Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Managing the Monkeys August 23, 2016

Monkey-Mind-1-300x201“The unconscious as we know can never be “done with” once and for all. It is, in fact, one of the most important tasks of psychic hygiene to pay continual attention to the symptomatology of unconscious contents and processes, for the good reason that the conscious mind is always in danger of becoming one-sided.” ~Carl Jung; Syzygy: Anima and animus.

Is it my imagination or has this summer been crazier than usual?  I’m wondering if this is not just about the world situation in general, and America’s situation in particular (especially the upcoming election), but also about my personal life.  I didn’t expect to feel this way at my age, especially not when I’m supposed to be relaxing and enjoying our vacation in the mountains. But this summer there seems to be so much more on my plate, and I’ve been unusually aware of the weight of it. Yet at the same time — and here’s the odd part — I find I’m accepting it more calmly and letting go of it more easily. It’s……just……no big deal.

So I’ve been thinking about this lately and apparently my unconscious wants to help me clarify it. I think this because this morning I awoke with the residue of a dream in which I was writing a post about managing ‘monkey mind!’  I’m sure most of you are familiar with the term. Meditators use it to describe the challenge of calming the mind when myriad thoughts, images, ideas, worries, responsibilities, emotions, etc. are bouncing around in your head like a roomful of monkeys.  So since we just returned to Florida last night, and since today is one of those days when it feels like there must be a million monkeys in there, I’m going to go with this theme.  How shall I begin?

635941048195162433-28431253_TRUST articleTRUST:  As I wrote the above question, I realized that my choice to write about the issue highlighted in last night’s dream was exactly what I wanted to write about. For me, calming my monkey mind is a matter of trust. Trust that my mind is normal. Trust that my ego doesn’t have to control everything and I can let my unconscious do some of the work. Trust that my dream has meaning I can apply to my waking life. Trust that writing about what is meaningful to me might be helpful you. Trust that if my day gets so crazy that I don’t get my post written by my deadline of midnight tonight, my readers won’t be upset and my world won’t fall apart…. You get the idea.

So what I want to tell you is that I didn’t start out with all this trust. It has come very slowly, over years of reflecting on my inner life. You don’t decide one day to start trusting yourself and the universe, and then Trust just falls into your lap.  You have to work for it, and there’s no way of getting around that. What happens is that the more inner work you do, the easier and less stressful your life feels. You’re not as afraid of looking like an idiot. You don’t get as worried about silly unimportant things; and when you do, the agitation passes quickly. It feels like the big monkey bullies are calming down, some of them seem to have abandoned ship, and a few are starting to feel like friends you want with you on the cruise.

“Dictionaries define a contradiction as two things that cannot be true at the same time. I would say it this way: a contradiction is two things that cannot be true at the same time by your present frame of logic. As long as you do not reframe your reality, as long as you insist on your own frame of reference, you will not be able to find the wisdom in paradox. “The kingdom of God” is Jesus’ term for the bigger frame, or what we often call “the big picture” or “in the light of eternity…” You’ve got to find some framework that allows you to stand back and look at the moment with the eyes of Infinite Love and Mercy. Then you’ll see that many things which appear to be contradictory through logical, egocentric, dualistic thinking might not necessarily be so to a nondual mind.” Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, August 21, 2016.

monkey-mind-2TAKE YOURSELF VERY SERIOUSLY: This isn’t easy. Conventional wisdom has it that taking yourself seriously signals self-centeredness. And religion tells us that you should always think about others first. Right? Wrong. Let me remind you of a couple of sayings by someone generally considered to be one of the greatest Spirit Persons who ever lived.

#1: “The kingdom of God is within.” So if the sacred place is located inside your mind, is it wise to ignore the monkeys that plague your mind? Might taking them seriously be, in fact, the exact way to acquire a more spiritually enriched life?

#2: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “As yourself” implies that you have to love yourself before you can love your neighbor, right? So how can you love yourself if you’re frantically trying to love and take care of everyone else and neglecting the monkeys in you that want your attention?  Will you learn to love others by hating your monkeys? Ignoring them? Being afraid, critical or ashamed of them? It doesn’t work that way.

