Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Partnership Between the Lover and Beloved October 23, 2012

Marc Chagall
The Lovers

Our goal in the emotional domain is to feel and sustain the positive emotions of love and pleasure. This need arises from the instinct for sex. For primitive humans whose struggle for survival must have consumed almost every waking moment, sex was one of the few activities that took them away from the daily grind of work and provided emotional satisfaction, if only briefly.  Even today, most people still find it extremely difficult to separate their desire for love and pleasure from their desire to have sex with another human being.

Interestingly, the two parts of the brain responsible for emotions and instincts adjoin one another.  The so-called reptilian brain at the top of the spinal cord is the bottommost portion of the brain. This brain stem appears to be the source of our instincts.  The limbic system, the portion of the brain that processes emotions, is the next higher level which flares out and over the brain stem.

These two parts appear to have developed very early in our evolution at a time when the primary task of the human species was to survive. The cerebral cortex is a more recent addition. This is a wider, double-hemispheric mass that rises above the brain stem and limbic system. Psychologically, we can say that the two lower parts of the brain contain the most basic and deeply unconscious aspects of our mental functioning and correspond with the unconscious self, or other.  Likewise, the cerebral cortex is the realm of conscious selfhood, or ego. Because our emotions and instincts “lie beneath” our conscious awareness, it is extremely difficult for us to understand or deal with them in controlled, rational ways.

The emotional energy of our instinct for sex fuels not only sexual passion but also spiritual passion.  The archetypes which represent it are the Lover and the Beloved. One way to see them is as personifications of self and other, our conscious and unconscious emotional lives.  From this perspective, the Lover represents our ego’s sense of selfhood and concerns about self-preservation:  our desire for self-development, our longing for fulfillment, our passion to become individuated and enlightened.

Lover and Beloved
Image from a Greek Vase

A strong, heroic Lover feels great passion;  a weak one fears and represses emotions, especially tender ones.  A brave Lover recognizes his desires and honors his powerful appetite;  a deeply wounded one barely allows himself to want anything at all.  A mature Lover understands the dangers of excesses and maintains some discipline and self-control;  an immature one cannot control his emotional life, develops addictions, or swings from one emotional extreme to the other.

The Beloved can likewise be awake or asleep, strong or weak, brave or cowardly.  An immature Beloved is not open, authentic, or intimate with Otherness, including the Great Mystery, other people, our shadows, or our contrasexual opposites of anima or animus. In this unconnected state we project our disowned emotions onto people and activities that we expect to satisfy our deepest emotional needs, and when things go wrong we blame them. But the true culprit in dysfunctional relationships is our fear of opening emotionally to Otherness, both human and divine. It is our ego’s lack of feeling that creates problems with the very people in whom we invest our hope for love and pleasure. The antidote is to know and feel compassion for our rejected selves.

How are you doing in the emotional realm?  When do you fail to feel love for yourself?

Please note:  Syndicated talk show host Al Cole is airing a radio interview with me about my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, on his show “People of Distinction.”  You can listen in at this link.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

Flexing Our Mythos Muscles September 14, 2012

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?

You can find more on this topic in my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, which can be purchased at www.Amazon.com or www.larsonpublications.com.

 

Flexing Our Mythos Muscles July 13, 2012

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?

 

How’s Your God-Image Working For You? December 13, 2011

Our ideas about God come from us. For approximately the last 5,000 years the West and Near East have projected our masculine archetypes onto a male God who is a

1) King: superior, all-powerful and morally judgmental;

2) Warrior: partial to and protective of our particular tribe or culture while rejecting our enemies;

3) Magician/Scholar: supernatural and all-knowing; and

4) Lover: passionately in love with us, His Beloveds.

So what does this say about the status of the psyches and societies that envision God this way? An ego with a purely masculine God-image has rejected the sacred power of femininity because it is afraid of and hostile to the feminine side of the psyche.  Of course, this makes about as much sense as obsessing over the qualities of the left-hemisphere of our brains and repressing the equally valuable “God-given” qualities of the right-hemisphere.

Who in their right mind would deliberately do such a thing? This is the point, of course. The fact is, we’re not in our “right” mind because Western culture has essentially rejected the qualities of the right brain! Since the time of Aristotle, our egos have been so enamored of our left-hemisphere logos ability to process information with clear reason, discrimination of details, and logical, “objective” thinking that we’ve disdained the far more mysterious and uncontrollable processes of the right hemisphere.

The right hemisphere specializes in mythos. This analogical mode of thinking emphasizes seeing the whole picture instead of discriminating between details;  connecting instead of separating;  completing oneself through intimate relationships instead of proving oneself through perfected work;  finding meaning in images, symbols and intuitions instead of only words and provable facts; personal, subjective realities instead of objective ones;  inner events instead of outer ones; values and tender emotions instead of pure reason; and the physical, instinctual realities of our bodies instead of the traditional mental processes associated with intelligence.  As you may have guessed, right-brain attributes are generally associated with femininity.

