“These are writings about ‘becoming’ as an ongoing and active process with its especial significance as we age….becoming assumes a ‘changing to’ and a ‘moving toward.'” Susan Scott and Susan Schwartz
The above words are from the preface of Aging and Becoming: A Reflective Enquiry, by Susan Scott, a writer from Morningside, Johannesburg, and Susan Schwartz, a Jungian analyst from Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Each of the 26 chapters in this slender volume begins and ends with an appropriate quote, most from wise women throughout history. In between is a conversation between the authors on topics ranging from A–Aging & Attitude–to Z–Zero. Stitched together, these musings create a nurturing patchwork quilt of a month’s worth of meditations on how women can age consciously and wisely. Here aging is not treated as a downhill slide to a disastrous end, but a series of challenges and opportunities to grow your soul into its intended fruition.
A: Aging and Adapting
Susan Scott: Attitude is a word of motion that in its best sense expands and broadens. Many of us who do not allow for an expansion of attitude, a growth in our view of ourselves and the world and our place in it, can get stuck…This entrenchment of attitude is limiting and draining to personal power and leaves little room for movement or maneuver.
Susan Schwartz: We are not only on a descent but also on an ascent into a more complete rounding out of our personality….Perhaps what is referred to as wisdom is the ability to cope and find reasons, strategies or ways of being and for valuing the present moments….The wisdom and spirit of age can be demolished only if we agree or collude with those attitudes that denigrate and demean.
Susan Schwartz: The time for conformity and fitting in just to be accepted is over. Real forms of self-expression derive not from a false front or to superficially conform, but arise from the real self, a more complete woman self. As we age, the need to define and express our essence becomes more insistent. The image of the older woman as frumpy is not true. Voice, artistic writing, style, intellect comes in all these numerous garments and more for expressing her soul.
Susan Scott: Healthy self-care differs from the obsessive body panic. The fine line is to be aware of judgments about the body as negative or perfect. That signals the false ego rather than a devotion to restorative self-attention.
D: Dreams, Death & Depth
Susan Schwartz: Dreams are both messages and messengers. And how awful it is to be ignorant of them. The mystery of not understanding them while holding them preciously allows for secrets to gradually unfold….[Dreams] illustrate, through their mirroring function, how the personality keeps on presenting information about life events, aging and changing.
Susan Scott: The dream reveals our own metaphor, our own myth, as a gift to one’s self. It carries great responsibility and opportunities. The rich and honest soil of the dream, unconscious and wanting some light thrown on it requires attentive watering for its fertility and to bear fruit.
F: Fear & Fulfillment
Susan Scott: When I am assailed by fearful feelings I realize that they are often the spur that shakes me out of my languor and torpor. It is not easy sitting with them. Yet, by virtue of sitting and being in that fearful place, another kind of awareness may emerge creating a slight shift.
J: Joy & Journey
Susan Schwartz: Jouissance is a French word for physical or intellectual pleasure, delight, or ecstasy…it means to go beyond the superficial and metaphorically get out of the box. Jouissance transports us to what is beyond the familiar. It represents…intricacies to be appreciated as the journey wends its way even more uniquely and we continue to define and refine.
M: Moon, Mourning & Mystery
Susan Scott: The moon’s principle is constant change and as such is symbolic of an emotional inner and outer principle. What other force is there like the moon that pulls the oceans from shore to shore? Now as we age we are more mindful of the powers of darkness, the night atmosphere represented by the moon and its associations to the feminine energy.
Susan Schwartz: it is time to unravel the shadow pieces lying on the dark side of the moon. This expands the personality making us more inclusive and complete. We could then be more honest, openly accessible to ourselves and to others. Honesty is not hiding what we never had to hide to begin with.
P: Path & Pain
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Gloria Steinem
Susan Scott: The quest in life is being aware of the questions–about who we are, our place in this mystery of life as we experience it. We can ask the questions, stir things up a bit as it will surely do…we can welcome whatever arises as we would a guest, coming newly into our home. Can I live the questions I ask of myself? The only foolish question is the one not asked.
