Moana’s Archetypal Message Offers Hope and Healing… Lava Monster and All
I was very excited to see the movie Moana. But it took a long time. Life got in the way…my little one and I went to the theater twice and it was sold out…and then, finally, we saw it. I entered expecting it to be good, but by the end I was sobbing. Like many archetypal stories, this one reaches right onto your heart. And with this one, the hero is a girl. A girl who has nothing but a canoe, a friend in the ocean, and a grandmother who believed in her.
Everybody has a canoe, whatever your “canoe” is: the vehicle that carries you on your journey to awakening. For some it is writing, or art. For some it is meditation, 12 step, or yoga. And everyone has someone who believed or believes in him or her. (More on that later). And every one of us, no matter how far gone, disconnected, unworthy, or unforgivable we think we are, knows the truth about themselves deep down. Not the Demigod complex of trying-to-rule-the-world-because-he-feels-unworthy-so-he-is-constantly-trying-to-make-up-for-it-by-acting-bigger-than-he-is. Not that part. (Although Heaven knows there is a lot of that energy going around, and that part definitely needs both compassion and fierce confrontation). But I’m not talking about that part here. I’m talking about the deeply-humble, but most powerful intuition-heart-knowing.
In Moana, the Goddess Te Fiti is the one who held the “greatest power ever known,” who creates Life. And she shared it with the world! And yet, without her heart she began to crumble, and a terrible darkness was born.
What is this power of creation?
Women have long-held the power of creation in their bodies. It’s not an accident that women with disordered eating hate or try to starve away parts of themselves that reflect this power of fertility: their hips, their stomachs (wombs), their butts. The power of fertility is profound but, in the current culture, relationship with this power is ambivalent at best. This fertile power is not just literal, it is symbolic. Archetypally, the feminine includes the Great Mother, the Earth Mother that holds the power of creation. Long ago the Venus De Willendorf embodied fertility. Hindu goddesses such as Aditi and Aitimmavaru are the mothers of the deities and laid the egg that hatched the gods Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu. In the Wiccan tradition, the Mother Goddess is sometimes identified as the Triple Goddess, composed of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Another name for the mother goddess is Gaia, Earth Mother.
The feminine goddess archetype also holds the power of destruction, as seen in the Hindu goddesses Durga and Kali dancing on her dead consort, Siva. In Moana, this destructive force is embodied in Te Ka, the lava monster. A similar goddess in Hawaii is Pele, the goddess of the volcanoes. She is also the creator of the Hawaiian islands. This points to how interrelated these forces of creation and destruction can be.
Creation or Destruction?
Any woman with disordered eating knows, in her body, when this force of feeding life turns into a force of destroying or hurting. When eating an enjoyable bowl of ice-cream turns into frantically stuffing the entire carton in, shoveling it down so quickly so it can be violently thrown back up, that is the destroyer. That is where feeding your own life-body turns against the self. There are many reasons for this: trauma and abuse, a family or larger culture that tells women “nice girls don’t get angry,” ambivalence and fear of becoming a women in a culture that does not celebrate the power of the feminine, and many more. We do not have rituals to celebrate becoming a woman in American culture, and so it is a time when many girls start to implode. Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls writes: “Adolescent girls discover that it is impossible to be both feminine and adult.” And so menstruation, having a woman’s body, and speaking from the place of your inner truth become submerged, hidden, hated, and cut off.
Back To Moana
So Moana, from her childhood has this connection with herself and the world. She connects with the ocean; it “calls her.” She connects with the turtles; she connects her Grandmother’s sense of knowing something bigger than what her family and culture are telling her to be the truth. And, like many women struggling with disordered eating, wanting to be good girls, and finding their voice, she wrestles with it. She sings:
“See the light where the sky meets the sea/ It calls me/ No one knows how far it goes”*
“The voice inside is a different song/ What’s wrong with me?” *
This questioning part, this part that doesn’t match up with cultural expectations needs mirroring and validation. Without it, self-destruction (disordered eating, depression, anxiety, etc) runs rampant. We all have, if we look far and deep enough, this person or Being that mirrors our inner truth in our life. It may be a teacher who “got” your art. Or it may have been an aunt who had travelled her own healing journey and was in recovery from alcoholism. If you are lucky, it was a parent. For many of us, we find this mirroring understanding in a therapist. For Moana, this was her Grandmother. Her Grandmother is the self-described “village crazy,” who doesn’t have to answer to Moana’s father (the Village Chief).