STOP TAKING YOURSELF SO SERIOUSLY: Yes, on the surface this seems to contradict what I just said above. But if you can accept both sides of this paradox instead of thinking it has to be one or the other, you’ll see what I mean. Yes, we have to notice the monkeys. And, yes, we have to stop being so hard on them and start lightening up and playing with them. Because that’s how we calm them down. We have to ask ourselves, “So how important is it really, if I don’t get this post written by my self-imposed deadline? Is trying to save the world with my writing really more important than living fully and loving and being who I was born to be?” (Which is a lot more than just a writer.)  Can I let go of my self-importance and start enjoying my day?

imagesI think I’m finished here….except you might be interested in knowing that I just wrote this entire post in record time with plenty of time leftover to play for the rest of the afternoon and evening. This on a day onto which my ego projected an especially dismal forecast. I hope you’ll forgive me for giving myself a metaphorical pat on the back, and for awarding myself a metaphorical gold medal for what feels like an Olympic accomplishment.

Image credits:  “Monkey Mind,” Google Images, http://www.warriormindcoach.com.  “Trust,”  Google Images, http://www.theodysseyonline.com.  Monkey mind-2:  Google Images, https://interculturalmeanderings.wordpress.com. Peanuts cartoon:  Google Images, http://www.pinterest.com.

 

A Zen Summer August 16, 2016

imagesYou trust your unconscious as if it were a loving father. But it is nature and cannot be made use of as if it were a reliable human being. It is inhuman and it needs the human mind to function usefully for man’s purposes. Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her. ~Carl Jung, Letters Volume 1, Page 283.

Remember Mr. Miyagi, the Japanese handyman who was a Karate master in the classic 1984 film, Karate Kid?  Everyone’s favorite part was the way he used hard work, specific movements, and mantras to train Daniel, a misguided youth. “Wax on, Wax off. Sand the floor. Paint the fence. Paint the house.” For Daniel, the work was grueling, pointless and demeaning until, as shown in this dramatic scene, his suffering led to a revelation akin to a transformational spiritual awakening.

Mr. Miyagi comes to mind when I think about this summer in the mountains. I’m a writer and practitioner of inner work and contemplation…not much of a physical doer. I look forward to being here all year, imagining the pleasures of no deadlines, no agenda. I picture myself spending long hours on the porch reading and writing in peaceful meditation. Then I arrive and barely find the time to publish a weekly blog post or finish reading a book.

Izzy's job is to carry my water and clippers in her backpack.

Izzy’s job is to carry my water and clippers in her backpack.

Here, my life is centered on my granddog Izzy, and Nature. Like Mr. Miyagi, both are exacting masters. Feed birds. Feed fish. Feed dog. Groom gardens. Groom trails. Groom dog.  Pick up trash. Avoid poison ivy. Wash dog. Worry about trees. Worry about rain. Worry about dog. Appreciate boulders. Celebrate rain. Pet dog. Four of these were especially prominent this summer.

My patting boulder. Old lady with fern hat or Green Man?

My patting boulder. Old lady with fern hat or Green Man?

Appreciate Boulders. I found a new favorite stone on the trail our handyman blazed through the dense forest last winter. It’s huge, mossy, and wrinkled as an old lady wearing a hat of ferns. Or is that Green Man whose face I see in the shadows? I can’t resist reaching out and patting him/her when I pass by. A few days ago I found this in one of my favorite blogs:

“The central symbol of the Zen garden is the stone. For Jung, it signified “something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul;” for Cirlot it is “the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.” Stones are pure and perfect in their simplicity, yet powerful, mysterious and inscrutable like the gods.” From Symbol Reader,  Symbolism of Gardens.

The stone mandala I made about 15 years ago captured in a Yin/Yang moment of shade and sun.

The stone mandala I made about 15 years ago captured in a Yin/Yang moment of shade and sun.

Worry About Trees.  The hemlocks are being decimated by a parasite and we’re treating many of them with biennial doses of medicine, but we can’t save them all.  On every hike after a big wind I have to remove or circumvent heavy branches and another fallen tree or two. A neighbor across the creek has several dead ones still standing. A few threaten to land on our house.