Susan Schwartz: The end of the alphabet, zero, is a letter than denotes what begins and ends…An aspect to Zen is waiting, awareness, feeling and not feeling the body and its sensations and reactions, being and not being caught in the mind….And the zebra that is such a lovely and unusual animal…Like the zebras none of us have the same stripes. This is similar to how we move through aging by negotiating its complexities and living consciously….Aging presents challenges that we do not escape at life endings.
Aging and Becoming is not a work to rush through. It is contemplative reading, packed with thoughts to savor slowly, like a leisurely conversation over coffee with a beloved friend. It will activate your ego’s awareness of your soul’s natural condition: an appreciation for wonder, mystery, and curiosity, and a knowing of the essential meaning and potential of your life. Like winter, these inner events portend spring’s renewal.
For the last 30 years, dreamwork has been my primary psychological and spiritual practice. Nothing has brought me as much self-knowledge, self-acceptance, meaning, and all-around life satisfaction as remembering, recording, analyzing, ritualizing, and journaling about my dreams.
My dreams are my personal treasure trove. They have known me better and guided me more surely toward my true gifts than any human seer or counselor could possibly do. They have been wiser than any teacher, more valuable than material possessions, more constant than any friend, more affirming of what’s true and important to me than any compliment, mirrored reflection, or admiring glance I’ve ever received. Had I not discovered this hidden wealth within me, none of the accomplishments I hold most dear—not my loving relationships with my family, my mentoring of my students, my books and other writings, or my spiritual growth—would have been possible.
Knowing of my passion and long experience working with my dreams, two weeks ago, Tzivia Gover, Director of the Institute for Dream Studies founded by Justina Lasley, hosted me as a speaker for an online class with her international group of students. I was asked to talk about my new book, The Soul’s Twins, with its emphasis on the feminine and masculine archetypes and how they can appear in dreams. After my talk we had a lively Q & A session. Tzivia wrote today to tell me that her students were still discussing some of the topics and had a few more questions for me. I’m sharing my answers here for other like-minded souls.
Q: How did you make the transition in your late thirties when you underwent a spiritual dark night and shifted your focus from the outer world of achievement and conformity to the authentic inner life of the psyche? What challenges did you have to overcome? How was this beneficial in the long run?
The transition was long, slow, and difficult. It began with an experience that awakened an instinct that had been relatively unconscious until that time. It centered around a painful conflict between two very real and valid parts of myself. The part that felt new, scary, and bad (my instinct) wanted to act. The part that had always been “good” and proper and careful and conforming—and felt rather proud of herself for being that way (my ego)—most certainly did not want to act! The problem was that both sides were extremely compelling and both choices would have been intolerable.
Until that time, I had believed I was doing everything right. For the first time I was faced with challenges to the persona I had carefully built over the years and could not dismiss them with self-discipline and will power. My religion was no longer a helpful guide. Prayer didn’t take my problem away. My major challenge was to face my spiritual questions and doubts and have it out with my God-image, who was really my church’s God-image, not mine, although I didn’t realize that at the time. These internal dialogues kept me awake for hours many nights.
Another challenge was to carry on normally by day without allowing my suffering to infect my family life and work. A third was to think through all the possible scenarios that could result from either choice without taking any impulsive actions I might later regret. A fourth was to trust a tiny intuition that this was all happening for a reason. A fifth was to tolerate the tension of clarifying my conflict and persevering until the solution arrived. When it did after about six months of this, I chose to go against convention and honor my instinct.
Once I was firm in my intention and made that original choice, the conflict was resolved by outer circumstances beyond my control. Acting on my decision was no longer an option. I felt cheated, betrayed, abandoned, mistreated, abused, and deserted by my God. My grief was intense. I suffered the deepest anguish I’ve ever felt for about two years without allowing my suffering to hurt anyone else. This was my trial by fire, and it lasted nine years.
