Avatar and Cultural Transformation November 10, 2015
Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet to come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. Carl Jung
Culture is created by the human psyche. Intended or not, there is a psychological dimension to every art form. This is nowhere more evident than in James Cameron’s 2009 epic science-fiction film Avatar, a personal favorite.
Avatar’s characters, symbols and themes are updated versions of archetypes featured in stories from every nation, generation, and religion throughout history. Its symbols of interconnectedness—the wormy squirmy tentacled pony tails that bond with similar anatomical appendages of bizarre beasts, and the electrochemical connections between tree roots—are imaginatively resonant of ancient Hinduism’s Diamond Net of Indra, Jung’s collective unconscious, and quantum physics’ holographic universe. And its themes of self-discovery, initiation, revolution, transformation, and redemption have been with us since the first story ever told around a fire.
This lush film eloquently depicts the transformation occurring in humanity’s heroic journey into wholeness and consciousness. It does so by contrasting an ego that succeeds by opening to otherness and change with one that fails because it refuses to grow. Indulge me for a moment as I engage in a bit of imaginative word play to illustrate my point.
The time is the mid-22nd century. The place is Pandora, (mythically, the Greek goddess whose curiosity unleashed all the evils onto the world but whose ultimate legacy was hope). Pandora is a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system that is being colonized to mine a rare mineral. The plot revolves around the expansion of the mining colony which is threatening the existence of the local tribe of natives known as Na’vi.
Corporal Jake (Biblically, Jacob was Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson who overcame adversity to become the patriarch of the Israelites) Sully is a soldier whose body is bound to a wheel chair and whose soul has been sullied—i.e. contaminated and made impure—by bitterness, self-pity, and the aggressive mind-set of his dominator culture. Yet, by the end of the story, he is transformed into a heroic Warrior and passionate Lover.
Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other. Carl Jung
After undergoing training to be an avatar, Jake’s crippled body rests in a remote location while his mind inhabits a genetically engineered Na’vi body that interacts with the natives. His bravery, his respect for princess Neytiri (who says”nay” to tyranny and is Sully’s equal, savior, and Beloved), and his receptivity to the foreign ways of her culture all lead to his redemption and the salvation of the Na’vi.
And what might the name Na’vi symbolize? This tribe has long navigated safely through a difficult world by honoring the sacred underlying patterns of life. But because the people will not capitulate to the dominator ego mentality which has destroyed Earth, their culture is in danger of extinction.
Other archetypal themes are represented by the Na’vi’s spiritual leader Mo’at, (an abbreviation of Mother Earth?) who is a blend of the Jungian archetypes of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved. Her earth-based values and connections to Nature are the glue that have enabled the Na’vi to flourish thus far. Then there’s Jake’s mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine (a saintly name if ever there was one), who symbolizes the archetypal Queen’s regard for shared authority and individual differences and the Wisewoman’s intuitive intelligence and pursuit of truth.
Finally we have a plot with the necessary obstacles every hero must overcome: the self-absorbed and self-serving ego symbolized by Selfridge, corporate administrator of the mining program; and the obsessive Warrior mentality of the head of security, Colonel Miles Quaritch (from quarantine, a place of detention? Or quarrel, an angry dispute? Or quartz, a hard rock?). Cameron’s soulless dark invader, like Lucas’s Darth Vader, has miles to go in his own journey because of his rock-hard rigidity and unrelenting itch to maintain his power regardless of the cost to anyone or anything.
So here we have a story about a brave, heroic ego vs. a rigid, fearful ego. Earthly and cosmic connectedness vs. personal self-interest. Accepting our shadows. Opening to otherness. Learning from feminine wisdom and nature. Moving toward balance. Uniting opposites with respect and love. Using our Warrior energy to protect and empower the vulnerable. Overcoming crippling disadvantages to become a force for positive change.
This haunting story is more than just another movie. It is a mythic reflection of us at our worst and best. Of our blind ego with its rigid and self-righteous attitudes. Of our dysfunctional dark shadow that clings to old habits and blindly fouls our planetary nest. Of our power-hungry Warrior who continues to dominate families, neighborhoods and societies.
