Oprah once interviewed the legendary Jean Houston on her show Super Soul Sunday, where they discussed the Hero’s Journey, and how each one of us is called in our lives to undertake such a journey in order to become more of who we really are. It reminded me how the Hero’s Journey they described is exactly what I experienced when I gave birth to my three daughters. It got me thinking how all mothers have been on this journey, yet few of us realise it or remember it as being so transformative.
In my book Enlightenment Through Motherhood I explore this but here is the gist of it: The traditional (male) Hero’s journey involves stepping our of your comfort zone and experiencing intense pain – physical, emotional, psychological, existential, spiritual – where you are called to access and embody inner resources you wouldn’t otherwise have needed in your normal, day-to-day life which, for most people (in the West at least) is fairly mundane and doesn’t require all that much courage or strength to get by in. The Hero emerges at the end of his journey a new man.
It is a transformational journey, involving the loss of innocence and the gaining of a new and greater self.
For women, who, interestingly, can also experience the Hero’s journey, there is also the Heroine’s journey of childbirth. It is far more intense though, as it takes place in less time, usually. The pain and suffering is tremendous, the courage and stamina required to get through it is gold-medal-deservable, and the only giving up you can do is to request an epidural or a Caesarean – both of which still lead to your transformation into a mother at the end of the journey, but with a different types of suffering experienced to that of mothers who give birth without intervention. No other human experience leads to such a radical transformation as that of becoming a mother.
Becoming a father is far more gentle, and can even be missed entirely if a man doesn’t know he has impregnated someone. No other experience transforms you from one state of being to a completely new state, in such a brief time. And nothing can prepare you for it – no amount of physical training, breathing, ante-natal classes, smothering in essential oils will help. It is the most radical transformation possible.
Most mothers feel an enormous sense of empowerment after birth, belief in themselves, and a host of other delicious feelings such as unconditional love and devotion, and sometimes even expanded states of consciousness, yet we lose them pretty soon afterwards. If birth was a positive and supported experience, the good feelings of achievement might last a year, but if it was less than ideal, then a new mother can quickly sink into the depths of post-natal depression.
So why did I have to be reminded of this Heroine’s journey I experienced three times, with each time requiring me to dig deep for the strength to get through it?
Because in the day-to-day lives of mothers, once we return home transformed into a mother, or a mother of two, or three or more, our experience is lost – becomes invisible – in the rules and values and concerns and language of the patriarchal world in which we live.
We read about plenty of Hero’s journeys (undertaken by both women and men) in the media, we watch films and television shows about them, but we are rarely exposed to public acknowledgement, story-telling or celebration of our truly remarkable Heroine’s journey.
Read more about this in this post Motherhood – A Path to a New Kind of Enlightenment or in my book Enlightenment Through Motherhood.
*Image by Clarise https://www.flickr.com/photos/claricesandi/