Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Tourist or Pilgrim? Which Are You? October 14, 2014

PhilGreeceThe pilgrim is a poetic traveler, one who believes that there is poetry on the road, at the heart of everything.” ~Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

In October of 2012 I was invited to make a presentation at Journey Conferences, an annual gathering of Jungians.  There I met Phil Cousineau, an author, filmmaker, lecturer and expert on mythology, and learned that he leads trips to some of the world’s most sacred sites.

Fred and I love to travel, so when we heard about his trip to the sacred sites of Greece with Sacred Earth Journeys this fall, we signed up.  My favorites among Phil’s many books are The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, and Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Modern Time.  Since our return last week I’ve been thinking about how this trip combined the themes of these two books in a magical way that made this my favorite travel experience ever.

“In each of us dwells a pilgrim. It is the part of us that longs to have direct contact with the sacred.”

The focus of our previous guided tours has been on the outer world. What drew me to this one was the promise of equal time for the inner life of the soul.

I was not disappointed. Each morning began with an hour-long conversation about the sites we would visit, the ancient myths associated with them, and the way they are still being played out in our lives today. Phil’s passion for mythology combined with his passion for mentoring turned what could have been just another interesting tour into an extraordinary personal odyssey.

Seeking Guidance from the Oracle at Delphi

Seeking Guidance from the Oracle at Delphi

“The force behind myths, fairytales, parables and soulful travel stories reveals the myriad ways the sacred breaks through the resistance and shines forth into our world. Pilgrimage holds out the promise of personal contact with that sacred force.”

For me, one of the most problematic aspects of past tours has been the lack of opportunity for close observation and reverie. Not so this time!  At least once a day Phil offered prompts for writing poetry or essays or making sketches. Always, he built in plenty of time for reflecting on how the celebrations and myths associated with sacred spaces triggered lost memories and inner stirrings. As if that were not enough, he provided even more time for sharing our impressions, insights and healing experiences with each other.

Our task in life is to find our deep soul work and throw ourselves headlong into it.”

At the ruins of Eleusis, site of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries which celebrated the sacred death/rebirth fertility myth of Demeter and Persephone, we rested in the cave reputed to be the portal to the Underworld. There some of us shared evidence of the buried spiritual depths that lie beneath the surface of our lives. I spoke of how I shut down painful emotions and lost my tears at the age of 11 when my father died.  That night I dreamed I was as angry as I’ve ever been at family and friends who were thoughtlessly trashing my house and expecting me to clean up.  The dream ended with me hurling volleys of creative curses at them like Zeus throwing his thunderbolts, then laughing in delight at my uncharacteristic behavior!

The Starting Line at Olympia

The Starting Line at Olympia

Where was the anger coming from?  Was being in Greece influencing me to channel my inner Persephone, Dark Goddess of the Underworld?  Is she still mad at Hades for violating my personal space and stealing my father away? What about the laughter? Could Persephone finally be lightening up about a personal crisis which she has learned to view as a mere speck in the cosmic view of things?

Over drinks two evenings later, a woman in our group shared a shattering life-changing experience she had as a young adult. At dinner she made a mind-blowing connection: The myth of Demeter and Persephone is her story, one she has lived ever since her youthful trauma. She never knew it until that moment!

“What is sacred is what is worthy of our reverence, what evokes awe and wonder in the human heart, and what, when contemplated, transforms us utterly.”

The night after we visited Olympia, site of the original Olympic games, I dreamed of another Dark Mother who reminded me of Ereshkigal, cruel Queen of the Underworld who hung her sister Inanna, Sumeria’s Queen of Heaven and Earth, on a meathook to die. In a show of unwanted patronizing attention, dream Ereshkigal asked her attendants to escort me down some stairs. I refused to go. As I was falling asleep that night she visited me and gave me a light kiss on my lips. Her presence was oppressive and filled me with dread.

Why does the Goddess of the Underworld visit me now?  It seems obvious. I’ve entered a phase of life when my task is to make peace with death.  I’m not thrilled about this, but I’m ready to face what comes next.

“What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel…is the way we spend our lives.”