One evening after a storm with gale force winds we heard a commotion out on the main road. A giant oak had fallen and neighbors with chain saws were cleaning it up. It was there a century ago when the dirt road leading to our property was carved out of the mountainside, and over time its roots were exposed and weakened by erosion. Luckily no cars were beneath it when it finally surrendered to nature’s purposes.

This beech standing on tiptoe could be the next victim of erosion on our mountain slopes.

This beech standing on tiptoe could be the next victim of erosion on our mountain slopes.

Celebrate Rain.  I don’t know what it is about rain, but it feels magical. One evening Fred and I were rocking on the porch and watching black clouds gathering above the mountains when suddenly the ozone-scented breezes and whisper of raindrops coming up the valley transported me to an unusually intense meditative state. Curious, I checked my heart rate on my Apple watch. Within moments my normal resting rate of 61 beats per minute plummeted to a shocking 45.  Cool.

A woman too has a peculiar attitude toward nature, much more trusting than that of a man. ~Carl Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 123.

Was Jung right, or was he still conditioned by some of the prevailing stereotypes about women in the early 20th century? I don’t know. But I do know I am deeply connected to this land.  I love it and trust it, and sometimes I worry about it. Will my grandchildren and great grandchildren love it as much as I do? Will they feed the birds and clear the paths and pat the boulders and love the trees enough to learn their names and do their best to protect them?

11406420_810904575646427_1976885749494247402_oFeed Birds? Last week Izzy’s fierce barking woke Fred at 1:30 in the morning. Exhausted from a day of “doing,” I was sleeping like a stone. Thinking she had to go out, Fred took her downstairs. But instead of heading for the front door, she stood transfixed at the glass door to the side porch. What was going on?

The mystery was solved the next morning when we found our biggest, sturdiest, squirrel-proof bird feeders mangled on the ground. Only a scattering of seeds remained. Somewhere in the Nantahala National Forest up the mountain a contented bear was snug in its den dreaming about last night’s tasty meal.

images-1The Asian martial arts are rooted in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Their spiritual elements gave purpose and meaning to the ancient warriors who loved and practiced them.

The same can be said of those of us who find purpose and meaning in loving Nature, our Mother. If our practices have a spiritual element, so do hers. After all, inhuman though she may be, we come from her, and she’s an “incomparable guide if you know how to follow her.”

Credits:  Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes.  Karate Kid video from YouTube. “Anyone can slay a dragon quote” image by Brian Andreas from www.pinterest.com“Try not to change the world” quote by Sri Chinmoy from www.srichinmoybio.co.uk

 

When Will I Be Loved? August 9, 2016

baby-crying-1024x710Late at night a baby cries out in hunger. The exhausted face of its young mother appears over the top of the crib. She thrusts a bottle of cold milk in the baby’s hands and hurries away. Alone, yearning for the softness and warmth of her mother, the baby greedily drinks the milk while a tiny portion of her soul’s light flickers and fades.

A toddler taking his first steps crashes into a table and breaks a lamp.  “Now look what he’s done,” his father shouts at his mother.  “I paid good money for that lamp,” he yells as he storms out of the room. The confused child sees the hurt and fear in his mother’s eyes and begins to wail.

A third-grader on the playground says to her friend, “Look what I can do!” and executes a dance move she saw on TV.  A sixth-grader nearby rolls her eyes and says scornfully, “Trust me. You’ll never be a dancer. You’re too fat. They have to be skinny and pretty. Like me.” She leaves without seeing the death of innocence on the little girl’s face.

“Can I play?” a boy asks some neighborhood kids. When a baseball rolls his way he tentatively tosses it back. “You throw like a girl,” jeers an older boy. There’s laughter. Someone taunts, “Sissy girl. Sissy girl.” The boy runs home so they won’t see him crying.

