An Interview with the Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida February 5, 2019
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 the Sacred 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.
A Dialogue with the Self August 2, 2016
Carl Jung said the Self is both our core and our circumference. Some think of it as our soul, the totality of who we are and who we have the potential to become. Jung called it the archetype of wholeness. In later years he referred to it as our god-image and connection to the Mystery some call God. Composed of the twin drives for self-preservation (i.e. masculine logos, represented in alchemy by the King archetype) and species preservation (feminine mythos/eros symbolized by the Queen), the Self shapes our ideas about what is sacred.
As the source of our irresistible compulsion to grow into our true selves and express our unique creativity, the Self is an ongoing, never-ending process. I see it as the psychological equivalent of the physical exchange of energy and information constantly occurring at the quantum level between the molecules of our bodies and between us and our environments. As I understand Jung, he suspected that the energies of both processes, inner and outer, are united in one intelligent, purposeful, evolving collective unconscious, Force (as George Lucas named it), or Zero Point Field (as some physicists now call it), which promotes increasing order, health, and wholeness.
We associate the Self with six attributes: wholeness, centrality, unity, love, pattern, and the life-giving force. We grow conscious of its guidance by noticing these themes in the symbols and synchronistic events of our dreams and waking life. Benevolent by nature, the Self calls our egos to their heroic destiny of merging with the indwelling Mystery. Our egos often reject its guidance, but it never gives up on us. The more we notice and respond to it, the more it responds to us.
The following story from one of my earliest blog posts illustrates the loving interaction that can take place between ego and Self:
I’ve just arrived at my soul’s home in the mountains of North Carolina where I will spend the remainder of the summer. I’ve often wondered why I love this place so dearly, why it makes me feel so loved and connected and alive and grateful for my life. My answer came last night and this morning.
I’m at my desk looking out an east-facing window. The morning sun enters my backyard late because it has to rise above the mountain before its rays filter down through a thick tree canopy. Most of what I see is in shade but a patch of sun has highlighted the brilliant silver threads of a spider web between two branches of a buckeye tree. Grandmother Spider is busily checking connections, tightening threads, and hunting for tasty morsels that got trapped during the night.
Pursuing the threads of last night’s thoughts, this morning I picked up Aion, Volume 9, ii, of Jung’s Collected Works, in search of symbols of the Self. In paragraph #356 he writes:
“The commonest of these images in modern dreams are, in my experience, the elephant, horse, bull, bear, white and black birds, fishes, and snakes. Occasionally one comes across tortoises, snails, spiders, and beetles. The principal plant symbols are the flower and the tree. Of all the inorganic products, the commonest are the mountain and lake.”
Spiders. Mountains. Trees.
When I entered the gravel road last night my arrival was heralded by a cawing black crow who flapped off toward the house. The first thing I did was feed the rainbow trout in our pond. Black birds. Fish. Lake. (Do you think a pond counts?)
Then I walked around the garden to check out the flowers. My treasured peonies are already spent, but the pink New Dawn roses and purple clematis are a-riot on the trellis, the hydrangeas look like giant blue and white powder puffs, the hostas are sending up tall bud-laden spikes, the astilbe have myriad pointed white cotton candy tufts, the golden daylilies are in full bloom, and there’s a mound of pink petunias by the kitchen door. I don’t garden in Florida. It’s just too hot. But here I can have my flowers. Flowers.
Below Bear Pond and Shadow Brook there’s a small pasture and stable where my horse, Shadow, used to spend his summers. I’ve always had a thing for horses. And Shadow, well, he’s a subject for another post. Horses. By the way, bears are the theme of this mountain home. They’re all over the house. But that’s another story too. Bears.
Speaking of bears, every summer for ten years I’ve come here with my sweet friend, a handsome golden retriever whose name was Bear. He passed on last August, but his ashes are in a white box with a label that says “Bear Raffa: Forever Faithful” in a cabinet four feet to the right of where I sit. I cried when I entered the house without him last night. But this morning when I was still in that borderland between sleeping and waking, I heard his joyous booming bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back.
Do I need any further reminders of how loved I am and why I love this place so? Not really, but such is the nature of the Self that I’ll probably continue to get them every day anyway. And night, too. Sweet dreams of the Self, my friends.
