Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Dream Symbols of the Beloved: Part II August 31, 2012

My friends, My family is with me in the mountains to celebrate summer’s last hurrah!  Writing two posts a week takes more time than I have right now, so I’m republishing this post from two summers ago. It’s one of my favorites—and one of my readers’ favorites as well.  Enjoy.  I look forward to your comments. Have a happy Labor Day!

I’ve just arrived at my soul’s home in the mountains of North Carolina where I will spend the remainder of the summer. I’ve often wondered why I love this place so dearly, why it makes me feel so loved and connected and alive and grateful for my life. My answer came last night and this morning as I read your comments to my last post (Dream Symbols of the Beloved) and did a bit more research.

I’m at my desk looking out an east-facing window. The morning sun enters my backyard late because it has to rise above the mountain before its rays filter down through a thick tree canopy. Most of what I see is in shade but a patch of sun has highlighted the brilliant silver threads of a spider web between two branches of a buckeye tree. Grandmother Spider is busily checking connections, tightening threads, and hunting for tasty morsels that got trapped during the night.

This morning I opened Aion, Volume 9, ii, of Jung’s Collected Works, to re-read his section on symbols of the Self. In paragraph #356 he writes about animal symbolism. He says, “The commonest of these images in modern dreams are, in my experience, the elephant, horse, bull, bear, white and black birds, fishes, and snakes. Occasionally one comes across tortoises, snails, spiders, and beetles. The principal plant symbols are the flower and the tree. Of all the inorganic products, the commonest are the mountain and lake.” Spiders. Mountains. Trees.

When I entered the gravel road last night my arrival was heralded by a cawing black crow who flapped off toward the house. The first thing I did was feed the rainbow trout in our pond. Black birds. Fish. Lake. (Do you think a pond counts?) Then I walked around the garden to check out the flowers. My treasured peonies are already spent, but the pink New Dawn roses and purple clematis are a-riot on the trellis, the hydrangeas look like giant blue and white powder puffs, the hostas are sending up tall bud-laden spikes, the astilbe have myriad pointed white cotton candy tufts, the golden daylilies are in full bloom, and there’s a huge mound of pink petunias by the kitchen door. I don’t garden in Florida. It’s just too hot. But here I can have my flowers. Flowers.

Below Bear Pond and Shadow Brook there’s a small pasture and stable where my horse, Shadow, used to spend his summers. I’ve always had a thing for horses. And Shadow, well, he’s a subject for another post. Horses. By the way, bears are the theme of this mountain home.  They’re all over the house.  But that’s another story too. Bears.

Speaking of bears, 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:  Forever Faithful” 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? Not really, but such is the nature of the Self that I’ll probably continue to get them every day anyway. And night, too. Sweet dreams of the Beloved, my friends.

You can order my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, from www.Amazon.com or www.LarsonPublications.com

 

Freeing Buried Emotions August 28, 2012

Recently Deepak Chopra posted an article on Huffington Post about the relationship between physical health and consciousness. He wrote that the mind and body are connected in a feedback loop which works all the time, whether you’re awake, asleep or in a coma. But here’s what I found most interesting: when you participate in the feedback loop with self-awareness, you make your mind and body allies in a positive partnership that leads toward increased health and longevity.

After reading Dr. Chopra’s and Dr. Rudy Tanzi’s eleven “prescriptions” to a self-aware approach to life, I copied two into my blog file thinking I might want to write a post about them. Behind my conscious reason, however, was another of which I was barely aware: I needed these prescriptions for myself! One was: “Free yourself emotionally — to be emotionally resilient is the best defense against growing rigid.” In other words, there’s a cause and effect relationship between mental and physical inflexibility and vulnerability.

This advice has been simmering in my mind since then, and now I know why I found it so compelling. I haven’t exercised regularly this summer and am getting increasingly stiff. Today I did a lot of bending and stooping and weed-pulling in the garden around the root cellar, and soon afterwards felt the need for two Aleves!  I know this isn’t unusual for my age, but I also know it’s not inevitable. So what’s the mental correlate that might be contributing to it?

