The Shape of Water: The Shape of Change? January 30, 2018
Filmgoers may have laughingly dismissed Godzilla, the Teenage Werewolf, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the 1950’s, but nobody laughs at the real-life monsters we see on television every day in the form of terrorists, genocidal dictators, and political leaders who incite divisiveness and spout nuclear threats. We get it. Dystopia is us. Our problems are caused by humanity’s psychological and spiritual ignorance, and they will not be resolved until enough individuals acquire more mature and humane ways of thinking and behaving. What used to be the role of deities and religious authorities has now become everyone’s job.
Fortunately, there are seers among us to show us the way. They are the courageous and gifted artists who create books and films depicting ordinary people who evolve into heroic individuals. The Star Wars series, Avatar, Arrival, and The Shape of Water are examples. Their mythic themes and archetypal characters limn the shape of our own souls. Everyone enjoys a good story. But do we realize these stories are about us? Do we understand their metaphors and decipher their symbols? Do we apply their lessons to our own lives?
Each of us contains a possible hero like Luke Skywalker, an indomitable Amazon heroine like Princess Leia, a Wise Man like Yoda, a menacing Warrior like Darth Vader. You may relate to Avatar’s Jake Sully, a vulnerable wounded Warrior with the potential to be healed by love, but his counterpart—the dark side’s ruthless, power-hungry Colonel Miles Quaritch—also lives in you. Regardless of your gender you can activate the healing of an Earth Mother like the Na’vi’s Mo’at, a beautiful Beloved like princess Neytiri, or a benevolent Wise Woman like Dr. Grace Augustine. Archetypes are latent patterns of energy in everyone’s soul. They teach and empower us when we listen.
Consider Arrival’s gentle Louse Banks, a linguist who’s tormented by intuitions and visions which fill her with confusion and dread. She’s the image of a person in whom the Mediatrix archetype is activated. When the U.S. Army recruits her to communicate with alien life forms hovering over the earth, she breaks the rules to gain their trust. In a blog post titled “Arrival: How the Feminine Saves the World,” depth psychology expert Carol S. Pearson notes this “reveals how traditional elements of the Lover archetype are morphing to meet new challenges.” The world leaders see the aliens as dangerous threats and are preparing to make war on them. But because Louise is motivated by love, not fear, she sees them as wondrous life forms to communicate with and befriend. This prompts us to ask ourselves: Do I respect people and species different from me? Do I listen to the subtle messages of my body? Do I befriend my thoughts and emotions or try to ignore them?
In The Shape of Water, an even more vulnerable heroine saves the life of an amphibious monster. The year is 1962. Elisa is a mute, mousy janitor on the night shift of a top-secret government research lab desperate to get one-up on the Russians. One night a promising “asset” arrives in a portable tank in the form of a scaly green creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon lookalike from a Brazilian rainforest where he was worshiped as a god. Deeply drawn to this equally voiceless and powerless creature, Elisa initiates a fairy-tale romance with him by playing Benny Goodman on her portable record player, placing hard-boiled eggs on the lip of the tank in which he’s confined, and teaching him sign language when he emerges from the water to eat them.
As it turns out, the real monster in this story is Richard Strickland, a sadistic, square-jawed military officer who tortures the green man, sexually harasses Elisa, and makes racist comments to Zelda, her co-worker. Overhearing the scientists’ plans to kill and dissect her beloved in the name of science, a frantic and determined Elisa enlists the help of Zelda and her gay neighbor, Giles, to rescue him. The remainder of the film builds the tension amid a dreamy, watery green ambiance before reconciling it in a surprise ending that leaves us wondering: What just happened? Is he what he seems? Do I have it in me to do what she did? Does love really have a god-like power? How strong is my Lover archetype? Do I truly know how to love?
The characters in these films play out their roles against a backdrop of mythic themes:
the destructiveness of our shadow Warriors
the crises and suffering necessary for the making of a hero/ine
the need to respect, communicate with, and accept help from other people and species
love’s victory over ignorance and hatred
But here’s a not-so subtle difference. It used to be that only men got to be heroes, but we’re seeing more heroines now. Although the first Star Wars film to appear centers primarily on Luke Skywalker, it is his heroic sister, Princess Leia, who turns him into a hero. The same is true of Avatar’s Jake Sully whose heroism is inspired by the equally heroic Princess Neytiri.
The most recent of these—Arrival, The Shape of Water, and The Last Jedi—convey a theme new to our time which resonates with many souls today: the feminine as savior. Louise, Elisa, and Rey are not fantasy superheroines like Wonder Woman and Aquagirl. And they’re not sidekicks who help the main character accomplish his goals. They are ordinary women who initiate change and accomplish it with the respect and cooperation of healthy, caring men. Louise’s heroism is aided by Ian, a scientist. Giles helps Elisa save the green man. And in the newest Star Wars episode, Rey becomes the last Jedi with the help of Luke Skywalker. The main protagonists are females.
This shift in the spirit of our times is reflected in recent statistics. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports that of the top 100 films in 2014, only 12% featured female protagonists. But then something happened. In 2015 the figure was 22% and in 2016 it jumped to 29%.
