I’m at my desk reading the Goethe quote on my coffee mug: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” I feel the truth of this deeply, but wonder if I really understand it or can express it adequately. I want to try.
I close my eyes to feel the life in my body and follow my breath. Tiny tinglings everywhere…chest and belly rising and falling…the air conditioner fan whirring away to my left, an airplane humming overhead…the solid floor beneath my feet…the warmth of my clasped hands…the softness of my velvet robe.
I open my eyes and look out the window at the stand of bald cypress with their knotty brown trunks and newly green foliage. I watch the soft sway of their gray Spanish moss beards. I wait…for what I don’t know. I smile. It’s a relief not to need to know. A love bug lands on the window at eye level. No, wait; it’s two love bugs! My smile expands. My heart seems to expand too. I’m enjoying this tiny reminder of love. Fluttering leaves sparkle. Some show their paler sides; others are a deeper green. A dragonfly flits by. Cottony clouds with dove gray undersides sink slowly below the cypress canopy.
I rise and step outside to see if the great blue heron is still fishing across the creek. S/he’s gone, but a pair of black-feathered, yellow-legged, red-billed birds (young coots?) fly past, then abruptly make a U-turn and hurry back in the opposite direction.
I remember the brilliant cardinal that kept dropping by one day last week to peck at the picture window, either flirting with his image or trying to pass through the sky’s reflection. I Googled the symbolism of cardinals and found this: [The cardinal] “reminds us to hold ourselves with pride – not ego pride. Rather, the cardinal asks us to stand a little taller, be a bit more regal, step into our natural confidence as if we were born to lead with grace and nobility.” Good advice. But that was a few days ago. I return to this moment.
Other random thoughts intrude and I invite them to pass on so I can stay present. I realize I’m hoping to close these musings with some sort of sign or synchronicity I can share to prove how rewarding just appreciating this day can be! But nothing is showing up and I’m running out of writing space.
Wait. Something is showing up. (As I write these words a cardinal darts by…is it my cardinal?… but that isn’t what I mean.) What shows up after I’ve written the previous paragraph is an awareness of my ego’s influence over my thoughts and writing. My ego wants a sign it can use to be impressive, but my soul just wants to be! And just as I was thinking this the cardinal passed by. I guess I did receive a sign after all: ego pride! I smile and let it be. Self-knowledge is healing but self-criticism erodes my confidence and robs me of this moment. Simply being aware of everything, including my baser tendencies, is the true value of this day.
Why do I meditate? Because it slows down my monkey mind and makes me more mindful of my body. Because when I’m mindful of my body, I experience this fleeting miracle of being. Because experiencing the miracle of being—being alive, being me, having this body, this day, this comfortable place to live, my health, people who love me—fills me with love and gratitude. And when I remember love and gratitude, I remember to choose love more often that day, no matter what’s happening in my outer world. For me, that’s reason enough.
Our relationships with nature and matter are closely connected to our relationships with our bodies. In certain orthodox religious circles, love for God as remote masculine spirit has gone hand in hand with physical self-loathing. For example, Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish medieval philosopher, was merely stating a commonly held belief when he said that “all philosophers are agreed that the inferior world, of earthly corruption and degeneration, is ruled by the natural virtues and influences of the more refined celestial spheres.” Likewise, St. Augustine considered his body to be the major source of his spiritual problems and sufferings.
This attitude is an obstacle to the fullest development of our spirituality. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes:
“Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself to take on human flesh. The theological doctrine of incarnation suggests that God validates human imperfection as having mysterious…value. Our depressions, jealousies, narcissism, and failures are not at odds with the spiritual life. Indeed, they are essential to it….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth…”
Vessels are classic symbols of feminine matter. Of the many vessels symbolizing feminine containment, one that is particularly dear to Christians is the chalice or grail, the highest level of spiritual development and heavenly and earthly happiness. The female body is a vessel which receives sperm and produces eggs. A womb is a vessel within a vessel, the cradle of life that receives, holds, nurtures, and protects a growing embryo. A breast is a vessel which creates and dispenses milk. A skull is a vessel containing the brain, itself a vessel teeming with creative potential. In Christianity, Mary is a vessel for new spiritual life.
