you are your own damn permission slip




I saw part of an interview between Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert and Gilbert said a thing that still nags me:

“For some reason, and this just boggles my imagination, there are still just huge swaths of women who never got the memo that their lives belong to them.”

I know that feeling, as loathe as I am to admit it. I’m increasingly aware of those places in my life where I “gave away my power” by looking outside myself for validation and authority.

I have played small. I hide out.

As I get older it becomes more important for me to understand why – especially given my ambitious, competitive streak, or what my ex-husband always referred to as the fire in my soul: “You,” he once told me, “are no lamb.”


When I was at a dark point in my life – coming to terms with the death of my infant son, undergoing a brutal divorce process – I became fascinated with the Persephone myth. Persephone, a careless and naïve young woman, is dragged down through the earth into the Underworld. Hades, King of the Underworld, forces her to be his bride.

Persephone’s mother, the goddess Demester, searches all over the world for her daughter and raises her own kind of hell. Finally, Zeus himself must intervene…but that wasn’t the part of the myth that intrigued me.

I liked the part where Persephone becomes Queen of the Underworld and a guide to lost souls.

Because she dares to taste the Underworld – she eats half a pomegranate – she is forever tied to it.

(What you learn, you cannot unlearn. Either you master it, or it masters you.)

So every year she spends six months below ground and six months above.

I knew the story as a kid, but when I came across it as an adult – trapped in an underworld of my own – I realized the story was about trauma and recovery. Persephone comes to terms with what happened to her, maturing from silly young thing to mystic Queen. She develops a compassion for troubled souls and the skillset to guide them. She moves between the worlds in an endless cycle of death and rebirth: rising in springtime, descending in winter. She can’t change the past — the events that put her in touch with dark energies. She takes in that energy and transmutes it; she becomes powerful in her own right.

She is initiated.

Pain can remain pain – nothing more or less. Or pain can be ritual pain, if you use it as a call to adventure, a portal to change and transformation. Then, it becomes an initiation into the life of the soul: a deeper sense of you, your connection to a larger story, and perhaps to the mystery itself.

We are stronger for the broken places.

When I researched Persephone, I found an older, pre-patriarchal underground story that stars the goddess Inanna. Unlike Persephone, Inanna is a badass from the beginning: whipsmart, ambitious, sexy as hell. She goes underground because she seeks to become even more powerful. The descent humbles her (as it does us all), strips away her identity layer by layer, and ends in her death. Three days later, she is reborn. She rises from the Underworld with demons nipping at her heels.

She is initiated.

These underground stories introduced me to the term “the heroine’s journey”, the neglected psychological complement to the well-known hero’s journey. If the hero’s journey is about going out into the world and slaying dragons, the heroine’s journey is about pulling inward, traveling down through the layers of yourself until you sound the depths of your soul. Soul is defined here as the essence of what makes you unique, and how that positions you in the world.

To be initiated into the life of your soul means to know who you are and where you belong, expressed in the world through what you do (the work of your soul).

I could identify with both Persephone and (at least on the days when I felt strong and cocky) Inanna. Their underground stories activated something in me – an archetype – that reframed my feelings of grief, anger and hurt, the earth opening up below my feet, as the call to a heroine’s journey. My pain could be a ritual pain, if I chose to move through the process as consciously as I could; if I sought to use everything, everything, to learn and to grow; if I approached my life with curiosity and detachment instead of (or as well as) anxiety and dread.

I could be initiated.

Like the seasons, like creativity itself, personal growth cycles through stages. A journey doesn’t happen once in a life; it happens over and over again, for different reasons and varying lengths of time.

But you never descend into the same place twice; and you always rise a little higher than before.

(We are stronger for the broken places.)


A crisis destabilizes us in a way that contentment or happiness does not. Crisis knocks on our life and then knocks it over. It disrupts us, challenges our worldview, forces us to search inside ourselves for an effective response, tapping inner resources we might not even know we possess.

It may leave us standing amid the broken remains of the old life…but that becomes the ground zero on which to build a whole new house.

Sometimes the call to the journey presents as a sense of burnout, or boredom. You feel lost, adrift, confused, depressed, lethargic….and beat yourself up for feeling that way, for not knowing what you want or being motivated enough to go after it, for feeling stuck, for not being productive.

