The Heroine’s Journey

Many of you have probably heard of Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero’s Journey. In a previous blog post I have written about it as a journey one takes as they embark on their quest to heal from addiction. It is a powerful and poignant journey where one sets out to slay the dragon, encountering allies and adversaries along the way, ultimately returning home victorious. In my studies of Depth Psychology, I have come across an equally powerful journey, that of The Heroine, which Maureen Murdock outlines in her book, The Heroine’s Journey. It is a journey for all women, not just for those in recovery.

If one is to heal from addiction and sustain a meaningful, enriched recovery, we must set out to heal the wounded masculine and the repressed feminine within ourselves and within our culture. We must find the balance of the Yin and the Yang. In this quest, we are called to the depths–we must connect with Soul and reclaim the lost parts of ourselves.

We live in a highly addicted society and most of us struggle with addiction in one form or another. Whether that be addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, materialism, technology, or other forms of compulsive behavior, we all struggle with something.

You might be asking yourself this question: Why are we so addicted in today’s modern day society?

In studying the work of Marion Woodman (and other academics in the field of Depth Psychology), I have come to believe that rampant addiction can be partially attributed to the severe imbalance in our patriarchal society of two important archetypes: that of the masculine and the feminine. Our culture deeply values qualities associated with masculine energy and for thousands of years the feminine has been repressed. But she is making her way back with a vengeance–she is making her presence known through addiction and other psychological and bodily ailments. She is forcing us to take a closer look at our lives. She is calling us towards an exploration of the depths and in doing so, we reconnect with our lost souls. Without her, we suffer.

To feel whole, healthy and integrated we must seek balance between these two archetypal energies if we are to birth our authentic selves into this world.

Ultimately, the mythic pattern of The Heroine’s Journey is the quest one embarks on to heal this deep wounding of our feminine nature on a personal, cultural, and spiritual level. 6,000 years of patriarchy has left the feminine deeply wounded, and these wounds run deep in our unconscious—it will take much work to heal this imbalance.

The Heroine’s Journey is cyclical, and we may go through it many times in our life, and also we may work on one or more stages at a time. It is a journey that connects us back to our body and back to our soul. It begins with The Separation from the Feminine.

The Separation from the Feminine and Identification with the Masculine

For the past five to six thousand years, matristic religions have been suppressed and devalued. Prior to patriarchy, cooperation societies existed where hierarchy and power were non-existent. Today’s patriarchy goes beyond gender, rather, it is based in power. We seek power over everything—our lives, our bodies, our addictions, our Mother Earth. It is this power principle that is destroying us individually and collectively, and has left us addicted to perfection, a title of one of Marion Woodman’s amazing books.

In a patriarchal society a woman splits from her feminine nature in order to be acceptable and accepted. Many of us have mother wounds and blame or reject aspects of our mothers, aligning ourselves more with the masculine because that is what our culture values.

The problem is, when we reject the feminine we are concurrently rejecting our bodies, as our body is matter, it is nature, both are considered feminine. In this unconscious identification with the masculine we reject our body in its natural form, and in doing so we seek “mother” through addiction, or through trying to manipulate and control our bodies.

Not only are we seeking to control our bodies, but we try to control our lives as well. We seek power and authority. We align with achievement, production, and success. We fine tune our skills through our educational system based in patriarchy that promotes linear thinking, analyzing, and goal-setting to name a few.

Now, I’m not knocking achievement, production, and success. I’m simply asserting that there is a massive imbalance—we overvalue the masculine and undervalue the feminine. We will not find balance until we step off the hamster wheel, stop defining our lives around what we do, and instead take the time to just BE. To align with feminine and slow down into her natural rhythm and cycles.

The Road of Trials and the Gathering of Allies

Murdock teaches that as we mature, we leave home and go in search of ourselves. We try to find our power, often armoring ourselves in the process by disconnecting from our feelings and our feminine soul.

