As a young graduate student, one of my professors was Joseph Campbell, a mythology scholar who articulated and popularized “the hero’s journey,” a series of transformative stages that leads to greater self-awareness and mastery. The three stages of Separation, Initiation, and Return act like a restorative guide that makes meaning out of the hero’s suffering. If the hero can successfully meet the challenge of each stage, his greater self comes into being. Campbell described the journey as an archetype occurring in thousands of cultures across time as rites of passage.
Our modern day heroes drive the fastest cars, own the biggest houses, prevail with the latest forms of technology and cleverness in their Mission Impossibles. Heroes, like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, drive starships, and obliterate the alien hostiles. They’re also the gals among us who write best-selling books like Lean In, teaching how to be successful using the hero’s strategies to achieve the same prestige, pay, and celebrity success. The modern day hero has traded the shiny illumination of his soul – the reclamation of the sacred masculine – for more outer power and accumulation of wealth. This crisis of the masculine has become our collective destruction, costing us the world’s natural resources and unspeakable violence and war.
In 2009 at the Vancouver Peace Summit, the Dali Lama shared the stage with four western female Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, each a powerful demonstration of a re-emerging sensibility, a form of servant leadership that restores the modern hero to the sacred masculine and simultaneously illuminates the presence of the heroine. I choose to believe that the Dalai Lama was acknowledging this (I have not asked him directly) when he spoke his now famous words: “The world will be saved by the western woman.”
How are a hero’s and heroine’s journey different?
Although the hero in modern times is a rugged individualist, the heroine is interdependent on others for her survival. The hero views humans and the divine as separate. For the heroine, there is no separation between spirit and matter. All are One. The hero is self-sacrificing; the heroine receives from others. The hero survives against all odds; the heroine’s ego dies to the perfection of whatever is happening, coming into agreement with what is, rather than forcing her will. The hero dominates; the heroine surrenders. The hero competes; the heroine collaborates. The hero revels in his victory, filled with pride; the heroine wears her humility as a jeweled crown. The hero never questions his value or direction; the heroine lives her life as an open question. The hero fights death, living in perpetual fight or flight; the heroine dies willingly into the still point of Beingness. The hero asks “What can I get for myself?” The heroine asks, “How can I serve the dream?”
The journey begins when the modern every day woman, who is living her life, encounters a rupture. This rupture is an activating event that creates the perception of loss or disappointment, and leads the heroine to descend deep into the shadowy waters of her pain and suffering. During the rupture, she refuses to play the victim, instead embracing the tragedy with grace and sensual surrender. She then moves into a phase of transparency, using the action and power of her vulnerability to embody her wholeness in every moment. She courageously embraces all of the many faces of her feminine self, including what may be judged by the culture as repulsive or frightening. This leads to a phase of receiving, during which the heroine remains open, exposed, and vulnerable, while she receives the soothing contact and assistance from others who tend her. She recognizes this as essential, and compassionately allows herself to be nurtured through her crisis, leading her to a final phase of action, during which she experiences a profound emotional and spiritual restoration that energizes new attitudes, perspectives, and outward movement.
How can the Heroine’s Journey help you?
It encourages you to take the attitude that you are not a victim of a mean-spirited random act from a hostile universe. By doing so, you transform from victim to Heroine who understands that something much greater than you or your circumstances is afoot.
Instead, you recognize that you are on a quest for wholeness – the integration of conscious and unconscious aspects of your psyche – and that every perceived loss (real or imagined) is an opportunity to dig deep and come back with even more of yourself.
These stages act as a third space where the transformation of the old ways of thinking and being can be replaced by new attitudes, understandings, and energies to create a “more whole self.”
The journey challenges you to believe that emotional suffering has a purpose, and if captured and revealed, its healing intention can be amplified.
You come to understand that your symptoms (suffering) are messages from the unconscious, and that something greater than you is seeking to come into being.
Instead of turning away from these symptoms by drinking too much, distracting yourself with busyness, or getting lost to another sexual conquest, you turn towards them with conscious curiosity and elicit the help of a guide in the form of a trusted friend, spiritual mentor, personal coach, psychologist, or support group to help you interpret the messages.
Through curiosity and community, a story of loss turns into a story of reclamation.
How will you live as a Heroine of your journey today?
P.S. Registration for Heroine’s Journey Teleclass series begins in March 2016.