Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Mothering New Life April 29, 2014

Most of us are familiar with the religious practices of prayer, fasting, good works, scripture study, service, regular attendance, tithing, and so on. While their merits cannot be denied, unfortunately traditional religious practices do not automatically lead to lasting healthy changes in personality, behavior, relationships or quality of life. Nor do they signify spiritual maturity.

In contrast, regular practices that connect our inner and outer lives and have self-discovery as their goal bring about positive growth in every area of our lives. Some examples are meditation, active imagination, psychological studies, creative expression, symbol work, dreamwork, body work, breath work, art, depth analysis, remything our lives to honor the feminine unconscious, journaling, and ritual.

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

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

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

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

As Mother’s Day approaches, Greer’s dream reminds me that tending new life, whether in the form of personal growth or societal reforms, is the province of our feminine, nurturing sides.  Everyone has one.  Yet many seemingly mature  religious and political leaders are still so deeply suspicious of femininity and their own feminine sides that they would rather perpetuate blatantly dysfunctional masculine attitudes than support the fragile feminine growth that is full of energy and ready for life in ourselves and the world.

Fortunately, Dream Mother’s nightly guidance is available to all.  Each of us can, like Greer, learn how to listen,  receive, and mother new feminine life in gentle hands that are capable of allowing her to grow.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks .

 

Dragon Lady: Shadow of the Queen April 25, 2014

The Western world has been obsessed with the masculine aspects of Deity for thousands of years. As a result, to experience the Sacred Feminine we must be willing to enter the remote caverns in our unconscious selves where we have dumped all our unwanted garbage in hopes we could forget it ever existed.  In sum, we must be willing to develop a relationship with our “dragons,” by which I mean our frightening, disowned, less-than-lovely selves.

The myths that emerged in the Near East around 2000 BC featured a male deity who, unlike the son/lover of the previous Goddess religion, was a storm god of fire and lightning who conquered a dragon of darkness and evil. According to Merlin Stone, author of When God Was a Woman, “…the plot and the underlying symbolic theme of the story is so similar in each myth that, judging from the stories that do use the name of the female deity, we may surmise that the allegorical identity of the dragon or serpent is that of the Goddess religion.”  Some still call a powerful, assertive woman a Dragon Lady. To many males, (and some women), especially those with domineering mothers, their own feminine sides and certain women seem extremely dragon-like:  something terrible and threatening that needs to be overcome.  Jung agreed and considered the dragon to be “a mother-image (that is, a mirror of the maternal principle or of the unconscious)…”

But the dragon is by no means all negative.  Hindus and Taoists consider dragons to be powerful spiritual beings, masters of the waters and guardians of treasures, especially the pearl of perfection that symbolizes enlightenment and bestows immortality. The Herder Symbol Dictionary says that in China and Japan the dragon grants fertility “because it is closely associated with the powers of water and hence with the yin [feminine] principle.” Thus, one meaning of this paradoxical symbol is that if we wish to attain the highest levels of consciousness and spirituality, we need to face all the despised and rejected qualities we have relegated to the feminine unconscious, and it is this descent that earns us the ultimate prize.

Unconscious parts of ourselves acquire negative power because of the well-known psychological law that the longer and harder we repress them, the more energy we give them until they start influencing our behavior in disagreeable ways.  They are like sweet little girl dragons which start out innocently enough.  If we love them and allow them to come out and play they will grow up to become our friends. But if we ignore them and starve them and keep them cooped up in dark and cramped cages — in much the same way many male-dominated cultures have treated women and their own feminine sides —  they grow stronger and angrier every day.

While the bad news is that facing the Dragon Lady, a symbol for the Queen archetype’s shadow side — i.e., the regressive powers of the feminine unconscious — can be very painful, the good news is that she can initiate us into a far nobler fate than we could ever imagine.  After all, if Snow White had not been terrorized by the evil Queen she never would have run into the wilderness, met her protectors, the seven dwarves, eaten the poisoned apple, and been awakened by the kiss of the prince to experience union with her Beloved.

Prince Ego’s search for the princess, our unconscious feminine self, is the authentic hero’s journey, and their union symbolizes wholeness or enlightenment, the ultimate prize and true destiny of every soul.  So the next time you’re faced with an uncomfortable truth about yourself, it might help to remember that facing and befriending the Dragon Lady is the price of the prize.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

The Positive Side of Depression April 22, 2014

In her brilliant book, “Psychic Energy,” Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding writes: “When life presents us with a new problem, a new chapter of experience for which the old adaptation is inadequate, it is usual to experience a withdrawal of the libido. For one phase of life has come to an end, and that which is needed for the new is not immediately at hand. This withdrawal will be experienced in consciousness as a feeling of emptiness, often of depression, and certainly of inertia, with an overtone of self-rebuke because of what seems like laziness or sloth.”

Have you ever been there? I have. Many times. And each time it happens it takes a while before I remember that this is simply another step in the journey. The road may be leading downhill for now, but it’s still there, and as long as I can place one foot in front of the other the story isn’t over yet. But what are we to do while we’re in the abyss of emptiness? The depths of depression? The islands of inertia? The swamps of self-rebuke?

First of all, we need to remember that when our libido, or psychological energy, withdraws, it is not gone forever. The laws of physics tell us that energy can be transformed but not destroyed. When we feel a loss of energy it simply means that the energy which was formerly available to our ego has sunk into the unconscious. Once it gets there, forces over which our egos have no control will have to be mobilized before the energy can return to consciousness. The ego usually feels to blame, but it is not, because it has no control over unconscious forces.

Second, in the words of Harding, “When the light of life dims and one is left in the darkness of depression, it is much more effective to turn for the moment from the objective task and to concentrate attention on what is going forward within, instead of forcing oneself to continue by a compulsive effort of the will.” Once the libido is no longer available to our ego, will power can only be used effectively to “follow the lost energy into the hidden places of the psyche by means of creative introversion.”

Creative introversion means working with our fantasies and dreams in creative ways that feel meaningful. These products of our unconscious speak to the hidden forces which have sucked our libido down into the dark belly of the whale, and their images can give us clues not only to the nature of the difficulty, but also to the solution.

For example, many years ago toward the end of an extended period of libido loss I kept imagining myself as a baby chick still inside an egg, pecking at the shell. I knew I felt trapped, but I didn’t know what was trapping me or how to get out. Exploring this and other waking and dreaming images through art, journaling and dreamwork highlighted features of my persona that had initially protected the new life in me but were beginning to smother it. As I kept pecking away, cracks appeared in my shell until it finally collapsed and I stepped out of my self-imposed prison. The extraordinary infusion of new life I’ve experienced since then has taught me to see libido loss and depression not as obstacles or enemies, but as helpful guides along the way.

My thanks to Dr. Judith Rich for the inspiration for this post. Check out her article on the Huffington Post to see her wonderful take on a related topic.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

Easter to the Soul April 18, 2014

One of the oldest recorded myths comes from Sumeria and tells the story of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. After a period of growing, assuming her authority, working to bless the world with the gifts of civilization, courting, marrying, birthing and mothering, Inanna descends to the underworld to visit her sister Ereshkigal, its Queen. On the way down she is stripped one by one of all her earthly possessions: symbols of her beauty, success, femininity and the power she has worked so hard to attain. At the bottom she is met by Ereshkigal who has her hung naked on a meat hook. And there she hangs. But on the third day, with the help of her loyal priestess, Ninshubur, and Enki, the God of Culture, she’s rescued and returns to life in the world above.

This is an allegory of a universal truth. Like all great myths, which are stories about our relationships with the gods, it does not have to be factually true on the outside but is always true on the inside, the domain of the soul. The truth is, whether or not we all agree on the meaning, names or details, this story is relevant to every soul.

Physically, it’s about the seasonal Death/Rebirth cycles of vegetation and fertility. Psychologically, Joseph Campbell saw it as a metaphor for the soul’s empowerment and evolving consciousness via the descent into the unconscious, the experience of powerlessness, and the realization of our strength through facing our disowned shadow qualities. Spiritually, it’s about the universal longing for salvation and redemption through divine revelation and intervention.

To the ego it sometimes feels crucial that we get the facts right, possess the “correct” interpretation — especially the religious one — and reject the “wrong” one. But to the soul, these details are beside the point. To your soul and mine, this story is a celebration of the sacred miracle of life, and all three interpretations are equally true.

Every soul is grateful for the sun which brings warmth and light to our days so plants can grow and we can learn and improve and do the hard work that brings meaning and comfort to our lives. We’re all glad when each productive day is followed by a cooler, softer, moonlit night when we can rest, enjoy our loved ones, rejuvenate our bodies and spirits.

Our souls appreciate the exquisite balance of seasons whose alternating cycles likewise bring times of arising, thriving, descending, and dying. And every soul celebrates when the ego dies to its ignorance and meanness and awakens to its nobility in a miraculous new season of enlightened forgiveness, gratitude and compassion.

Above all, our souls know our ego selves did not make any of this happen. Something far greater, some Sacred Mystery over which we have no control, some benevolent, boundless, timeless Otherness set the processes of life in motion and keeps them working. And when we set apart times like this to stop and think about it, we remember that we are blessed beyond measure to participate in this miracle.

In this season of rebirth and renewal I send my blessings to all celebrators everywhere of the miracle of life.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

The Value of Ritual April 15, 2014

In 1997 four other women and I formed an organization we called The Matrix. Our purpose was to discover, define, and address what is valuable in the lives of women. Having experienced many benefits from engaging in personal rituals, it was important to me to find concrete and memorable ways to express our hopes and desires for the Matrix — for example, to devise meaningful programs, to relate honestly, to work in harmony with one another, and to help women create connections with their own deep wells of wisdom — and so I created rituals for each meeting as well as the events we produced. To my delight, the others participated eagerly, and after a while I earned the unofficial title of “Ritual Lady,” a distinction I wore with great honor.

At first, the most obvious benefit of our planning session rituals was that they connected us with our innermost selves, often at levels much deeper than those normally accessible. Rarely did we complete a ritual without deep emotion and affirming new insights. This soul-baring work established the foundation for an unusual degree of intimacy and trust which gradually changed our group from a secular organization into a spiritual community. As a woman who has been very slow to trust that others would accept me if I spoke my soul’s truths, I experienced a huge breakthrough the first time my Matrix sisters created a special ritual for me in which to express some anger. Their encouragement to communicate honestly and openly, and their acceptance when I did, was life-changing.

I would never have had the courage to do this if we had not, meeting after meeting, month after month, year after year taken the time to create a sacred container for ourselves and our work through ritual. For me, this proves the truth of an assertion by Kay Turner in her article, “Contemporary Feminist Rituals,” that “Feminist ritual practice is currently the most important model for symbolic and, therefore, psychic and spiritual change in women.”

Whether personal or collective, rituals help transform individual souls and bring them into proper relationship with One Soul. In Turner’s words, “…ritual space and activity are sacred in the sense of representing the possibility of self-transformation. Part of the power and the fear experienced in ritual is the realization that one may change, become ultimately different, as a result of the experience or that the experience may suddenly make recognizable change that has been slowly rising from the depths of personality and ideology.”

A major benefit of ritual is growth in consciousness. As I wrote in my post from February, 2011 titled “Your Body As Your Partner in Dreamwork,” I’ve found that participating in original rituals helps me clarify and integrate important new insights. Even if I should someday forget the ritual my Matrix sisters conducted for me, the courage, relief, self-validation and personal empowerment I experienced changed me forever. I still feel anger and other powerful emotions, of course, but I am no longer at their mercy, nor do I feel compelled to deny them healthy outlets, for the simple reason that I am more conscious.

Before I began writing this post I lit the lemon grass and wheat-scented candle on my desk and spent a moment in quiet self-awareness. This never fails to inspire me. When I am finished, extinguishing it will bring the comfort of knowing I have completed a task that is important to my soul. What are the rituals that nourish your soul?

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords,  and Diesel Ebooks 

 

A Path With Heart April 11, 2014

Here’s a spiritual truth I’ve learned through personal experience. Without self-knowledge, all the offerings of organized religion — group worship, teachings, scriptures, retreats, sacraments, guidance from helpful religious professionals — and all the correct beliefs, good intentions and divine interventions we can experience are not enough to transform us into spiritually mature beings. Why? Because there is no such thing as spiritual maturity without psychological awareness! You can no more separate your spiritual self from the rest of your psyche than you can separate your right brain from your left and still be a whole, balanced human being.

In A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield tells the story of how he spent 10 years, many of them as a Buddhist monk, in systematic spiritual practices conducted primarily through his mind. Having had visions, revelations, and many deep awakenings and new understandings, this holy man returned to the United States to work and continue his studies in graduate school. To his surprise, he discovered that his years of meditation had helped him very little with his feelings or human relationships. In his words,

“I was still emotionally immature, acting out the same painful patterns of blame and fear, acceptance and rejection that I had before my Buddhist training; only the horror now was that I was beginning to see these patterns more clearly. I could do loving-kindness meditations for a thousand beings elsewhere but had terrible trouble relating intimately to one person here and now. I had used the strength of my mind in meditation to suppress painful feelings, and all too often I didn’t even recognize that I was angry, sad, grieving, or frustrated until a long time later. The roots of my unhappiness in relationships had not been examined, I had very few skills for dealing with my feelings or for engaging on an emotional level or for living wisely with my friends and loved ones.”

Many of us have known spiritually-oriented people who think very well of themselves yet are arrogant, mean-spirited, impatient, intolerant, critical or unloving. This common phenomenon is partly why Freud was so critical of religion. He must have asked himself many times how people who professed to love God could be so hateful to their families and neighbors; how such lofty ideals could co-exist with such lousy relationships. In the face of this perceived hypocrisy he dismissed humanity’s spiritual nature and focused on understanding the sexual instinct, the repression of which he believed to be the true source of our problems.

It would take Freud’s maverick mentee, Carl Jung, to discover the fundamental reality of our spiritual natures and understand that they cannot be fully activated and empowered unless we take our inner lives seriously and commit ourselves to owning and integrating our disowned qualities — instincts, emotions, hidden motivations, archetypal inheritance, everything. Jung had learned for himself that neither psychological nor spiritual dogma can heal our souls and transform us into spirit persons:  only consciousness can do that.

The work of this spiritual and psychological pioneer has made all the difference in my life.  I’d like to recommend two sites to anyone interested in learning more. For information about how you can start a Centerpoint study group write to: centerpointec.com  For a list of Jungian books you can use to begin your own program of study, check out Inner City Books.  I’m pretty sure you’ll never regret it.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

Caryatids and Queens April 8, 2014

Femininity is universally associated with beauty, softness, tenderness, receptivity, relationship, and caring. While some equate these qualities with weakness, Spirit Warriors know they make us stronger than we ever imagined possible. Of the many symbols suggesting this kind of strength, none speaks as strongly to me as the caryatid.

Caryatids are gigantic columns or pillars in the form of beautiful, fully draped females. A very old architectural device, they were originally used to support immense entablatures in sacred public buildings. In ancient times it was said that seven priestesses founded major oracle shrines. These priestesses had different names in various parts of the world. In the Middle East they were known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, hence their common usage as columns holding up temple roofs. These same pillars are referred to in Proverbs 9:1: “Wisdom [Sophia] hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” On the Acropolis at Athens, caryatids are associated with the strong and independent goddess, Artemis Caryatis, from whom they get their name.

My first glimpse of caryatids at the British Museum filled me with awe and wonder. In them I saw feminine beauty, gentleness, independence, spirituality and mystery blended with majestic, connected, immovable strength. I was looking at a manifestation of, and metaphor for, the Queen archetype. This is a feminine aspect of power and strength with which every psyche is furnished regardless of gender.

A defining characteristic of the caryatid’s strength is her queenly way of serving society. She is strong enough to support huge social structures involving a variety of people, skill levels and activities, but never takes on more than she can handle, never gets crushed under the weight of her responsibilities.

Nor does she claim godlike perfection and omnipotence for herself: no savior complex for her! She simply receives what she is strong enough to receive; contains what she is large enough to contain; gives what is hers to give. Her strength is not based on compulsions to prove anything or pretend to be something she is not, but on a clear understanding of the nature of her gifts, dimensions of her interior space, and limits of her authority.

Like caryatids, mature Queens have a sense of social responsibility. They are pillars of society who are always there to listen and understand; share in pain or joy; defend the innocent, weak, vulnerable and disenfranchised; and advance culture. They have a quiet, grounded strength that does not belittle, gossip, or betray confidences. They accept without rejecting differing opinions and protect without exploiting weakness. They do not relinquish softness; rather theirs is the softness of the lioness, not the lamb. Although receptive, they are never doormats. They nurture but never smother. Theirs is the warm and life-giving receptivity of the womb, not the cold hardness of the tomb.

Caryatids and Queens stand tall and firm with eyes wide open. With steadfast devotion and resolve they support institutions and endeavors which are in everyone’s best interest. We emulate their strength when we subordinate our ego’s will to the greater good and work for the betterment of all without betraying our personal standpoints. May we all, female and male alike, manifest more of this wise use of feminine strength.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

 

 
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