During that time I began to experiment with trusting my instincts and pressing needs more often. I also became aware of a new God-image of compassion and love that was emerging in me, although I often failed in my intention to put love first in my everyday life. I still do. I faced and endured many agonizing conflicts because I wanted to protect the realities of my inner and outer life at the same time without betraying either one. When I discovered Jungian psychology and my dreams, I finally quit a job I hadn’t liked for years and started my first book about the inner life. That’s when the light started streaming back in.
As for the benefits, I’ve answered that question above. The fact that I’ve discovered my calling and befriended many of my dragons doesn’t mean I no longer have conflicts or flaws. It just means I’m much better at forgiving myself and seeing, facing, and resolving them quickly.
Q: Can you say more about the discoveries you uncovered when exploring the feminine approach to the hero myth?
I learned the hero myth is not about acquiring the outer trappings of success in the eyes of the world. That’s been patriarchy’s interpretation for thousands of years. It’s really a story about your masculine side (usually your conscious ego), cooperating with your feminine side (your soulful, feeling self), so that together these parts of you can find the courage to uncover and befriend the forces of ignorance in your own unconscious.
I learned it’s okay to have a shadow and to experience conflicts with it. Everyone does. And it’s never as bad as you think it is at first.
I learned that just because my religion and family and country have definite ideas about right and wrong doesn’t necessarily mean their views are correct or good for me. I realized that the point of the hero’s journey isn’t to kill my dragons–my shadow, instincts, and true feelings–but to build a relationship with them based on trust and compassion for myself and respect for their differing realities. Because they’re the ones guarding my treasure. And until I get past them by approaching them in peace and friendship—carrying on dialogues with them, and accepting their qualities as mine—I’ll never gain access to it.
Tzivia’s students at the Institute for Dream studies have two more questions about archetypes, but this is already too long so I’ll answer them next time. Dreamers, please know that it’s true that your treasures lie within. You are courageous warriors to seek them, and I salute you. This post and the next are dedicated to you.
Image credits: Dream, artist unknown, Google Images. St. George and the Dragon, Rogier van der Weyden.
The following is the transcript of an interview I had yesterday with Teresa Oster, MS, MSW. She’s a board member of The Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida where I’ll be doing a presentation on February 23. This is their link: www.jungfl.org. I’d love to see you there!
Q. Healing theSacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other and the World, which took you 18 years to write, is compelling reading, weaving the insights of many — spiritual masters, Jungian analysts, psychologists, and others — with your own. As a warm-up question, might you describe your personal library? How many books? How are they organized? What is on your reading table or night table now?
A. Oh, my. In our home we have a designated library/music/reading room with two walls of shelves containing about 1,650 books. At the moment there are another 200 plus on or near my desk for quick access. Most of the other rooms have a shelf or two of books as well. Those in the library are clustered together in genres: classics, children’s literature, art, fiction, poetry, dreamwork, philosophy, archetypal symbolism, religion/spirituality, mythology, psychology, and women’s issues. Those nearest my writing desk belong to the last five genres.
The books on my night table at the moment are: The Hidden Spirituality of Men, by Matthew Fox; The Physics of Angels, Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake; Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Volume 3, edited by Joseph Campbell;The Wisdom of Sundays, Oprah Winfrey; Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought, by Tom Jackson; and Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, by Tracey Bashkoff of the Guggenheim Museum. A friend loaned the last one to me last night. It’s filled with extraordinary archetypal images.
Q. Would it be accurate to call Healing the Sacred Divide a spiritual autobiography and workbook as well as a discourse on the trials and treasures in healing our divided selves, our divided relationships, our divided world?
A. Yes. That’s a perfect summation. I find it almost impossible to separate my thinking and learning from my personal life and my passion for sharing what I’m learning with other psychological and spiritual seekers. I want to become my fullest Self and I love mentoring others who are on the same path.
Q. The late Jungian Analyst Robert Johnson wrote the forward to your previous book, Dream Theatres of the Soul. He appears to be a touchstone for your work. Would you comment on him, and his passing, and his favored concept of the mandorla, which you emphasize in Healing the Sacred Divide?