Another vessel-like symbol is the tower. A tower’s elevated position links it to heaven; its impenetrability to virginity; its vertical aspect to the human figure; its roundness to the womb; its containment to creative new life. Hence, towers that are closed and windowless were once emblematic of the Virgin Mary. In early Christian times a tower was often used to suggest the sacred walled city, another feminine symbol. The Herder Symbol Dictionary notes that a tower with a light is a lighthouse, which has long been a symbol “of the eternal goal toward which the ship of life [is] steered across the waves of this existence.” Its light suggests Sophia, the divine spark of life within us.
For Jung, too, the tower was a feminine symbol with sacred meaning. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes the stone tower he built at Bollingen, a small town on the upper shores of Lake Zurich, and writes that it “represented for me the maternal hearth.” He wrote,
“From the beginning I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation — a maternal womb or a maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone.”
Vessels accept, contain, protect and preserve the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life at both the physical and metaphysical levels. Our planet Earth is a living vessel whose life cycles mirror the soul-making processes of psychological and spiritual transformation. The matter (L. mater) of which our bodies are composed is our mother, teacher, partner and guide on the spiritual journey. For that, it deserves our everlasting gratitude. How do you honor and thank your mother/body for nurturing the life of your soul?
If you haven’t read last week’s post, you might want to go there first to hear my thoughts about the basic masculine archetypes. This time I want to highlight the feminine ones. Please remember that these energies and qualities, so-called “masculine” and “feminine,” are part of the psychological inheritance of everyone, regardless of gender. It’s only society that assigns some of them to men and others to women, and these associations can very from culture to culture. Unfortunately, this limits all of us to only a portion of our fullest potential.
In my system, the feminine archetypes are the Queen, Mother, Wisewoman and Beloved. These images of our basic instincts serve our “feminine” drive for species-preservation and relationship. The ways we see and use their energies are transformed over time as our egos mature through three “feminine” phases: the innocent Maiden, the life-giving Mother, and the wise Crone.
In the first phase we unconsciously serve the drive to preserve our species by emphasizing relationships, conforming to tribal/cultural standards, and sexual activity; in the second, the cycles of life force us us to become more aware of our individual needs; and in the third, attending to our inner, spiritual selves becomes as important as meeting the needs of others.
Our Queen is a culture mother and the feminine sovereign of the psyche. Like the goddess Hera, a Queen in the Maiden phase automatically honors her duty to society without reflection. Her growth is usually instigated by some sort of crisis —rape or love, parenthood, illness, divorce, or loss of a loved one—which destroys the Maiden’s virgin innocence and instigates the Mother’s suffering. If she develops a conscience and learns moral responsibility she becomes a caring Crone/Queen of personal sovereignty, moral virtue, respect for individual differences, and social leadership.
The Mother archetype represents our instinct for physically serving the birth/death/rebirth life cycle. In our unreflective Maiden phase our Mother is, like the warrior goddess Artemis and Mother Nature herself, as capable of destroying life as mothering it, simply because she is not very aware of the significance of otherness and puts her own needs first. In our Mother phase our Mother archetype struggles to understand and serve the needs of individuals as much as her own and the activity of the impersonal Great Mother who gives and takes all life. As our egos mature, the Crone Mother helps us value the life in our bodies and souls as much as life outside ourselves.
The Wisewoman is diffusely aware of, and deeply sensitive to, the maternal depths of the unconscious. In our unreflective phase she is like Greece’s Persephone, Stephen King’s Carrie, and Walt Disnery’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Because we lack the experience and logical thought to handle the vast unknown, our Maiden can get us into trouble with archetypal powers we don’t understand and can’t control. Our transformation into the Mother phase begins when our mistakes force us to distinguish between objective facts and subjective symbols in the inner and outer worlds. Our Crone Wisewoman integrates logos with mythos to see the big picture, understands how the parts connect, and creates personal psychological and spiritual meaning.
The Beloved is the magnetic principle in relationships. Our Maiden Beloved is like Aphrodite: an innocent, unconscious seductress driven to attract sexual, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment by attracting and pleasing others. Our Mother phase begins when we suffer the conflict between wanting to please our lovers and wanting to discard them when they no longer please us. Our Crone Beloved is like a hospitable, emotionally authentic hostess who lives in beauty, inspires others, and gives what we could only hint at in our youthful phase: full sensory and emotional intimacy with fully respected and loved otherness.
Whereas shadow masculinity destroys otherness, shadow femininity is self-destructive. A compulsive Queen can burn us out if we give too much of ourselves. Our Mother can sabotage our relationships by being too receptive or smothering. An obsessive Wisewoman can cause us to be depressed and overwhelmed by the unconscious. And if our egos obsess over the outer appearance of beauty, our Beloved can compel us to sacrifice the true beauty of our souls. But as we accept our feminine sides and partner them with our masculine sides, their union can give birth to a Spirit Warrior of perfected selfhood and completed relationships.
