Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Power of Your Creative Force July 29, 2014

“Did you not see that when your creative force turned to the world, how the dead things moved under it and through it, how they grew and prospered, and how your thoughts flowed in rich rivers?  If your creative force now turns to the place of the soul, you will see how your soul becomes green and how its field bears wonderful fruit.” ~ Carl Jung. The Red Book. Page 236.

When Lewis LaFontaine posted this quote on his Jung site the other day I was inspired to write about it, but unsure how to explain its importance to readers unfamiliar with this language. I knew some would wonder:  What is the power of the creative force? What did Jung mean by turning it to the world and then to the soul?  And why should I care?  What does this have to do with me and my life?

I know some people wonder about these things because there was a time when I did too.  One of the first books I read on Jungian psychology  25 years ago was The Kingdom Within by John Sanford.  I was enormously excited about the new insights I gained from it, but couldn’t understand why Sanford treated the release of creativity as a major accomplishment.  Why would I care about being creative? I just wanted to understand myself and make the pain go away. It took years of inner work to realize that creative imagination was what unlocked my true self and made the pain go away!

To create is to bring new life with exciting potential into your world.  Creative imagination eases your load and enriches your days. It makes you feel better and inspires you to be a better human being. Most amazing of all, it frees you from the prisons of fear and time and lifts you to eternity:  the sacred “zone” of the gods.

The creative force is, like the imagination which activates it, a natural capacity of every psyche. Tapping into it transforms our inner and outer lives by helping us find and express our individuality in ways that are unique to us and benefit others.

To turn our creative force “to the world” is to manifest a new idea or unique body of work that will prove our worth and improve the human condition. People with this drive become artists, designers, actors, composers, musicians, dancers, architects, inventors, photographers, poets, playwrights, writers, chefs, and anyone who loves and engages in creative work of any kind.

But Jung’s quote suggests that while turning the creative force to the world has enormous value, there comes a time when a new focus is called for. Indeed, the inability to release our attachment to the outer world and redirect our creativity toward the inner is the psychological basis for the stereotype of the tortured artist who has sold his soul to the devil for a lifetime of worldly acclaim.

Jung is saying that if we can “see” (i.e. become consciously aware of) how well the proper use of our creative force serves us during the first half of life, and if we can trust it not to abandon us if we redirect it in service to the inner life during the second, our whole life, youth and age, inside and out, can be transformed into a work of art.

To turn your creative force to the soul means to take the gift of your life seriously and make the search for healing, self-knowledge and meaning the primary focus of your creativity.  This entails three main tasks.

First, approach your physical and mental life with the attention an artist gives to her art. Immerse yourself in the details of your body’s subtle sensations, your mind’s thoughts, emotions, values, attitudes and recurring issues,  and your dreams, wishes, fantasies and intuitions—especially the ones you don’t like to admit to—until you can see them through the eyes of a lover.

Second, look beneath the surface of every form of art, especially myths, fairy tales, religions, literature and film to find the underlying similarities between these creative reflections of the human soul and the processes of your individual soul.

Third, accept all the insights you acquire, both the “bad” and the “good,” and find creative ways to integrate them into your awareness. You can do this alone, in a group, or with the help of a teacher, mentor or therapist. The important thing is to engage in healthy activities that absorb your attention, help you understand yourself, and alleviate your pain.

You probably won’t receive cultural acclaim for redirecting your creative force to your soul, but the world will benefit anyway. The creative force has the power not only to transform you into a work of art, but also to bring a healing new level of consciousness to everyone whose life is touched by your magnum opus. This is “how your soul becomes green and how its field bears wonderful fruit.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do Dreams Have To Do With “Real” Life? Part II July 22, 2014

IndividuationandArchetypeLast time I shared a dream from over 20 years ago titled “Two Snakes in the Tree of Life.” So what did that dream have to do with “real” life?  Actually, dreams ARE real life.  They happen to everyone, even some animals.  They are facts.  We do not make them up.  They come from a place beyond Ego’s control: the unconscious.  Our unawareness of the unconscious does not negate its reality;  each dream proves its existence. When we trust it and explore its nightly dramas, ordinary life is transformed into the greatest adventure of all: living our own myth.

This is my all-time favorite dream and I’m still processing its message. It arrived shortly after I finished my first book about the inner life, The Bridge to Wholeness.  I had quit college teaching to follow my passion for writing, birthed my precious child, nurtured it through months of revisions, and was looking for a publisher. At a time when I was particularly vulnerable, this dream affirmed my choices and bolstered my courage to continue on my new path.

It is a mythic allegory about the psycho-spiritual initiation of my immature Ego (the little green snake) which had unconsciously identified with my culture’s masculine/Animus values.  It said that my destiny was to take the individuation (tree) journey through a dark and unknown way to integrate my Soul (brown female snake) into consciousness.

