Time Out January 31, 2017
My son brings Izzy, his four year-old golden retriever, to our house. We will dog sit until his family returns from their winter vacation. She’ll be with us for five days. I love this dog, but she’s not easy. She’s big, rambunctious, needy, demanding of attention. Will the time and attention I’m willing to spare be enough for her? I hope so.
We take a little walk. She sniffs around, does her business. Good. We return to the house so I can work and she can rest.
It’s evening. I feed her and leave for my ukulele lesson. When I return home Fred says our daughter has invited us to join them for dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant. We are delighted. Izzy will be fine alone for a while. She’s been here many times. I give her a treat, tell her we’ll go for a walk when I get home, say goodbye.
Over dinner our granddaughters recount last week’s accomplishments. A perfect score on a difficult and important math test. A thrilling promotion from the junior varsity to varsity softball team. Does anything feel better than this time out with them?
Back home, Izzy wakes up from her nap on the kitchen floor. She looks up at me, tail thumping, waiting to see what’s next. I wrap her leash around my shoulders, stuff a green doggy-waste-bag in the pocket of my blue jeans, and we step out the front door. Our little neighborhood is small and secluded so the leash is just a back-up plan in case we run into cars or other late-night dog-and-human-walkers.
I love being outdoors at night. The fresh cool breeze off the nearby lake. The quiet. The shadows. The open space. The peace. No people to talk to. No cars to avoid. A few pale street lights…just enough to keep Izzy in sight. The pleasure of giving her this time out, knowing she’s enjoying it, feeling confident and secure because I’m there with her.
She stops in the middle of the road, sniffing road kill. It’s too dark and the creature’s too long gone to tell what it is. Was. Osprey, raccoon, opossum, squirrel? I look at the stars, happy to wait, enjoying her pleasure. She glances back at me. I step forward, so does she. We move on to the next olfactory infusion. She stops, transfixed. I stop, transfixed. Does she remember I’m here, or is this new smell her entire universe in this moment?
We walk on. She sniffs something else, looks back, reads my body language. “It’s okay. You’re okay,” my body says. She understands and moves on. I’m still her lighthouse. I follow her lead. Knowing we’re connected as surely as if she were on a leash. Gratified that we trust one another so much that she doesn’t have to be tied physically to me. Pleased that she’s free to follow her nose. Humbled that we’re so acutely aware of the significance of each other.
We approach a crossroad. She looks back at me. Looks to the left. Looks to the right. Starts off to the right. No, I think. Left toward the lake is better. No traffic that way. She’ll be safer. I whistle one note. She freezes. Glances back. I point to the left. Just a slight movement of my arm and index finger. She turns around and goes left.
I feel a surge of joy. This moment. This connection with Nature, this utterly delicious intuitive knowing. This trust between two animals who have such different languages and ways of processing life.
So different, and yet….we see each other. We know each other. In some invisible way we are touching each other, our minds sharing the same time and space. It feels magical. Miraculous. We’re part of a mystery so vast my mind can’t encompass it.
But, oh! I can enjoy it. This night under a starry sky. This dog who trusts me, who I trust. This connection to the unknown. I’m filled to bursting with gratitude and love. Does anything feel better than this time out?
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
A Zen Summer August 16, 2016
You trust your unconscious as if it were a loving father. But it is nature and cannot be made use of as if it were a reliable human being. It is inhuman and it needs the human mind to function usefully for man’s purposes. Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her. ~Carl Jung, Letters Volume 1, Page 283.
Remember Mr. Miyagi, the Japanese handyman who was a Karate master in the classic 1984 film, Karate Kid? Everyone’s favorite part was the way he used hard work, specific movements, and mantras to train Daniel, a misguided youth. “Wax on, Wax off. Sand the floor. Paint the fence. Paint the house.” For Daniel, the work was grueling, pointless and demeaning until, as shown in this dramatic scene, his suffering led to a revelation akin to a transformational spiritual awakening.
Mr. Miyagi comes to mind when I think about this summer in the mountains. I’m a writer and practitioner of inner work and contemplation…not much of a physical doer. I look forward to being here all year, imagining the pleasures of no deadlines, no agenda. I picture myself spending long hours on the porch reading and writing in peaceful meditation. Then I arrive and barely find the time to publish a weekly blog post or finish reading a book.
Here, my life is centered on my granddog Izzy, and Nature. Like Mr. Miyagi, both are exacting masters. Feed birds. Feed fish. Feed dog. Groom gardens. Groom trails. Groom dog. Pick up trash. Avoid poison ivy. Wash dog. Worry about trees. Worry about rain. Worry about dog. Appreciate boulders. Celebrate rain. Pet dog. Four of these were especially prominent this summer.
Appreciate Boulders. I found a new favorite stone on the trail our handyman blazed through the dense forest last winter. It’s huge, mossy, and wrinkled as an old lady wearing a hat of ferns. Or is that Green Man whose face I see in the shadows? I can’t resist reaching out and patting him/her when I pass by. A few days ago I found this in one of my favorite blogs:
“The central symbol of the Zen garden is the stone. For Jung, it signified “something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul;” for Cirlot it is “the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.” Stones are pure and perfect in their simplicity, yet powerful, mysterious and inscrutable like the gods.” From Symbol Reader, Symbolism of Gardens.
Worry About Trees. The hemlocks are being decimated by a parasite and we’re treating many of them with biennial doses of medicine, but we can’t save them all. On every hike after a big wind I have to remove or circumvent heavy branches and another fallen tree or two. A neighbor across the creek has several dead ones still standing. A few threaten to land on our house.
One evening after a storm with gale force winds we heard a commotion out on the main road. A giant oak had fallen and neighbors with chain saws were cleaning it up. It was there a century ago when the dirt road leading to our property was carved out of the mountainside, and over time its roots were exposed and weakened by erosion. Luckily no cars were beneath it when it finally surrendered to nature’s purposes.
Celebrate Rain. I don’t know what it is about rain, but it feels magical. One evening Fred and I were rocking on the porch and watching black clouds gathering above the mountains when suddenly the ozone-scented breezes and whisper of raindrops coming up the valley transported me to an unusually intense meditative state. Curious, I checked my heart rate on my Apple watch. Within moments my normal resting rate of 61 beats per minute plummeted to a shocking 45. Cool.
A woman too has a peculiar attitude toward nature, much more trusting than that of a man. ~Carl Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 123.
Was Jung right, or was he still conditioned by some of the prevailing stereotypes about women in the early 20th century? I don’t know. But I do know I am deeply connected to this land. I love it and trust it, and sometimes I worry about it. Will my grandchildren and great grandchildren love it as much as I do? Will they feed the birds and clear the paths and pat the boulders and love the trees enough to learn their names and do their best to protect them?
Feed Birds? Last week Izzy’s fierce barking woke Fred at 1:30 in the morning. Exhausted from a day of “doing,” I was sleeping like a stone. Thinking she had to go out, Fred took her downstairs. But instead of heading for the front door, she stood transfixed at the glass door to the side porch. What was going on?
The mystery was solved the next morning when we found our biggest, sturdiest, squirrel-proof bird feeders mangled on the ground. Only a scattering of seeds remained. Somewhere in the Nantahala National Forest up the mountain a contented bear was snug in its den dreaming about last night’s tasty meal.
The Asian martial arts are rooted in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Their spiritual elements gave purpose and meaning to the ancient warriors who loved and practiced them.
The same can be said of those of us who find purpose and meaning in loving Nature, our Mother. If our practices have a spiritual element, so do hers. After all, inhuman though she may be, we come from her, and she’s an “incomparable guide if you know how to follow her.”
Credits: Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes. Karate Kid video from YouTube. “Anyone can slay a dragon quote” image by Brian Andreas from www.pinterest.com. “Try not to change the world” quote by Sri Chinmoy from www.srichinmoybio.co.uk
A Dialogue with the Self August 2, 2016
Carl Jung said the Self is both our core and our circumference. Some think of it as our soul, the totality of who we are and who we have the potential to become. Jung called it the archetype of wholeness. In later years he referred to it as our god-image and connection to the Mystery some call God. Composed of the twin drives for self-preservation (i.e. masculine logos, represented in alchemy by the King archetype) and species preservation (feminine mythos/eros symbolized by the Queen), the Self shapes our ideas about what is sacred.
