A metaphor for the journey of women’s personal growth
As I am preparing for my upcoming Retreat – on the island which birthed Aphrodite, I can’t help but dive into the rich feminine wisdom which flows from the myths of Aphrodite. We’ll be exploring the myths and archetypes amidst the turquoise seas, olive groves and ancient temples in November. But for now, I wanted to share one of these insights for self-awareness with you.
Jungian analysts, Erich Neuman, in his book Amor and Psyche and Robert Johhnson in his book She, noted that the myth of Eros (Amor) and Psyche is an analogy for the psychology of the feminine.
In short, the myth tells of Psyche a pregnant mortal seeking to be reunited with her husband Eros, God of Love and Aphrodite’s son. In order to do this Psyche needs to submit herself to an angry and combative Mother-in-Law, if she is to reconcile with her beloved Eros. Aphrodite gives her 4 tasks to complete.
Each task represents a skill that women need to develop within themselves. Every task which Psyche masters, she acquires an ability she did not have before. This newly accomplished skill is equated in Jungian Psychological terms with the animus or masculine aspect of a woman’s personality.
The skillset which these four tasks represent are pivotal for women who put relationships first and react instinctively or emotionally to others.
The first task: Sorting the Seeds.
Aphrodite leads Psyche into a room and shows her a mound of mixed seeds – corn, barley, millet, poppy, chick peas, lentils and beans. Her task is to sort each kind of grain or seed into its own pile before sunset. It seems impossible to Psyche, until a host of ants comes to her aid and starts to place each kind, grain by grain into its own heap.
Likewise, when a woman comes to a crossroads and needs to make a life-changing decision, she often needs to first sort through a hodgepodge of conflicting feelings and their competing loyalties. The task of getting clarity in the midst of the chaotic confusion, is an inward journey. It necessitates a stock take process of what is most important to you and what is not. Sifting through our feelings, values, driving motivations behind our behaviour and choices requires the courage of brutal, liberating honesty.
When we can learn how to identify what it is what we are feeling, we are expanding our emotional vocabulary. Research conducted by Brenè Brown indicates that most people can only identify 3 emotions – happy, sad or pissed off. However, this research also indicates that we need to be able to identify and articulate 30 emotions; and to be able to identify the accompanying body responses. After all, the mound of seeds and grains did not just have 3 kinds to sort through 😉
The importance of acquiring the skillset to recognise and name emotions increases your capacity for compassion, boundaries, respect, self-care, health – and at its core – Resilience. It is the key to living a thriving, successful, fulfilled life!
When we are connected to our emotions, we can manage the unexpected, and the uncertainties. In this way, we have the ability to master life, and not get pulled under by overwhelming emotions. Naming and claiming our emotions gives our lives meaning and empowers us.
If we can learn to stay present in the jumble of seeds, and not act until clarity emerges, we have learnt how to trust our intuitive process. The ants represent this intuitive process, and the workings which are beyond conscious control. Or the clarity which can come from a conscious effort to systematically assess and assign priority to the various elements involved in decision making.
The second task: Acquiring some golden Fleece.
The second task Aphrodite demands of Psyche is to acquire some golden fleece from the dangerous rams of the sun. They are enormous, aggressive, beasts locking horns against each other in a field. The tasks seems hopeless to Psyche, she is sure that if she were to to among them to try take some fleece, she would get trampled! A green reed comes to her aid this time, and advises her to wait until sun down when the rams disperse and rest for the night. Then Psyche can pick the fleece off the brambles in the field without harm befalling her.
The golden fleece is symbolic of power, which a woman needs to acquire without being destroyed in the process of attaining it. If a woman with a gentle nature goes out into the competitive world, where others battle aggressively for position and power, she may be disillusioned or wounded if she does not recognise the dangers.
In reaction to this wounding, she may become cynical, and armour her heart and so her caring and trusting self becomes a casualty in the trampled locked horns on the field. For women who are natural leaders being in the midst of a battleground, involved in politics and strategy, can spot the dangerous and correct course. For women, like Psyche, waiting, observing and gradually acquiring their power serves her best.
This task represents the skillset of gaining power without compromising compassion. In our current global crisis, the call for feminine leadership qualities is exactly this – power which is rooted in compassion and love.
When we are learning how to reclaim our voices and advocacy, this skill of stepping into your power without destroying your compassion is paramount to assertiveness. If we do not graduate in this lessons, we will act from fear aggression and demand respect instead of commanding it, requesting our needs to be met will be a confrontation which disconnects us from others.
I have seen this often in my Boundaries courses, where women who have armoured their hearts have rigid boundaries – letting no one in, yet secretly yearn for connection and love.
We continue next week with the last two tasks which the myth of Psyche & Aphrodite represents for a women’s journey into empowerment.