My mother was a wonderful woman, but she was not emotionally open or resilient. In fact, she was so emotionally vulnerable—fragile, really—that to her death she strongly resisted feeling and manifesting any strong emotions at all. Since she never dealt consciously with this aspect of her shadow, I naturally inherited it. So here’s the connection. She died four years ago this month, five days short of her 94th birthday. My brother and I knew she wanted to be cremated, but she never told us what to do with her ashes. So I’ve kept them in a closet. As you can imagine, this has been weighing heavily on my shoulders. My rather stiff shoulders. Does this suggest anything to you? It sure does to me!

I’ve been trying to uncover some long-buried emotions for several years and it’s paying off.  I’m less sensitive and emotionally reactive, and I’m losing my unconscious tendency to deny physical and emotional pain. A few months ago when I read a post on Elaine Mansfield’s blog about the stone cairn she and her sons built over her husband’s ashes, I had an epiphany. Our North Carolina property is practically a quarry! Burying her here under a cairn was the perfect answer!  The fact I was ready to let her go tells me I was also ready to let go of some guilt, anger and denial related to her.

Last Saturday evening my brother, husband, and I buried Mom’s ashes in a garden we created for her this summer. At one point Jim paused for a moment. The sound of the gurgling creek flowing past the garden had brought back a memory from our youth. We rarely went on vacations, but once Mom saved enough money to rent a beach cottage. That week she spent most of her time on the porch reading and doing crossword puzzles. One day she said to Jim, “I just love listening to the water.”  In dreams, water often symbolizes emotions. She may not have heard her pain in life, but now she has no pain, and she can listen to something she loves for eternity. Rest in peace, Mom. We’re both freer now.

You can order my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, from www.Amazon.com or www.LarsonPublications.com

 

Re-Stocking and Moving On August 24, 2012

The property on which our family’s summer home sits in North Carolina was purchased over 40 years ago by my husband’s 101 year-old father and his second wife. Yes, he’s alive and living comfortably with Winn, his third wife! This amazing man is the son of a poor Italian immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island in the first decade of the 20th century. His bride-to-be, who was hand-picked for him by his brother back in Italy, arrived the next year.

Grandpa and Grandma Raffa’s four sons became well-respected citizens who led long and happy lives. After my father-in-law’s first wife Julia—my husband’s mother for whom our daughter was named—needlessly bled to death after birthing their second child, Tony eventually remarried and moved to Florida to establish a medical practice with his younger brother Nick. As far as my husband and I, our children, five grandchildren, and various in-laws who now also live in Florida are concerned, the tragedy of Julia’s death was transformed into countless miracles of new life and creative opportunity.

Tony and his second wife, Helen, found their way to the North Carolina property through friends and fell in love with it.  Each summer for many years they pulled a silver Air Stream up from Florida and lived with their children in a  nearby RV camp. From there they’d drive up the mountain, ford the bold creek, and explore this wild land.

In those days there was one small cleared site. It contained an old stone root cellar built into the mountain, a dilapidated barn, a source of fresh spring water, and an electrical hook-up for the the trailer the former residents had lived in. The clearing was surrounded by giant hemlocks, white pine, native rhododendrons, an outhouse, and wild blueberry bushes on either side of an old animal trail which wound through the woods. Helen’s discovery of an arrowhead suggested it had once been used by the Cherokee.

Beside the clearing was a huge hole 10 or 15 feet deep and dozens of yards across. The former residents had hopes of turning it into a trout pond for tourists, but despite the rains and fresh spring water that emptied into it, it never held more than a few stagnant puddles. Years later we plugged the leaks and stocked the new pond with trout. Helen was too ill to travel by then, so she never saw it. Despite Tony’s worries that it would become an “attractive nuisance” that would end in tragedy for unwary neighbor children, the pond has been a great source of pleasure, especially to our grandchildren who love to watch the trout fling themselves at food which, to them, must seem miraculously to fall like manna from heaven every summer.

We consider the trout pets and never catch or eat them, but there are those who think differently. When we return each summer there are always several missing. Last week we came across the headless body of a huge 3-year old lying in the nearby pasture. Neighbors speculate it may have been the victim of a great blue heron, or perhaps the magnificent bald eagle who’s taken up residence nearby. This is always upsetting, especially for the grandchildren, but in the end we re-stock and move on.

Carl Jung said of the violent changes that regularly occur both in the psyche and in the world,  “The grand plan on which the unconscious life of the psyche is constructed is so inaccessible to our understanding that we can never know what evil may not be necessary in order to produce good by enantiodromia, [swings in opposite directions] and what good may very possibly lead to evil.”

I find it almost impossible to judge a thing either blessing or tragedy any more. I wonder if I’ll still feel that way after the next election!

 

Soul-Making Halfway in Between August 21, 2012

The other day I was on the phone with a regular reader and commenter to this blog. We live only a few hours apart during the summer, and we were trying to arrange to meet halfway in between for lunch. At one point she wondered aloud about the outcome of my inner work. Do I feel better? Wiser? Am I happier? More loving, balanced and spiritually connected than when I began?

My immediate response was, and is, “Yes!” But I’m not sure my explanation addressed this deeply sincere seeker’s question.  Was she wondering if, as an introvert who has traveled my own way for the last 22 years with very little support from therapists, groups or spiritual guides other than books, I am satisfied with the results? Or was she wondering if determined inner work in general has resulted in my feeling somehow finished? Am I always wise and peaceful? Always emotionally open, balanced, loving and spiritually connected?  Perhaps even… enlightened?  If she meant the former, my answer is still, “Yes!” But if the latter, it would be an equally emphatic, “No!”

Sometimes I feel very stupid.  Also anxious, emotionally closed, unbalanced, selfish, and judgmental. Certainly not whole or enlightened. Enlightenment is a term I first heard in reference to Eastern religions. Once, the idea drew me forward like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey’s face, but then I discovered Jungian psychology, turned around, and met my Shadow.

Essentially I find the meaning of my life in soul-making. This is a process, not a final product. Currently I’m reading “Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine” by Peggy Tabor Millen. If you’re a woman who writes, I highly recommend her books. Malaprop’s Book Store in Asheville, North Carolina has put us together for a joint presentation on Sept. 21st and I hope you’ll come if you’re in the area. Anyway, with her unique combination of Western and Eastern thought and practice, Millen strives to activate her creativity by balancing her masculine and feminine energies through writing and teaching. She calls this struggle to release her authentic creativity soul-making.

A typical Westerner, Carl Jung approached his soul-making work by strengthening his mind with logic and will-power until his ego-spirit mustered the courage to step aside. This allowed soul to move into consciousness, revealing disowned parts of his psyche. In the process, his unique creativity was released.  The East historically begins its quest by quieting the mind and practicing physical austerities aimed at humbling and displacing the ego-spirit. But eventually the same thing happens. Letting go enables spirit to hear and express soul’s deep, compassionate voice.

For millennia these different approaches were separated by a divide that was geographical, philosophical, religious, spiritual, and psychological. Yet both have always aimed at uniting masculine spirit with feminine matter. As Millin says, the ideal is for both  to participate in a cyclical yin/yang flow from one to the other which ensures that when balanced one never dominates, except temporarily.

Since the Dalai Lama made his home in the West, these perspectives have begun to merge and overlap.  Each of us is discovering a new way to live in a never-ending process of moving first this way, then that, re-inventing ourselves anew every day in a middle way that encompasses both streams. The sacredness of this mandorla way speaks not to where we start or finish our journey, but to our willingness to release the creative flow in our natures with each step.

Has there been a payoff for my form of inner work? Yes indeed. But that says nothing about your form. Eventually, all paths to growth use the same process. The last thing that matters is how we got there.

You can purchase Healing the Sacred Divide at www.larsonpublications.com and www.Amazon.com .While you’re at Amazon, check out the newest review written by Joey Madia.

 

Do You Take Yourself Too Seriously? August 17, 2012

A while back I attended a lovely gathering with friends. Later that evening I realized that instead of feeling good, I felt oddly uncomfortable. When I asked myself why, I knew it was because much my conversation had come from my ego. Instead of just enjoying their company, I had been comparing what they said to what I think, then unconsciously wanting to impress them with my thoughts! Ouch!

Deepak Chopra has written: “It is much more beneficial to your health if you feel your way through life than think your way through life. Self-awareness monitors how you feel.” What does this have to do with how I interacted with my friends?  Simply this. When I was with them I was not self-aware. I was trying to impress them with my thinking, not monitoring how I was feeling. As a result,  my behavior that day was not beneficial to me or them.

In my last post I wrote about a crucial moment in my development when I was overcome with self-consciousness. I’ve also written about how a dream in which the Lone Ranger shot me was a wake-up call into a new way of seeing myself and life. At my fiftieth birthday party roast a friend joked about my tendency to take myself seriously. In March of this year I published a post titled “Is Self-Discovery Selfish?” All these “self” issues touch on self-awareness. How we use this inherent ability has more to do with our well-being than anything else in our lives!

Nobody explains these concepts more clearly than Dr. Chopra, so instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, I’ll use his words: “When you have any experience, your mind is in one of three states: unconscious, aware, and self-aware. The first state leaves health — and well-being generally — to chance. If you light up your fifth cigarette of the day without thinking, you are doing something unconsciously, as is the nature of habits. If you see yourself lighting up the cigarette, you are aware of what you’re doing. But self-awareness goes further; it says, “What am I doing to myself?” Posing questions, reflecting on your behavior, looking at the larger picture, taking your life seriously — these are all self-aware behaviors.”

Asking ourselves, “What am I doing to myself? or “What did I just do and why?” is how we feel our way through life instead of thinking our way through life. This does not require great wisdom, intelligence, or logical thinking. It simply requires us to take ourselves seriously.

In this sense, the word “feeling” is not about emotions, but about what we value. It’s about noticing what we’re doing and how important it is to us. About what feels meaningful. What makes us feel better about ourselves. Lighting up our fifth cigarette may bring an emotional release from stress, but does it really make us feel better about ourselves? If it doesn’t, and if we ignore that fact and keep smoking anyway, we’re not taking ourselves seriously enough.

Taking oneself seriously has positive and negative aspects. In my conversation with my friends I was aware, but I was not self-aware. I was taking myself too seriously. But when I reflected on my discomfort later that evening I was feeling my way through my life. I was being self-aware, noticing what I value. I value my friends and want them to enjoy being with me. Knowing I can take myself so seriously that I can diminish our mutual pleasure makes me squirm. But knowing I can be self-aware gives me hope for a more beneficial outcome the next time I’m with them.

 

Is Your God-Image Dysfunctional? August 14, 2012

Religious beliefs are so deeply personal and emotional that it’s taken me a very long time to be comfortable opening up about my own. Not wanting to offend or challenge anyone’s faith, I’ve preferred to focus on psychological issues. Yet, of all the topics I write about in this blog, my posts about religion seem to elicit the most interest and affirming comments.

I noticed this again at my first book-signing for “Healing the Sacred Divide” last weekend. Every time I looked up from reading a little story about a major awakening I experienced at the age of eleven, I saw people nodding and smiling in recognition. The story is about my parents advising me to tone down my show-offy behavior at a motel swimming pool lest I make the other children feel badly. There was a little girl out there who was having trouble keeping up with the rest of us, my father said.  I should notice, her, think about her feelings, try to include her and make her feel better about herself.

This was a crucial moment in my development.  Overcome with self-consciousness, I realized for the first time that people were not only watching, but critiquing me, possibly even feeling badly about themselves because of me. So I walked up to the little girl in the faded brown bathing suit and tentatively lied, “I like your bathing suit.” While she happily bounced away to jump off the diving board, I sat quietly in the nearest chair pondering my new knowledge. I was capable of hurting people without intending to, just by having fun and being me! Suddenly the world was filled with eyes, and I knew that all of them, including God’s were watching me.

After that I no longer associated God with the warm, happy feelings I experienced when I mastered new skills or explored the wonders of nature. God became a collection of ideas about the kind of behavior expected by an aloof, separate, powerful, all-seeing, overtly beneficent but secretly critical, gender-biased, judgmental King. If I worked very hard to please him by obeying his rules and making nice and attending church regularly I might receive his approval, protection, and salvation. If I didn’t, I’d be notified and punished. He called the shots and that’s how it was. That was fine with me. After all, he was the King of Heaven!