As the source of our irresistible compulsion to grow into our true selves and express our unique creativity, the Self is an ongoing, never-ending process. I see it as the psychological equivalent of the physical exchange of energy and information constantly occurring at the quantum level between the molecules of our bodies and between us and our environments. As I understand Jung, he suspected that the energies of both processes, inner and outer, are united in one intelligent, purposeful, evolving collective unconscious, Force (as George Lucas named it), or Zero Point Field (as some physicists now call it), which promotes increasing order, health, and wholeness.
We associate the Self with six attributes: wholeness, centrality, unity, love, pattern, and the life-giving force. We grow conscious of its guidance by noticing these themes in the symbols and synchronistic events of our dreams and waking life. Benevolent by nature, the Self calls our egos to their heroic destiny of merging with the indwelling Mystery. Our egos often reject its guidance, but it never gives up on us. The more we notice and respond to it, the more it responds to us.
The following story from one of my earliest blog posts illustrates the loving interaction that can take place between ego and Self:
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.
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.
Pursuing the threads of last night’s thoughts, this morning I picked up Aion, Volume 9, ii, of Jung’s Collected Works, in search of symbols of the Self. In paragraph #356 he writes:
“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 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 a 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 booming bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back.
Do I need any further reminders 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 Self, my friends.
“So long as the child is in that state of unconscious identity with the mother, he is still one with the animal psyche and is just as unconscious as it.
The development of consciousness inevitably leads not only to separation from the mother, but to separation from the parents and the whole family circle and thus to a relative degree of detachment from the unconscious and the world of instinct.
Yet the longing for this lost world continues and, when difficult adaptations are demanded, is forever tempting one to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile…” ~Carl Jung, CW 5, Para 351
People often find Jung’s theories and writing difficult, and it’s no wonder. He was introducing humanity to a radically different way of seeing and thinking about ourselves, and he used words and phrases in ways that only someone familiar with his work is liable to understand.
The above quote is a good example. What did Jung mean when he wrote about a child being “in that state of unconscious identity with the mother?” What does it mean to be “one with the animal psyche?” What was he trying to say in this quote? Essentially he’s referring to a common problem that can obstruct our psychological growth.
Freud, Erikson, Piaget, and Kohlberg have described psychological development as a series of stages in which people exhibit typical behavior patterns and abilities. Jung and Neumann went a step beyond in focusing on the development of consciousness itself, particularly in terms of our psychological and spiritual self-awareness.
Based on these and other developmental theories, I’ve summarized the development of consciousness in three general “epochs” of self-awareness. In this system, Epoch I is Physical Consciousness, Epoch II is Ego Consciousness, and Epoch III is Integrated Consciousness. For most of us, the first is of relatively brief duration, the second is quite long (the whole of life for many people), and the third sometimes does not even begin.
“In the first epoch our awareness is limited to our five senses and the forces of physical instinct: bodily urges, unchecked emotions, and primitive images. As infants we are like hungry wolf cubs in a vast and comforting wilderness. We don’t question our habitat or behavior or wonder if there is any other way to be; we simply act and react to physical stimuli without plan, reflection or guilt….Unburdened by self-consciousness and self-doubt, we are unthinkingly innocent of any wrongdoing because we have no moral code and feel no need to alter or repress anything about ourselves.” ~J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, pp. 20-21.
This earliest phase of life is “that state of unconscious identity with the mother,” Jung referred to: a paradise of egoless, guiltless, free-and-easy instinctual behavior. During this magical time we are in heaven.
“If we have a concept of time it is that we dwell in eternity. If we have a concept of God it is this bliss of oneness that connects us to everything and makes us feel buoyantly, vitally alive. Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, Epoch I is simply everyone’s earliest experience of being a human being. All our future psychological and spiritual growth plays out against this primal background of immersion in a maternal ocean of innocent, unconscious, infinitely pleasurable physical life.” ~J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p.22.