A. Robert A. Johnson was my earliest Jungian mentor. I met him at a Journey Into Wholeness conference in the early 1990’s and immediately knew him to be a soul brother. From him I learned that myths and dreams are valuable stories that show me the archetypal forces in my unconscious. I also learned that my psychological and spiritual growth is dependent on my ability to reconcile the conflicts in myself and my relationships. This is symbolized by a mandorla — the third, almond-shaped space made by two overlapping circles. It represents the holy space of dialogue and understanding where we connect with the Self and resolve conflicts in creative new ways. I’m sad that he’s no longer with us, but his soul left a powerful imprint on mine that will always be with me.
Q.You begin the book with a nightmare you had when you were ten, of the Lone Ranger, who you so admired but who shot you in the dream. The Lone Ranger has ‘shadowed’ you for all these years. Could you say just a bit about the importance of him in your process? I recently saw the archetypally rich film The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. Have you seen it? If so did it resonate?
A. My dream was as archetypally rich as the film. I did see it and I loved it. As a child, I idolized the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Silver. I woke up from that dream screaming with outrage and weeping from a profound sense of betrayal. It has taken me years of inner work to understand why. The Lone Ranger was my version of the heroic Father archetype. Tonto was my personal image of my shamanistic Mediatrix/Sage archetype. Silver represented the power and potential of my Animus, the drive that motivates my teaching and writing. Why did the Lone Ranger shoot me at the age of ten? Because I was becoming aware of the toxic patriarchal conditioning of my childhood that said males were heroes and authority figures and females were victims and second-class citizens. The dream was a call to discover and empower the archetypal forces in myself, especially my feminine side. It took me 35 more years to find the path Jung paved for me and other seekers.
Q. You quote Krishnamurti: “The world problem is the individual problem.” Would you comment? How are we individuals responsible for the extreme conflicts in our world today?
A.The opposite of Krishnamurti’s comment is likewise true: the individual solution is the world solution. We and our species are evolving from a state of primitive infancy toward greater consciousness and psycho-spiritual maturity. As you do your inner work and grow in self-awareness, you automatically motivate everyone you touch to seek healthier resolutions to their problems and find meaning for their own lives. For the first time in human history, the internet has the potential to swing the tide of collective consciousness away from conflict and hatred toward understanding and love. I truly believe that if we join the drops of our individual awareness to the gathering collective wave, we can save our species and our planet from destruction.
Q. Another author you cite is Jungian Analyst Janet O’ Dallett, author of The Not-Yet Transformed God. She spoke to our group many years ago, but I still remember what she told us before the lecture. She said she lived on the Olympic Peninsula near Seattle and there were two houses on her property. She lived in one and her husband lived in the other. What do you think she was trying to say about the individual in relationship?
A. I love that. I think she was trying to illustrate how hard it is to create a healthy, loving, lifelong, relationship with your partner without sacrificing your freedom to be true to yourself. For the last few years I’ve been taking baritone ukulele lessons and writing songs. My latest song, “Happy Place,” is my answer to your question. It’s about the mandorla that two individuals can create in a couple relationship. Here are the last lines:
“I wish my happy place was yours. I wish that yours was mine.
But everybody’s got their own. Seems like that’s just fine.
Together we’re building a place of our own, where we both can grow.
You can do your thing and I’ll do mine….It’s the happiest place I know!”
Q. You cite so many influential authors in The Sacred Divide. I was disappointed not to see a bibliography. Might you want to hand one out to attendees at the upcoming event?
A. I’ll be happy to. I’m in the midst of creating one for my new book, and I’ll bring it with me to the workshop.
Q. You called your first three books a trilogy. Now you are working on a fourth. What is the subject of the new book?
A. The Soul’s Twins transforms my work into a quaternity — a symbol of wholeness that is my answer to the Lone Ranger and the patriarchal culture he alerted me to at the age of ten. I believe it is imperative for our species to eliminate old stereotypes about Deity and gender by consciously integrating the feminine and masculine principles within and without. The Soul’s Twins was conceived in the early 90’s when I attended an intensive at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich where Jungian analyst Dr. Martin Odermatt introduced us to a newly emerging image for the Self. He called it the Couple, a new God-image representing the unifying force of love that can heal the world.
