Category Archives: The Hero’s Journey

The Path of the Wounded Healer

Part Three: Crossing the Threshold

by Tonya Madia

“To reteach a thing its loveliness is the nature of metta. Through loving-kindness, everyone & everything can flower again from within.”   Sharon Salzberg

If you were to take a moment to examine some of the life experiences from which you emerged transformed in some way, you would most likely find that the series of events transpired in a similar, if not identical, pattern to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey outline. At the start of each new journey, the hero(ine) must be called away from their ordinary world.

We complete this cycle many times throughout our lifetime. By the time I received this most recent call I had been through enough of these journeys to recognize the Wounded Healer archetype expressing itself through me once again. From the time I was very young I recognized the healing and transformative power of helping others. It was a driving force in my decision to pursue my Reiki, yoga and massage therapy trainings.

Two years ago I began to experience sudden and profound changes in my health. I gained over 40 pounds in a matter of a few months, struggled with increasingly low energy and exhaustion, and I began to have mysterious aches and pains. Most notably, I had monthly struggles with extremely heavy menstrual cycles.

Convinced that my issues were simply the result of the hormonal changes associated with peri-menopause, I tried a variety of natural remedies and lifestyle changes— everything from low carb/no carb diets, exercising, fasting, cleansing, supplements, and essential oils, all to no avail.

I became so obsessed with resolving the issue through lifestyle changes that my ordinary world had become one of constant research, lifestyle adjustments and frequent trips to the gym. None of these efforts proved successful and self-criticism and old beliefs about self-worth based on appearance resurfaced.

After about two years of dwelling in this ordinary world of struggle, the call came and I found myself in the ER. Several tests revealed that I had a large uterine mass and was severely anemic. I brought the results to a noted gynecologist in West Virginia. After discussion with my family, I made the decision to travel 10 hours to be in the care of someone highly recommended at a medical facility that I knew well from my time working at the Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at the university. The gynecologist promptly scheduled a procedure called a hysteroscopy. A few weeks later the procedure was done and my doctor felt confident I would begin to feel better.

I didn’t. The hysteroscopy was an outpatient procedure and I had thought that when I’d agreed to the procedure, I’d answered the latest call to adventure. (After all, I would literally be leaving my ordinary world, as I traveled 10 hours to WV have it done!)

As it turned out the hysteroscopy wasn’t the call—it was only a precursor to the call that would arrive two weeks later, with the onset of my next menstrual cycle.

Another trip to the ER (this one even scarier, as my blood pressure plummeted from blood loss and I had to be hooked up to monitors and given fluids through and IV), another series of tests, and the determination was made by a local doctor that held within a single word my call to adventure. Hysterectomy.

With such a surprisingly large number of women requiring them, the surgery is considered by many to be “no big deal.” It was a big deal to me! I soon became quite anxious about the surgery and all that came with it. Physical trauma, pain, potential complications, the loss of internal organs, sudden hormonal changes, six weeks of recovery time… I wasn’t so sure about answering this call. As hesitant as I was, I knew what I had to do so I resigned myself to the inevitable journey ahead.

Deep down I knew what this journey was about and that it was long overdue. As an energy practitioner and yoga teacher, The Wounded Healer in me had been examining my condition from an energetic standpoint. This was a second chakra issue (see my earlier blog post, or my book Living the Intuitive Life, for a detailed outline of the chakra system). The second, or sacral, chakra resides energetically in the reproductive organs. Physically, it relates to the ovaries in women, the testes in men and the adrenal glands, spleen, uterus, urinary and circulatory systems. The decades-old wounds that I mentioned in Part Two of this series had been forgotten, but they were not gone. As long-ignored wounds do, they began to fester.

It was time to face these issues head on and proceed with the surgery. As nervous as I was when I arrived at the hospital the morning of the surgery, I was at the same time anxious to get on with it, cross the threshold and move into the next phase of my journey. Although I recognized the surgery as the crossing of the threshold in the journey, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, or what it would look like.

Following the surgery, I found out that my uterus was three times its normal size and had a noncancerous mass within it the size of a baseball! There were also many fibroids that had attached themselves throughout my reproductive system, some of which had hemorrhaged.

As I said, long-ignored wounds can fester.

Three weeks later I believe I have a better understanding of what I have gone through. Anyone who’s ever had major surgery knows you awake from the anesthesia feeling somewhat befuddled and vulnerable. I remember feeling confused and afraid when the nurses instructed me to shift from the gurney I was on over to the bed in my hospital room. It seemed an impossible task and I remember thinking in my hazy state that they were being unreasonable. Apparently they weren’t, as I managed to eventually maneuver myself onto the bed. The following morning I remember having a similar feeling when the nurse insisted I get up and walk around. I was sure she had lost her mind. She hadn’t, and I found I was able to get out of the bed and shuffle my way around my little room.

The past few weeks have been an interesting collection of similar milestones and a rising awareness within me that vulnerability isn’t as scary as I once believed. I’m learning with each passing day to extend kindness and patience to myself while at the same time learning to feel comfortable asking others to do things for me that I’m unable to do for myself.

