The Bridge To Wholeness

THROUGHOUT HISTORY there have been many stories about the journeys of heroes. These fairy tales, myths, and other literary works have shown how male heroes strive to become their true selves. They do this by conquering cruel enemies, enduring difficult trials of strength, or slaying terrible dragons. The reward for all this hard work is relationship with the feminine: the hand of the princess or a return to the waiting wife. And this is where the story ends. When a woman appears in a hero myth, her work is done for the sake of relationship. She may be a helper, a witch, a victim, a prophet, a seductress, or a reward for the hero, but she is almost never someone flowering as an individual.

The Bridge To Wholeness

A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth

THROUGHOUT HISTORY there have been many stories about the journeys of heroes. These fairy tales, myths, and other literary works have shown how male heroes strive to become their true selves. They do this by conquering cruel enemies, enduring difficult trials of strength, or slaying terrible dragons. The reward for all this hard work is relationship with the feminine: the hand of the princess or a return to the waiting wife. And this is where the story ends.

When a woman appears in a hero myth, her work is done for the sake of relationship. She may be a helper, a witch, a victim, a prophet, a seductress, or a reward for the hero, but she is almost never someone flowering as an individual.

According to most traditional mythology, a man's task is individuation, or becoming differentiated from everyone else by proving himself in personally fulfilling work in the physical world. If he succeeds, his reward is a return to the feminine. The combination of these two accomplishments (developing his individuality and achieving an intimate relationship with the feminine) allows him to become what he was intended to be and so to live out his destiny. In religious language, this goal is equated with entering the kingdom of God. In psychological language, it is called wholeness.

But for the female in traditional mythology, relationship is the only goal, and all her work must be directed toward maintaining relationships in the outer world. If this is not enough for her, it is too bad. As a result of this one-sided view, in the words of Joseph Campbell1,  there are no models in our mythology for an individual woman's quest. Nor is there any model for the male in marriage to an individuated female."l

For about five thousand years, Western civilization has emphasized what the Greeks called Logos, the active, "masculine" way of knowing and behaving. This is the way of the head - of conscious intellect, logical reason, active doing, and aggression. The qualities of Logos allow people to think clearly, develop their individual skills, and achieve success in the outer world.

When I say "masculine," I do not mean individual men or the male gender in general. Instead, I mean all the qualities that have traditionally been called masculine, regardless of whether they are exhibited by males or females. Unfortunately, men tend to identify solely with these "masculine" traits, and women with the opposite "feminine" ones. Therein lies the problem, and therein lies the theme of this book.

Western society has accepted the surface meaning of the masculine hero myth (by "myth" I mean a psychological! spiritual symbolic tradition) for so long that only recently have we begun to question the rest of the story. We are beginning to wonder what happens after the hero marries the princess and develops a relationship with her. What is the next phase of his life like? What does it mean to return to the feminine? And we wonder what happens to the princess who is not fulfilled in living solely for her relationship with the hero. How does she acquire self-knowledge? How does she become an individual who develops her own potential? What is her story?

Until recently, few have noticed how utterly the masculine hero myth has neglected the feminine way of Eros, the way of being instead of doing, the caring, feeling, receptive, nurturing, life-affirming way of the heart that values relationships and a meaningful inner life. While our patriarchal society has given lip service to the feminine principle, in truth Eros has been considered inferior to the masculine way of Logos, and its true importance to the human soul has been largely disregarded.

Perhaps today the devaluing of the feminine can at last be corrected. It is up to contemporary women and men to tell new stories that will provide a more comprehensive picture of the meaning of life for future generations. These new stories must describe how one returns to the inner feminine instead of focusing solely on the outer masculine world of doing. They must show how women acquire self-knowledge by turning within to discover their own resources instead of depending on relationships with men for their salvation. And they must show how men perform the inner work that guides them to intimacy with the feminine - and thus to their own salvation - after they have acquired confidence and self-knowledge through the rewarding work of "dragon-slaying" in the outer world. These new stories will show that the way to wholeness for both men and women is a way that bridges the gap between masculine and feminine, Logos and Eros, individuation and relationship, light and dark, conscious and unconscious, the outer ego and the inner Beloved.

This book incorporates the neglected feminine element into our culture's collection of myths about the human search for wholeness: the quest for individuation integrated with the equally powerful need for relationship. At one level, this book is the story of one woman's quest for self-knowledge. In a broader sense, however, it describes a phase of the journey toward wholeness, i.e., a return to the feminine, whether it is experienced by the masculine hero or the feminine heroine. As I have described this experience, I have come to believe that, while men and women approach wholeness along very different roads, their journeys are alike in two important ways.

First, the journey always involves integrating the opposites within ourselves. When the inner summons to embark on a journey into wholeness occurs, the security that once came from conforming to the masculine, logical, outer world ends. Then the feminine phase of the journey begins. This is an inner, initiatory journey that involves the painful work of breaking through our resistances to growth and change - barriers that have functioned like protective walls - so that we can enter into the unknown territory of our fuller personalities and true potential. Learning to know and accept the opposites within ourselves, both the "bad" and the /I good," brings about a powerful internal fusion in our personalities. This releases tremendous energy and makes us vitally aware of our connection to an inner, spiritual entity- God, the Self, the Beloved.

