A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way Back from the Forum…
By Sandra Wells and Scott Smith



You’ve firewalked, rebirthed, tried yoga, graduated from Life-spring, meditated with a master, and been shrunk. But follow-through is where you fall down — each week after the big event, you find yourself losing enthusiasm for walking the talk.

Maybe you’re competent at your job — but bored to death. Your significant relationship is on cruise control. Someone you barely know just found out she has cancer and you’re petrified by the thought of losing her.

What you secretly wish for is a magic wand to help you become the individual you want to be: fulfilled in every way without any effort. Our own childish moment of reality-enlightenment came after we reviewed a weekend at Esalen Institute in 1998 with legendary teachers Michael Murphy and George Leonard. Of course, they didn’t make it easy enough for us Boomers: we just wanted to pop a pill once a week, reaping the good karma from reporting their worthy efforts. We were soon back to our old more-or-less-manageable worldly ways, including our vows of involuntary poverty, a bout of addiction, and a few other speed bumps on the road to success.

A year later, metamorphically on the way back from the Forum (the popular program which we once went through), we ran across Josh Cohen’s InnerQuest Wilderness Adventures. For the past dozen years, he has been running moderately adventurous trips from Sausalito, California, which incorporate self-realization techniques. Called HeroQuest, this 9-day program has been conducted on Hawaii’s Big Island ($1,795) and as canoeing or backpacking expeditions in the American West (Trinity River, Eel River, and Colorado River, $1,495). In March 2003, he is offering his first HQ in Costa Rica ($2,299; in 2004, he’ll be going to the Bahamas).

 Josh was an entrepreneur early on — at 16, he was operating half a dozen businesses at the same time. After college, he was making good money in Florida producing comedy, then was invited to move to Los Angeles to work behind the scenes in showbiz. Self-esteem and co-dependency issues brought him to therapy and 12-step work, but he didn’t really feel emotionally grounded until he became involved in a men’s group. After learning hypnotherapy and partnering with several well-known therapists, he developed a set of awareness-expanding exercises that eventually became HeroQuest.

Josh believes that putting participants in a beautiful natural environment for an extended period allows a better opportunity for transformation to stick. “I model messy, like real life, so we experience feeling hurt, hungry, challenged, or short with each other — no one goes home and leaves the clinic behind each day, which is how many people disconnect during other programs,” he explains. The effect of staying immersed in the group is enhanced by lots of one-on-one attention: this time, three assistants were there to help him guide nine participants, putting in whatever hours were needed to help individuals get through the issues blocking them from progress (which has to make this the best value in personal transformation work on the planet).

Josh argues that trying to “fix” problems piecemeal through affirmations or using the tricks like neuro-linquistic programming amounts to using a Band-aid. A better way forward, he says, is to understand that your image of yourself is a illusion and to experience your connection with the divine (he is a student of Gangaji, an American woman recognized as having attained enlightenment in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, but there is no philosophic dogma in Hero-Quest). “People learn that they are unlimited, they’re not the fear, they’re whole as they are — they can’t be hurt by temporary thoughts and feelings, and through our program they can experience the universe as supportive,” he says. This helps participants directly experience consciousness, supplemented by feedback from the group and the guides, connecting one’s expanded sense of self to a mission in life and the details needed to create that reality.

Frankly, we were skeptical — ”been there, done that” was our initial reaction. And since the HQ literature is a bit vague, we doubt most of those who joined us knew exactly what they were getting into, either (we’re keeping their names out of this report to protect their confidentiality, but they represented a wide variety of professions and ideologies). We were also hesitant because we aren’t campers and hikers — but Josh says that’s true of many participants (most people can handle the moderate physical stress). What convinced us to jump once again into the ocean of change were the rave reviews from prior participants at the web site.