“See my muscles, Daddy?” a ten year old girl says, flexing her biceps proudly. Her father looks away and says, “You smell sweaty. Better go take a bath.” “And brush your teeth,” her mother calls after her.  “You won’t catch a husband smelling like that!” As their daughter heads for the bathroom, the pleasure she felt in her strong and healthy body is erased by shame.

girl_journal_writing“I want to be an astronaut,” a 13 year old boy shyly admits after a lesson on astronomy. “It’s time you faced facts kid,” says the discouraged teacher of this unruly class of low achievers. “You’re an average student at best. And I happen to know that the men in your family have never amounted to much.”  The boy feels the place inside that was left empty by the loss of his beautiful dream filling with ugly resentment.

Sitting alone in her room on prom might, an introverted honors student writes in her diary: All my friends have boyfriends. Why don’t I? What’s the matter with me? Am I too serious? Too boring? Will any man ever love me?  Fearing to test her divorced mother’s emotional fragility, she suffers silently.

“When will I be loved?” asked Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers in their 1960 hit song.

I’ve been made blue, I’ve been lied to
When will I be loved
I’ve been turned down, I’ve been pushed around
When will I be loved

When I meet a new girl that I want for mine
She always breaks my heart in two, it happens every time
I’ve been cheated, been mistreated
When will I be loved

When will I be loved? If we’re like that lonely honors student, musically gifted teen-aged boy, or any of these wounded people, we probably believe the answer to that question is, “When I make people love me by showing them the false self they want to see.”

Unfortunately, that’s the wrong answer.  The correct one, the one that leads to a love-filled, self-fulfilled life, is, “When I become the true self I’ve been denying and discard the false self I’ve created.”

The hungry baby deserved her mother’s full attention, but the mother was too wounded by her own inadequate mothering to give it to her.

The toddler’s first steps should have been celebrated with looks of delight, but when he gazed into the mirrors of his harried parents’ faces he saw only anger and fear.

The dancing girl could have been appreciated for her enthusiastic efforts, but the mean girl was too insecure and intimidated by the perfectionistic standards of the adults she knew to feel compassion for someone who clearly fell short of their ideal.

The more experienced kids could have shown the tentative boy how to throw a ball, but in their desire to impress each other and the adult males in their lives they imitated their demeaning and disrespectful attitudes toward girls and less athletic boys.

And so it goes. Many of us cover them up quite well, but all of us, children and adults alike, suffer from secret wounds that make us feel unlovable. And unfortunately, the less lovable we believe we are, the less able we are to love.

When will I be loved?  When I stop showing others a false self, they will see my true self. When I listen to my true self, others will listen to me. When I respect myself, others will respect me. When I love myself, I will be loved. And I will love.

 

“When Will I Be Loved” was Written by Phil Everly • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Image Credits: Crying Baby, Google Images, quantum books.com. Girl Writing in Journlal, Google Images, Splicetoday.com.

 

A Dialogue with the Self August 2, 2016

serpentine_fire_81Carl 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.

spider-web-with-dew11I’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.

bear-grandfather-mtn-tim-floyd-7796081Speaking 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.

 

Self-Awareness: How Does Your Ego Grow? May 31, 2016

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“The animals follow the natural law only….With man things are very different.  He is not at one with himself.  He is subject to two laws that do not by any means always coincide. Consequently he is inwardly divided.”  Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 202.

By around the age of three, most children’s egos are strong and consolidated enough to think of themselves as separate individuals. This is when memory begins.  We do not leave Epoch I behind at this point but we do begin to adjust our responses to our instinctual needs according to the demands of our environments.

Thus we grow into a more mature form of self-awareness I call Epoch II Ego Consciousness. During this time we gradually lose our allegiance to the natural law as we obey the human law to prove ourselves and become responsible members of our families, groups, and society.

Most of us experience spurts of increased self-awareness during the normal developmental stages; for example, adolescence when we begin to assert our independence, young adulthood with its task of finding meaningful work, marrying and parenting.

During these critical junctures we acquire new needs and desires which challenge the status quo. Conflicts between what was and what is coming into being strengthen our egos to a certain extent, and many people lead happy, productive lives without looking very deeply into their unconscious selves. Or we may not be happy at all, yet do not seek help or change in any meaningful way because lethargy, habit, pride, and fear of the unknown prevent us from stepping too far out of our familiar comfort zones.