Learning From Our Lady of the Beasts March 8, 2016
“The Earth Mother is…the eternally fruitful source of everything…. Each separate being is a manifestation of her; all things share in her life through an eternal cycle of birth and rebirth….Her animals….embody the deity herself, defining her personality and exemplifying her power.” Buffie Johnson, Our Lady of the Beasts, Inner Traditions
The successful wielding of power to enhance our soul’s development is a primary concern of the feminine archetypes. For them, power is not about controlling otherness, but about loving and learning from otherness so that our souls are empowered to become what they were created to be. If this is to happen, our energies need to be redirected away from pursuits aimed at acquiring external, historical power toward those that bring internal, natural power. By natural power I mean the soul’s power to act from its rich, authentic core, unencumbered by the chains of fear, ignorance, and conformity. One way of loosening these chains is to learn from Earth Mother’s manifestations in nature.
The farther removed we are from nature, the less apt we are to hear Sophia’s voice or learn from her natural guidance. One night after an eventful weekend at our mountain home I recorded five valuable insights I had acquired, all of them necessary to my empowerment, and none of which I would have learned had I stayed indoors. Through my adult interactions with nature I am rediscovering something I knew as a child but never had the words for: staying close to nature brings me closer to my truest self.
A major step in my own return to nature began when, in my fifties, I fulfilled a childhood dream of buying my own horse to train: a two-and-a-half-year old gray thoroughbred I called Honey’s Shadow Dancer — gray to symbolize the union of the opposites of black and white for which I strive, Honey for his sweetness, Shadow to signify my desire to be always mindful of my own shadow, and Dancer to honor the ever-changing dance of life. For me, the physical care I lavished on him and our efforts to understand and trust one another were spiritual practices that were every bit as meaningful as my earlier, more cerebral ones.
Native teachers and healers Jamie Sams and David Carson tell us that for many native peoples Horse represents both physical and unearthly power, and that the impact of Horse’s domestication was akin to the discovery of fire. “Before Horse, humans were earthbound, heavy-laden, and slow creatures indeed. Once humans climbed on Horse’s back, they were as free and fleet as the wind. Through their special relationship with Horse, humans altered their self-concept beyond measure. Horse was the first animal medicine of civilization.”
The term animal medicine refers to life lessons learned from animals whose characteristics and habits demonstrate how to walk on our physical Earth Mother in harmony with the universe. Like Buffie Johnson, I think of the aspect of Earth Mother that conveys lessons through wild creatures and beloved animal companions as Our Lady of the Beasts.
What animal teachers has Our Lady of the Beasts sent to you?
Image Credit: Google Images
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 Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
Animal Medicine: Seeing Hidden Emotions March 1, 2016
As one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, my horse Shadow ranks right up there with Jung and my dreams. Horses, like dreams, are Nature: they do not lie. People can cover their true feelings with masks, but horses do not know how to make masks. As animals of prey that have survived by being intensely alert and wary, they are easily unsettled by subtle signs of incongruence in people’s behavior. The tiniest gesture—a tentativeness in our stride, a sideways glance, a sudden intake of breath—can trigger prehistoric horsey images of predatory wolves clad in sheep’s clothing and cause them to spook.
One of the most amazing…and frustrating…things about horses is that they naturally mirror our emotions. If we are afraid, they will be afraid. If, beneath a calm exterior, we are irritable or angry, intense, anxious, sad or excitable, they will behave in accordance with the deeper reality. Shadow was especially good at this. And since I’ve always been especially good at ignoring my uncomfortable feelings, together we were a Jungian analyst’s dream and a horse trainer’s nightmare!
The first time Shadow and I took a dressage test, I was vaguely aware of feeling a tad nervous; but because I didn’t like the way that felt, I ignored it. Thirty minutes before my test was to take place, Liz, my trainer, told me to exercise him in the round pen. This is a technique where you stand in the center of the pen and ask the horse to walk, trot, and canter around you in wide circles. This warms him up, reminds him of cues, bonds him with his trainer, consumes excess energy, and gives the trainer an opportunity to monitor his mood and correct inappropriate behavior.
I’d done this many times in the smaller pen at the stable where he lived, but he was a very young, high-strung thoroughbred and I still wasn’t very confident about his trustworthiness or my ability to handle him. Moreover, I’d never ridden him in a horse show before. An added stressor was that we were both in a strange new setting and I was very aware that people were watching us out of curiosity. In short, I was still a rank amateur in horse training, and here I was on stage. I had every right to feel anxious, but I simply refused to admit it.
