Our Tendency to Tend and Befriend

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Hello lovely!

Thank you so much for all of your supportive responses and wonderful feedback regarding my message last week.  In it, I shared about the big first step I took to separate from my mother, and also the surprise twist of becoming a mother the same day.  

How I got pregnant is a good story if you haven’t read it -- check it out here.

Now that the ground is more firmly beneath our feet, we can continue our path to reimagining the Heroine’s Journey.  Although I have always been inspired by Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey archetype, I’ve often wondered how it fits into my development process as a woman.  

Over the new few weeks, we can explore these themes together.  We will do this by sharing ideas, life experiences, and the ways we’ve managed to make real breakthroughs as men and women by accessing our feminine power.  

The journey will culminate with the ninth round of my habit-change program, Self Care 101, which starts on March 26th.  I’m currently filling up this session with women who are ready to make a real breakthrough in their health and in their lives, and to truly begin their own empowering journey.  Learn more and apply here.  

Last week, Lindsay -- a great DC Power Lady -- wrote me with an important distinction between the masculine and feminine paths of connection and growth.

She offered:

“About the Heroine's Journey, a few authors have written it with an eye to the fact that for many women their journey is about reconnection - or tend and befriend. Tending to wounds and figuring out how to make friends with those in their family. (Not best friends, just friends.) The Hero's journey is about separation, trying to emulate that usually doesn't work for women.”

This makes so much sense when thinking back to the defining moments of my life.  At 18, I chose a college halfway across the country, even though all of my best friends were staying close to home  At 21, I backpacked through eastern Europe on my own, riding on trains, making friends for a day or two and then disappearing back into the world again.

At 23, I decided to join the Peace Corps in Peru.  My vision before joining was that I would be isolated in a rural community where most of my daily effort went toward procuring water.  When I was placed in a fairly developed city, I actually requested to be sent somewhere less developed.  I wanted to be more alone so I could grow more.

When people asked me if I was scared to go off on my own or if I ever felt lonely, the answer was “hell yes.” I often hated my experience and desperately wished to go home.

If I hated it, why did I choose to go so far and stay away so long?  

Because I thought it was honorable.  Because I wanted to show I could survive far away from my pack.  I had something I thought I needed to prove to the world, even though I couldn’t articulate what that was.  I wanted to walk the culturally revered Hero’s Journey, although it truly didn’t fit my nature.  

However, at the end of spending two years in a family-centric Latin American culture, I felt more lonely than ever. I realized that I had actively pushed away my family and close friends in the name of showing my strength as individual. 

And after years of doing this, I was done.  I felt exhausted and needed to go home.  I craved being close to the people who shared my history, my sense of humor, and my DNA.  It was more of a primal feeling than a cerebral thought, and it felt nonnegotiable.

Of course, coming home was where my real Heroine's Journey began.  

During my time in Peru, my mom had moved by herself to China -- perhaps off on her own solitary Hero’s Journey -- and when I came back, I was forced to move in with my father, with whom I hadn’t lived since I was 8, and with whom I didn’t have a good relationship.

I moved in with him and my stepmom in the Washington, DC, suburbs.  My old childhood furniture was in their spare bedroom, but everything else felt foreign.  We had to learn everything anew -- what we liked to eat, how to have a conversation and where to set our boundaries.  We had a couple of ugly fights that made me want to give up on the whole thing.

That kind of raw relational work is hard.  I wondered if I had the strength to forge these family bonds again.  I saw why I had kept my distance for so many years.  

A couple of months later I moved into a Washington, DC, group house with my best friends from the Peace Corps.  This alleviated the pressure enough that my dad and I could have a more spacious relationship.  We saw each other and talked on the phone and shared family dinners.  Our connection was far from intimate or warm, but we both worked at it in our own way.

A few years later, my dad was diagnosed with leukemia.  Those months of him being sick, almost getting better, and then ultimately relapsing and passing away were so hard for all of us.  I had to dig deep into myself to find the strength, humility and compassion to support him in such a vulnerable state.  A big part of me wanted to run the other way.  

Yet, looking back, I am so grateful to have been there for my dad and for my family during that time.  It was a true gift to see the way he faced death, and to see the strength with which we supported each other.  The experience showed me the previously unknown strength I had inside of me, and has helped me to offer that to others during hard times.  

By the time he died, he was my friend.  He wasn’t my best friend or a perfectly harmonious friend, but we had grown in our relationship.  We both felt it, and this made his passing much more peaceful.  

When I think about my journey -- my authentic Heroine’s Journey -- this idea of tending and befriending as a way of developing makes a lot of sense.  I don’t think it’s better than the more masculine idea of a solitary journeying.  Rather, I think it’s a needed complement that  keeps us balanced as human beings in our connection and authenticity.

So, what does this have to do with these last insane weeks in our country?

Although I don’t think we have any revelatory ways to change what’s happening right now, I do feel an unprecedented closeness in my DC community.  We are all scared and suffering and reaching out to each other.  Rather than feel like we must battle this alone, we see how much we need each other.  

Collectively, we are also reaching out.  We are waking up to the separation caused by our privilege, and worrying about others who are more vulnerable than us.  It’s humbling us, and opening up our compassion in very sincere ways.  

I believe that if there is a positive path forward, it’s going to require tending to and befriending others who have very different opinions.  In the wake of the oppressive powers that  seek to divide us further, the path to real healing comes from unprecedented unity.

We need to listen to each other, even if we disagree.  We need to tend to each other, even if we will never be best friends. It’s from these first sparks of generosity that we can begin to weave alliances that will ultimately rise up against what seeks to hurt us all.

This is the Heroine’s Journey.  It takes immense strength and self-knowledge to be strong and open during such challenging times.  But we can do it.  Both men and women can access the immense feminine power within, and use it to create real connection.  Doing this will be challenging, but it will help us and our culture develop in important ways.

Embracing our feminine power will not only help the greater world, but it will give us back to ourselves.  As we pivot in the direction of coming together, we will be called torward a great ancient hunger.  It’s from this original, primal love for one another that we discover the secret of real life, which can only be accessed deep down in our own hearts.