Skotino Cave, Crete

Skotino Cave, Crete

The bearlike rock formation in the Skotino Cave in Crete reminded me of Elephant in the Cave, an early dream which showed me how frightened I was of reflecting on my inner life.   Greece’s ancient goddess figurines; images of snakes and initiation rituals; sacred vessels and ceremonial masks; ruins of labyrinths and altars; the sacred tree worshiped at the Palianis nunnery:  all these and more symbolize issues that used to haunt me in waking life and appeared at night in some of my most memorable and life-changing dreams.

Greece’s antiquities are not meaningless historical facts to me.  They are living realities within me.  Having experienced these realities for over 25 years, I feel blessed by this trip and the direct contact with the sacred it provided every day.  I guess this makes me a pilgrim.

How does travel impact you?

All quotes are from Phil Cousineau’s Art of Pilgrimage.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

An Integration of Opposites January 4, 2013

HSDcoverA major highlight of 2012 for me was that my newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, made its debut in August. I am happy to say that so far it has received excellent reviews. Following is one of my favorites written this fall by playwright, actor, author, and teacher of creative writing, Joey Madia. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to him and all of you who have so graciously supported my work.

“An Integration of Opposites”: A Review of Healing the Sacred Divide by Jean Benedict Raffa (Larson Publications, 2012, larsonpublications.com), ISBN: 978-1-936012-60-2

By Joey Madia
Books, in many ways, are like people, and a bookshelf full of books could be thought of as a society in miniature. Some books look nice, but don’t offer much when you get past the cover. Some books offer some companionship in the form of a bit of new knowledge, perhaps some laughs, and a pleasant passing of time, but they are soon forgotten. Still other books are provocative, poking us in uncomfortable places and riling us up—and in the process, helping us to grow.

Then there are the books that are destined to be great. They are the books that we go to again and again. Books that are clearly the product of deep thought, extensive research, careful structure, and years of richly lived experience by their authors.
These books, unlike those that are merely passing travelers or vague acquaintances, become our friends.

Healing the Sacred Divide (subtitled “Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World”) has become my friend. It will be given a special place on my shelves once this review is complete and sent out into the world, and I anticipate going back to it again and again as I continue my journey to wholeness and spirtual health.

From its stunning cover (with art by Cicero Greathouse) depicting the mandorla (which I’ll define later) to its closing myth, Dr. Raffa’s book grabbed me and egged me on. It is a fairly dense book at 318 pages, with small type and 54 chapters, but it is also varied in its presentation and structure.
Healing the Sacred Divide is divided into two parts: The Evolution of God-Images (which sets the stage by examining the creation and promulgation of organized religion and the separation of the God and Goddess) and Nine Wisdom Gifts of an Integrated God-Image. It is this second part that constitutes the greater portion of the book.

As I mentioned, the book, although packed full of words, is sufficiently varied to prevent it from ever feeling like a dry academic tome or didactic “self-help book.” [This makes sense considering the duality of logos and mythos that runs like a river thru the text]. Dr. Raffa presents experiences, light and dark, from her personal life, for they are inextricably woven with the chapters she has written and the ideas and suggestions she presents. This personal investment over the course of decades, through family tragedy, Church struggles, and spiritual passageways fills the book with a warmth and sincerity some books in this vein lack. One gets the sense that the exercises she offers at the end of each chapter in Part 2 should at least be tried, because she’s used them herself.

Intermingled with the Nine Gifts (which are: Holistic Perception, Transforming Light, Acceptance of Shadow, Emotional Integrity, Partnership, Balance, Sovereignty, Meaning, and Mandorla Consciousness) are a series of “Cosmic Dialogues.” These, to me, were the edgiest and most difficult sections of the book as a male, to read (along with the culminating myth, which works on the same model), casting as they do the God as a traditionally driven, domineering Patriarch and Goddess as the solely Nurturing Mother. But, as Dr. Raffa suggests, I was open to the feelings I felt when the hackles came up, and I saw where the Shadow in me still needs some integration to get beyond the idea that Males being to blame for all of the heartaches, wars, and deceits in the world means that I am somehow to blame by being one. Not since reading Robert Bly’s Iron John 20 years ago have I so actively engaged with the notions of Maleness being devalued in society and how it has shaped my engagement with it, and I am more whole for having done so.

One of the keys to the process of healing the sacred divide, very much in line with Jungian ideas of embracing and integrating the Shadow (I have previously reviewed an excellent book by Erel Shalit on the subject), is the mandorla [what I have always known as the vesica piscis], that middle place where Light and Dark, Male and Female, “Good” and “Evil,” etc. overlap. It’s the spiritual analog of the Venn Diagram and the section of the overlap brings to mind the shape of the fish associated with Jesus and also the entrance to the womb.

