Quest Cycles Applying the Hero Quest to the crises in our lives Linda S. Griggs
BCQuestCycles@aol.com

Biography and contact

Linda S. Griggs
BCQuestCycles@aol.com



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linda & deer skulls

 

My life split itself in half just after my 43rd birthday in 1993: now there's life before breast cancer, and everything after.

As a long-time journal keeper and Faulkner wanna-be working as a tech writer, I was well prepared to record the physical and emotional trials that followed my breast cancer diagnosis. What I was not prepared for was my great need to make sense of what had happened, to put my personal trials into a larger, more meaningful context.

I found that larger context in 1996 through a serendipitous encounter with Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, in which he describes the Hero Quest.

As I reviewed my journal entries to write a creative nonfiction piece on my breast cancer experience, I was dumbfounded to recognize Campbell's archetypal "hero quest cycle" perfectly expressed in my experience: the call to adventure, descent into the underworld, battles with demons, and eventual return to the world with the "boon" of knowledge and healing.


Like Parsifal searching for the Holy Grail, like Theseus pursuing the minotaur in the labyrinth, I realized I had indeed been on a hero's quest. And not just one, but several.

As I've continued to chronicle my journey I realize that, like Persephone, I've gone through several quest cycles as a result of my diagnosis: each descent involves battles with different personal demons; each ascent brings me greater knowledge of the Self.

By 1998 I knew tech writing wasn't what my soul needed to be doing, so I stopped that to focus full time on chronicling my quest cycles in my book, Scenes from a Hero Quest. Then, as a result of presenting workshops to other survivors, I started chronicling my quests through art: first making healing shrines, then experimenting with other mediums, and lately through photography.

This foray into the visual arts has been a huge healing endeavor for me. A seventh grade art teacher who graded on the perfection of our technique had pretty much paralyzed me from pursuing visual art. So one of the demons I've been battling on my Hero Quest is perfectionism - a trait I share with other cancer survivors. (See Cancer Profile above.) As a result, part of the healing I've sought on my Hero Quest is to find ways to create visual art without having to be perfect. Shrine making is wonderful for this, since it only involves arranging small, pre-existing pieces of art (e.g., postcards, Holy cards, Tarot cards, photographs, stones, jewelry, small figurines, and other personal artifacts accumulated over time) to tell a new story.

Because my art is so personally therapeutic, I don't sell it. However, I do regularly share it in art exhibitions (above) and workshops. Of all the things I've learned on my Hero Quest, perhaps the most important is that artistic self-xpression is a powerful, essential healing tool. And that's why some of the most important Spirit Guides I've encountered on my quest have been artists, whom you can read more about under Resources (above).

Along the way, I've also become proficient as an astrologer - something I never would've gotten into without my Hero Quest. What I've learned about the mythological archetypes in the natal chart has helped me understand the gifts and challenges my soul (and those of my astrological clients) chose to manifest in this life.

The almost 20-year Hero Quest I've been on since my diagnosis is the most exhilarating, soul-gratifying thing I've ever done. As I continue on my healing journey, it's become more and more clear to me that sharing that journey with others - through my art, workshops, and readings - is exactly what I'm on this earth to do.

If you have comments or tales to share about your own Hero Quest, please contact me at the email address above.

Since 2003, my healing shrines and/or other art pieces have regularly appeared in juried exhibits:

"Celebration of the Arts" -- regional spiritual arts show at First United Methodist Church -- Grand Rapids, MI -- 2012, 2011, 2010, 2006, 2004.

"Festival of the Arts" -- regional arts exhibition -- Grand Rapids, MI -- 2012, 2009, 2008.

"Healing Grace on the Cancer Journey" -- exhibit of cancer-related art at Art Beat Gallery
July 10 - September 15, 2007.

"Art Meeting the Sacred: A Creative Exploration into Spiritual Diversity" -- Eyekons Art Gallery -- Grand Rapids, MI -- September 15 - November 18, 2006.

Muskegon Museum of Art -- 78th Regional Art Show -- Muskegon, MI -- June 2 - July 26, 2006

Franciscan Life Process Center -- "Bits and Pieces" Show -- Lowell, MI -- May 2006

"Shrines: Windows to the Divine" -- Fountain Street Church and Art Beat Gallery -- Grand Rapids, MI -- Jan. -- February 2006

"10-Year Anniversary Shrine Series" -- solo show at University of Michigan Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, MI -- December 2004 -- April 2005

"Empowering Women" -- two-woman show at Grand Valley State University Women's Center -- Allendale, MI -- October 2004

"Empowering Women" -- Art Beat Gallery -- Grand Rapids, MI -- March 2004

"Day of the Dead" -- Art Beat Gallery -- Grand Rapids, MI -- October 2003

Excerpts from Scenes from a Hero Quest have appeared in the following publications:

Dark Moon Lilith: A Journal Dedicated to the Wondrous Strange, Winter 2004, Vol. 2, Issue 1

Unbearable Uncertainty: The Fear of Breast Cancer Recurrence, published by the Pioneer Valley Breast Cancer Network, P.O. Box 236, Haydenville, MA 01039 -- 2000 -- features art and writing by breast cancer survivors about how to deal with fear of recurrence.

