Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Sacrament of Paying Attention August 13, 2013

The Church conducts sacraments to infuse life-changing experiences like birth, marriage, and death with sacred meaning. Many find these rituals deeply satisfying and enjoy the positive feelings they bring long afterwards.  But inevitably our sense of the Sacred fades and the good feelings are replaced with less comfortable ones. What do we do then?  Formal community rituals don’t address the inner discomfort of an individual psyche.

Every ego experiences wounding in the process of growing up, and sometimes the normal pressures of life reactivate our wounds.  Then they speak to us in uncomfortable moods and emotions like tension, anxiety, agitation, self-doubt, depression, sadness, longing, frustration, irritability, self-pity, anger. Most egos learn to repress certain thoughts and feelings that bring inner discomfort, and we tend to feel proud of our ability to do this.

This is a mistake.  Even the tiniest emotional twinge can be a valuable message from our unconscious, but ignorance turns the opportunity for a blessing into an obstacle that separates us from our awareness of the Sacred. Thus, do we deprive ourselves of the love and balance that are our spiritual inheritance.

There is a sacrament anyone can conduct to free and heal the wounded and imprisoned parts of ourselves. I call it the Sacrament of Paying Attention. The first step is to notice when we’re feeling or acting uncomfortable or moody. The second is to imagine which of our many wounded inner characters is causing the feeling or mood. And the third is to treat this shadow with warm welcome and kind attention until it becomes our friend.

Dream analysis and journal-writing help us perfect these steps. Dreams depict our wounds in the feelings, emotions, and behaviors of our dream ego and other characters. Writing about these things brings understanding and self-acceptance. After 21 years I can feel the wound and befriend the shadow in a few moments under normal circumstances. But as I write this I’m traveling with a group in a foreign land and have had little opportunity to tend to inner business. A few nights ago I had a dream in Saigon that spoke to how my soul was feeling about this.

In the dream I’m hosting a wedding shower in my childhood home and nothing goes quite right. I keep the guests waiting outside for ten minutes, and when I let them in I realize I haven’t tidied up the house or prepared refreshments. Then I rush the bride-to-be into opening her gifts without taking the time to welcome my guests, make them comfortable, or conduct the opening ritual I had planned. I try to justify this by telling myself I’ve done the best I can, but the dream ends with me feeling ashamed and wishing I had paid more attention. My guests deserved my best effort.

I wanted to ignore this dream and the feelings it evoked, but it had alerted me to the stress and self-criticism that prolonged interaction with others produces in me, and I knew it would only get worse in the days ahead. So, on the long bus ride from Saigon to the Mekong Delta I sat alone, recorded the dream, wrote my associations, and tried to identify the wounded shadow who’s feeling this way. In doing so, I recognized my introverted child (I was in my childhood home) whose conditioning to solitude left her ill-equipped for lengthy and intense communal situations.

The sense of release and relief was immediate and dramatic. Attending to this dream soothed my child, showered my inner bride-to-be and other inner guests with the attention they deserved, and gave me the refreshing respite I needed. The Sacrament of Paying Attention reunited my ego with the Beloved.  I’m all better now!

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.

Note:  I’m not in Viet Nam now. This is a revised version of a post that first appeared in December of 2010!

 

A Call to Dialogue About Gender February 8, 2013

UntitledAfter my last post, Lorrie B said that gender is a huge elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It’s true. But talking is essential if we’re to heal our gender-related wounds, so in this post I’ll offer topics for conversations.

Tribalism: Our species is between 100 and 150 thousand years old. In that time we’ve made more progress taming the instincts of carnivorous canine and feline pack animals than our own. Why are we still so territorial? So hostile toward members of our own species whose only differences from us are physical appearances and culturally- and geographically-conditioned adaptations? Episcopal priest Matthew Fox says that as a species we are extremely dangerous and our tribalism is eating us alive. What roles do gender issues play in tribalism? What changes can men and women take to eliminate it?

Violence: Lorrie B also noted that men, onto whom we’ve traditionally projected our masculine drive (self-preservation) and values, are accountable for over 90 % of the world’s violence. Why are women (onto whom we’ve projected our feminine drive of species-preservation with its values of caring, connecting and relating) and spiritually enlightened people of both genders still so ineffective in reducing violent conflicts? Is testosterone the only culprit? How can the genders cooperate in healing our violent tendencies?

Male-Dominated Spirituality: Our “primitive” forebears appreciated and worshiped the sacredness of all life in its masculine and feminine aspects. Why do so many “advanced” Westerners believe that a one-sided masculine-oriented spirituality is preferable? Why has organized religion failed to solve the problems of male violence and female oppression? Why do both genders submit to external religious authorities instead of acting on the truth of these words from the Dalai Lama? “We can do without religion, but not compassion.” Didn’t Jesus and Mohammed teach the same thing? Why is Mother Teresa the female spirit person who most readily comes to mind? What can we learn from her?

Gender Stereotypes: Why do gender stereotypes still abound? Why are some people still rigidly obsessed with defending them, especially ones related to sexuality and fundamental personal rights? Why do some of us privately project logic and rationality onto males and sensitivity and emotionality onto females even though both genders contain the psychological potential for both? We’ve had three generations of world-wide immersion in technologically produced visual images, beginning with photography, and moving into film, television, and computers. Why are we still so visually illiterate and vulnerable to subtle manipulation by the media? When and how does advertising take advantage of gender stereotypes and perpetuate unhealthy ones? Who wins from this practice? Who loses? Is it true that men are more out of touch with their feelings than women? Why? Why do women seem to find it easier to integrate their masculine sides than men, their feminine sides? What factors account for the high divorce rate in North America? Why do the genders still have difficulty understanding each other and communicating?

Exploitation of Women, Children and Nature: What can I say about human trafficking, child labor, and sexual exploitation? About the rape of Nature, our Mother? These things are unspeakably appalling and both genders are complicit. God help us. With all the freely given bounty and beauty of life we certainly haven’t excelled at preserving it or helping ourselves and each other enjoy it! Why?

I know most of us would rather imagine figures of light than face dark realities, so if these questions have aroused uncomfortable emotions or offended sensibilities I hope you’ll understand and forgive. May we all advance toward Buddhism’s goal of joyful participation in the sorrows of the world.

My newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at this Amazon link or at Larson Publications, Inc.

 

The Androgyne Archetype and Global Change in the Digital Age November 15, 2011

In response to my post, Angels and E.T’s: The Androgyne Archetype, Skip Conover wrote a comment which adds so much to this discussion that I asked him if I could republish it here. Skip is the founder of the Archetype in Action Organization. He says his first thought was to teach about Jungian Archetype, but he soon realized that *we* are the archetypes. Here’s Skip’s take on how the combined effect of the dawn of the Digital Age and the rebirth of the Androgyne archetype is creating an unprecedented cosmic awareness in human consciousness. He will happily respond to your comments.

How lucky we all are to live as we do at the Dawn of the Digital Age! This concept of the Androgyne archetype can today be seen to go well beyond the mere dichotomy of female and male. What the digital age has allowed us is the ability to see that we are all not so different after all. If I consider a few of my own possible categories, I see that I am essentially the same as every human being on the planet: living being, human being, man, husband, father and grandfather, American, Christian/Buddhist/Agnostic, etc.

As a living being I know I exist, and in that sense I am a bit luckier, because most of the life forms we know simply are, but as a Buddhist I respect all living creatures while accepting the fact that some of them must die so that I may continue. All life lives on other life. Still, I can contemplate the fact that in order for me to live out my three score and ten, I must leave behind a carnage of flocks of chickens, herds of cattle, lambs, and hogs, and remnants of screaming tomatoes.

As a human being I am thrilled with my life as one of the luckiest creatures that ever lived. I can know that I exist and understand my place in this place we call the universe. In the context of that space, our differences are truly trivial, and evaporating by the second in the Digital Age.

We live at a time when we can see back to 500,000 years after the Big Bang, when the first stars in the universe switched on, and down to the smallest particles. We can know that we are alone, both safe from aliens who could be no closer than 24 trillion miles from us but also quarantined from them. I can know that we as a species are truly alone. Science tells us that the fastest object ever created by man is the Voyager spacecraft, which was launched in 1976. It travels at 11 miles per second through deep space, but even at that speed it would take 350,000 years to reach our nearest stellar neighbor. We can know that we can conjure the speed of light, but we will never be photons, which can actually travel at that speed.

As a man, I am not so different from any other human being on the planet. Yes, I have a different gender from women, but that difference only has relevance at the time of procreation and in the privacy of our bedrooms. The marginal differences in hormones we all possess do not create such big differences, unless we conjure them ourselves, and those differences are being minimized by the Digital Age. As a husband, father and grandfather, my roles are not so very different from any other spouse, parent or grandparent throughout the world.

I had the luck to be born an American, which meant I live in a society that mostly allowed human beings to live up to their potential. But, it is not the only model for success. We see many races and religions living together successfully in many other societies, including Singapore, Malaysia, and India to name just a few notable examples. The Digital Age has opened up this type of amalgam even further. The Arab Spring is partially about young Arabs wanting to find an equilibrium; we could call it an Androgyne society. Few of them would want to leave their native land or change their religion, but they now see clearly that others have a better quality of life, and they want to push their societies toward that goal.

In 2002, a Saudi friend said to me, “You know, Skip. In 20 years Saudi Arabia will be like the States.” As I looked around me that evening, and had within view several McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Starbucks, and thousands of Chevys and Fords, I almost thought that it was like that then, but surely that view told me that he was, in a sense, right. Of course, the powers that be will resist the change, but one force they cannot slow down is the Androgyne Archetype, as you describe it.

As a spiritual person, I do not claim any strong persuasion, but my general observation is that the religions of the world, and some philosophies like Buddhism and Taoism, are really not so very different. When Muslim crazies wanted to execute someone for converting to Christianity, as is ordered in the Qu’ran, I found a mirroring passage in Deuteronomy, which many Christians think is the infallible word of God. Powerful people in control of religions have often used them to hype up their political base, and accuse followers of a different faith of being “the Other,” but the Digital Age is in the process of proving them liars too.

I could go on at great length on this topic of the Androgyne Archetype, but my point is that what we see across the world as societal upheaval is really the multifaceted distinctions we have built up over millions of years finding their level and their commonality. What primitive humans saw as the primary differences, between genders, will ultimately be subsumed by the recognition that we are all human beings on a very tiny planet, isolated by the vastness of space, and facing extinction in 4 billion years when the sun burns out. In that sense, I am cheered by the knowledge that we will have no choice but to give the Androgyne Archetype its due.

 

A Path With Heart June 21, 2011

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.

Jung died 50 years ago this month. To celebrate this spiritual and psychological pioneer whose work 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@gmail.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.

 

The Power of Choice April 16, 2011

In this blog I use the framework of Jungian psychology to express my philosophy about life which can be summarized in four words: “Think psychologically; live spiritually.” Because Jung’s discoveries have been so meaningful to me, I’ve hoped to help others make sense of their lives by sharing what I’ve learned.

In my experience, most people drawn to Jungian psychology tend to be curious, progressive, open-minded thinkers who enjoy exploring old ideas and staying in touch with the newest theories in many fields other than psychology. Some of the most common in this mixed bag are quantum physics, astrophysics, astronomy, astrology, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, alchemy, literature, film, religion, mysticism, mythology, philosophy, brain research, dream research, gender relationships and women’s studies. Their goal in familiarizing themselves with such a broad range of knowledge is to gain a better understanding of the reasons for human thought and behavior in the hope of improving the health and wholeness of themselves, their clients, and all humankind.

A field currently yielding some of the most exciting developments is brain functioning, and in particular, the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. MedicineNet.com provides this definition of neuroplasticity: “The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.”

Of most interest to me is the fact that a leading advocate of research in this field is the Dalai Lama who has encouraged Buddhist monks to become “guinea pigs” for scientists wishing to learn if there is a correlation between intentional mind-training techniques like meditation, and physical changes in the brain. The results of this unprecedented collaboration between science and religion point to the startling conclusion that we can change our lives by changing our brains.

The implications are mind-blowing. Until recently, mainstream science has been skeptical of reports that a regular program of meditation creates more compassion, peace, and well-being. But today a growing number of scientists take some of the traditional claims of psychology and religion very seriously indeed.

For example, Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of the Harvard Medical School says we are more than our brains and bodies, which are merely the instruments of an intangible “real self.” If this real self, (what Jung would call the Self), is not in charge of our intellect and emotions — i.e. if our egos do not listen to our thoughts and monitor our emotions and follow our intuition and make conscious, original and caring choices — we are their servant! But with regular mind-training practices such as meditation and dream work we can change our brains and transform ourselves from slaves to masters of our lives!

For more information check out this video of a conversation between Deepak Chopra and Dr. Tanzi. Meanwhile, consider this:  Our mind has unimaginable potential;  our ego is a small, but crucial element of that potential. Small, because its sphere of consciousness is like a grain of sand on the shore of a cosmic ocean of consciousness;  crucial because that tiny grain has the life-changing power of choice. If our lives feel narrow and fulfilling it is because we, our ego selves, have not chosen to do what it takes to enlarge and enrich them. Why?  Ignorance, complacency, laziness, fear of censure, retribution, failure or the unknown…you name it. But regardless of the reason, we can still choose to change our brains and our lives if we truly want to.

 

The Re-Union of Mind and Matter March 8, 2011

The concept of the Kundalini serpent’s transforming evolutionary energy is based on the experiences of countless Spirit Warriors from many religious traditions including Taoism, Hinduism, Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Hermeticism. Although its existence has not been confirmed to the satisfaction of mainstream Western science, (nor has the existence of God, for that matter), it is nonetheless a useful explanation for many otherwise unexplainable and seemingly unrelated phenomena: for example, the effectiveness of acupuncture, the unusual experiences and abilities of some spirit persons, and even the “missing link” that separates primitive hominids from today’s Homo Sapiens.

