Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Circle of Life December 30, 2011

An old year is winding down
like a top that’s run out of spin.
A new year is gearing up
like a cyclist raring to win.

Who were you this time last year?
What secrets were caged in the dark?
What fears did you dare to release?
What strengths await birth in your heart?

Obviously, I’m no poet so I’ll stop while I’m ahead! Instead, in this last post of 2011 I’d like to share a real poem by Tim Rice about the Birth/Death/Rebirth cycle of Life. In combination with Elton John’s exquisite music, it never fails to send my soul soaring. But before you watch and listen to the video below let me set the stage, so to speak.

Last week my husband and I took our children, their spouses, and their children to New York City for a Christmas treat. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and this year the grandchildren were old enough to appreciate and remember it. We stayed at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and in the four days we were there did all the things tourists do, including attending the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, taking a carriage ride through Central Park, gaping at the gigantic video screen ads and scrolling news flashes in Times Square, ice-skating in Bryant Park, riding the subway to the American Museum of Natural History where we stood in awe beneath the giant whale and compared our heights to dinosaur skeletons, selecting dolls and matching outfits for the girls at the American Girl Store, letting the boys design and order their own basketball shoes at Nike, and buying a few final Christmas toys at the vast Toys R Us mother store.

As if this weren’t enough, we saw two Broadway plays. Spider-Man’s amazing flying feats over the audience dazzled our grandchildren, but for me, the highlight was watching Lion King through their wonder-filled eyes while my own spilled over with tears.

I know what I’ll be thinking about on December 31st as from the comfort of our home we watch the crystal ball descending in Times Square. Along with the birth of Baby2012 I’ll be celebrating the births of my children whose lives fill me with joy, and of my grandchildren who have brought new blessings of hope and love into my life. I’ll be celebrating all the little psycho-spiritual Births I’ve experienced as I’ve grown through despair and hope, faith and love to find my place on the path unwinding in the Circle. I’ll be celebrating all my little Deaths too, and the Big One yet to come. And I’ll be celebrating the Rebirths I’ve already experienced as well as the ones that await me on the other side. I’ll be celebrating the Circle of Life.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll notice the archetypes of King, Queen, Divine Child, Wise Elder, and Shadow in the picture above and video below.  They’re in this story because they’re in us. Like baby Simba, they’re waiting to become conscious, mature and healed so they can find their place in the path unwinding in the Circle. May 2012 bring you closer to your place in the path. Enjoy the video!

 

Gated Religions December 27, 2011

For many years, literal belief in the doctrines of my religion (Christianity) was enough to satisfy my spiritual hunger. But the strain of containing my beliefs in a tightly enclosed, left-brained compartment labeled “Religion” while repeatedly coming up against a Mystery that encompasses the entire universe eventually wore me down. At the age of 37 my ego waved a white flag and surrendered its need to feel safe and in control. In leaving the gated community of my religion, I entered a Dark Night of the Soul that lasted nine years.

I returned from the desert with a new way of seeing and living. My mind had been redirected from needing correct belief to seeking truth; from preparing for an afterlife to living now; from pretending and pleasing to being authentic; from defending a God-image of judgment, exclusivity and stasis to embracing a God-image of inclusiveness, openness and change. When I could no longer go to church without getting a stomach ache, I stopped attending. I was by no means rejecting the Mystery, but only a local and, to my way of thinking, painfully confining way of connecting with it with which I no longer felt at home.

Sometimes I’ve been angry at organized religion but I’ve kept most of my thoughts and feelings to myself; partly because I didn’t want to offend or mislead anyone who finds hope and healing in their faith, and partly because I’m simply more comfortable with affirming than critiquing. But there’s also a deeper reason: I’ve been afraid of the backlash. Ultra conservative elements of all three patriarchal religions have a long history of persecuting “heretics,” and frankly, the rabid religious intimidate me with their polarizing prejudices; their obsessive self-righteous anger; their intolerance and lack of compassion; their willingness to turn on those who question their fear-based practices and beliefs; their ability to fire up masses of devoted followers who support them blindly; their indifference to the pain and injustice their inner Nazis inflict.