When Shadow started moving along the fence he couldn’t have looked more anxious; his movements were tentative and irregular and his eyes darted wildly from side to side as he looked over the fence to scan the horizon for danger. When I asked him to canter he raced around in the thick sand so quickly and recklessly that I was afraid he would fall and hurt himself.
Worried, I yelled “Whoa” louder and louder, but this only got him more stirred up. I tried rushing to the side of the pen with outstretched arms to stop him, but that only made him turn around and gallop away in the opposite direction. Then suddenly the veil dropped from my eyes and I saw the full extent of my anxiety in his behavior. Praying this would work, I stopped dead still in the center of the ring, closed my eyes, and began to breathe as slowly and deeply from my belly as I could.
As I calmed myself, his response was immediate and dramatic. Within two turns around the ring his wild pace slowed to a canter. Two more and he was trotting. A minute later he walked calmly toward me, stopped behind me, and touched his nose to my left shoulder. Whereas before my behavior had convinced him there was something to worry about, now he was equally convinced everything was fine.
This lesson affected me profoundly. Fifteen minutes with Shadow in that pen brought home something I had not mastered after years of meditation: recognizing my negative emotional states and rendering them harmless by returning to my quiet center. This skill is crucial to conflict resolution in everyday relationships, yet how many of us have acquired it? Can you imagine how different the world would be if everyone involved in international relations had a Shadow to show them their shadow?
What lessons has Our Lady of the Beasts taught you through your animal friends?
Image Credit: Top: Google Images. Bottom: My photograph.
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 Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
Horse Crazy Part II: How to Heal the Separations October 20, 2015
While writing my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness, I had a dream.
I’m in the kitchen with a woman who personifies motherhood to me. We’re standing before a low, double-doored freezer in the middle of the room. As we open and close the doors, getting things out for a dinner party, my friend accidentally bumps the head of a dark-haired boy between ten and twelve standing between us. He starts to cry. I think she should kiss his head where she bumped him. But I realize she knows how to handle this, so I say to the boy, “She has children of her own.” He looks up and stares deeply into my eyes and says, “Yes, but does she have a stallion?”
Like the woman in my dream, I grew up believing relationships with my husband and children would fulfill me. So I gave up my passion for horses. Perhaps my friend’s passion for her family was enough. Maybe she never heard the compelling call of the Self. But the little boy whose eyes pierced my soul is my own inner boy and he knew that once I was horse crazy. That I was the kind of woman who needed more than relationships: I needed my stallion, too.
One might assume that because passion is such a powerful emotion it must be associated with the active masculine principle. But this is not so. The word passion comes from the Latin passio, which means suffering, or being acted upon. Thus it is associated with the passive feminine principle. (I’m not talking about men and women, but the feminine principle in all of us.) When one has a passion, one is acted upon—e.g. the passion of Jesus Christ—by a calling from or to some unknown power that cannot be ignored without endangering one’s very soul. Moreover, passion is an emotion, and emotion is associated with the dark, feminine, dangerous animal side of our natures, as distinguished from reason and light, which are associated with the masculine.
“I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid…If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”― Joseph Campbell
I knew what bliss was. I felt it every time I was around horses. Obviously I had a passion for them. What I didn’t know was that a spiritual passion was also stirring. When I heard the call of the Self at a Billy Graham crusade at 17, I tasted a new kind of bliss, and I believed it could best be served by sacrificing myself in service to others. So from then on I used religious beliefs and ideals to fortify the wall I’d been building to separate me from my shadow side.
By 37 my wall was developing cracks. Despite my stoic self-discipline I could no longer ignore the dangerous new feelings and uncomfortable questions stirring behind it. Something was wrong. One night, torn by an agonizing inner conflict, I prayed the most authentic, heartfelt prayer I had ever prayed: Help me. Please, please teach me to love.
Thus began a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ spiritual crisis. For the next nine years I consciously and painfully tolerated the tension between the life I had chosen and the life of joy I hoped was waiting for me. All that while I managed to ‘hold my horses,’ i.e. avoid rash actions that might betray my soul or hurt someone else. Was this love? I didn’t know.
This vigilant waiting, this alchemical tending of the fire, of keeping the passions in the crucible of my soul at a simmer…this was magical. Despite my mental suffering, I knew it even then. What I was doing felt important, right somehow. Sure enough. Beneath my conscious awareness, powerful transformations were occurring. Old dysfunctional attitudes and habits were dissolving. Tenuous new insights and connections were coalescing. My wall was crumbling to ash.
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”― Joseph Campbell