If you are always trying to be normal,
you will never know how amazing you can be.
— Maya Angelou, Rainbow in the Cloud
I’m going to tell you a story you’ve never heard before. I’m going to tell you a fairy tale the way it’s meant to be told. It’s not a story where, in a land far, far away, an evil witch torments you until Prince Charming saves you.
It’s one that transpires in your own body. One where you perpetually plague yourself, until you wake up to the realization that you’re the only one who can liberate yourself through your own true love. In this story, you embrace the best and worst parts of yourself, and in so doing, you transform your obstacles into opportunities to become the woman you know you’re born to be.
We come to know our true potential through opening to whatever life offers us — the good, the bad, and the ugly. The Chinese character for crisis includes those for both danger and opportunity. Birth and death, joy and sorrow, gain and loss, success and failure — these are all partners. You can never have one without the other. It’s exhausting to try to get more of the good by pushing away all the bad. Clinging and craving create a game we can never win.
Reuniting Our Smart Minds With Our Even Wiser Hearts And Bodies
Instead of freezing, fighting, or yearning to be rescued, how can we learn to flow through these natural fluctuations? How can we reunite our smart minds with our even wiser hearts and bodies, so we’re not living in a constant state of inner war? How can we learn to trust that disasters are often thresholds to the very miracles we seek?
Becoming a Heroine is a choice. It involves being willing to view our lives through a new, more honest and accurate lens. It beckons us to unlearn everything we’ve ever been taught about what it looks like to be a successful, happy, and powerful woman.
As we move forward, we need to understand that cultivating psychological health isn’t the end of the road; it’s the launching point of the spiritual journey. We need both, in different degrees at different stages of our lives, in order to weather the inner work required to become fully functioning adults and fully realizing spiritual beings.
More women are stepping into power today than at any other time in history, and it is clear that we all need a new model to follow. In 1990, Maureen Murdock wrote a groundbreaking book called The Heroine’s Journey. A Jungian therapist, Murdock worked with women between the ages of thirty and fifty and noticed a commonality: they (as well as their male counterparts) all disconnected from their feminine essence to “get to the top.”
The Archetype of the Father’s Daughter
I inherited a love of learning from my dad, as well as my immense drive and ambition to succeed, both of which I still value greatly. But these gifts came with a price. From the fourth-grade “excellents,” to high school “high honors,” to Ivy League Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, I built my identity and self-worth on the recognition I received through my scholarly success, along with my thin, pretty appearance.
I knew that, no matter how lost and insecure I felt inside, as long as I looked good and did well in school, I would receive the love and validation from the world that I so desperately longed for. I was my Father’s Daughter. I internalized the linear, results-oriented model of patriarchal success that he embodied so well, to enable myself to survive first in my family of origin and later in the world.
Most of us are Father’s Daughters, although not always in the same way. Maybe we had fathers who were physically present, but often domineering, aggressive, or even abusive. Or we might have had fathers whom we viewed as too weak and passive, so we aimed ourselves toward becoming the exact opposite. Maybe we had amicable relationships with our fathers and were “Daddy’s Little Girls.” If we didn’t receive enough attention from our fathers, we became “armored amazons,” fending for ourselves to get our needs met — and thus becoming Father’s Daughters in a roundabout way. As Maureen Murdock explains,
The armor protects [us] positively insofar as it helps [us] develop professionally and enables [us] to have a voice in the world of affairs, but insofar as the armor shields [us] from [our] own feminine feelings and [our] soft side, [we] tend to become alienated from [our] own creativity, from healthy relationships with men, and from the spontaneity and vitality of living in the moment.
We’ve built our selfhoods around being good girls and succeeding at all costs according to deranged masculine principles. As a result, we’re tormented by the belief that we need to be extraordinary in order to validate our existence.
We Are All the Daughters Of A Pathological Patriarchy
Viewing this archetype from yet another perspective, on a larger, cultural scale, we are all the daughters of a collective, cultural, all-pervasive pathological father — the Patriarchy. Due to this overarching cultural milieu, which prioritizes dominance, coercion, and power, at this time in history, we are all Patriarchy’s daughters. We all exhaust ourselves to do more, do it better, get ahead, and not be seen as weak or lazy.
To function within such overdrive, we bury our intuition, crush our desires, and stomp over our bodies’ subtle signals for rest and true nourishment. In driving ourselves so hard, not only do we make ourselves sick and exhausted, but also we hammer the nails into our own coffins of unhappiness. We wonder things like:
“Why do I always feel like I’m behind?”
“Why do I always feel so tired?”