Is it any wonder so many of us, like Peter Pan, continue to long for this lost world and struggle to stay young for as long as we can? In a child, this is a natural and charming way of being, and there are people who remain in this state of harmless, guileless innocence throughout their lives. Others grow increasingly dissatisfied with themselves as adults. And some become dysfunctional. In fact, a lack of guilt or sense of responsibility, self-centeredness, emotional immaturity, antisocial behavior, and low impulse-control are all characteristics of sociopaths. This is why we need egos, (organs of consciousness), and why our egos need to grow in self-awareness. At this point in history, learning to critique and control our more primitive “inner child” has become crucial to our very survival.
Despite humanity’s evolutionary advances, negative aspects of an Epoch I mentality still pervade contemporary society. Symptoms include:
a large population of unhappy adults who cannot seem to make difficult adaptations into adulthood,
the temptation “to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile,”
blaming others for our unhappiness and expecting them to make us happy,
obsessive glorification and pursuit of youth and physical beauty,
addictions to substances or behaviors that provide temporary escape from our problems and responsibilities,
a single-minded focus on satisfying our own instinctual needs without caring about the needs of others, and
self-centered, irresponsible, antisocial attitudes, words and behaviors without regard for consequences.
“The further development of the individual can be brought about only by means of symbols which represent something far in advance of himself and whose intellectual meanings cannot yet be grasped entirely.” ~Carl Jung, CW 4, Para 680
What did Jung mean by this? I’ll address this and more as I explore the evolution of consciousness in coming posts.
Image Credits: Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes and deer child image, Wikipedia for the Disney image of Peter Pan, and Pinterest for the lioness and cub image.
Jean’s newest book, 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 also at Amazon as well as Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
Horse Crazy Part I: How to Build a Wall October 13, 2015
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”― Joseph Campbell
One warm summer evening when I was five years old, my father took me for a walk down a dusty Tallahassee road. At the nearby stable I saw my first horse and fell passionately in love. From that day on, I went to the stable as often as I could. It was bliss just to be near these magnificent animals—to see them, smell them, and if I was lucky, to touch them.
From then on, I had one goal in life: someday I would have a horse of my own. Each year as my birthday drew near I fantasized about the horse that would be standing outside my window when I awoke on my special day. I nursed this fantasy when we moved to a big city. It continued throughout elementary school, where everyone knew I was horse crazy. If I wasn’t drawing pictures of horses or writing stories about them, I was reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books from the school library.
The summer before sixth grade I wrote myself a letter to open when I was sixteen. In the envelope I included the best present I could think of to give my future self: a picture I had drawn titled “A Wild Stallion Sniffing the Air.” It showed a stallion standing high on a cliff overlooking his herd of mares far below.
My father died that winter and I began to lose my unrealistic dreams (Chink! go the bricks as they are added to my protective wall: “Playtime’s over; it’s time to grow up!”). I was also losing my utter confidence in myself (Chink! “Face it, kid; you’re a victim!) Occasionally, however, I got to be with horses, and the month I spent with my mother’s Michigan relatives who leased a black-and-white pinto for me made for the best summer I ever had.
By high school and college my love for horses took second place to boys. I married after graduation, got a job as a third grade teacher, and dreamed about having a child of my own. But the horses were still there, running around in the shadowy summer pastures of my mind, and I still dreamed of owning one someday. Five years later my dream came true when my husband bought me a white albino gelding with light blue eyes. But my dream was short-lived: I was pregnant within a few months and my cautious doctor warned me against riding. We sold Bamboo before my daughter was born.
It was the only thing to do. Motherhood is a full-time job. Isn’t it? When we grow up, we need to be reasonable and give up our unrealistic childhood dreams. Don’t we? Passion is a foolish and dangerous emotion. Isn’t it?
It can be enlightening to examine the symbols that prevail in our outer lives; sometimes they have an amazing correspondence to our psychological development. My youthful confidence and self-sufficiency were symbolized by my fixation on the black stallion, the epitome of powerful masculine energy, combined with dark, feminine, instinctive passion. Had I lived in another place and time, I might have continued to develop the capabilities of this powerful symbol, but, wildness and darkness were not quite acceptable in my world which preferred reason to passion and masculine to feminine.
As I grew older, my symbol acquired some balance and became a tamer, more reasonable, and less passionate (lighter-colored) black-and-white pinto. (Chink!) By the time I was a wife, mother and teacher and had accepted the restrictions placed on women, my symbol was a colorless gelding. Passion and dark femininity were lost and masculine light and reason overshadowed my horse energy, which had become dormant and impotent. (Chink! Chink!)