HeroQuest is structured around Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero’s journey, the underlying story of every story ever told, including the story of our lives (see The Hero With a Thousand Faces or The Hero’s Journey with Bill Moyers). You start in the ordinary world — despite some outward success, you’re angry, shut-down, frustrated with something lacking in your life. Somewhere inside, you feel a call to adventure — the soul responds to follow its bliss. But that results in resistance — you focus on the price tag of your dreams. Step four is a pivotal event that jolts you into realizing the need to move forward. You commit to the journey, resulting in unexpected adventures in which allies and adversaries are encountered. Step seven finds you descending into the heart of the storm, forcing you to drop your masks, letting your false self-images die. This is followed by resurrection, in which you feel whole. Returning to the ordinary world, you cease struggling and “your service is an expression of your overflowing fullness,” says Josh.

The schedule alternates a half-day of adventure activity with the program work. In the case of Hawaii, there are two to three days of ocean kayaking and snorkeling (which are lots of fun even for novices). Sometimes, kayakers come across dolphins — we didn’t, but usually they hang around just offshore from the base camp. But playing with dolphins needs to be done with guidelines, warns Josh: these are wild animals who can be upset by an overly-aggressive approach. We didn’t really miss them, though — the coves in the area are full of a stunning array of colorful fish, rays, crabs, and coral. On other days, snorkeling and swimming can be done from beaches that vary from white sand to finely-ground volcanic lava, which is a sensuous experience to walk through barefoot.

 The other wilderness aspect of the Big Island trip are hikes in what is considered the most beautiful rainforest in Hawaii, Waipio Valley (once the stronghold of King Kamehameha I, who unified the islands for the first time in the late 18th century). Normally, the area is filled with waterfalls, but recent seasons have been dry, so we saw only trickles — again, we barely noticed, since it was hard to imagine the foliage being more lush.

We also absorbed some of the spiritual environment of the native Hawaiians through a visit to the City of Refuge, a once-sacred city surrounded by a 10-foot-high wall of volcanic stones, built in 1550. Here, losers of inter-tribal wars could flee and receive amnesty from priests, known as kahuna (a good introduction is The Kahuna: Versatile Masters of Old Hawaii by Likeke McBride; their practices were illegal from 1820 until 1979, and a modern perspective is found in Scott Cunningham’s Hawaiian Magic and Spirituality). Those who had been condemned to death for breaking the strict code regulating behavior could be forgiven. Polynesian-style huts which served as temples have been reconstructed, where images of the gods still stand guard over the bones of ancient chiefs who were buried there.

Right about now, we’re sure you would expect us to reveal all the techniques InnerQuest deploys to push the right spiritual and psychological buttons, in order to produce a more integrated and centered being, aware that it is capable of anything. But we know that your subconscious is eager to make judgment about whatever we report, as an excuse for reveling in the comfort of being stuck.

Let’s just say that there is no cosmic secret sauce we can point to that brings about the results of the program. Some of it comes from the intensive structure in isolation in the wilderness, leaving behind the familiar trappings of daily life. The strategies to provoke introspective and interaction with others aren’t radical, but their order has been thoroughly test-driven for the broadest application.

Josh has the touch of a master teacher, spirit to spirit. And the assistants we had were another key to the program success — they have been on at least one HeroQuest, were well-trained, and sought the progress that comes with service. But what matters most in the outcome, says Josh, is the willingness to go for what you really want.

As we relaxed into the week, our subconsciousness massaged by the white noise of the surf and the rainforest, we found our brittle, argumentative, anxious, impatient natures melting, our hearts opening, taking ourselves off the fast-track of perfectionism.

We watched others who went through more dramatic changes, connecting emotionally to living childhood wounds and adult disappointments. Then, as they acknowledged their inherent divinity, breathing became easier, and healing took place. This is the first time we saw every participant in a program come away significantly touched in a way unlikely to be forgotten back in the so-called real world.

For those who are tempted, InnerQuest offers follow-up work by phone to be sure you have the choice of walking the talk, for a change.

For more information please call (800) 990-HERO, write to 1001 Bridgeway, #455, Sausalito, CA 94965, or check out the website at www.innerquest.com 

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