Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Psychology and Religion: Natural Enemies or Intimate Partners? May 31, 2011

dreamstime_xl_19724675In my growing up years the relationship between psychology and religion mirrored the cold war between the U.S. and Russia. Other than the fact that each was suspicious of the other, they appeared to have little in common.

But this began to change for me at the age of 17. One morning I was reading the assigned Bible verses at church camp when suddenly the door to a hidden dimension of my being burst open and a flood of feeling and meaning rushed into my awareness. Suddenly I understood words which, until then, were written in a foreign language. And they spoke directly to me!

My heart responded with stunned awe and wonder. God was real. Moreover, God knew me and was using the Bible to communicate with me!

Joseph Campbell called an experience like this “… a profoundly felt, inward knowledge of the transpersonal imperatives and quality of life…” The impact was so powerful, in fact, that I couldn’t get enough of the New Testament and read it again and again over the next several years.

 “‘Archetype’ is Jung’s word for the psychological image of a god, and when an archetype is activated, we speak of its impact as numinous. In other words, numinosity is the charge of energy in whatever we experience as divine or demonic. If you want to know what is numinous to you, consider what you find fascinating, compelling, thrilling, mysterious, horrifying, gripping, tremendous, terrifying, dreadful, or awesome. Think about the things with which you are preoccupied in spite of yourself.”   -Jungian analyst Janet O. Dallett

My experience was numinous. I can use religious language and call it a “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Psychologically I can interpret it as the activation of the Self archetype.  Or I can see it as both. Having no psychological understanding at the age of 17, I chose the former.  But it doesn’t really matter how I saw it. Either way, it happened. And it got my attention in a big way.

The religious part of the psyche is at work whenever you pay attention to something that is numinous to you, whether or not other people feel it is important.”  -Janet O. Dallett

I kept paying attention and had more numinous experiences. Each one awakened life-changing awarenesses about the spiritual dimensions of life and created lasting changes in me. I knew I was part of a vast Mystery and I was compelled to trust the stream of life-giving feeling and knowing that was my umbilical cord to the Sacred.

For a long time I dared not speak about this.  Who was I to think God indwelled me, when one of the most respected religious authorities in my church openly disparaged “humanism” and “psychology” because they were the despised “wisdom of man” as opposed to “the wisdom of God?” What was important to him was belief in the word of God as revealed to spirit persons two thousand years ago and recorded in Holy Scriptures.  What was revealed to today’s spirit persons was heretical.

But religious symbols like the Bible, Torah, or Koran are not God. They are symbols that point to the Mystery some of us call God, Yahweh, or Allah. As such, they can trigger life-changing numinous experiences, but only if they activate our archetypal roots—the religious part of the psyche—in ways that get our attention.  Whatever God is, it cannot change us or the world without our growing awareness!

Psychology and religion are not natural enemies, but intimate partners in the sacred dance of life.  We are not only imprinted with the Sacred, we are sacred, just as all life is sacred.

Photo credit: dreamstime

My books can be found at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Diesel Ebooks and Larson Publications, Inc.


Cleaning Up My Act May 28, 2011

Of the many forms of mind-training that bring more self-knowledge, my favorites are writing and dreamwork. When I combine the two, as I usually do, I never fail to gain a valuable insight. For example, the following dream from a few weeks ago dramatizes my ego’s growing awareness of its attitude toward an unlikeable shadow.

Dream #4329: “Cleaning Up My Act.” I enter the basement laundry room of a hotel with five soiled items of clothing. I see the clothes of a traveling companion soaking in a big tub of hot, sudsy water. Their owner, a rather withdrawn, grumpy woman who doesn’t seem to like me, is nowhere in sight. Since there’s plenty of room in the tub I add my clothes to hers and leave.

When I return the only item of mine still in the water is a white blouse. I take it out wondering where everything else is. I see the woman’s suitcase sitting open on a counter. I move her clothes around to see if she might accidentally have put mine in with hers.

Just then she walks in the door and says, “What are you doing with my clothes?” in a suspicious, accusatory way. I feel confused and guilty. As I try to explain my innocence I start to wonder why I put my clothes in with hers. That was her laundry, not mine. Did I overstep her boundaries? Did I do it again just now by going through her suitcase? I realize with a bit of a shock that my behavior was not as justified as I originally thought it was. This unlikeable woman is the victim here, not me.

At first my dream ego sees little wrong in what I did. But once I see the woman and am seen by her I begin to question my assumptions. I realize my behavior was not exemplary, and I see that to dismiss her significance because she doesn’t like me is not in accord with my preferred image of myself as a kind and accepting person. In fact, I was feeling a bit self-righteous and critical of her, and it is a shock to realize she sees me the same way.

I’ve been aware of traveling through life with this shadow for a while now, but so far my tendency has been to ignore her. The theme of wanting to wash my dirty clothes says I want to clean up my persona, or public personality. But the dream says my efforts are being stymied by my ego’s ignorance about this shadow — where she lives and how she influences my personality — and by my reluctance to take care of this unfinished business.

This dream reminds me to pay closer attention to the feelings and behaviors this shadow represents until she and my ego ease up on their judgments of each other. I need to be less critical of her, and she needs more acceptance from me to feel safe enough to express her feelings honestly and appropriately.

Every soul is different and the direction our inner work takes varies from one individual to another. Most people probably don’t have as strong a need as I do to improve their personas, and not everyone with an inner curmudgeon wants to stifle it. But whatever our issues, the same rule applies: Until we can see and come to terms with the shadows our dreams show us, they will continue to disturb our inner peace.


Living From the Heart May 24, 2011

Last week my husband and I took our son Matt and his wife Robyn with us to a Kris Kristofferson concert. The venue, an old movie theater-turned-concert hall, was so intimate that as we were leaving Robyn said, “I feel like I’ve just been hanging out with him in the living room.”

I felt the same way. Much of the friendly atmosphere was due to this singer/songwriter’s no-frill style. He had no opening act, no accompanying musicians, no dancers, videos, bells, whistles, mirrors or smoke. He just walked out on the darkened stage with his guitar and harmonica and did what he does best: stood there at the microphone and sang his heart out for two hours.

If you’ve read my post from March 22, 2011 titled “Kris Kristofferson: Midlife Mentor,” you know I’ve been a huge fan since I discovered his music in the mid-seventies. Since then I’ve attended perhaps five of his concerts, two of which were held in similar settings. Although I would have loved nothing more than to walk up afterwards to shake his hand and tell him how much his music meant to me, I was far too self-conscious. After a lifetime of hiding how much I care about things others consider unimportant, I couldn’t bear the thought of being criticized for being too bold or looking like a gushing teen-aged groupie, so I just stood watching from the back of the hall while he greeted fans less inhibited than I.

Over the years I’ve castigated myself for wasting these and other precious opportunities to act on my heart’s desires. I know the value of “seizing the day” and “following your passion,” and I’ve experienced the rewards of doing this many times. Yet there were also times when I couldn’t take my own advice. Why have I let self-consciousness hold me back from doing so many simple, harmless things like jumping at the chance to hire a waiting camel to ride to the site overlooking the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found? Or accepting an invitation to sing a song I love on a stage with a group of musicians I admire?

Years of analyzing my dreams have brought some insights. Because I admire Kris Kristofferson so much for his courage and integrity in overcoming his fears and following his passions, he’s shown up in many dreams as an image of my positive animus. The issues in these dreams always relate to my deepest desire to boldly sing my soul’s song in my writing and speaking, and to do it with the kind of honesty, simplicity, and grace he embodies.

I’m delighted to report that as of last week’s concert I’m a bit closer to my goal. After the kids left to relieve their baby-sitter, Fred and I walked to the back of the building where the tour bus was parked and joined a group of waiting fans. In my purse was a copy of the March 22 post with Kris’s picture on the front and a handwritten note scrawled in the margin. I can’t deny that my resolve wavered when he came out the door and walked toward us, but after watching him sign autographs for several people, with Fred’s encouragement I moved into an empty space on the railing, handed him the post, and told him why I’d written it.

I didn’t get his autograph. I didn’t need one. His warmth and graciousness, so evident in the photograph above, are more than enough reward for overcoming so much of my debilitating self-consciousness. Thank you, dear friend of my soul, for showing me how to live from the heart.


Being Self-Conscious May 21, 2011

A few months before my father died, he was working in another town and we went to visit him. I was outside with several other girls and boys having a carefree time diving, racing, and showing off in the motel pool when my parents called me inside. They had been watching and talking about me, and now they had something to say. Receiving personal attention from either of my parents was rare enough, but to be called into their joint presence was like being summoned to an unexpected audience with the Queen and King. I knew the matter must be of utmost importance, and I listened intently.

I was a natural leader with gifts and talents many children lacked, my father said. I should be careful, he warned, about not showing off, being bossy, or dominating situations. A little girl out there by the pool was having trouble keeping up with the rest of us. She seemed to feel insecure, perhaps inferior. I should notice her, think about her feelings, try not to call attention to myself by outshining the others, try to include her and make her feel better about herself.

This was a crucial moment in my development. My eyes were instantly opened to an entirely new way of looking at myself and others. Suddenly I knew people were watching me, perhaps even feeling bad about themselves because of me. I should think about their feelings and ignore my own. I should hide my own strengths so as not to intimidate them. I was strong enough to make these kinds of sacrifices for others. Believing I had received a valuable piece of wisdom, I left the motel room a very different little girl from the one who had innocently pranced in. For a moment I deliberated carefully, then casually walked up to the little girl in the faded brown bathing suit and tentatively lied, “I like your bathing suit.”

She grinned widely and said something like, “Really? This old thing?” Then she bounced off happily to the diving board while I sat quietly in the nearest chair to avoid notice. I was stunned by my new awareness and uncomfortable about what I had just done. I had said something that wasn’t true, but apparently with very good effect. The things I said and did could make a difference to others! I could help people or I could harm them. What if in my ignorance I had spent the whole day out here playing with these children, innocently enjoying the competition, being such a good swimmer and diver that I made some of them feel terrible about themselves?

My God! The mistakes I could have made. As I sat musing, my self-consciousness inflated to encompass the universe. Suddenly the world was filled with eyes, and I knew that all of them, including God’s eyes, were watching me. I felt as if I were being dissected, cell by cell, beneath a critical, cosmic microscope.

Everyone grows self-conscious during the pre-teen years, and like all psychological potential, self-consciousness can be positive or negative. I saw myself through the eyes of others for the first time on this day and that was a good thing; seeing the consequences of our behavior is crucial to developing a social conscience. However, after my father died my self-consciousness morphed into self-torment. Yet, that too was redeemable. Painful as it was, my adolescent turmoil uniquely predisposed me for my future passion for self-knowledge, and this has brought not only great relief, but great joy. Yes, evolving into a more conscious being hurts, but it is well worth the suffering.

My books are at Amazon and Larson Publications.


This Miracle of Being May 17, 2011

I’m at my desk reading the Goethe quote on my coffee mug: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” I feel the truth of this deeply, but wonder if I really understand it or can express it adequately. I want to try.

I close my eyes to feel the life in my body and follow my breath. Tiny tinglings everywhere…chest and belly rising and falling…the air conditioner fan whirring away to my left, an airplane humming overhead…the solid floor beneath my feet…the warmth of my clasped hands…the softness of my velvet robe.

I open my eyes and look out the window at the stand of bald cypress with their knotty brown trunks and newly green foliage. I watch the soft sway of their gray Spanish moss beards. I wait…for what I don’t know. I smile. It’s a relief not to need to know. A love bug lands on the window at eye level. No, wait; it’s two love bugs! My smile expands. My heart seems to expand too. I’m enjoying this tiny reminder of love. Fluttering leaves sparkle. Some show their paler sides; others are a deeper green. A dragonfly flits by. Cottony clouds with dove gray undersides sink slowly below the cypress canopy.

I rise and step outside to see if the great blue heron is still fishing across the creek. S/he’s gone, but a pair of black-feathered, yellow-legged, red-billed birds (young coots?) fly past, then abruptly make a U-turn and hurry back in the opposite direction.

I remember the brilliant cardinal that kept dropping by one day last week to peck at the picture window, either flirting with his image or trying to pass through the sky’s reflection. I Googled the symbolism of cardinals and found this: [The cardinal] “reminds us to hold ourselves with pride – not ego pride. Rather, the cardinal asks us to stand a little taller, be a bit more regal, step into our natural confidence as if we were born to lead with grace and nobility.” Good advice. But that was a few days ago. I return to this moment.

Other random thoughts intrude and I invite them to pass on so I can stay present. I realize I’m hoping to close these musings with some sort of sign or synchronicity I can share to prove how rewarding just appreciating this day can be! But nothing is showing up and I’m running out of writing space.

Wait. Something is showing up. (As I write these words a cardinal darts by…is it my cardinal?… but that isn’t what I mean.) What shows up after I’ve written the previous paragraph is an awareness of my ego’s influence over my thoughts and writing. My ego wants a sign it can use to be impressive, but my soul just wants to be! And just as I was thinking this the cardinal passed by. I guess I did receive a sign after all: ego pride!  I smile and let it be. Self-knowledge is healing but self-criticism erodes my confidence and robs me of this moment. Simply being aware of everything, including my baser tendencies, is the true value of this day.

Why is mindfulness valuable? Because with it I feel the love pervading everything and, if only for a moment, experience this fleeting miracle of being.

My books are at Amazon and Larson Publications.


The Meaning of Success May 14, 2011

The other day a friend and I were talking about why so many people lead unfulfilling lives. As is my habit, I immediately went for the psychological explanation and pursued it with my usual fervor. I said it’s because of a lack of consciousness: we don’t consider or pursue all our options because we’re locked into our culturally-conditioned assumptions about how we’re supposed to live our lives.

He thought economic injustice was a more decisive factor. Then he told me about someone he knows who has pursued his passion for art for twenty years without success. He doesn’t have enough time or money to devote to it because he works exhausting hours at a low-paying job he hates just to stay afloat.

This, of course, is an excellent point! My argument was far too simplistic. I’m reminded of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory about the hierarchy of needs. Only when the basic needs at the two lowest levels — the needs for physical survival, personal and financial security, health, and safety — are met can a person be motivated to seek and value love and belonging at the third level. And only when enough of these needs are met does s/he acquire enough fourth-level self-esteem and self-respect to pursue the fifth-level needs for meaning, self-actualization, self-realization, and self-transcendence.

There are critics of this theory, but I hear the ring of truth in it. I’ve been taking for granted the fact that despite my humble beginnings, enough of my basic needs have been met to give me the luxury of pursuing the “higher” needs which have brought so much meaning and joy to my life. My argument must be painful and offensive to those who don’t have that luxury, and I’m deeply ashamed for not being more sensitive to this reality. My friend is way ahead of me in that regard.

As we batted our thoughts back and forth like a tennis ball, we found ourselves at a dividing line in the fourth “court” of self-esteem and self-respect. According to Wikipedia, “Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. The higher one is the need for self-respect, the need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence and freedom. The latter one ranks higher because it rests more on inner competence won through experience. Deprivation of these needs can lead to an inferiority complex, weakness and helplessness.”

Yes, there are deeply troubling educational, governmental and economic inequities, and correcting them must be our first priority. Moreover, as my friend rightly pointed out, some people who achieve status and prestige — often along with a lot of money — only got them through dumb luck while the majority of virtuous, hard-working, well-meaning, law-abiding people never gets them no matter how hard they try.  What I was trying to express is equally true: exploiting the common assumption that gaining the high opinion of others is more important than working to develop self-esteem and inner competence is also misguided and unjust.

Alone, fame and glory rarely lead to fulfillment. True and lasting success is acquiring self-knowledge, self-respect and self-acceptance, and until we start spreading and acting on this “higher” message, we will continue to seek the wrong things and feel like failures when we don’t get them.

You can find “Healing the Sacred Divide” at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


War Games May 10, 2011

A Holy War?

A Holy War?

When the terrorist Osama Bin Laden was killed I wrote a blog post about it. In response, writer Charles Hale commented, “I haven’t thought this one through but it seems to me the world has become one big sporting event where there’s always one winner, one loser, and millions of fans cheering each side on. Further, the terms used to describe sporting events are often militaristic in nature–blitz, warrior mentality, fight to the death, in the trenches, etc.–and the news programs constantly describe the news with sports metaphors. There is little difference, it appears, between nationalistic fervor and sports fanaticism. They seem to be born of the same mentality. When I watch crowds chanting USA USA, I don’t know if I’m watching the US playing Russia in hockey, a political convention or a news event; it seems they are all one and the same now.”

This meaty insight got me thinking about the psychological and spiritual implications of our intense attachments to our teams, clans, countries and religions. What’s this all about? Is there no difference between nationalistic fervor and sports fanaticism? And if not, is this good or bad?

As mammals, humans share the drives for self-preservation and species-preservation with all mammals. Composed of the instincts for nurturance, activity, and sex, these basic motivations create a powerful dependence on our families and a compulsion to protect them and their territory. Loyalty blended with fierce determination to protect and defend is a recipe for survival that has served us and other predatory mammals like wolves, bears and lions exceedingly well.

Jung said humans also have instincts for reflection and creativity. These account not only for our having reached the top of the food chain, but also for a “higher” level of awareness and yearning which has spawned egos, logical thinking, moral codes, justice systems and religions.

We have the capacity to be as aware of our basic drives as we are of our values, and we can use this awareness to benefit everyone’s team. But if our egos cannot see our shadows — our unconscious instincts, emotions, assumptions, and fears — we are easily overwhelmed by them and can unwittingly betray our noblest selves. Then potentially productive conflicts are transformed from games into wars.

Athena:  Goddess of Wisdom and War

Athena: Goddess of Wisdom and War

In the Iliad, Homer describes the first Olympic games which gave both sides in the Trojan War a sabbatical from fighting and a way to channel passions that satisfied everyone’s instincts and cultural values. Insofar as sporting events, especially international ones, serve the same purpose today, they are healthy expressions of our shared humanity that satisfy our needs for belongingness, self-esteem, playfulness, meaning, and so on. But if they are only temporary distractions from shadow possession, there’s still much work to be done.

Homer says that Ares, the hot-tempered and passionate God of War, supported Troy. However, the Greeks won the war because they listened to Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom who was a level-headed strategist and counselor. This is a metaphor for the victory of conscious choice over unconscious compulsion. But just how conscious and wise was Athena? Is winning the highest good? Does it prove our virtue and worth or does it merely appease our shadow? We are capable of setting a higher goal than winning the game: the goal of universal justice, cooperation, peace, and love. In real-life war games we need to be very clear about our motivation. Which goal do we serve?

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


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