But why does it have to be either/or for the ego? Why have we rejected these qualities—or at the very least seen them as “inferior” to left-brained qualities—for so long instead of simply accommodating both? It’s really very simple. Like all mammals, humans begin life as helpless, instinctual creatures. But we have egos, and our egos want to control our primitive instincts so we can stay safe and gain more control over the terrifying powers of Mother Nature. After all, if you can’t manage your hunger you’ll eat your entire fall harvest by Christmas; then what will you eat for the rest of the winter?

Poor little egos. We just want to be more conscious and in control so we can feel more safe in a terrifying world. The last thing we want is to fall back (backslide?) into unconsciousness and powerlessness. So we obsess over left-hemisphere (Western?) thinking and disown the more “primitive” right brain. We project masculinity onto a remote, separate, all-powerful spirit and project femininity onto physical women who we strip of as much power as we can. Thus have we created societies run by power-driven leaders who are afraid of their own shadows, can’t get along with each other, and use and abuse women and all who are weak, vulnerable or different from the things our egos identify with.

How conscious is that? How conscious are you? How integrated is your brain? How integrated is your God-image?

 

Living Mindfully August 5, 2011

A few days ago my friend Elizabeth Cohen led a day of meditation for a dozen people at our mountain cabin. Knowing we would spend time outdoors, I wondered what I would learn about my own nature from meditating on Mother Nature. My question was based on many synchronistic experiences which have taught me that these two natures are intimately connected.

In our everyday lives we are usually unaware of this connection.  In fact, feeling separated from our maternal Source and inner self is the price we pay for ego consciousness: what Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding calls, “the taint of mortality, which is division within onself.” Yet experiences of mystics from every religion as well as recent findings from quantum physics point to a reality of Unified Oneness which runs beneath ordinary awareness.

Our ability to connect with Oneness is not a function of religious belief but of our psychological awareness, which, in turn, is a function of the way our brains are made and how we use them.  For a scientific explanation of the brain’s role in experiencing oneness, watch this extraordinary video of brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor describing the unified state she experienced during a stroke. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for a stroke to receive this knowing but can approach it through the practice of mindfulness. This was the focus of our day of meditation.

“But,” you might ask, “why would I want to be more mindful? Experiencing oneness simply isn’t an important goal for me.” An excellent question! In fact, the benefits of mindfulness are not just about feeling a spiritual connection, but also about psychological, social and physical well-being. For example, living mindfully can reduce fear, anxiety and stress; lower blood pressure; strengthen the immune system; ease depression; strengthen self-esteem; build trust, compassion and peace; and create healthier, more satisfying relationships with food, our bodies, our work, our daily lives, nature and other people.

Elizabeth led us through several mindfulness meditations about different aspects of our lives. One redirected our negative self-talk into a kind and gentle self-acceptance. Another activated the love and gratitude we feel for special people and expanded these emotions outward like ripples toward friends, acquaintances, and even people we dislike. A third brought greater appreciation for every part of our bodies, beginning with the toes of our left feet and rising up to the crowns of our heads. One of my favorites was an exercise in mindful eating.

All of us gained something of value from this day. My biggest insight, and a good example of the deep connection between our inner and outer lives, occurred during an outdoor walking meditation. Our instructions were to walk very slowly with full attention to every movement and physical sensation. As one who does many things fast — walking, talking, cooking, cleaning up, driving — I found I could not do this without losing my balance. Then the metaphor spoke to me: Has rushing through my life been a way of escaping awareness of my personal imbalances? I think that for me it has. Since that epiphany, being mindful of the option to slow down has stuck with me and had a very satisfying balancing effect on everything I have done.

Whether our goal is spiritual oneness, psychological wholeness, or to live with more balance and happiness, living mindfully brings maturity into every dimension of our lives because they are all connected. How have you benefitted from practicing mindfulness? I’d love to know.

 

The Power of Choice April 16, 2011

In this blog I use the framework of Jungian psychology to express my philosophy about life which can be summarized in four words: “Think psychologically; live spiritually.” Because Jung’s discoveries have been so meaningful to me, I’ve hoped to help others make sense of their lives by sharing what I’ve learned.

In my experience, most people drawn to Jungian psychology tend to be curious, progressive, open-minded thinkers who enjoy exploring old ideas and staying in touch with the newest theories in many fields other than psychology. Some of the most common in this mixed bag are quantum physics, astrophysics, astronomy, astrology, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, alchemy, literature, film, religion, mysticism, mythology, philosophy, brain research, dream research, gender relationships and women’s studies. Their goal in familiarizing themselves with such a broad range of knowledge is to gain a better understanding of the reasons for human thought and behavior in the hope of improving the health and wholeness of themselves, their clients, and all humankind.