The Bridge to WholenessThe first stage of initiation was a slow awakening to Spirit through a lengthy immersion in the spiritual realm (hole).  This corresponded with the first half of my life when I escaped internal conflicts by immersing myself in church, the Bible, and masculine-oriented religious teachings.

The second stage began when the little green snake left the safe womb of conformity and ventured out on its own.  This was the right choice (right) for me, even though it opened me to the dangerous influence of the unconscious (left). The outer world equivalent to this plot development is that at age 37 I finally acknowledged my unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, overcame my inertia, and returned to college for my doctorate.

Act III featured an encounter with my earthy feminine Anima/Soul (brown female snake) who lived in the opposite, unconscious side of my psyche. Suddenly, her differing needs demanded equal time with Spirit.

In waking life I had come face to face with a moral dilemma, both sides of which were equally compelling, yet intolerable.  Fearful of making a terrible mistake that could have disastrous consequences, I tolerated the tension of their slow simmering in a Dark Night of the Soul for nine long years. Listening to the dialogues between Reason and Emotion, Conscious and Unconscious, Animus and Anima, Spirit and Soul, Ego and Self without giving in to my Ego’s desperate wish to escape was my salvation, for in the process, the alchemical vessel of my psyche was strengthened and empowered.

dreamtheatres2Fascinated by the strange image of the female snake biting down on the head of the little green snake, I looked for associations in Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Walker says that the serpent was originally identified with the Great Goddess and many ancient religions told stories about a male snake deity who was the Goddess’s consort.  Walker writes:

[This male snake]…gave himself up to be devoured by the Goddess.  The image of the male snake deity enclosed or devoured by the female gave rise to a superstitious notion about the sex life of snakes, reported by Pliny and solemnly believed in Europe even up to the 20th century:  that the male snake fertilizes the female snake by putting his head in her mouth and letting her eat him [italics mine] p. 904.

Bingo! This mythic image which I had never encountered before is an archetypal symbol of fertility, transformation and renewal! It appeared in my dream as a natural consequence of years of inner work and mirrored a life-changing transformation in my personality. This is why the last scene of the dream pointed not to death, but to new life. An apparent catastrophe was transformed into something sacred (rainbow) by the snakes’ bizarre embrace. The result was a more maturely individuated Ego and Animus (cowboy) and a deeply meaningful spirituality.

So my answer to,”What do dreams have to do with ‘real’ life?” is, “Everything that truly matters and is deeply real.”  They show us who we are: our greatest fears and deepest desires, our wounds and wishes, weaknesses and strengths.They tell us where we are and how to get where we want to go. They help us forgive our flaws and learn compassion for ourselves and others. They encourage our individuality and reward our healthy choices. They satisfy our soul’s yearning to be known and loved.

I still struggle daily to understand and accept myself, but thanks to my dreams and the writing through which I pour out my vital essence, I’m still evolving.  And beneath my ubiquitous self-doubt rests a solid foundation—laid by 25 years of recording and working on #4,552 dreams to date—of peaceful knowing.  My dreams tell me:  You are making a contribution only you can make. This is enough for me.

Your destiny is the result of the collaboration between the conscious and the unconscious. Carl Jung, Letters Volume I, p. 283.

Photos:  Ego and Archetype by Edward Edinger is one of my favorite books by a Jungian analyst. It’s a must for the library of any serious seeker. To learn more about Jungian psychology from a layperson’s point of view check out any of my books.  Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

What Do Dreams Have to Do with “Real” Life? Part I July 15, 2014

299px-Caduceus.svg[1]If you’ve never thought of dreams as having any relevance to your waking life, I can assure you, they do. This one which came at a pivotal time in my life convinced me beyond any doubt that some unimaginable, unconscious Mystery which dwelled both within and outside me knew what was going on in my conscious life and had something to tell me about it. I’ll share the dream in this post and comment on it in the next.

Dream #843:  Two Snakes in the Tree of Life”. 

Someone is telling a story. I watch from afar as the events unfold.

“Once upon a time a little green snake started his life in one side of a tree.”  I see the snake.  He is long and thin and his underbelly is the color of the inside of an avocado.

“On the other side of the tree lay a huge, old, brown female snake, but the little green snake did not know it.  He grew and grew until one day he decided to go on his journey and he entered the hole.”  The little green snake slithers into a hole in the tree and disappears.  I look to see if his head comes out of the hole on the other side where the big old female snake is, but it does not.  Maybe the way inside the hole is long and winding.

“It took him a long time of traveling and he was enjoying his journey, but eventually he came out on the other side.”  His head peeks out of the hole.  Will he see the big snake?  No, he turns right and takes a narrow spiral path that curves around the tree to the left, to where the big snake is waiting.

