Aging and Becoming July 9, 2019
“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.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.
In my last post I answered questions from students at Justina Lasley’s and Tzivia Gover’s Institute for Dream Studies about what brought me to dreamwork and how it has influenced my life. Their remaining questions were about identifying and working with archetypes in dreams.
Archetypes are universal, unconscious psychic forms, or images. Contents of the collective unconscious of humanity, they are the psychological equivalent of our physical instincts. Although we are not normally consciously aware of our instincts or their archetypal images, they nevertheless predispose us to perceive our experiences and behave in certain predictable ways.
We cannot directly know the archetypes, but we can learn about them from their symbolic manifestations in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and imagination. Examples of the primordial images which populate the treasure trove of our dreams include animals, objects, people, themes, and motifs. With our preference for the conscious ego’s rational processes above all our other functions, western culture tends to devalue the psyche’s natural, intuitive, imaginative processes. This split between the rational mind and nature created the seriously dysfunctional attitudes and practices which have brought us to the brink of destruction.
When you can see and acknowledge the very real power of archetypes in your dreams and waking life, you will understand yourself with all your bright and shadow qualities better. The more self-aware and self-accepting you become, the more compassion you will feel for yourself and others. Over time your dysfunctional ways will abate and you will discover and live the meaning and purpose of your life. As you grow in consciousness, others will be affected. The ripple effect will take over and you will become part of the solution.
This is precisely what the students at the Institute for Dream Studies hope to do with their lives. They were particularly interested in the four basic feminine and masculine archetypes I’ve written about in my new book, The Soul’s Twins: Mother, Father, Queen, Warrior, Mediatrix, Sage, Beloved, and Lover. Here is their first question:
Q: Does it take a while for one to determine their dominant archetype(s)?
Yes. During my first two or three years of dreamwork I focused almost entirely on understanding the meaning of the symbols and images in my dreams. I examined them from three perspectives: my personal associations for the symbols, my culture’s associations for them, and the archetypal associations for them in myths from every culture. I also looked for manifestations of their negative sides in the hope of recognizing and befriending my Shadow. I knew from my Jungian studies that it was my major barrier to deeper self-knowledge.
In those early years I was mostly doing intellectual head work and paid little attention to my emotional responses to the images, themes, or overall feeling of my dreams. I knew very little about the archetypes and wasn’t terribly interested in them. And it rarely occurred to me to look for any connection between my inner/dream life and my attitudes and behavior in waking life. Mostly I was just compiling fascinating data.
This was fun and very useful, but I craved more. I began to notice uncomfortable recurring archetypal themes. I wondered what they had to do with the way I acted and felt. I saw how I covered up my inner realities with outer attitudes and behaviors that weren’t true to what I knew myself to be and feel inside. I wanted to know who I was beneath my persona, why I was the way I was. I wondered what the underlying complexes and archetypal patterns were that seemed to trigger strong emotions. When I noticed that many of my attitudes and behaviors centered around stereotypes about masculinity and femininity, I began to study and write about that. I was following my intuitions and instincts, and was rewarded when a hidden new world of archetypes opened up for me.
My first strong connection was with my Warrior. He was very good at defending and protecting me, but soon I saw that he was often overly quick to do so. So I began to look for what he was defending. I found her in my dream emotions and occasional glimpses of sad, vulnerable, self-pitying Orphan girls who I eventually identified as different versions of my immature Mediatrix. She was suffering from feelings of abandonment she didn’t understand and just wanted her Mother. In waking life my personal mother had been too busy trying to be a surrogate Father/provider to give me the comforting nurturance I needed. I realized my Warrior had made it his job to defend this rejected child I didn’t want to admit to, so I focused on developing the nurturing Mother in myself so that together, she and my conscious ego could love this childish part of me. That meant I had to give my Warrior another job. Now his goal-oriented determination and persistence help my Sage with my writing. Over time other archetypes have revealed themselves, each with their own issues, strengths and weaknesses.
Only recently has my Queen stood out as my powerful personal authority who’s been with me all along without my knowledge. With help from my Warrior and Sage, she has given me the confidence to make my own way through life on my own terms. Last to awaken have been my Beloved and Lover. This development has brought more forgiveness, compassion, and satisfaction to my life than ever before. It’s been thrilling to watch them blossom.
Next time I’ll answer the last question, which is about my dominant archetype, the Mediatrix. Until then, sweet dreams, my friends. And happy Mother’s Day to all who have birthed and protected new life in themselves.
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.
Your Choice November 5, 2018
#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.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Good News, Bad News October 8, 2018