Over the next year I wrote a manuscript describing how the interaction between four basic feminine archetypes and their four masculine archetypal partners creates the Couple. I also created and tested a self-assessment instrument called The Partnership Profile which is included in the new book. I didn’t know how to finish it then, which is probably just as well because I’m pretty sure the world wasn’t ready to receive it. So it sat in my computer until two years ago when my Animus reared up and demanded that we revise, condense, and see it through to publication. He and I are very excited about the dramatic movements like #MeToo that are shaking up and tearing down the toxic bastions of patriarchal dominance. I’m pretty sure the time is right for it now. May it be so!
Reminder to attendees: Some journaling is part of this event. Bring notebooks and pens. Sharing is optional.
Image credits: The rearing horse found on Google Images is attributed to rebelyell.
What follows is copied from this morning’s dream journal. It seems a fitting post for the holiday season this year. May you find meaning and hope in it during this dark, chaotic time.
Dream #5,000: Tree of Life
I’m in a room in which someone has set up a small square table, like a card table, and covered it with a white cloth. Toward the back center of the table is a small live, potted tree. The front of the table is empty, as if this is a serving table for a Christmas feast and the platters and bowls of food will be placed there.The tree is around 2 feet high. It’s a bit wonky, like Charlie Brown’s little tree, with five skimpy branches sprouting from either side of a central trunk. But unlike Chuck’s tree, it’s not an evergreen with leaves and greenery. It’s a deciduous tree which has shed its old leaves for the winter. This makes sense, since it’s the dead of winter. The branches of this tree are dotted with unusually large, obviously ripening buds which make me think of ornaments on a Christmas tree. As I awaken I hear myself narrating a description of the tree saying, “The Tree of Life, laden with buds (I wrote bulbs) and the promise of new life.”
This dream is very meaningful to me for several reasons. First, because at my first Wise Women’s group meeting a few weeks ago, Jan told us about a group of women who sponsor a movement to plant new trees in the deforested belt around the planet. At the end of our meeting I suggested that we all try to incubate a tree dream to share at our next meeting after the holidays. I was hoping to find some guidance and meaning for our group about the danger of deforestation that is threatening our planet. That night I had dream #4990 with images of a few trees with a few green leaves, but it didn’t bowl me over and I’ve had no more dreams about trees since. Until last night.
Second, last night, knowing the next dream I recorded and worked on would be my 5,000th, I again asked Dream Mother to please bring me an extra special tree dream. Boy, did she deliver!
I awoke some time around 4:00 with the image of this dream and the realization that I was repeating its final words about the Tree of Life. After that I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I got up, wrote it down, went back to bed, and starting thinking about my associations with it. The first thing I thought of was my blog post from some years ago about the symbolic meaning of dreams. I guess that’s what gave me the idea to post this one today.
Next, I thought about what I’ve been writing about in my next book and realized that the Tree of Life represents the trinitarian third force which brings unity between opposites, not just as a metaphysical reality, but also as a physical one. Metaphysically, a tree is an image of the Philosopher’s Stone. Physically, it is a metaphor for the human body, with its central trunk, five appendages (head, arms, and legs), and a feminine and masculine side. This reminded me of the Kabbalah’s sephirot which, in Judaism, represents the divine in humanity and also has a feminine and masculine side.
Then I realized that the Jewish menorah is a Tree of Life too — with its central candle-holder trunk, and four candle holders on each side — and that this image is also like the sephirot. Plus, the lighting of the menorah candles celebrates the divine spark of light, wisdom and divine inspiration that we bring to fullness in ourselves with our spiritual work. The reference to light reminded me of the confusion I had when writing down the dream about the similarity between the words “buds” and “bulbs” — buds signaling new life, and Christmas tree bulbs representing the return of light, and with it, new life.