“The little green snake slid along smack into the mouth of the big snake.” The green snake’s head peeks out of the side of the big snake’s mouth.  The big snake munches down on his head twice.  Chomp. Chomp.  The little green snake’s face shows no fear or distress or pain.  Maybe this does not hurt.  Maybe he has no idea what is happening to him.  I hope so.

Now the narration breaks off.  There are other onlookers here.  One says, “Oh, well.  That’s the end of the little green snake.”

Someone else says, “Well, what if he fights back?”  I wonder how he can possibly fight back with no hands or arms or legs. There seems to be no hope.

Someone else says, “Oh, no.  He shouldn’t fight back. That would be wrong.” 

The narrator says, “Oh, is fighting the wrong answer?”

Suddenly, a rainbow streaks across the sky and lands in a different place, like a lit-up stage in a vast, darkened theatre.  It is the little green snake, who has been transformed into a young, handsome cowboy.  Triumphantly he saunters across the stage to the bar, slaps down two coins, and says to the bartender, “Set ‘em up, Joe.”

He survived!  He did not have to die and he turned into a human! This is the best possible ending to the story.

Symbols

Little Green Snake:  An archetype that has many possible meanings.  Because the snake constantly sheds its skin, it symbolizes transformation, rebirth, and perpetual renewal. The color green, the color of the annual renewal of nature, reinforces this meaning. The Kundalini serpent of Tibetan yoga, which is said to be coiled at the base of the spinal column, symbolizes the cosmic evolutionary energy that accompanies growing spiritual awareness.  In this dream, I believe the little green snake represents my masculine spiritual striving for transformation, personal empowerment, and individuation.

Tree:  An archetype of individuation;  spiritual development;  androgyny.

Brown:  The color of the ‘feminine’ earth.

Female Snake:  The ancient, earthy, natural feminine;  the archetypal Great Goddess or Great Mother, which has the power of life and death;  my feminine essence.

Hole:  An opening into the unknown, or spiritual world.  Since it is a circle, also the Self.

Right: A suggestion that the snake is headed in the ‘right’ direction;  the direction of consciousness.

Left: The unconscious.

Onlookers:  Other aspects of my personality.

Cowboy: A rugged individualist, a mature individuated animus.

These were my associations to the symbols twenty years ago when I was working on this dream for inclusion in Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dreamwork. I no longer see the cowboy as a “mature individuated animus,” but at that time my animus was still in the throes of youthful heroic swagger. I forgive myself (and him) for being so full of ‘ourselves.” My body was no longer young when I had this dream, but my ego was, and inflation always shadows a newly-empowered ego.

I’ll share what I wrote about this dream next time. Meanwhile, I welcome your associations.

Jean Raffa’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks

 

What Meaning Can We Find in Numinous Encounters with Otherness? July 7, 2014

blackbearLast week I wrote about an encounter with a rattlesnake on our forested mountain property.  The day before that I found a skeleton of the head of something that looked like a baby alligator.  Friends later confirmed that it was another snake. A bigger one.  I had my third wild animal encounter in as many days the day after the live rattler appeared. This time it was a very large, very alive black bear! I had just arrived at a friend’s house to meet with my Jungian summer study group and it walked into her garden, knocked over a bird feeder she had filled only fifteen minutes earlier, and sat down to enjoy the feast. It wasn’t 30 feet away from her porch.

Humankind has always found significance in threeness.  Three fairy tale brothers set out to win a princess, a wolf terrorizes three little pigs, a little girl explores the forest home of three bears, a hero receives three wishes. Christianity has its trinity and its three wise men. If two movie stars or old friends died within a few weeks of each other, my mother always waited for the third.

We also attach spiritual meaning to animals.  Native American warriors were visited by their power animals on vision quests and in dreams.  A stray dog appears out of nowhere to bring comfort and companionship to a grieving widower. A widow whose husband loved hummingbirds has never seen a hummingbird in her garden until one taps on her kitchen window the afternoon of his funeral.  When Lawrence Anthony—a legend in South Africa who bravely rescued wildlife and rehabilitated elephants all over the globe from human atrocities—died on March 7, 2012, 31 wild elephants showed up at his home two days later to pay their respects.

Perivale BearSo I ask myself, what meaning is there for me in these three  “truly numinous encounter(s) with Other-ness?” as Jungian therapist Melissa LaFlamme said  about the rattlesnake.  She continues, “Very auspicious…. [snakes] come as Teachers of the ancients.”  Writer Elaine Mansfield agrees, “Wow, Jean. A visitation. Respect and caution needed, but what a gift to mine.”

Snakes are at home on the ground, in water, in trees. They shed their old skins (or old lives) and grow new ones to emerge reborn, transformed. Two snakes entwine the Rod of the god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicinal arts in Greek mythology. A similar image, the caduceus of the Greek god Hermes, is still a symbol for medicine and healing.