Although the data are not in for 2017, we appear to be seeing the beginning of a trend. Water, like earth, has always been considered a feminine element, and in dreams, water and earth symbolize the unconscious self. Societies have unconscious selves too. Like the ocean, our collective unconscious contains monsters, but it also holds overlooked hidden treasures. Is the feminine as savior of the world the shape of change? Are you and I the shape of change?
Note: For more posts like this, please check out the blog of noted author Carol S. Pearson, where this post first appeared.
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.
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? February 21, 2017
Dear Matrignosis Friends,
As I thought about this letter over breakfast, it wasn’t long before the word love popped up and started waving its arms to get my attention. Then a melody began running through my head. Who knew words and melodies have arms and legs? In the language of writers, I assure you, they do.
At my desk, my fingers flew across my keyboard—thoughts and fingers have wings too—and I found what I wanted. I listened, and it began raining in my heart. And on my cheeks. (And hearts and eyes can rain.)
Until then I hadn’t known what I wanted, but music has a way of grabbing your attention and shouting to make itself heard. (Music has hands and fists and mouths and vocal chords. It wants to be known and responded to.)
And so I decided to share it with you. Because I don’t know what else to say about the fact that I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be meeting here. Let me reassure you. There’s nothing to worry about. I’m fine…not sick or anything. Nothing bad at all going on. It’s just that everything has a season and I feel one cycle ending and another beginning.
I sense the next cycle will be easier in some ways, harder in others. I have a new (18 year-old) manuscript to bring to closure and birth, and that’s always fun and exciting—when the technology involved isn’t driving me nuts. And a few other ultimately rewarding projects await my full attention. But these things will necessitate me showing up less here, at our favorite meeting place. And this is very hard! After all, we’ve been going steady for seven years.
I’m not leaving for good, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing each other less from now on. At least during the next cycle. So I couldn’t just leave without letting you know and telling you how I really feel.
Our relationship has been a major highlight in my life.
I’ll miss you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. I honestly love you.
What Do Our Relationships Have to Do with Our Spirituality? February 7, 2017
The cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious [two opposing halves of one psyche] is called the ‘transcendent function’…. This function progressively unites the opposites. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, par. 1554.
In my January 4th post, “What Is Enlightenment?” I wrote, “…even though we think of enlightenment as a strictly spiritual pursuit, it… is not solely a function of any one aspect of human nature, but of the whole package.” I went on to describe what I consider to be the fundamental psychological components of enlightenment. They consist of four archetypal couples—each consisting of a ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ form of energy—and a final androgynous archetype, The Couple, which evolves as we work to create reciprocal relationships between the other four pairs.
I agree with Kirsten’s comment that the Couple is not completion. As I see it, it is a conscious, expanding, integrating way of thinking, being and living which aims for perfection and completion. In this respect it is a portal to transcendence. I’d like to expand on that idea here.
Last weekend I attended a talk by Father Rohr in which he made two profound statements:
“Organized religion has not taught high-level consciousness.”
“Unless your religion is transforming your consciousness, it’s junk religion.” ~Richard Rohr, Speech in Winter Park, FL, Jan 28, 2017.
This from a Catholic priest. How refreshing is that? Here’s the point I want to make: We are much more than we think we are, and reality is much more than we think it is. The thoughts and feelings of which we are aware are the tip of a massive iceberg, and we will never experience spiritual transformation (non-dualistic, high-level consciousness) until we admit the data of the unconscious, i.e. what lies below, into our awareness.
And how do we do that? As Richard Rohr says, “the relationship is the vehicle” that will take us there.
“God is absolute relatedness. I would name salvation as simply the readiness, the capacity, and the willingness to stay in relationship.” Richard Rohr. Divine Dance, p. 46.
This is a truly profound statement. Once again, to quote Rohr,
“…the principle of one is lonely; the principle of two is opp0sitional and moves you toward preference; the principle of three is inherently moving, dynamic, and generative.” Richard Rohr. The Divine Dance, p. 42.
Three. Trinity. The foundation of Christian theology. Any relationship between two opposing parts of ourselves, or between two individuals, is by nature oppositional. However, a long-lasting, committed relationship between any two entities is a sacred crucible in which two souls (or two opposing parts of one soul) can hope to attain psychological and spiritual maturity. This is why I’ve written:
I see the Couple as integrating the other four archetype pairs in a sacred marriage of fully individuated and fully related opposites. This union activates the creative instinct and brings us into the spiritual domain and Epoch III integrated consciousness. ~Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 203.
Epoch III thinking is neither perfect nor complete. But at this point in human evolution, it is a step forward: a portal to further growth. Moreover, as Kirsten noted, and as I write in Matrignosis and my books, the genders of the human partners whose interactions usher us into this domain is not an issue. Here’s Kirsten’s take on why:
“There are good reasons why “Two Spirit” people in many indigenous cultures have a significant role in spirituality, because they (we) literally transcend the human tendency to create dualistic models of relationships (both internal and external) that are actually intricate, reflective, webs of interdependence—more like Indra’s net than like pairs of complementary opposites….
