The 52nd Week December 29, 2014
I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It has always stood out from the other 51 weeks in a year like a peaceful Zen garden, a special oasis where I attend to soul needs that require annual closure.
During the 80’s when I was juggling parenting with college teaching, I often spent this week assembling and basting together sandwiched layers of fabric backing, cotton batting, and the quilt tops I’d been working on all year. It took another year of hand-quilting everything together before I presented them to my children the next Christmas. After they each had a quilt of their own I used the last week of the year to start more quilts for our new mountain cabin. When these were finished we took them with us for our annual years’-end visit.
On the outside the 80’s were for me a time of perfecting and preserving my persona and the collective values of the times in which I was raised. But on the inside I felt I’d been shipwrecked and was living on my own private, isolated island. There I spent most of my time fishing in the watery depths of my psyche for psychological sustenance that could help me understand myself and resolve my inner conflicts.
Then, in the fall of 1989 I found what I was looking for: I joined a Centerpoint group based on Jungian psychology, and suddenly the lights came on! I don’t remember what I did during the 52nd week that year but I’m pretty sure I would have spent most of it reading, studying and underlining one of the 20 or so books by Jungian analysts I had immediately ordered from Inner City Publishers. Intense study was the first of the practices I undertook that made the year of 1990 a threshold into the most life-changing, soul-satisfying and creative period of my life.
My other main practice was recording and studying my dreams. Throughout the nineties I did dreamwork every morning and wrote every afternoon. I also meditated and practiced yoga. But I always devoted the 52nd week of each year to rereading my dream journals, summarizing important themes and trends, noting new developments, and highlighting valuable insights. Remembering and integrating my soul’s processes at the end of every year was an extremely valuable ritual for me in those days. Essentially I was building a new foundation for my psyche and I could feel it growing stronger with each passing year. This was my decade of finding, connecting with, and honoring the unconscious and the Self.
The new millennium brought new insights and year’s-end rituals. Feeling an unprecedented need to get in touch with my body and nature, I usually spent the 52nd week hiking and climbing the mountains near our cabin. As my grandchildren began arriving, they and their parents would join us; we’d also play games and enjoy lots of physical, outdoor, non-cerebral fun like sledding, making snow angels, and building snowmen!
Once again it’s my favorite week of the year. This year Fred and I brought Izzie—our grand-dog who’s a female version of her predecessor, Bear—with us to the cabin. One of my favorite things so far has been to take a long daily hike around the property with her. Another was to prepare a welcome meal of chili, salad, homemade biscuits, and key lime pie for my son’s family who joined us a few nights ago.
So far, the only theme I see emerging during this decade is to listen and follow the guidance of my instincts and energy. I don’t feel much need for closure any more—annual or otherwise—and the days of making special preparations for the 52nd week are long gone. In fact, I rarely do much of that any other time of the year either. Mostly I just like staying present with myself, my family, and the moment and its opportunities.
Above all, I’ve been spending a lot of time savoring the many blessings of my life. Believe me, I’ve had more than my share and I’ve never felt more grateful for them. Right now, that’s enough for me. Whatever the new year may bring, I welcome it with open arms.
May the new year bring you renewed awareness and gratitude for the special times of your one, precious life.
If you’re interested in hearing more about my introduction to Jungian psychology, you might enjoy this radio interview I did for the Centerpoint Foundation.
Ebook versions of Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Five Links to Creativity December 2, 2014
Last time in “The Psychology of Creativity” I discussed how creativity originates in the body’s physical instincts. But, you might wonder, what does this mean for me in practical terms? How do I gain access to my creativity? Where do I direct my energy and attention? What, exactly, is the link that connects my body’s natural instincts with my ego’s potential to produce something truly original?
Actually, more than one link needs to be forged between our conscious and unconscious selves before we can fully activate and manifest our creativity. Here are five I consider to be of primary importance.
1. Libido: Libido is psychological energy, the zest for life which enables us to get out of bed every day and act on our instinctual urges, including the instinct for creativity. We all have the urge to grow and learn, but life presents many obstacles that can sap it. Chief among these is the ego’s lethargy. Our child-like desire to regress into unconscious dependence is extremely powerful; nobody finds it easy to rouse themselves from the cozy maternal matrix we inhabited during our early years. Other drains come from early trauma, lack of nurturance, self-destructive habits, poverty, debilitating accidents and illnesses, toxic relationships, grief, and anything else that stifles our instincts and brings hopelessness and despair. It’s not impossible for an individual with insufficient libido to find a creative outlet, and that in itself will provide an increase of libido, but we can’t develop our fullest creativity without a good dose of it.
2. Balance: Psychological one-sidedness can imprison our instincts, thus inhibiting our creativity. Some examples: the person whose obsession with logic and reason causes scorn for spontaneity, intuition and emotion. The one whose extreme emotions eliminate the possibility of rational decision-making. The person full of inspired, creative ideas who can’t handle the daily show-up and follow-through. The religious fanatic who idealizes disembodied Spirit and fears and hates his bodily temptations. Balance is a bridge that allows opposites to interact, and the resulting fertilization creates something new.
3. Self-Awareness: You can’t mend your psychological imbalance if you don’t see it. Most of us spend the first half of our lives on auto-pilot. As long as we’re driven to do what we need to do without questioning or taking over the controls, our creative offerings are minimal. This may be fine for one who doesn’t feel the creative urge, but for those who do, self-awareness is indispensable. Noticing the different ways you feel in different situations, then figuring out where you feel best and spending more time there, frees up repressed libido. The more you watch your actions, listen to yourself talk, or notice the direction your life is taking, the more aware you are of alternatives. The more alternatives you have, the more original your choices can be.
4. Feeling: At your psyche’s core you are a unique individual with important values, ideas and images that contribute to your creativity and give shape to your life’s purpose. But from the moment you first saw a frown on Mother’s face or heard the impatient edge in Daddy’s voice you started covering up your true Self until you lost touch with your essence. Reconnecting with the Self requires trust in what feels meaningful and important regardless of what others think.
I was reminded of this while watching the Florida State vs. Florida football game Thanksgiving weekend. Back when FSU’s football program was young and unknown, Fred was one of two freshmen to earn a walk-on scholarship. Naturally, we’ve rooted for the Seminoles ever since. In those days I’d watch Chief Osceola stir up the crowd during a game and think, “That Indian needs a horse!” I wasn’t aware of Horse’s symbolic meaning. I just knew a horse could bring pride, unity and strength to our struggling athletic program. I had no idea it could do the same for my psyche! Nine years after we left, FSU got a horse mascot. Today Chief Osceola and Renegade are national icons and Horse has a profound influence on my writing.
I’m not suggesting there’s anything new about a Native American on a horse, or that there’s a cause and effect relationship here, or that winning and fame should be our ultimate goals! My point is that recurring feelings and images signal creative developments emerging from the spirit of the depths, and taking them seriously can enhance our creativity.
5. Self-Love: The final and most important link to be forged between our egos and instincts is Love. If we can’t love our bodies and their instincts, we can’t love our flawed humanness, and without a measure of self-love we are in grave danger of living libido-deprived, unbalanced, unaware, unfeeling and uncreative lives. Living with love and creativity is our greatest joy and reason for being. We bring forth these life-giving qualities through conscious dialogues with our instincts. This is holy work.
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Image: Mark Wallcheiser, Chief Osceola on Renegade, Wikipedia
Elephant in the Cave August 12, 2014
Inner work is any practice that helps make the unconscious conscious; for example, dreamwork, art, journaling, psychotherapy, meditation, prayer, yoga, body work, active imagination, ritual, and so on. But the ego’s fear of seeing beneath the surface makes most of us naturally resistant to this kind of work. The ninth dream I ever recorded addressed this issue:
It is night and very dark. I try to lock an elephant in a cave, but when I push on the door to close it, it breaks. I run for help because I am afraid the elephant will get out and do some damage.
This dream is short, sweet, and very much to the point. What could be more frightening to a tiny ego than a massive elephant on a rampage? Who wouldn’t try to lock it in or run away?