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. Carl Jung
Our hope lies with Jake who represents the resilience, creative imagination, and heroic potential of every ego, no matter how much suffering it endures, to overcome its lethargy and choose consciousness: consciousness of our light shadow with its unique gifts and ideals and sensitivity and care. Consciousness of our healthy Warrior with the courage to say no to ingrained attitudes and practices that produce chaos, pollution and destruction. Consciousness of the love waiting to blossom between healthy femininity and masculinity.
Image Credit: Google Images
What Is Love? October 27, 2015
“There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self.” ~Carl Jung
My last post concluded with the question, “And what about my prayer for love? Did that work?”
For the past 35 years I’ve traveled a slow and circuitous route to unravel the mystery of love. First, I had to learn what love is not. Here’s what I’ve discovered.
Discovery #1. Love is not a role we play or an act we perform.
In my early years I was largely unaware of my inner life and the fact that my behavior was dictated by a compulsion for safety and approval. I just wanted to be good, and being good was easy for me….until it became hard.
“The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.”
Letting go of ego starts with recognizing and dissolving the persona (social mask) we built in our youth. If we continue to identify with our role—in my case, being the loving and devoted daughter, wife, and mother; the pious believer; and, to a certain extent, the compassionate savior—we’ll pay a price for not seeing our shadow.
For example, after noting that, “…the pious Drummond once lamented that ‘bad temper is the vice of the virtuous'” Jung added,
“Whoever builds up too good a persona for himself naturally has to pay for it with irritability.” ~Jung (CW7, par.306)
Jung said of a patient that when she first came to him “…she was able to play her traditional role of the supremely wise, very grown-up, all-understanding mother-daughter-beloved—an empty role, a persona behind which her real and authentic being, her individual self, lay hidden. Indeed, to the extent that she at first completely identified herself with her role, she was altogether unconscious of her real self. She was still in her nebulous infantile world and had not yet discovered the real world at all.” ~Jung, (CW7, par.248)
Discovery #2. Love does not grow in a nebulous infantile world.
Love needs familiarity with our real self. As Ghandi said, love is not a “garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being….If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.” ~Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi, ed. Thomas Merton, On Non-Violence, pp. 36-38.)
Discovery #3. Love is a choice. It has taken me many years to learn that love is a practice we willingly engage in minute by minute, day by day. The goal of our practice is not to use our ego’s willpower to love, (or act like we love) others, but rather to use our healthy, mature ego in service to acquiring self-knowledge. But isn’t that egotistical, people often ask? No. Because love dwells in the Self. And with daily practice—that long, slow, circuitous route to the Self—we will eventually connect with the love at the core of our nature. Only then can we truly love others.
In other words, consciousness travels hand-in-hand with love. As consciousness grows, so does love. This leads me to the inevitable conclusion:
Discovery #4. Love is consciousness. Consciousness is love.
Catholic monk Richard Rohr, one of the foremost spiritual teachers of our time, affirms this conclusion and describes the practice which led Ghandi to consciousness, love, and non-violence:
“Gandhi’s answer is always the same: steadfast, persistent, dedicated, committed, patient, relentless, truthful, prayerful, loving, active nonviolence. In other words, universal compassion must become your whole way of moving through life.” ~Richard Rohr
So have I learned to love? Well, yes and no. I know that love dwells in the unified Self, but I also know that knowing about love is not the same thing as loving. Unless the knowing is accompanied by authentic loving words, motivations and actions, it’s just dualistic thinking that values the head and mind over the heart and matter.
But yes, in my 35 years of circumambulating the Self I’ve experienced love, and sometimes I manifest it…when I remember it’s already there, waiting for me to choose to access it. But no, I don’t access the love that indwells me all the time. First, I have to be conscious of my non-loving feelings and attitudes. Then I have to choose to connect with love and act from it instead.
But I’m hopeful knowing that love is a process of growing increasingly conscious through recognizing and integrating the opposites in my life: ego and Self, persona and shadow, even yes and no! And yes, I’m involved in that process. Anyone can be. You don’t need to be a saint to enjoy the benefits of awakening to your life.