A field currently yielding some of the most exciting developments is brain functioning, and in particular, the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. MedicineNet.com provides this definition of neuroplasticity: “The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.”

Of most interest to me is the fact that a leading advocate of research in this field is the Dalai Lama who has encouraged Buddhist monks to become “guinea pigs” for scientists wishing to learn if there is a correlation between intentional mind-training techniques like meditation, and physical changes in the brain. The results of this unprecedented collaboration between science and religion point to the startling conclusion that we can change our lives by changing our brains.

The implications are mind-blowing. Until recently, mainstream science has been skeptical of reports that a regular program of meditation creates more compassion, peace, and well-being. But today a growing number of scientists take some of the traditional claims of psychology and religion very seriously indeed.

For example, Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of the Harvard Medical School says we are more than our brains and bodies, which are merely the instruments of an intangible “real self.” If this real self, (what Jung would call the Self), is not in charge of our intellect and emotions — i.e. if our egos do not listen to our thoughts and monitor our emotions and follow our intuition and make conscious, original and caring choices — we are their servant! But with regular mind-training practices such as meditation and dream work we can change our brains and transform ourselves from slaves to masters of our lives!

For more information check out this video of a conversation between Deepak Chopra and Dr. Tanzi. Meanwhile, consider this:  Our mind has unimaginable potential;  our ego is a small, but crucial element of that potential. Small, because its sphere of consciousness is like a grain of sand on the shore of a cosmic ocean of consciousness;  crucial because that tiny grain has the life-changing power of choice. If our lives feel narrow and fulfilling it is because we, our ego selves, have not chosen to do what it takes to enlarge and enrich them. Why?  Ignorance, complacency, laziness, fear of censure, retribution, failure or the unknown…you name it. But regardless of the reason, we can still choose to change our brains and our lives if we truly want to.

 

Healing Arizona: Sophia’s Communication Style January 11, 2011

As I write this the shooting spree in Arizona which resulted in the deaths of six people, including a federal judge, and the wounding of several others — among them congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords who apparently was the primary target — is very much on my mind. Practically everyone is wondering whether America’s recent vitriolic political environment might have contributed to this tragedy.

In an October post titled, “No More Toxic Air Waves, Please,” I worried about what effect the hate-filled, divisive political rhetoric would have on the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Early reports say the suspect is a mentally unstable young man with a known grudge against the government. Perhaps he would have done something like this regardless of the political climate. But factors like the deliberate ‘targeting’ of political ‘enemies’on Sarah Palin’s website, (Rep. Giffords was among those pictured in the crosshairs), and the media’s recent movement from informing to inciting have to be considered as potential influences.

One psychological explanation for this situation has to do with the differences between left-brained and right-brained communication styles. If you’ve been following this blog you know the left-hemisphere of the brain specializes in logos — logical, objective, focused reasoning — which is associated with the masculine principle. The right hemisphere prefers mythos, i.e. analogical thinking, subjective feeling, and diffuse awareness, and is associated with the feminine principle. I’m not talking about gender. This is about the masculine and feminine in all of us.

Diffuse awareness has four primary components: listening (as opposed to influencing), appreciating (as opposed to criticizing or judging), empathizing (as opposed to unfeeling analyzing and reasoning), and questioning (as opposed to blind acceptance and/or authoritarian telling). All four qualities enhance communication, contribute to wisdom and help unveil the sacred. All are associated with the feminine.

Diffuse listening occurs when we open ourselves to otherness by relaxing our needs to be heard, admired, one-up and right. Receptivity to whatever comes our way leads us straight through appearances and preconceived notions into the heart and soul of matters. Appreciating respects differences, sees similarities, and enjoys meaningful connections. Empathy, the ability to see through another’s eyes and unite with him or her in a communion of shared understanding and caring, is born when we shift our focus from differentiating ourselves to establishing intimacy. Finally, questioning is an open, thoughtful approach to otherness — other ideas and opinions, other belief systems, and other ways of perceiving — that is not defensive, rebellious, or confrontational, but truly interested in understanding, learning and growing.

The shocking violence in Arizona has multiple causes, but I have absolutely no doubt that our cultural obsession with left-brained values is one of the most influential. Fortunately, humanity is riding a mounting tidal wave that is heading for a new level of consciousness which balances and integrates opposites. Sophia of the wise and understanding heart is entering our awareness in a very big way, and adopting her modes of thinking and communicating cannot help but bring healing changes. I can’t wait to witness their unfolding in the new decade.

 

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,831 other followers

%d bloggers like this: