Happy New Year to my dear reader friends. Thank you for following Matrignosis. May the new year bring you increasing health, prosperity, joy, and wisdom. Today a friend sent me this wonderful article by Mary Pipher. I share her sentiments and could not have said it better. Enjoy.
We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias. –Maya Angelou
The Joy of Being a Woman in Her Seventies, by Mary Pipher January 2, 2020
The Magic of Women in Community December 17, 2019
“Every girl and every woman, has the potential to make this world a better place, and that potential lies in the act of thinking higher thoughts and feeling deeper things. When women and girls, everywhere, begin to see themselves as more than inanimate objects; but as beautiful beings capable of deep feelings and high thoughts, this has the capacity to create change all around. The kind of change that is for the better. Remember: High in the head and deep in the heart. Antlers on your mind and anchors in your heart.”
“What’s in hibernation? What’s giving birth?” These were the discussion prompts our hostess gave us for yesterday’s gathering. Our small community of six women (we’ve just lost the seventh who, sadly, is moving to another town) meets monthly to share the issues, concerns, challenges, joys, and blessings of this phase of our lives. We’re all still pursuing our passions in meaningful work, all but one is married (she has a boyfriend), all have adult children — some of whom have given us grandchildren — and we’re all interested in consciously exploring the mental, physical, and spiritual (three of us are Jewish and three, Christians) dimensions of our lives.
We’ve all led groups in our professional lives and are fully aware of the importance of listening well and taking turns. None of us wanted to be in charge of this group. Nor did we feel a strong need for a formal structure or specific subject matter. Mostly, we just wanted to take time out of our full and busy lives to be with other kind and interesting women with whom to engage in meaningful talk over hot tea and a simple snack. With no expectations, we have been living in the question and waiting to see what will happen.
So far our gatherings are very organic. At the first one we decided to meet at a different member’s home each month. It has deepened our appreciation and respect for each other’s uniqueness to experience the kind of environment each chooses to surround herself with.
One practice that has evolved is for the hostess to email a few questions about a relevant theme a few days in advance to give us time to think about it. Then after we make our tea, she opens the conversation with a centering practice like a meditation or conscious breathing and then restates the topic. We usually stay on that for a while, then veer off to follow fascinating threads that take us to new places before eventually returning to the topic with deepened insights. Occasionally someone brings a poem or written musings. Sometimes someone shares a dream and the insights they gained from it. Or a special, inspiring book. After two hours we usually close by going around the circle so everyone can share a final thought, feeling, or insight.
One of us will soon have a hip replaced, so yesterday’s discussion quickly zeroed in on the challenges of aging bodies that demand changes in lifestyle and attitude. What thoughts are germinating in her during this time of preparation? What feelings and new attitudes want to be born and listened to? How can the rest of us be of help during the recovery phase?
Another spoke of the fear she felt some years ago when she was about to undergo a difficult and complicated heart surgery. Before the operation she practiced several forms of inner work to dispel her fear, and eventually came to a deep sense of peace. Most surprising was the profound love she felt. Not for herself, her life, her family, or the doctors, but for her poor, struggling heart that was about to undergo such a stressful experience! That spurred a lively discussion about the importance of thinking about, talking to, and treating our bodies with kindness and love, especially in times of physical difficulties and pain.
One naturally independent woman had surgery on her shattered shoulder a few months ago in the midst of a stressful move to a new house. What did it take for her to admit she needed help? What did she learn when several friends volunteered to help her pack?
These days I think about the importance of community. Until about twelve years ago I was always in at least one group of wise and caring women who met my needs for meaningful female companionship. Then I went through a period of intense writing and hibernating and giving birth to a blog and two books that took up so much time that I dropped out of all of them. A natural introvert, I’ve always loved solitude, silence, and my own company. And writing about what is important to me is enormously fulfilling.
But last fall I noticed a nagging emptiness. I missed the friendship of women around my age who are linked by their desire to live their lives authentically and mindfully. Women who could never settle for a meaningless, purposeless life. Women who have compassion for the suffering of people and our planet and take actions to alleviate it. Women with the strength and courage to ask the big questions and dig deep to bring out the unspoken words that still need to be said, the feelings that still want to be met. Open-hearted, generous-spirited, intelligent women who struggle to understand themselves, develop their skills, and give back to their communities.
So I told a woman I admire for the same qualities what I needed and together we created it. I simply took the next step I needed to take, and what is emerging is magical: a community of wise, compassionate women who know how to comfort and heal. Do you have a special community of women? What kind of women would you like to know and be with? Who would you start with?