Gertrud Mueller Nelson (in her book HERE ALL DWELL FREE) distinguishes between “a fruitless depression” that renders you “incapable of movement”…and something else.

Instead of hiding from the sharp points of difficult feelings, you can lean into them fully and consciously. Nelson refers to this as

“embracing a conscious choice to withdraw from life where [you] will face [your] woundedness and enter to its very depth…Conscious depression or conscious suffering will finally being about healing.”


“An acknowledged and well-suffered depression rarely receives recognition and validation from the outside world…[which] sees any depression as stagnation – a blockage. But stagnation, when it is freely accepted and suffered through, can be in reality an incubation. The incubation period…is unhurried, an unseen growth prefatory to an initiation…an introduction to a new and conscious way of living life – fully and passionately.”

Chaos will come for us in one way or another. When it does, it opens up new opportunities – if we have the courage to see them.


As our heroine descends, the old story of who she is supposed to be falls away from her. She must let go of what is no longer working, and step into the bigger story that is waiting.

There is power in knowing who you are.

In her new book SACRED SUCCESS, Barbara Stanny quotes Erich Fromm: “The main task in life is to give birth to our self to become what we actually are.”

Stanny adds:

“That task is the essence of power…the essential challenge facing women today. It’s each woman becoming who she is meant to be, the ultimate authority in her life….”

I’m going to repeat that: the ultimate authority in her life.

This is when you own your life. When you know beyond a doubt that your life is yours to create however you please.

You are your own damn permission slip.

The culture does not teach girls to own it. From early on, a girl receives messages that her body, her sexuality, her dreams and ambitions, her opinions must be shaped to please other people. If her inner voice threatens to speak out too loudly, or passionately, or take up too much airtime; if it threatens to rock the boat in any way, she learns to switch it off.

If she feels a rise of anger, she learns to disconnect it – good girls don’t get angry – even if it signals that her boundaries have been violated.

Over and over again, she learns to look outside of herself for approval and validation, for the magical authority figure who will give her the A, the prize, the promotion, the compliment, the diamond ring.

In her new book PLAYING BIG, Tara Mohr notes that it

“…is a sad state of affairs when women find it a surprising, moving idea that they can turn inward to access their own wisdom… Though dressed in the guise of women’s empowerment, all the encouragement for women to find the right mentors and right advice is often, underneath, the same old message telling them to turn away from their own intuitions and wisdom and to privilege the guidance coming from others instead.”

If many women haven’t yet “gotten the memo that their lives belong to them”, it could be due to the system we’ve inherited. It is, now, a system in transition, but for thousands of years it had a special interest in girls remaining girls. The maiden was desirable, the mother was useful —

— but the crone, with her wisdom and spirituality and hardwon inner authority, was not.

The system praised and paid attention to girls, and encouraged their mothers to remain as girlish as possible, and moved the juicy crone to somewhere way, way back in the picture.


Imagine if we all got the memo.

Imagine a culture of confident, initiated women who regard themselves as the ultimate authority of themselves and their lives; who stop investing so much energy into being pretty and pleasing and ‘young’, and use that energy to seize the queendom of their realms.

Imagine if we stopped being good girls and such good students and (as Tara Mohr points out), instead of adapting ourselves to external sources of authority, used our passion, intelligence and creativity to transform them.

Imagine what that would do to the status quo.

Because that would change the world.

Feed your head!!
How thrilled am I to be doing the Open Books Event with Danielle LaPorte + Linda Sivertsen? They’re better than chocolate!
Come for the wisdom, the creative mentorship, the community.
Come be inspired…+ go inspire others.
Invest in yourself + your wildest dreams.
Your soul will thank you.
…+ your heart will bust out with some sacred rock’n’roll.
Open Books Event Yeah baby.

Oct 19, 2014

30 comments · Add Yours

This is so wickedly beautiful. I needed to read this. It’s like pure medicine for the soul.


After falling victim to some unspeakable crimes… literally reaching the depths of despair; reaching the dawn of my existence and becoming infected with a life or death spiritual crisis over the past year and a half, I’m still in the throws of recovery and healing….and have yet to emerge from my hiding place.