And what about bears?  I’ve written about them many times in earlier posts:  here, and here, here, here, and here.  A symbol of spiritual introversion in Native American lore and of psychological transformation and rebirth in Jungian psychology—bears hibernate in the winter, as if dead, and emerge in the spring as if reborn, often with a cub or two—Bear has been one of my two animal totems (the other is Horse) ever since it asked to be included in my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness. When we remodeled our summer home in the Smoky Mountains, a large bronze bear was installed in a place of honor. Over the years I’ve had several Big dreams about serpents and bears, (Jung saw both as symbols of the Self), but this is the first time a live rattlesnake or bear has appeared in close proximitiy to me.

Three encounters with Snake and Bear in three days.  Synchronicity. Fairy tales and myths. Vision quests—I’ve been on one since I was 17 through forest and mountain, both physical and spiritual. Jungian psychology. Animal Teachers. Writing. Healing. Teaching. Comfort. Dreams.  Spiritual introversion. Psychological transformation. Growing respect and gratitude for the gift of physical life. Home. The Self. These are my primary associations with last week’s numinous visitations.  They speak to the themes of my spiritual journey and connect my outer and inner worlds.

They say:  You are on the journey you were meant to take:  finding the meaning of your myth, living your passion, sharing what you have learned. You are a valuable part of the whole, sacred interconnected web of life. You are seen. You are known. You are loved.

And I am grateful.

Jean Raffa’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks

 

Why Do I Write What I Write? June 24, 2014

Recently, author and blogger, Fran Kramer, invited me to join her in a blog tour that highlights authors who write about intuitive understanding. I encourage you to visit her blog at http://www.frankramer.wordpress.com where she offers some excellent practical information on how to work with your dreams and acquire greater understanding of yourself and guidance for your life.  Fran also writes teen mystery novels that highlight  intuitive and informed dreamwork skills instead of traditional detective practices. Her latest is titled Dead Men Do Tell Tales.

For this blog tour I was asked to answer four questions about my writing.  To learn more about me and my work, visit my web site at http://www.jeanraffa.com and my blog at http://www.jeanraffa.wordpress.com.

1) What Am I Working On?

At the moment I find myself in a transitional space between life stages.  The 24 years prior to last summer were the most productive, creative and fulfilling of my life.  I wrote three books about the inner life, taught classes, led workshops,  made presentations, conducted dreamwork on myself and private clients,  and, until last June, wrote an average of two blog posts a week for over three years.  Then my inner environment underwent a mysterious change.

It was very subtle, like a wind carrying unusual scents, or a curve in the river that leaves the rushing rapids behind as it empties into a tranquil blue sea. Suddenly there were fewer mountains to climb and more depths to explore.  I had experienced two life-changing transitions before, and realized in retrospect that they were normal and healthy aspects of life, so while this new development was initially a bit unsettling, I paid attention and went where my energy wanted to go.

It was the right thing to do. The past year has been one of significant growth. Best of all, I seem, at last, to be learning how to love!  So what am I working on? Loving and living.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not really sure what my genre is.  Psychology, certainly.  Spirituality, yes.  Also some Philosophy. And of course Mythology. And Women’s Studies.  And Gender issues. And it’s a Memoir.  And there’s some Religion.  And Self-Help…..

For many years my first book, a psychologically oriented memoir titled The Bridge to Wholeness, (which is now an e-book), was used in college courses.  Yet people tell me it’s extremely readable and nothing like a textbook.  The same is true of Dream Theatres of the Soul, (also in e-book form now) which has been used at the college level as well as in private dream groups.  And Healing the Sacred Divide received the 2013 Wilbur Award which is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.  So I suppose my answer is that my work is different because it is not limited to any one genre.

3) How does my writing process work?

Self-Discovery is my passion and writing about it is pure joy. I’ve never had to force myself to write.  I wake up every morning wanting to get to my computer as soon as I can.  Writing my books has been the most fun thing I’ve ever done! The details of how each book was conceived and written are different, but the pleasure is always the same.

In 1990 I thought I might have a book in me so I quit college teaching and started with my earliest memory of being lost on the shore of Lake Michigan. Given my interest in Jungian psychology and my introverted, intuitive, and highly reflective personality, it was only natural that my focus was on how that experience had influenced my personality and my life. I had no plan, no outline, no aim other than to get it all down until I felt finished.

And so I wrote 4 or 5 days a week for about nine months until I had completed several “essays.”  Then one morning I started making up a fairy tale while sitting at my makeup mirror. I quickly wrote it down and realized it provided the framework for everything I had written until then and would write from then on.  About a year and a half after I began writing, my essays became chapters in The Bridge to Wholeness, which was published in 1992.  It opens with the fairy tale, “The Lily and the Rose.”