“I’m his mother – I don’t have to tell him anything!” *
This Grandmother is what Clarissa Pinkola Estes would call a “Wild Woman,” one who has power in her body. In the Hopi tradition there is a butterfly dancer. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD writes in Women Who Run With The Wolves, (Ballentine Books: New York, 1992)
The butterfly dancer must be old because she represents the soul that is old. She is wide of thigh and broad of rump because she carries much. Her gray hair certifies…[that] the Butterfly Woman can touch everyone…This is her power. Hers is the body of La Mariposa, the butterfly.
It is not about what her body looks like – it is about listening to her feeling within:
The wilder woman will not be easily swayed…For her the questions are not how to form, but how to feel. The breast in all its shapes has the function of feeling and feeding…Does it feel? It is a good breast.
The hips, they are wide for a reason…they are portals, the handholds for love, a place for children to hide behind…
There is no “supposed to be” in bodies. The question is not size of shape or years of age, or even having two of everything, for some do not. But the wild issue is, does this body feel, does it have right connection to pleasure, to heart to soul, to the wild?…Can it in its own way move, dance, jiggle, sway? Nothing else matters.
Her “Wild Woman” Grandmother mirrors and nurtures listening-to-her-inner voice inside her body for Moana. She sings:
“You may hear a voice inside/ And if the voice starts to whisper/ To follow the farthest star/ Moana, that voice inside is/ Who you are” *
And this is the truth that guides Moana on the hero’s journey that every recovering woman must travel: Who are you?
Who You Really Are
This is the work that I engage with my clients every week: Who are you? How can you listen to your values? What does your inner Wise self have to say? How can I help you separate enough from the critical voices telling you “Stay small” or “Art is not for grown ups” or “You should do something more practical” rather than follow your dream of becoming a Nutritionist/Healer/Artist/Yoga Teacher/Environmental Educator/Women’s Advocate. This process involves separating enough from the cultural dictates and negative messages enough to hear the quiet voice inside. It is the moment when Moana, abandoned by Maui on the boat and despairing, is visited by her Grandmother’s spirit. And her Grandmother asks the question: Moana, Who are you? This is the point at which she discovers “the call isn’t out there at all – it’s inside me.”
You might be thinking “But how is this going to help in my recovery and in the world we are living right now?” Well, there certainly are a lot of “lava monsters” whose hearts have been stolen in the world right now. Where do we start? Where do I start? Where can you start? We start with ourselves. I start with myself. You start with yourself.
The cartoonist Walt Kelly stated, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Moana, in looking for the place to return the heart of Te Fiti suddenly realizes it is in her worst fear. The heart of Te Fit is inside the lava monster. But she is not afraid. Because she knows that fear, that addiction/eating disorder/lava monster/war/global warming/misogyny (as just a few examples J) are not outside her: They are inside her. And the call to awaken was always inside her as well. The call to find her true self. There is nothing to fear.
One of my favorite quotes from A Course In Miracles, A Self-Study in Spiritual Thought says:
The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.
In Moana, the, still voice of never-ending, powerful, and all-encompassing love emerges as she sings to the Lava Monster Te Ka:
“I have crossed the horizon to find you, I know your name / They have stolen the heart from inside you, but this is not who you are / You know who you are, who you truly are.” *
*Lyrics from Soundtrack to Moana (2016)
All original art work copyright Linda Shanti Mccabe
“The body holds meaning…when we probe beneath the surface of our obsession with weight, we will find that a woman obsessed with her body is also obsessed with the limitations of her emotional life. Through her concern with her body she is expressing a serious concern about the star of her soul.
-Kim Chernin, Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness
- Do a daily spiritual practice, no matter how small
This can be a daily reader or affirmation, journal-ling, sitting meditation, a walk. 1 small daily action that connects you with the-part-of-you-that-knows, or your soul self. (Please insert the word or phrase that works for you.) One definition of soul self, from Carolyn Costin (8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), is:
Your soul self is your essence…connected to the essence of all others and the world. Your soul self practices…pay(ing) attention to what is meaningful, has no judgement, and is not attached to results…Your Soul is the ‘being’ part of human being.