I’m learning just how many of those “simple things” I once took for granted. Things like sitting up in bed on my own, bending down and walking, lifting a pot of soup onto the stove to reheat it, and moving about with ease. All of these will of course return in time, but in the meantime I am allowing myself to learn and practice the art of gratitude along with the ease of acceptance when my loved ones happily offer to assist me. I am learning to treat myself with loving kindness, and even more importantly, that I am deeply deserving of it.

 

 

The Path of the Wounded Healer

Part Two: Chiron, the Wounded Healer

By Tonya Madia

Who is the Wounded Healer?

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung identified a universal language of symbols shared by the collective unconscious of the human race. According to Jung, these universal symbols show up in dreams, literature, art, and religion. Author and lecturer Caroline Myss describes archetypes as patterns of energy that express themselves through us and believes them to be an intricate part of the “symbolic coordinates” through which we navigate our world.

We speak and think in archetypes. Through the language of archetypes a great deal of information can be conveyed in a single word. If I wanted to describe someone to you I could do so efficiently by saying, “she’s a real princess,” “he’s an artist,” “she’s such a victim,” or “he’s a rescuer.” We all possess at least a dozen different archetypes and therefore a “mother” can at the same time be an “artist” and a “storyteller” can also be a “pirate.”

The Wounded Healer archetype is compelled by his or her wounds to help others. Like all archetypes The Wounded Healer must embark on, and return from the Hero’s Journey before their full potential can be actualized.

The Path of The Wounded Healer begins with the wound, which is an essential part of the healer’s abilities. The 13th-century Persian poet Rumi wrote, “The wound is where the light enters” and I believe that it is also where empathic ability enters. It is because The Wounded Healer has experienced deep and profound wounds that she or he is able to understand the pain of another and is compelled to try to ease it. We’ve all been wounded to some extent, but the difference for The Wounded Healer is that their wound or wounds served to break them open in such a way as to activate strong empathic capabilities. Wounded Healers don’t just see the suffering of others—they feel it. It doesn’t matter that the wounds are very different; for The Wounded Healer the quality of the pain is very much the same.

The Wounded Healer’s empathic abilities make them extremely compassionate and very often they find themselves drawn to the healing arts. But regardless of whether they pursue a career in the field of medicine, social work, or other areas of healing, they are subconsciously drawn to try to help ease the pain of others in practically everything they do. Wounded Healers have an innate ability to energetically connect to the emotional frequency of others while at the same time emitting the comforting frequency of compassion required to help ease that suffering. But the natural abilities of The Wounded Healer pale in comparison with the inherent healing abilities these individuals possess. The only way for the Wounded Healer to realize their full potential is through the healing of their own wounds.

In Greek mythology the centaur Chiron represents The Wounded Healer archetype. Chiron sustained two wounds, which never healed—one emotional and the other physical. It was his suffering that drove him to search for relief, and through that search he gained wisdom, experience, and the ability to counsel, teach, and heal others.

With the arrival of my most recent call to adventure, I asked Dr. Grace Reischman, a talented astrologist, to take a look at my chart for some guidance. Here is her reply:

“An event called the ‘Chiron Return’ happens when we are between the ages of 49 and 51.  Similar to a ‘Saturn return.’ it means that Chiron has orbited once around the sun (it takes about 50 years for Chiron) and has returned in your chart to the time when you were born.  I just feel strongly that your health challenge and upcoming surgery are related to your Chiron return.

Chiron is in your 6th house, which is the house of work but also of health and disease. Venus, which rules your femaleness, is there also. Chiron’s return can activate old wounds, deep ones, ones that you might not have been conscious of and with Venus there, it is very possibly a wound that happened to your sense of femaleness when you were born or that happened between ages 1 to 4 and somehow the root of the female health issue is there.”

I found this to be as fascinating as it was accurate. I am 49. My initial wound came between the ages of 2 and 5. Similar, subsequent wounds occurred at the ages of 6, 9, 14, and 18. Details about the wounds are not as important as their overarching theme, which was directly related to my sense of femaleness, exactly as Dr. Reischman pointed out. From an energetic standpoint these wounds are directly related to the sacral chakra—the chakra of creativity, fertility, sexuality, and personal boundaries.

In massage school we are taught that our “issues are in our tissues” and this is very true. Unresolved issues eventually manifest themselves in the physical body as any number of health conditions. From this perspective my hysterectomy constitutes the “crossing of the threshold” in Joseph Campbell’s map of the Hero’s Journey. The removal of the physical condition is only the beginning; the deeper healing comes from the inner work that will take place over the next several months—the work of forgiving and accepting myself and establishing strong personal boundaries without guilt, an ability that I lost when respect for the personal boundaries of my body had been repeatedly disregarded by others.

When I was 14 a boy that I was infatuated with told me that I should be grateful for his time because prettier girls than me were vying for his attention. Those words went a long way toward sealing a belief I had held since childhood—that my self-worth and appearance were inextricably connected. Looking back, it wasn’t so much his words that were at issue, but my immediate willingness to accept them without question. A conditioned acceptance I suppose, because the nature of the wounds carried an insidious message; that my inherent value was contained only in my physical body. It was a belief that I would spend decades trying to free myself from, and one that would remain deeply rooted in my subconscious even after my logical mind had been freed from it.