The intuitive understanding is that evolution in consciousness and spirituality is not solely the result of mental striving, but of cooperative interactions between mental and physical energies. The Kundalini life force, a combination of both, moves through seven chakras (the number varies in different traditions) or invisible focal points in the body which are connected by channels. The invisibility of these entities does not disprove their existence: think of electromagnetic radiation such as radio waves, microwaves, X-rays and gamma rays.

Each chakra represents the confluence of a specific mode of physical and psychological energy. The three lower ones — Earth, Sexual, and Power — govern the basic needs for survival, procreation and will. The upper four — Heart, Communication, Intuition, and Crown — influence more advanced psychological and spiritual activity. The Crown is our connection to sacred Unified Consciousness, and the Heart is the centerpoint, or bridge, which connects and integrates the upper and lower chakras by means of empathy, understanding and compassion.

I’m no expert in these matters but I’ve read that in the majority of people the lower chakras are activated first and the Crown and Heart Chakras are usually the last to be completed. However, in extremely cerebral and spiritually oriented people, it is possible for the upper chakras to be awakened before the lower ones. In either case, no one gets from zero to one hundred in an instant! Evolutionary growth is a slow process, not a quick-fix product.

Thus, someone with a partial Kundalini awakening can acquire great compassion and intuition and still experience difficulty with intimate relationships because of unhealed issues concerning family of origin, sexuality, or power. Another could be a brilliant communicator but out of touch with physical realities like nurturing the body or monitoring what energizes the body and what depletes it.

The point is not literal belief in Kundalini energy and the chakras, but whether or not these symbols give spiritual meaning to personal experience and promote soul-making. Although this is what religions are supposed to do, there came a time when my religion no longer did this for me. But experiencing the reality that “masculine” mind and spirit have no priority over “feminine” physical sensation and emotion was a major breakthrough that got me growing again.

By reuniting our minds and bodies, Serpent Mother returns us to the magical childhood mystery of living in the here and now, but with an important difference.  This time we know the place for the first time and experience appreciation and gratitude for what Jungian analyst Marion Woodman calls “the eroticization of all of life.”

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Being Spiritual January 8, 2011

For years I unconsciously equated being “spiritual” with being perfect: believing in the “right” God and creeds, learning rules, observing traditions, heeding authorities, behaving “correctly.” I thought you had to embody St. Paul’s Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All the time! I thought feeling angry, sad, hurt, anxious or hopeless was weak and dangerous. By the time I knew better my addiction to spiritual perfection was so deeply ingrained it was nearly impossible to stop.

Now I know spirituality is about compassion, reverence for life, being true to yourself, and making healthy choices that arise from a genuine desire to be of benefit.  But without self-knowledge our unconscious emotions, needs, compulsions, and unhealed wounds separate our egos from the Self and prevent us from living authentically from our spiritual Source. Until this internal connection is forged, the best we can do is put on a convincing act.

In this blog I strive to be honest about my everyday experience of the spiritual journey. My most important discovery is that in repressing our true selves we repress Spirit. I tried to convey this in my Christmas post: “The Winter Holy Days From A Cosmic Perspective.” In my New Year’s post, “Visiting Old Dreams: Visioning a New Year” I shared one way I use dreamwork to connect with Spirit. And in my last post, “Welcome to the House of Chaos,” my goal was to show you a part of myself which, while often hidden and denied by “spiritual” people, is nonetheless real for all of us. I’d like to thank everyone who responded privately and publically to these, my holiday gifts to you, with understanding and gratitude, and I’d like to pass on a few words of wisdom some of them shared with me. Enjoy.

Beth sent this quote from the I CHING #3: “Just as the tumultuous chaos of a thunderstorm brings nurturing rain that allows life to flourish, so too in human affairs times of advancement are preceded by times of disorder. Success comes to those who can weather the storm.” These ancient words of wisdom speak directly to me today.  Thank you, Beth.

From a Facebook friend I received a link to the Dalai Lama’s end-of year message, “Countering Stress and Depression.”  What a relief to know he is human too.  He writes, “…we may sometimes feel that our whole lives are unsatisfactory, we feel on the point of being overwhelmed by the difficulties that confront us. This happens to us all in varying degrees from time to time. When this occurs, it is vital that we make every effort to find a way of lifting our spirits. We can do this by recollecting our good fortune. We may, for example, be loved by someone; we may have certain talents; we may have received a good education; we may have our basic needs provided for – food to eat, clothes to wear, somewhere to live – we may have performed certain altruistic deeds in the past. We must take into consideration even the slightest positive aspect of our lives. For if we fail to find some way of uplifting ourselves, there is every danger of sinking further into our sense of powerlessness. This can lead us to believe that we have no capacity for doing good whatsoever. Thus we create the conditions of despair itself.”

Finally, here’s a link to an  inspiring post from wisewoman Dr. Judith Rich who says the collective human story is on the verge of a revolutionary rewrite. The new version will be about authentic spirituality.  May you and I contribute to it.

 

 
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