THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY AND GRIEF’S MYSTERIES
In l990, Maureen Murdock published a book called The Heroine’ s Journey. A woman’s quest for wholeness in our contemporary world, she says, is about defining woman’s experience of becoming and not how it has been defined according to masculine values. To get beyond the patriarchy’s definition of who we are as women, she looked at our cultural myths, fairy tales and ancient symbols from goddess culture, and dreams of contemporary women and defined The Heroine’s Journey as uniquely different than The Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell. These sources are powerful ways to get in touch with who we are as women —not just living a surface existence here in our society but choosing to look deeper into the outer concentric circles of our lives — the mythic and spiritual realms of our individual awareness to our deep interconnectedness to all living beings. There are many other women writers and teachers who have suggested this mythic path for defining a woman’s unique voyage through life and making sense of it our purpose and path forward.
What I have been learning about the grief journey for women, is similar. We, as women in the 21st century, are searching for ways to truly process our grief as a normal part of life’s mysteries—as an expression of our human condition. We have the unique human capacity to bring new life into the world, to create. And our most highly known major role is to create and nurture life in a way that men cannot. I see this as only half of our purpose here. I believe we as women also need to explore and normalize for our culture how to embrace this mystery of death and the grief experience that matches the depth of our life-giving consciousness as women. Death bring life and life brings death and these two complete a cycle of life over and over again. We must embrace both equally to know the fullness of life. Grief is the radical path of wholeness.
When we visit the mythic realm and Jungian psychology for the Heroine’s Journey, Murdock and others explain the importance of going down into the depths of a woman’s soul to the darkness and the mystery that must be met. We don’t go out into the world to find the ultimate quest with a dragon. Rather, we follow the path of the Sumerian goddess Inanna’s story into the Underworld. She had to go down into the depths of the Underworld to find the lost parts of herself to find healing. While all the while she had to contend with her sister the Dark Goddess (Self-Critic) blocking her all the way until the end. I love this story because it so closely dovetails what it’s like to truly drift down in the depths of your psyche in trauma healing work and the parts that block your true self from coming forth at the same time. We have to learn to face our dragons inside of us. That’s what IFS and deep meditation practice helps you do. Either way takes you down into the darkness and helps you learn to befriend what is there.
LEARNING FROM GODDESS ARCHETYPES
The Invocation to Kali….The Black Goddess Kali, the terrible one of many names, “difficult to approach,” whose stomach is void and so can never be filled, and whose womb is giving birth forever to all things…
The Hindu pantheon offers such deep goddess archetypes for the Dark Goddess that really resonate with me in my yoga practice and have helped me work with my big feelings of grief and loss. Kali is the most powerful one because she is always ready to help us take in the darkness and struggle so that she can help us find a balance between the intensity of darkness and light, death and birth in our lives. She shows us how to go into the flames, to breathe through whatever is stopping us, to fearlessly face what is killing us, to help us digest what needs to be transmuted so that we can begin again with great hunger to create again because she is also the great Mother. She shows us how to be with our inner selves and work through everything. (Taken from Awakening Shakti, by Sally Kempton)
The other Goddess traditions that are so helpful to me is the Earth Mother, nature as Goddess or Gaia. Gaia was the Greek goddess of Earth, mother of all life, similar to the Roman Terra Mater (mother Earth) reclining with a cornucopia, or the Andean Pachamama, the Hindu, Prithvi, “the Vast One,” or the Hopi Kokyangwuti, Spider Grandmother, who with Sun god Tawa created Earth and its creatures. Whatever depiction works for you, Mother Nature can hold us so deeply in an embrace of love and beauty, and in our darkest moments of despair. All we need to do is look all around us in natural settings to see how nature does life, death and rebirth over and over again. The slow withering and decaying of fall that drops deeper into darkness of winter and death, leads over and over again into the new life bursting forth of spring and the brightness of summer’s bounty. Trees show us their ability to weather the storms of each season of life with their flexibility and deep-rootedness and patience. Noticing that this powerful life cycle is ongoing in every moment, tells me I am so small in comparison, and that there is so much to learn from honoring this powerful natural energy in the Great Goddess or Gaia.
In my own trauma healing journey and facilitating others on this deep diving using the IFS model, I have found the journeying to be just an allowing and letting go process, very much feminine principles that are the only tools for this process of grieving to unfold. My guidance is to shift your approach from a masculine top down cognitive process which truly disregards our feminine ways of knowing and being to an embodied knowing that can only happen by shifting into, slowing down and allowing the body’s feminine wisdom to show up. Because our world is so masculine, it’s easy to lose this connection as women. The best way to start getting more connected to your divine feminine is through the body: We start with a mindfulness practice that is somatic focused and takes us deeper into the body. We do this with movement, breath, yoga and nature practices, ie, deep embodiment.
THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF
- The DESCENT: Trigger Event – Trauma is exposed – Shame is released into the system -echoing an earlier trauma and a part that needs healing. We find ourselves lost and confused in the darkness.
We learn to live in the murkiness of mysterious darkness for a while …..Accepting that we’re in the darkness.
Bringing in the Elements of Earth, Air Water and Fire to bring grounding, focus, intention and fluidity.
2) Soften-Soothe- Allow : We apply Self-Compassion Practices to create a safe holding environment (Loving Kindness for Ourselves, Soothing Touch and sound)
3) Exploring and working with the Goddess – The Goddess represents the Divine Feminine. She has three stages archetypally as Maiden, Mother, Crone. These three forms take us through the life cycle over and over again. Exploring our own goddess energy as it shows up in us helps us to find our own feminine traits and how they can be useful to us in each phase of our life transitions. Finding our deep-rootedness, our flexibility, our ability to stay still without knowing. We get still as we get rooted deeper in nature’s balance.
4) Facing the Protectors/Dark Goddesses in the way : In deep embodied practice, we meet and negotiate with these resistant parts and unburden them – help them feel safe enough and loved so they can step back. For me this is befriending my Self-Critic and other parts that have tried to protect me from pain.
5) Surrender to the Process – From a more grounded place now, we are able to ride the wave of emotions being triggered feeling and absorbing until you can finally release the feeling naturally; apply flexibility and adaptability to our process to allow it to go on as long as it needs to. This is not a linear process but very cyclical and dynamic and sometimes becomes intense and sometimes feels beautiful and relieving. Playful and exhausting.
6) Working with Shame/Pain – healing the part with love and tenderness. Letting the part join with all parts together as a happy family inside
7) THE ASCENT: Intentional work – This is moving up out of the darkness and back into the light.
Ask? What do I value? How do I go forward integrating this new awareness of me?
This leads to REBIRTHING: You the Goddess transforms through water into a mermaid.
Rebirthing is about allowing your parts to re-integrate and giving an invitation to any part or parts of you who wants to show leadership about a new direction or new path. It starts with a playful and joyous dance of new life coming forth….Dancing and singing can bring this forward in total appreciation of the new discovery of this new you.
All of the above feminine principles of allowing and accepting, listening, going slowly and staying in silence for the answers to come is how this new path will emerge