Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Trees and Disney Princesses Revisited February 28, 2012

Every archetype has a dual nature because the ego automatically sees everything from a dualistic perspective. We divide the spiritual realm into the powerful opposing forces of God (good) and Devil (evil) and label everything else the same way. Last February I wrote that the Tree of Knowledge represents our potential for a great awakening into an enlightened wisdom yet is also associated with humanity’s disobedience and fall from eternal intimacy with God. Similarly, there are myths depicting the Scandinavian ash and shamanism’s birch as Trees of Life, yet Christianity’s savior Jesus loses his life on a tree.

In a post last August I wrote that the Disney Princesses are uniformly young, slender, beautiful, sweetly shy, innocently seductive, charmingly vulnerable, and, for the most part, deferential to males. If we take these stories as literal models for gender behavior, few would disagree that they reinforce very limiting and potentially damaging stereotypes. But a different perspective emerges if we view them as representations of the Maiden phase of the anima archetype. Then they are forces for good, not evil, and the only problem they present is our insistence that the anima, and by association human women, must remain in this phase forever.

Did anyone sign your high school yearbook, “Don’t ever change”? Maybe you wrote it yourself. This is the normal desire of an adolescent ego. What it wants is so simple: to be old enough to drive, get a job, earn a lot of money, become independent, satisfy all its instinctual desires as much as it wants to…and then stay that way forever.

We don’t want to face the reality that we are changing with the seasons and will someday die like my favorite tree, a large hemlock on our North Carolina property that began its life about 400 years ago and grew to 90 feet tall.  Half her trunk at the point where it divided into two main branches crashed to the ground last weekend.  We want to believe we’re smarter than that tree, that if we can keep the same looks, body size, beliefs, personality and life-style we had as late adolescents, we can somehow ward off aging and dying.

My hemlock’s trunk reminded me of a mature woman in a flowing gown. I thought of her needles as hair. She began her life when a cone released a seed one winter long ago. The seed grew into a pretty, pliable Maiden sapling who swayed and danced with the breezes. At age 15 she produced cones and became a Mother. Some hemlocks produce excellent crops of cones for more than 450 years before retiring to enjoy their remaining years as grandmother Crones who continue to bless the birds with safe haven for nests and the land beneath with cool shade.

Did you ever notice that by adolescence the Disney Princesses no longer have loving mothers or grandmothers to protect them?  The only older women who come to mind are evil step-mothers, a ditzy fairy god-mother, and a singing teapot! Why this scarcity of images of healthy, mature women in fantasy land? Might this curious fact be related to Viv’s observation after my last post that, “Anorexia seems to fossilize girls at a pre-pubescent stage, before they become women.”?

The Maiden phase of the anima represents everything about the feminine that is sweet, beautiful, innocent and hopeful. But the flip side of the Disney Princesses is that they perpetuate our unconscious aversion to the natural cycles of life and the mature stages of feminine development.  After all, an adolescent ego can control little girls far easier than Nature and wise men, women and crones!


The Hero, the Shadow, the Anima, and Love February 24, 2012

After my last post Qestra asked how important the anima is in women and the animus in males, and wondered how one actually meets the animus and anima. I’ll share parts of my answer here.

The anima and animus are equally important to females and males. Most of us have issues with certain qualities associated with our gender as well as its opposite. Jung called the unconscious same-gender qualities our shadow, and the opposite gender qualities either our anima (for men) or animus (for women). Of course we know now that not everyone identifies with his/her physical gender and that many of our ideas about gender are culturally imposed, so Jung’s definition of shadow is not always helpful.

In working with my dreams I’ve solved this problem by simply seeing all the female characters, liked or disliked, as unconscious aspects of my feminine side (feeling and relationship), and male characters as my masculine side (thinking and logic). Together, they symbolize aspects of my shadow I associate with gender. Some of these belong to my individual personality, and some belong to the archetypal feminine and masculine, the anima and animus.

To proceed on our journey we must first integrate our personal shadow, the  important disowned elements of our individual personalities including qualities we associate with either gender. Until we can acknowledge our shadow we cannot hope to come to terms with the archetypal anima and animus, and until we integrate them, we cannot hope to become whole.

Here’s the crucial point I want to make: We meet our anima and animus as they are reflected in other people (both in waking life and dreams) who are so fascinating to us that we are filled with wonder and awe. This “spiritual” falling-in-love feeling of having been touched by the Mystery is the tip-off that we’ve met an image of our anima or animus, for they are the feminine and masculine sides of the Self, our God-image.

This is a life-changing experience and our response to it can determine the outcome of our journey. A whole individual accepts the imperfections of our heroes, authorities and loved ones without expecting them to be our spiritual intermediaries and saviors. We have to establish our own connection to Spirit without requiring others to provide it for us. This is extraordinarily difficult at best, and nigh impossible if we have not integrated our shadow.

In Adventure in Archetype, Mark Greene uses Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story, “The Birth-Mark” (1843), to illustrate this problem. Aylmer is a scientist with intellectual powers “akin to the alchemists of old” who longs for spirituality and finds it in his union with the beautiful, docile, subservient Georgiana, a woman who has no ambition other than to make her husband happy. In other words, he projects his “Goddess” anima onto a human woman, she projects her “God” animus onto him, and each expects the other to provide blissful feeling and spiritual meaning for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, “in compensation for all the ‘light’ he brings to his empirically-informed world of science” Aylmer attempts to “subdue and tame her ‘imperfection’” by insisting on removing a birth mark from her face. Since he has not confronted his dark, perfectionist shadow, he cannot “integrate the feminine without falling into [a] heroic fantasy of saving women.” Ironically, it is this “would-be” hero’s subjugation of the feminine “so clearly manifest as physical oppression of women throughout history” that causes Georgiana’s death.

Could it be that simple? Could we put an end to humanity’s destructiveness and learn to love just by accepting our feminine sides and freeing women to be sovereign over their own lives?  It seems a small price to pay for peace.


Alice, the Anima, and Anorexia February 21, 2012

I was pondering two questions this morning as we drove to the airport after a long family weekend away: What should I write about for this post? and How should I answer a recent e-mail from an Iranian student? She’s writing a thesis about the anima and animus archetypes in two of Virginia Woolfe’s books and wonders how to approach her task. Should she just look for images represented by the writer or should she study the characters or events as a Jungian analyst would?

When the pilot said we’d reached 10,000 feet, all five grandchildren, plus a few parents and one grandparent, whipped out their “electronic devices.” Having solved the airline magazine’s sudoku on the way up, I whipped out my kindle and settled in to enjoy Adventure in Archetype: Depth Psychology and the Humanities, by Jungian mythologist Mark Greene. And guess what!

You guessed it: Synchronicity was in action once again. Chapter 1 is about how Alice of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can be seen as a projection of Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) anima complex. And Greene approaches this topic like a Jungian analyst! This was my answer for Maryam, the student, and now it is the topic for this post. This is especially fitting since my last post was also about the anima, even though I didn’t identify it as such. (Oh, how I love my job!)

For those who need a reminder, anima is Jung’s term for the unconscious feminine and animus is the unconscious masculine. When Jung was developing these theories privileged European men and women were still under enormous pressure to conform to strict gender stereotypes. Thus, Jung thought bringing the anima into conscious awareness was a task for men (because men had long been taught to repress their feeling function which was associated with women) and integrating the animus was for women (taught to repress their thinking function because intellectual matters were for men). But as role stereotypes began to crumble in the West during the 1960’s and both genders acquired more freedom to express the truths of their souls, it became apparent that this rule no longer held. Thus neo-Jungians (of which I am one) operate under the assumption that both genders contain both archetypes which need to be consciously accepted and integrated.

So I’d like to share a few of Greene’s conclusions here and in my next post, and tie them in with my last post about feminism. In Chapter 1 Greene notes that Alice is very uneasy throughout the story and most of her anxieties are connected with changes in her body and the problems she has whenever she wants to eat. Remember the empty jar of marmalade she seizes when falling down the rabbit hole? How she eats things that make her grow too big or too small? Or gets so frustrated at the Mad Hatter’s tea party? Greene suggests that Alice’s problems can be seen to reflect the state of  Dodgson’s undernourished and frustrated anima. Then Greene concludes with this remarkable statement:”His visceral treatment of the act of eating…may also be foreshadowing from the 19th century some of the contemporary angst surrounding the integration of food, in general, and anorexia and other eating disorders among teenage girls, in particular.”

Here are some questions I’m asking myself: What if repressing the anima is, indeed, the underlying reason for the dramatic increases in diabetes, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, and stress-related health problems? Could there be a connection with breast cancer? Autism? I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be wiser to spend our money educating the general populace to think psychologically than on knee-jerk band-aid solutions? Wouldn’t it be healthier to accept our feminine sides?


Feminism’s Political Momentum and the Bond Girls February 17, 2012

Huge advances were made by the Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S. from 1848-1920, but those of us who grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s were still largely unaware of cultural and political inequalities between the genders. We enjoyed the battles between the sexes in the delightful Hepburn/Tracy romantic comedies like Woman of the Year (1942), Adam’s Rib (1949), and Pat and Mike (1952), and we felt proud of how far we had come over the last century.

But despite the growing respect for women reflected in these films, Woman of the Year ended with Hepburn in the kitchen promising to be a “good wifey.” Not even the forward-thinking screen writers and film makers of Hollywood could see the blatant inequalities in men’s and women’s roles or the society that created them. In everyday life individual women were still being blamed for not adapting to their “proper role,” and middle class wives and mothers still had no name for their vague sense of dissatisfaction with their lives.

Then in December of 1955 Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat for a white passenger sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and launched the modern Civil Rights Movement.  Suddenly the media began to pay attention to archetypal forces which had been rumbling beneath the surface of our willful ignorance since before the American Civil War.  Like it or not, our moral reasoning was evolving and our government was taking the idea of equality for all seriously. Even more shocking, our belief in equal rights for everyone was surpassing the previous pinnacle of collective moral reasoning: the supreme value of blind devotion to established law and order, no matter how unfair the law or how repressive the order.

But it took another bombshell from another woman, Betty Friedan, to trigger a second wave of feminism in 1963 with her book, The Feminine Mystique. During the same decade, several groundbreaking films fueled the explosion and kept the momentum going: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967).  The suave super-spy James Bond had arrived on the scene and with him, the Bond Girls!

Now I realize that at first glance one might not automatically associate the Bond Girls with an advance in consciousness! After all, they were uniformly young, slender, beautiful, and sexy. (Miss Moneypenny and Bond’s boss, M, are not Bond Girls!)  Aaaarrrggghhhh! We might as well call them Bond Barbie Dolls. (Ahem. Without the l.) But stay with me. There are some subtle differences. According to Wikipedia, “Bond girls follow a fairly well-developed pattern of beauty. They possess splendid figures and tend to dress in a slightly masculine, assertive fashion, with few pieces of jewellery and that in a masculine cut, wide leather belts, and square-toed leather shoes.”

Although still obviously sex objects, these women openly and brazenly claimed their intelligence, autonomy, power, sexuality, and masculine sides. I have no problem with sexy women. Every woman has a sexy side. The Beloved is an archetype, for heaven’s sake. And I have no problem with assertive women who have access to their masculine sides. I have one of those too! Because here’s the thing! The Bond girls were not trying to imitate men, but they were happy to work with them in equal partnerships to attain the same goals and enjoy the same rewards. Like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Katharine Hepburn, Rosa Parks and Betty Friedan, the Bond Girls initiated another step toward every women’s right to claim sovereignty over her own body and life. And to sit wherever she wants to, whether in the courtroom or on the bus! We’ve come a long way ladies and gentlemen. Let’s not stop now!


The Idea of Love February 14, 2012

As I write this I’ve just finished unwrapping, trimming, and arranging the three dozen red roses I received from my husband for Valentine’s Day. This set me to musing about love. As is my habit, I immediately went for the symbolism of flowers and recalled a comment my internet friend, William Horden, made in response to an early post. I had written that my goal in writing this blog is to raise psychological and spiritual consciousness and here’s what he said:

“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. By ‘Song’ they meant that the only types of self-expression that really matter are those that give expression to the subjective experience of the ‘Flower.’ It’s so nice to see a modern-day practitioner of the ancient art of ‘Flower And Song!’

I love that image and have never forgotten it because it’s a perfect description of the way I try to live my life. So here I was, remembering this inspiring concept while I was standing at the kitchen sink, mechanically trimming and arranging these gorgeous flowers without paying the slightest bit of attention to where I was, what I was doing, or how I was feeling!

Was I savoring my subjective experience in that moment?  Was I handling each rose with loving attention? Was I fully appreciating the fact that neither these flowers nor moments like this — perfect moments when I’ve just received a gift of flowers from my lover, when my body is strong and healthy and free of pain, when I have the strength in my legs to stand at the sink, the flexibility in my hands to hold the roses and trim their stems, the sensitivity in my skin to enjoy the cool water running from the tap, and the ability to see and touch the sturdy green stems and velvety petals — will last forever?

I wish! But no. I was off in some mental la-la land enjoying an abstract theory. I hadn’t even stopped thinking long enough to smell the roses! I was as far as one can get from being what William had said I was: a modern-day practitioner of the ancient art of ‘Flower And Song.’

I have to tell you, that’s annoying! And embarrassing. Especially for an idealistic perfectionist like me who wants to practice what she preaches. I was making the exact same mistake as every misguided seeker who has ever gone before me:  I was worshiping the words and ideas of the scriptures while ignoring the physical reality to which they point.

I truly appreciate the idea of love. Everything in me aspires to loving myself and others and every moment of my life with all my mind and heart. But here’s the thing. Mostly I still love ideas more than realities. Because, let’s face it, practicing the art of seeing and loving the fleeting perfection in everything and everyone is hard!  It’s a whole lot easier to escape into fantasies that have nothing to do with the way I actually live my life.

Happy Valentine’s Day everybody. On this day at least, I plan to practice more appreciating and less wishful thinking.


Why Should Society Promote Self-Knowledge? February 10, 2012

Lately, an internet acquaintance who is an ardent social activist has been looking through my archives for inspiration about how to make Jungian psychology more relevant to the general public. After reading my April 8, 2010 post titled Elephant in The Cave he commented:

“Why is it important to society for humanity to get these unconscious contents dredged up? If people understood why they should do it, then it seems there would be more seekers — i.e. not just those attracted to Jung, Campbell, or a therapist for answers. I know when I was painting a lot, things seemed to go better in my business life. When I didn’t paint for a month, things got stuck. Perhaps opening the door to my creative core helped … But I’d like to know your thoughts on the question Why? Here’s sort of the question: Why should the mainstream media highlight a story about connecting with the subconscious every night on the evening news?”

My personal answer to why learning more about our shadows should be important to society is simple: because knowing and accepting my shadow has transformed the way I experience myself and live my life. It feels like I’ve gone from wanting to hide from a raging tornado in a dark cellar, (“Auntie Em! Auntie Em! Let me in!”) to splashing around with my horse, free and unencumbered, in an enchanted forest pool. Oh, and my golden retriever is there too! (“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto!”)

I know, I’m making this sound like a B movie remake of a fairy tale, (Wait! Is that a huntsman behind that tree?), but I can’t think of a better way to describe how I feel. I don’t mean all the time, but often enough that my growing freedom from fear, anxiety and the need to control my life to feel safe and good enough predisposes me to greater tolerance and compassion.

