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 theSacred 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.
What follows is copied from this morning’s dream journal. It seems a fitting post for the holiday season this year. May you find meaning and hope in it during this dark, chaotic time.
Dream #5,000: Tree of Life
I’m in a room in which someone has set up a small square table, like a card table, and covered it with a white cloth. Toward the back center of the table is a small live, potted tree. The front of the table is empty, as if this is a serving table for a Christmas feast and the platters and bowls of food will be placed there.The tree is around 2 feet high. It’s a bit wonky, like Charlie Brown’s little tree, with five skimpy branches sprouting from either side of a central trunk. But unlike Chuck’s tree, it’s not an evergreen with leaves and greenery. It’s a deciduous tree which has shed its old leaves for the winter. This makes sense, since it’s the dead of winter. The branches of this tree are dotted with unusually large, obviously ripening buds which make me think of ornaments on a Christmas tree. As I awaken I hear myself narrating a description of the tree saying, “The Tree of Life, laden with buds (I wrote bulbs) and the promise of new life.”
This dream is very meaningful to me for several reasons. First, because at my first Wise Women’s group meeting a few weeks ago, Jan told us about a group of women who sponsor a movement to plant new trees in the deforested belt around the planet. At the end of our meeting I suggested that we all try to incubate a tree dream to share at our next meeting after the holidays. I was hoping to find some guidance and meaning for our group about the danger of deforestation that is threatening our planet. That night I had dream #4990 with images of a few trees with a few green leaves, but it didn’t bowl me over and I’ve had no more dreams about trees since. Until last night.
Second, last night, knowing the next dream I recorded and worked on would be my 5,000th, I again asked Dream Mother to please bring me an extra special tree dream. Boy, did she deliver!
I awoke some time around 4:00 with the image of this dream and the realization that I was repeating its final words about the Tree of Life. After that I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I got up, wrote it down, went back to bed, and starting thinking about my associations with it. The first thing I thought of was my blog post from some years ago about the symbolic meaning of dreams. I guess that’s what gave me the idea to post this one today.
Next, I thought about what I’ve been writing about in my next book and realized that the Tree of Life represents the trinitarian third force which brings unity between opposites, not just as a metaphysical reality, but also as a physical one. Metaphysically, a tree is an image of the Philosopher’s Stone. Physically, it is a metaphor for the human body, with its central trunk, five appendages (head, arms, and legs), and a feminine and masculine side. This reminded me of the Kabbalah’s sephirot which, in Judaism, represents the divine in humanity and also has a feminine and masculine side.
Then I realized that the Jewish menorah is a Tree of Life too — with its central candle-holder trunk, and four candle holders on each side — and that this image is also like the sephirot. Plus, the lighting of the menorah candles celebrates the divine spark of light, wisdom and divine inspiration that we bring to fullness in ourselves with our spiritual work. The reference to light reminded me of the confusion I had when writing down the dream about the similarity between the words “buds” and “bulbs” — buds signaling new life, and Christmas tree bulbs representing the return of light, and with it, new life.
Another thought was that the Tree of Life, the sephirot, the menorah, and the Christmas tree are all images of the Great Mother, or Sacred Mother, who births new life and light via the buds that will blossom into leaves and flowers with the return of spring. So it’s also an image of the Sacred Feminine which has lain dormant for so long in the collective unconscious but is now showing signs of rebirth. This gives me hope. With women becoming more involved in positions of authority and taking on projects like planting new trees, perhaps they can also influence the world’s governments to take this and other ecological threats more seriously. If they succeed, just as the darkness and barrenness of winter is always followed by the light and new growth of spring, Mother Nature can restore the health of our planet with her natural cycles of life. May it be so.
Finally, the dream felt like a reward from my unconscious for all the work I’ve been doing on my dreams over the last 30 years. It seems to suggest that at my age I am still capable of sprouting with new life, and it made me feel known and loved by the Sacred. It felt like an affirmation and validation of what I’m writing about in my new book, and gave me hope that it might be well-received by the collective. So after lying awake thinking about my 5,000th recorded dream for the rest of the night, I arose at 7:30 and began making revisions to the last chapter based on what I learned from it.
Thank you to my readers for your many gifts of wisdom through the years. May your holiday season be filled with light, wisdom, new life, and divine inspiration.