Another thought was that the Tree of Life, the sephirot, the menorah, and the Christmas tree are all images of the Great Mother, or Sacred Mother, who births new life and light via the buds that will blossom into leaves and flowers with the return of spring. So it’s also an image of the Sacred Feminine which has lain dormant for so long in the collective unconscious but is now showing signs of rebirth. This gives me hope. With women becoming more involved in positions of authority and taking on projects like planting new trees, perhaps they can also influence the world’s governments to take this and other ecological threats more seriously. If they succeed, just as the darkness and barrenness of winter is always followed by the light and new growth of spring, Mother Nature can restore the health of our planet with her natural cycles of life. May it be so.
Finally, the dream felt like a reward from my unconscious for all the work I’ve been doing on my dreams over the last 30 years. It seems to suggest that at my age I am still capable of sprouting with new life, and it made me feel known and loved by the Sacred. It felt like an affirmation and validation of what I’m writing about in my new book, and gave me hope that it might be well-received by the collective. So after lying awake thinking about my 5,000th recorded dream for the rest of the night, I arose at 7:30 and began making revisions to the last chapter based on what I learned from it.
Thank you to my readers for your many gifts of wisdom through the years. May your holiday season be filled with light, wisdom, new life, and divine inspiration.
Image credits: Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree, https://www.macys.com/, The Tree of Life Metal Menorah by Scott Nelles, https://www.artfulhome.com/
It’s the eve of the election. This dream arrived the night before last.
#4984: The Little Boy Doesn’t Want to Learn
I’m in a new place – it feels like a room in a children’s school — with a few other very likable men and women. We are making packets of information for the children. I’m supposed to prepare the covers of the packets. The teacher let them write their names on the covers in magic marker. They must be four- or possibly five-year olds, judging by their writing. I have a packet with the name Mary Ma….. (something…can’t remember her last name). I see Raffa written after her name and it looks like my writing. It doesn’t belong there so I‘m trying to erase it. But I can’t, because it’s in magic marker. Also, the packet has a nubby fabric texture, almost like fleece, which makes it especially difficult to erase. I ask for a new, clean packet for this child to start over with but the teacher tells me there aren’t any more. There’s only one for each child.
A little boy is here now and needs his packet. I tell the others where it’s hanging, over to the left on that wall. Each packet is hung on a peg which also holds a set of keys. Someone goes over, finds his, and brings it to the boy. But he ignores it. It’s got everything he needs in it, even the keys, and all the information and directions for his task, but he won’t even look at it. He doesn’t want to use it. He wants to play without having to apply himself. I feel sorry for him. It could be so easy if he’d just look at the materials right in front of him and learn from them. He’s making it so hard on himself by resisting. It’s such a shame.
This is how I feel about this new book. I’m preparing this “packet” of information. It contains guidelines for the work of self-discovery — a set of keys that can open doors to the unknown world within. But it’s been very difficult…it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m having to face some harsh realities about myself and sometimes my inner little boy just doesn’t want to do the hard work. And I know there are a lot of people who won’t read my book for the same reason. And that’s hard too.
But this dream also shows me how I feel about the problems we face in America on the eve of this election. It’s about all those who want a patriarchal God to come down here and fix everything. And if not God, then maybe a big, powerful, important man who makes our fears go away when he says, “It’s bad out there. But don’t worry. I’ll fix it.”
The time has come to take the heroine’s journey. We each have our own packet, our own keys, our own task. We each need to look into the book of our own life, descend to the underworld, and suffer like Inanna, the Queen of Heaven and Earth when all her worldly belongings were stripped from her and she was hung on a meathook.To suffer like Mary, the Queen of Heaven, who watched the political power in her country crucify her son. To suffer like Psyche, beloved of Eros, who had to do all the impossible tasks that Aphrodite, goddess of love, assigned to her to force her to grow up. She knew she couldn’t do them and admitted it. And only when she crumbled in humility and despair did the solutions come. The healing power of nature, of the soul, took over and gave her the assistance she needed.
