What Do Dreams Have to Do with “Real” Life? Part I July 15, 2014
If you’ve never thought of dreams as having any relevance to your waking life, I can assure you, they do. This one which came at a pivotal time in my life convinced me beyond any doubt that some unimaginable, unconscious Mystery which dwelled both within and outside me knew what was going on in my conscious life and had something to tell me about it. I’ll share the dream in this post and comment on it in the next.
Dream #843: Two Snakes in the Tree of Life”.
Someone is telling a story. I watch from afar as the events unfold.
“Once upon a time a little green snake started his life in one side of a tree.” I see the snake. He is long and thin and his underbelly is the color of the inside of an avocado.
“On the other side of the tree lay a huge, old, brown female snake, but the little green snake did not know it. He grew and grew until one day he decided to go on his journey and he entered the hole.” The little green snake slithers into a hole in the tree and disappears. I look to see if his head comes out of the hole on the other side where the big old female snake is, but it does not. Maybe the way inside the hole is long and winding.
“It took him a long time of traveling and he was enjoying his journey, but eventually he came out on the other side.” His head peeks out of the hole. Will he see the big snake? No, he turns right and takes a narrow spiral path that curves around the tree to the left, to where the big snake is waiting.
“The little green snake slid along smack into the mouth of the big snake.” The green snake’s head peeks out of the side of the big snake’s mouth. The big snake munches down on his head twice. Chomp. Chomp. The little green snake’s face shows no fear or distress or pain. Maybe this does not hurt. Maybe he has no idea what is happening to him. I hope so.
Now the narration breaks off. There are other onlookers here. One says, “Oh, well. That’s the end of the little green snake.”
Someone else says, “Well, what if he fights back?” I wonder how he can possibly fight back with no hands or arms or legs. There seems to be no hope.
Someone else says, “Oh, no. He shouldn’t fight back. That would be wrong.”
The narrator says, “Oh, is fighting the wrong answer?”
Suddenly, a rainbow streaks across the sky and lands in a different place, like a lit-up stage in a vast, darkened theatre. It is the little green snake, who has been transformed into a young, handsome cowboy. Triumphantly he saunters across the stage to the bar, slaps down two coins, and says to the bartender, “Set ‘em up, Joe.”
He survived! He did not have to die and he turned into a human! This is the best possible ending to the story.
Little Green Snake: An archetype that has many possible meanings. Because the snake constantly sheds its skin, it symbolizes transformation, rebirth, and perpetual renewal. The color green, the color of the annual renewal of nature, reinforces this meaning. The Kundalini serpent of Tibetan yoga, which is said to be coiled at the base of the spinal column, symbolizes the cosmic evolutionary energy that accompanies growing spiritual awareness. In this dream, I believe the little green snake represents my masculine spiritual striving for transformation, personal empowerment, and individuation.
Tree: An archetype of individuation; spiritual development; androgyny.
Brown: The color of the ‘feminine’ earth.
Female Snake: The ancient, earthy, natural feminine; the archetypal Great Goddess or Great Mother, which has the power of life and death; my feminine essence.
Hole: An opening into the unknown, or spiritual world. Since it is a circle, also the Self.
Right: A suggestion that the snake is headed in the ‘right’ direction; the direction of consciousness.
Left: The unconscious.
Onlookers: Other aspects of my personality.
Cowboy: A rugged individualist, a mature individuated animus.
These were my associations to the symbols twenty years ago when I was working on this dream for inclusion in Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dreamwork. I no longer see the cowboy as a “mature individuated animus,” but at that time my animus was still in the throes of youthful heroic swagger. I forgive myself (and him) for being so full of ‘ourselves.” My body was no longer young when I had this dream, but my ego was, and inflation always shadows a newly-empowered ego.
I’ll share what I wrote about this dream next time. Meanwhile, I welcome your associations.
Jean Raffa’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 at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
The Heroic Making of a Soul March 28, 2014
Earlier this month on March 10, my darling child, Matrignosis, turned four years old. As it has been with my human children, so it has been with Matrignosis in many ways: Pouring my passion into her and learning more about myself as she’s grown has been one of the greatest privileges and pleasures of my life. Indeed, the overwhelming maternal feelings I have for her and what she’s taught me are reflected in the name I gave her: matri (Lat. Mother), and gnosis (Gk. knowledge).
Yet, as she has developed through my creative outpourings, Matrignosis has been not only Child, but also Maiden, Mother and Crone to me. All are part of the life cycle of women and the Sacred Feminine in whatever guise we see her: Goddess, Sophia, Anima, Soul, Yin, Mother Nature, Durga, Kali, the drive for species-preservation…..
As Child she represents my youthful innocence—all the instinctual feeling, vulnerability, wonder and openness I once had and to which I am returning, this time with awareness. (See Dreams of the Divine Child.)