Art.Rage.Us: Art and Writing by Women Who have had Breast Cancer, published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA, 1998-- features powerful art and writing from a 1998 world-travelling exhibit of the same name.

Mediphors: A Literary Journal of the Health Professionals, Fall/Winter 1998, No. 12

Besides my husband, these artists and authors have become essential
Spirit Guides on my Hero Quest:

Artists

Rick Beerhorst My husband and I bought Rick's paintings and linocuts for many years before we ever met him. When we finally did meet him, we found him to be as warm and approachable as his art. Since then, I've taken a couple of workshops with him, learning how to relax and let the art flow of its own accord - in short, how to make a meditation of the art process. Rick and his wife, Brenda, and their amazing family of six children have made their lives into a living, breathing work of art. You can read about them and see their art at www.studiobeerhorst.com.

Karen Godfrey -- Through her mantra "art for health" and our workshop co-facilitating, Karen has enticed and encouraged and helped me to experiment with many different art mediums. Our mutual admiration for Frida Kahlo has given both of us permission to make personal art that may not be pretty. One of Karen's early paintings appears as the frontispiece in my book Scenes from a Hero Quest, several of her mixed media collages appear in my shrines, and many, many of her other pieces appear as images on my Hero Quest Divination Cards. Learn much more about her and her ever-evolving art at www.Karen Godfrey.net.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins – I just discovered Clive's remarkable art and website. He has got to be one of the most talented, creative, prolific, and generous artists I've ever encountered. The new design of my website owes much to what I admire about his. See his amazing site and art log at www.hicks-jenkins.com.

Mary Ellen McNaughton --- Before I'd ever met her, one of Mary Ellen's soul-based ceramic pieces guided me through chemo. When we finally did meet 7 years later, she was reading one of my favorite astrology books. We've been discussing astrology and art and many other esoteric things ever since. Mary Ellen's Tarot card linocuts illustrate the five parts of my Scenes from a Hero Quest. Many of her ceramic pieces grace my shrines, while many other pieces appear as images on my Hero Quest Divination Cards . She can be reached at MEMcNaughton@ameritech.net

Anna Marie White -- Annie has been a Spirit Guide since we met as young writing instructors at the University of Wyoming in 1978. As I started on my cancer Hero Quest in 1993, she not only urged me to write about it, but introduced me to Tarot, astrology, alchemy, and the Divine Feminine as tools to use on that quest. She is currently on her own quest to retell the goddesses' stories through her lyrical writing and painting and photography. She can be reached at www.AnnaMarieWhiteStories.com.

Ann Willey -- Ann is another one whose deep-diving art has helped me on my Hero Quest - long before we ever met in person. Lately she has patiently tried to teach me to draw and paint the way she does - putting down layers and layers of mixed media color, saving what works and covering up what doesn't with more layers. It's a huge test of my perfectionist tendencies, but she is patient and encouraging. See her deeply symbolic paintings at www.annwilley.com.

Authors

On the hero's quest

Crossing to Avalon, Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. -- about the hero's quest as a mid-life search for meaning and renewal


The Heroine's Journey, Maureen Murdock -- about how the hero's quest manifests itself in a woman's search for meaning


The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell -- about the hero quest in the world's mythologies


The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers -- about how we manifest archetypal myths like the hero's quest in our lives

On illness as metaphor

The Alchemy of Illness, Kat Duff -- about the nature of illness and its creative and transforming possibilities, by a Jungian-influenced psychotherapist


Close to the Bone, Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. -- about life-threatening illness as a descent into the underworld that can lead to self-transformation


Treading the Maze, Susan E. King -- an artist's experience of breast cancer as a transformative journey through a labyrinth

On the mind/body connection in illness (especially cancer)

Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins -- about using the body's natural healing resources to overcome illness


Getting Well Again,
O. Carl Simonton, M.D. -- about how an individual's reaction to stress and other emotional factors can contribute to the onset and progress of cancer -- and how positive expectations, self-awareness, and self-care can contribute to survival


Love, Medicine, and Miracles,
Bernie Siegel, M.D. -- about how "exceptional" cancer patients take charge of their lives by finding their authentic self and following what they feel is their own true course in life -- and how this can lead to "self-induced" healing


The Silent Wound,
Peggy Boyd, PhD -- about breast cancer at menopause as a manifestation of unresolved issues from adolescence (out of print, but available in libraries)

On recovering individual power

Goddesses in Everywoman, Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. -- about how women manifest archetypal female patterns (the Greek goddesses) in their lives (Gods in Everyman is the companion book on men)

Language of the Goddess, Marija Gimbutas -- about the most primitive depictions of the goddess by the earliest humans, with diagrams and photographs and detailed descriptions of the most amazing prehistoric carvings of her

Mysteries of the Dark Moon, Demetra George - about the ancient dark goddesses that have been maligned by the patriarchy


Theatre of the Imagination,
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD -- a set of 12 tapes of Dr. Estés telling/interpreting myths/fairy tales. Available from www.soundstrue.com.


Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD -- about recovering our natural instinctive selves (explained through Jungian interpretations of myths/fairy tales). Her audio CD of the same name is an excellent introduction to this somewhat intimidating (very large) book. Once you hear theCD, you'll know you need the book. CD available from www.soundstrue.com

If your hero quest involves cancer:
You and I have more in common than just our cancer. . . . 

Cancer prone personality shrine
"Life Line: Cancer-prone Personality" Shrine -- 2004

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, my surgeon laughingly told me a story about a patient he'd biopsied for a large lump in her breast. Even before he got the biopsy results back from the lab, he told a colleague he didn't think the lump was malignant, because the woman was "too mean to have cancer."

And sure enough, the biopsy results came back negative, validating what he'd perceived about his cancer patients.

I thought about this story a lot while I was undergoing treatments, priding myself on the fact that at least one good thing was coming out of my diagnosis: it marked me as a "nice" person.

When I started reading more about my cancer, I was amazed to find that my surgeon's private assessment was actually a well-documented fact. According to several experts in the field, cancer patients do share certain personality traits and some interesting life components, as detailed below.

In fact, these life history components were shared by 76% of the cancer patients studied by Dr. Lawrence LeShan. Only 10%of a control group of noncancer patients revealed this pattern.

Profile of a cancer patient

compiled and adapted from

The Silent Wound, Peggy Boyd, PhD;
Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer, Kenneth R. Pelletier;
Love, Medicine, and Miracles, Dr. Bernie Siegel; and
Getting Well Again, Dr. Carl Simonton

The good news: Only "nice" people get cancer. They're known as . . .

1. "saintly" -- described by friends as "exceptionally fine, thoughtful, gentle, uncomplaining, -- almost too good to be true"

2. extremely devoted to family or some other person, cause, or group

3. proper and generous -- always thinking of others before themselves

4. always smiling, never angry or upset

5. the one others come to for mediation, advice -- the peace maker

6. extremely good at avoiding arguments, evading others' harsh tempers, leaving before a crisis

The flip side: In exchange for that "saintly" label, cancer patients often . . .

1. have difficulty expressing aggressive emotions -- often are not even aware of these emotions in themselves

2. have chronic low-key depression

3. are not assured of their own intrinsic value -- hide authentic self "to be liked"

4. are perfectionist, very self-critical

5. respond to others' needs at the expense of their own

6. may subconsciously view illness as a way to get love

 Typical components of life histories of 500 cancer patients:

1. Youth marked by isolation, neglect, and despair, with intense interpersonal relationships difficult and dangerous.

2. In adulthood, patient developed a strong, meaningful relationship or found great job satisfaction. This relationship/role was reason for living.

3. Relationship/role was removed -- through death, move, child leaving home, retirement, etc. Result was despair, as though the bruise of childhood had been painfully struck again.

4. Patient "bottled up" despair rather than expressing/working through it.

Now, you may be one of the 24% of cancer patients this doesn't describe, but the fact that you're working your way through this website suggests you may be aware there's more to "healing" than just medical treatments.

As for me, I was amazed (and secretly pleased, of course) at how much of the "nice person" cancer profile applied to me, and appalled at how much of the "flip side" and life history stuff also applied to me -- especially the parts about low-grade depression, perfectionism and not being able to recognize (much less express) angry feelings.

In fact, the more self-exploration I did, the more I realized that one of my most health-damaging tendencies is keeping things bottled up inside instead of sharing them with others.

As one expert says:

Repressing thoughts and feelings is hard and emotional work, which leads to deteriorating health. We need to express anger, grief, envy, fear as well as joy and love.

Dr. James Pennebaker, Opening up: the Healing Power of Confiding in Others

I know this is something I need to work on in order to heal.

Is this "blaming the victim"? I don't think so. I see it more as "enabling the survivor" in that it gives us something we can do to enhance our own healing. We can't change the past or how we responded in the past; but we can change how we think about the past and how we respond to things from this moment forward.

And that means becoming more aware of what we're feeling when we're feeling it, and trying to find a healthy way to express it. I do that though my art, and urge you to find a way to do it too.

Television Interview

 DC interview intro

 To view a November 6, 2006 video
of an
interview about my
Breast Cancer Survivor Kit
on a Washington, D.C. CBS affiliate,
click below the photo to the right.

DC interview

CLICK HERE to view video

 

Press articles about my work

Grand Rapids Press, July 15, 2007, "Cancer Inspires Exhibit" - about my shrines appearing in the "Healing Grace on the Cancer Journey" art exhibit at Art Beat Gallery

Grand Rapids Press, August 26, 2007, "Express Yourself" - about Soul Connection expressive arts workshops

Grand Rapids Press, Oct. 28, 2006, "Spiritual Journey" column - about my shrines

Grand Rapids Press, Oct. 4, 2004, "Women exhibit power of art" - about an exhibit of my shrines and kit at the Women's Center at Grand Valley State University

Metropolitan Woman, July 1998, "Hero Quest: Breast Cancer" - about excerpts from Scenes from a Hero Quest being included in Art.Rage.Us

Cadence, May 1998 - about excerpts from Scenes from a Hero Quest being included in Art.Rage.Us

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