I’ve always had ups and downs and been able to rally and jump up ready to wander out into the world again, this time was different; I’ve never experienced something this grave. Its been a year and a half and I’m still wounded. As I continue to heal, what I have been doing a really good job at is hating myself for not jumping up and being perfect and amazing and wonderful again already… but I realize it’s not me wanting my resurgence back into the land of the living, it’s been everyone else who is way more comfortable with that experience and perception of me.

On that account… I thank you for sharing the story and allowing me to visualize myself as one of Persephone’s Lost Warriors. It’s stories like these that help us to keep going and live another day.


I had no idea Inanna and Persephone’s stories were interrelated. Thank you for teaching me this!

I’ve seen people suggest the hero and heroine’s journey is one and the same and I’m so glad you differentiate them here. I see the heroine’s journey being about healing the yin archetype and all the qualities associated with it (I.e. The body, Earth, wisdom, feelings, internal knowing, etc.).

If we look at all our institutions and current crises, including how women are treated and valued as a whole, we see a very wounded yin archetype at the heart of the challenge. And so yes, heroine’s journeys can certainly heal the status quo.

That is the intention behind my work. While food is the hook, my model takes women on their heroine’s journey around their health and weight to find more of that wholeness left absent from the hyper yang/masculine culture we’ve grown up in. They can then take this lense into their lives and work and help sculpt a new reality.

Love your work Justine. In fact, a few of your articles are supporting materials in my Truce with Food program!


Thank you. I’m proud to be a man raising daughters who are the memo writers of their own lives.


I once had a therapist tell me that dealing with trauma doesn’t mean accepting it and then having it go away; instead, it’s a grieving process, and like grief, it reappears in different forms at different times. (Example: You grieve the death of your mother as a ten-year-old when she actually dies, and then as you’re walking across the stage at graduation and she isn’t there, and then when you have a child whom she’ll never meet, etc.) That was a meaningful revelation for me—that just because you go back down doesn’t mean you haven’t made progress, doesn’t mean you aren’t taking control and moving forward. And it doesn’t mean that each time you go back down, you can’t learn anything new. That incubative depression is underrated.


Justine, this is amazing. I actually took notes while I was reading this, your words struck me so deeply. I loved the Persephone and Inanna story, the heroines journey, and the recurring nature of the journey – how we never descend to the same place twice and we always rise higher than we were before. Yes!


@Lala Thank you Lala. Another aspect of the heroine’s journey is enclosure-transformation-re-emergence. We pull away into a sacred space to listen to our own inner voice instead of what everybody else is telling us…That inner voice is your healing voice, and stay in conversation with it for as long as you need to. Sending you love + peace.


@Ali Shapiro I agree with you about the wounded yin! It’s not about women taking over the world — one of the great misperceptions of feminism — it’s about women restoring their lost voices to the worldly choir (and in so doing, transforming it). But we have to heal ourselves — actually I just retweeted a man’s tweet about this — before we can heal the world. I don’t think there’s anything more symbolic of how we nurture or neglect ourselves than the way we approach our relationship to our bodies…Learning to love + nourish your body = loving + nourishing yourself. What you’re doing is important. All best with it.


Happy to hear! Good on you, Luis.


@Alice That incubative process is *totally* underrated…It’s been over a decade since the death of my 10 week old son + I still can’t talk or write about it for more than a few minutes before the tears come, and I’ve learned that that’s totally ok. It won’t go away and I don’t want it to go away. You learn how to carry it, how to make it a sacred part of you, your life story, and you break yourself open to everything it teaches you about what it means to be a human in this world. My heart is much bigger, now. (Also, Alice, great to see you here!)


Lisa, and you totally know it. Go forth + conquer. :)


I love this Justine. Especially like – “Soul is defined here as the essence of what makes you unique, and how that positions you in the world.” Combine this awareness with the sage wisdom of the Crone… and you’ve got a potent elixer for change and transformation.

Cheering on the heroine’s journey! Thanks for being willing to be out front clearing a path!


Justine, As I started to read your post about Persephone, I breathed, “Inanna,” and looked over at the book by Kim Echlin (translator; and Linda Wolfsgruber, Illustrator) leaning against my bookcase. I’m using Inanna as inspiration for the third book I’m currently working on in my YA fantasy series about Henrietta the Dragon Slayer and her friends. I am also so inspired by your posts on female empowerment and the heroine’s journey. As an alpha female, but who has been in hiding much of her life, I am learning both how to hold my ancestral grief and personal anger and sadness lightly — Jewish and born differently abled; fingers and toes that are visibly different. Not only am I different physically, I am also bold, adventurous, articulate, smart, and not afraid to take a step into the unknown. Yet I’ve had huge walls around me to protect me from the dismissive gazes and attempts to shame me. I have felt them just the same. As I soften to myself and the world, I feel all the pain of my isolation, and continue to hold myself gently.


Those three paragraphs, the ones about anger, looking outside of oneself for validation and the messages from society, yes, yes, yes. My life right there. If the first part of this post hadn’t already been amazing, seeing those words and being able to say, “yes, that’s how it is and that is what we fight against as adults, ALONE” is soothing and a call to arms at the same time. You are so right. We should not just get the memo, we should write it. Because as you say, we are our own permission slip.
Thank you so much for writing this. I can’t even begin to explain how much it helps. I will read and re-read and re-read it.


How perfectly and beautiful put. Thank you for this. I needed this today. :) I feel very passionately about everything that you said.


Reminds me ofJames Hillman and Joesph Campbell. Great stuff!


T.S Eliot once said “man is man because he can recognize supernatural realitys, not because he can invent them.” I think ‘women’ are these supernatural realitys, and ‘men’ (should be) here to recognize them. Yin and Yang. Or something like that.

I do believe In what Kurt Vonnegut once, “ok girls, its your turn.”


@David I have always had a problem seeing men or women, black or white, or jew or Christian or any of the other deviders. I just tend to see free floating spirits traped in boxes and yes they give me pills so that I can stay in my box as I tend to wonder.


Justine- I am so thrilled that a friend forwarded this to me today and I found you! I’ve been speaking about how the journey is different for the heroine than it is for the hero for some time now, and I’m so excited to see the energy of this growing. I love your comparison to the Persephone and Demeter myth- I visited the cave at Eleusis when I was 19 and at the time, I had no idea that what was happening was ‘The Call’- I just knew I was sad and lonely and something in life wasn’t working. I cried for hours at the spot and wound up focusing all my studies that semester on the mysteries, but it took me another 8 years to figure out what I was feeling was the call, but once I did– well, life changed in ways I never thought possible. Thank you for this beautiful piece :)


Your post put me in mind of another great thinker/writer. I think you’ll like this:

“The ancient myth of Demeter and Kore is a seedbed of feminine experience for women of all times and places. The great majority of women today, having no contact at all with the Demeter mystery, have extreme difficulty in giving up their unconscious clinging to youth, their partial identification with man’s anima image, the unraped Persephone eternally picking flowers in blissful unconsciousness of the dark world below her.” – Helen Luke


@Lianne Thank you for that. I like that a lot + went and checked out Helen Luke + downloaded one of her books…It’s so easy to dismiss Persephone as a victim, especially when comparing her to Inanna — but it’s good to note that Persephone was not much more than a kid when she went underground and Inanna was very much a grown woman — and sometimes we do get victimized, period. It happens. It isn’t a source of shame and it doesn’t mean we are weak or helpless. It means we’re human and susceptible to trauma. It doesn’t undercut our strength and power as women (or as men) to acknowledge that; it’s about what you *do* with what happens to you where strength and courage reveal themselves.


Oh yes, Justine, there are many layers to the myth and I couldn’t agree with you more. I am in the beginning of a 9 month exploration of this myth with my Jungian teacher – in fact the quote I left above is from her website:

Life’s Daughter/Death’s Bride by Kathie Carlson is another deep dive into Demeter/Persephone. We need to get together for coffee and a good chat.


Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote something just like this many years ago in her book Women Who Run With The Wolves. I just finished reading it and highly recommend it.


Dayummmmm. So, so good.


Well put, well researched and a great reminder that only we are responsible for our life.


Memo received! Beautifully said, Justine! xoxo


Justine, thank you for the memo! I believe that it also applies to men who have “lost their voice, need to heal and re-emerge with an enlightened soul.


I just found you and enjoy what you have written. What is the use of this life it it does not motivate us to search within ourselves for the authentic self.
One of my favorite quotes from The Hero with a Thousand Faces describes the paradox of existence:

…where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
― Joseph Campbell


Maybe if everybody thinks less of themselves and more about others, we will all fare much better… All this self-involved nonsense is what spurs the divorce rates.


Add your comment