The adversaries we face in our society are great, especially for women. We face the myth of “playing it safe,” believing that if we just make the “right” choices or the “safe” choices, that we will be happy and all will be well.

We encounter the myth of “dependency” and “romantic love” with affirmations through our culture that purport that we must have a man to depend on, to feel whole. Equally destructive is the thought that we need no one. That we can be Ms. Independent and do it all ourselves.

There is the myth of “female inferiority.” Our society has repressed feminine power for thousands of years and though the age of feminism has led to massive gains for women in terms of equality, we still are not valued as equals in today’s society. We make less money than men, there is no support for family leave, childcare is ridiculously expensive, the bulk of the housework falls in women’s hands. As a result, we also face the myth of “never being enough.” We often feel that we have to do more, be more, be better than who we are to be valued and accepted. When the unconscious masculine takes over, we can feel that no matter what we do, it simply is never enough.

I think the greatest myth we face that feminism has promoted is the myth that “you can have it all.” In the way our society is structured, this simply is not true for most women. As women we have to work twice as hard as men to “have it all.” We continually feel that we have to prove our value in this masculine world, instead of believing in our intrinsic worth.

All of these adversaries can drive us into addiction. We need to unpack these cultural unconscious beliefs. We need to embrace the fact that we are not all things, and still, WE ARE ENOUGH. It is in this acknowledgment that we become real, vulnerable, and open to transformation.

Finding the Boon of Success

Many of us women do find success, as our culture defines success, anyways. We seem to have it all—the career, the husband, the family, and yet, we still face criticism as women. Those who are too successful are chastised for the family sacrifices they have to make as a result. Conversely, if we choose family over career, we are criticized for “just being a housewife.” Basically, we can’t win.

In this quest for success, we neglect ourselves, we neglect our souls, our dream life, and our creative life in the process. We find the success we think we want, believe that we will feel whole and complete, and yet we are so often left feeling as though something is still lacking, we suffer, and we wonder why.

It’s because we’ve neglected the feminine in this process. We turn to our addictions as a way to numb the pain of the “go, go, go” life. We stay busy and productive to keep the feelings of emptiness at bay, to avoid the grief we feel when we’ve left behind important aspects of self in this quest for success.

Awakening to Feelings of Spiritual Aridity: Death

I believe this is the point where our addiction peaks. We’ve reached our bottom, we know something has got to change. Woodman says, “From a Jungian perspective, the psyche naturally moves toward wholeness. If we become stuck in a way of life that is not right for us, or a psychological attitude we’ve outgrown, then symptoms appear that force us out of our nest, if we’re willing to deal with them. If we choose not to, then we become obsessed with something that concretizes a genuine spiritual need.” This concretizing often manifests in addiction. We try to meet our spiritual needs by turning to alcohol, drugs, food, shopping—anything to help fill the gaping hole.

Murdock says that this is the place where we feel as though we’ve lost our inner fire. We question the meaning of it all. She says, “A woman loses her ‘inner fire’ when she is not being fed, when the soul’s flame is no longer fueled, when the promise of the dream held for so long dies. Old patterns no longer fit, the new way is not yet clear; there is darkness everywhere, and she cannot see or feel or taste or touch. Nothing means very much anymore, and she no longer knows who she really is.”

In order to heal from our addiction, we must recognize that our substance of choice is not going to fill the hole, rather, it only makes the void larger. Instead, we must go to the depths and connect with our lost souls. We must turn to the Gods and Goddesses for meaning and direction, one of the core principles of AA, turning it over to a higher power.

Initiation and Descent to the Goddess

This is where true healing begins. When we engage in the descent in search of our true selves, and allow ourselves to be dismembered, trusting that we will gain invaluable wisdom in the process and be born anew.

We must connect back to the lost aspects of self: our bodies, emotions, intuition, images, values, and sexuality. We must reclaim our virgin selves—virgin, meaning, our true essence. As in, the virgin forest. Murdock says, “We have to reclaim the parts of ourselves that were ours before we cloaked ourselves in the vestments of culture.”

