call to action.
Plus, reading “Transitions” doesn’t feel like a self-help book; they are too often riddled with platitudes professed by weepy people reveling in their own glory for getting over their weepy lives. Instead, “Transitions” uses the great stories of world cultures to draw a map through the experiences that make us all human. It amasses power from supporting quotes by literary greats from T.S. Eliot to Whitman to Thoreau. Reading it feels like earning an English degree, but with more relatability, and less “Beowulf.”
At the end of each chapter, Dr. Dacher includes “Heart Advice from a Fellow Traveler,” an outline of tips for managing that particular stage of transition. Dr. Dacher is humble throughout — he doesn’t claim enlightenment or omniscience, and he doesn’t burden the reader with too many personal details from his own journey. Mostly, the section presents questions for readers to ask themselves to ensure they are on track.
Each chapter also includes an exercise. Dr. Dacher is well-known for his focus on holistic medicine, and his Island meditation groups have become increasingly popular. The exercises put an emphasis on meditation, and taking quiet reflective time to focus on our transitions.
These exercises are particularly helpful, because as Dr. Dascher points out, in his ever-so-gentle fashion, sometimes we are too dense to recognize a transition when it begins. Remember that scene in the first “Star Wars” when Luke tells Obi-Wan he can’t go save the princess because he’s busy with farm chores? That’s a classic example of Campbell’s hero refusing the call to action, and it’s a lot more common in our daily lives than you might think. Change — the loss of a job or a relationship or a loved one — can stop us in our tracks. We can either choose to stay there and spin our wheels, or we can use it as a launching pad to move forward.
“It’s like hitting the ‘pause’ button,” Dr. Dacher writes. “If we choose to stop, listen, and explore the issue at hand, we may discover there is more to this disruption than is apparent at first glance. The disruption may be a disguised call from our depths, a fateful call for change, a crack in our ordinary life that allows for innovation and re-creation. The timing may be inconvenient, as it usually is, but in retrospect, it proves to be precisely on time. And it is essential to pay attention, for it can easily, at great expense, be missed.”
“Transitions” helps readers not only recognize the call, but the subsequent phases of a life transition, working through the challenges and stagnations that inevitably occur along the way until they reach “the gold”: the reward that “awaits those who dare to risk all for the sole purpose of taking the adventure that leads to authentic selfhood and wholeness.” It’s a glittery destination, but life — as the old platitude goes — is about the journey.
The thing about the hero’s journey is it’s cyclical. When you get to the end, you begin again. The neverending story. Ouroboros. The ancient Greeks called it “polygenesis,” continuous rebirthing. “I used to say that this or that transition lasted this or that number of years,” Dr. Dacher writes. “I kept on increasing the number of years until I realized it’s all a transition. There is always growth and change.” It’s why we must be particularly in tune with the winds of change, and learn to sail them well. And it’s why stories like the Odyssey and Harry Potter and Star Wars will never die. The call to action will sound over and over and over again. And when it comes — may the Force be with you.
Author’s talk: Elliot Dascher on “Transitions: A Guide to the 6 Stages of a Successful Life Transition,” Tuesday, Sept. 13, 7 pm, Vineyard Haven Public Library. For more information, visit elliottdacher.org.