Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Choice: A Story About a Boy and His Dog July 29, 2011

Dear friends: In the last few months, Joseph Anthony, author of TheWonderChildBlog, has became a treasured new internet friend. Joseph is a gifted writer, blogger, teacher, musician, husband and father whose enormous courage has transformed a difficult past of abuse and addiction into a creative outpouring which celebrates psychological healing and spiritual living. You may have seen his thoughtful comments here and know he published one of my posts, Dragon Lady: Shadow of the Queen, on his own blog.

Joseph and I enjoyed our collaboration so much that we’re doing it again. Today I’m sharing a story he wrote that was inspired by my last post, Another Dog Story. Joseph dedicated his story to me, and I’m dedicating this post to my son, Matt, who raised our golden retriever, Bear, from a puppy and was his primary owner until the last two years of our beloved friend’s life.  Enjoy.

The Choice

The child walked through the fields of light looking for his dog. He hadn’t seen it in what seemed like forever. He began to cry, brushing the tops of the radiant grass as he walked, when suddenly he heard the soft beating of wings and an angel alighted at his side. For a long time they said nothing. She walked with her hands cupped at her belly, looking straight ahead. He swiped a stick around them as they went.

“I miss him,” the boy said.

“He was your daemon,” she said.

“But I thought daemons never left you. That’s what the other angels said.”

“They don’t leave you. But they’re spirits, just like you and me, and so sometimes – well, sometimes when the unexpected happens, they get lost, just like us.”

“The boy was quiet a moment. He knew what she meant by unexpected, for here he was walking the illuminated fields of heaven with an angel. “So Bear’s lost?” He asked.

“In a manner of speaking. But he’s looking for you. And he’ll find you, you can count on that. He’s a clever dog.”

“Do I have to just wait for him to find me? Couldn’t I look for him too?”

“Of course,” said the angel. “In fact, your love for him acts as a beacon. Through the hazy distances of memory and through the corridors of his love for you – he will find you. He will come.”

The angel placed her hand around his shoulder and pulled him closer.”Keep calling him,” she said. “He’s listening. And keep being you – for it is when you are being yourself that your daemon is most attracted to you.”

“Do you suppose he’s upset that I left him?” asked the boy, his voice catching in his throat.

“You must stop thinking about it like that,” the angel answered. “You didn’t leave him. You made a choice. After the accident, when the Great Light asked if you wanted to remain here, you said yes, that’s all.”

“But I should have never said yes. I was being selfish.”

“Selfish?” said the angel in a voice much louder than usual. “So you had the opportunity to stay here, away from the sickness that surrounded your home back there. And you call that selfish?”

“He’s there though. I left him there and you know how daddy treated him.”

“Your daddy is a different man after the accident. Your choice to stay here has changed him. His heart broke in just the perfect way as to let the Light in. He will never mistreat anyone or anything again. He is a new creation. And if you would have gone back, he would still be steeped in his disease, so no more talk of selfish.”

“But what about mother?” said the boy.

“You don’t think she’s been born again watching your father be born again? You don’t think she’s a better person too? Your choice to stay here has changed them both. There’s hope for them now. They are helping thousands of families with their project. Many, many lives will be saved as a result of their choice to build upon your choice.”

“OK, OK,” so I’m not selfish. I still want Bear.”

“Of course,” said the angel.

“I won’t stop calling for him until he finds me,” said the boy.

“Or you find him,” said the angel.

“I’ll keep praying too,” said the boy.

“You are praying,” she said. “With every step and tear and word you are praying; by just being you – living the way you are living here in this world of Light and Use – you are praying. Don’t ever worry about not praying. Everything you do is a prayer, Dear Brave Heart.” And with that there was a rustling of unfurling wings and she was gone.

He stood in the river of white, shining grass and started calling for Bear. He walked all day in bright field calling, calling. Then the angels began singing. He spun around. When the angels sing that song – the welcoming song – there is a new arrival. The last time he heard it his great Aunt Ivy appeared. He began running towards the sound, for when heaven rejoices at a homecoming, the sound is indescribably wonderful. As he ran he forgot about Bear and instead thought about how happy whoever it was would be to have returned home to their dearest love.

When he reached the center of heaven he stopped. He shook his head. He was stunned. The hosts of heaven, the Great Light, and every soul from every part of the celestial world had gathered around something sitting in their midst. It was a black and white shaggy dog.

“Bear!” He shouted. And at the sound of his name, Bear took off running – fairly galloping over the snowy white grass, and he leapt into the boy’s embrace. The boy held Bear, weeping on his neck. Bear panted happily, licking the boy’s face with big, sloppy kisses. His angel appeared before them. She smiled, still singing.

“I didn’t know they did that for animals too,” laughed the boy with his arms still around Bear.

“All souls,” she said. “We sing for all souls.”

“When will I start singing like that?” He asked.

“Now,” she said. “Now that Bear’s with you, you are complete.”

And that’s when he felt his shoulder blades painlessly change their shape. They extended out and up and back, and a certain, splendid heaviness sprouted in two directions. He had wings. He opened and closed them as he stood, keeping his hand on Bear’s head. He smiled at Bear and at the angel, and began laughing.

****

Kneeling by the side of the road, the police officer put his hand on the side of the big dog’s bleeding head. “He’s gone,” he said. “There was nothing you could do. Don’t blame yourself. It’s dark. Hard to see.”

“He just jumped in the middle of the road,” the teenage girl said, sniffling. “I didn’t see him until it was too late.”

“I understand,” said the policeman. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yes,” she said, looking up at the stars. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” asked the policeman.

“Singing,” she said. “I hear singing.”

 

Another Dog Story July 26, 2011

As I write this I’m agonizing over something that happened earlier this evening. During the summer I live in a remote, mountainous area with curvy, dangerous roads. This evening I was headed to town to attend a lecture by an eminent theologian when I came upon a huge, black-and-white shaggy dog standing in the middle of the road looking very lost and confused.

My first thought was to stop and help it.  My second, that it could be sick, rabid, mean, filthy, etc.  My third, that I really wanted to hear the lecture. As I slowly passed the dog I looked out my rear-view mirror. It was standing in the road forlornly watching me drive off. I felt as if it were saying, “Please help me.” I considered stopping. I drove on.

That look haunted me all the way into town where I discovered that the lecture had been rescheduled for two hours earlier and everyone had gone home. So I headed for the grocery store, arriving just in time to see the last two employees leaving. They close early on Sunday nights. My only option was to go home. As one who seeks meaning in everything, I wondered:  Was I being given a second chance to help the dog? I drove home more slowly than usual, scanning the roadside. If I saw it I would stop, look for a collar with a phone number, try to help.

Halfway home a teen-aged girl dressed in white staggered across the road and flagged me down. She had hit a big shaggy black and white dog which had run off howling, and her car had spun into a ditch. She was shaking violently and limping a bit, and there was a dark red globule of blood above her heart where the seat belt had bitten into her skin. This leg of the road has no cell phone service. While we tried to decide what to do, two more drivers stopped and one volunteered to drive the girl to the next town where she would call her father. I went looking for the dog. After searching along the road and in the woods below the embankment I left without finding it.

Back home I sat on the porch pondering these events. I realize they were not all about me; nonetheless, I can find meaning in them. The message I received was that I chose to listen to my head, which wanted to hear the speaker, instead of my heart, which wanted to help the dog.  Had I followed my heart the accident would not have happened. With that realization I saw a small, odd-looking lump on the deck and went over to inspect it.  It was a dead hummingbird. Symbolically, hummingbirds are spiritual messengers. The subtle message became a blaring headline: Woman’s Desire to Hear Wise Spiritual Words Trumps Spiritual Behavior!

After my parents divorced then my father died, being smart and “spiritual” became my major sources of comfort and self-esteem. But at what cost? I can write profound things about the meaning of religion and the importance of caring, but has my tendency toward intellectualization dulled my capacity for actually behaving with compassion?

I know I’m beating myself up over this and few would condemn me for a choice most of us have made, but the truth is, someone with more heart would have skipped the lecture and helped the dog. Had I done that it could be happily lying by my side right now where Bear used to snooze. Another dog, another death. Another thing to forgive myself for. At least I buried the hummingbird.

 

The Hidden Lesson of Grief July 22, 2011

I’ve been thinking about grief ever since my last post about the loss of my dog, Bear. I kept wiping away tears as I wrote it, then again when I read and responded to the kind comments I received. Where do these tears come from? Is this only about missing Bear or is something else going on? These questions remind me of something the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard once said: that much of the grief we feel when someone dies is for ourselves.

This feels profound and somehow comforting. But what does it mean? Consider this: loss and loneliness are about how we feel. The one who’s gone isn’t hurting any more. It’s we who are hurting, and we don’t like pain. Is Kierkegaard saying some of our grief is self-pity?  Because something we love has been taken from us and we will never derive pleasure from it again?

Could some of our grief also come from anger at forces over which we have no control which have arbitrarily taken something we want and love away from us? Don’t we express our outrage in words like, “Why did you leave me? Why do I have to go through this pain? It’s not fair!”

And doesn’t much of our pain come from regret and guilt too? Perhaps we think we weren’t grateful or present enough to the one we loved.  Or sometimes we were selfish, impatient or angry. Or didn’t try hard enough to understand and communicate.  Or weren’t giving enough.

I find Kierkegaard’s insight comforting, partly because it reassures me that everyone experiences similar feelings, and partly because this knowledge gives me things to do that make my loss easier to bear. I can’t bring Bear back to life, but I can feel sympathy for my ego whose desires have been thwarted. I can stop beating myself up for being angry when he had accidents on my rugs, or for sometimes taking his unconditional love for granted. And I can start looking for the unconscious factors which are prolonging my grief.

My tears are messages from my body and psyche that I am suffering. As Nisargadatta says, “Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting; it is a sign of unwillingness to move on, to flow with life.” Apparently I don’t believe I deserve release, joy and forgiveness.  Apparently I don’t love my whole self. This is the hidden lesson of grief, and learning it can help me move on.

The next time I cry I can ask myself: What am I resisting?  To what am I clinging? Do I cling to my Orphan’s self-pity because her sadness brings me sympathy? Do I like my Warrior’s anger and self-criticism because they make me feel wise, stoic and tough? Does feeling guilty make me believe I am a responsible, caring person?  Do I need these grief-inducing ego-boosters in order to believe I am worthy of love? And the big question:  can I accept my dysfunction as a natural by-product of the human condition and forgive and love myself anyway?

Lest we be tempted to believe we’re being self-indulgent to take our inner lives so seriously, we can remember these wise words from Parker Palmer: “Self-care is never a selfish act, it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.  Anytime we can listen to our true self, and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

 

Memorial for a Beloved Animal Friend July 19, 2011

I’m at my upstairs desk at the cabin enjoying the gentle breezes Earth Mother is breathing through the open windows. Outside, soft morning light filters through the tree canopy. The green smell of growing things drifts up from damp earth and the songs of birds and murmuring melodies of Buck Creek calm my thoughts. I’m feeling very content and present with my life just now.

What is it about this place? I’ve asked myself this a hundred times. In a post from last June titled Dream Symbols of the Beloved, Part II, I wrote: “…every summer for ten years I’ve come here with my sweet friend, a handsome golden retriever whose name was Bear. He passed on last August, but his ashes are in a white box with a label that says ‘Bear Raffa: Faithful Friend’ in the cabinet four feet to the right of where I sit. I cried when I entered the house without him last night. But this morning when I was still in that borderland between sleeping and waking, I heard his joyous bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back….Do I need any further reminders from the Beloved of how loved I am and why I love this place so?”

I woke up to the sound of Bear’s bark several times after he died. He was a big, gentle, whoofely kind of dog with extraordinary communication skills.  Loud ones! He used to scare the dickens out of my youngest granddaughter when he ran to her with a booming “Whoof!” It took her a while to get used to his way of expressing love.

The stairs to our bedrooms here are half-logs with spaces in between. When Bear was young he managed them easily but that last summer he couldn’t stop his toenails from sliding across and his legs would get hung up in the spaces. At night he wanted to sleep on the sheepskin beside our bed so for a while I carried him up and down; but when he developed a bladder infection I made him a bed near the front door and he’d wake me with his barks. If I fell asleep on the couch while I waited for him to check out the tantalizing night smells he’d bark again to be let back in. There’s no way I could have slept through the force of that blast!

His favorite thing was to go with me to feed the trout.  As soon as he saw me heading for the door he’d get there as fast as he could and start barking. The only way to get him to stop was to toss a tennis ball into the yard.  Even that last summer he managed to retrieve a few tosses before he had to give up. Meanwhile, by the time we got to the pond, the fish, alerted by his barks, were hungrily patrolling the water by the large rock from where I fed them.

This weekend we buried Bear’s ashes, along with his collar, a kerchief, and a tennis ball, beside the pond. Above him stands a beautiful memorial to our beloved friend who brought structure, love and meaning to my days here. Now his powerful medicine is merged with the benevolent spirit of this land. When it’s my turn, I think I want my ashes buried beside his in this, the most nurturing space I’ve ever inhabited.

If you’d like to know more about the artist whose sculpture guards Bear, check out this website. And thanks, Sam, for inspiring this post.

 

Conscious Parenting July 15, 2011

I’ve just spent two weeks with my five grandchildren and their parents. I am so proud of my children: how they turned out, who they married, how well they are raising their children.  Their parenting styles are different in many ways, yet both sets of children are delightful: sweet, funny, bright, good-natured, well mannered….(I could go on, of course, but I’ll spare you more grandparental gushing!) Our time together reminds me that no matter how well-prepared we may be for the role of parenting, much of how we approach this most difficult of all jobs is the result of unconscious factors over which we have no control.

Many of these factors result from the way our parents raised us. For example, I thought of my mother as an intelligent, well-meaning, independent kind of person with an unemotional and trusting parenting style. Having a full-time job, she was never involved with our education or social lives, trusting us to get along fine without her participation or advice. I took this for granted as a child, but as an adult I realized how much I had longed for her to attend my plays and concerts, how good it would have felt if she had been a room mother or a member of the PTA, how nice it would have been to come home to a warm, clean house and find her always waiting for me, perhaps with a tray of cookies or freshly baked bread. So these were things I vowed to do for my children. As it happened, my conscious choices, combined with a lot of good luck, an education in child development, help from a good husband, and a strong desire to be a good parent made me a good-enough mother.

But beneath the conscious aspects of my upbringing was an emotional undercurrent of which I was utterly unaware. For instance, I never heard or saw my parents argue or fight. (Of course, that could have had something to do with the fact that Daddy was rarely home!)  Moreover, I can think of only two instances in which my mother and I ever exchanged heated words. And when she used the word “damn,” I was shocked into silence. Intuiting her deeply repressed anxiety and emotional fragility and wanting to spare her more pain after my parents’ divorce, I by-passed the normal adolescent period of rebellion and unconsciously developed a deep-seated fear of anger and conflict.

When I became a parent, these factors had a powerful influence on the way I treated my children.  I had no idea I had inherited my mother’s anxiety and emotional fragility. But the reality was that agitation and conflict made me so anxious that too often when my children argued with me or each other my intervention was based more on appeasing my anxiety than on patiently seeking the most fair and just resolution.  It took years of inner work before I could see my anxiety and  understand the part it played in the unhealthy aspects of our family interactions.

The unresolved issues of our parents are handed down to us through underground passageways that connect their emotional flow to ours, and we pass them on to our children the same way. With every step forward I’ve made toward seeing and resolving my anxiety, my attitudes and behavior have changed for the better. Best of all, my family no longer has to bear the burden of my unconscious “stuff” of which I’ve become aware. I’ll never be a perfect wife, mother, or grandmother, whatever these elusive creatures might be, but sparing my family the worst of myself has been more than enough reward.

 

Mothering New Life July 12, 2011

Most of us are familiar with the religious practices of prayer, fasting, good works, scripture study, service to others, regular church attendance, tithing, and so on. While their merits cannot be denied, unfortunately they do not automatically lead to lasting healthy changes in personality, behavior, or relationships. In contrast, spiritual practices based on self-discovery — such as meditation, active imagination, creative expression, symbol work, dreamwork, body work, breath work, art, depth analysis, remything our lives to honor the feminine unconscious, journaling, and ritual — bring so many personal insights that they cannot help but lead to transforming new life.

Knowing this, many religious groups today sponsor ongoing dream groups. I myself have conducted workshops for Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Methodists. Jeremy Taylor, a Unitarian Universalist minister, has written books about understanding dreams from a psychological perspective. And John Sanford, author of Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language, was both a Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest. Such churches and religious leaders recognize that the aims of religion are compatible with those of psychology.  They understand that we need not fear our dreams, for they come to bring healing and wholeness.

For many years I helped the Rev. Greer McBryde, an Episcopal priest, work with her dreams. Like many intelligent and ambitious women, over time she had developed a more conscious and accepting relationship with her masculine archetypes than her feminine. But when she began to experience health problems and have disturbing dreams that seemed to warn of disastrous consequences if she continued to pursue her single-minded Warrior attitude and lifestyle, she realized she needed to give more time to her Earth Mother. So she took an early retirement to rest, rediscover her center, and devote her energies to her relationships with herself and her family. Some time later she sent me this dream:

I am having a baby and the full-term child is born.  It is a big baby with a full head of hair and eyes wide open.  It is full of energy and ready for life.  A nurse takes the baby from my body to clean her.  When she hands the baby back to me she is small, hairless, and very delicate with almost transparent skin.  She is so small that she fits in the palms of my hands.

Greer says of her dream, “I believe that I have given birth to a new me, and it was time for that to happen (the baby is full term).  This was not premature nor was the child in any way not ready for life.  When my nurse (the part of me that is a caretaker) returned her to me, I saw and felt how small and fragile this new life really was.  I would have to handle her very carefully and nurture her with gentleness.  That new life has been put into hands that are capable of allowing her to grow.”

Tending new life is the province of our feminine sides.  Everyone has one. This is why some men are very mothering as are many women who have never physically birthed a child. But in today’s world many healthy aspects of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman and Beloved are unconscious and undeveloped in males and females alike. As a result, even some very well-intended religious organizations don’t know how to nurture new life in individuals.  Fortunately, Dream Mother speaks to us nightly and each of us can, like Greer, learn how to listen. I wonder… could Greer’s new baby girl have signaled the birth of a new aspect of Earth Mother into her conscious life?

 

Dreams of the Divine Child July 8, 2011

There is a sign on the journey that alerts us to the presence of our dragons and lets us know it is time to confront them. That sign is the awareness of mental and/or emotional conflict, or cognitive dissonance, and the desire to be free from it. Cognitive dissonance means there is a separation or lack of harmony between two different ways of knowing. The separation might be between our conscious thoughts and unconscious emotions, public persona and private realities, mind and body, beliefs and behavior, or all of these and more.

Many of us are taught that feeling pain, admitting to doubt and fear, or asking for help are signs of weakness and so we grow up acting like everything is okay. Pretending often works until midlife, but, unfortunately, after that our inner conflicts begin to express themselves in symptoms we can no longer ignore such as difficulty in relationships, addictions, depression, stress, accidents, recurring nightmares, or physical ailments.

I’m not suggesting we should whine, complain, attach blame, call attention to our discomfort with dramatic behavior, or wallow in our misery. These are just ploys immature egos use to gain attention, remain in the familiar role of victim, or avoid self-confrontation. The healing way is to admit our conflicts to ourselves and use some form of creative introversion like dreamwork, art, writing, or active imagination to clarify and come to terms with them.

After my last post, one reader, Joseph Anthony, shared his struggles with his dragons and described how he dealt with them in a form of active imagination. He says, “…when I faced my dragons…I went as a child. That might sound cute, but it’s true, and it wasn’t a conscious choice. And I don’t mean necessarily, my inner child…I mean, perhaps, an archetypal image of both creative power and wonder, and innocence—Divine Innocence.” Inspired by my post he wrote a delightful original story about this healing image and has posted it on his blog. I hope you’ll take the time to read it at http://blog.thewonderchildblog.com

Jung had a name for Joseph’s symbol of innocent childish wonder: the Divine Child. He saw it as an archetypal symbol for the Self — the whole, integrated, fully conscious psyche — and for the process of individuation which forms it. In every era and culture, this archetype shows up spontaneously in myths, fantasies and the dreams of individuals as a wise, knowing, unusual, precocious, or otherwise fascinating infant or child.

The Divine Child is an image of yourself in your purest form, with all your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, hopes and ambitions. Its appearance in your inner life means that forces are at work in your unconscious to return you to your original state of innocence, before the world wounded your trust and hardened your heart; before your ego dominated your psyche and the walls went up and the cynicism set in. But where your childhood innocence was a function of inexperience and lack of self-awareness, your newly regained transparency is a function of intentional psychological integration.

The way your dream ego relates to the Divine Child depicts your waking ego’s attitude toward the Self and your commitment to the path of consciousness. What will you do if it comes to you in a dream? Walk away from it or befriend it? Forget it or feed it? Fear it or follow it?

 

 
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