Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Living Art April 28, 2010

I had planned to review one of my favorite books, Prodigal Summer, this time, but after Beth’s comments about my previous post, I wanted to elaborate on some related thoughts that came up. So I’m saving Prodigal for next time.

In the late 60’s I was an elementary school teacher. Fostering creativity was a big issue in those days, and in my county a program was instigated to address it. Basically, the children chosen to participate went to a special site for a day where they collaborated in small groups with other students of similar ages and abilities to find creative solutions to a challenging task. Sort of like a duplicate bridge tournament.

While this program was stimulating and prodded kids to think outside the box, I always thought it missed the mark somehow. It taught great social skills like leadership and cooperation, and it encouraged brain-storming and problem-solving, but all this was just good teaching. How did it address creativity in ways that were not already being used by fine teachers?

But our school system had done its best and I had nothing to add to the situation, so I figured this was just one of those problems without a solution. Maybe nobody understood creativity. Maybe there really was no practical way to teach it. Maybe it was just a matter of genetics, some characteristic of DNA with which you either were or weren’t furnished at birth.

Several years later when my own creativity began to blossom I finally understood. At bottom, creativity is not a function of our proficiency with the objective logos skills emphasized in most classrooms, but of our ego’s willingness to use these skills in service to our deeply personal mythos realities: things like what feels important, how we yearn to spend our free time, or what brings a deep sense of accomplishment. For example, one of my earliest memories is of trying to write a book on folded pieces of paper. Since I was only four years old and didn’t know how to write yet, I drew pictures instead. But while my passion for writing persisted throughout my school years, few teachers noticed it and nobody ever encouraged me to pursue it.

The problem is, most kids are too busy trying to learn what their parents and teachers want them to learn and most schools are run more like factories than forums for individual exploration and expression. As Einstein wrote, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

The psychological realities of each soul are as unique as our fingerprints. Creativity is about manifesting that uniqueness. We activate our creativity by pursuing self-knowledge and personal meaning. We hone our creativity by following our passions regardless of the world’s opinions; by sacrificing popularity and approval for self-knowledge and authenticity; by creating original works of art out of our lives. By becoming who we are.

And how do we foster creativity in others? By mentoring them on the path to self-discovery. Until educators understand this, we will continue to be far better at stifling creativity than fostering it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

 

Flexing Our Mythos Muscles April 20, 2010

Flexing Our Mythos Muscles

You may have noticed by now that the imaginative and symbolic way I perceive dreams and ordinary life is somewhat different from the way we are normally taught to think in school. I assure you this is not just sloppy thinking, but a conscious choice I’ve made to use more of my brain’s potential.

Plato was the first great thinker in Western history to define the two modes of thinking that are the specialties of the two hemispheres of the brain. He called them logos and mimesis. Following the lead of psychologist Gisela Labouvie-Vief I call the latter mythos. It is generally accepted that while there is some overlap, the left hemisphere of the brain is primarily oriented to logos and the right, to mythos.

Mythos thinking is symbolic, metaphoric, instinctive, imaginative, visual, intuitive, emotional, and subjective. Receptive to chaos, mystery, newness, and change, mythos is a compass that points us to the eternal and the universal. Mythos is the mother of original thinking, self-discovery, spiritual growth, and personal meaning. It is the basis for all forms of creative expression and every form of inner work that leads to self-knowledge.

Although Plato loved mimesis/mythos and was himself very imaginative, inner-directed and spiritually oriented, he considered reason to be a more advanced and mature form of knowing. He preferred logos to mythos for two reasons: because of mythos’s appeal to the emotions — which, of course, can be dangerous and uncontrollable when they are not made conscious — and because he thought logos was fostered by written language, which he considered an advancement and refinement over oral language. Following Plato’s example, the writer of the Gospel of John proposed that logos is cosmic reason and the self-revealing thought and will of God.

Plato passed this bias on to Aristotle, Aristotle passed it on to us. Due to the enormous influence of these men on Western philosophical thought, today virtually everyone but writers, artists and mystics vastly underrates the potential of one half of our brains. I find it very bizarre that we still haven’t overcome this prejudice against inherent qualities of our own minds! Certainly there was a time in the history of our species when it was essential to hone our left-hemisphere qualities if we were to continue to evolve beyond our earlier, right-brained orientation, but we’ve had this bias for the past 5,000 years now, and expanding our consciousness has never been more crucial.

