Summer Surprises June 23, 2015
We’re back in our beloved Smokey Mountains and we brought our granddaughters and granddog with us. The kids are gone now, and I miss them terribly, but for the last 11 days we’ve had a marvelous time. There’s a lot to do here and the weather is glorious, so we took advantage of it. Here are a few of the fun things we experienced.
Last summer we restocked the pond with a couple dozen baby trout! The ride from the trout farm to our place must have been unusually traumatic because they hid and refused to come out for feedings. After a week we gave up, assuming they were all dead, or had been eaten by critters (we have bears, otters, and great blue herons here, and they all love trout), or slipped through the high water pipe and headed downstream.
But when our kids came back over spring break, the trout were not only there, but eager to eat! By the time we got here last week we had several at least a foot long, several more around 8 inches, and even a few that looked only 4 or 5 inches long! Where were they last summer? Why do we have 3 different sizes of trout in our pond now? Can those little ones be new babies? We’ve heard trout don’t breed in captivity. What’s up? It’s a mystery.
Our girls love horses, so naturally we went horseback riding. There they are in front of me in their personally designed tie dyed t-shirts. That’s the tips of my horse’s ears at the bottom of the picture.
We actually did have a bit of a surprising adventure. One horse had a wardrobe mishap and ran off without his rider. He was caught, but someone else rode him after that. Then a little girl couldn’t control her young horse who kept insisting on being first, to the consternation of the guide’s horse, so she and I traded horses. The little girl finished the trip on my horse, the biggest and calmest horse in the herd, and I, a rather tall person, rode the smallest feistiest horse home! I don’t think my knees will ever be the same!
Then there was the first hike on our property. It was sad and depressing to see the stumps of the beautiful old hemlocks that had to be cut down because of a deadly infestation of the wooly adelgid pest that’s destroying the Smokey Mountains’ grand old ladies. It’s devastated some parts of our property, but we’re making the best of it.
Our friend and neighbor, Algie, made us a gorgeous long table for the screened porch out of some of the timber, and he gave away truckloads of it to neighbors who depend on firewood to heat their cabins in the winter. Tony, my brother-in-law, found a novel use for some of the stumps. Without our knowledge, he had a marble tic tac toe game embedded into a particularly large one and installed two smaller ones for seats! What a lovely surprise to stumble upon in the middle of the woods. Thanks, Tony! You’re the best!
Last summer I talked to Herminio, our handy man who can do anything–and always with extraordinary beauty and skill–about forging a new hiking trail in a part of the property that’s been a dumping ground for dead trees because it’s too overgrown with thick rhododendron in some places and too wet in others to use. We came up with what looked like a good starting point off the main trail, but it looked terribly difficult and I pretty much gave up dreaming about it over the winter.
But when we took our first hike last week, I was thrilled to see beautiful log steps at the entry to the new trail. Soph, Izz and I hiked it and it’s perfect! Herminio used tree trunks to fortify steps and steep sides of the trail, and brought in flat rocks for stepping stones over the marshy areas! And it was just so cool and suddenly I was ten years old again, the little girl who loved trees and woods and was fascinated by natural sanctuaries where I felt the presence of God!
Seeing this sanctuary through the eyes of my granddaughters and Izzy has brought back wonderful memories of a childhood when being out in nature was an adventure, when walking down a sunny dirt road or through a shadowy forest, or playing in the sand by the ocean filled me with delight and wonder.
I lost that feeling for a long time. Way too long. But it’s back now. And I think I may know why. I’ve spent my adult life looking for the numinous and now I’m finding it in the most unlikely of places: myself. This has been the most amazing and delightful surprise of all!
Note: If you liked this post, you might enjoy Re-Stocking and Moving On, written in the summer of 2012.
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 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.
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.
Last week I wrote about an encounter with a rattlesnake on our forested mountain property. The day before that I found a skeleton of the head of something that looked like a baby alligator. Friends later confirmed that it was another snake. A bigger one. I had my third wild animal encounter in as many days the day after the live rattler appeared. This time it was a very large, very alive black bear! I had just arrived at a friend’s house to meet with my Jungian summer study group and it walked into her garden, knocked over a bird feeder she had filled only fifteen minutes earlier, and sat down to enjoy the feast. It wasn’t 30 feet away from her porch.