But why would the mainstream media highlight stories about understanding our shadows on the evening news? Well, they wouldn’t unless they cared more about furthering peace and human welfare than ratings. But if they did, and if people responded, I believe conditions would improve dramatically for everyone. Why? In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti: “Because the individual does not know his purpose, he is in a state of uncertainty and chaos. Because the individual has not solved his own problem, the problem of the world has not been solved. The individual problem is the world problem. If an individual is unhappy, discontented, dissatisfied, then the world around him is in sorrow, discontent and ignorance.”

Here’s another: “To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves or to bring about a modified change through revolution, either of the left or of the right. It is important to understand that this is our responsibility, yours and mine…”

Many of us get it. But how do we help society understand the need for self-knowlege? I don’t know. Krishnamurti believed that a revolution in the psyche cannot be brought about by any external entity. This was true in my case. My inner tornado kicked up such a fuss that in desperation I finally gave up waiting for the weatherman to do something about it and started working on myself. But is waiting for a crisis to force us off our complacent couches the only way? If you can think of others I hope you’ll write. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Compulsive Computing: The Perils and Pleasures of Writing 600 Words February 7, 2012

It’s noon on Monday and I have five hours to write and schedule a post before I have to get ready to attend a Magic basketball game this evening. My posts come out twice a week, at 12:01 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday morning.  I’ve been doing this for almost two years and am kind of obsessed about staying on schedule.  Last week was unusually busy so I’m under the gun today.  Only five hours to come up with a topic and 600 words. Holy crap!

I’m a fast thinker. This makes me a slow writer because so many synapses fire at once that it takes some time to assemble all the input into something understandable to others. It also makes ordinary conversation problematic since I have a habit of coming out with non sequiturs. I’ve been subjected to many a blank stare when, for example, we’re talking about Magic basketball and I’m wondering aloud about dinner. It makes perfect sense to me. I associate basketball games with arena food and arena food makes me hungry and hunger reminds me of dinner. In fact, writing the above sentence made me hungry so I had to stop and make lunch.

But I digress. Another reason I’m a slow writer is that I need to know how I feel about something before I’m ready to write about it, and I’m a slow feeler.  Well, I don’t really feel slow; I’m just slow to recognize my feelings. As an aside, (and to illustrate my point about firing synapses), I need to digress again: When I say feelings, I don’t mean just emotions.  I mean feeling in the Jungian sense of valuing: assessing phenomena in terms of what is meaningful to me, what is not, and why. For instance, I saw the movie A Dangerous Method about Jung, Freud, and Spielrein a few days ago and enjoyed it, but I still don’t know exactly how I feel about it, so I’m not ready to write about it yet.

It used to take three or four days to get a post together and I worried a lot about meeting my deadlines. Why? I don’t know. After all, they’re self-imposed!  Nowadays I trust my unconscious to send me something: but in five hours? Last night I awoke several times and each time I was thinking about what today’s topic would be. But nothing gelled.

Then this morning it hit me that this post would be my 200th, and when I checked my blog stats I discovered I now have 200 e-mail subscribers! Now that felt meaningful! So I pondered this computational coincidence over my compulsory morning sudoku, while reading and answering my compulsory e-mail, and during my compulsory check-in with my other sites. Finally, I settled down to write. I refilled my coffee cup. I lit my candle for inspiration. I closed my eyes to meditate.  I heard, “You’ve got mail!” It was a series of cartoons from Fred’s office manager about working with computers. All this was too synchronistic to ignore, and the result is this post on blogging, computing, internet networking, and the inefficient wiring of one writer’s brain.

In closing, here’s my latest favorite quote about writing from author Paul Auster, “Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.”

600 words? Exactly! Hard? Yes, but also way gratifying.

Okay, this last sentence takes it beyond 600 words but I thought you’d  like to know it took me 4 hours and 53 minutes!


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