Dream Theatres of the Soul was conceived soon after Bridge was finished with an idea about how dreams can be organized into five categories, each an element of the psyche. I wrote an outline and finished this book in three and a half months.  It was every bit as much fun to write as Bridge.

Healing the Sacred Divide was difficult.  I began it with the intention of trying to clarify what the feminine side of God is like, and from there it went through several themes and titles before it was finally published in 2012, 19 years after it was begun.  During all that time I had no assurance that it would ever be published, but I loved every minute of it, even when I had no idea what it was supposed to be about. Which was most of the time.

4)  Why do I write what I do?

I write about self-discovery because I have to.  It’s my calling.  And frankly, it’s the only thing I’m good for. If we humans created religions to remind ourselves that we are loved and known and guided by a benevolent, magnificent, mysterious Other;  if  religions are meant to bring joy and comfort and purpose and meaning to human life;  if they are supposed to teach us humility and gratitude and compassion and understanding for ourselves and our fellow humans; if they are meant to teach us how to love… then I can honestly say that the inner work I have conducted to discover who I am, along with writing my books to help others do the same, has been a religious experience. In the truest sense of the word.

Thank you so much for reading this.  And now I’m delighted to introduce the authors and bloggers who will continue the blog tour next week with posts about their own fascinating work.  If you don’t already know them, you’ll want to check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Tzivia Gover

090114_kripalu_tziaviagover_022Tzivia Gover is a certified dream therapist, author, and educator. Her books include Learning in Mrs. Towne’s House: A Teacher, Her Students, and the Woman Who Inspired Them (Levellers Press), Mindful Moments for Stressful Days (Storey Books), and Dream House, a poetry chapbook. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous publications including Poets & Writers Magazine, The New York Times,  and The Boston Globe. To learn more visit http://www.tziviagover.com or http://www.thirdhousemoon.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elaine Mansfield

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Elaine Mansfield’s writing reflects over forty years as a student of philosophy, Jungian psychology, mythology, and meditation. She is a longtime student of Marion Woodman, the Dalai Lama, and spiritual teachers from many traditions and lives on 71 acres of woods, fields, and sunset views in the Finger Lakes of New York. Elaine was a nutrition, exercise, and women’s health counsellor, but after her husband’s death in 2008, her focus turned to healthy grieving and the challenges and rewards of creating a new life. She now facilitates hospice support groups for women who have lost partners or spouses, writes for the Hospicare and Palliative Care of Tompkins County newsletter and website, and helps others find the spiritual core and deeper connections available within loss.

Elaine’s book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief will be published by Larson Publications (October 2014). Dale Borglum of the Living/Dying Project said about the book: “Not only a touching and courageous memoir about love, illness, death, and grief, Elaine Mansfield’s Leaning into Love is a manual for healing that offers us the emotional and spiritual tools needed to grow and even flourish through life’s deepest crisis.”

Elaine writes a weekly blog about life’s adventures and lessons at elainemansfield.com/blog. Her email address is elaine@elainemansfield.com

 

 

Jean Raffa’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

The Never-Ending Dance June 18, 2014

Osservare-le-stelle-in-inverno[1]This morning I read a blog post from a dear internet friend, writer Vivienne Tuffnell, titled “Humankind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality.” It can be found at this link . It was originally written two years ago, and Viv has just reposted it. It was about depression and despair. At the bottom was a new comment from another internet friend, John Amenta:

“It did not matter, after all. He was only one man. One man’s fate is not important.

“If it is not, what is?”

He could not endure those remembered words.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, Gaverel Rocannon, Rocannon’s World

I too have suffered from despair since childhood. It began at the age of 11 when my father died. To this day there are many occasions in my daily life when I cannot get excited about something because I know it will not last and my pleasure will not last and I will die and nobody will care and nothing I have done will make any difference, and so what?

I started believing in religion because of this despair, and then I eventually gave up on religion for the same reason. It may be fine for others, but it never made a dent in my despair.

Yet I believe this: If my fate is not important, what is? This belief— actually it’s not a belief but a knowing — has come slowly over a lifetime of spiritual questing, meditation, and self-discovery. It has come from too many synchronicities to count in which I was reminded over and over and over of another, spiritual, dimension of reality that is very different from this physical one, yet is sister (or brother) to it. The knowing is characterized by an objective awareness that all the things I fear and fret about are really “No big deal,”  and by the freedom to be myself and do my thing with an effortless, anxiety-free ease.

It feels to me as if this dimension, this One Mind or Consciousness or whatever it is, this invisible, untouchable reality, is “interested” in me. At times it feels like it’s guiding and affirming me. Tiny, insignificant, unimportant me. This makes no rational sense. Yet this is my experience. Others might dismiss it with a scoff and a flick of the hand. Yet this is my experience, and it brings meaning and peace.