There is a thought-provoking table of pairs on pages 50–52 that are organized around the Drive for Species-Preservation (Feminine Principle) and Drive for Self-Preservation (Masculine Principle). This distinction of Species- vs. Self-Preservation is one I had never before seen and it goes a long way toward understanding what is at work here.

Those readers familiar with Alchemy, the Hieros Gamos [sacred marriage], and Kundalini, Sophia, and other snake-based spiritual symbology will find much of interest in these layers of the text. Raffa pulls from the work of Jung, as mentioned, and also of Joseph Campbell and those from whom he learned, such as Heinrich Zimmer and the writings of Meister Eckert and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Many chapters have an Endnotes section, which is a wonderful aide should a certain idea or “Gift” create a pull toward further research.
Division [partisanship, sexual politics, classism, etc.] is the coin of the realm in America as the November 2012 election approaches. The chasm seems to grow ever wider, marked by increased venom in the rhetoric of politicians, corporate CEOs, religious leaders, and the millions posting on Facebook and Twitter. The voices of those committed to healing the divide are being drowned in all the noise.

I hope that many, many people read, digest, and practice the exercises in Dr. Raffa’s Healing the Sacred Divide. Healing begins within, but quickly spreads to farther realms. A shift in paradigms has never been needed more.

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

 

Healing Wounded Masculine and Feminine Energy: Part I September 21, 2010

In response to my post, “Breaking Through to the One Thing,” Annette asked how to heal the masculine energy in women and feminine energy in men. This is a great question and a very welcome one. I’ve been wanting to deal with the “How-To’s” for a while now. So in this and the next post I’ll be presenting my “prescription” for healing and empowering the soul.

The short answer is inner work. Don’t let the word “work” put you off. Healing the psyche is not mindless hard labor that saps your energy for a meager payoff, but a work of love that gets progressively easier and more rewarding. Why? Because it fills us with well-being to transcend our ignorance and grow in consciousness. This is our job, the hero’s journey, our magnum opus.

The process is essentially the same for both genders and applies to all aspects of the psyche. This is because every psyche is fueled by two streams of energy.  We think of one as masculine and the other as feminine. Every psychological quality, action, or way of perceiving of which we are capable belongs to one or the other of these categories. (Remember, this is not about gender stereotypes, roles, or sexuality, but psycho-spiritual functioning.) When both streams are allowed to flow freely and spontaneously, unimpeded by mental or physical blockages, our bodies and minds function at optimum levels.

The long answer is that there are four steps to inner work. While I could write a book about each step, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to read it here. So I’ll keep it short and simple.

Step #1: Set Your Intention. Healing begins when you make a conscious choice to take your inner discomfort seriously and take action to overcome your resistance, laziness, apathy, and inertia. The greatest obstacle is fear. Most of us are very intimidated by the idea of discovering something disagreeable about ourselves and it takes an unusually strong and healthy ego to delve deeply into the unconscious. But if you remember that giving in to your fear will only perpetuate your suffering and keep you from bringing out your best, you can acquire the courage and self-discipline to stand up, step out, and show up with a warrior’s “Just do it” determination.

But what action will you be taking? What will you be showing up for? Essentially the same things you would do to heal a physical dis-ease: Take your medicine, exercise, and diet.

Step #2. Take Your Medicine. The medicine that heals souls is self-knowledge. To acquire it you need to seek help and do your homework. People who have been on the path for many years know what you’re going through. They can help you pinpoint problems and suggest treatments. Don’t overlook this step. Surrender is part of the solution. If studying with a mentor, enrolling in classes, attending workshops, or getting counseling is out of the question because of time or money restraints, then find a study partner or start a study group and read. Read. Read!

My favorite early author/mentors were Jungians Robert A. Johnson (Inner Work, He, She, and We),   John Sanford (The Invisible Partners and The Kingdom Within), and Marion Woodman (The Ravaged Bridegroom, The Pregnant Virgin, Addiction to Perfection). I highly recommend these brilliant writers whose healing wisdom comes from years of personal experience. Their works contain extraordinary gems of wisdom and I encourage anyone who’s interested to check them out. Meanwhile, stay tuned for steps #3 and #4.

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found here at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 
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