Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Being Well Used March 30, 2012

Two things in my online mailbox yesterday touched me deeply. One was a post from a psychotherapist I follow named Martha. Here’s the link. I urge you to read it. It’s about the challenges faced by people who go to therapists, and what they get out of it. The other was a letter from Therese, a younger woman who took classes from me at the Jung Center some years ago and now lives in Oregon. She wrote to thank me for writing her a recommendation for admission into the Master’s program in Counseling Psychology at Pacifica University.

I saw a connection between these two which I’d like to share.  In her blog post, titled “The Long Run,” Martha noted that some people go to therapists for short fixes to help them through difficult life situations, some continue for several years, and some devote their lives to depth work.  Then there are those who wouldn’t see a therapist on a bet. As Martha wrote, “Many think that what you have spent your lifetime doing is foolish, ridiculous, mumbo-jumbo.”

Having recently written a post on people’s disparaging use of the term “navel gazing” to describe  inner work, I related! I’ve seen someone’s eyes glaze over more than once when, in response to the question “So what do you do?” I tell them I’ve written a book and teach classes about working with your dreams from a Jungian perspective. Sometimes before the eyes glaze over they narrow in confusion as people ask, “Union perspective?” I’ve learned to avoid the subject.

I don’t usually have a lot to say at dinner parties although it’s only good manners to join in occasionally, even on topics that seem deeply unimportant to me. But when I smile and say nothing it’s not because I’m bored. Actually I enjoy these conversations, especially when I’m among dear friends.  It’s just that I know that saying what I really want to say would produce more narrowed eyes—which would shortly thereafter be coated with glaze—and I don’t like doing that to my friends.

I’ve chosen a lonely path. When I first got serious about it, the realization that I was headed upstream to some distant, unknown source while everyone around me was enjoying the ride downstream was painfully isolating. Martha uses the metaphor of taking up residence on the mountain to describe the same thing. Being different is never easy. Moreover, there’s absolutely no assurance that depth work will cure what ails you, not even if you’re in it for the long run. In Martha’s words: “Here is what it will never do:  Make you normal.  Make life easier.  Make you less lonely, (or rather, less alone).”

But there’s a flip side. Martha says it best: “Here is what it gets you:  Pain transformed into service.  Meaning and purpose extracted from senselessness.  An opportunity to be creative in the face of destruction.  A chance to be well-used.”

This is the connection between the two e-mails that I’ve been leading up to. When Therese attended her first class with me at the Jung Center, her eyes were alert and shining with curiosity and fascination. Not a trace of glaze anywhere. That light never went out. Of the students I taught there, three worked with me individually, and to my knowledge, they’re still doing depth work. Therese is one of them. Serving these three souls, finding meaning in my journey, and using my creativity—being well-used—has made it all worth it. Like Martha, I found my cure in the long run.

As you begin the next leg of your journey, Therese, here’s my blessing for you: When you look back on your life some day, may you find you were well-used.

 

Whispering Symbols: Dot and Circle March 27, 2012

I am too committed to my psychological and spiritual growth to cling to assumptions that have no practical value for me.  If believing in the connectedness of all life and the meaning in all things did not produce observable healthy change, I would accommodate myself to what did; but the fact is that mythos—the symbolic way of thinking that is sister to masculine logos—has served me exceedingly well in my efforts to become more conscious, whole, and connected.

Mythos is the language of the body, heart, and soul. It is associated with the feminine realm—i.e., all that is mysterious, unconscious, creative, felt, organic, and personally compelling. It whispers to us in feelings, physical symptoms, imagination, fantasy, and dreams that reveal unconscious dimensions of ourselves.

Both logos and mythos contribute to our fullest development. Children use mythos thinking automatically. This is why they respond to everything new with spontaneity, enthusiasm, joy and wonder.  But once the “masculine” phase of external striving begins, logos and the ego tend to dominate our thinking and spirituality, and life begins to lose its savor. Those who never leave mythos behind or who return to it later on discover undeveloped aspects of themselves by following meaningful symbols, powerful emotions, cognitive dissonance, uncomfortable personal dilemmas, and bodily symptoms through the labyrinth of the unconscious.