“Life becomes infinitely more meaningful when the focus of our existence changes from separating to connecting. The more opposites we unite, the more conscious we become. The wiser we grow, the more sacred significance we see…and the more deeply we experience our lives.” ~Jean Benedict Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide
Image Credits: Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, Wikipedia via Google Images. Jungian image quote: Lewis Lafontaine. Quote image: Brooke Snow via Google Images.
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.
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
With the joyful discovery of Jungian psychology at 47, a door in my mind opened. My suffering exited as my latent passions for self-discovery, dreamwork, and writing strode in. Since then doors have continued to open. The Bridge to Wholeness was published. Invitations to speak and teach about what I loved arrived. Dream Theatres of the Soul was published. Healing the Sacred Divide won the 2013 Wilbur Award.
At 57 I fulfilled my childhood passion and bought a horse to train. Honey’s Shadow Dancer was neither black nor white like the horses I loved in my youth, but gray, the color that results from blending these opposites. Shadow symbolized my choice to stop living in an either/or way and start embracing and living my truths. At 2 and 1/2 years old, he was ripe for training. So was I. It was time to get out of my head and into my body and the physical world, and I knew he’d teach me how to do that.
I had learned I didn’t have to choose between Heaven and Earth, Spirit and Soul, others and self, head and heart, mind and body, safety and passion, meaning and duty, or masculine and feminine. I could find a middle way that integrated all the opposites: with consciousness.
And what about my prayer for love? Did that work? I’ll tell you next time.
Image credits: Mandorla, Cicero Greathouse
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.
Twenty-five Benefits of Inner Work September 29, 2015
Despite the rapid growth of psychological awareness in the West, many people don’t really get what inner work is or why anyone would want to do it. If you’re one of them, this post is for you. If you’re not, but struggle with some of the issues below, or know someone who does, it’s for you too. We can all benefit from using our instinct for reflection in more intentional ways.
Inner work is anything that helps you reflect on who you really are beneath your conscious awareness and public persona. Examples are wounds you dismiss, grief and pain you deny, traits you disown, instincts and needs you ignore and thwart.
One effective form of inner work is to study depth psychology, for example, the writings of Carl Jung and Jungian analysts. This might lead to examining the meaningful themes and symbols of myths and your dreams to see how they relate to you. Other examples include psychotherapy, journaling, active imagination, mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga, body work, dance, and other forms of creative and artistic self-expression.
The goal of inner work is to help you see the unconscious forces that shape you, often in dysfunctional ways. Consciousness heals your wounded ego-self and creates an intimate connection with your true, spiritually-connected Self.
Here are some examples of how regular, long-term inner work can transform every aspect of your life. I hope you find them helpful.
Self-esteem: We learn to accept our basic worth and rights, and we expect fair treatment and respect from others.
Love: Self-knowledge brings more understanding, compassion and forgiveness toward ourselves and others.
Courage: We dare to speak our own truths and live our own lives by our own lights.
Choice-making: We see alternative ways of responding, our choices grow less habitual, compulsive and obsessive, and making healthier choices gets easier.
Morality: Suffering the knowledge of our shadow and its potential for evil humbles our ego and births a new ethic of caring and love. It impels us to take responsibility for our actions, care about others’ welfare, act with integrity, and want to be of help.
Social action: We practice what we preach with less talk and more action.
Feeling: We spend less time in our heads and more in our hearts.
Authenticity: Less faking it and more honesty. We become real.
Emotional pain: Grieving our wounds frees us to accept reality instead of fighting it.
Stress: Awareness of our internal conflicts eases worry, indecision, fear, frustration, anxiety, and agitation.
Spontaneity: Accepting our inner realities diminishes our fear of criticism, failure, and what others think about us. We live in the present moment instead of being bound by concerns about the past or future.
Emotional intelligence: Taking responsibility for our debilitating emotions prevents us from blaming and hurting ourselves and others.
Work: Knowing our true interests and skills motivates us to gravitate away from work we hate and toward work that is personally meaningful and fulfilling.
Intuition: We see and know things of which others are unaware, and we trust our knowing.
Mental acuity: Our mental processes become sharper as we allow our instincts, feelings and bodies to inform our thoughts and guide our behavior.
Guidance: We rely more on our own authority and less on outer authorities.
Relationships: We grow more honest, authentic, open and forgiving. Relationships become more intimate, respectful, loving.
Living: We overcome obstacles with less effort and move through our days with more pleasure and wisdom.
Dying: Death feels less like the end of us and more like an exciting new beginning.
Trust: The benevolence of life becomes an experienced reality. We neither get derailed nor lose hope when problems arise because we know that apparent obstacles are opportunities in disguise.
Spirituality: Feelings of wonder, gratitude, reverence and love are commonplace and generate a truly “religious” attitude toward the miracle of our lives.
Peace: We strive less and enjoy more harmonious relationships with our inner selves, work, others, and nature.
Creativity: Self-knowledge awakens our originality and creativity. We become works of art.
Jungian Quotes: Google Images
Dervish: www.britannica.com. Bruno Morandi–Stone/Getty Images
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.
Signs at the Crossroads September 8, 2015
“To understand is quick and exciting but to embody is slow and penetrating.” ~John Tarrant
As I write this post I find myself at a crossroads; it’s my last week in our Smoky Mountain summer home. By the time you read this I will have left. Part of my heart doesn’t want to leave this sanctuary; the other part looks forward to returning to my Florida home and family.
Both places hold special charms for me. Here it’s secluded, cool, mountainous, and forested. Everywhere I go I’m surrounded by nature’s wild beauty. My life is slower, less “mental”, more contemplative and physical—perhaps I should say, “embodied.” I have lots of solitude, plenty of time to listen to my inner promptings and do whatever appeals, a large granddog companion to accompany me on daily hikes, and occasional house guests to enjoy and entertain…all at an easy, reasonable pace that feeds my soul at a deeply satisfying level.
My life in Florida has a different kind of beauty with its daily and weekly routines: regular workouts, ukulele lessons, social commitments, holiday celebrations, and fun times with my family, always with enough time left over to write. The pace is faster and more exciting, given Orlando’s thriving and diverse cultural offerings, but since I prefer a minimum of “fast and exciting,” I usually manage to stay within my comfort level there too.
The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create. The meaning of events comes from the possibility of life in this world that you create. It is the mastery of this world and the assertion of your soul in this world. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 239.
The thing that makes dividing my time between these two paths work so well is that I’ve finally learned to listen to how I really want to spend my time and to look for meaning regardless of where I am. In Florida I find meaning in my family and friends, writing, music, and art. Here in the mountains I mostly find it in nature, a road less traveled in our fast-paced world.
I’d like to show you what I mean. These are some of the meaningful signs I’ve found in nature during this crossroads week. Each one speaks to how I want to live my life, regardless of where I am.
This morning I saw this magnificent display of light in the bathroom. It came from a single sunbeam that found its way through the slats of the window blinds.
The first thing Izzy has to do on our walks is chase the trout around the pond while I feed them.
As we stepped onto the trail, the trunk and green necklace circling the base of this beautiful old tulip poplar captured my imagination.
The next thing to catch my interest was this unusual curved tree trunk.
Izzy loves to run ahead, nose to the ground, while I like to take my time on the trail. But she doesn’t go far, and before long, she always comes back to check in.
Yes, she does wait for me, but not always where I would prefer!
She also waits at crossroads to see which way I’ll go.
I think she prefers the road less traveled too.
The other day our friend, Sam, found what we’ve decided is an old moonshine jar almost buried beside the new path. Over the years, Mother Nature has turned it into a terrarium filled with green life. We left it there for Nature to do her thing, and to remind us of the history of these mountains. And to enjoy on our next walk.
We were being serenaded by crows near the end of our walk today when I found a crow feather. At the trail’s end I placed it on our Crow Altar.
This last sign came when we returned from town one twilit evening. I heard a loud rustle in the woodpile and saw a hawk fly up to a nearby branch. It peered down at us with interest and patiently waited while I pulled out my cell phone and took pictures.