When my health issues began two years ago my body and appearance began to change and as they did I noticed old beliefs about my self worth begin to resurface. I once again found myself agonizing over perceived deficits in my appearance and it soon became apparent that there was still much work for me to do. Regardless of my logical mind’s willingness to accept that I am worthy in spite of (and perhaps even because of) my perceived shortcomings, it’s time to heal the deep-rooted wounds that insist otherwise.

For me it makes perfect sense that 50 marks the return of Chiron to his natal position, as this age heralds an important life transition. I turn 50 in four months and I look forward to using this time of recovery to challenge the dragon of my harmful beliefs and emerge healed, transformed, and ready to take full ownership of myself as a person, a woman, and a healer. It is my hope that the wisdom gained from my experience will be something I can share with others to help them along on their own Hero’s Journey.

 

 

Chiron image retrieved from: http://rubyxia.com/?p=964

The Path of the Wounded Healer

Part One:  The Call to Adventure

By Tonya Madia

Two months ago I received one of the most exciting packages to ever arrive for me in the mail, the proof copy of my first book. It was a moment I had been anticipating for most of my life from the time I had decided that I wanted to be a writer at the age of 12. Holding the proof copy in my hands was exciting and exhilarating and my mind raced with the details of the adventure I was about to embark on. I had already scheduled the venues and dates for several book talks, signings and workshops and I was anxious to get started.

Three days later I received a call that would set me on the path to a very different adventure. It wasn’t a call in the literal sense, but rather the kind of call described by author and mythologist Joseph Campbell in his narrative pattern described as The Hero’s Journey. The timing of the call, defined by Campbell as the hero’s Call to Adventure, was ironic, arriving as it did just as I was about to set out on a different adventure; an adventure I had planned.

The call itself didn’t surprise me. It was a call I had received many times over the years; a call I had refused each and every time it came. But the thing about The Hero’s Journey is, if the hero refuses the call, there is no adventure. The thing about the adventure is that it is a necessary part of our development. Without it we can’t fully realize our potential and can never find our Bliss. Our Bliss is our dharma, our purpose, the thing we cannot not do. The call I’d been refusing was one of healing, a spiritual kind of healing, the healing of very old, very deep wounds, wounds from childhood and adolescence long ago forgotten, but never fully forgiven.

So the call came and I found myself in the emergency room. “Hello,” I answered.

“Hey, there! How ya doing? It’s me… the Universe. I have this grand adventure planned for you, you know the one, the one I’ve been inviting you on for years?”

“Oh, yeah, that adventure,” I sighed. “Gee, I’m kinda busy right now… can we make it quick?”

No reply was initially given, but the answer came about six weeks later.

“Sorry, this is the adventure of a lifetime and these kinds of adventures cannot be rushed.”

The journey I’m facing is one of healing and embracing what Carl Jung described in archetypal terms as The Wounded Healer, the healer who is compelled by her own wounds to help others. Because archetypes are patterns of energy that express through us and are intricately tied to our purpose, I was well aware of The Wounded Healer archetype within me. I had been hoping all these years that she could just remain wounded, continue to do her work and avoid the profound work associated with spiritual healing. I had hoped it, but I knew it didn’t work that way. Like all archetypes, the potential of The Wounded Healer cannot fully be actualized until she embarks on her journey, faces her dragons and returns with a wisdom and perspective that she will then apply to her work helping others.

This journey for me is about facing the wounds, accepting them and forgiving. I had been refusing the call all these years because I was confused about the forgiving part. I thought that forgiveness was only needed for the ones who’d inflicted the wounds in the first place and I had done that, years ago. It wasn’t until recently when once again I found myself ready to refuse this call and wondering what exactly it was that I was afraid of, that it hit me. The person who hadn’t been forgiven was me.

I have heard it said that so few people choose to forgive because it is extremely difficult to do. I thought that I was different. I had never found forgiving others to be difficult, and have always found wisdom in the Buddhist saying, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” What I had never taken into consideration was my inability to forgive myself. Like most children and young adults who’ve suffered abuse and trauma, I believed that I was largely at fault.

One week ago today marked the threshold of this journey. The one I’ve been refusing for so long. The one in which I must enter the darkness of the cave and face my dragon. As nervous as I was about the surgery, I am happy to report that everything went very well and, though sore and weak, my body is mending. The surgery however, was only the catalyst. The pain and recovery time associated with recovering are the required initiation. I will be using the next six weeks to write about this journey as it unfolds as well as exploring how wounds, like everything, are energy and if left to fester manifest themselves physically through our bodies energetic anatomy. Where they lodge and what part of our physical bodies they affect depends on the type of wound. My wounds were specific to the second chakra and therefore affected my reproductive organs.

As I sat down to put the final touches on this first blog entry, I sipped a cup of tea. I couldn’t help but smile when I read the affirmation on the tag: “Be kind to others, but always be compassionate to yourself.” That’s the journey I find myself on. I am curious and intrigued by the treasure that awaits, and I hope you’ll come along with me.

[Image from Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey]