A few weeks ago I commemorated the four-year anniversary of the day I packed my trusty Nissan Altima with as many belongings as I could fit, and drove away from the comfortable life I had known for the last three decades.
As I wrote to my e-letter readers, it only took about 50 miles on the highway for the most incredible sense of exhilaration to override the fear and trepidation. I could literally feel chains lifting away from my being.
As I wrote about that day, I realized this was the moment I embarked on an epic Hero’s Journey. One that I am not sure I’ve completely emerged from yet. (And… although Hero’s Journey is the term most people recognize, of course it’s just as much the Heroine’s Journey.)
Because, while our lives are full of these Hero’s Journeys – large and small – I believe that the menopausal passage is a Heroine’s Journey of a very profound nature. It manifests differently for every woman, but we are all faced with a ‘call to adventure’ at some point in this life transition.
In the weeks since writing that email, I’ve been reflecting on how my own personal journey has reflected the mythical Hero’s Journey. And how my personal quest is a microcosm of the life shakeup that happens during menopause – or during the time of life that this hormonal change visits most women.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about when I say Hero’s Journey – this is the name (coined by Joseph Campbell) for an archetypal series of steps that represent transformation in a human life.
Campbell didn’t invent this back in the 1940’s though. As a scholar of classical myth, he discovered that this trajectory unfolds in countless stories and myths crossing all cultures. It’s an archetypal symbol of the human experience.
It is used – whether intentionally or not – by most writers and film makers, and you can see it enacted in many novels and movies. From The Odyssey, to Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, to Luke Skywalker, and many works in between.
I could speculate about how life often unfolds as a series of mini and maxi hero’s journeys. But my interest here is in how this journey unfolds in our lives as women traveling through menopause – a time when many of us feel a call to reinvent the life we have always known.
When I was in the early throes of this Hero’s Journey, I kind of pooh-poohed the idea that I was on any such adventure. It felt more like I was being bounced around in some sort of cosmic washing machine, with no rhyme or reason to the crappy and wonderful things that were flung at me.
Now, with a slightly longer vantage point, I can see that I’ve actually been following quite closely to this classical trajectory.
Campbell came up with SEVENTEEN steps for the Hero(ine)’s Journey. There are many other versions, some with as few as five steps.
At first I got into a little mental spin trying to match specific events in my own life to fit in with the exact steps on a Hero’s Journey… then, I realized that the specifics aren’t as important as the overarching archetypal meaning.
Here’s what I know: Even if you are not spinning in a maelstrom of hormonal havoc or riding an emotional rollercoaster with menopause, this time of life is always an opportunity for awakening.
And awakening from a comfortable sleep is not always easy.
You might not yet see how your own menopausal shifting is a reflection of the Hero’s Journey. Or you might still be in the “Refusal of the Call” step. (I spent a good few years there!) Your personal awakening may not involve such a gigantic step as driving away from everything loved and stepping into the maw of the unknown… but then again it might!
Or, like me, you may be partially through your Menopausal Heroine’s Journey and just catching a glimmer of the glory that awaits as you complete that Circle.
I’ve also noticed that in a real woman’s life the classic Hero’s Journey steps don’t necessarily follow in exact order.
I’ll share here how I can now see the match of my own life’s twists and turns to my Heroine’s Journey… mixing up the steps to reflect my own insights. I invite you to take a look at your own life through the lens of this classic journey of self discovery.
This is that comfortable life. Sure, there are things that aren’t working… but everything is familiar, safe, comfortable. This was me during my 30s and 40s, living a perfectly good life (or so I told myself.)
Call to Adventure.
It was only as the big 5-0 approached (and those menopausal symptoms increased!) that I began to feel some stirrings that I was meant to be doing something different, something more… But what could that be? I started entertaining thoughts of moving to a new locale, even a new country, but…
Refusal of the Call.
…. It all seemed so complicated. What was I going to do? How could I work out all the logistics? After all, I had a fine life. Sure, there were some issues in my marriage, I was becoming increasingly unhappy for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on – but overall I had a lovely home, a beautiful garden, a huge community of friends, why leave?
(This is the above-mentioned stage that I got stuck in for a good few years.
Meeting the Mentor – Or Supernatural Aid
I call this the big download. It’s that moment I finally said YES. Brought to my knees in tears as I hiked through an ancient forest, I suddenly knew I must go. All my arguments and objections were dissolved by a sort of mighty knowing.
Crossing the Threshold
Six weeks later I’m driving up the highway through the looming redwoods. I had a skimpy savings and a skimpier plan. I didn’t know what lay ahead, I only knew my life was never going to be the same.
The Road of Trials (Tests, Allies, Enemies)
This is the part where despite the multiple synchronicities that show me I’m on the right path, huge obstacles loom up from seemingly out of nowhere. Misfortune strikes.
I’m rear-ended on Highway 5, and while first thinking I’d been granted a miraculous escape from death, I end up with whiplash and injuries that prevent me from moving through the world in my normal way for two years. I break a front tooth, further breaking the bank account. My beloved bike is stolen. I hit dead end after dead end in business ventures and job searches.
I also encounter Angel friends, miraculous gifts, and more and more synchronicities. Just when I think I’m hitting the bottom, one of these appears.
I return to the previous step, meeting new mentors and encountering a deeper level of spiritual guidance. I am shown I am to enroll in life coach training with Martha Beck. Although I’d resisted going too deeply down the woo-woo rabbit hole, I’m suddenly drawn to various forms of energy healing, and find myself working at a spiritual book shop.
Expansion. Contraction. Choices.
This is not an actual step. It’s one I’m making up because I could conflate many of the different steps here (Temptation, Ordeal, The Abyss, Death and Rebirth)… This is the part where many heroes and heroines get a little stuck and lost. But not forever (although it can really seem like it when you’re there.)
Just when I’m back into that bottomed out place…. Nursing a broken right arm, wondering WTF I’m really DOING…. A new synchronicity shows up in the opportunity to go live in Mexico for a few months.
Mini hero’s journey ensues as I wrestle with taking another leap. Should I? Shouldn’t I? By now I get it, when the magic shows up: Listen, Move. So, I go.
I hit more obstacles, most of them of from the inside this time. And, I encounter still more miracles. I end up deciding to once again pack up my life and move to Mexico.
The Road Back, Ultimate Boon, The Return
The final steps. Again, real life doesn’t always match the mythical journey point by point. Yet, in my life I can see myself circling back, emerging from the ‘abyss’ of despair and countless obstacles. Still encountering a few small glitches and whispers of self doubt and I tread this path ‘homeward’ to the Reinvented Me.
And yet my step is lighter, my mind so much freer. I am the serpent that has shed one skin, and is now growing its new and even brighter scales.
Blessings are appearing, love shows up. Flow becomes a more regular companion to my days.
The Hero(ine)’s Journey backdrop shows us that true transformation—true reinvention—must always include drama, obstacles, challenge, setbacks. We came here for this! For this adventure, to live a hero(ine)’s story.
I’d love to hear how the symbolism of the Hero’s Journey shows up in YOUR life, and in your midlife and menopausal transition. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.