What does your attitude toward the feminine archetypes say about your ego’s maturity and your acceptance of the feminine side of your psyche? How are your relationships and service to our species evolving in ways that benefit all?
I wish you all a happy and love-filled Thanksgiving Holiday. I am so very thankful for you, my internet community. You have enriched my life immeasurably.
Once I read about a horse that lived in the same pasture for over 30 years, eating the same old tired grass, trying to find shade in the noonday heat under the same scrawny tree. After many years of neglect, the fence that separated this pasture from a lush, grassy meadow studded with beautiful leafy trees crumbled and eventually fell. Stepping over the fallen wood would have been a very simple matter for the horse, yet it stood at the border where it had always stood, looking longingly over at the grass as it had always looked.
I feel so sorry for that horse. It had become so accustomed to its old boundaries that it never noticed when they were outworn. I wish someone from the other side had called it over so it could have spent its final years grazing in a greener, fresher, infinitely more satisfying space.
Many of us have felt our spirits quicken through glimpses of something ineffable in the mist beyond normal awareness and longed to pursue it. But concerns about the judgment of others and habitual assumptions about what we think we should be thinking and doing are not easy to recognize or change. Moreover, the daily demands of life are so compelling that we usually defer our journey into the deeply alluring recesses of the forest until another day.
What are we to do if we do not want to end up like that horse? Luckily we humans have a special someone who beckons to us from beyond our outworn boundaries: she is the wisdom of the Deep Feminine traditionally called Sophia. But to hear her call we need to turn off the constant flow of words and listen with our hearts and bodies.
The promptings that come from this inner being are so faintly heard at first, however strong on their own plane, that we tend to disregard them as trivial. This is the tragedy of man. The voices that so often mislead him into pain-bringing courses–his passion, his ego, and blind intellect–are loud and clamant. The whisper that guides him aright and to God is timid and soft. Paul Brunton (22-1-201)
Her voice is very soft; her call, though compelling, is quiet. She speaks to us in urges, needs, wishes, emotions, feelings, yearnings, questions about the meaning and purpose of our life, attractions to people, ideas and activities, synchronicities, physical symptoms, accidents, instincts, nature, meaningful insights, joyful experiences, bursts of unexpected pleasure, creative ideas, images, symbols, dreams: all the things we have learned to ignore so we can perform with utmost efficiency in the rat race of daily life.
The message in her communiques seems so subversive that we have learned to ignore it too. Do not fear the unknown, she says when we are tempted to risk exploring the wilderness of our souls. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Do not be content with the half life that comes from avoiding your fears. Feel your fears, enjoy your pleasures, experience your life with all your being. Open yourself and go deeper, for great treasures lie buried in your depths.
Following Sophia does not result in a quick fix, but if we will go boldly and persevere, the mansion doors to the eternal sacred that lies within will open unto us. The inhabitant of that mansion is the Self, our inner Beloved. Made of equal parts masculine and feminine energy, (Animus and Anima, in Jungian terms), the Self is often symbolized by the King and Queen. Here in the West we project our King onto the distant Sky God and remain relatively ignorant of his feminine partner, Sophia, the Mistress of the Forest who is as close to us as our own breath and blood. Thus do we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from her wisdom and cross over into her sacred space.
So how, exactly, are you different from that old horse?
How has the Mistress of the Forest been speaking to you lately? What is she saying?
Please do not let the word “mystic” scare you. It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and available to everyone. The experience of divine union is the goal of all religion. ~Richard Rohr, Catholic Theologian and author of The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. (pp. 29-30.)
Have you ever had what felt like a “religious experience?” Something that filled you with awe and wonder and made you feel you were in the presence of the Divine? Perhaps it came in physical form, like a wildly improbable synchronistic experience; a wave of chills that came while listening to a beautiful hymn; seeing an aura around a person; or feeling a powerful surge of energy in your body that couldn’t be explained by science. Maybe it was an extraordinarily meaningful dream, vision of light, sudden knowing, or spiritual awakening. Or you stepped onto a forest glade or mountain peak with a view that stopped you in your tracks and brought tears of appreciation and gratitude to your eyes. If you’ve experienced these or similar things, you’re not alone.