It’s time to peel away the patriarchal layers of busyness and competition. Of materialism. Of ladder-climbing back-stabbing to acquire the outer trappings of success. Time to stop projecting our fear and hatred onto scapegoats. Time to stop living lives devoid of all soul, all spirit, all meaning. Time to stop pushing away other people, other ideas, new solutions. Time to see what’s right in front of us and learn from it. Time to stop looking to Big Daddy to save us. Time to empower our fuller selves, to accept our individual responsibility to be part of a global solution.
Our assignment at this point in history is to follow the maidens, mothers, queens, and crones down deep into the underground of our true selves. To find out who we really are and what our souls really need. To admit we can’t escape reality by denying it. Time to find our own vulnerable places and let our carefully constructed walls crumble around us. To tap into the sadness and grief, fear and dread. To let it all out and learn from it in the privacy of our own meditations. To trust in the core of love at our center, and to make the choices our soul wants us to make.
Big Daddy’s not going to save us. My book is not going to save us. Everybody has to write and read their own book, find meaning in their own life, and save themselves. You can save yourself. You can choose. Choose the Third Way. Choose love.
P.S. I’ve met another wise woman. Thank you, Janice, for your inspiration today for this post.
“Love is the fundamental energy of evolution….Our challenge today is to trust the power of love at the heart of life, to let ourselves be seized by love, to create and invent ways for love to evolve into a global wholeness of unity, compassion, justice and peacemaking. As a process of evolution, the universe is incomplete, and we humans are incomplete. We can change, grow, and become something new. We have the power to do so, but do we have the will? We need a religious imagination that ignites our energies to move beyond mediocrity and fear, one that anticipates a new future of planet life.” ~Ilia Delio. The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, p. xxv
First the good news: The first draft of my new book is finished. From here on out it’s just a matter of refining it, a process akin to socializing a child so it’s fit to be seen in polite society. It’ll take me a while to do that, then off it goes. Sending it to the publisher is like sending a child to finishing school after basic training. An editor will offer suggestions, I’ll make revisions. A marketing person will review and adjust the promotional plan, make the necessary arrangements, and so on.
Now for the bad news: I’m living in a country whose collective shadow is manifesting in so much nasty, ugly, uncivilized, territorial, competitive, top-dog, mine’s-bigger-than-yours animus masculinity that I’m losing hope. Just so you know, my book is about how psychologically and spiritually, men and women both contain the masculine and feminine principles/drives. So I’m not just talking about men. There are plenty of women around exhibiting that same shadow.
Here’s what I’m on the verge of seriously asking myself: Why am I spending so much of my life energy creating this new child who’s all about love and partnership and creative, unitive consciousness? How can it possibly survive in such an environment, let alone thrive? How can anything soft and vulnerable—like an innocent child or a human soul—bear the toxicity of our time?
I know the answer to the first question is, “Because I have to.” And I know I won’t rest until it’s done. Nevertheless, I really, really, need to hear some good news.
Two Monday mornings ago, I awoke with the usual dark cloud over my head from watching the late night news about the latest political brouhaha. This time it was the Brett Kavanaugh supreme court nominee hearing and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s upcoming testimony about an alleged abusive encounter with him. I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t wait to make my coffee and get to the newspaper so I could solve the sudoku puzzle. I needed a distraction from my gloomy thoughts, a problem I could actually resolve.
Part of my morning ritual is to read my horoscope which shares the same page. Occasionally a comment will resonate and spark some creative thinking. That morning, mine said something like, “Instead of thinking about what you need to change, ask yourself what would improve your life.” The answer came almost immediately. Being with a kind, compassionate, psychologically savvy and spiritually mature woman who has a good balance of masculine and feminine energy would definitely improve my life right now.
So I sent an email to a friend I haven’t seen in several months, and invited her over for tea one afternoon. We agreed to meet a week later, last Monday afternoon. One of the first things she said after we’d settled into comfortable chairs was, “Are you in as much pain as I am from watching Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony last Thursday?” She was already reading my mind. I hadn’t actually watched it that day, but I’d been seeing it on the news ever since. And yes, I was in much pain about it.