Image credits: Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree, https://www.macys.com/, The Tree of Life Metal Menorah by Scott Nelles, https://www.artfulhome.com/
“Love is the fundamental energy of evolution….Our challenge today is to trust the power of love at the heart of life, to let ourselves be seized by love, to create and invent ways for love to evolve into a global wholeness of unity, compassion, justice and peacemaking. As a process of evolution, the universe is incomplete, and we humans are incomplete. We can change, grow, and become something new. We have the power to do so, but do we have the will? We need a religious imagination that ignites our energies to move beyond mediocrity and fear, one that anticipates a new future of planet life.” ~Ilia Delio. The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, p. xxv
First the good news: The first draft of my new book is finished. From here on out it’s just a matter of refining it, a process akin to socializing a child so it’s fit to be seen in polite society. It’ll take me a while to do that, then off it goes. Sending it to the publisher is like sending a child to finishing school after basic training. An editor will offer suggestions, I’ll make revisions. A marketing person will review and adjust the promotional plan, make the necessary arrangements, and so on.
Now for the bad news: I’m living in a country whose collective shadow is manifesting in so much nasty, ugly, uncivilized, territorial, competitive, top-dog, mine’s-bigger-than-yours animus masculinity that I’m losing hope. Just so you know, my book is about how psychologically and spiritually, men and women both contain the masculine and feminine principles/drives. So I’m not just talking about men. There are plenty of women around exhibiting that same shadow.
Here’s what I’m on the verge of seriously asking myself: Why am I spending so much of my life energy creating this new child who’s all about love and partnership and creative, unitive consciousness? How can it possibly survive in such an environment, let alone thrive? How can anything soft and vulnerable—like an innocent child or a human soul—bear the toxicity of our time?
I know the answer to the first question is, “Because I have to.” And I know I won’t rest until it’s done. Nevertheless, I really, really, need to hear some good news.
Two Monday mornings ago, I awoke with the usual dark cloud over my head from watching the late night news about the latest political brouhaha. This time it was the Brett Kavanaugh supreme court nominee hearing and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s upcoming testimony about an alleged abusive encounter with him. I didn’t want to think about it. I couldn’t wait to make my coffee and get to the newspaper so I could solve the sudoku puzzle. I needed a distraction from my gloomy thoughts, a problem I could actually resolve.
Part of my morning ritual is to read my horoscope which shares the same page. Occasionally a comment will resonate and spark some creative thinking. That morning, mine said something like, “Instead of thinking about what you need to change, ask yourself what would improve your life.” The answer came almost immediately. Being with a kind, compassionate, psychologically savvy and spiritually mature woman who has a good balance of masculine and feminine energy would definitely improve my life right now.
So I sent an email to a friend I haven’t seen in several months, and invited her over for tea one afternoon. We agreed to meet a week later, last Monday afternoon. One of the first things she said after we’d settled into comfortable chairs was, “Are you in as much pain as I am from watching Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony last Thursday?” She was already reading my mind. I hadn’t actually watched it that day, but I’d been seeing it on the news ever since. And yes, I was in much pain about it.
After we talked for a while about how much Ford’s testimony had moved us she said, “But you know, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kavanaugh and his wife too. Did you see her face? There was so much devotion and concern for him in her eyes.”
And that’s exactly what I needed to hear. Her compassion for both Ford and Kavanaugh—her ability to put herself in their shoes and imagine the impact this ordeal was having on both their families—was the voice crying in the wilderness I’d been longing to hear. We spent the next two hours having one of the most pleasant, light-hearted, and affirming conversations I can remember ever having. We laughed a lot. And I teared up a few times. I’ve felt much better ever since.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that if the current political situation is dragging you down, find yourself a gentle, compassionate, feminine voice with “a religious imagination that ignites [y]our energies to move beyond mediocrity and fear, one that anticipates a new future of planet life.”
Thank you, Ilia Delio. Thank you, Pat. I’ll be doing more of that from now on.
Note: My friends, my new book is coming along nicely. Meanwhile, I’m excited and honored to share an interview written by Audrey Schultz which appeared yesterday, June 20, on the Swenson Book Development blog. I hope you enjoy it.
If you’re someone who is curious about the human psyche, spirituality, and the connection between femininity and masculinity, chances are you’ll enjoy reading the work of Jean Benedict Raffa, whose writings and teachings focus on “psychological and spiritual matters from a perspective informed by Jungian psychology and personal experience.” She is the author of several books, including The Bridge to Wholeness, Dream Theatres of the Soul, and Healing the Sacred Divide, and recently, she has announced Schiffer Books will publish her new book titled The Soul’s Twins, which “offers a self-guided journey to wholeness and enlightenment by transcending masculine-feminine oppositions.” In light of this recent news, I had the chance to interview Jean for Swenson Book Development.
Swenson Book Development: Have you always known that you wanted to write? Was there a specific point in your life when you realized that this was what you wanted to do?
Jean Benedict Raffa: I’ve always loved to write, but it took a very long time to know what I wanted to write about. At five I made my first book by folding a few pieces of blank paper in half. Since I didn’t know how to write, I drew pictures of myself going through my day—waking up, sitting on the potty, eating breakfast. Then I got stuck. How could I draw what was really important—the thoughts and feelings in my head? It was words and understanding I wanted, not images. At ten I started my first real book, then trashed it after 30 pages. Discovering I had nothing to write about was a disappointment I carried around for many years.
My favorite assignments in school always involved writing, but it wasn’t until I spent a year writing my doctoral dissertation about the effects of television on children that the puzzle pieces began to fall together. The hundreds of late-night hours spent alone at my desk while my husband and children slept felt like minutes. With no pressure from the outer world, time, space, and even my body disappeared while I explored an inner realm of my own making. There I experienced the joy of creating, organizing, and arranging my ideas into words that had real value to others. This was what I was born for. But it was still only half the puzzle. It took a lengthy spiritual crisis during ten more years of struggling with unfulfilling work to know what I was born to write about.
SBD: You’ve stated on your website, “My work focuses on spiritual and psychological growth, the empowerment of women, generating reverence for the feminine principle and creating partnership between masculinity and femininity.” When people read your books, what is the impression that you hope readers are left with?
JBR: I hope readers go away from my books thinking, “This is important. It’s about me, the way I’m living my life, and the big questions I struggle with—not just meaningless, distracting surface stuff I’ll forget tomorrow. It touches my yearning and brings me hope. I want more of this.”
SBD: What inspires you to keep writing your books?
JBR: The ancient Greeks had a word, daimon, for the natural spirit — a genius replete with knowledge which is not quite human and not quite divine—in every individual. Your daimon is a very powerful force —a personal guardian who protects, guides, and inspires you as you travel through life. It starts out like a tiny seed buried in your unconscious and grows in response to your attention and unique experiences. It feels like a deep hunger to discover and manifest your natural gifts for the benefit of the world. Everyone has this yearning, but few heed it—partly because they don’t attend to it, and partly because they fear acting on it will result in banishment from their tribe.
I felt my daimon at the age of five, but it took over 40 years to blossom. And it’s still growing. I write because I have to write. I no longer have a choice. My daimon drives me to obey it, and I’ll always be grateful that I had the sense to listen and follow its guidance.
SBD: Do you view writing itself as a kind of spiritual practice?
JBR: Yes. Humans are evolving into greater consciousness. This is both a psychological and spiritual journey. Involving yourself in practices that lead to self-discovery develops skills that automatically connect you with your soul, your spirit, your daimon, other people, and the Self. The Self is Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung’s name for the sacred within you. It is the core and circumference of your psyche, the archetype of wholeness, and your religious instinct. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, nor does it matter if your spiritual practice is sanctioned by outer authorities. What truly matters is that when you connect with it, it brings self-knowledge, expands your mind, opens your heart, fulfills your yearning, and infuses your life with zest, vitality, meaning, and most of all, love. The practices that have helped me connect with my Self are writing, dreamwork, study, and paying attention to synchronicities that excite my daimon.
SBD: What are you most excited for regarding your latest book, The Soul’s Twins?
JBR: It feels like the completion of my life’s work. Seen from this perspective, my first book laid a foundation, my second designed a blueprint, the third built a framework, and this one feels like the finished house—basement, attic, and everything in between. It also has the most potential to serve the largest and most diverse audience.
Psychologically speaking, everyone has a feminine and a masculine side—a full palate of potential from which to make works of art out of our lives. Recent events have raised collective awareness that too many qualities from the feminine spectrum have not received equal attention, respect, or expression because of outdated gender stereotypes. I’m excited that The Soul’s Twins has the potential to be of help in humanity’s inevitable march toward creating inner and outer partnerships that dissolve harmful stereotypes and heal our divided psyches.
SBD: Has your experience in writing The Soul’s Twins been different from your experiences with your other books, or has it been much the same?
JBR: Each book has been different. The first, largely a memoir, took over a year to write. The second only took four months. Both quickly found publishers. Then in the mid-nineties I worked on The Soul’s Twins for two years before I realized the audience for it was too small, and there was still much I needed to learn. So I set it aside and wrote several iterations of Healing the Sacred Divide over a period of 18 years until it morphed into its current form. Once it came out, my daimon had nothing to say about another book until last year when a particularly meaningful synchronicity sparked my interest in revisiting and reworking my long-dormant manuscript. This time, my timing was right on.
SBD: If you could pick just one piece of advice to give, what would it be and why?
JBR: Think psychologically; live spiritually. By this I mean take your inner world seriously. Pay attention to what’s going on in you—reflect on it, accept your wounds and shadows as natural parts of your path, and learn to love yourself. Open your mind to new ways of thinking and living. Adopt a practice that brings self-knowledge and improves your relationships. Then, moment by moment, take the next step you must take and do the thing you must do.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.