I believe I’m fairly conscious of the terrifying reality beneath the surface of life. I’m often acutely aware of the tininess of my one little soul and body in a universe too vast to even imagine. I’m constantly reminded of my mortality and often have the feeling that death hovers just over my left shoulder. And sometimes I am awakened to deeper levels of reality which deepen my despair.

Yet, over time, somehow the tragedy of life has come to be balanced with a consciousness of the miracle of life in such a way that the despair never “wins.” It’s always there, like the sun that can blind me or the radiation that constantly pierces my body, but it never wins because it’s partnered with the knowing. The knowing is always there too, like the air I breathe and the blood that pumps through my veins and the earth I walk on. I think of it as a gift of grace. I don’t know where it came from and I don’t know why I have it, but I do. Maybe it’s always shared a bed with despair in the depths of my soul and my inner work simply awakened it.  Whatever the reason, when I remember to notice it, it puts the despair in a different perspective. Instead of feeling hopeless and afraid I feel comforted because I “know” that life and death — like importance and unimportance, vastness and tininess, electrons and neutrons — are in a never-ending dance and that I’m an important part of it and always will be.

I hope this doesn’t sound “woo woo” or silly or self-important or preachy. Most of all I hope it doesn’t add to the pain of those of you who know despair. I just hope it gives you a shred of hope that there might be a shred of a reason to hope.

Thank you Vivienne and John for your inspiring honesty and wisdom. This post is dedicated to you. You’ve both made a difference in my life.

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

 

Unplugging the Dam June 16, 2014

I’d like to tell you about a particularly potent form of inner work that helped my daughter achieve her career goals. Julie was at Florida State University (Go Noles!) working on her Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy when the time came to write her dissertation. Suddenly, the psychic energy that had served her so well for so long hit a wall. The challenge before her seemed so daunting that she became immersed in a dark swamp of inertia. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t get started and it seemed as if she might never bring closure to years of hard work.

Overcoming our natural resistance to undertaking and carrying out difficult tasks requiring months or years of concentrated and directed effort is, in the words of Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding, “a positive factor leading to self-discipline and culture, and on its development civilization largely depends.” Having struggled with the same challenge in my own doctoral studies, I knew what Julie was going through and offered to help.

A process I had used successfully to understand and address the needs of both sides of my own internal conflicts is called the Voice DialoguePsychologists Hal and Sidra Stone developed this method and describe it thusly: “In using Voice Dialogue, we directly engage these subpersonalities or voices in a dialogue without the interference of a critical, embarrassed, or repressive protector/controller….The ego occupies a central physical space, and the subpersonalities play out their conflicts around it.”

Julie and I realized that the subpersonalities involved in her dilemma were her Innocent Child who wanted to relax and play instead of taking on adult responsibilities, and her Warrior who would be deeply ashamed if he didn’t fulfill his goals. Julie found two images to represent these warring energies. For her Innocent Child she chose her childhood doll, Dudgie.  For her Warrior she chose a ceramic statue of a crouching black panther. She herself, of course, spoke for her ego.

Laying out four cushions on her living room floor we took our seats. I sat opposite Julie, and Dudgie and the panther faced each the other from the remaining two cushions. After lighting a candle to designate this as sacred work in a sacred place, Julie began by describing the problem. Then, moving to Dudgie’s cushion, she held her doll in her lap while giving voice to the youthful wishes and needs her doll represented. Next, Julie occupied her panther’s space and repeated the process from his perspective.

After Julie returned to her own cushion and summarized what she had learned we formulated a compromise to meet the needs of her inner adversaries. The solution to which all agreed was that if Innocent Child would let Warrior work for a certain number of hours every weekday without complaint, he would let her relax, play, eat her favorite foods, and watch her favorite TV shows on weekends and evenings when she wasn’t in class without laying a guilt trip on her. They also decided it might help if Julie checked in with me each week for encouragement and support.

The results of this creative work were immediate and dramatic. Something in that process opened up a dam and released enormous energy. Within a few months Julie completed and submitted her dissertation. A few months later, an empowered and very happy Dr. Julie embarked on her new career. Is this amazing or what?  It’s a simple fact that each of us contains all the transforming power we need, and we can activate it by reaching across the sacred divide and befriending the otherness within.

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

 

The Authentic Hero’s Quest June 3, 2014

Here’s another favorite of mine from August, 2011.  I hope you enjoy it.

The other day I read an article on the internet about a mostly male mindset called the “culture of honor”  which places such a high value on defending one’s reputation that it results in more risk-taking and accidental deaths. Reportedly, this way of thinking is most prevalent in small towns and rural areas of the South and West in such states as South Carolina, Wyoming, and Texas. I wondered: What myth inspires these unfortunate men to take such dangerous risks that they are killing themselves?  Why do they follow it?  I found my answer in the wisdom of two of my favorite authors: Joseph Campbell and Carol S. Pearson.

Campbell tells us that classic hero myths feature powerful male warriors who slay dragons to prove themselves and become masters of the world. Instead of recognizing this as a metaphor for the ego’s heroic struggle for consciousness, patriarchal cultures have tended to take it as a literal model for external achievement, encouraging people to climb to the tops of hierarchies where they can define what the heroic ideal is and decide who is entitled to it: usually the few. We see the dark side of this interpretation in ruthless political leaders and business moguls who deliberately spread lies and foster conflict and hatred to keep their money and power rather than trust the masses enough to share with them.

Pearson describes another unhealthy consequence: “focusing only on this [interpretation of the] heroic archetype limits everyone’s options. Many…men, for example, feel ennui because they need to grow beyond the Warrior modality, yet they find themselves stuck there because it not only is defined as the heroic ideal but is also equated with masculinity.  Men consciously or unconsciously believe they cannot give up that definition of themselves without also giving up their sense of superiority to others — especially to women.” Pearson gives the example of the main character of Owen Wister’s book, The Virginian, who leaves his bride on their wedding day to fight a duel for honor’s sake. Why? Because the only other role available to him is the victim, or antihero.

An obsession with the hero-kills-the-villain-and-rescues-the-victim plot distorts healthy heroic behavior (having the courage to fight for ourselves and change our worlds for the better) into the dangerous “culture of honor” ideal we see among the young working-class and minority men who still embrace it in many parts of the world. Isolation, impoverishment, religious fanaticism, social disenfranchisement and inadequate education all feed this mentality. The only thing apt to change it is the awareness that not everyone thinks this way and there are healthier alternatives.

Pearson’s research in the 1980’s revealed that women were rediscovering the true meaning of the dragon-slaying myth. Their story in which there are no real villains or victims — just heroes who bring new life to us all — is being adopted by males and females alike. While the timing and order may be slightly different for men and women, we all go through the same basic stages of growth in claiming our heroism.  “And ultimately for both [genders], heroism is a matter of integrity, of becoming more and more themselves at each stage in their development.” This is the Jungian path of individuation.

The heroic, self-disciplined quest to avoid the inauthentic and the superficial conquers the slumbering dragon of unconsciousness and births the courage to be true to one’s inner wisdom. An individuating person knows, in Pearson’s words, that “assertion and receptivity are yang and yin — a life rhythm, not a duality.”  Freed from the tyranny of conflict between opposites, such a person names our divisiveness and promotes care, cooperation, compassion, community and unity. Do you know someone who fits this description of an authentic hero?

Art:  Rogier Van der Weyden, St. George and the Dragon

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

 

Embellishment May 28, 2014

My friends, For the next two weeks I’ll be re-posting a few favorite posts from the past.  I hope you enjoy this one from August, 2011.

Last Saturday my half-Italian husband told me about a funny thing that happened earlier that day when he was at the grocery store with his brother-in-law, Gary. “Where’s the tomato sauce?”  he asks Gary. Gary looks up and points to a sign and says, “Aisle 3. It says ‘tomato sauce.’”

They go to aisle 3 but all they find is ready-made spaghetti sauce in jars. “Hey!” Fred says.  “I’m not using that Paul Newman, Chef Boyardee crap.  I’m Italian.  I make my own spaghetti sauce.” Just then a 50ish blonde bimbo-type comes up behind him and in a nasal New Jersey accent says, “Hey! Don’t ask a man where something is in a grocery store. It’s in the next aisle with the vegetables. I know how to make spaghetti sauce.  I’m married to an Italian. My license plate says: “Fugeddaboudit!”

So they go to the next aisle. He sees cans of tomato paste, tomato puree, whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, but no tomato sauce.  He’s complaining to Gary about this when a very proper, well-groomed Atlanta matron standing nearby says politely, “Excuse me, sir. You’re looking for tomato sauce?  It’s in the next aisle!”  This cracks him up. As he tells me this story he’s giggling so much he can barely talk.

My husband’s ability to tell a good story is one of the things I love most about him. I used to have trouble with it though. Coming from scrupulous-minded, strait-laced Dutch stock, I worried about his blatant distortions of the truth. Maybe he had a serious memory problem. Maybe even a character flaw. “That’s not how it happened,” I’d say in shocked disbelief.  “I was there!”

His whole family’s that way.  I think they got it from his step-mother, Helen.  His youngest brother, Tony, and I were talking about her the other day and he said, “You know, I think the word that best describes her is…” he paused for dramatic emphasis… “Embellishment.” “Embellishment?” I asked. He nodded emphatically, “Embellishment!” He would know.  He’s an interior designer who jokes, “Never done ’til overdone!”