Moreover, we may grow in some areas of our lives, yet maintain one-sided, either/or attitudes in others.  We might continue to open to new insights and ways of thinking in our work and relationships, yet we might think, “I know my religion is correct. To question its beliefs is dangerous,” while ignoring secret doubts. Or we automatically agree with our political party and assume the other is wrong without weighing the issues. Or we avidly uphold unjust laws that violate human rights while fighting the enactment of new ones that would right these wrongs.

Certain qualities are common in Epoch II.  Among them are

  • dualistic thinking and with it, a sense of being separate from others;

  • a primary emphasis on self-preservation and need-satisfaction, that is, self-centeredness and selfishness; ‘the will to develop our individuality;’

  • an outer-referential focus on society and its rules and conventions;

  • resistance to and bias against otherness, including other people, other ways of thinking, other belief systems, and the unknown or disowned otherness of our own psyches, i.e. our unconscious selves;

  • anxiety about our self-worth;

  • conflict between our longing to lapse back into the unconscious maternal matrix and the pressing need to prove ourselves.

bbbMasculine Values. A primary feature of Epoch II is the ego’s preference for masculine values which gradually supplant our Epoch I condition of pure enjoyment in the Mother’s paradise of dependency and the innocent pleasures of simply being. During Epoch II the healthy ego of either gender flexes its wings, struts around the nest, and begins to assert its will power, independence, self-discipline, competition, achievement and ambition.

Repression. Developing these qualities has advanced civilization in many valuable ways. But because of our dualistic thinking it has also had some nasty repercussions. This is because of repression, a second major feature of Epoch II self-awareness. If “the way I (my ego) am” is the good, right way, then I will develop bias, prejudice, suspicion, hostility, fear, and aggression toward anything that conflicts with the ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’ of my self-image.

Shadow. The third major feature of Epoch II Ego Consciousness is the development of a shadow. This unconscious complement to the ego is composed of everything we don’t know or like about ourselves. As long as we refuse to acknowledge these disowned aspects of our psyches they influence our attitudes and behavior without our awareness. Becoming conscious of our personal and collective shadow is one of the most critical and potentially life-enhancing challenges we face today.

The majority of Epoch II egos restrain their shadows and repressive tendencies without causing undue damage or harm. But some obsess over the “masculine” qualities so highly prized during this phase that they become inordinately repressive to “feminine” otherness, both figuratively and literally. Unwilling to consider opposing points of view or budge from entrenched polarized positions these egos become so self-righteous and closed-minded that they gravitate, like the Sky God onto which they project these qualities, toward agitation, divisiveness, domination and war.

“Egos like this might be strong enough to keep growing, and often are well-intentioned.  But as long as they put their consciousness in service to repression, and as long as they cling to their position as the sole “deity” within the psyche, they will not recognize their imbalances. The most powerful and repressive of these Epoch II egos are the major culprits in the dangerous dramas playing out on the world stage today.  In their psychological ignorance, many of them fervently believe they are God-centered; but in truth, they are firmly entrenched in Epoch II egocentricity.”  J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 44.

In empowering our ego and masculine qualities we are obeying the evolutionary imperative to see and use all of our human potential. But if we stop there, vast amounts of our psychological inheritance, including our instincts and many aspects of our feminine sides, remain buried in a dark, pre-conscious reservoir.

This effects every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships and spirituality. In the West and Middle East our separation from the human mother is accompanied by a rejection of the archetypal Great Mother. Fortunately, this doesn’t destroy her.

Why?  Because the Sacred Feminine is an archetypal reality in the psyche and the ego has no control over it. If this were not true, humanity would never have projected her onto ancient Goddesses and she would not be re-entering our awareness today.

UnknownNext time I’ll have more to say about this repressed archetype and how our acceptance of her has the potential to heal the divisive schisms threatening our world today.

Image Credits:  Elephant Quote:  Depth Psychology Alliance.  Jung Quotes:  Courtesy of Lewis Lafontaine.  

Jean’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are also at Amazon as well as KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

 

How Self-Aware Are You? Epoch II: Ego Consciousness May 24, 2016

images-2“Obviously we do not know how the ego arose in man.  We have certain myths showing how ancient man thought about this problem, and we can observe the phenomenon in very young children today.  Just as the individual child must undergo training and discipline, so too the primitive nature of man had to be housebroken and domesticated, restrained and adapted, if he was to advance in culture and in ability to control his environment.”  Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 197.