The symbol of the bridge helps us visualize this inward synthesis of the opposites. A bridge is an edifice that overcomes obstacles or gaps and connects things on opposite sides. In the human brain, there is a bridge called the corpus callosum that connects the verbal, highly conscious left hemisphere with the image-oriented, largely unconscious right. We are also familiar with the biblical rainbow, a bridge that overcomes the separation between humans and their creator, and unites them with a message of love from the spiritual world to the physical. I imagine another bridge, an invisible one in each individual that overcomes the artificial barriers humans have erected to separate Eros and Logos, the two fundamental requisites of every healthy personality. When we answer the call to both Eros/relationship and Logos/individuation and can move freely back and forth across the bridge that connects the two, we are at last in a position to approach wholeness.

Most of us resist creating this bridge between the opposites in ourselves because we are afraid to face the painful inner realities we have spent our lives avoiding - truths like our terror of dying, our hidden hatred for ourselves and others, our fear of the unknown, our terrible selfishness, our desperate vulnerability, our closeness to the edge of the dark abyss, our agonizing need for love and understanding, our appetite for warring and killing, and our lust for power. What we do not realize is that these things must be faced before we can become complete, reborn individuals who know how to heal, build up, laugh, dance, love, and live in peace with ourselves and others.

The second common attribute of the journey of both men and women has been hinted at but neglected in the hero myth. We do, in fact, have a model for this phase of the journey, the uniquely feminine part of the story. The model is in the Christ story of sacrifice, suffering, death, and resurrection, but because of our contemporary focus on the outer world of rational, observable facts, we have lost touch with most of the rich inner meaning of this story. The journey that leads back to the feminine is an inner initiation into the unconscious, invisible, spiritual world. Whether it occurs in a man or a woman, it moves, like nature herself, through four phases.

The first phase begins when we are young and vulnerable, after we lose our initial innocence and total dependence on our mothers. The fear we experience at this profound loss makes us desperately needy for safety, so we spend our youth conforming: impressing our teachers, gaining the approval of our parents and peer groups, joining clubs, finding mates and jobs, and acquiring status, money, comfortable homes, and pat answers. Our need to conform is so powerful that we build strong protective walls, like the walls of a castle, around our true Selves, gladly sacrificing our real needs, even our own happiness, in order to maintain the illusion of safety that comes from yielding to conventional beliefs, roles, or authorities. Hiding in our sturdy, familiar castles makes us feel secure as we become independent from our mothers and adapt to the Father's world of work and group expectations. This time of seeking safety through conformity often lasts well into adulthood; for some it lasts a lifetime.

But some people gradually become aware of a strong inner torment, a feeling of being backed against a wall or of being torn between two seemingly irreconcilable allegiances, values, or duties. It is as if they hear a mysterious inner call to break free from conditions that formerly gave them comfort. Then the second stage of the journey begins. This is a painful time of leaving, a time when our need for safety is replaced by a stronger urge to retrieve the parts of ourselves that were lost during our time of conformity. During this stage we question old rules and break through our walls of resistance into new psychological and spiritual territory.

But just as hiding behind castle walls is not enough, neither is habitually leaving situations to chase through the wilderness every time we are unhappy. At some point we have to stop running, find a quiet place, and start the inner work of healing old wounds, facing our real Selves, and developing our true potentiaL

When we are ready to stop leaving, we move into the third stage, a time of profound metamorphosis, a time that some liken to death. Like wild animals that instinctively withdraw to die or give birth, we retreat to an isolated island deep within ourselves. There in dark seclusion we undergo the difficult work of exploring our unconscious realms. There at last we make peace with the opposite, hated aspects of our natures - all the terrible inner monsters we have spent our lives fighting and denying. There we learn that our personal dragons are not our enemies, and that confronting them will not be the death of us. It will only mean the death of our childish, immature selves who have to die so that a marvelous new Self may be born into our conscious lives.

The fourth and final stage is akin to leaving the island and crossing a bridge into the promised land of our full potential. Bridging the barriers between the opposites frees us from so much that has crippled us and endows us with so much power and creativity that it feels as if we have been reborn into a fuller form of being. Then we reap the rewards of our arduous journey: increasing peace and serenity, growing intimacy in our relationships, and meaningful, creative work. We are resurrected transformed from empty, lifeless, obedient puppets into fully alive, ever-expanding, unique individuals who are at one with ourselves.

These two characteristics of the mythic journey into wholeness - i.e., the integration of opposites and the fourfold nature of the journey - are the bones of this book. The following chapters add muscle and flesh by describing how I have experienced this journey. For many years I have kept silent about these things. Now it is time for me to speak.

This book is not just for women, many of whom will undoubtedly see themselves in these pages. It is also for men, who must learn how to return to the feminine, too, if they wish to approach wholeness. It is for everyone who is a seeker.

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1 Joseph Campbell, "Joseph Campbell on the Great Goddess," Parabola: The Magazine of Myth and Tradition. Vol. V (4) (Fall 1980): 74-85.

Dr. Jean Raffa is an author, speaker, and leader of workshops, dream groups, and study groups. She maintains a blog called "Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom." Her job history includes teacher, television producer, college professor, and instructor at the Disney Institute in Orlando and The Jung Center in Winter Park, FL. She is the author of three books, a workbook, a chapter in a college text, numerous articles in professional journals, and a series of meditations and short stories for Augsburg Fortress Publisher.

Her book The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth (LuraMedia, 1992) was nominated for the Benjamin Franklin Award for best psychology book of 1992.

Reviewed in several journals and featured on the reading lists of university courses, it was also picked by the Isabella catalogue as a must-read for seeking women. Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dreamwork (Innisfree Press, Inc., 1994) has been used in dreamwork courses throughout the country and is included in Amazon.com’s list of the Top 100 Best Selling Dream Books, and TCM’s book list of Human Resources for Organizational Development.

Photo Credit: "Bridge to Island" © Francisco Javier Espuny | Dreamstime.com

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