Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

A River Called Love May 30, 2010

A few days ago I had a visit from a dear friend I hadn’t seen in years. As young mothers we lived in the same town and attended the same church. When her husband was confirmed in the Episcopal church, he asked my husband to be his godfather. When their third child was born, they asked us to be his godparents; when my son was born they became his.

Among the many things Ginger and I had in common, perhaps the most important to both of us was a deep spiritual thirst. I had experienced a spiritual awakening at the age of 17 when the Bible came alive for me. Her awakening came with the miracle of the birth of her first child. Together, the two of us lapped up church services, Bible study, prayer groups and retreats like parched kittens. In our spare time we took care of each others’ kids, shared our deepest feelings, and prayed with and for each other.

Within a few years Greg’s work called him to another town. They moved several times after that and we rarely saw each other again. Then, a few weeks ago, I got a call from Ginger telling me that after living with prostate cancer for 17 years, Greg had died and she was returning to Florida to visit family and old friends for some love therapy. We picked a day to meet and I looked forward to her visit.

But our paths have deviated radically over the years and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I live in a big city; she lives in a remote rural area. I’ve traveled extensively, she has stayed close to home. I entered the germ-free tower of academia; her work as a nurse and caregiver required regular physical intimacy in the trenches. What concerned me most was that she had grown increasingly conservative in her political and religious views whereas I had become what I feared she would see as a flaming liberal religious heretic!! (She watches Fox Network and I watch CNN!) Would we feel comfortable together? Could we be honest about our differing views? Would she still like me, or would the polarization so rampant in today’s America infect us with its toxic distrust and animosity?

I needn’t have worried. Our time together was Real time. Soul time. A time for Love. We talked about Greg. We talked about our kids and grandkids and wished we could see each others’ families. We laughed about the fact that she loves Sarah Palin and is aghast that I voted for Obama. We laughed at my incredulity that she doesn’t believe in evolution. Then my daughter-in-law stopped by to borrow some life jackets, so Ginger got to meet her and my grandsons. A while later my daughter called to say she was coming by with her girls to drop off some things she’d borrowed from us. Ginger and I marveled at these amazing synchronicities. It never happens that both of my girls and their children come by unexpectedly on the same day, and yet that day they did. Later, we met my husband at our grandsons’ Little League game and after 35 years Ginger was reintroduced to the coach, my son, her godson.

Like I said, the one thing Ginger and I always had in common was our spiritual  thirst, a thirst for Love. And we’ve never stopped trying to quench it. Over time, drinking in love washes away all the dross—all the words, ideals, prejudices, and wounds—and leaves only the pure essence of soul wherein the river of  love that underlies everything comes to dwell.  It’s no coincidence Ginger received exactly what she needed that day.  The river called Love knows its own.


Portrait of a Spirit Warrior May 25, 2010

According to neurologist Leonard Shlain, the development of the brain’s left hemisphere and ego consciousness “resulted in humans creating a distinction between me-in-here and world-out-there.” This detached subject/object split enhanced the skills of hunters who needed to separate themselves from the hunted and strengthened their ability to remain motionless while focusing on a single task, but this occurred at the expense of attributes like holistic awareness and emotional depth. As Shlain says, “The dispassion inherent in dualism, a viewpoint indispensable for killing, is the opposite of a mother’s binding love for her child.” Eventually, a sense of alienation from our fuller selves became the norm in most “highly civilized” Western societies.

But many indigenous cultures, for example, the Toltecs of Mexico and the Taoists of China, never discarded what William Horden calls the “magic world of the unconscious dreamtime.” Knowing that Ultimate Being consists of a unity-totality, they envisioned a new kind of spirit warrior who unites all opposites within him/herself. Five days ago I witnessed a living example of this ancient wisdom as my husband and I drove through the American southwest.

After visiting the magnificent Monument Valley National Tribal Park in Arizona, we were driving toward the Grand Canyon when we stopped at a roadside stand on the Navajo reservation. I was examining a necklace made by the lovely young woman running the stand when I heard the strange, high-pitched mewling of a predatory cat coming from somewhere behind me. Turning, I saw a man about ten yards away leading a brown and white pinto across the red clay desert dotted with silvery-gray sagebrush shrubs. Huddled in the saddle on the horse’s back was a little girl who appeared to be around two or three years old.

In an instant this idyllic scene was transformed into a life and death drama. Perhaps the child was frightened, or maybe she was just tired, but when she made the mewling sound again, the horse, which by now must have been convinced it had a bobcat on its back, erupted into frenzied bucking. I watched in horror as, enveloped in a rising dust cloud, the child was thrown off the horse’s back and the father thudded to the ground clinging to one thin leather rein.

