Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Psychology of Creativity November 25, 2014

1024px-Macarons_Marcolini_04“From the living fountain of instinct flows everything that is creative; hence the unconscious is not merely conditioned by history, but is the very source of the creative impulse.” (Carl Gustav Jung)

I’m feeling inspired to write poetry these days, and this has me thinking about creativity.  Jung says creativity originates in our instincts.  In other words, our body, with its physical needs and functions, is the matter (L. Mater), or mother, of our urge to create.  And the psyche governs our responses to our instinctual urges.

Jung said we have five basic instincts:

“Whatever creativity is, it is in part a solution to a problem.” (Brian W. Aldiss)

Nurturance: Our bodies need fuel, and we get hungry, irritable and desperate when we don’t get it. They also need protection from the dangerous and uncontrollable forces of nature.  A bit of creature comfort doesn’t hurt either. So if we, our loved ones and our tribe are to survive and prosper, our basic needs for nurturing and being nurtured must be met.  Thus, creativity originally arose in the marshalling of conscious thought and focused behavior to create the necessary tools, weapons, strategies, rules and codes of conduct that would satisfy this instinct.

1280px-Paul_Gauguin_104“The essential ingredient for creativity is wasting time.” (Anonymous)

“I have always regarded manual labour as creative and looked with respect – and, yes, wonder – at people who work with their hands. It seems to me that their creativity is no less than that of a violinist or painter.” (Pablo Casals)

Activity:  Food and water don’t just automatically show up in edible and potable form when we need it, so we have to get off the couch and do something to procure them!  And once we have thoroughly stuffed ourselves it feels good to celebrate with other creative activities such as walking dinner off, participating in games and athletic competitions, and cleaning and fixing up the cave.

“The emotional mind creates, and the rational mind explains it. Another way of saying this is, your ‘heart’ perceives it and your ‘head’ translates it.” (Alvaro Castagnet)

Reflection:  If, after all this eating and fooling around we have a spare moment or two, and if we still feel comfortable and secure, our thoughts move into new areas. For example, we might reflect on how beautiful the sunset is;  figure out how not to starve or freeze to death next winter; wonder why the kids are so cranky!  So we ask questions and try to solve problems. We devise strategies and make plans. We create religious rituals to thank the earth, the animals, the plants and the gods for meeting our needs and to make sure the sun will rise in the morning, spring will return, and a saber toothed-tiger won’t have us for dinner.

Hermann-Paul_-_Les_Danseuses“The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture and a highly creative feverishness. It is not like a drug; it is a particular state when everything happens very quickly, a mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness, of fear and pleasure; it’s a little like making love, the physical act of love.” (Francis Bacon)

Sex:  Every living creature is born with the instinct to preserve the species. Plus, humans and other complex animal forms have an instinctive need for love and intimacy with others. And it feels good! So we use our creativity to attract partners and be appealing to them.

“I believed that I wanted to be a poet,
but deep down I just wanted to be a poem.” ~ Jaime Gil de Biedma

Creativity:  So the instincts activate our creativity and creativity is itself an instinct, an urge that satisfies our souls and enriches our lives in numerous ways and forms.  Stories told around the fire.  Figurines of animals and gods.  Vessels for food and flowers, gathering and gifting.  Music:  songs, dances symphonies and the instruments to play them.  Painted images from myths and dreams.  Delicious foods.  Ornaments for our bodies, fabrics to wear and beautify our homes, poems to enlighten and inspire us, to make works of art of our very lives.

NPG 1899,Elizabeth Barrett Browning,by Michele GordigianiAnd in the process, to make life worth living.

“Creative activity is more than a mere cultural frill, it is a crucial factor of human experience, the means of self-revelation, the basis of empathy with others; it inspires both individualism and responsibility, the giving and the sharing of experience.” (Tom Hudson)

“If I didn’t have my films as an outlet for all the different sides of me, I would probably be locked up.” (Angelina Jolie)

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.  Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” (Pearl S. Buck)

“When I can no longer create anything, I’ll be done for.” (Coco Chanel)

I’m with you, Coco.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

All quotes except the one from Jaime Gil de Biedma are from the website Art Quotes.  That one comes from my friend Jenna Farr Ludwig’s Facebook page.

Images: Macarons, Marcolini, Wikimedia Commons.  Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia Commons.  Hermann Paul, Les Danseuses, Wikimedia Commons. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Michele Gordigiani, 1858, Wikimedia Commons.