Peace-loving Muslims are getting a lot of flak these days for not speaking out against violent Islamic groups but are they any different from me? It would be easy to point fingers at them, but wouldn’t a more effective use of my energy be to address the destructive forces in my own religious community? How can I self-righteously blame members of a religion I know nothing about for failing to speak out against their fanatics when I’ve been afraid to speak out against mine? Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he criticized hypocrites for pointing out the motes in others’ eyes while ignoring the beams in their own? As my six-year-old granddaughter would say in mock exasperation, “Peepuhl! What are we thinking?”

When it comes to religion, many of us are not thinking, at least not with both sides of our brains. We’re reacting instinctively and emotionally. We want the approval of our tribes. We want to stay safe. And so we shut down the inner other who yearns for a freer, more authentic, inclusive and compassionate way to celebrate the sacred miracle of life, and we shut out others who are different. But we should be just as afraid of ourselves and our exclusive communities as of outsiders. The real enemy lives within our gates and the true work begins at home, in the place we know best and where we have the most influence.

The world is in trouble. If there was ever a time to think psychologically and live spiritually, it’s now. If there was ever a place to start, it’s with ourselves.

 

The Secret Meaning of Christmas December 23, 2011

Imagine our surprise when, on our trip to Indochina last fall, our group of travelers arrived in Saigon in early December to find it decorated for Christmas! Windows of one major department store were topped with thick mounds of carved styrofoam snow. Our hotel lobby held a giant blue Christmas tree and a life-sized Santa Claus who swiveled his hips while he sang “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” When I asked our guide why a mostly Buddhist country celebrates Christmas in such a big way, he replied, “Christmas is universal now. It’s all about shopping.”

That’s pretty much what it’s about for many Westerners too, along with decorating our homes, reuniting with loved ones, preparing special foods and exchanging gifts. Amidst all the bustle I wonder how many of us actually experience the love, joy and peace that is the promise of Christmas, or profoundly connect with its underlying meaning. And what is that meaning? To understand it we need the symbolic language of mythos.

The Christmas story takes place in a stable filled with animals at the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of year. Throughout the world, a common association for the symbol of darkness is our own instinctual animal nature and all the ignorance, chaos, and moral irresponsibility that goes with it. Psychologically, this setting is a reference to unconsciousness, the state in which we all begin our lives and often end them as well.

The plot centers around a virgin who gives birth to a baby boy. Virgins and babies symbolize innocence and the abundance of undeveloped possibilities, like the pure state of a soul ready to receive Spirit. Birth represents new life with its potential for growth. And is there significance in the fact that the baby is a boy? Yes. Mary, like the Hindu goddess Durga, symbolizes the feminine source of all energy, and Jesus represents an extraordinarily hopeful new masculine form of ego-life that has manifested from the maternal matrix. From a psychological perspective, the significance of Jesus is that 2,000 years ago he introduced into the Middle-Eastern world an unprecedented (for that place and time) new capacity for a deeply personal, intimate experience of the Great Mystery of life.

At the end of the story three (the number of forward movement that overcomes duality) kings (the masculine principle, sovereignty, and worldly power) arrive after a long and arduous trek from the Far East. Guided by a star, (stars are attributes of all Queens of Heaven and represent the highest attainment, the presence of divinity, hope and light), they bring rare and precious gifts for the tiny baby. The kings symbolize the hard work of individuation and the religious outlook of unified consciousness it brings. This way of being sees the sacredness in everything and reveres every form of life down to the smallest and seemingly least important. Finally, the word Christ is a translation from the Hebrew word messiah. A messiah is a redeemer, someone who will improve the state of humanity and the world.

Like the myths of every religion, the value of this story does not hinge on external fact, but psychological truth. Christ mass celebrates a momentous evolutionary leap forward in consciousness from a primitive, instinctual, self-serving survival mentality into an advanced self-awareness capable of self-control and compassionate living. The secret meaning of Christmas is this:  

Like the spirit man Jesus, you and I can experience a rebirth into an expanded level of consciousness capable of  improving the state of humanity and the world!

May the enlightenment of your mind be quickened during this holiday season, and may the love in your heart be abundant and overflowing.  Merry Christmas.

 

The True Hero’s Journey December 20, 2011

At the age of ten I dreamed the Lone Ranger shot me. This big dream about my hero was more real than any other I’ve ever had. I was devastated to think he hated me so much he wanted to kill me and I couldn’t understand why. I had practically worshiped him, his beautiful horse Silver, and his trusty partner Tonto; yet he shot me! The injustice of this was intolerable!

One thing I’ve come to understand is that this dream spoke to my childhood image of God as a heroic male and my growing sense that I was unworthy because I was a female. In 195o’s America God was a He, history was still about males, and females could not be bosses, ministers, presidents or heroes.

That new awareness was very painful to my ten-year-old heart, and I tried my best to suppress it for many years; but ultimately, belatedly, it forced me to take myself as seriously as I took my loved ones, to search for my truths, and to connect with God in ways that were personally meaningful instead of entrusting this most crucial of my soul’s tasks to others — especially others who did not value me because of my gender. It also inspired my creativity. My struggle to understand and empower femininity and the feminine side of the Sacred Mystery is at the core of everything I write.

A second message of this dream was the inevitability of death. While being alone most of the time I wasn’t in school or church seemed normal to me at ten, my dream said that unconsciously I was feeling very vulnerable and insecure. I could be left alone to make my way through a dangerous world, I could be victimized, I could die. When my father died a few months later this suspicion became a certainty and my trust in my hero/God was shattered. Apparently I knew something no one else did: the heavenly hero everyone thought of as perfect was secretly untrustworthy, unjust and cruel.

I tried to repress this awareness too, but it was nevertheless a bedrock reality that fueled my determination to do everything I could to stay on God’s good side! Ignoring my wounded Persephone, I concentrated on developing my Athena, the brave, noble and wise defender of patriarchy! And I got pretty good at being heroic in the outer world of ambition, achievement and work.

So it was a bit of a shock to realize at mid-life was that I was copying a surface version of the hero myth  that emphasizes external trappings of power and success and ignores the inner life. Beneath the image of the independent, white-hatted cowboy on a white horse who rides off in search of bad buys to kill with his silver bullets is a much deeper meaning that is also the deeper meaning of  every authentic religion: True heroism, the kind that lasts and makes a difference in the world, is the ability to rein in the ego, lasso and befriend our shadow, learn compassion, and embolden our true Self so we can care for others in ways that are beneficial to all. In conforming to a mold that didn’t honor my inner realities I was betraying myself and the Great Mystery we call God.

Here is the message I want to convey:  We don’t have to settle for dysfunctional God-images or self-images. Acquiring the consciousness to recognize our wounds and complete our souls so we can serve our communities with compassion is the true Hero’s Journey. This is a spiritual path anyone can take.

 

How Are Your King and Queen Working For You? December 16, 2011

Instincts wield powerful influence over us in all areas of life. For example, everyone has an instinct for nurturance: We all need food, water, clothing, shelter, love, and protection from others who would take advantage of us. As children we cannot give these things to ourselves so parents and caregivers must assume this role. Later on, leaders like teachers and coaches nurture our talents and skills and channel our instinctual needs in healthy ways so that we will ultimately assume responsibility for nurturing and protecting ourselves and others. Society also takes a role by establishing and enforcing laws and providing helpful services.

Carl Jung said the archetypes are psychological images of our physical instincts. My research has taught me that the archetypes of King/Father and Queen/Mother are the primary representations of the instinct for nurturance. In the psyches of babies these images are like the empty outlines of the kings and queens you would find in a child’s coloring book. As we mature we automatically fill them in with different shades of expectations, emotions, and ideas about nurturing depending on our early experiences. Our personal images will then control us in all sorts of ways.

For example, if we are neglected, unloved or abused as children, we “fill in” our King and Queen patterns with the attitudes and behaviors of our caregivers. These images will then create problems for us as we try to nurture others, and as long as we depend on others to take care of us, we will consciously or unconsciously expect them to be neglectful, uncaring and abusive. We might actively rebel against them and their policies, or we might simply find it very difficult to trust them, even if they are nothing like our early caregivers.

Likewise, if our caregivers are tender, fair-minded and quick to respond to our needs, we will expect to be treated this way by everyone and will behave the same to them. However, if we are coddled to the point of being “spoiled,” we might expect those who take care of us— loved ones, teachers, employees, bosses, bankers, salespersons, waiters and waitresses, ministers, politicians and even God—to be equally attentive and we will be disappointed and angry when they are not. We will believe our responses are reasonable and justified, but they are actually dictated by our shadow King and Queen.

When we project a dysfunctional King and/or Queen onto those from whom we expect nurturing, our behavior is confusing to them and problematic for us. When they don’t give us exactly what we want from them—and many of our wants are unconscious or conflicting—we will misinterpret their words and motives and believe they are flawed or don’t really care. We will judge, criticize and sever relationships. We will look for someone else to assume the roles we gave to those we left behind: to understand us, help us understand ourselves, make us happy, take care of us in ways we want and think we deserve. If we can’t recognize the flaws in our thinking or see how immature and unrealistic our demands are, we’ll sabotage every important relationship we have.

So how do we assume responsibility for taking care of ourselves? How do we empower our own King and Queen? By committing ourselves to a regular program of inner work that will help us understand and accept our shadows. We are so much more than our egos know. It’s time they accept the fact that they share the house of the psyche with entities far more powerful than their puny little selves. Chief among these are the clear-thinking, justice-seeking King and the caring, merciful Queen, the sovereigns of our psyche. Their goals of lawful order and moral virtue within and without are ours to claim. Whether we do is up to us.

 

How’s Your God-Image Working For You? December 13, 2011

Our ideas about God come from us. For approximately the last 5,000 years the West and Near East have projected our masculine archetypes onto a male God who is a

1) King: superior, all-powerful and morally judgmental;

2) Warrior: partial to and protective of our particular tribe or culture while rejecting our enemies;

3) Magician/Scholar: supernatural and all-knowing; and

4) Lover: passionately in love with us, His Beloveds.

So what does this say about the status of the psyches and societies that envision God this way? An ego with a purely masculine God-image has rejected the sacred power of femininity because it is afraid of and hostile to the feminine side of the psyche.  Of course, this makes about as much sense as obsessing over the qualities of the left-hemisphere of our brains and repressing the equally valuable “God-given” qualities of the right-hemisphere.

Who in their right mind would deliberately do such a thing? This is the point, of course. The fact is, we’re not in our “right” mind because Western culture has essentially rejected the qualities of the right brain! Since the time of Aristotle, our egos have been so enamored of our left-hemisphere logos ability to process information with clear reason, discrimination of details, and logical, “objective” thinking that we’ve disdained the far more mysterious and uncontrollable processes of the right hemisphere.

The right hemisphere specializes in mythos. This analogical mode of thinking emphasizes seeing the whole picture instead of discriminating between details;  connecting instead of separating;  completing oneself through intimate relationships instead of proving oneself through perfected work;  finding meaning in images, symbols and intuitions instead of only words and provable facts; personal, subjective realities instead of objective ones;  inner events instead of outer ones; values and tender emotions instead of pure reason; and the physical, instinctual realities of our bodies instead of the traditional mental processes associated with intelligence.  As you may have guessed, right-brain attributes are generally associated with femininity.

But why does it have to be either/or for the ego? Why have we rejected these qualities—or at the very least seen them as “inferior” to left-brained qualities—for so long instead of simply accommodating both? It’s really very simple. Like all mammals, humans begin life as helpless, instinctual creatures. But we have egos, and our egos want to control our primitive instincts so we can stay safe and gain more control over the terrifying powers of Mother Nature. After all, if you can’t manage your hunger you’ll eat your entire fall harvest by Christmas; then what will you eat for the rest of the winter?

Poor little egos. We just want to be more conscious and in control so we can feel more safe in a terrifying world. The last thing we want is to fall back (backslide?) into unconsciousness and powerlessness. So we obsess over left-hemisphere (Western?) thinking and disown the more “primitive” right brain. We project masculinity onto a remote, separate, all-powerful spirit and project femininity onto physical women who we strip of as much power as we can. Thus have we created societies run by power-driven leaders who are afraid of their own shadows, can’t get along with each other, and use and abuse women and all who are weak, vulnerable or different from the things our egos identify with.

How conscious is that? How conscious are you? How integrated is your brain? How integrated is your God-image?

 

How’s Your Religion Working For You? December 9, 2011

As our species grew more aware of itself and its vulnerability in a dangerous world, we noticed we had some uncontrollable emotions, instincts, and behaviors that didn’t jibe with our conscious intentions. Suspecting that some remote, all-powerful forces must have created us and were still influencing us, we told stories about them and devised rituals to gain their favor so they’d protect us and help us thrive.

Our God-images originate in the psyche’s archetypal patterns.  For example, we’re all born with Mother/Queen and Father/King archetypes and every culture has attributed the qualities children associate with their parents to a Great Mother Creatrix and Great Father Creator. While their myths differed from culture to culture, the same characteristics of ultimate power, knowledge and authority always appeared. Likewise, every culture tells stories about Kings and Queens, Warriors and Monsters, Magicians and Wisewomen, Lovers and Beloveds. These show us how we see ourselves, each other, and the mysterious forces of life over which we have no control.

As our forebears acquired more self-awareness their ideas about their deities changed. Religions are still growing and changing. This is to be expected and welcomed, not resisted. A changing God-image does not negate God’s existence. Most of us see our parents very differently from the way we did as children, but this doesn’t mean we invented them, or that we have to keep believing the same things about them we used to, or that we’ve stopped loving them. It just means our perspective has changed with more experience and maturity.

Moreover, since no two individuals are exactly the same, it makes no sense at all to expect everyone to have the same beliefs about God. What is the same, what is archetypal, is that, as Carl Jung realized, we all have a religious instinct, a compulsion to understand ourselves and transcend our destructive unconscious influences so we can be immersed in the great Mystery of Life. Calling the Mystery by different names or denying its existence doesn’t change it. It simply is what it is. As the ancient saying goes, “Called or not called, the God will be present.”

Jung named our religious instinct the Self, or God-image. This central archetype gives rise to all others. Most interesting to me are those which represent our feminine and masculine sides and inspire our ideas about gender. My goal is to differentiate between the gender-associations that are cultural stereotypes versus those which are universally accepted, and therefore archetypes.

Nobody knows the exact nature of the archetypes, but there are many theories based on the clusters of instinctual emotions and behaviors they represent. My system pairs four basic masculine archetypes (King, Warrior, Magician/Scholar, and Lover) with four feminine ones (Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved). Every psyche contains all eight and we each express them differently depending on our genetic and cultural inheritance, experiences, and psychological integration. We cannot control them any more than we can control the deities onto which we project them. But we can befriend them, forgive ourselves for being human, and treat others with compassion with the realization that they are struggling as much as we are.

It’s not correct belief, but compassion that makes a genuine spirit person. So how is your religion working for you? Is your caring real or is it a mask you wear in public and take off in private? If you really want to know, take an honest look at your closest relationships. No cheating. Your shadow knows!

 

 
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