“With gay relationships, we’ve got to experiment with going beyond the duality and open up the possibilities… because we don’t just fit the mold. In my own 29 year relationship, we’re constantly exploring new ways of balancing, responding, creating, and dancing with each other… I hope that’s true in any healthy relationship!” ~Kirsten Backstrom
I find Kirsten’s thinking on this issue to be profound. I believe with my whole being that it is possible for partners in any couple relationship to relate in such a way that the creative instinct within each is activated. This enriches both their individual selves and their relationship such that each partner creates an original work of art of his/her own soul as well as of the relationship itself.
Moreover, their creative interaction in the space in-between activates a third entity, sometimes called the Holy Spirit, or God’s indwelling presence. This three-in-one relationship is a spiritually transformative love, a divine presence which transcends religious dogma, gender stereotypes, and dualism. Thus can we evolve into high-level consciousness and high-level spirituality.
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.
The Couple Relationship Within and Without January 24, 2017
“The original sperm from which we are formed is masculine and feminine, the one which is in the majority wins, but the other side does not die, it remains living but as a minority, just as in politics the Government and the Opposition both exist.” ~Carl Jung, ETH, Page 216.
Unfortunately, whether we are talking about the masculine and feminine attributes of our physical bodies, the psychological relationship between our inner masculine and feminine qualities, or relationships between males and females, Jung’s use of the word ‘Opposition’ in the above quote is only too appropriate. Once our egos start identifying with one principle in childhood, we tend to set up an antagonistic relationship with the other, and this polarization permeates every aspect of our lives.
Dualistic thinking appears to be a natural and inevitable by-product of ego-formation in the first half of life, but it does not have to end there. Nor should it, if we want to keep growing. As Dr. Jung noted, we’re all formed from both principles, and each of us has our own unique spot somewhere along the continuum between them. Ultimately, our satisfaction and fulfillment in life depends on finding our own place and learning how to be true to it.
“It is only possible to live as we should if we live according to our own nature. But in these days we live by our brains alone and ignore the very definite laws of our body and the instinctive world. We damage ourselves severely when we offend against these…” ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Page 219.
As long as we’re unaware and unaccepting of our true nature and fuller potential, we inevitably damage others too. Regardless of our gender, if, as a child, we learn to fear, mistrust, and dislike our fathers or other adult males, we may grow up to feel the same way about our own masculine sides, other men, or the masculine sides of women. Our attitudes toward our mothers and adult females will likewise effect our attitudes toward our feminine sides, other women, and the feminine sides of men.
We all have different personalities, experiences, biases, complexes and shadows, and no one wants to look at their painful aspects. But we ignore them at our peril, because our disowned selves influence our health and the health of our relationships.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to spot our prejudices and barriers: they are mirrored every day in intimate couple relationships. But unfortunately,
“We have not been educated to look inwards, though most people are able to give their attention to outside things.” ~Carl Jung, ETH, Vol. 3, Page 13.
If we want loving couple relationships, we must redirect our attention from the outer world to the inner. We must commit ourselves to practices which reveal our soul’s truths, which we must accept, especially the painful ones. If we persevere, over time our wounds begin to heal and our perspective changes. As this happens our outer lives change too.
We will never change completely and our shadow will always be with us, but we can recognize it sooner and make reparations faster. Moreover, accepting and integrating our fuller potential empowers us to break out of our prisons of conformity and blossom into our individuality. Gradually our resistance to, and fear of, others and the unknown lessens. We pretend less, react less habitually, feel less need to conceal our honest feelings or stifle our gifts. Our need to know everything, control anyone, or prove anything diminishes. Defensive postures such as resentment and hypersensitivity soften.
We grow more mindful, less agitated. We can more easily relax into the present moment. We can anticipate what the next may bring with pleasure and enthusiasm. We can make original, authentic choices. When we feel our prejudices, painful emotions and unhealthy habits rising within us like monsters from the deep, we can find new ways to express them without hurting others.
Over time, our thoughts and behaviors spring more often from healed archetypes than wounded stereotypes. Life becomes a delightful gift to be savored; less of a contest to win, obstacle to overcome, or ordeal to be endured. Thus do we create an ongoing, original work of art: an increasingly more authentic, empowered, and conscious being with balanced energies which flow appropriately between masculine and feminine, here manifesting qualities of the drive for self-preservation, there acting from the drive for species-preservation. In a culture distorted by one-sided worship of the masculine, integrating the feminine brings a refreshing return of feeling and the ability to live with soul.
Respecting both masculine and feminine values fashions a new morality of impeccable integrity and personal responsibility based on universal standards of justice and care for all. Our wish to cause as little pain as possible, combined with our growing ability to see and restrain our shadows, helps us listen with patience and tolerance while allowing our partners to speak their truths. Creating the Couple within dramatically increases our hope of healing our relationships and establishing the intimacy and compassion for which every soul longs.
“If our inner journey does not match and lead to an outer journey, we have no true freedom or “salvation.” Richard Rohr Online Daily Meditation, January 16, 2017.