Why? Because we’re killing ourselves, each other, and our beloved planet. In his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, vascular surgeon Leonard Shlain writes about the brain’s role in the evolution of our species. His research suggests that historically there has been a cause-and-effect relationship between an obsessive left-hemisphere orientation and the ascendency of the separate, abstract, male Sky God, the dominator mode of governance, and the repression of women and minorities. If Shlain is correct, the root cause of many of the world’s current problems is the intolerance the left hemisphere of our brains has for right-brained otherness!

In short, we’ve been projecting our fear and hatred of vital parts of ourselves onto others and now we’re suffering the consequences. Isn’t it time we started flexing our mythos muscles?

 

The Alpha Mare April 18, 2010

untitled (3)The archetypal Crone represents many valuable qualities. One of these, leadership, is aptly symbolized by the Alpha mare. In herds of horses, the leader is almost always a mature mare. While the stallion is the physically strongest and most aggressive male who mates with the females and protects himself, his herd, and his territory by keeping intruders away, he is not the wisest, most trusted horse in the herd nor is he the dominant leader who makes the others feel safe and secure.

The Alpha mare does not command respect because she is youngest, prettiest, most charming, physically strongest, or the stallion’s favorite, but because her age and vast experience have made her confident, mentally strong, and savvy in the ways of survival. The other horses follow her because she makes wise decisions. She socializes the younger horses and teaches them to be obedient, leads the herd to food and water, and guides it to safety when threatened by predators. Of all the horses in the herd, male and female, young and old, the Alpha mare is the one who knows best how to preserve the species.

There was once a time when groups of people sat at the feet of Crones, respectfully seeking their guidance and benefitting from their wisdom. The Cheyenne tell a story about “The Old Woman of the Spring” who gave them the buffalo and horse and taught them to plant corn.

In the tale “Grandmother Spider Steals the Sun,” Spider Woman brought the sun, fire, and art of pottery-making to the Cherokee. Old Salt Woman gave the Cochiti the magical blessing of salt, in the form of some of her own flesh, to make their food taste better.

The Brule Sioux say that when a grandmother prayed for a sacred herb to save the Comanche nation, a spirit told her where to find Grandfather Peyote and how to use it. She brought it back to her people and gave them the ceremony, and from that moment on, they learned to know themselves.

The Tiwa tell of Apache Chief to whom Spider Old Woman gave special medicine and Gopher Old Woman gave secret knowledge that helped him retrieve his lost wife. Such stories speak to the reverence native peoples had for the elder women whose lengthy life experience and intimate relationship with nature sacralized their lives and improved their chances for survival.

As the Sky God replaced the Earth Goddess as our primary source of spiritual guidance and meaning, our respect for Crone wisdom diminished in many parts of the world. At the individual level this is occasionally justified. Certainly, not every grandmother has feet at which one would necessarily want to sit! Generations of being separated from all that feels sacred to women has turned some of them into the very worst examples of feminine shadow. These are the wicked witches we hear about in fairy tales, and they should be avoided like poison lest they spread their toxicity to us.

But there are also some Alpha mares out there. We need to seek out these examples of the positive, empowered Crone, for they hold vital secrets that could help us maintain the delicate balance between societal preservation and annihilation.

Find Healing the Sacred Divide at this amazon link or at Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Ruling the Inner Chamber April 10, 2010

Dreamwork has been my most rewarding and consistent spiritual practice for 22 years. You might not think of dreams as having anything to do with spirituality but they absolutely do. Carl Jung demonstrated this with exquisite beauty in his recently published The Red Book in which he recorded some of his most meaningful waking and sleeping dreams. Everything he did for the rest of his brilliant and productive life was based on the findings he recorded in that book, which represents three years of committed inner work. Ultimately, his conclusion about the value of this work was that to become who we truly are is our spiritual task and the privilege of a lifetime.

Jung is not the first person to understand this, although he was one of the first Western medical professionals to study it for himself and write about it in a way that could be comprehended and accepted by the Western scientific mind. Indeed, many Asian traditions have taught this concept for thousands of years. Consider this quote by the Hindu professor Ravi Ravindra:

“The struggle to know who I am, in truth and in spirit, is the spiritual quest. The movement in myself from the mask to the face, from the personality to the person, from the performing actor to the ruler of the inner chamber, is the spiritual journey. To live, work, and suffer on this shore in faithfulness to the whispers from the other shore is spiritual life. To keep the flame of spiritual yearning alive is to be radically open to the present and to refuse to settle for comforting religious dogma, philosophic certainties, and social sanctions.”