My choice to be a teacher was guided by my needs for security and societal acceptance, not my real interests or skills. I didn’t even know what these might be. And although becoming a wife and mother were the right choices for me, I was not fulfilled in either capacity. Why? Because I was conforming to ill-fitting, societally transmitted renditions of these roles.
I lived on the surface of my life for several more years. I was a good sport, a good wife and mother, a mediocre tennis player, and an enthusiastic church- and party-goer, looking outside my Self for answers, approval, and temporary relief from my discomfort. Unaware of the wall that covered my true Self, a place where my passion for the black stallion was still alive and well, I assumed I was who and what I appeared to be. What I really was, was a woman following a path laid out for her by her forebears, a woman living her life for others.
Let go of the life I planned? Out of the question….much too dangerous to even think about, for in the first half of my life I was obsessed with building. Rebelling and tearing down weren’t even on my radar. Fortunately, the life that was waiting for me wouldn’t be denied.
More about that next time……
Image Credit: The Black Stallion, Google Images
Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Signs at the Crossroads September 8, 2015
“To understand is quick and exciting but to embody is slow and penetrating.” ~John Tarrant
As I write this post I find myself at a crossroads; it’s my last week in our Smoky Mountain summer home. By the time you read this I will have left. Part of my heart doesn’t want to leave this sanctuary; the other part looks forward to returning to my Florida home and family.
Both places hold special charms for me. Here it’s secluded, cool, mountainous, and forested. Everywhere I go I’m surrounded by nature’s wild beauty. My life is slower, less “mental”, more contemplative and physical—perhaps I should say, “embodied.” I have lots of solitude, plenty of time to listen to my inner promptings and do whatever appeals, a large granddog companion to accompany me on daily hikes, and occasional house guests to enjoy and entertain…all at an easy, reasonable pace that feeds my soul at a deeply satisfying level.
My life in Florida has a different kind of beauty with its daily and weekly routines: regular workouts, ukulele lessons, social commitments, holiday celebrations, and fun times with my family, always with enough time left over to write. The pace is faster and more exciting, given Orlando’s thriving and diverse cultural offerings, but since I prefer a minimum of “fast and exciting,” I usually manage to stay within my comfort level there too.
The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create. The meaning of events comes from the possibility of life in this world that you create. It is the mastery of this world and the assertion of your soul in this world. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 239.
The thing that makes dividing my time between these two paths work so well is that I’ve finally learned to listen to how I really want to spend my time and to look for meaning regardless of where I am. In Florida I find meaning in my family and friends, writing, music, and art. Here in the mountains I mostly find it in nature, a road less traveled in our fast-paced world.
I’d like to show you what I mean. These are some of the meaningful signs I’ve found in nature during this crossroads week. Each one speaks to how I want to live my life, regardless of where I am.
This morning I saw this magnificent display of light in the bathroom. It came from a single sunbeam that found its way through the slats of the window blinds.
The first thing Izzy has to do on our walks is chase the trout around the pond while I feed them.
As we stepped onto the trail, the trunk and green necklace circling the base of this beautiful old tulip poplar captured my imagination.
The next thing to catch my interest was this unusual curved tree trunk.
Izzy loves to run ahead, nose to the ground, while I like to take my time on the trail. But she doesn’t go far, and before long, she always comes back to check in.
Yes, she does wait for me, but not always where I would prefer!
She also waits at crossroads to see which way I’ll go.
I think she prefers the road less traveled too.
The other day our friend, Sam, found what we’ve decided is an old moonshine jar almost buried beside the new path. Over the years, Mother Nature has turned it into a terrarium filled with green life. We left it there for Nature to do her thing, and to remind us of the history of these mountains. And to enjoy on our next walk.
We were being serenaded by crows near the end of our walk today when I found a crow feather. At the trail’s end I placed it on our Crow Altar.
This last sign came when we returned from town one twilit evening. I heard a loud rustle in the woodpile and saw a hawk fly up to a nearby branch. It peered down at us with interest and patiently waited while I pulled out my cell phone and took pictures.