“Who is She? She is your power, your Feminine source. Big Mama. The Goddess. The Great Mystery. The web-weaver. The life force. The first time, the twentieth time you may not recognize her. Or pretend not to hear. As she fills your body with ripples of terror and delight.
But when she calls you will know you’ve been called. Then it is up to you to decide if you will answer.”
Image credit: Top: Google images, from thespacebetweentherapy.com. Bottom, author photo.
The True Meaning of Christmas Stories December 10, 2019
“Stories … protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the 20th century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories — that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narrative — in many fields of knowledge — because it is impossible to live without them.” ~Bill Buford, nonfiction writer and former fiction editor at The New Yorker
Here in the northern hemisphere of the Americas, ’tis the season for watching televised reruns of our favorite Christmas movies. Why do we love them so much? What is it that brings us back, again and again, to re-experience stories we’ve heard so many times? Perhaps we can get a clue from recaps of a few that stand out for me.
“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” ~J.K. Rowling, novelist, screenwriter and film producer
A Christmas Story: Ralphie, a precocious, imaginative nine-year-old, wants a BB gun for Christmas but is discouraged by his mother, his teacher, and a department store Santa Claus who all fear “you’ll shoot your eye out!” After a series of episodes that depict the yearnings, humor, pathos, and disillusionment of an ordinary child growing up in a mid-century American family, Ralphie’s usually distracted and frustrated, but fundamentally loving father surprises him on Christmas morning with a BB gun. Ralphie does almost shoot his eye out, but it’s still his favorite Christmas ever!
White Christmas: Two soldier/singers enlist a sister act to assist them in helping their aging and discouraged superior officer from their military years save his failing country inn in rural Vermont by producing a Christmas musical extravaganza. Their efforts result in a spectacular show, and just as it ends, snow begins to fall. This will insure a white Christmas and a lucrative ski season for the inn.
It’s a Wonderful Life: George Bailey’s missed opportunities and financial problems have brought him to such despair that shortly before Christmas he contemplates ending his life by jumping off a bridge. As he prepares himself, his guardian angel dives in the water and George ends up saving him. After the angel takes George through an alternative reality where he sees what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all his good deeds, George returns to his present reality which he now sees through the eyes of love, joy, and gratitude for the miracle of his wonderful life.
Elf: Orphaned as an infant, Buddy grows up at the North Pole with Santa and the elves believing he’s an elf, albeit a large, awkward, and very strange one. Painfully disillusioned when he learns he’s not, he takes off for the big city and discovers his birth father, a cynical and driven workaholic who rejects him. But Buddy’s innocent, helpful nature wins the love of the woman of his dreams and transforms his father into a caring husband and father who has learned from Buddy to appreciate the important things in life.
“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” Mary Catherine Bateson, writer and cultural anthropologist
What do we learn through stories? We learn about who we are, what our souls look like and yearn for, the things that are more important to us than money or material possessions, more valuable than gold. We learn that we are lucky to be alive and loved. We learn that we want to stay present to precious moments of wonder and joy and be grateful for them.
Hope, yearning, suffering, kindness, humor, community, transformation, and love. These are archetypal themes about universal experiences and emotions. We’ve all been nine years old, hoping for that very special present. We’ve all suffered disillusionment, disappointment, regret, and despair over mistakes made and dreams unfulfilled. We’ve all been the recipients of acts of kindness and been changed by them. We’ve all experienced moments of joy, gratitude, and love for the blessings of a life we want to last forever.
And in the end, that’s what all our stories — not just Christmas stories, but also hero journey stories, myths, fairy tales, and autobiographical stories — come down to: our basic human need for a miraculous transformational experience of being known and loved that will fulfill our soul’s yearning, bring hope, and end our suffering. Whatever our religion, the wish to improve and be conscious and mindful of the miracle of our life is the true meaning of the stories that last. Among those, the ones that remind us of this wish are the most beloved.
What are your favorite Christmas movies? What do you love most about them?
“Stories are the way to capture the hopes, dreams, and visions of a culture. They are true as much as data are true. The truth of the powerful and irresistible story illustrates in a way data can’t begin to capture. It’s the stories that make you understand.” — Carl Sessions Stepp, professor, Philip Merrill College of Journalism
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” ~Joan Didion, writer and journalist
“God made man because He loves stories.” — Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner
Image credits: Google images, unknown sources.
Dreams: Your Personal Treasure Trove April 30, 2019
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.
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.