 

And the Beat Goes On November 17, 2014

In September I had a particularly meaningful dream about my remodeled childhood home.  When I shared it in The Interior Designer Within, the feedback was so fascinating and the discussion so provocative that I wrote two more posts about it: Viewing Your Life Through Mythic Eyes, and Written in the Stars.  Meanwhile, nine nights after that dream my unconscious gave me another “house” dream:

#4570:  The Remodeled Hall. I’m standing with my back to the back porch of my childhood home. In front of me is the hall that leads to the kitchen.  What used to be a narrow, musty passage between the two, with a bathroom on one side and my parents’ room on the other, is now a large spacious gallery, perhaps 18 feet wide, with a ceiling so high I can’t even see it. It’s filled with light and the walls are painted a bright, glossy white. I think someone is painting the last coat on it now.  I think this would make a beautiful art gallery and imagine a huge square painting on one side. The dominant color should be red and other fiery colors. Yes, I’ll use this room for art, but not too much. I don’t want it to be cluttered or distracting.  Just simple and beautiful. I wake up planning where ceiling lights should go.

Although the two dreams occurred several days apart, they felt connected.  The first said that the living room, dining room and kitchen—symbolically, areas of my psyche related to my conscious living—had been dramatically remodeled over the years.  The second one said that remodeling was also underway in the hall at the back of the house—symbolically, my personal unconscious.  Whereas the front of the house was occupied with the more public and practical aspects of my life, this central part in the back was becoming a space for light, art, and creativity.

I loved these dreams.  I loved my childhood home and my life there. And I love the growth I’ve undergone since then. Perhaps that’s why all my dreams of that house leave me with good feelings that last for days. It also makes sense that this recent series of house dreams came at a time when I was feeling particularly good about my life, my work, and myself.

The beat goes on, beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Charleston was once the rage, uh huh
History has turned the page, uh huh
The miniskirt’s the current thing, uh huh
Teenybopper is our newborn king, uh huh

And the beat goes on, beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

My two most recent dreams, 7 days apart, speak to a different experience of life. Both feature stressful situations in unknown public places where I’m looking for my husband, my car, and my cell phone. Here’s a brief summary of the latest.

#4587:  Stressed and Unprepared I wake up from a nap in a public place. I realize it’s 3:30 in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day! I have 20 people coming for dinner in two-and-a half hours and I forgot to put the turkey in the oven and peel the potatoes! I start searching through a crowd of hurried passers-by for my purse, my cell phone, my car keys, my husband. I see my husband and send him to Costco in his car for the potatoes and green beans.  As I head for the parking lot I worry: How will I have time to do everything?  How will I even get home?  I can’t find the keys to my car and I can’t call for a cab because I don’t have my phone!

I was frowning and feeling frustrated when I awoke from this dream Monday morning, and the mood lasted half the day! So what’s my issue? Have I been doing too much or too little?  Are my priorities out of whack?  Am I wasting time on things I love which are not that important in the bigger picture?  Should I give more attention to my outer life and less to the inner? Do I feel guilty for loafing all day Sunday?  Am I afraid of being unprepared for Thanksgiving dinner?  For the book I’m starting to write?  For my keynote speech next summer? Am I having trouble communicating my concerns to Fred and/or my animus and asking for their help?  These are all things I’ve wondered lately.

My “childhood home” dreams tell me what I’m doing well.  They remind me to be grateful.  They affirm my growth and encourage me to keep going.  Stress dreams tell me when things are out of balance. They set up possible scenarios and rehearse strategies I might want to consider. And though they may bring me down for a time, I usually bounce back before long.

Neither state of mind is a constant and this is as it should be.  The psyche needs balance, just as Nature’s seasons.  And the opposites of life deserve their due.  Yet, regardless of which phase we’re in, we can be assured that the beat goes on. Like my two favorite kinds of jazz, sometimes the pace is frenetic, sometimes it’s slow and easy. But it goes on.

And the beat goes on, beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

Songwriters
PRINI, ROSSANO / SANDRINI, PAOLO / NARAINE, WILLIAM / ULIVI, VITO / BARATTA, MARCO / SUDANO, RICCARDO

Published by
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

 Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Do We Need Schools for Forty-Year-Olds? November 10, 2014

ArrienbookSome years ago I was working on a precursor to my latest book, a manuscript about creating partnership between our psychological opposites.  Throughout history cultures have found the categories of “masculinity” and “femininity” useful for designating differences between pairs of opposites in many areas of life, including languages, electronics, social roles, leadership styles and so on.  Curious about the different ways men and women develop psychologically over a lifetime, I used the same categories in an assessment tool I created.  The Partnership Profile estimates the relative weight an individual gives to the masculine and feminine qualities of his or her psyche.  I wanted to use it to help people understand that everyone contains both kinds of qualities, and both are equally necessary to a successful adaptation to life.

As Jung wrote in 1930 when gender and sexual stereotypes were more widely accepted and adhered to than now:

“We might compare masculinity and femininity and their psychic components to a definite store of substances of which, in the first half of life, unequal use is made.  A man consumes his large supply of masculine substance and has left over only the smaller amount of feminine substance, which must now be put to use.  Conversely, the woman allows her hitherto unused supply of masculinity to become active.” Jung, CW, Vol. 8, para. 782

Over the next few years I administered The Partnership Profile to over 700 people in various stages of life, from college students to old age, and used the results to refine my instrument and draw some preliminary conclusions about the natural changes that occur in the psyche over a lifetime.  I’m not sure I agree with Jung’s observation that men have a larger supply of masculine qualities and women of feminine, but my results did bear out his findings that everyone has both, and that our use of them changes over time.  He wrote,

“How often it happens that a man of forty-five or fifty winds up his business, and the wife then dons the trousers and opens a little shop where he perhaps performs the duties of a handyman.  There are many women who only awaken to social responsibility and to social consciousness after their fortieth year.  In modern business life, especially in America, nervous breakdowns in the forties are a very common occurrence….Very often these changes are accompanied by all sorts of catastrophes in marriage, for it is not hard to imagine what will happen when the husband discovers his tender feelings and the wife her sharpness of mind.” Vol. 8, para 783

For a while I conducted partnership workshops at the Disney Institute. At one session an elderly man stood up and proudly shared his score which was heavily weighted on the feminine side of the continuum.  Then he said something like this:  “I was a marine for over thirty years, and I’m proud of it. But I’m here to tell you that the score I got today is right on.  It sure wouldn’t have been when I was a young man, but I’ve changed.  My wife and I live next door to a little old lady whose health is bad and I go over there every day to help out. I cook, clean, buy groceries, run errands, do odd jobs.  My wife won’t go with me.  She says she’s had enough of that and would rather read.” At this point his wife nodded vigorously in agreement.  He continued, “But I can’t get enough.  I love helping her!  That’s a whole new part of me I never knew I had when I was a marine.”

hollisbookJung wrote:

“The worst of it all is that intelligent and cultivated people live their lives without even knowing the possibility of such transformations.  Wholly unprepared, they embark upon the second half of life. Or are there perhaps colleges for forty-year olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world?  No, thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of our life;  worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto.  But we cannot live the afternoon of life according the programme of life’s morning;  for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” Vol. 8, para. 784

Have you experienced this reality?  What do you think?  Should someone start a school for forty-year-olds?

Note:  For those interested in reading more, I highly recommend The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien, and Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by Jungian analyst James Hollis.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 

 

 

Birth of a Poet? November 5, 2014

SearchingforHummingbirdsI’ve been feeling a bit estranged from myself for awhile.  This might seem odd coming from one who’s made a profession of self-discovery. Yet, the fact is that since my last book came out, I’ve been beset by a restless discomfort and confounding dreams.

A part of me is not surprised.  I can’t count the times I’ve undergone similar transitions after leaving an outworn psychological house behind. And I know I’ll experience more as long as I’m alive and growing. But another part of me expected this move to be shorter and easier.  Shouldn’t I be getting better at adjusting to change?

Actually, I am getting better.  I trust the processes of my psyche. I know my yearning for closure comes from an impatient ego longing for an end to the questions:  What’s going on with me?  What next?  And I know closure will come when I’ve stayed present with the questions for as long as it takes.

Nonetheless, to give my unconscious a little nudge, last year during a ritual at Maeve’s tomb on the summit of a limestone hill in Ireland I asked the Celtic Queen of the fairies for a clearer understanding of the recurring symbolism of excrement in my dreams.  Then last month in Greece, after a year of numerous dreams featuring the color orange, new babies, and feelings of being helpless and overwhelmed, I asked the Oracle at Delphi for direction in my life and writing.

So yesterday morning I wrote what may be my first real poem!

I’ve tried poetry off and on for years, but even the published few wouldn’t get air time on Amateur Hour.  This is not false humility but an honest assessment of my limitations. I’m wordy. I tend to ramble. I have lacked a proper appreciation for subtlety; a true understanding of the power of imagery;  and the patience to condense wimpy words and loose thoughts into a coherent idea with emotional impact.