As Maiden she is my dreaming Princess who lives in the questions and tolerates the tension between immaturity and maturity, ignorance and knowing, waiting for a kiss to guide her next steps in the dance. (See The Golden Bear.)
As Mother and Queen she has willingly embraced the otherness of masculinity. In so doing, she has suffered the loss of innocence, established the boundaries of her identity, struggled to assume her sovereignty, and celebrated the birth of fresh, hopeful new life. (See The Queen: Lioness of the Psyche)
As a Crone who is slowly and lovingly being stripped of youth’s illusions, she is opening to the mystery of Death while blessing the beauty and wisdom of her body, experiences, and each fleeting moment of her miraculous life. (See A Dream of Crones and Crone Love.)
Matrignosis contains all these qualities and more, as do I. She also reflects my Shadow, the parts of me that are ignorant, self-centered, proud, stubborn, judgmental, defensive, unforgiving. In some posts I’ve shared my flaws. In others I’ve withheld them. And sometimes they’ve snuck through the cracks in my Persona without my awareness, just as my Shadow sometimes erupts in my behavior. That’s what Shadows do and I’m okay with that. There’s no human being so transparent that light passes through without casting a shadow.
Yet I am not just a physical body with a flawed personality. I’m also an evolving soul with a sincere passion for self-knowledge, a deep love for Spirit, and a powerful desire to pass along what I have learned. As such, Matrignosis is as much a testament to my soul’s healthy truths and accomplishments as to my ego’s unhealed wounds.
The combination of both is what makes me human. My willingness to take my soul seriously enough to face and admit to both is what makes me heroic. The same is true of you and every soul who suffers the shame of ignorance, who is appalled when your Shadow overrules reason and good intentions, who enters the struggle for understanding because you want learn how to love and help other suffering souls. You. Are. Heroic!
And so in conclusion to this celebration of Matrignosis’s fourth birthday, I’d like to say that of all the good things she has brought into my life over the past four years, the courage to claim my soul’s heroism and let its light shine without apology or fear of judgment brings the most satisfaction.
Thank you for reading and sharing your truths here. It means the world to me to have created this in-between space where heroic souls can meet.
This is for you, Tony. Did you ever know you are my hero?
Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
Art: Debutante, by Helen Scobel Raffa.
Art: Wisdom Lady by C. Victor Posing. Used with permission.
This is my final insight from Ireland: My dream was precognitive. The first night of the conference I was shown themes and symbols that would reappear many times throughout the week. So much so that at our final dinner, Diana Rubin, trip organizer for the New York Center for Jungian Studies, led a conga line through the room in which we danced to the beat of “E-`LEC-tric-`BLUE…`POS-sum-`EX-cre-ment!” Monika laughingly said, “You’re going to write about this in your blog, aren’t you? It was the theme of the whole conference!”
We had come because we’ve found direction in Jungian psychology. We want to pierce the veils of self-delusion. We want to know where our greening has been stunted by the spirit of the times. We want to end our obsession with logic and objectivity; thwart our conformity to conventional wisdom and collective values. We understand that the spirit of our time is the critical masculine and the spirit of the depths is the creative feminine, and we see the most profound and obvious truth Nature has to teach: that life would not exist without an egalitarian partnership between both. We respect the non-rational (not “irrational”) and emotional feminine within and seek ways to integrate her into our waking lives.
Like Jung, we do this by accessing our creative imagination. Creative imagination is a third world between spirit and matter, a holy place where all divides are healed. Ireland is one of the few countries in the Western world that takes this human faculty seriously. Consider her fascination with leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, lucky four-leafed clovers and fairies. Consider Celtic mythology in which Euisneach is the navel of the physical world and the third-world home of the goddess Eriu. Consider that Eriu is a symbol of Ireland and the divine feminine, the central uniting force of life. With her, in the subtle body just beneath the surface of things, live all the kings who have chosen to embrace her instead of killing her.
The Irish respect the spirit in all things and the mysteries of everyday existence. Poet John O’Donohue says it best in these lines from Benedictus: A Book of Blessings, which Noirin read to us on Wednesday: “Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence. Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. Respond to the call of your own gift and have the courage to follow it. When you have the experience, don’t miss the meaning. Allow your divine nature and divine appetite to become one.”
Ireland teaches that opening to mystery is what it means to be human and that each stone inviting our attention on the path through the enchanted forest is a gift of meaning. Because I find meaning beyond rational reason, measurable time, and visible space, Queen Maeve’s birthday gift to me was a dream that shattered these illusions with foreshadows of things to come. Why credit her with this gift? Because my creative imagination compels me to notice that the dream came when I was sleeping in Knocknarea Room, named after the hill site of her tomb.