Contrary to popular belief, authentic spirituality is not just a function of how many souls we save or how well we know scriptures or how hard we pray or how many rules we keep or what we believe or how often we attend our place of worship or how much money we donate to the poor. Likewise, spiritual maturity is not limited to a particular religion or set of beliefs. Rather, it is a function of our ego’s willingness to further the unfolding of our capacity for full living, endless loving, and authentic being.

We’re supposed to discover our true selves and connect with the sacred Mystery within. We’re supposed to learn how to accept and love ourselves because that’s how we learn to accept and love others. Every religion has spawned mature spirit persons whose mystical experiences and intuitions taught them that God indwells the soul. This means that our spiritual growth is not just a function of searching for God outside ourselves but also of honoring the “kingdom” within. (I could just as well have said “queendom” but it wouldn’t resonate as deeply as this more familiar term for sovereignty. I wish there were a gender-neutral word for the inner chamber that is not one-sidedly masculine, but ruled by both the King and Queen archetypes. Any ideas?)

The search for self-knowledge is a path to spiritual maturity and dreams are invaluable tools on that path because they show us unsuspected aspects of our unconscious selves. With every insight we gain, the closer we move to connecting with our sacred core, finding personal meaning, and fulfilling the purpose of our unique life.

What did you dream last night?

 

Elephant in the Cave April 8, 2010

Inner work is any practice that helps make the unconscious conscious; for example, dreamwork, art, journaling, psychotherapy, meditation, prayer, yoga, body work, active imagination, ritual, and so on. But the ego’s fear of seeing beneath the surface makes most of us naturally resistant to this kind of work. The ninth dream I ever recorded addressed this issue:

It is night and very dark. I try to lock an elephant in a cave, but when I push on the door to close it, it breaks. I run for help because I am afraid the elephant will get out and do some damage.

This dream is short, sweet, and very much to the point. What could be more frightening to a tiny ego than a massive elephant on a rampage? Who wouldn’t try to lock it in or run away?

In religious practices and literature, the elephant often symbolizes power, wisdom, and happiness. As a mount for Asian royalty, it represents sovereignty. And as an instinctual creature with advanced sensitivity, it symbolizes inner knowing and intuition. Since animals in dreams usually represent our instincts, (Jung said we have five: activity, nourishment, reflection, sex, and creativity), to me the elephant suggested my instinct for reflection because reflecting on our inner lives can activate these positive qualities.

What about the other two symbols in this dream? A cave is associated with birth (the Eastern church depicts Christ’s birth in a cave), the maternal womb, and sacred initiation rites. Like the unconscious, caves are dark places containing hidden potential and spiritual treasures. A door represents a psychic force which, when closed, keeps us from knowing what lies behind it. But when it is broken or open, we can travel between the outer, conscious world of logic, reason, and objective fact, and the mysterious inner world of repressed emotion, intuitive wisdom, and personal meaning.

While this dream helped me recognize my resistance to reflecting (elephant) on my personal unconscious (cave) because my ego was afraid of opening (door) to the unknown, it held much more meaning for me than I was capable of understanding then. At the time I thought the unknowns I feared were change and some hidden unworthy qualities I didn’t want to see, but after over twenty years of inner work, I have rooted out the deeper, archetypal source of my fear.

All three symbols in this dream are related to spirituality. Western and Middle Eastern religions traditionally associate spirit with the distant masculine Sky God with whom they connect via mental abstractions: correct words, clear ideas, strong beliefs, and noble ideals. This approach has long devalued the spiritual significance of the soul which is associated with femininity: physical matter, the body, emotion, instinct, feeling, inner knowing, intuition.

Of what was I so afraid? To what has my religion had such stern resistance for the past 5,000 years? Simply this: The feminine aspect of the Mystery we call God. The Mystery incarnate in matter. The sovereignty, spiritual authority, power and wisdom of our own infinitely beautiful and loveable bodies and souls. The energies of Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom: the sacred spark that indwells us and all creation. Poor little ego.  So terrified of life!

 

Boys Behaving Badly April 5, 2010

I recently wrote about the obsessive warriors in Avatar and Star Wars from a psychological perspective and suggested their behavior was rooted in the rigidity of a one-sided, self-serving ego. Lest anyone misunderstand, I hasten to add that the ego’s problem is not one of gender, but lack of self-awareness. Surely it goes without saying that girls behave badly too. Snow White’s Evil Stepmother, 101 Dalmations’ Cruella DeVille, and Fatal Attraction’s Alex Forrest are merely images of self-centered egos with wombs, dresses, and long hair!