Do your spiritual practice religiously (pun intended) to stay connected with your soul self. Don’t worry about if you feel like it or not- most days you probably won’t. Do it anyway. Do it for all the times over the years that you didn’t listen to your soul-self, that other people didn’t listen to it, or for all the times it got run over with busy-ness, disordered eating, alcohol, criticism or judgement. Just make a space daily- however small- so your Soul can know and trust it is welcome.
2. Approach each day, 1 day at a time, with radical acceptance.
Approach each day as both miraculous, and just another day. By all means enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s…but try not to make it better or worse than any other. Do not elevate it; do not de-value it. Greet each day with equanimity, another 24 hours of darkness and light revolving and rotating around the sun. There will be aspects you like, aspects you don’t like. There will be pain and joy. It is what it is and just like every other day it will pass.
3. Connect with right kind of support.
Sometimes our families of origin are helpful recovery support, sometimes they are not helpful, and often they are some of both. It can be supportive to have a recovery buddy or team that you talk/email/text with throughout holiday times to help provide the empathy of someone who has “been there” or “is there” with you on the same journey. Set up support phone calls with each other, go for walks together, text each other before and after Thanksgiving dinner. It’s ok to need help and support. Treat yourself and your recovery as if you are a new little baby. Be a good parent to this baby and her needs. Stay with her and surround her with others that are kind and supportive. Protect her as best you can from your and other’s critical voices. Let her know you are here to support her in any and all feelings she is having, unconditionally.
4. Create rituals that have meaning for you
What makes YOU happy? When I was in the first few years of my recovery, one of my best friends was from England. Being English, she didn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving 🙂 We both lived in San Francisco, far from our families and didn’t really want to celebrate Thanksgiving with a “culturally acceptable” binge. We decided that we would have a yearly ritual: every Thanksgiving we would have dinner and go see a movie together. And we did!
I have a friend in recovery that does gratitude jars with her family- filling them with papers of what each of them are grateful for.
Glennon Doyle Melton (Momastery.com), recovered from “food, booze, and drugs” and now a mother of three, uses this poem to guide her holiday shopping. We ask each kiddo to make a list of:
Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
5. Be curious about difference, look for underlying similarities, and take action.
Many years ago when I was dating my husband, I expressed concern to a mentor of mine about how important spirituality was to me and how he is an atheist. She said to me something that has always stayed with me: she said what do his actions reflect about his values? Do you feel a connection there? There was no doubt in my mind about his integrity, the generosity of his heart, his being of service. I saw that in his actions every day, with me, with his friends, with his colleagues, and in his community. Where I looked to spirituality to find generosity, guidance on being of service, ethics, and finding peace amidst fear, he found in other ways. But his actions reflected values in which I believed.
As a spiritual teacher said this past weekend,
“The test of faith is’t what you believe- it’s what you DO because of what you believe.”
The implications of this are as small as valuing yourself and your recovery in your breakfast choices, to helping a person in your daily life such as returning a grocery cart for a mom who is trying to get her baby into the car seat, to as global as treating someone from a different belief system (whether it be 12-step spirituality, Atheism and Empiricism, Catholicism, Judism, or Islam) with the same kindness and respect that you would a friend.
6. Help Thanks Wow
Anne Lamott (author of Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, New York: Penguin, 2012) inspirational recovery author, writes how these three prayers- Ask for assistance, Appreciate the good, and Experience awe in the world- make up the foundation of staying spiritually connected.
She has a lovely sense of humor about “God”:
“Let’s not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to. Let’s just say prayer is communication from our hearts to the great mystery, or Goodness, or Howard; to the animating energy of love…something unimaginably big, and not us. We could call this force Not Me, or Not Preachers Onstage with a choir of 800. Or for convenience we could just say ‘God.'”
Last but not least, she speaks to the importance of genuine, authenticity when talking to God:
My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real- really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.
Let me start by saying I’m a Psychologist that has worked with recovering women for the past 15 years as well as recovered from my own eating disorder 18 years ago, so there are many, many times I have encountered resistance, both within myself and working with clients. Two of the most common areas where resistance rear up are: Money and Spirituality. Though these may seem to be two entirely different topics, they each point directly to a similar underlying question: What do you value? I remember one time, early in my recovery from an eating disorder, looking at my relationship with money. A mentor of mine had me keep track of my spending for a month and the tally up total of what I was spending in different categories (Food, Shelter, Entertainment…). We then compared what I valued in my life with what I was spending money on. What was I spending the most money on, the least? Did that match up with what I believed to be important and valuable? I had a client (shared with permission) do this exercise recently and she noticed she was spending the most money on: housing, therapy, student loan repayment, food, her car, and tea. (Yes, tea.) She was spending little to no money on: clothing, yoga, dance. We then looked at what she valued:
- Emotional authenticity
- Doing work that helps others
- Being in her body
Where did these values match up to her spending and where did they not? She discovered that food for recovery, her apartment, her therapy, her work that helped others (that she was able to do as a result of her education/student loan) were very important and therefore she continued all of these areas unchanged. However, the tea wasn’t important to her. She found she was buying (bingeing) on tea compulsively every day because she felt so deprived and restricted. She felt like she didn’t have enough money to spend on what she really wanted and needed, which was yoga, dance, and new clothes. Then we looked at her car: how important was that and did she need it? She found that she could easily walk to her work or take public transportation. With the money that used to be going to her car, she could take yoga and (recovery oriented) dance classes as well as buy clothes that fit her new recovery body size.
Another area I often encounter resistance is around the question of spirituality in recovery. Many recovering women were raised in a faith that was abusive or invalidating toward them or they didn’t have any spirituality growing up in their childhood. So when looking at including spirituality in their recovery, they (understandably) either shy away from it or are confused about how it could be helpful. One way I look at spirituality in recovery is to again ask what values you believe in and how you can be living your life according to these. When you are in integrity with your true Self, the Self you want to be in recovery, who is that? That is what many 12-steppers call “walking the walk” (instead of “talking the talk”). When looking at what the Eating Disorder (ED) part-of-your-self has to say about values in which you believe and what your Recovery part-of-your-self has to say, you can get clear on how and where you would like to “walk your talk” in recovery. Here (below) is a chart of some examples of Recovery values and what “ED” and “Recovery” might have to say.
|VALUE||ED/CRITICAL VOICE||RECOVERY VOICE|
|Authenticity||Don’t show vulnerability. People won’t like you. Hide the parts of yourself that you don’t like.||Be authentic! It is so freeing. The people who mind won’t matter and the people who matter won’t mind.|
|The Thin Ideal||This is important. Looking good is more important than being authentic. Try and keep your appetite, your voice, and your body small. If you are thin, you are better (or at least good enough/acceptable).||This is a cultural construct created to keep you disconnected from your power. Fight it. Listen to the-part-of-you-that-knows.|
|Spirituality||This is not supported by empirical evidence. And has nothing to do with you. It’s nice for other people. And you should be thin in order to be spiritual. And you’re not. You should work on yourself more before you are worthy of connecting in this way.||After going to yoga class, church, or 12 step meetings, there is a feeling of peacefulness and ease. That is important to pay attention to.
It doesn’t have anything to do with body size. You can, are allowed, invited, to connect with a source of Love any time you choose. It is always available.
|Connection/connectivity||Looking good/pleasing is more important. You will always feel lonely, anyway.||Seek this- in yourself, with others, with a Power Greater Than You. This is a key: one of the most important ones. Feed this! Turn toward this. Stop pushing it away.|
|Creativity||Not so important or valuable. We don’t have time for this. Just say no to art therapy or other “creative” endeavors. Not meaningful. Fluffy.||It’s so important to make time for this, no matter how small. Making art, collage-ing, cooking, dancing connect you with your body and your emotions. This is where recovery lives.|
What are YOUR values? How can you value your Self?
Feel free to make your own chart! You are also welcome to track your money for a month and see what you do and do not value according to the evidence you gather. (Note: NO shaming or blaming- just curiosity).