Humankind has always found significance in threeness. Three fairy tale brothers set out to win a princess, a wolf terrorizes three little pigs, a little girl explores the forest home of three bears, a hero receives three wishes. Christianity has its trinity and its three wise men. If two movie stars or old friends died within a few weeks of each other, my mother always waited for the third.
We also attach spiritual meaning to animals. Native American warriors were visited by their power animals on vision quests and in dreams. A stray dog appears out of nowhere to bring comfort and companionship to a grieving widower. A widow whose husband loved hummingbirds has never seen a hummingbird in her garden until one taps on her kitchen window the afternoon of his funeral. When Lawrence Anthony—a legend in South Africa who bravely rescued wildlife and rehabilitated elephants all over the globe from human atrocities—died on March 7, 2012, 31 wild elephants showed up at his home two days later to pay their respects.
So I ask myself, what meaning is there for me in these three “truly numinous encounter(s) with Other-ness?” as Jungian therapist Melissa LaFlamme said about the rattlesnake. She continues, “Very auspicious…. [snakes] come as Teachers of the ancients.” Writer Elaine Mansfield agrees, “Wow, Jean. A visitation. Respect and caution needed, but what a gift to mine.”
Snakes are at home on the ground, in water, in trees. They shed their old skins (or old lives) and grow new ones to emerge reborn, transformed. Two snakes entwine the Rod of the god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicinal arts in Greek mythology. A similar image, the caduceus of the Greek god Hermes, is still a symbol for medicine and healing.
And what about bears? I’ve written about them many times in earlier posts: here, and here, here, here, and here. A symbol of spiritual introversion in Native American lore and of psychological transformation and rebirth in Jungian psychology—bears hibernate in the winter, as if dead, and emerge in the spring as if reborn, often with a cub or two—Bear has been one of my two animal totems (the other is Horse) ever since it asked to be included in my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness. When we remodeled our summer home in the Smoky Mountains, a large bronze bear was installed in a place of honor. Over the years I’ve had several Big dreams about serpents and bears, (Jung saw both as symbols of the Self), but this is the first time a live rattlesnake or bear has appeared in close proximitiy to me.
Three encounters with Snake and Bear in three days. Synchronicity. Fairy tales and myths. Vision quests—I’ve been on one since I was 17 through forest and mountain, both physical and spiritual. Jungian psychology. Animal Teachers. Writing. Healing. Teaching. Comfort. Dreams. Spiritual introversion. Psychological transformation. Growing respect and gratitude for the gift of physical life. Home. The Self. These are my primary associations with last week’s numinous visitations. They speak to the themes of my spiritual journey and connect my outer and inner worlds.
They say: You are on the journey you were meant to take: finding the meaning of your myth, living your passion, sharing what you have learned. You are a valuable part of the whole, sacred interconnected web of life. You are seen. You are known. You are loved.
And I am grateful.
Jean Raffa’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
What More Did I Think I Wanted? June 26, 2014
This morning the eastern sky was red. “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” It will probably rain today.
The sun is slow to reach the west side of the house. For now the garden is shrouded in shadows and mist.
“Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing can be pleasing, how little in this hard world it takes to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest.” ~Wendell Berry
Izzy watches attentively while I fill her bowls with food and fresh water. This is her first summer here and her interest in the smallest things is rubbing off on me. I’m unusually attentive too as I prepare my breakfast of coffee, fresh strawberries and blueberries, yogurt and walnuts while she wanders in and out of the house. Although I intended to meditate every day, I haven’t yet. But this morning, this stillness, this heightened awareness….it’s all a meditation.
Our walks through our 28 acres bring new wonders every day. Izzy has been fascinated by flowers since she was a puppy. At two and a half, she still sniffs every new one she sees.
The crows seem determined to attract our notice this summer. Or am I just more aware of them? They wake us up in the morning, punctuate the quiet air with raucous caws throughout the day, leave their perfect black feathers on the trail. This year we brought gifts for them. Izzy approves.
