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.”
“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.