This is where wisdom enters the picture. The father did not cry out in fright or anger. He did not let go of the rein, his only connection to the terrified animal that so easily could have trampled the tiny child. He did not jerk the rein or lash out at the horse. Rather, in slow and graceful motion, he stood, gathered up both reins, and looped them over his left shoulder as he walked calmly toward his daughter. The horse, which seconds before had been a hysterical beast, followed like a docile puppy as he led the girl to a rock and sat with her, murmuring quietly and caressing her face and long black hair with infinite tenderness. Moments later, father and daughter walked away hand in hand, the horse following peacefully, connected to them only by two thin strips of leather casually looped over the man’s left shoulder.

As I watched the father model the wisdom of the ages to his daughter and horse, memories of humans who were the irrational, emotionally overwhelmed beasts ran through my mind. In stark contrast to them, this man understood his unconscious, instinctual self. In taming and befriending it, he had replaced fear, anxiety, anger, and compulsiveness with trust, peace, compassion, and consciousness. These are his infinitely precious gifts to his family, his horse, and the world. His gift to me was the honor of standing in the presence of a spirit warrior.


The Feminine Side of God: Sense or Nonsense May 23, 2010

In the pre-history of our species our survival depended on hunting. The best hunters were emotionless, task-oriented, focused, and factually precise. These are qualities of the brain’s left-hemisphere. As the human brain evolved, the most successful hunters were those whose left-hemisphere qualities were more highly developed. While this was the necessary next stage in our development, it was not the final stage.

One of the most significant outcomes of the left hemisphere’s development was the emergence of the ego from the maternal matrix of primordial unconsciousness. Until the ego showed up we were unaware of ourselves as a separate species. We struggled to survive like every living thing. We acted on our instincts to mate (the instinct for sex) and find food and protect our young (the instinct for nurturance) like all creatures. We knew how to find and build shelters (the instinct for activity) in the same way foxes know how to dig dens and birds know how to build nests.

The birth of the ego marked the birth of human consciousness. The unique combination of the ego and physical developments like thumbs and the ability to walk upright eventually resulted in the strengthening of two additional instincts: the instinct for reflection and the instinct for creativity. Increasingly our specialization in these two set us apart from other animals.

With the passage of time we developed other capabilities that made us even more different. The ego created words, the basic unit of left-brained logos, and later on, alphabets. Meanwhile, we grew less dependent on symbols, the tools of right-hemisphere mythos, until eventually Judaism, Christianity, then Islam forbade people to create life-like images.

Here’s my point. Our ego creates and uses words to try to understand life’s mysteries, while our unconscious Self naturally and spontaneously creates symbols and images that bring us into a meaningful relationship with the mysteries. Both perspectives are necessary to a complete God-image and a balanced life.

But of what use were symbols to early hunters? To those of our ancestors with dominant left-hemisphere orientations, mythos thinking would have seemed like pointless, impractical nonsense. Personal meaning does not result in the kill. Imagining a web of life and being able to see how our prey fits into it does not put food on the table. What makes a hunter successful is knowing where the prey is and what its characteristics are, plus having the focus and discipline to get the job done. Thus do some left-brained dominant people still profoundly distrust mythos, women, and the “feminine” unconscious.

Luckily, humanity is still evolving. Most of us no longer find complete fulfillment in a survival mentality. We bring moral sensibility to the table. We have questions about who we are and why we’re here. We want our lives to have purpose. We are in search of our souls. To find them we’re engaging the faculties of both sides of our brains.

Thus, is the Western world returning to the Divine Feminine. But with one important difference. What we seek now is a deity of fully integrated masculinity and femininity.


Flowering Feeling May 18, 2010

When I dreamed about the “Temple In the Wilderness” I was puzzled by my dream ego’s fascination with the beautiful waxy white flowers. I loved flowers, but in those days I saw nothing particularly meaningful about them. I do now. Here’s why.

In response to my second post, Dream Along With Me, William Horden wrote, “For the ancients of Mexico, the height of their Lifeway was expressed in the philosophy called ‘Flower-And-Song.’ By ‘Flower’ they meant the ability to perceive that everything is perfect as a flower, yet passing before our eyes. This boils down to grasping the emotional reality that everything I know and love is both perfect as it is and already dying. To be a warrior meant the ability to hold these two profound emotions in the heart-mind at the same time.”

At the heart of this enlightened philosophy is a deep reverence for feeling. The ancients of Mexico, like spirit persons everywhere, knew that living a full life was about more than being rational and clear-headed. It’s fine and good for me to work out an elegant theory about the meaning of life, but thoughts are abstractions, not concrete realities. Like dead flowers, they are dry, useless things when cut off from the juicy life of our bodies. The point is to merge our mental and physical lives in a sacred union of opposites.

In theory, this makes perfect sense to most of us, but it’s quite another thing to actually live and relate to others with this kind of balance. Some of us get so swamped with strong emotions at the least provocation that we become impervious to reason.  Others habitually repress our feelings to the point you would swear we had no hearts at all. And of course, most of us vacillate between these two extremes, here overly emotional, there all business, forever buffeted about by unconscious compulsions we don’t understand and can’t seem to control no matter how hard we try.

Which brings me back to my white flowers. White, the color of light, purity, and perfection, is often worn at rituals of transformation like baptisms, first communions, marriages, initiations, and for some people, death rites. Wearing white signifies respect for the logos/thinking/spiritual side of life. Conversely, flowers symbolize the mythos/feeling/soulful side of life. We send flowers on sad occasions to represent our feelings of grief and caring, and on joyful occasions they convey our love.

The moist, creamy white flowers in the wilderness temple filled my dream ego with awe, symbolizing that after years of living in my head and dismissing my feelings I was awakening to the life of my soul. Kneeling in reverence before the flowers indicated that a hard place in my wounded heart was softening and melting away. And because I was honoring honest feeling, a Prince appeared to be my guide. Where did he want to take me? For me, the couple walking hand-in-hand through the distant mist prefigured a sacred wedding of balance between the opposites, a potential future reward if I persisted with my journey to self-knowledge.

I’m here to tell you that dreams are not “just our imagination”. These messages from the mist are factual events with profound meaning for us, and our souls know it even if our egos do not.


The Marriage of Science and Religion May 16, 2010

Plato and Aristotle’s identification of the two ways of thinking I call logos and mythos was based on the human tendency to perceive and classify all phenomena into pairs of opposites. Since ancient times, the supreme pair of opposites under which we have categorized all others has been the metaphors of masculine and feminine.  When used as metaphors, these terms are not about gender or sexuality, but ways of helping us categorize related ideas.

When Jung set out to better understand the psyche he used the same metaphors to express the findings of his research. One of his major conclusions was that the psyche is a union of conscious (masculine) and unconscious (feminine). An even more ground-breaking discovery was the fundamental archetype composed of the union of the masculine and feminine. He called this archetype of wholeness the Self, with a capital S to denote its difference from the ego self, and defined it as our God-image.

Like Plato, Jung also thought of the masculine principle as logos, but he named the feminine principle Eros, after the Greek god of love. For him, logos represented all the spiritual phenomena of life (including mental discrimination, judgment, and insight), and Eros symbolized all physical phenomena, i.e. the things we mean by the term soul, including matter and our physical bodies with their instincts, emotions, and capacity to relate. While readily admitting that these concepts cannot be defined accurately or exhaustively, Jung believed they had great practical value for clarifying a field of experience that is particularly difficult to define.

One stumbling block for some Jungians is the use of the name of a masculine Greek God (Eros) for the feminine principle! This is why I prefer the term mythos, which is non-gender specific. A related issue is that associating “spiritual” phenomena with the masculine principle removes the feminine from the spiritual playing field. Today, however, science has dramatically refined these concepts with new research in brain-lateralization.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Leonard Shlain notes that the nonverbal “feminine” right hemisphere of the brain integrates feelings, recognizes images, and expresses being. More often than the word-oriented “masculine” left hemisphere it generates feeling-states like love, humor, or aesthetic appreciation, all of which are non-logical. These feeling-states are authentic experiences that are verified beyond debate by an internal voice. Among other things, they allow us to have faith in God.

In sum, associated with all that is mysterious, unconscious, felt, organic, imaginative, and personally compelling, mythos is the non-verbal way we experience the truths of spirit and soul. Moreover, using mythos to explore the enigmas of the outer and inner universes brings enormous psychological and spiritual advances because it is inherently integrating and self-validating. And it is the birthright of every brain, male and female alike.

Increasingly over the past five thousand years, we have exalted logos over mythos, repressing our “feminine” ways of thinking and imagining God in left-hemisphere ways.  But we are living in extraordinary times. With the marriage of science and religion we are unveiling our unconscious and undeveloped feminine dimensions and integrating the wisdom of Sophia, God’s feminine side.


Puppy Love May 11, 2010

Recently I wrote about a dream from many years ago of a sacred garden where a puppy playfully grabbed my hand as if inviting me to follow him. Who was this puppy named Prince? What was he doing in my dream? Where did he want to take me? In those days I had only a vague inkling of what this sweet symbol had to do with me. But the sweetness has spread a hundred-fold since then and I thought you might be interested in knowing why.

Animals in dreams usually represent our physical, animal natures. In Jungian psychology dogs are often seen as psychopomps, i.e. spiritual initiators and guides who direct the transformation of souls. For example, in Greek mythology, Cerberus is the three-headed dog who guards the river Styx, the place of transition between the upper- and underworlds. Psychologically, the upper world symbolizes everything we know about ourselves and the underworld represents our unknown and undeveloped depths.

A major issue with spiritually oriented people like me is that we can become so infatuated with the abstract life of the mind that we tend to lose touch with our feelings and bodies. Have you ever been moved to tears by something and not known why? Our bodies send us emotional messages like this all the time, and dismissing them is like failing to open a letter from your most trusted friend. I used to ignore these spontaneous eruptions from the underworld but now I try to figure out what they’re trying to tell me. Are they about a sad loss? A painful betrayal? An unhealed wound? Or do they signify overflowing gratitude for the blessings of my life, like the freedom to be myself, a thoughtful gift from a grandchild, or a loving hug from a dear friend?

Anyway, during the Middle Ages, many wise people considered the body to be a physical manifestation of the soul. This idea is being revived today by people like Thomas Moore (Care of the Soul), and Deepak Chopra (Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul). The common theme in these books is the loss of soul that comes from neglecting the sacred life in our bodies. So for me, the puppy represents an inner soul guide whose appearance signaled my readiness to get better acquainted with my physical, instinctual, emotional truths.

That’s cool enough, but what about his name: Prince? Did that mean something too? Of course it did. Everything in our dreams has meaning for us. Consider this association for “prince” from The Herder Symbol Dictionary: “Psychoanalytically he can be understood as the representative of victorious ego powers.” This innocuous little puppy symbolizes a profound spiritual truth: The success of our journey is a function of our (our ego’s) willingness to acquire as much reverence for the unconscious life in our bodies as we have for the conscious life of the mind.

That this puppy was a Prince and not a fully adult Queen or King suggested I had a lot of growing up to do. But the fact that he was being fed by unconscious aspects of my psyche (the unknown people in the dream who gave him food) was enormously reassuring because it said parts of me were beginning to heed this wisdom so beautifully expressed by Jungian analyst, Dr. Cara Barker: “Take the time to feed what is hungry in your soul, and rest what is weary in your heart.”  Today I realize that receiving Prince’s affirmation from the sacred depths was when I started falling back in love with my life.


Horse Crazy May 9, 2010

I saw my first horse at the age of five when my father walked me down a dusty Tallahassee road to a stable near our home. How to describe what happened to me that day? Have you ever fallen in love at first sight? That’s how it was with me. I was knocked out, bowled over, and blown away by the magnificent creatures I saw that day and I’ve been crazy about them ever since.

Perhaps you know a horse-crazy teen-aged girl. The odd thing is, this phenomenon is far more common in girls than boys. What’s that all about? I’ve asked myself and others this question for years, as have many horse lovers, and I think I may have found an answer.

Love is about nurturing and being nurtured. Each of us carries around an unconscious blueprint inscribed with thousands of memories, feelings, and associations related to the people who cared for us as children. Some are positive and some negative, but when someone or something comes along that resembles that blueprint, our soul responds with profound emotion while the clueless ego stands there and wonders, “What just happened?”

Which brings me to the symbolism of horses. Think about it. Horses are big and warm. Their coats are soft and smooth, they smell good, and they carry you around. Your mother was big and warm. Her skin was soft and smooth, she smelled good, and when you were a baby she carried you around. Or not. Either way, that’s what you wished for.

Horses are so tall that when you’re on their backs you’re higher than everyone else, which makes you feel important and special. Isn’t that how you felt in your mother’s arms?

When you spend a lot of time with horses and treat them with love, they love you back and serve you willingly and faithfully. That feels really good, the way an attentive mother makes you feel. And if your mother didn’t make you feel that way, your unfulfilled need became part of your blueprint.

If you ever get lost when you’re riding in unfamiliar territory, all you have to do is trust your horse and it’ll always take you home safely. So will most mothers.

Horses have an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what you’re thinking and feeling. Did you ever suspect your mother might be a mind-reader?

And here’s the clincher. With horses, you get to be the boss. These humongous, potentially dangerous creatures have to do what you tell them to — go fast, go slow, go here, go there, jump, stop, turn around — and if they won’t, you get to punish them! Now is having that kind of power over your mother the dream and demand of every savage young ego or what?

In sum, I think horses are mother substitutes. All children need their mothers’ affirmation of their power, lovableness, and worth. But since girls tend to identify primarily with their mothers, they have a special need for maternal intimacy and reassurance. So if we have nurturance issues with our mothers, some of us work them out with the horses we love. And some go on to fall in love with our Sacred Mother as well. Happy Mother’s Day.

Thanks to Jodie Otte for permission to use this amazing photograph.


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