While I was pouring my homemade limoncello after our spaghetti dinner Saturday night Fred told everyone about an incident at a friend’s villa in Florence, Italy many years ago.  “So,” he says, “after we’re installed in the guest cottage we go up to the villa where the chef has prepared a fabulous meal and our friend tells me to go to the wine cellar and pick out a good wine. I’m down there looking at all these dusty bottles thinking they have to be old and expensive. I didn’t know much about wine in those days and I didn’t want to take the best one so I choose a smaller bottle thinking it’s probably less expensive.  Upstairs I open it, pour it in our wine glasses, and it’s yellow! Turns out it’s limoncello!”  Everyone had a good laugh while I did a mental eye-roll.  “There was no guest cottage.  There was no chef,” I told them. “That’s embellishment.” More laughter.

Unfazed, he went on to tell the story of our wedding. “Jeanie’s mother made her dress and said she could either give us $300.00 or spend it on a fancy wedding,” he said. My mother didn’t make my dress, and it wasn’t $300.00.  It was $200. I know. I was there. Embellishment.

So what’s more important?  Telling a good story or telling the truth? One of the happiest outcomes of my inner work is that I’m learning the wisdom of lightening up. Sometimes truth is overrated.  Like limoncello,  a little bit of embellishment can be good for the soul.

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

 

 

Five A’s of Inventive Aging May 20, 2014

The Snail 1953 by Henri Matisse 1869-1954The latest meeting of my writer’s group, The Purple Pros, was rich with splendid conversation about art, poetry, literature and theatre. In my update I mentioned how after 24 years of  passionate—one might almost say obsessive—writing, teaching and speaking, I’ve been in a semi-fallow period since my last book came out. Little green shoots are popping up here and there, but as yet I have no clear direction. Lenny spoke of how various challenges and life changes leave her with little time to work on her long play and the four short ones she wants to start.  What with Margie newly remarried after years of non-stop writing, speaking, and presenting, it quickly became apparent that we had found our theme for the meeting: the transition from our highly productive and creative middle years into the autumns of our lives.

For her writing activity, Margie had synchronistically chosen the same theme.  She told us about visiting the Tate Museum’s exhibition of the cut-out art of Henri Matisse on her honeymoon. Bedridden and wheelchair-bound in the last decade of his life, Matisse was too frail to stand up or hold a brush for long.  So, still driven to create by his daemon—in classical mythology a daemon was a benevolent semi-divine nature spirit who drives humans forward and upward—his new medium became colored paper and his tool, scissors.  Margie shared some questions she’s been pondering since then and suggested we address any that appealed to us.

Two questions interested me: “Why is it important to re-invent myself at this stage of life?” and “What qualities would enable the reinvention of my craft?”  Since crossroads and transitions are common to all at crucial times in our lives, I decided to share my musings here. A thought:  If our daemons drive us to pursue and perfect our passions, our musings/muses infuse them with inspiration and creativity.  After all, my musings on Margie’s incisive questions inspired this new post at a time when I’ve been writing less than usual.

So, “Why is it important to reinvent myself at this stage of life?”  Because I may have completed my previous stage, but I’m not finished for good.  My life is a miraculous gift, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m not ready to sit on the riverbank watching the rest of it flow past. I don’t want to leave without having made all the contributions that my driven daemon, creative muse and unique soul can make. I may not be Henri Matisse or Virginia Woolfe but I am Jean Raffa!

“What qualities would enable the reinvention of my craft?”  Yes, writing is my craft, but so is my life. My ultimate mission is to make of myself and my life a work of art: something beautiful, original and meaningful, something that nourishes the growth not only of my soul but of others.  As I wrote my answer to this question I recognized five qualities that have helped me reinvent myself and will continue to do so:

  1. Attention:  Staying aware of my inner and outer life—what I’m feeling, sensing, intuiting, doing, and finding fulfilling and meaningful—in service to self-knowledge, authenticity and consciousness.
  2. Acceptance:  Releasing my resistance to things I can’t control or change.
  3. Appreciation:  Being grateful for whatever happens inside and outside of me, not just what I consider positive, but also what I’m inclined to view as negative, in the knowledge that every particle of life is valuable, necessary and instructive to my soul.
  4. Assimilation:  Consciously integrating my experiences and perceptions into a growing and changing life stream of creative energy that keeps me moving forward.
  5. Action:  Manifesting my soul’s creativity in my writing, loving and living so that my offerings will make a healing difference.

So far I’ve chosen to be a friend, wife, teacher, mother, Episcopal church-goer, homemaker, carpool driver, community volunteer, television producer, graduate student, college professor, vision quester, dream worker, shadow-tamer, author, workshop leader, social media networker, and music maker. Lately I hear the call to reinvent myself again. I don’t know what choices I’ll make or how they’ll turn out, but then I never did.  What I do know is that my daemon, muse, soul and I intend to keep reinventing our life until this one ends and the next begins.

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

 

 

 

 
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