Since we learned to talk, humans have told stories around the campfire about the inner life of the psyche and the mysterious archetypal energies which indwell it. We call these stories myths. With borrowed images from nature that instinctively aroused strong emotions like fear, awe, passion, wonder, greed, hope and gratitude, myths presented characters, settings, plots and themes that attempted to answer humanity’s most universal and fundamental questions:  Why are we here?  Who made us?  Why do we act the way we do? How can we stay safe? What are we supposed to do and be?

Most of these images—like the sun, the moon, mountains, trees, bears, snakes, unusual stones, springs of fresh water, thunder and lightning—still have emotional power over us. Early humans would not have understood what their fascination with these images said about them. Nonetheless, they resonated so deeply that the stories are still being told.

“Myths are concerned with origins, the fear of death, and the hope for the overcoming of death in another world.”  A.S. Byatt, Introduction to Maria Tatar’s “The Annotated Brothers Grimm,” p. xix.

Lucas_Cranach_(I)_-_Adam_and_Eve-Paradise_-_Kunsthistorisches_Museum_-_Detail_Tree_of_KnowledgeLet us imagine how the Bible’s account of our origins came about. A storyteller wonders where the first parents came from and imagines them being created by a superhuman Father God. Fondly recalling his/her own early carefree days when every need was met by doting parents (Epoch I of self-awareness), our storyteller memorializes this idyllic time in the image of the Garden of Eden, a paradise where humans and animals co-exist in harmony…. as long as everyone obeys Father God.

Early humans would have understood this rule completely.  Life was hard, and children who strayed away from camp would be in peril. Parental obedience was essential to their survival.

Other images also called to mind their instinctual need for safety. For example, a gigantic tree could be climbed when danger threatened, and its thick canopy of leaves provided cover from rain. So it made sense to situate a Tree of Life in the center of the Garden. Sometimes tribal rituals were performed around special trees to show gratitude for their protection. So far, so good.

“The further development of the individual can be brought about only by means of symbols which represent something far in advance of himself and whose intellectual meanings cannot yet be grasped entirely.” ~Carl Jung, CW 4, Para 680.

As humans gained more control over their environments, travel and communication with other tribes exposed them to other myths with different images and new symbolic meaning. Whose stories were right and whose were wrong? Which god-images and rituals were good and which were evil? Dualistic thinking had entered the picture.

images-1This advanced the plot further. Enter the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Enter Eve who is fascinated by the luscious ripe fruit, symbolizing the psyche’s readiness for a new level of self-awareness. Enter an evil snake who represents a powerful temptation to challenge the status quo. Enter a new problem:  seeing and having to choose between opposites. Enter the consequences: after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden, the dire implications of the problem of opposites for the future of humanity was anticipated with the symbolism of Eve giving birth to twin boys, one of whom killed the other.

The symbols speak for themselves. Disobeying the Father God by eating the fruit marked a revolutionary advance in the psyche. What Eve would not have known, and her storyteller probably barely intuited, was that in departing from the collective mentality, she became the mother of Epoch II Ego Consciousness.

“When the ego begins to develop and gains some autonomy—some power, over against the might of nature, to determine and control itself and its environment—it gradually acquires a feeling of being a separate entity.  The individual learns to differentiate between the I and the not-I, with an ever increasing emphasis of the value of the I.  That is, he becomes aware of being a self. This awareness is accompanied by an intoxicating sense of selfhood, an inner expansion of the I.  Unchecked, this will produce an inflation…

“In the outer world the ego seeks to dominate its environment and to subject all things, persons, and conditions alike to its interest.  In the inner world, as many psychic contents as possible are brought under its control, and those which cannot be dominated are suppressed. In this way a threshold is built up between the conscious and the unconscious part of the psyche.” Harding, p. 241.

mmmI’ll have more to say about this second phase of self-awareness next time. Meanwhile, keep in mind that the story isn’t over and “happily ever after” is nowhere in sight. If we are to reach our fullest potential we will need to agonize over more conflicts and ask new questions like, What new thoughts, impulses and images are arising in me? Where are they coming from? Who or what do I try to dominate?  Which aspects of my inner world do I try to suppress?

Image Credits:  Google Images:  Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach. Quote Image courtesy of Lewis Lafontaine. 

Jean’s newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are also at Amazon as well as KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

Perfection, or Who’s the Purest of Them All? April 19, 2016

8365_1213225978717602_2921151023910765268_nWhen one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive.

People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvellous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions, or they try to minimize them and to shift the responsibility elsewhere. 

The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.  It is surely not the divine will in man that he should be something which he is not, for when one looks into nature, one sees that it is most definitely the divine will that everything should be what it is.”   ~Carl Jung, Visions Seminar, Page 569.

“What?” you say?  “You mean I have to accept the bad parts of myself?  No Way!  You must be crazy.  I’m not giving in to laziness, lust, selfishness, fear, or greed.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be perfect.  Now you say I have to stop?  Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48)? Well, that’s all I’m trying to be:  perfect!”

In the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, the word perfect meant completed, or whole, not always good or spotlessly pure.  Here’s the paradox Jung was addressing and we find so difficult to accept:  to complete ourselves we have to be honest with ourselves, and this means acknowledging those things in us we think of as bad as well as the ones we consider good. We can’t be complete by accepting only half our nature. For example, by identifying solely with reason and logic, we cut off our capacity for passion, intuition, instinct, and the tender feelings of empathy and compassion. Then we start finger-pointing, name-calling, wall-building, and war mongering.

Accepting our flaws is not for the faint-hearted.  Like Christine, the innocent young singer who, in the classic Gaston Leroux novel, earnestly persuaded the Phantom of the Opera to take off his mask, we may be painfully convinced of our puny audacity in challenging the archetypal masters and mistresses of our unconscious, and we may faint at our first sight of the ugliness.  But it is only when the ugliness has been unmasked and we can see it for what it truly is that it loses its negative power over us and we can begin to learn from it.

The Phantom was certainly a dark and frightening creature, but behind that hideous face was a pure musical soul with the voice of an angel.  If Christine had refused to grant her negative animus its rightful place in her life, she would not have achieved her destiny.  Fortunately for her, instead of rejecting the Phantom she came to love him, and in the final act of lifting the mask a second time and kissing his grotesque face, her ego grew up and she developed an honest relationship with her unique Self.

Snow White had the same problem.  She was tormented again and again by her wicked stepmother, a dark, vain, and passionate feminine antagonist—psychologically the opposite, shadow side of her own conscious personality—who did everything she could to destroy the sweet passive child who knew nothing of evil.  Snow White’s trials were long and painful, but by patiently enduring them she was brought to the point where she could awaken to her masculine strengths (represented by the kiss of the prince), conquer her own evil tendencies (represented by the evil Queen), gain enough balance and maturity to stand on her own two feet, and marry her prince (the Sacred Marriage, or hieros gamos).

In the masculine hero myth, the hero kills his dragons, or inner and outer enemies, thereby earning his way to salvation.  It is true that a kind of death always precedes transformation and rebirth. However, the feminine way, which we must incorporate into our psyche as well if we wish to continue to evolve, is not to fight perceived imperfections in order to destroy them.

Rather it is a peaceful way of withdrawing, descending into our own depths, seeing, reflecting, grieving, accepting and integrating.  This happens slowly, gradually and naturally, through a diligent desire to let our immature egos die a natural death to make way for the new, the way flowers fade and wilt after they have produced seeds from which new growth will arise in the spring.

No matter how hard we may try, we’ll never be perfected in the traditional sense of the word.  But it is possible to become more aware and individuated, and thus less vulnerable to our hellish inner demons. By owning them as parts of ourselves, we’ll be less apt to project them onto others.  This is our only hope of moving ourselves and the world a little closer to our enduring ideals of peace and salvation.

Lewis Lafontaine's photo.

Quote and Image Credits:  My thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for sharing this quote and these images on Facebook. 

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 also at Amazon as well as KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

 
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