After we talked for a while about how much Ford’s testimony had moved us she said, “But you know, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kavanaugh and his wife too. Did you see her face? There was so much devotion and concern for him in her eyes.”
And that’s exactly what I needed to hear. Her compassion for both Ford and Kavanaugh—her ability to put herself in their shoes and imagine the impact this ordeal was having on both their families—was the voice crying in the wilderness I’d been longing to hear. We spent the next two hours having one of the most pleasant, light-hearted, and affirming conversations I can remember ever having. We laughed a lot. And I teared up a few times. I’ve felt much better ever since.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that if the current political situation is dragging you down, find yourself a gentle, compassionate, feminine voice with “a religious imagination that ignites [y]our energies to move beyond mediocrity and fear, one that anticipates a new future of planet life.”
Thank you, Ilia Delio. Thank you, Pat. I’ll be doing more of that from now on.
Long ago when Earth was young and the collective ego in its infancy, the idea of uprooting oneself from the safety of home and hearth and taking a solitary journey into unknown territory had sacred significance. Even the most powerful rulers feared the unknown so much that they would not make any important move without first consulting divine guidance. Thus it was that in ancient Greece crossroads acquired sacred meaning, and divine help from Hecate, Goddess of the crossroads, was invoked at places where three roads met. Images of Hecate Trevia, (Hecate of the Three Ways) guarded three-way crossroads for many centuries.
Barbara Walker tells us that besides presiding at crossroads, Hecate was also the guardian of gates — especially the gate of birth. Under the name of Enodia, a name shared by Hecate, Artemis, and Persephone, the underworld Goddess also ruled the gates of death and was the original holder of the key to Hades. In the 8th century BCE in Italy, Vanth was the Etruscan winged goddess of the netherworld. With snakes wrapped around her arms, she carried keys and either a torch or a scroll inscribed with her name. In the Yoruba culture of Africa, Elegba the Divine Messenger is still consulted for divination. Luisah Teish says she is “the Master of the Crossroads, the Gatekeeper who stands between the Material and the Spiritual, the Visible and the Invisible, between Existence and Oblivion.”
These are all manifestations of the Wisewoman archetype, the aspect of the sacred feminine which enables us to explore the inner depths without losing our way. Her symbols describe her attributes. Keys represent access to secret realms, full power and authority within these realms, and the condition of being initiated. Her snakes protect sacred precincts, including the underworld. A torch is a common symbol of purification and enlightenment in rites of initiation. A scroll, as the original form of the book, is a symbol of learning, enlightenment, communication, and sacred writings. One other symbol associated with the Wisewoman is the veil, which suggests hidden or esoteric knowledge.
The “counselor at the crossroads” aspect of the Wisewoman represents our instinctive recognition of opportunities for choice at critical stages of life and the knack for making appropriate decisions based on love and the true processes of our souls. As “weaver at the gate” she represents our ability to stand between pairs of opposites, heeding the truths of both and holding the tension of indecision while weaving the separate and apparently incompatible threads of warp and woof into new patterns until they merge into an original, unified piece.
Some gates offer opportunities for choice — as when we learn we have a fatal illness and can choose how to treat it and how to approach our deaths — and some do not. For example, we do not get to choose when we are born or what family we are born into. But we can still reflect on the meaning of every passage, whether it is chosen or not, and we can choose how we will respond to what we cannot change. Will we accept it, choose to find meaning and guidance for our journey on Earth, take a new step in a new direction? Or will we fight it, ignore it, or blame it on someone else?
Two things protect us on the journey into the unconscious: the ability to trust our inner guidance when we reach a potentially dangerous crossroads, and the patience to wait at the gate until the healing solution comes. If we can do this, the Wisewoman, our inner priestess and healer, will direct our path to wholeness and spiritual growth. May you be fortunate enough to meet her at the crossroads and gates of your own journey.
Image Credits: Hecate, Google Images. Source Unknown.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.