This is a childish, Santa Clausy image of God. Typical in the early stages of ego-development, it’s based on a child’s normal fears, vulnerability, and desire to please. My religious thinking changed considerably in the coming years, but beneath it the same childish emotional reality—the same unconscious needy attachment to the norms of my family—lived deep within me like an insecure orphan who’s afraid to leave the safety of her dark little attic room.

Instead of enabling me to let “this little light of mine” shine, as the song I learned at Vacation Bible School said I should, this God-image encouraged me to wear a rigid, carefully constructed mask that nearly smothered it. What saved it was learning that, as Ravi Ravindra wrote, “the struggle to know who I am…is the spiritual quest.” And that “To keep the flame of spiritual yearning alive is to be radically open to the present and to refuse to settle for comforting religious dogma, philosophic certainties, and social sanctions.”

The interest in my writing and talks about religious matters convinces me I haven’t been alone in my struggle to grow past this dysfunctional God-image. It’s been slow going, but self-knowledge is healing my long and painful separation from the Mystery. What’s your story?

Healing the Sacred Divide can be purchased at www.larsonpublications.com or at my Amazon Author’s Page.

 

The Frightening Effects of Religious Change August 10, 2012

We live in a remarkable time characterized by revolutionary changes occurring in every aspect of human endeavor. Some are deeply disturbing, especially when they are accompanied by conflict and violence. But this does not necessarily mean the changes themselves are bad. It simply means the collective psyche has not yet grown mature enough to easily accept needed change or always accomplish it peacefully.

Take, for example, the need to enlarge our elitist and restrictive ideas about God.  Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, says, “The very fact that, as a person, God has a gender is…limiting;  it means that the sexuality of half the human race is sacralized at the expense of the female and can lead to a neurotic and inadequate imbalance in human sexual mores.”  We have only to look at current events to see the horrific effects of this imbalance which has dominated religious thinking for over 5,000 years. And, of course, these effects are not restricted to religious matters. They pervade every societal institution and every psyche.

But change is afoot. A new psycho-spiritual awakening is inexorably seeping out of the collective unconscious and entering collective awareness. And it is beyond anyone’s capacity to stop it.  In 1987 Jean Houston wrote:

“Many of us in research and clinical psychology have recently witnessed in our research subjects and clients a remarkable activation of images of female principles, archetypes, and goddesses… The women’s movement may be the outward manifestation of what is happening on depth levels in essential, mythic, and archetypal space-time….all the evidence indicates that the feminine archetype is returning.

“Denied and repressed for thousands of years, the goddess archetype returns at a time when the breakdown of the old story leaves us desperate for love, for security for protection, for meaning. It leaves us yearning for a nurturing and cultivation of our whole being, that we might be adequate stewards of the planetary culture.”

Twenty-five years later, some people are still alarmed by this phenomenon which shakes the core of their faiths, and beneath the faiths, the dysfunctional self-images they validate. The immature ego’s resistance to integrating the feminine is the underlying explanation for how masses of “religious” people can turn their backs on injustices perpetrated against women. And not just women, but anyone whose empowerment threatens those in power. This does not just happen in remote locations and “other” religions. In fact many of our most hotly contested political debates are currently fueled by the same resistance.

So what are the highly-resisted changes that the return of the feminine archetype threatens to bring? I see two major ones.

First, there will be a gradual shift away from divisive cultural biases and toward universal compassion and social justice.  Despite the fact that so many believers do not yet comprehend the significance of these values, their souls intrinsically know them to be fundamental and will recognize them at the roots of every authentic religion.

Second, the burden of bringing psychological thinking and spiritual living into the everyday lives of the average person will be lifted from the shoulders of those committed theologians and clergy whose true passions lie in theory and not in the messy practical realities of everyday life.  With the guidance and wholehearted blessings of gifted spirit persons, the responsibility for spiritual development will be happily handed over to those to whom it truly belongs:   individual seekers who alone know what brings spiritual meaning to their lives and whose psyches contain everything they need to find it for themselves.

Scary stuff, huh? So why exactly do so many of us still resist religious change?

 

 
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