“Whenever we touch nature we get clean. People who have got dirty through too much civilization take a walk in the woods, or a bath in the sea. They shake off the fetters and allow nature to touch them. It can be done within or without. Walking in the woods, lying on the grass, taking a bath in the sea, are from the outside; entering the unconscious, entering yourself through dreams, is touching nature from the inside and this is the same thing, things are put right again.” (Carl Jung, Dream Analysis: Notes on a Lecture Given in 1928-1930).
Yesterday brought us a rare visitation from a beautiful timber rattler who barely moved but eyed us warily as we passed. “A truly numinous encounter with Other-ness, Jeanie. Very auspicious— just give plenty of room for her to move. Many Rattlers do not even carry venom. They come as Teachers of the ancients,” says Facebook friend, Melissa La Flamme. Elaine Mansfield agrees, “Wow, Jean. A visitation. Respect and caution needed, but what a gift to mine. I imagine you writing about this soon.” Yes, I will write about this once I’ve absorbed its message.
This morning I found a skeleton by the back steps. It looks like a baby alligator’s head, but that’s impossible! Not in the Smokeys! What could it be? What can it mean?
Other gifts arrived this morning via Grandmother Spider’s world wide web, including the quotes and poem I’ve cited here. Her messages speak to my immediate experience. Such synchronicities no longer surprise me.
“Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of the same thing.” (C.G. Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, Collected Works Vol. 8, para. 418).
Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.
Within the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.
Jean Raffa’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
Ghost Stories June 10, 2014
This is another in a series of re-posts from August of 2011. I hope you enjoy it.
Last weekend I was telling some house guests about how my golden retriever Bear woke me up at night with his booming bark several times after he died. When I was finished, the husband nodded with solemn knowing and shared his story.
They had an orange cat that was very attached to him. When he was outdoors it would sit on a low table by the pool and watch him. One day after the cat died he was working by the pool and glanced over at the table and there it was, staring at him as it always had. “It wasn’t my imagination,” this very down-to-earth man said. “This was real. I looked away for a minute, and when I looked back, he was gone.” We all nodded with solemn knowing. We believed him.
Some years ago we re-connected with a high school friend with a history of mental illness. A delightful charismatic actor, writer and scholar, he was living with a lovely woman, also a writer, to whom he was devoted. When he was on his medications he was great fun to be with, but occasionally he’d think he was well enough to stop taking them and before long he’d be in trouble. One day while Fran was at the corner store he shot himself in the head.
In Fran’s words, “Then, just 26 hours after his death, Bill came to visit me. Suddenly, a space opened in my mind, as a door in a wall would open. There, as close as the air, was Bill in another form. I was still somewhat aware of the room and the people in it, but my attention was riveted on Bill. He was himself, my love, the man I knew, but not in a body with flesh. Instead, he was a lovely, soft, white being, full of pulsing lights that slowly appeared, peaked, and extinguished to be replaced by others.
“Bill wasn’t alone. His spirit seemed bonded, or somehow fused, to another person in the same form. This spirit was an older man, I thought, whom I had never met. Their relationship was like that of a child at a party and a loving grandparent looking on. Bill was ecstatic — full of pure joy and terribly excited to be with me. The older man was joyful, but calmer and not at all surprised by what was occurring. Months later, someone suggested that the gracious old spirit might have been Bills’ beloved “Grandpa Tom,” whom I had never met, and who had died two years earlier.
“I think that Bill went to some trouble to let me know the truth about what happens after the death of the body. He wanted me to know that the spirit goes on in a most lovely and ordinary way, and that people stay the same in essence. Even in his “second skin,” featureless, Bill was immediately recognizable to me. He also wanted me to know that he was not alone, but experiencing intense joy, love, and freedom from pain.
“Just before he left me, Bill wrote a message in my mind. I cannot overstate the importance of this message, which seems to me to hold one key to understanding a human continuum between earthly life and immortality. I suspect he chose the written word because he knew I would take his writing seriously, as I had done in our life together. His words appeared slowly, one at a time: ‘Nothing exists except love.’”
I don’t know about you, but as I repeat Fran’s moving words I’m nodding with solemn knowing.
Art: Lightbeing. Artist unknown.
Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks