Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Sacred Laws Of Psyche: The Connection Between Psyche and Psychoid January 21, 2020

The inner universe

A few years back I wrote a post about eight sacred laws of the psyche and how our lack of understanding of them is responsible for the mess our world is in today.  In this post and a few to follow, I’d like to explore these laws more deeply in the hope of raising awareness about the interconnectedness of all things in One Mind and One God. The ability to think psychologically and live spiritually is a skill we desperately need to learn if we hope to heal ourselves and the world.

The inner universe of the mind is, like the physical universe, a living organism that functions according to natural laws. Deciphering them has been the work of holy fools, for who can presume to understand the sacred inner workings of creation? Yet everyone from scientists to artists to gurus tries to understand these autonomous patterns of energy (archetypes) in our minds (the psyche) and in the mystery of the One Mind beyond ordinary consciousness (the psychoid) because we feel their profound influence.

The two hemispheres of your brain know two languages: logic and imagination. They interact every moment of every day to help you understand and respond to all you see and experience. Separately, each language has limits, together, they aid your journey to intelligence, wisdom, competence, centeredness, and consciousness.  Wise people from every age have deliberately used both to make inroads into the mysteries of life. Albert Einstein was one such person. He said,

“Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell were others. Jung explored his inner life and that of his clients with the help of archetypal myths and symbols from various wisdom traditions. Campbell developed some of Jung’s themes in his own extensive research. Together, their imaginative work has shed much-needed light into the darkness of the psychoid.

Following are some natural laws they midwifed into collective consciousness. As your logical mind attempts to make sense of the words, allow your imaginative mind to wander freely. Play with these ideas instead of automatically rejecting them.

1. The Law of Correspondence: The outer universe is a reflection of the inner universe.

This intuition gave rise to the ancient adages, “As above, so below,” and “As without, so within.” Humanity has expressed this relationship in symbol systems like mythology, religion, tarot, alchemy, astrology, magic, literature, and film. Imaginative languages like this have always awakened minds that are trapped in prisons of dry reason, tight logic, and literal belief.

This law means that if we believe in a spiritual reality “up there” or “out there,” it’s because our minds are furnished with an archetype Jung called the Self — our religious function. As long as we don’t understand that this is a very real force in us — an inner instinctual need for love, compassion, creativity and connectedness we share with every human being — we automatically (unconsciously) project it onto outer deities whom we then worship to earn favor and protection. We think our belief will “save” us. We don’t realize we have used our imaginations to create ideas about our gods that have been prompted by the inner archetype. We think some higher, more powerful reality apart from us made us and rules us. We think our very lives depend on propitiating it with literal belief.

We’re right in a way, but not in the way we think. The reality is not an inflated, grandiose, anthropomorphic image of the human ego in the sky. It is an unimaginably vast and diverse field of love and connectedness in which our puny, minimally conscious ego is immersed but to which it is not consciously connected. A universe that is both outside and within us. A universe that contains inner forces (archetypes) that influence and shape us just as the outer forces of gravity, magnetic fields, weather, our environments, our families, and our religions shape us from the outside.

Fortunately, your ego can develop a broader consciousness capable of seeing this reality. For this to occur you need to make room in your mind for new ideas about what is sacred. In the early stages of your psyche’s remodeling project you may suffer crippling doubt, dread, and loss of faith. It’s only a phase. Let it happen.

Because if you persist, you will discover that the only thing you lost faith in was the incomplete and inadequate idea you learned from your religion about a vast and mysterious field of reality. What you thought was the truth about God was a tiny piece of a giant puzzle at the core of everything that is.

Lifting your gaze to the bigger picture will take you to the state of peace, trust, wonder, and love sought by every individual and religion. You can’t get there without using your imagination.

Image Credits:  Google Images. Artist unknown.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, IncWatch for her new book, The Soul’s Twins, to be launched later this year.

 

Meme-Noir: An Artistic Tour de Force January 14, 2020

Wherein lies the power of writing? Of story? When does a story become a meaningful experience? Prose become poetry? Writing become art?

Is good writing simply the ability to string words together in a logical way that always makes sense? Or is it something less horizontal and linear?  Something deep and dense, high and elevating? Complex and personal? The answer to these questions has less to do with your left-brained cognitive abilities — skills typically studied on IQ tests — than you might imagine. It’s more about your right brain’s preference for images and emotions.

Plato said art is mimetic by nature — an imitation of life — whereas ideas are the ultimate reality. For him, philosophy was superior to poetry. But his student, Aristotle, preferred poetry for the very reason that it mimics nature. He believed life is the ultimate reality, and that poetry reflects it.

Good writing, whether prose or poetry, resonates in your psyche because it is grounded in life. You might admire a writer’s intellectual cleverness with ideas and words, you might even try to imitate it. But a story or piece of writing will not become meaningful and memorable unless it stirs up images, memories, moods, and emotions in the same way dreams and myths do: by mirroring the archetypal truths of your soul in ways that move you. Interior experiences like this are embodied expressions of your nature in its essence, human nature, both physical and archetypal.

Meme-Noir (a play on the word ‘memoir’), is a remarkable new book by Toronto-based author, poet, artist, and teacher Steven McCabe that illustrates this connection perfectly. All of McCabe’s work — now including eight books, a blog called Poemimage, paintings, poems, drawings, videos, murals, and multi-media works — tell stories with a powerful psychological impact.

Imagine you are standing alone under a black-domed sky splashed with a panoply of starry constellations. Each has its own myths, cluster of personal associations, and visual and emotional nuances. This is how McCabe describes his inspiration for Meme-Noir:

“I emailed myself stories and anecdotes

Over an eight year period.

During discussions with the publisher (then),

For now the company has been sold,

I experienced a moment of revelation.

Luciano Iacobelli looked over my first ten pages

And said,

‘No, no, no, no, no.’

‘No theme, no thesis,

Just give me the puzzle pieces.’

He gestured with his hands and said,

‘Constellations!’

I was left to interpret ‘constellations’ as I wished.

I came up with the idea of vignettes comprising constellations.

Each vignette in a constellation

Has one key word in common.

Each series of vignettes

Covers various time periods,

Within a constellation.

So, it’s a non-linear timeline.”

This excerpt is from his beautifully illustrated post about Meme-Noir on his blog. Following is a sampling of three vignettes from the book. Each is a unique star in a particular constellation of his psyche centered around the key word “float.” As you read, notice the images and emotions the words elicit from you.

“Around dusk I saw a ball of light float slowly past. It was bigger than a basketball but soft as a dandelion puff. Later I saw another one outside the window, in the pitch-black countryside. The couple visiting from Toronto said, “We saw them all the way here.” I stayed overnight at their place when they were students. In the morning I did a shoulder stand and above me a tiny star exploded as soon as it appeared. Light shot everywhere.” p.12

“My brother asked older ladies in the department store for directions – while forming a saliva bubble on his tongue – and floating it out his mouth. “Are you alright, son?” When George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, ran for President in the Democratic Primaries he gave a press conference downtown. We leaned against the wall. Wallace walked towards the exit with men on either side. My brother stomped one leg like a pony. Wallace froze, with a startled expression. My brother leaned forward, at the hips, and floated a bubble into the air. Wallace stared for two seconds and continued walking. My brothers and I laughed, all the way home, down Canal Avenue.” p.13

“I substitute their names when I read art history books aloud as they paint: Myra developed Cubism, with George Braque, in the early 20 th Century – Omar painted a melting pocket watch, defining Surrealism – Janine introduced Pointillism, dabbing thousands of dots. I personalize the text, so it floats – without dragging – after their long week of data coming at them like a flash flood.” p. 13

This is not just art for public consumption. It’s an example of how a man is alchemically transforming the raw elements of his life into a work of art. What floated through your mind as you read?

Meme-Noir is a fresh, original, page-turning tour de force of a psychological memoir. McCabe as storyteller is an enormously likable lover of life who survives daunting challenges with forthrightness, intelligence, compassion and wit, sustained by his ability to lose and then find himself again in art.

The style is unlike anything you’ve read before. Described as a “journey of addictive linguistic charm” (from a blurb by Pierre L’Abbe), it twists and turns through the subterranean rabbit warren of McCabe’s artistic sensibility to trace the transformational odyssey of a wounded soul trying to make its way home.

I highly recommend Meme-Noir. You can order it here, and hereNever More Together, McCabe’s visual, wordless poem about the harsh treatment of truth in a society ruled by fear, can be found here. To watch the poet speak about Never More Together, check out this Youtube video.

Image credits: All images created by Steven McCabe. Reproduced here with permission.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Watch for her new book, The Soul’s Twins, to be launched later this year.

 

How Do You Find Your Center? January 7, 2020

“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry, an umbilical spot of grace where we were each touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologists call it the Soul, Jung calls it The Seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it the Atman, Buddhists call it the Dharma, Rilke called it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qualb, and Jesus calls it The center of Our Love.

To know this spot of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it. This is a hard lifelong task, for the nature of becoming is a constant filming over of where we begin while the nature of being is a constant erosion of what is not essential. We each  live in the midst of this ongoing tension, growing tarnished or covered over only to be worn back to that incorruptible spot of grace at our core.” Mark Nepo

Mark Nepo rightly notes that we each live in the midst of an ongoing tension. Part of it is caused by the natural stressors of living in a fast-paced, instant-gratification world, and part is our natural inner compulsion to grow and better ourselves. The reality is, we can’t grow without conflict or suffering. The different energies of the north and south poles need to interact to create our earth’s magnetic field. You have to contend with the different specialties of your brain’s two hemispheres as well as the realities of your inner and outer lives to resolve everyday problems.

Tension motivates change. If we can tolerate the tension of our conflicts long enough without acting rashly, our unconscious can find solutions that will further our growth. But if we ignore our tension too long without addressing it, it can create burnout and physical symptoms.

How do we address our tension? How do we find that magical, unencumbered spot of grace that issues peace? Whether we’re aware of it or not, this is a central question around which our lives revolve, but many of us are so distracted by our outer lives that we don’t stop long enough to hear the question, let alone try to answer it. To further complicate things, the answers vary from culture to culture and individual to individual. But four principles remain constant.

1. Create some personal alone time to find your center. This involves more than saying an occasional affirmation or prayer, listening to a weekly sermon, or hearing a few motivational speeches. You’ll need to be willing to delay some pursuits which your ego finds instantly gratifying in favor of ones that will bring future rewards which may be a long time coming.

2. Try different practices until you find what brings you to a place of love, joy, and peace. Pay close attention to your inner life, not only while you’re practicing, but throughout the rest of the day and coming weeks. Notice how your practice affects your emotions, moods, self-esteem, and relationships. Commit to the one or ones that make you come alive and bring you close to Spirit. Here are some I’ve tried:  writing, poetry, meditation, prayer, dreamwork, yoga, playing and listening to music, being with animals and nature, hiking, and reading. Of these, writing, dreamwork, and meditation have been the most helpful and enduring.

3. Persevere. Some practices take a longer trial period than others before you get into the groove and begin to notice beneficial effects that motivate you to continue. For example, I’ve always loved to write — letters, poetry, diaries, journals, stories, plays, etc. — but when I began to write my dissertation at the age of 39, it was far more difficult than fun. Since it was my dissertation, I forced myself to persevere. Because I had a part-time job and two children, I wrote for a few hours every night after they went to bed. Of course, this meant I had to let other responsibilities slide and my husband had to help more with the kids and household duties. At first, these changes were hard for all of us. But day by day my resistance lowered, my writing brought more pleasure, and my family grew accustomed to our new routines. By the time I finished several months later, I realized that this had been the happiest time of my adult life! Hard as it was, the moment I sat down at my typewriter, time disappeared and all my concerns dissolved until I got up again. It was pure magic.

4. Practice regularly. Daily is ideal. Set aside a time when you can be alone and concentrate for at least 20 or 30 minutes. But there’s no need to beat yourself up if you miss a few of these appointments with your soul. For example, when I first committed myself to dreamwork, I recorded and worked on dreams most mornings and totaled over 300 every year. Last weekend I finished summarizing my dreams from 2019 and my total was 119. Weeks passed when I didn’t remember and record a dream. But I’ve done this for so long that I know when I need to get serious about it again. And when I do, it always brings me back to peace and love.

What practices make your true Self come alive? If you haven’t found your center yet, may 2020 be your year of returning to that umbilical spot of grace where you were touched by God.

Image credits:  Serpentine Fire, Google Free Images, unknown. Heart Mandala, Google Free Images, Daniel B. Holeman.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Watch for her new book, The Soul’s Twins, which will be launched later this year.

 

The Joy of Being a Woman in Her Seventies, by Mary Pipher January 2, 2020

Happy New Year to my dear reader friends. Thank you for following Matrignosis. May the new year bring you increasing health, prosperity, joy, and wisdom. Today a friend sent me this wonderful article by Mary Pipher. I share her sentiments and could not have said it better.  Enjoy.

We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias. –Maya Angelou

The Joy of Being a Woman in Her Seventies

–by Mary Pipher, Feb 27, 2019

This article originally appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review, on January 12th, 2019.

When I told my friends I was writing a book on older women like us, they immediately protested, “I am not old.” What they meant was that they didn’t act or feel like the cultural stereotypes of women their age. Old meant bossy, useless, unhappy and in the way. Our country’s ideas about old women are so toxic that almost no one, no matter her age, will admit she is old.

In America, ageism is a bigger problem for women than aging. Our bodies and our sexuality are devalued, we are denigrated by mother-in-law jokes, and we’re rendered invisible in the media. Yet, most of the women I know describe themselves as being in a vibrant and happy life stage. We are resilient and know how to thrive in the margins. Our happiness comes from self-knowledge, emotional intelligence and empathy for others.

Most of us don’t miss the male gaze. It came with catcalls, harassment and unwanted attention. Instead, we feel free from the tyranny of worrying about our looks. For the first time since we were 10, we can feel relaxed about our appearance. We can wear yoga tights instead of nylons and bluejeans instead of business suits.

Yet, in this developmental stage, we are confronted by great challenges. We are unlikely to escape great sorrow for long. We all suffer, but not all of us grow. Those of us who grow do so by developing our moral imaginations and expanding our carrying capacities for pain and bliss. In fact, this pendulum between joy and despair is what makes old age catalytic for spiritual and emotional growth.

By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day.

We have learned to look every day for humor, love and beauty. We’ve acquired an aptitude for appreciating life. Gratitude is not a virtue but a survival skill, and our capacity for it grows with our suffering. That is why it is the least privileged, not the most, who excel in appreciating the smallest of offerings.

Many women flourish as we learn how to make everything workable. Yes, everything. As we walk out of a friend’s funeral, we can smell wood smoke in the air and taste snowflakes on our tongues.

Our happiness is built by attitude and intention. Attitude is not everything, but it’s almost everything. I visited the jazz great Jane Jarvis when she was old, crippled and living in a tiny apartment with a window facing a brick wall. I asked if she was happy and she replied, “I have everything I need to be happy right between my ears.”

We may not have control, but we have choices. With intention and focused attention, we can always find a forward path. We discover what we are looking for. If we look for evidence of love in the universe, we will find it. If we seek beauty, it will spill into our lives any moment we wish. If we search for events to appreciate, we discover them to be abundant.

There is an amazing calculus in old age. As much is taken away, we find more to love and appreciate. We experience bliss on a regular basis. As one friend said: “When I was young I needed sexual ecstasy or a hike to the top of a mountain to experience bliss. Now I can feel it when I look at a caterpillar on my garden path.”

Older women have learned the importance of reasonable expectations. We know that all our desires will not be fulfilled, that the world isn’t organized around pleasing us and that others, especially our children, are not waiting for our opinions and judgments. We know that the joys and sorrows of life are as mixed together as salt and water in the sea. We don’t expect perfection or even relief from suffering. A good book, a piece of homemade pie or a call from a friend can make us happy. As my aunt Grace, who lived in the Ozarks, put it, “I get what I want, but I know what to want.”

We can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often. We don’t need to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have needs. We can say no to anything we don’t want to do. We can listen to our hearts and act in our own best interest. We are less angst-filled and more content, less driven and more able to live in the moment with all its lovely possibilities.

Many of us have a shelterbelt of good friends and long-term partners. There is a sweetness to 50-year-old friendships and marriages that can’t be described in language. We know each other’s vulnerabilities, flaws and gifts; we’ve had our battles royal and yet are grateful to be together. A word or a look can signal so much meaning. Lucky women are connected to a rich web of women friends. Those friends can be our emotional health insurance policies.

The only constant in our lives is change. But if we are growing in wisdom and empathy, we can take the long view. We’ve lived through seven decades of our country’s history, from Truman to Trump. I knew my great-grandmother, and if I live long enough, will meet my great-grandchildren. I will have known seven generations of family. I see where I belong in a long line of Scotch-Irish ancestors. I am alive today only because thousands of generations of resilient homo sapiens managed to procreate and raise their children. I come from, we all come from, resilient stock, or we wouldn’t be here.

By the time we are 70, we have all had more tragedy and more bliss in our lives than we could have foreseen. If we are wise, we realize that we are but one drop in the great river we call life and that it has been a miracle and a privilege to be alive.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

 

The Magic of Women in Community December 17, 2019

“Every girl and every woman, has the potential to make this world a better place, and that potential lies in the act of thinking higher thoughts and feeling deeper things. When women and girls, everywhere, begin to see themselves as more than inanimate objects; but as beautiful beings capable of deep feelings and high thoughts, this has the capacity to create change all around. The kind of change that is for the better. Remember: High in the head and deep in the heart. Antlers on your mind and anchors in your heart.”
C. JoyBell C.

“What’s in hibernation?  What’s giving birth?”  These were the discussion prompts our hostess gave us for yesterday’s gathering. Our small community of six women (we’ve just lost the seventh who, sadly, is moving to another town) meets monthly to share the issues, concerns, challenges, joys, and blessings of this phase of our lives. We’re all still pursuing our passions in meaningful work, all but one is married (she has a boyfriend), all have adult children — some of whom have given us grandchildren — and we’re all interested in consciously exploring the mental, physical, and spiritual (three of us are Jewish and three, Christians) dimensions of our lives.

We’ve all led groups in our professional lives and are fully aware of the importance of listening well and taking turns. None of us wanted to be in charge of this group. Nor did we feel a strong need for a formal structure or specific subject matter. Mostly, we just wanted to take time out of our full and busy lives to be with other kind and interesting women with whom to engage in meaningful talk over hot tea and a simple snack. With no expectations, we have been living in the question and waiting to see what will happen.

So far our gatherings are very organic. At the first one we decided to meet at a different member’s home each month. It has deepened our appreciation and respect for each other’s uniqueness to experience the kind of environment each chooses to surround herself with.

One practice that has evolved is for the hostess to email a few questions about a relevant theme a few days in advance to give us time to think about it. Then after we make our tea, she opens the conversation with a centering practice like a meditation or conscious breathing and then restates the topic. We usually stay on that for a while, then veer off to follow fascinating threads that take us to new places before eventually returning to the topic with deepened insights. Occasionally someone brings a poem or written musings. Sometimes someone shares a dream and the insights they gained from it. Or a special, inspiring book. After two hours we usually close by going around the circle so everyone can share a final thought, feeling, or insight.

One of us will soon have a hip replaced, so yesterday’s discussion quickly zeroed in on the challenges of aging bodies that demand changes in lifestyle and attitude. What thoughts are germinating in her during this time of preparation? What feelings and new attitudes want to be born and listened to? How can the rest of us be of help during the recovery phase?

Another spoke of the fear she felt some years ago when she was about to undergo a difficult and complicated heart surgery. Before the operation she practiced several forms of inner work to dispel her fear, and eventually came to a deep sense of peace. Most surprising was the profound love she felt. Not for herself, her life, her family, or the doctors, but for her poor, struggling heart that was about to undergo such a stressful experience! That spurred a lively discussion about the importance of thinking about, talking to, and treating our bodies with kindness and love, especially in times of physical difficulties and pain.

One naturally independent woman had surgery on her shattered shoulder a few months ago in the midst of a stressful move to a new house. What did it take for her to admit she needed help? What did she learn when several friends volunteered to help her pack?

These days I think about the importance of community. Until about twelve years ago I was always in at least one group of wise and caring women who met my needs for meaningful female companionship. Then I went through a period of intense writing and hibernating and giving birth to a blog and two books that took up so much time that I dropped out of all of them. A natural introvert, I’ve always loved solitude, silence, and my own company. And writing about what is important to me is enormously fulfilling.

But last fall I noticed a nagging emptiness. I missed the friendship of women around my age who are linked by their desire to live their lives authentically and mindfully. Women who could never settle for a meaningless, purposeless life. Women who have  compassion for the suffering of people and our planet and take actions to alleviate it. Women with the strength and courage to ask the big questions and dig deep to bring out the unspoken words that still need to be said, the feelings that still want to be met. Open-hearted, generous-spirited, intelligent women who struggle to understand themselves, develop their skills, and give back to their communities.

Snake Goddesses from the Minoan civilization of Crete. Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete

So I told a woman I admire for the same qualities what I needed and together we created it. I simply took the next step I needed to take, and what is emerging is magical: a community of wise, compassionate women who know how to comfort and heal. Do you have a special community of women? What kind of women would you like to know and be with? Who would you start with?

“Who is She? She is your power, your Feminine source. Big Mama. The Goddess. The Great Mystery. The web-weaver. The life force. The first time, the twentieth time you may not recognize her. Or pretend not to hear. As she fills your body with ripples of terror and delight.

But when she calls you will know you’ve been called. Then it is up to you to decide if you will answer.”
Lucy H. Pearce, Burning Woman

Image credit:  Top: Google images, from thespacebetweentherapy.com. Bottom, author photo.

 

The True Meaning of Christmas Stories December 10, 2019

“Stories … protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the 20th century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories — that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narrative — in many fields of knowledge — because it is impossible to live without them.” ~Bill Buford, nonfiction writer and former fiction editor at The New Yorker

Here in the northern hemisphere of the Americas, ’tis the season for watching televised reruns of our favorite Christmas movies. Why do we love them so much? What is it that brings us back, again and again, to re-experience stories we’ve heard so many times? Perhaps we can get a clue from recaps of a few that stand out for me.

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” ~J.K. Rowling, novelist, screenwriter and film producer

A Christmas Story: Ralphie, a precocious, imaginative nine-year-old, wants a BB gun for Christmas but is discouraged by his mother, his teacher, and a department store Santa Claus who all fear “you’ll shoot your eye out!” After a series of episodes that depict the yearnings, humor, pathos, and disillusionment of an ordinary child growing up in a mid-century American family, Ralphie’s usually distracted and frustrated, but fundamentally loving father surprises him on Christmas morning with a BB gun. Ralphie does almost shoot his eye out, but it’s still his favorite Christmas ever!

White Christmas: Two soldier/singers enlist a sister act to assist them in helping their aging and discouraged superior officer from their military years save his failing country inn in rural Vermont by producing a Christmas musical extravaganza. Their efforts result in a spectacular show, and just as it ends, snow begins to fall. This will insure a white Christmas and a lucrative ski season for the inn.

It’s a Wonderful Life:  George Bailey’s missed opportunities and financial problems have brought him to such despair that shortly before Christmas he contemplates ending his life by jumping off a bridge. As he prepares himself, his guardian angel dives in the water and George ends up saving him. After the angel takes George through an alternative reality where he sees what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all his good deeds, George returns to his present reality which he now sees through the eyes of love, joy, and gratitude for the miracle of his wonderful life.

Elf: Orphaned as an infant, Buddy grows up at the North Pole with Santa and the elves believing he’s an elf, albeit a large, awkward, and very strange one. Painfully disillusioned when he learns he’s not, he takes off for the big city and discovers his birth father, a cynical and driven workaholic who rejects him. But Buddy’s innocent, helpful nature wins the love of the woman of his dreams and transforms his father into a caring husband and father who has learned from Buddy to appreciate the important things in life.

“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” Mary Catherine Bateson, writer and cultural anthropologist

What do we learn through stories? We learn about who we are, what our souls look like and yearn for, the things that are more important to us than money or material possessions, more valuable than gold. We learn that we are lucky to be alive and loved. We learn that we want to stay present to precious moments of wonder and joy and be grateful for them.

Hope, yearning, suffering, kindness, humor, community, transformation, and love. These are archetypal themes about universal experiences and emotions. We’ve all been nine years old, hoping for that very special present. We’ve all suffered disillusionment, disappointment, regret, and despair over mistakes made and dreams unfulfilled. We’ve all been the recipients of acts of kindness and been changed by them. We’ve all experienced moments of joy, gratitude, and love for the blessings of a life we want to last forever.

And in the end, that’s what all our stories — not just Christmas stories, but also hero journey stories, myths, fairy tales, and autobiographical stories — come down to:  our basic human need for a miraculous transformational experience of being known and loved that will fulfill our soul’s yearning, bring hope, and end our suffering. Whatever our religion, the wish to improve and be conscious and mindful of the miracle of our life is the true meaning of the stories that last. Among those, the ones that remind us of this wish are the most beloved.

What are your favorite Christmas movies? What do you love most about them?

Stories are the way to capture the hopes, dreams, and visions of a culture. They are true as much as data are true. The truth of the powerful and irresistible story illustrates in a way data can’t begin to capture. It’s the stories that make you understand.” — Carl Sessions Stepp, professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” ~Joan Didion, writer and journalist

“God made man because He loves stories.” — Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner

Image credits:  Google images, unknown sources.

 

A Thanksgiving Blessing November 26, 2019

I began writing Matrignosis in March of 2010. This post, A Thanksgiving Blessing, was published on November 23 of that year. It was a time of renewed hope and joy at the wondrous blessing of having five grandchildren. They’re nine years older now, and I’m so thankful to be able to tell you that they’re all well and thriving. My beloved granddog Bear, is gone, but memories of him still warm my heart. We have a new granddog now, and Izzy holds a special place of her own in our hearts. 

Here’s the original post, slightly revised, from November 23 of 2010.

Years ago when The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth was first published, I presented several workshops about the differences between the life cycles of men and women. Using the model of the ancient descent myths which preceded hero myths and often featured women whose journeys followed a pattern of sacrifice, suffering, death, and rebirth — for example, the Sumerian myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth — I encouraged participants to reflect on how they had experienced these stages in their own lives.

My purpose was threefold. First, I wanted them to understand the differences between how their feminine and masculine sides experience life, and to know that both are valid and worthy of our attention. Second, I wanted to guide them in an experience of inner work that would expand their self-knowledge. Third, I wanted them to appreciate the repetitive nature of life’s processes so that they might acquire trust that each ending, even the death of the body, is also a threshold to a hopeful new beginning.

One memory from those workshops stands out from the others. Having experienced a lengthy and painful death-like period in the middle of my life, I was speaking about the hope and gratitude that had followed it when a psychiatrist asked me a question. “I have a client who is a deeply depressed and bitter quadriplegic,” she told us. “He can’t do anything for himself. He will spend the rest of his life this way. He is not religious. What hope can I give him about rebirth? What should he be grateful for?”

The room was silent. My first thoughts were, Who am I to be talking about rebirth when I’ve never had a death experience remotely like the one this man is suffering at this very moment? What kind of hope does he have? I had an answer, but in that moment I couldn’t think how to express it in a way that wouldn’t sound flippant. I felt very humbled and remember sharing that emotion, but have no recollection of what else I said. I’ve carried that question with me ever since and would like to answer it to the best of my ability now, just in case that doctor or patient, or someone like them, might someday find my thoughts helpful.

If you are reading this post on the day of its publication two days before Thanksgiving, I am on a plane headed for Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia, sites of some of the most horrendous killing fields on the planet. There, vast numbers of human beings suffered and died in ways I cannot imagine or bear to think about. What was left for them to be grateful for in their last moments?

Life. They had Sophia’s sacred spark of Life. Until their last breaths they had traces of sensory awareness, memories, thoughts, feelings. Perhaps they saw the sunlight sparkle on a blade of grass, felt a cool breeze, remembered the taste of chocolate ice cream or the feel of a mother’s tender touch, experienced a rush of love for their lovers, children, or grandchildren.

You and I have Life. We have the capacity to be conscious of it and present to it in this moment. We can choose to let go of the past, stop worrying about the future, and attend to what is. Here. Now. Life within us, life around us. What could be more worthy of thanks?

No matter where you are or what you are suffering, you can be present to the miracle of being alive in this precious moment, this perfect Now. May your awareness bring you hope and gratitude this Thanksgiving Day and in the days to come.

 

 
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