Many of us think of the ego as being “bad” by definition, and I know people who have trouble with the very idea of warriors, but every psyche is furnished with an ego and Warrior (and several other archetypes as well) at birth, and we all need both to get through life with a measure of success. This is why Jungian psychology does not judge the ego as good or bad but simply sees it as the center of consciousness. A healthy ego with mature awareness nurtures a noble, heroic Warrior; an immature and minimally conscious ego can create a destructive one. The point is to become conscious of our ego’s destructive tendencies and learn how to control them. And what are these tendencies?

Consider Colonel Quaritch and Darth Vader:  Self preservation is more important to them than species-preservation.  They want to prove themselves by acquiring worldly power and authority.  The more power and authority they have, the more resistant they are to giving it up.  They are so full of themselves (pride and hubris are two words that immediately come to mind) that they believe they are entitled and infallible.  They sincerely believe their way is RIGHT and are closed to alternative views.  They insist on having their way regardless of who they hurt.  They are totally unaware of the powerful tool – repression – they unconsciously use to ignore their true motives and justify their behavior and the damage they do.

These are the basic inclinations of every ego and it’s extraordinarily difficult to transcend them. Think about it. Don’t babies start out being utterly self-centered little tyrants? Doesn’t it require enormous effort to civilize them? Don’t we adults still struggle with these tendencies in ourselves? Isn’t this why we create laws and rules and schools and moral codes and social standards and religions? The human animal is trying to contain its instinctual willfulness, trying to respect the significance of others, trying to grow more conscious. But we are still incomplete.

Legal systems and religions can help an ego acquire good intentions and a veneer (persona) of balance and maturity, but by themselves they cannot soften a hard heart. To be able to love others we first have to love ourselves, and we can’t love ourselves until we can see and forgive our self-serving motivations and self-defeating tendencies.

This is why even the most well-intentioned religions and political regimes have difficulty containing the Colonel Quaritches and Darth Vaders of the world. There is only one force powerful enough to transform an immature ego and that is consciousness.

May the Force be with you.

 

Among the Walking Wounded April 1, 2010

Lately I’ve been thinking about the many wonderful people I know and love who are not oriented to psychological introspection and have trouble understanding why it’s so important to me. This one is for them.

Thinking psychologically does not come naturally to most of us, partly because it requires a certain distancing from worldly distractions that absorb our time and energy. Solitude is uncomfortable for extraverts whose batteries run dry when deprived of human interaction, and withdrawal is punishing to sensory types for whom the material world is a laboratory of delights awaiting experimentation.  “Why would I want to waste my precious time looking inside myself or beneath the surface of things?”  these people wonder.  Why indeed?  According to the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, I’m an introverted intuitive treading water in a sea of extraverted sensate types.   In short, everyone’s not made like me. 

Moreover, there are the realities of everyday living. Many people regardless of personality type are content with their jobs and/or service to their families and communities. They ask themselves, “What’s the point of trying to understand myself better? I have work I love and people who love me and I’m making a valuable contribution.” They are fortunate to be this comfortable with themselves. I have often wished I were like them.

Some find all the purpose and meaning they need in religion. Although their lives are no freer from problems or suffering than anyone else’s, where they are feels so much better than where they were that they simply do not need to keep looking.

But for a minority of people, and I am among them, our work, relationships, and religions are not enough. We don’t know why. We didn’t ask to be this way. Some of us don’t notice the disconnect from ourselves until mid-life. Before then we are too busy scrambling in the outer world to hear the inner dissonance. But then one dark night we find ourselves thinking, “Is this all there is?” and the longing sets in. I assure you this makes us feel selfish and ungrateful, especially if we have been gifted with good health, good fortune, and loving families. The guilt causes some of us to struggle mightily to dismiss a hunger that feels inappropriate.  

But ignoring our yearning for completion only makes us feel worse. Call us morbid-minded perfectionists if you will. Call us the walking wounded. But we know there’s a darkness inside us because we can see its effects, and that knowledge is too painful to bear without trying to do something about it. We may walk many roads, but the only one that doesn’t eventually disappoint is the path to self-knowledge and consciousness. I know, because when I began studying Jungian psychology and working with my dreams the healing insights started popping up everywhere and they’re still coming.

Psychological insights are magical elixirs for people like me.  They open our minds, affirm our worth, expand our choices, heal our suffering, bring light to the darkness, enliven our senses, teach us to love, spark our creativity, and help us be who we are meant to be.  Life its own glorious self is more than enough for many people, but among the walking wounded, Socrates’ assertion that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ is the profoundest truth we know.

 

 
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