On Friday a few of us walked to Labby Rock, a megalithic tomb behind Cromleach Lodge. Yes, we can lose our way in the enchanted forest, just as I led four others astray on the way back to the lodge. Sometimes we’ll stumble, err, feel angry or afraid. But if our hearts and minds are open to all that we are, we will be met by the magic of Maeve, The Intoxicated One, whose world is as close as our dreams and creative imagination.
My deepest thanks to all who have accompanied me on this inner adventure, especially you who brought the gifts of your comments. Perhaps you’ve noticed your influence in these posts. You’ve helped more than you can know.
Insights from Ireland: Cooking Possum Stew May 21, 2013
After I wrote my associations to the symbols in my Ireland dream, I started on its message. The biggest clues to a dream’s meaning are recent waking life experiences and how you responded to them. I was aware of some issues, thoughts and feelings in the days before the dream, but which were relevant and which were not? In the month since then I’ve pursued several dead ends but feel close to the core now. Here’s how my thinking has evolved.
Act I: It’s obvious that my psyche (mansion) is undergoing some kind of alchemical transformation (golden urn). I get it that my animus envisions a nourishing (dining room) change that would unite the vessel and its contents. But what is the nature of this change? I don’t know.
Act II: I understand that my ego wants to maintain a smooth and shiny persona (pinboard). As a “J” personality type, (see this site for an explanation), I like keeping the outer aspects of my life orderly and organized. But what less-obvious parts of my persona (covered pin holes and scraps of paper) still need work? And why doesn’t X want me to expose them? Is he afraid people will see that he’s/I’m not always smart, confident, in control, or right? Could be. New situations like this do bring out this concern. Maybe he’s my overly self-conscious perfectionist who fears I’ll say or do something thoughtless or annoying?
Act III: Another aspect of my animus (my thinker/spiritual striver/writer?) thinks some valuable old (as in inherited or acquired at an early age) qualities should be openly displayed. This could refer to personality traits that have been helpful in my inner and outer work, and also to the fact that I’m comfortable with aging. But what’s this primitive instinct (possum) hidden beneath the externalities that I don’t want in the house of my psyche? Which of my five instincts—nurturance, activity, reflection, sex or creativity—does it represent?
The mention of the dining room suggests the instinct for nurturance. Physical survival has never been an issue, but what is problematic is my emotional need for approval and security and my resistance to admitting to these needs. This is a root chakra issue that would have begun in my infancy.
Someone at the conference noted that possums play dead when they’re frightened; hence, the phrase, “playing possum.” Another said that baby possums cling to the mother’s fur when they ride on her back. These associations felt important then and still do. There’s a frightened young possum in me that didn’t get all the mothering she needed and somehow plays dead as a result. But how does this show up in waking life?
Here’s what was going on with me. We left Orlando on Thursday and arrived at the conference site on Sunday afternoon. The pre-trip packing, airport hassles, flight to Dublin and lack of sleep left me exhausted. Two days of hectic touring in a new city reduced my normally low tolerance for excessive stimulation to zero tolerance for practically everything and everyone! Then we left the Dublin hotel, took a taxi to a meeting point, had a long bus ride to Cromleach Lodge, checked in, unpacked and organized luggage. Then there were 37 new people to meet.
Maybe these things aren’t problematic for some personalities, but for people like me, they’re challenging. Why? Partly because I’m an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging Type. Partly because I was fully conscious of my feelings and didn’t like them. Stoic as usual, I was doing a pretty good job of containing my emotions (playing dead), (Fred told me later he had no idea how stressed I was), but, perfectionist that I am, I considered them unworthy. Inwardly I was shaming myself and my self-criticism was dragging me down. I couldn’t forgive myself for being human!
Next time, the big “Aha!”
Feasting at Women’s Tables April 2, 2013
Since I left my job to write in 1989 I’ve always been part of at least one women’s circle with sometimes as many as four ongoing groups at the same time. My Jungian study group was formed in 1989 and our weekly meetings lasted for ten years. The Purple Pro’s, my writing group, has met monthly since 1990 and usually shared home-cooked lunches. This year is the first we haven’t had a meeting because of changes in our lives that make it too difficult.
In 1997 a few women and I founded The Matrix, an organization dedicated to identifying and meeting the sometimes physical, but always psycho-spiritual needs of women in Central Florida. Until we passed the torch along a few years ago, my monthly meetings with five unusually wise and gifted women were deeply growth-inducing and soul-sustaining. 1997 was also the year I started teaching classes and leading dream groups at the Winter Park Jung Center. When it closed, our dream groups met in private homes until my latest book demanded too much time and energy.
For over 20 years I have regularly shared meetings, study groups, planning sessions, classes, programs, volunteer projects, weekend workshops, retreats, dream groups, and food with circles of women. We opened and closed most occasions with rituals. Some, like the five minute deep-breathing meditation before dream groups, became traditions. Others were tailored for specific occasions like Matrix meetings, classes, holiday gatherings, and individual life passages such as birthdays, weddings, new babies, transitions into crone-hood, house-blessings, illnesses and deaths.