“Why do I feel so disconnected from myself?”
“Why does my life feel so out of balance?”
When we fail to bring the archetype of the Father’s Daughter that we all carry inside into the light of our awareness, we prevent a key part of ourselves from growing up. She remains wounded and in the driver’s seat of our lives, unbeknownst to us!
As daughters of the Patriarchy, we all arrive right here, in this exact moment, together. We are at the point where, as grown women, we recognize the need to stop pushing ourselves forward from a hidden agenda to be loved. We wake up to the truth that this pursuit is hollow and perilous. If we don’t bring that lifelong, misguided ambition into conscious awareness, we’re going to end up driving our dreams — and ourselves — into the ground.
Honoring Our Midlife Crises
I’ve mentored hundreds of women who have gone through rites of passage: midlife crises, “nervous breakdowns” and “spiritual depressions,” career shifts, postpartum depressions, miscarriages, the death of a parent or spouse. When things fall apart, we think it’s because we’ve done something wrong. All will be right again if we can just clean ourselves up, rewind, and return to “normal.”
When we harbor the false belief that life should always be cheerful and challenge-free, of course we’re going to beat ourselves up when the reality of our lives fails to match our ideals. I should have saved more money. I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I should have more willpower. I should be more confident. I should be able to handle this. I should have appreciated her more when she was alive. I should have, I should have, I should have!
Serving so many women in crisis shows me again and again how much every woman needs to normalize her hardships far more than her false sense of comfy stability. Bumps in the road aren’t anomalies. They’re unavoidable actualities of being human. We all experience them. We need to experience them. They signal us to step up and meet the lives that are ours to meet.
Please, Don’t Be a Voyeur
Before we go any further, I need to send out a blast of fierce love. So many of us would rather live our lives on the sidelines, watching or reading about someone else’s Heroine’s Journey. Too many of us think we don’t have what it takes to embark on the journey ourselves.
If you’re reading this, commit here and now to not be a sideline sitter! This is within your reach. You can do this! Anyone can do this. The only way to fail is to not answer the call.
Like the famous scene in Eat, Pray, Love where Elizabeth Gilbert lies sobbing on her bathroom floor with the realization that she must end her marriage, we too have received that middle of the night call (and have also ended up a slobbering mess in the bathroom). The quest always starts with those questions whimpered in the dark: What is my life really about? Why am I really here?
Sure, we can wake up the next morning and put frozen spoons on our eyes to hide the swelling. We can walk the dog, make our coffee, and resume our life as if nothing ever happened. We can either ignore the call or pursue it. Just know that you will pay a huge price if you choose the former. You will die, bit by bit, if you don’t listen to the call; for when you don’t answer the call, you don’t listen to your SHE’s desire to come home to your Self. If you don’t choose growth, your soul will stop trying to get your attention and you will eventually actually die. From that perspective, we don’t really have a choice, do we?
Becoming A Heroine
On this journey, success means living from — not just listening to — your inner wisdom (your SHE) and rolling with the punches of whatever that brings. Along this journey there are no shortcuts. There are no hiding places. It requires your full participation. You have to face every single part of yourself and your life in order to proceed to the next step.
To become a Heroine you need to melt all the places within you that have been frozen and cut off from the support of the Great Mother. You need to reconnect all the parts of your inner landscape that have been disharmonious for so long.
Only you can do this. The Heroine’s Journey has no “exit” — and that’s a good thing. Because on the other side of this journey is...you. Not the “you” that you are right now, but the “you” you’ve not yet scripted. The courageous you who has created with gusto and humility in partnership with your eternal soul the life you most want to live.
If you’re feeling some trepidation, that’s a good sign. We all need to get a little scared by the level of responsibility that this kind of journey demands! Here’s the good news: even though we’ll each undergo our initiations alone, we’ll walk the path together, one step at a time.
©2015 by Sara Avant Stover. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library, Novato, CA 94949. newworldlibrary.com.
The Book of SHE: Your Heroine's Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power
by Sara Avant Stover.
About the Author
Sara Avant Stover is a motivational speaker, teacher, mentor, and founder and director of The Way of the Happy Woman®. After a health scare in her early twenties, she moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she lived for nine years, embarked on an extensive healing and spiritual odyssey throughout Asia, and, as a multicertified yoga teacher, served as one of the pioneer yoga teachers in that part of the world. Since then she has studied with many spiritual masters and has taught three thousand students in more than a dozen different countries. Visit Sara online at www.thewayofthehappywoman.com.
Watch a video with Sara: Retrieving True Unconditional Happiness