Mythological Healing in Times of Crisis November 19, 2013
It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to my guest blogger, Elaine Mansfield. Elaine and I met about 15 years ago at the Winter Park Jung Center where her husband Vic made a presentation about his newest book. Talking over dinner afterwards, Elaine and I discovered that we had many interests in common, including dreamwork, women’s issues, and mythological studies. We have stayed in touch ever since. The following piece is an especially poignant example of how her inner work helped her through Vic’s cancer and death:
While my husband Vic began chemotherapy in 2006, I absorbed Rainer Maria Rilke’s message in Sonnets to Orpheus: within the darkness of our experience, there is always light. Rilke praised the impermanence of the natural world where all that is born dies. Vic and I lived and loved as he—and we—were also dying.
Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
That haunts our days
Is their very fragrance.
During that chemotherapy autumn while my safe world collapsed around me, I studied Rilke’s sonnets and the myth of Orpheus in a mythology class. Vic struggled, suffered, and kept going. In the chemotherapy room, I watched brave women with scarves askew, bony men with smooth skulls, and angry teenagers with oversized baseball caps concealing their baldness. I saw how each patient balanced their darkness with a call from a friend, the smile of a nurse or companion, or music on their IPod. As I held Vic, the myth held me and taught me what it means to be mortal and live in this world of opposites.
Rilke’s words helped me accept as toxins entered Vic’s veins.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Rilke helped me see that death is always present in my experience, even in pleasure.
Full round apple, peach, pear, blackberry
Each speaks life and death
into the mouth.
Searching for life and light within the darkness of Vic’s dying became my spiritual practice.
For almost twenty-five years I’d been part of a mythology class with women grounded in Jungian Psychology. We studied the Greek goddesses and gods, a few Eastern European and Asian fairytales, and Inanna’s descent to the underworld to be initiated into the mysteries of Death. Soon after Vic was diagnosed, a class member spotted Sonnets to Orpheus in a bookstore window and suggested we explore the myth of Orpheus.
Orpheus was a demigod, musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek mythology. After his beloved wife Eurydice died, he traveled to the Underworld to play his lyre, sing his lament, and gain Eurydice’s release. The beauty of his song convinced Hades and Persephone to grant her freedom, but Orpheus was told not to look back at Eurydice until they were in the Light. Being at least partly human, he glanced back and lost his Love forever to Death.Our group met twice a month and worked on one sonnet each meeting for over two years since there are 55 sonnets. We explored the mythic ideas, read many translations, studied various versions of the Orphic myth, and painted the poetic images—the god, a tree, a lyre. We also included images from personal experiences in our drawings. Within the vessel of this archetypal myth, Rilke’s poems, and a circle of wise, loving women, I remembered that my world of heightened opposites held just as much living as dying.
But life holds mystery for us yet. In a hundred places
we can still sense the source: a play of pure powers
that—when you feel it—brings you to your knees.
Elaine Mansfield’s writing reflects 40 years as a student of philosophy, Jungian psychology, mythology and meditation, and life on 71 acres of woods, fields, and sunset views in the Finger Lakes of New York. Since her husband’s death in 2008, Elaine’s website and blog have focused on bereavement, marriage, and the challenges and joys of her emerging life. Elaine has written a book about love, loss, and new life to be published in 2014. She facilitates hospice support groups for women who have lost partners or spouses and writes for the Hospicare and Palliative Care of Tompkins County newsletter and website and other on line publications.
Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry is from In Praise of Mortality: Selections from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus.
Original art by Elaine Mansfield.
Feasting at Women’s Tables April 2, 2013
Since I left my job to write in 1989 I’ve always been part of at least one women’s circle with sometimes as many as four ongoing groups at the same time. My Jungian study group was formed in 1989 and our weekly meetings lasted for ten years. The Purple Pro’s, my writing group, has met monthly since 1990 and usually shared home-cooked lunches. This year is the first we haven’t had a meeting because of changes in our lives that make it too difficult.
In 1997 a few women and I founded The Matrix, an organization dedicated to identifying and meeting the sometimes physical, but always psycho-spiritual needs of women in Central Florida. Until we passed the torch along a few years ago, my monthly meetings with five unusually wise and gifted women were deeply growth-inducing and soul-sustaining. 1997 was also the year I started teaching classes and leading dream groups at the Winter Park Jung Center. When it closed, our dream groups met in private homes until my latest book demanded too much time and energy.
For over 20 years I have regularly shared meetings, study groups, planning sessions, classes, programs, volunteer projects, weekend workshops, retreats, dream groups, and food with circles of women. We opened and closed most occasions with rituals. Some, like the five minute deep-breathing meditation before dream groups, became traditions. Others were tailored for specific occasions like Matrix meetings, classes, holiday gatherings, and individual life passages such as birthdays, weddings, new babies, transitions into crone-hood, house-blessings, illnesses and deaths.
The defining feeling running through all these groups was abundant nurturing. This is nothing to scoff at, I assure you! Think about it. When’s the last time you were with a group of people who wanted to nourish each other more than they wanted to grab all the goodies? I’m not saying there were no hurts, disagreements or misunderstandings, but there were only two occasions when differences were not resolved with emotional restraint born from growing fullness and caring. In both instances, the unforgiving women who left were deeply wounded neophytes in self-reflection.
A climate of abundance is rare among both genders in social institutions where an attitude of scarcity prevails. Not even religions are immune. Think about the usual office and board meetings, gatherings around the water cooler, times off in the break room, holiday office parties. How many have you attended where you didn’t hear a single snide remark or juicy bit of gossip? I’ve sat in faculty meetings where scorn for other professors, departments or colleges was palpable. Served on boards, chaired committees, and attended church functions where petty gossip, misogyny, exclusivity, and competition to impress hid behind the thinnest of pious veils.
I know some women prefer the company of men. I’m sorry for those who’ve never experienced the deep sustenance offered by mature and generous-spirited women, who’ve been poisoned by the spiteful gossip of miserable, mean-spirited women. I’ve shared tables with a few of the latter type when they’ve joined one of my classes or tried to befriend me. But ever since I excused myself from the company of rigid institutions and started communing with like-minded sisters, women like that have never hung around for long. I think their wounds have left them feeling so empty that they crave a constant diet of discord and drama, and I have no appetite for this.
There are some desperately unsatisfied and spiritually starved women out there, and it hurts knowing they can’t digest the kind of food that would help them discover their inherent beauty and capacity for love. But there are also many generous-spirited Queens, Mothers, Wisewomen and Beloveds, and sharing my journey with some of them, including you who join me at this table, has been a major blessing in my life.
Partnership Between the Lover and Beloved: The Healer November 2, 2012
The archetype that represents the union between the Lover and Beloved is the Healer. Healers are strong enough to address their own pain and the pain of others without trying to ignore it or escape. Their love can be tough. They can confront and forgive others without becoming victims or seeking revenge. They understand the use of love’s energy, conserving their own by not giving too much, and respecting the energy of others by not taking too much.
The love of the Healer is a great and mysterious paradox. One part (we can think of it as the drive for species-preservation) gives out love—a great, powerful surging of caring and compassion—freely and unconditionally. Yet, knowing that the gift can easily be refused, and recognizing the need to protect his or her own energies, the Healer keeps another part (the drive for self-preservation) to her- or himself, remaining unattached to the outcome. Thus the Healer’s heart is open, free-flowing, joyful, and generous at the same time that it is calm, objective, balanced, and detached.
This is not an easy condition to attain. Indeed, it is usually found only in those who have been initiated into their proper relationship with the Self through an experience of suffering for the sake of love and then been healed by it. Because Healers know they are totally loved, they can love totally; having been healed by love, they can heal with love. This is the meaning of the term, “wounded healer.” Their healing can be physical, social, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Or it can be all of these at once.
Authentic Healers do not heal to satisfy their egos or impress others. They do not make elaborate plans to heal, nor do they strain and struggle to make it happen. Their healing is rarely obvious and never flashy. They simply go about their business of being emotionally present to others without worrying about the past moment or planning for the next. Simply by caring and being real, by listening with understanding hearts, forgiving thoughts and generous spirits, by responding to all with interest and compassion, they attract the wounded and bless them gently, subtly, spontaneously, just by being themselves. Authentic Healers heal because they feel. Because they care. Because they love.
When love is the only rule, there is no need for other rules. For instance, Healers are not interested in your religious beliefs as long as you love. They have no need to legislate your sexuality, to confine it to relationships between particular kinds of people who have received certain kinds of sanctions via specified rituals, as long as you never use sex to cause pain. For Authentic Healers, religions and sexual practices are not sources of status or self-esteem, bids for acceptance, ways to escape suffering, or means to acquire power over others. They are simply ways to connect with and express our love: for the Self, for the Other, for the miracle of Life. This love doesn’t come easy. You have to want it with all your heart, ask for it, and be willing to work for it.
When do you withdraw love from yourself and your Beloved? What secret fear and pain prevents you from giving it? What are you prepared to do to become a Healer?
Partnership With The Beloved October 26, 2012
Sometimes we mistrust our instincts so much that we can only like ourselves to the extent that others esteem us. Sometimes we’re so afraid of our hidden emotions that we try to escape through intellectualizations or addictions that divert our attention. Sometimes we shield ourselves by conforming to the letter of the law, or by letting conventional wisdom be our guide, thereby allowing others to define reality for us. And sometimes, because we do not recognize our own deeply submerged beauty, we go to great extremes to manufacture surface beauty or become unhealthily attached to people who personify the beauty we believe we lack.
These behaviors are symptomatic of an unawakened Beloved. Insofar as she personifies the instincts, feelings, values and emotions we have forgotten, disowned, or not permitted ourselves to experience, awakening her is the last thing many egos want to do. Unfortunately, our shadows are powerful obstacles that prevent us from taking the heroic journey. As long as we ignore them to protect ourselves from pain we will remain separated from our true destinies: becoming the powerful and fulfilled individuals we were created to be.
It’s no wonder our poor ego is afraid. As the sleeping repository of unacknowledged feeling, the unawakened Beloved contains all the rage, resentment, and hatred we repress when we are abused or devalued; all the sadness, self-pity, self-hatred, grief, loneliness, and despair we try to ignore when we are rejected or abandoned; all the fear, dread, and terror of everything unknown and potentially harmful; all the pain and conflict we want to avoid; all the attraction to forbidden fruit we want to deny; all the contempt and revulsion, shame, humiliation, and remorse we would rather forget.
What our Lover needs to learn is that accepting and forgiving our true selves is the key to experiencing all the love and acceptance, kindness and compassion, friendliness and trust, forgiveness and devotion we have the potential to feel. Choosing to face and feel our fear and pain brings the joy and happiness, amusement, delight, bliss, sensual pleasure, rapture, and ecstasy for which we yearn. As the fairy tales tell us, when the Lover courageously persists in seeking the Beloved and awakens her with a kiss, the two can finally unite in a healing marriage characterized by deep intimacy, affection, and honesty.
Above all, this union is characterized by love, the great healing power in the universe. I do not mean intellectualized love, where we say loving words without having benevolent feelings. Nor am I talking about that condition of lust and infatuation we call “being in love” in which we project our inner Beloved onto another and think we must physically have that other or die. And I don’t mean the sentimental love that causes us to cry at the thought of animal cruelty or starving children “over there” when we can’t feel compassion for our own hunger, pain and suffering “in here.”
This love is active, not passive. It is a real passion for nurturing the psychological and spiritual development of ourselves as much as others. Most of all, it is an emotional and physical reality, not just an intellectual ideal. One who truly loves and knows s/he is loved learns to love from the heart and body, not just the head and mind. To love this way involves our breath, guts, hands, energy, the very cells out of which we are made.
What parts of yourself and your life do you love this way? What parts do you find impossible to love? Can you imagine loving these too?
Partnership Between the Lover and Beloved October 23, 2012
Our goal in the emotional domain is to feel and sustain the positive emotions of love and pleasure. This need arises from the instinct for sex. For primitive humans whose struggle for survival must have consumed almost every waking moment, sex was one of the few activities that took them away from the daily grind of work and provided emotional satisfaction, if only briefly. Even today, most people still find it extremely difficult to separate their desire for love and pleasure from their desire to have sex with another human being.
Interestingly, the two parts of the brain responsible for emotions and instincts adjoin one another. The so-called reptilian brain at the top of the spinal cord is the bottommost portion of the brain. This brain stem appears to be the source of our instincts. The limbic system, the portion of the brain that processes emotions, is the next higher level which flares out and over the brain stem.
These two parts appear to have developed very early in our evolution at a time when the primary task of the human species was to survive. The cerebral cortex is a more recent addition. This is a wider, double-hemispheric mass that rises above the brain stem and limbic system. Psychologically, we can say that the two lower parts of the brain contain the most basic and deeply unconscious aspects of our mental functioning and correspond with the unconscious self, or other. Likewise, the cerebral cortex is the realm of conscious selfhood, or ego. Because our emotions and instincts “lie beneath” our conscious awareness, it is extremely difficult for us to understand or deal with them in controlled, rational ways.
The emotional energy of our instinct for sex fuels not only sexual passion but also spiritual passion. The archetypes which represent it are the Lover and the Beloved. One way to see them is as personifications of self and other, our conscious and unconscious emotional lives. From this perspective, the Lover represents our ego’s sense of selfhood and concerns about self-preservation: our desire for self-development, our longing for fulfillment, our passion to become individuated and enlightened.
A strong, heroic Lover feels great passion; a weak one fears and represses emotions, especially tender ones. A brave Lover recognizes his desires and honors his powerful appetite; a deeply wounded one barely allows himself to want anything at all. A mature Lover understands the dangers of excesses and maintains some discipline and self-control; an immature one cannot control his emotional life, develops addictions, or swings from one emotional extreme to the other.
The Beloved can likewise be awake or asleep, strong or weak, brave or cowardly. An immature Beloved is not open, authentic, or intimate with Otherness, including the Great Mystery, other people, our shadows, or our contrasexual opposites of anima or animus. In this unconnected state we project our disowned emotions onto people and activities that we expect to satisfy our deepest emotional needs, and when things go wrong we blame them. But the true culprit in dysfunctional relationships is our fear of opening emotionally to Otherness, both human and divine. It is our ego’s lack of feeling that creates problems with the very people in whom we invest our hope for love and pleasure. The antidote is to know and feel compassion for our rejected selves.
How are you doing in the emotional realm? When do you fail to feel love for yourself?
Please note: Syndicated talk show host Al Cole is airing a radio interview with me about my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, on his show “People of Distinction.” You can listen in at this link. I hope you enjoy it.