The defining feeling running through all these groups was abundant nurturing. This is nothing to scoff at, I assure you! Think about it. When’s the last time you were with a group of people who wanted to nourish each other more than they wanted to grab all the goodies? I’m not saying there were no hurts, disagreements or misunderstandings, but there were only two occasions when differences were not resolved with emotional restraint born from growing fullness and caring. In both instances, the unforgiving women who left were deeply wounded neophytes in self-reflection.
A climate of abundance is rare among both genders in social institutions where an attitude of scarcity prevails. Not even religions are immune. Think about the usual office and board meetings, gatherings around the water cooler, times off in the break room, holiday office parties. How many have you attended where you didn’t hear a single snide remark or juicy bit of gossip? I’ve sat in faculty meetings where scorn for other professors, departments or colleges was palpable. Served on boards, chaired committees, and attended church functions where petty gossip, misogyny, exclusivity, and competition to impress hid behind the thinnest of pious veils.
I know some women prefer the company of men. I’m sorry for those who’ve never experienced the deep sustenance offered by mature and generous-spirited women, who’ve been poisoned by the spiteful gossip of miserable, mean-spirited women. I’ve shared tables with a few of the latter type when they’ve joined one of my classes or tried to befriend me. But ever since I excused myself from the company of rigid institutions and started communing with like-minded sisters, women like that have never hung around for long. I think their wounds have left them feeling so empty that they crave a constant diet of discord and drama, and I have no appetite for this.
There are some desperately unsatisfied and spiritually starved women out there, and it hurts knowing they can’t digest the kind of food that would help them discover their inherent beauty and capacity for love. But there are also many generous-spirited Queens, Mothers, Wisewomen and Beloveds, and sharing my journey with some of them, including you who join me at this table, has been a major blessing in my life.
A Masculine Wound: An Obsession With Winning February 5, 2013
This blog, Matrignosis, (Mother Knowing) is based on my profound need to understand and empower the wounded feminine in myself and society. The same theme is explored in my three psychologically-oriented books. Although the most recent one is about creating equal partnership between the healthy masculine and feminine, in this book too I emphasized the feminine side of the equation. That seemed the most pressing need.
But recent dreams and outer events are making strong statements about certain masculine wounds. Robert Bly, one of our most eloquent voices for healthy masculinity has written, “By the time a man is 35 he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man which he received in high school do not work in life.”
Women know this too, but immersion in a culture whose institutions are based on distorted images of masculinity blinds both genders to healthier images. Knowing in our hearts that something is wrong is one thing. Acting on this knowledge when no one around us appears to see this elephant in the room is quite another.
A boy is filled with excited anticipation about his first hunting trip. If he misses (deliberately) the graceful doe he’s told to kill, he’s taunted and shamed for being “a girl.” If he cries, the adults are disgusted. If he dutifully kills her he earns their respect and praise. They’ve been through this themselves and see it as a rite of passage that will toughen the boy up and prepare him for “real life.” It may do that, but at what cost? Of what value is a hardened heart that cannot feel its pain or empathize with the pain of those who have no voice?
A young athlete succumbs to the temptation to take illegal performance-enhancing drugs. When he wins he enjoys his success and ignores the shame of his pricking conscience. Is being victorious over others truly the only valid definition of success? Sure, when human rights are in the balance, only the worst among us would argue that victory over oppression is not a successful outcome. But how about when greedy, fearful masculine-oriented egos conquer conscience, compassion and consciousness? Is this a successful win?
Catholic theologian Richard Rohr says a basic difference between the feminine and masculine psyches is that for the masculine it’s either win or lose. But the feminine, the Mother, can’t choose between winning and losing. All her children have to win! For her, win-win is the only justice. Psychologically, everyone has a masculine (animus) and feminine (anima) side; but only our masculine side is vulnerable to obsessing over winning at all cost. This happens when he mindlessly aligns his natural love for winning with patriarchy’s five-milliennia-old obsession with subjugating our inner feminine and the outer women who remind us of her! At all cost!
How do we bridge the seemingly irreconcilable divide between our inner masculine and feminine? Our egos must invite the disowned Feminine Spirit Warrior, the Mother, into our awareness. She’s strong enough to feel the shame of our pricking conscience. Brave enough to suffer when we’ve caused others pain. Tough enough to admit our fallibility. Caring enough to love and serve all our children. Becoming an undivided Spirit Warrior who lives with compassion and balance while causing the least amount of harm to others is the true meaning of winning.
How might your life have been different if you’d been taught to respect the feminine instead of how to win the respect of a wounded, dysfunctional culture?