This summer I received a book of poetry titled “Searching for Hummingbirds” from Betsy Holleman. I met her years ago at a writing conference led by novelist Rosellen Brown and poetess Dorianne Laux.  I hadn’t written any poems since the conference, but Betsy’s book inspired me to write a memorial poem for my mother.  I’m not happy with the result, but the process filled several enormously pleasurable hours.

SkinfulofDustI think that’s what motivated me to order “A Skinful of Dust” by Brian Carlin, an award-winning poet from Glasgow.  We’ve followed and commented on each other’s blog posts for a few years and often find inspiration in each others’ writing.  His book is a treasury of sturdy words and startling images that sparked a deeper resonance with poetry than I’ve ever felt before. And a book he recommended, Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space,” is opening my mind to creative depths I never knew existed.

Then yesterday morning I was blown away by the latest post from poet/artist Steven McCabe.  His post “Autumn Morning,” is based on a poem by Pablo Neruda and complemented with original art and a vintage-looking video. It evoked such an unusually rich reverie that I set aside my morning Sudoku ritual to write a poem about it.

I’m not prepared to share it here yet.  The poem is too fresh, my emotions are too raw, and my baby is too vulnerable for mass exposure.  But I feel like I’m standing at the threshold of an exciting new adventure in creativity and I wanted to celebrate with you.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Three Things I’ve Learned about Psychological Suffering October 28, 2014

Magician

Magician

“Every psychic advance of man arises from the suffering of the soul.”

Carl Jung, CW 11, Par. 497

As it often happens when I write about a painful or controversial issue, I lost two e-mail subscribers after WordPress published my last post on death.  Yet within five days four new ones signed on! I won’t pretend I don’t suffer when a subscriber leaves.  I do.  (By the way, I never know their names. I only know when the numbers on my stats change.)  But it’s getting easier; partly because I almost always gain new subscribers after the same posts.

Plus, my grandchildren are giving me a new perspective on this kind of suffering.  Since the current school year started last month I’ve watched their struggles to adjust to new classes that separate them from old friends.  Yet they’re already making new ones. What I’m realizing is that their experiences parallel mine.  Losses are inevitable for every growing thing.

So I won’t apologize for writing about suffering. I’m not equipped to comment on physical suffering or clinical depression, so these are my thoughts about the normal psychological suffering everyone experiences. The young adult’s post-school struggles to find him/herself, connect with a life partner, and find satisfying, meaningful work. The unforeseen accidents or losses of a home, job, friend, partner, child or other beloved family member. The existential angst some souls suffer at midlife. The daunting challenges of aging.

Here’s what personal experience has taught me about everyday psychological suffering.

First, it comes to all of us.  Many people’s first response to serious suffering is to think something like, “Why me?  What did I do to deserve this?  Why is God punishing me?” But, as a believer in the omnipotence of Love,  I don’t see suffering coming from a judgmental, vengeful God.  I see it as a natural consequence of being alive!  You live; you die.  You win;  you lose.  Good things happen;  bad things happen. Sometimes you’re happy; sometimes you’re sad.  Life comes with a full range of emotions:  not just pleasure, but pain too. That’s just the way Life is, and wishful thinking cannot change it.

For the Tibetans of northern India who are taught at an early age to accept the fact of suffering (as my friend, Elaine Mansfield, tells me), this knowledge is liberating.  It means I don’t have to take suffering personally. This frees me from misplaced guilt and self-blame.  Nor do I have to conform to my tribe’s or religion’s restrictive standards and beliefs.  If I’m going to suffer anyway, I might as well do it in service to fueling my light instead of hiding it.

Second, suffering can be our worst enemy. Like a devil who promises eternal happiness, it whispers, “Run away!  Escape!  You don’t need to put up with this.” The problem with escape mechanisms is that they only compound our suffering.  Immature egos don’t know that the only way to avoid future suffering is to deal with current suffering, so most of us are extremely vulnerable to this kind of dead-end thinking.

And suffering whispers, “This is intolerable. Do something. Quick!”  But impulsive behavior erodes the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  It diminishes our ability to accept responsibility for our part in our suffering, and causes unnecessary pain for us and those we blame.

The third thing I’ve learned is that psychological suffering can also be our best friend.  Like a good teacher it gives us many opportunities to learn more about ourselves, and self-knowledge always leads to wisdom.

Like a loving inner Magician who sees the bigger picture of our life and passionately wants to help us thrive, suffering offers us a magic wand:  the power of choice!  But this gift comes with a stipulation:  We are the only ones who can choose to transform our intolerable situation, and the only way we can make this happen is by tolerating the tension until the solution arrives in its own time.  When it does, it is accompanied by a deepened spirituality, an expanding awareness of the purpose and meaning of our lives, and a strengthened ego with the power to make healthier choices.

Life comes with realities an immature ego can’t understand. But trusting Life to guide us through our suffering without attempting to escape or control it can transform us into maturing conscious beings.

How have you experienced this truth?

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Musings on Mortality October 21, 2014

Lamp in the Window

Lamp in the Window

My father-in-law’s funeral last weekend has me revisiting the mystery of death. Organized religions have it figured out.  Unfortunately, their explanations stopped working for me many years ago.  I often wonder if they work for anyone.  Are words and beliefs which originate outside of us really enough to erase our terror of death, or is something more needed? Something powerful and personal that arises from within.

Dad’s church service was beautiful and deeply moving. I was grateful for the opportunity to honor his life in this sacred space and it felt right and necessary to celebrate his memory with family and friends. But this time-honored tradition didn’t answer my questions about death.

Over the years I’ve wondered things like, when I die, what is the “I” that dies? Is it all of me, or just the physical part of me, or some of the mental parts too, or what? If anything lives on, what is it?  Where does it live?

Other questions are about how to deal with death while I’m still alive.  Shall I fight it or accept it? Ignore it or face it? Is there a way I can come to terms with my eventual death or the death of a loved one now? If so, what is it?

And I wonder about people who say, “Why would I want to think about death?  Isn’t it better to be happy and see the bright side of things?  What good can it possibly do to dwell on such morbid thoughts?”

I know many people feel this way, but it’s not an option for me.  I’ve consciously lived with the specter of death (I imagine it sitting just over my left shoulder) ever since life brought my naively confident ego to its knees at the age of 36. Until then I thought I was tough enough to handle anything. But when I discovered I had a shadow composed of everything my ego believed it was not, the shock was so great and the internal conflicts so painful that I began to fantasize about suicide.

That was when I realized I had a choice. I could escape my pain by killing myself, or I could choose to go on living. For me, staying alive meant tolerating some unbearable suffering for as long as it took to understand and befriend the opposing forces in me that had brought me to this point.  It meant choosing to take my needs and gifts seriously instead of allowing them to wither away under a persona of passive perfection and “good girl” conformity. And it meant assuming full responsibility for my choices without blaming anyone else. I chose life.  Having confronted death, I had nothing left to lose by confronting my inner darkness.

Ironically, in facing my fear of death, I began to lose my fear of life!  I haven’t fully conquered every fear,  but if you could magically spend one day in the head of 36-year-old Jeanie and a second day in my head today, you wouldn’t believe they were attached to the same body! (Well, not quite the same!)

I don’t know the answers to all these questions but I have some theories.  I do know that one thing that leaves the body at death is the light in our eyes.  Light is everywhere a metaphor for consciousness. I suspect my fearful ego, unexplored shadow and all my other unconscious parts may die with my body.  But years of inner work have created a new and independent entity of light that does not seem bound to physical life:  a Conscious Observer. Like a lamp shining through a window on a dark night, this part of me can see beyond the walls of self-delusion that my ego has built around my psyche.  I think this light may live on.

And where will it live?  If it is true as some quantum physicists believe that everything in the universe is connected, then perhaps it will join the light of the One Universal Conscious Mind that has been evolving since the first human realized the miracle of his/her life.

How shall I deal with death while I’m still alive?  By carrying on a dialogue with it when it whispers in my left ear, drops hints in my dreams, or shows up in waking life. And keep it up until we’re all talked out.  Then I’ll just keep on living.

Is it better to be happy and positive instead of dwelling on morbid thoughts?  There is no “better” or “worse” answer to this question.  Different souls have different paths. Some are born to fly;  some must explore the ocean depths.  The healing way is to stop worrying about whether our way is right or wrong and start facing our personal realities with courage, honesty and love.

Could there be a better way than that?

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Tourist or Pilgrim? Which Are You? October 14, 2014

PhilGreeceThe pilgrim is a poetic traveler, one who believes that there is poetry on the road, at the heart of everything.” ~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

In October of 2012 I was invited to make a presentation at Journey Conferences, an annual gathering of Jungians.  There I met Phil Cousineau, an author, filmmaker, lecturer and expert on mythology, and learned that he leads trips to some of the world’s most sacred sites.

Fred and I love to travel, so when we heard about his trip to the sacred sites of Greece with Sacred Earth Journeys this fall, we signed up.  My favorites among Phil’s many books are The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, and Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Modern Time.  Since our return last week I’ve been thinking about how this trip combined the themes of these two books in a magical way that made this my favorite travel experience ever.

“In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.”

The focus of our previous guided tours has been on the outer world. What drew me to this one was the promise of equal time for the inner life of the soul.

I was not disappointed. Each morning began with an hour-long conversation about the sites we would visit, the ancient myths associated with them, and the way they are still being played out in our lives today. Phil’s passion for mythology combined with his passion for mentoring turned what could have been just another interesting tour into an extraordinary personal odyssey.

Seeking Guidance from the Oracle at Delphi

Seeking Guidance from the Oracle at Delphi

“The force behind myths, fairytales, parables and soulful travel stories reveals the myriad ways the sacred breaks through the resistance and shines forth into our world. Pilgrimage holds out the promise of personal contact with that sacred force.”

For me, one of the most problematic aspects of past tours has been the lack of opportunity for close observation and reverie. Not so this time!  At least once a day Phil offered prompts for writing poetry or essays or making sketches. Always, he built in plenty of time for reflecting on how the celebrations and myths associated with sacred spaces triggered lost memories and inner stirrings. As if that were not enough, he provided even more time for sharing our impressions, insights and healing experiences with each other.

Our task in life is to find our deep soul work and throw ourselves headlong into it.”

At the ruins of Eleusis, site of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries which celebrated the sacred death/rebirth fertility myth of Demeter and Persephone, we rested in the cave reputed to be the portal to the Underworld. There some of us shared evidence of the buried spiritual depths that lie beneath the surface of our lives. I spoke of how I shut down painful emotions and lost my tears at the age of 11 when my father died.  That night I dreamed I was as angry as I’ve ever been at family and friends who were thoughtlessly trashing my house and expecting me to clean up.  The dream ended with me hurling volleys of creative curses at them like Zeus throwing his thunderbolts, then laughing in delight at my uncharacteristic behavior!

The Starting Line at Olympia

The Starting Line at Olympia

Where was the anger coming from?  Was being in Greece influencing me to channel my inner Persephone, Dark Goddess of the Underworld?  Is she still mad at Hades for violating my personal space and stealing my father away? What about the laughter? Could Persephone finally be lightening up about a personal crisis which she has learned to view as a mere speck in the cosmic view of things?

Over drinks two evenings later, a woman in our group shared a shattering life-changing experience she had as a young adult. At dinner she made a mind-blowing connection: The myth of Demeter and Persephone is her story, one she has lived ever since her youthful trauma. She never knew it until that moment!

“What is sacred is what is worthy of our reverence, what evokes awe and wonder in the human heart, and what, when contemplated, transforms us utterly.”

The night after we visited Olympia, site of the original Olympic games, I dreamed of another Dark Mother who reminded me of Ereshkigal, cruel Queen of the Underworld who hung her sister Inanna, Sumeria’s Queen of Heaven and Earth, on a meathook to die. In a show of unwanted patronizing attention, dream Ereshkigal asked her attendants to escort me down some stairs. I refused to go. As I was falling asleep that night she visited me and gave me a light kiss on my lips. Her presence was oppressive and filled me with dread.

Why does the Goddess of the Underworld visit me now?  It seems obvious. I’ve entered a phase of life when my task is to make peace with death.  I’m not thrilled about this, but I’m ready to face what comes next.

“What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel…is the way we spend our lives.”

Skotino Cave, Crete

Skotino Cave, Crete

The bearlike rock formation in the Skotino Cave in Crete reminded me of Elephant in the Cave, an early dream which showed me how frightened I was of reflecting on my inner life.   Greece’s ancient goddess figurines; images of snakes and initiation rituals; sacred vessels and ceremonial masks; ruins of labyrinths and altars; the sacred tree worshiped at the Palianis nunnery:  all these and more symbolize issues that used to haunt me in waking life and appeared at night in some of my most memorable and life-changing dreams.

Greece’s antiquities are not meaningless historical facts to me.  They are living realities within me.  Having experienced these realities for over 25 years, I feel blessed by this trip and the direct contact with the sacred it provided every day.  I guess this makes me a pilgrim.

How does travel impact you?

All quotes are from Phil Cousineau’s Art of Pilgrimage.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 
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