In religious practices and literature, the elephant often symbolizes power, wisdom, and happiness. As a mount for Asian royalty, it represents sovereignty. And as an instinctual creature with advanced sensitivity, it symbolizes inner knowing and intuition. Since animals in dreams usually represent our instincts, (Jung said we have five: activity, nourishment, reflection, sex, and creativity), to me the elephant suggested my instinct for reflection because reflecting on our inner lives can activate these positive qualities.
What about the other two symbols in this dream? A cave is associated with birth (the Eastern church depicts Christ’s birth in a cave), the maternal womb, and sacred initiation rites. Like the unconscious, caves are dark places containing hidden potential and spiritual treasures.
A door represents a psychic force which, when closed, keeps us from knowing what lies behind it. But when it is broken or open, we can travel between the outer, conscious world of logic, reason, and objective fact, and the mysterious inner world of the unconscious.
While this dream helped me recognize my resistance to reflecting (elephant) on my personal unconscious (cave) because my ego was afraid of opening (door) to the unknown, it held much more meaning for me than I was capable of understanding then. At the time I thought the unknowns I feared were changing in ways that might be problematic for my family and discovering some hidden unworthy qualities, but after twenty-five years of inner work, I have rooted out a deeper, archetypal source of my fear.
All three symbols in this dream are related to spirituality. Western and Middle Eastern religions traditionally associate spirit with the distant masculine Sky God with whom they connect via mental abstractions: correct words, clear ideas, strong beliefs, and noble ideals. This approach has long devalued the spiritual significance of the soul which is associated with femininity: physical matter, the body, emotion, instinct, feeling, inner knowing, intuition and the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life.
Of what was I so afraid? To what has my religion had such stern resistance for the last 5,000 years? Simply this: The feminine aspect of the Mystery we call God. The Mystery incarnate in matter. The sovereignty, spiritual authority, power and wisdom of our own infinitely beautiful and loveable bodies and souls. The energies of Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom: the sacred spark that indwells us and all creation. Poor little ego. So terrified of life!
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”~Joseph Campbell
Photo Credit: Gregory Colbert
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Animal Healers August 6, 2014
A couple of years ago I babysat a precious golden retriever puppy for three days so my son and his wife could surprise their sons with her on Christmas morning. During that time she developed some digestive issues and by Christmas day she was in obvious distress, needing to be let out of the house every fifteen minutes or so. Was it my fault? Had she eaten a poisonous plant in our yard or swallowed something she couldn’t pass? The thought that I might be responsible was agonizing and I wondered for the umpteenth time why we get so attached to animals and experience some of our greatest joys and deepest sorrows because of them.
Certainly mammals have body structures, nervous systems, organs, instinctual needs, and even DNA very similar to ours. So when they’re sick, wounded or in pain, we know how they feel. Moreover, although most animals can try to flee from danger, there are always forces—including humans and Nature herself—that are far more powerful. Knowing our own fears and vulnerability, we can relate to that aspect of animals too.
Then there’s the unconditional love some animals give us. It’s so comforting when your dog follows you around, your cat purrs contentedly in your lap, or your horse comes running at your approach. You feel known, appreciated, valued. A happy, thriving pet reminds you that you can be loving, nurturing and morally responsible. We crave these good feelings and love the animals who elicit them, so it’s only natural that we get emotional when they suffer or die.
Repression and projection have something to do with the magical relationship we have with animals too. All of us deny some of our unwanted qualities and project them onto people and animals. For example, I once knew a tough-minded woman who showed no emotion when talking about her own difficult circumstances, yet she cried easily at the thought of abused animals. To her it felt safe to sympathize with the pain and helplessness of a dog or cat, but she was unwilling to feel her own pain.
At the time I didn’t know if anyone else noticed this about her, but it was painfully obvious to me. From where did this insight come? Personal experience. When my parents divorced I cried my heart out. But when my father died three months later I didn’t shed a tear. I was so traumatized that I shut down emotionally so I wouldn’t hurt any more. Denying pain became so important to me that I even refused novocaine when I went to the dentist! For years I couldn’t cry for myself but I could use up a box of tissues watching an animal movie. I still can!
Animals mirror our unconscious, instinctual selves. This is why we love our pets so much. As they are vulnerable, so are we. As they suffer, so do we. We know how they feel, they seem to know how we feel. We think we understand them; they seem to understand who we really are. We know we have unlovable shadows, yet they love us anyway. We see their instinctual shadows, and we love them anyway. Because they trust and depend on us we do not take their devotion or suffering lightly. We deal with it as best we can, and we know we are better for having made the effort. In the process of learning compassion for them, we discover that we are as deserving of love as they are.
Over the years Miss Lottie, a sensuous Siamese cat; Peri, a perky little chihuahua/terrier mix; Shadow, an elegant, high-strung thoroughbred gelding; and Bear, a handsome and gentle golden retriever, have been my teachers, therapists and healers. Training and caring for them taught me patience and respect for the ways of others. Their simple joy in being alive taught me greater awareness and appreciation for my body and the life in it. Their love and devotion to me helped me feel and express more tenderness and love to everyone, including myself. And the copious tears I shed at their deaths softened my heart and taught me more compassion for others who suffer loss.
By the way, Isabella, or Izzy as Matt’s family called their new puppy, was fine the next day. Apparently her problem was caused by the rawhide puppy treats I gave her to keep her from chewing on my kitchen cabinets. I felt terrible about it, but she kept loving me anyway. And now that she’s come to live with me for the summer, I remember something I forgot after Bear died. Being with her makes me feel better about myself. It’s a mysterious thing, this healing power of animals, but it’s real. And I’m deeply grateful for it.
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
What Do Dreams Have To Do With “Real” Life? Part II July 22, 2014
Last time I shared a dream from over 20 years ago titled “Two Snakes in the Tree of Life.” So what did that dream have to do with “real” life? Actually, dreams ARE real life. They happen to everyone, even some animals. They are facts. We do not make them up. They come from a place beyond Ego’s control: the unconscious. Our unawareness of the unconscious does not negate its reality; each dream proves its existence. When we trust it and explore its nightly dramas, ordinary life is transformed into the greatest adventure of all: living our own myth.
This is my all-time favorite dream and I’m still processing its message. It arrived shortly after I finished my first book about the inner life, The Bridge to Wholeness. I had quit college teaching to follow my passion for writing, birthed my precious child, nurtured it through months of revisions, and was looking for a publisher. At a time when I was particularly vulnerable, this dream affirmed my choices and bolstered my courage to continue on my new path.
It is a mythic allegory about the psycho-spiritual initiation of my immature Ego (the little green snake) which had unconsciously identified with my culture’s masculine/Animus values. It said that my destiny was to take the individuation (tree) journey through a dark and unknown way to integrate my Soul (brown female snake) into consciousness.
The first stage of initiation was a slow awakening to Spirit through a lengthy immersion in the spiritual realm (hole). This corresponded with the first half of my life when I escaped internal conflicts by immersing myself in church, the Bible, and masculine-oriented religious teachings.
The second stage began when the little green snake left the safe womb of conformity and ventured out on its own. This was the right choice (right) for me, even though it opened me to the dangerous influence of the unconscious (left). The outer world equivalent to this plot development is that at age 37 I finally acknowledged my unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, overcame my inertia, and returned to college for my doctorate.
Act III featured an encounter with my earthy feminine Anima/Soul (brown female snake) who lived in the opposite, unconscious side of my psyche. Suddenly, her differing needs demanded equal time with Spirit.
In waking life I had come face to face with a moral dilemma, both sides of which were equally compelling, yet intolerable. Fearful of making a terrible mistake that could have disastrous consequences, I tolerated the tension of their slow simmering in a Dark Night of the Soul for nine long years. Listening to the dialogues between Reason and Emotion, Conscious and Unconscious, Animus and Anima, Spirit and Soul, Ego and Self without giving in to my Ego’s desperate wish to escape was my salvation, for in the process, the alchemical vessel of my psyche was strengthened and empowered.
Fascinated by the strange image of the female snake biting down on the head of the little green snake, I looked for associations in Barbara Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Walker says that the serpent was originally identified with the Great Goddess and many ancient religions told stories about a male snake deity who was the Goddess’s consort. Walker writes:
[This male snake]…gave himself up to be devoured by the Goddess. The image of the male snake deity enclosed or devoured by the female gave rise to a superstitious notion about the sex life of snakes, reported by Pliny and solemnly believed in Europe even up to the 20th century: that the male snake fertilizes the female snake by putting his head in her mouth and letting her eat him [italics mine] p. 904.
Bingo! This mythic image which I had never encountered before is an archetypal symbol of fertility, transformation and renewal! It appeared in my dream as a natural consequence of years of inner work and mirrored a life-changing transformation in my personality. This is why the last scene of the dream pointed not to death, but to new life. An apparent catastrophe was transformed into something sacred (rainbow) by the snakes’ bizarre embrace. The result was a more maturely individuated Ego and Animus (cowboy) and a deeply meaningful spirituality.
So my answer to,”What do dreams have to do with ‘real’ life?” is, “Everything that truly matters and is deeply real.” They show us who we are: our greatest fears and deepest desires, our wounds and wishes, weaknesses and strengths.They tell us where we are and how to get where we want to go. They help us forgive our flaws and learn compassion for ourselves and others. They encourage our individuality and reward our healthy choices. They satisfy our soul’s yearning to be known and loved.
I still struggle daily to understand and accept myself, but thanks to my dreams and the writing through which I pour out my vital essence, I’m still evolving. And beneath my ubiquitous self-doubt rests a solid foundation—laid by 25 years of recording and working on #4,552 dreams to date—of peaceful knowing. My dreams tell me: You are making a contribution only you can make. This is enough for me.
Your destiny is the result of the collaboration between the conscious and the unconscious. Carl Jung, Letters Volume I, p. 283.
Photos: Ego and Archetype by Edward Edinger is one of my favorite books by a Jungian analyst. It’s a must for the library of any serious seeker. To learn more about Jungian psychology from a layperson’s point of view check out any of my books. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
What Do Dreams Have to Do with “Real” Life? Part I July 15, 2014
If you’ve never thought of dreams as having any relevance to your waking life, I can assure you, they do. This one which came at a pivotal time in my life convinced me beyond any doubt that some unimaginable, unconscious Mystery which dwelled both within and outside me knew what was going on in my conscious life and had something to tell me about it. I’ll share the dream in this post and comment on it in the next.
Dream #843: Two Snakes in the Tree of Life”.
Someone is telling a story. I watch from afar as the events unfold.
“Once upon a time a little green snake started his life in one side of a tree.” I see the snake. He is long and thin and his underbelly is the color of the inside of an avocado.
“On the other side of the tree lay a huge, old, brown female snake, but the little green snake did not know it. He grew and grew until one day he decided to go on his journey and he entered the hole.” The little green snake slithers into a hole in the tree and disappears. I look to see if his head comes out of the hole on the other side where the big old female snake is, but it does not. Maybe the way inside the hole is long and winding.
“It took him a long time of traveling and he was enjoying his journey, but eventually he came out on the other side.” His head peeks out of the hole. Will he see the big snake? No, he turns right and takes a narrow spiral path that curves around the tree to the left, to where the big snake is waiting.
“The little green snake slid along smack into the mouth of the big snake.” The green snake’s head peeks out of the side of the big snake’s mouth. The big snake munches down on his head twice. Chomp. Chomp. The little green snake’s face shows no fear or distress or pain. Maybe this does not hurt. Maybe he has no idea what is happening to him. I hope so.
Now the narration breaks off. There are other onlookers here. One says, “Oh, well. That’s the end of the little green snake.”
Someone else says, “Well, what if he fights back?” I wonder how he can possibly fight back with no hands or arms or legs. There seems to be no hope.
Someone else says, “Oh, no. He shouldn’t fight back. That would be wrong.”
The narrator says, “Oh, is fighting the wrong answer?”
Suddenly, a rainbow streaks across the sky and lands in a different place, like a lit-up stage in a vast, darkened theatre. It is the little green snake, who has been transformed into a young, handsome cowboy. Triumphantly he saunters across the stage to the bar, slaps down two coins, and says to the bartender, “Set ’em up, Joe.”
He survived! He did not have to die and he turned into a human! This is the best possible ending to the story.