We must reclaim our Wild Woman, which Clarissa Pinkola Estés speaks of in her book Women Who Run with Wolves. We must get back in touch with our instinctual nature, owning, respecting, and loving all aspects of ourselves. Owning our shadows, our dirty, messy, wild selves, and find beauty in them, knowing that it is this which makes us whole. It makes us perfectly imperfect, as we should be.

During this descent we get back in touch with our bodies and our innate wisdom. We have to honor the feminine cycle—death, decay, gestation, and rebirth. Trusting that the death and decay of the old self will lead to rebirth, but only if we allow the necessary time and space for proper gestation.

This needs to be a mindful initiation so that we don’t lose ourselves as we explore the depths of our soul. It is here that we find our own validation, and we stop looking to the outside.

Urgent Yearning to Reconnect with the Feminine

Murdock says, “When a woman has made the descent and severed her identity as a spiritual daughter of the patriarchy, there is an urgent yearning to reconnect with the feminine, whether that be the Goddess, the Mother, or her little girl within. There is a desire to develop those parts of herself that have gone underground while on the heroic quest: her body, her emotions, her spirit, her creative wisdom.”

When we started worshiping the father gods, started worshiping in churches instead of on the land, we disregarded the sanctity of nature, and with that, the sanctity of the body. It is at this point in the journey where we deeply reconnect with our body and its wisdom. We reconnect to the sacredness in matter. Women know with their bodies.

Jean Shinoda Bolen says, “When we know something in our bodies as well as with our mind and hearts, then we know something deeply about ourselves, and it is this dimension that has been out of balance in our Christian civilization and our Christian-influenced psychology. It has been so much a father psychology as well as a father theology, where mind, interpretations, and the word are the transformative experience and that’s not true [for women].”

We need to feel the deep sadness of having been separated from the feminine and grieve and release the loss. We need to release the masculine need to control and instead allow things to happen in the natural cycle of things. We need to find out about BEING instead of DOING—this is the sacred task of the feminine.

Murdock expresses that, “Being requires accepting oneself, staying within oneself and not doing to prove oneself. It is a discipline that is accorded no applause from the outside world.”

This heroic quest is about bringing the masculine and feminine into balance. Conscious, mindful BEING and DOING, but doing only as the result of the wisdom gained from being. This means stepping off of the busy train and creating space in your life for things that feed your soul.

During this stage we often yearn to be mentored by older women. We crave ritual. We crave connection with other women and with nature. This is a time to deeply tune into your dreams, intuition, and creativity. Creativity for the sake of creativity, not for outcome. Creativity to express and connect with the soul, the lost aspects of self. We learn to act on our truth, we are attentive and responsible to the present moment, we focus on cooperation instead of competition, we ALLOW, we trust birth will happen in its own time.

Marion Woodman points out that, “The feminine way is the healing way. Rather than polarizing, the feminine accepts the paradox: this is beautiful, that is the opposite, but it too is beautiful.” It is at this stage that we accept ourselves in our totality—the good, the bad, the ugly—it is all beautiful and it is all part of this path we walk in this thing called life.

Healing the Mother-Daughter Split

Murdock teaches that this wound goes beyond a woman’s relationship with her personal mother, rather, it speaks to the heart of the imbalance in values within our culture. We long for a strong, powerful female parent.

We’ve been taught that life is hard, life is not fair, there is no ease and you have to work your ass off all the freaking time. With these unconscious beliefs we fear the mother, because the mother doesn’t control, she allows, and we want to control. It’s what we know. It’s what we’ve been taught. It’s ingrained in us through years of public schooling and cultural indoctrination.

In healing the split from the feminine, we need to be able to ask for help (something many of us addicts struggle with), and we need to drop into the feminine spirit of cooperation as a way to take back our power. We need to become our own nurturing mother. We need to connect with our feminine souls. Woodman says, “The feminine soul is what grounds us; it loves and accepts us in our totality. Our challenge is to embody this.”

There are many ways to begin to heal this split. Begin to honor your creativity and find out what your true values are, and live them. Honor your body, your sexuality, your emotions. Honor your innate wisdom and the wisdom of the earth—get your hands dirty! Research the sacred feminine and/or join a women’s group. Participate in the nurturing of your community. Study the Tao. Sign up for a program that supports the mind and body. One such program is Yoga Church Teacher Training, founded by Meadow DeVor, that delves into practices that integrate mind, body, heart and soul.

Practice surrender. Woodman says, “If you’re an addict, you have got to come to terms with the feminine principle. You’ve got to feel that slow rhythm—the rhythm of the earth is slow—you have to feel that slowing down, you have to quiet the soul, and you have to surrender, because eventually you have to face the fact that you are not God and you cannot control your life.”

This is the first step to healing from addiction: SURRENDER. Surrender is deeply aligned with the feminine, it is the first step back to healing the imbalance we are facing individually and collectively.

Healing the Wounded Masculine and Integration of the Masculine and Feminine

We begin to heal the wounded masculine by first honoring and bringing forth the repressed feminine. We need the masculine—it is the masculine energy that brings forth the wisdom and creativity of the feminine.

Murdock says, “The masculine is an archetypal force; it is not a gender. Like the feminine, it is a creative force that lives within all women and men. When it becomes imbalanced and unrelated to life it becomes combative, critical, and destructive. This unrelated archetypal masculine can be cold and inhuman; it does not take into account our human limitations. Its machismo tells us to forge ahead no matter what the cost. It demands perfection, control, and domination; nothing is ever enough.”

Along with the feminine, it is the masculine in balance that supports us in recovery. How many of us in recovery are overly critical of ourselves? How many of us are hanging on by a thread seeking to control our addiction or control our recovery? How many of us are harboring shame as a result of our addiction, fearing that our lack of ‘perfection’ has left us deeply flawed, and unlovable? These are all elements of the unrelated masculine at work.

We need the masculine in balance. It allows us to be disciplined, steady, and committed. It gives us endurance, helps us to set limits, and protects us. In fact, it may be the very thing that gave us the wherewithal to find ourselves on the path of recovery. But it alone cannot sustain. It needs its partner, the feminine, just as the day needs the night.

June Singer teaches us that the goal of the masculine principle is perfection, the goal of the feminine is completion. If you are perfect, you can’t be complete. If you are complete, you can’t be perfect. It is through the integration of the masculine and feminine that we find ourselves whole. We accept our imperfections and our limitations. Murdock says that through this integration, “A woman gives birth to herself as a divine androgynous being, autonomous, and in a state of perfection in the unity of the opposites. She is whole.”

As we move beyond dualistic thinking, as we begin to equally honor the wisdom and importance of our body, soul, heart and mind we heal the split within ourselves and through that personal healing, we begin to heal our collective wounds.

I’ve barely scratched the surface on what this journey entails. It is deep, soulful work, and I hope this introduction has peaked your interest in exploring this concept further.

Check out Maureen Murdock’s book, The Heroine’s Journey. Her book asserts that this is the journey the modern woman is in need of and does not speak directly to addiction. Marion Woodman’s, Addiction to Perfection is also a great, albeit at time tedious read. She delves into addiction in depth and how it relates to the imbalance in the masculine and feminine. Also, The Ravaged Bridegroom, by Marion Woodman explore masculinity in women. Clarissa Pinkola Estés has an amazing book that is a must read titled, Women Who Run with Wolves.

If you are interested in exploring this further, in reconnecting to your essence, your feminine wisdom, and in integrating your lost aspects of self, send me an email at shelby@shelbymessenger.com. I’d love to work with you and support you on your path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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