Symbols unlock doors to hidden chambers of ourselves wherein we discover purpose and meaning. Some symbols only have meaning for certain individuals or groups; others have universal appeal. Take, for example, a dot and a circle.  Why does every culture on the planet use these simple designs in religion, art, architecture, literature, and adornment?  Is this just an amazing coincidence, or is there something profound within each of us to which they speak?

In A Dictionary of Symbols, J.E. Cirlot tells us that a dot is a symbol of unity and the Origin.  A circle suggests infinity, the All.  And a circle with a dot or hole in the center represents the center of infinity, i.e., emanation or first cause. These symbols all speak to the same psychic reality, the Self which contains our predisposition to believe in a sacred realm, shapes our images and ideas about it, and motivates the spiritual search.

We cannot “know” our Source of Being—the eternal essence that we call God, Goddess, Father, Mother, Jahweh, Allah, Great Spirit, or whatever term you prefer—and words alone can never describe all that we intuit.  But the universal symbols of the dot and the circle resonate deeply.

Eastern religions have produced myriad renderings of circular mandalas, each with a center point, upon which devotees may focus their thoughts during meditation.  Similarly,  native peoples throughout the Western world have long created sacred circles in sand paintings and arrangements of stones as aids to worship in religious ceremonies. Jung saw mandalas as symbols of individuation, and his The Red Book contains many of the exquisite images he painted during his most intense time of inner exploration.

These and other symbols—like geometric shapes, abstract designs,  certain kinds of people, activities, animals, plants, elements, imaginary beings or objects—capture our attention with mysterious power because they carry important meaning for us. What symbols and activities attracted your childhood imagination and appeared in your fantasies? Do they still appeal to you today?  What do they say about your passions and journey through life? How can you bring them into your life to create more meaning and fulfillment?

 

What Is God? March 23, 2012

How can human beings possibly know the nature of God?  We can’t, of course. Yet ever since our species realized we were alive and part of a vast living Mystery, we’ve been trying. And whether we’re religious or not, most of us have some ideas about this Mystery.  It seems to me we look at God from three major perspectives.

Objective Facts: Using mathematics and tools like X-rays, electrocardiograms, telescopes and microscopes, Science looks for factual information about the mysterious origins, forces, and laws of physical life.

Abstract Theories: Religion interprets the Mystery of life in words, theories, symbols, scriptures, and stories about enlightened spirit persons whose wisdom, compassion, and passion for social justice bring healing and hope.

Personal Truths: Psychology encourages us to explore the mysterious workings of our hearts and minds for insights that bring awe, compassion, and self-knowledge, and to express our experience of the Sacred in creative ways that reflect our individuality.

Until very recently these three perspectives were sharply separated. Scientific investigations took place in laboratories, religious ones in places of worship, and psychological ones in consulting rooms, art studios, and asylums. Moreover, since the invention of alphabets, the viewpoints of religions have predominately shaped humanity’s God-images.

But all this is changing. The universal access to information that technology brings is closing the gaps, and our differing perspectives no longer totally  separate us from ourselves, each other, or God.  In fact, they are  merging into a deeper, more unifying vision. This is deeply disturbing to those who prefer separation to connection, simplicity to paradox, and certitude to dialogue.

However, people who seek truth and understanding above all else find it refreshing and inspiring. Why? Because the newest insights and discoveries from science, religion and psychology confirm the same intuition that spirit persons from every place and time have always shared: that a primary characteristic of the sacred Mystery is Unity in Multiplicity.

Consider the myriad forms of life on our planet. Each has a separate reality of its own yet all live together in one giant, inter-connected home. Look at the variety of religions that have sprung up over the millennia. Despite cultural differences they all speak the same language of love, compassion, tolerance, and the sanctity of life. Look at different individuals. No two are exactly alike, yet we all share the same matter, physiological systems, instinctual drives, and archetypal inheritance. And all our parts work together to help our bodies and species thrive.

Three perspectives; one Mystery. A Holy Trinity as it were. Unity in Multiplicity.

I can think of nothing more sacred than the miracle of life. Without it there would be no science, religion, or psychology. No miracles, healing, or compassion. No people with ideas about God. No God. If the nature of God is expressed in Unity in Multiplicity and we are each living, breathing participants in that Unity, then we are in God and God is in us. I wonder how things would be different if more of us shared this image of God.

 

Is Self-Discovery Selfish? March 20, 2012

The struggle to know who I am, in truth and in spirit, is the spiritual quest.” ~Ravi Ravindra

I know people who find what they call “navel gazing” distasteful because of the apparent emphasis on “me, myself and I.” What they don’t realize is that self-discovery is often a response to problematic relationships that pays off big time by creating healthier ones. As J. Krishnamurti has said, “Self-knowledge is obviously a process, not an end in itself; and to know oneself, one must be aware of oneself in action, which is relationship.  You discover yourself, not in isolation, not in withdrawal, but in relationship, in relationship to society, to your wife, your husband, your brother, to man…”

We all contain a drive for self-preservation and a drive for species-preservation. Finding satisfaction and pleasure in life is a function of developing both. The drive for self-preservation motivates us to maintain and promote our individuality in ways that make our lives safer and more comfortable. The drive for species-preservation motivates us to care about others and connect with them in ways that maintain and promote the survival, rights, authority, creativity, individuality, well-being, and prospering of others. In essence, it enables us to create and maintain relationships.

Because of women’s ability to give birth and nourish new life, the drive for species-preservation is universally associated with the irresistible and magnetic, yet deeply feared, anima archetype. She is our inner “sacred feminine,” for whom the consummate accomplishment is to become completed through intimate, loving relationships which enable us to experience ecstatic union with otherness.

I believe our failure to bring the sacred value of the anima into collective awareness is the underlying reason for today’s most pressing problems in every institution of society. In families it is the reason for the lack of love, compassion and understanding which typifies difficult relationships. In education it is responsible for our failure to nourish original, creative thinking. In business it explains the prevalence of greed and the lack of integrity and moral conscience in Wall Street, advertising, banking, and many large corporations. In government it is responsible for dominator political systems and divisive polarization. In religion it causes dwindling memberships and global strife.

Self-discovery does not create these problems; it resolves them. As anyone who persists on the spiritual path of self-exploration can tell you, as you learn more about yourself you increasingly experience reconciliation: reconciliation between self and others, between heaven and earth, masculine and feminine, and God the Father and God the Mother.  In short, this path ultimately leads to meaningful and lasting relationships with everyone and everything.

The only danger of a spiritual path that emphasizes self-development is the tendency to isolate ourselves and withdraw from relationships. In essence, this is tantamount to aligning ourselves with the masculine drive and keeping our distance from the feminine. We might be making good progress with accepting our shadows, discovering our passions, healing ourselves, and creating spiritual meaning, but if we are not also actively working to reconcile ourselves with others in healthy, love-filled relationships— especially those others with whom we are most intimate—we have a way to go before we can hope to approach psychological wholeness or spiritual maturity.

 

What Exercise and Dreams Have In Common March 16, 2012

If someone had told me three years ago that one day I’d enjoy working out twice a week I wouldn’t have believed them. I’ve never liked to exercise,  never felt the need. But sore shoulders and lower back pain from sitting hunched over a computer every day for years have a way of creeping up on you, and I finally had to admit I needed an exercise routine.

So when my friend Nancy asked me what I wanted for Christmas two years ago, I said, “Sign me up at the place where you work out!” A few days later I got a call from a trainer named Tom and he scheduled me to come in from 12 to 1 every Tuesday and Thursday starting in January. To my immense surprise, it turned out to be one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received!

Except for the annoyance of having to leave my computer, get dressed, and drive a mile down the road (I know. Big deal, right?) I love everything about it! Most of all I enjoy my conversations with Tom. He’s a great guy with a kind heart and a sincere interest in social justice and spiritual matters. And he’s so funny that I usually come out with 2 or 3 major guffaws per visit, which definitely adds to my enjoyment! But it was when he started asking for help understanding his dreams that I knew I’d found a friend with magical powers to motivate me for an extended run.

So today I asked him if he’d had any interesting dreams lately and he told me about this morning’s dream in which he’s standing with a neighbor on a second-story balcony of a three-story condo and she’s pointing to the top of a stone chimney that intersects all three floors. There are flames coming out between the stones near the top. While he’s thinking this could be a real problem, his brother and brother’s friends bustle around him erecting a bizarre L-shaped scaffolding from which they’re going to bungee jump! Tom thinks they’re being absurd.

As usual, I had no idea what it meant. But as he described his emotions in the dream and his associations to his neighbor it became apparent it was about how angry he feels about the way people are talking about a recent local shooting. To paraphrase what he said, “I guess I’m feeling inflamed about how emotional everyone’s being and I’m looking down at them from this ‘higher place’ for being so illogical and absurd.” This was a big “Aha” for him. “I guess that could be a problem,” he said.  “So does this mean I should stop talking with my clients about issues that stir me up like this?”

Here’s what I told him. Absolutely not! Dreams don’t judge us or tell us what to do. They simply show us the way things are with us so we’ll be more aware of potentially problematic qualities and emotions.  With more knowledge of what’s going on inside we can choose to act in healthier ways outside.

On the way home it struck me that dreams are a lot like exercise. Many of us find it’s not just our bodies that get stiffer and more inflamed with age. The same thing can happen to our minds.  One purpose of dreams is to make our minds stronger, more balanced and flexible. Healthier, and therefore happier with ourselves. Easier to be around.  But we won’t experience these benefits if we won’t rouse ourselves and commit to this work over the long haul.

Thanks for the insight, Tom.  And for the blog topic.  See you next Tuesday.

 

Bringing Down the Wall March 13, 2012

Conflict and criticism have always made me anxious and my natural tendency is to avoid them. While this strategy has protected me from some discomfort, it never completely eliminated it. Crouching behind a wall makes you hyper sensitive to possible encroachment and it’s easy to mistake friendly missives for enemy fire. You can miss out on a lot of help and healing that way.

So when Joseph Rogers-Petro, one of the most loving souls I’ve encountered on the internet, wrote that my post “The Bridge to Wholeness” was the first he’d read that disturbed him, my first thought was “Oh, oh!” and my first instinct was to dive for cover. But years of shadow work have lowered my wall of resistence considerably, and I listened with a receptive mind. With his full permission, I’ll share some of his thoughts:

“I can’t be so sure our beliefs about the Divine originate in us—in me. If I choose to believe they do, is that not a belief similar to those who believe the opposite? They’re both thoughts (theories) …and try as I might I have not conclusively figured out—beyond all doubts and with proof— where my thoughts come from. Perhaps they come from the Divine. Perhaps all holy books are inspired. Perhaps everything is inspired. Perhaps my thoughts come from what I ate last night.”

“I was not offended by your post, only surprised by its tone and mode of expression. I guess I did hear within the words the same type of energy as the fundamentalists of organized religion…just a little though…but it was so uncharacteristic in your posts that, for me, it stuck out…”

“I was just a bit taken aback by not so much the sentence about where the Sacred Mysteries originate, but the exclamation point at the end of it. That set a tone, in my way of looking at it, that is final, leaving no room for question marks…The realm of the spirit (and mind/soul/body) is so open…so…different for everyone…and I have come to love the questions…”

“Spirituality can be about believing…in the sense of weaving our thoughts to a set of ideas that we love or find helpful. Belief isn’t the problem…It’s trying to make others wrong for their beliefs that’s the problem.”

There’s nothing here with which I disagree. I truly believe there are as many paths to the Sacred as there are souls, which is why I emphasize the importance of taking our needs seriously and conducting inner work. But Joseph’s right. My spirituality is guided by beliefs too, and behind every conscious belief there’s a shadow reality. I fear I may have emphasized my own path to the point of unduly discounting others, and I see that my unresolved shadow issues with organized religion gave this post a negative tone I did not consciously intend. I feel badly about that and have made a few revisions to soften the tone a bit.

Did Joseph’s observations make me uncomfortable? Sure they did, but his willingness to share his honest reactions in a loving spirit was a true gift. He concluded: “Maybe you and I are saying the same things…I dearly, dearly, dearly hope I have not offended you…please know that I am sharing these words to help me sort it out within me, and to simply suggest a few questions and possibilities. Namaste to you, dear Jeanie, Namaste.”

Like Joseph, I’m still sorting, questioning, and trying to come from compassion and understanding. Now  if I can just get over my ducking reflex…

Namaste, dear Joseph.

 

A Dream Reminder From My Unconscious March 9, 2012

I’ve been putting myself under a lot of pressure lately to think and write practically non-stop!  Aargh! The pressure!  So today I’m going to write about the first thing that pops in my head. No pressure. Just open up and let the ideas flow. Wait! I had a thought… Oops. I forgot it in the pressure to finish this sentence! Okay, breathing in, breathing out. Random thoughts: It’s a cool gray windy day and the Spanish moss is doing a graceful dance in the bald cypress trees outside my window. I’d like to be out there. I need to take a walk. Good idea!  Be back later!

I’m back! I haven’t taken my walk yet because I remembered the thought I forgot.  It was a dream I had last night that left me feeling awful when I awoke this morning. In the dream I’m in my house—a huge, beautiful, open, contemporary house with big rooms and high ceilings that’s nothing like the one I really live in—and have just realized I have guests arriving in twenty minutes for a birthday party I’m throwing for Barbra Streisand! After I send Fred out to buy ice and a birthday cake, I realize the caterers haven’t arrived, I have no snacks, the house is a mess, and I’m not dressed for the party! I rush around tidying up, then remember I never mailed the invitation to Barbra Streisand because I didn’t know her address.  I feel so stupid!

Friends are arriving and delivery men are carrying large boxes through a huge open doorway.  Outside I see nothing but a construction site with piles of sand, planks of wood and building supplies. Inside, helpful friends are unpacking the boxes and unwrapping  treasures I’d forgotten we’d bought in Indochina.  I follow them to a gallery on the far side of the house that I didn’t know was there. Our friends have artfully displayed the items on pedestals, tables, and shelves in intimate rooms under softly glowing lights. I’m delighted with this space, thrilled to see the brightly woven baskets, gorgeous patterned textiles, antique bronze temple bells, soft hand-embroidered clothing, and exquisite ethnic jewelry. Then I remember I can’t stay to enjoy this because my guests have nothing to drink and I’m still not dressed for the party. As I rush back to the main house I feel very frustrated with myself for being so disorganized, confused, and unprepared. 

My dream depicts how I’ve been feeling lately.  Normally I leave myself plenty of time for inner work which keeps the house of my psyche in good order. But I’ve been doing so much outer work that my inner house is a disorganized mess.  (Actually my outer house is kind of a mess too.) And I don’t look so hot either. (This is a persona concern about how others are perceiving me.) I don’t even have time to enjoy some exotic treasures that have recently arrived to beautify some unknown inner galleries. (I’d really like to know more about that! What am I missing?)  Obviously my outlook on life is still under construction! But what’s the deal about Barbra Streisand?

This dream did me a favor by bothering me enough to take me away from my work. Because I spent some time with it, I think I understand part of my problem and how to solve it. Plus I wrote this post! I’m feeling much better already! So now I’m going outdoors for a dose of Mother Nature’s restorative beauty.

P.S. I took these pictures on my walk. The neighbor’s goldens were swimming in the nearby lake, those are lemon blossoms from our new tree (Yum! Limoncello this summer!) and this is the high school crew team training.

 

 
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