Throughout history, revered spiritual leaders such as Lao Tsu, Jesus, Buddha, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Mother Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Hasidei Ashkenaz, Rumi, Ibn Arabi, and countless ordinary people have reported spontaneous mystical experiences. Documented religious experiences have also been induced by a variety of hallucinogens for millennia.
Either way, mystical experiences are not only real, but surprisingly common. Why? They’re simply evidence of the benevolent life-giving and life-sustaining Divinity that indwells every one of us, that permeates our minds and physical bodies, that is the very substance of which we are made. What should be more surprising than having a mystical experience is not having one!
Unfortunately, the idea that we can each find a direct and personal pathway to the Divine is still considered blasphemous by many adherents to mainstream religions. And when hallucinogens are used to induce mystical experiences, world governments get involved in banning them. This, despite the fact that a rigorous study with clearly explicated methods was conducted in clinical conditions at John Hopkins university in 2006 with astonishing and highly beneficial results that
“may re-define our mutual human history as it’s been indoctrinated into billions of humans across the planet. Not just one of two participants spoke of having an ineffable mystical experience; it was 79% of the 36 participants who underwent the study…. That’s truly an astounding and inarguable number.”
As one writer reports, a follow-up in 2011
“appeared in the June 2011 issue of Psychopharmacology entitled Psilocybin occasioned mystical-type experiences: immediate and persisting dose-related effects“. Personally, I feel it’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read. How often do any of us get to read something that speaks directly to the human psyche in relation of our experience of the mystical in such a scientific and clinical environment, but while recounting it in such personally spiritual terms?”
Now here’s the kicker:
“This study unquestionably and undeniably validates what shamans and spiritual explorers throughout history have known, what they’ve often shared at the risk of incarceration or death, but have painstakingly documented throughout history: The Psilocybe mushroom, a hallucinogen, can provide any one of us with an extraordinary, life-changing mystical experience that is indistinguishable from any other religious experience reported in our mutual human history. What is perhaps more extraordinary is that the participants in this study didn’t just have a spiritual experience; the ingestion of these hallucinogenic mushrooms “produced substantial spiritual effects” and “those beneficial effects appear to last more than a year” (Griffiths et. al., 2008). In other words, here we have an example of scientifically proven religion, a spirituality that, rather than being in conflict with the rational, is supported by it.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pushing a particular agenda for drug reform, despite the obvious need. And I know the difference between entheogens—a term meaning “to reveal the Divine within” that belongs to a category of substances used for Divinatory purposes—and dangerous and life-threatening drugs like cocaine and heroin. It’s just that my goal in this blog is to serve evolving consciousness and empower individuals to discover spiritual meaning for themselves, and I’m not going to avoid doing so just because it requires us to challenge outmoded laws, belief systems and institutions.
My point is simply that we don’t have to blindly follow doctrines, religions, or spiritual authorities to connect with God! Nor should we, unless they serve our growth into compassion and expanding consciousness. Rather, we can listen to and learn from our own inner spiritual authority, which can be developed with reflective and meditative spiritual practices. Each of us knows what’s truly Sacred in the depths of our being, and that inner knowing, that actual inner experience of holiness, is available to everyone.
Have you ever met a mystic? You have if you or anyone else you know has had an individual “religious” experience of divine union that s/he trusts over collective attitudes and institutions. If so, I invite you to share your story here.
Image Credit: Google Images. “Contemplation” Nathan Jon Tillett 2003 http://www.Fuzzy Planet.co.uk
I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It has always stood out from the other 51 weeks in a year like a peaceful Zen garden, a special oasis where I attend to soul needs that require annual closure.
During the 80’s when I was juggling parenting with college teaching, I often spent this week assembling and basting together sandwiched layers of fabric backing, cotton batting, and the quilt tops I’d been working on all year. It took another year of hand-quilting everything together before I presented them to my children the next Christmas. After they each had a quilt of their own I used the last week of the year to start more quilts for our new mountain cabin. When these were finished we took them with us for our annual years’-end visit.
On the outside the 80’s were for me a time of perfecting and preserving my persona and the collective values of the times in which I was raised. But on the inside I felt I’d been shipwrecked and was living on my own private, isolated island. There I spent most of my time fishing in the watery depths of my psyche for psychological sustenance that could help me understand myself and resolve my inner conflicts.
Then, in the fall of 1989 I found what I was looking for: I joined a Centerpoint group based on Jungian psychology, and suddenly the lights came on! I don’t remember what I did during the 52nd week that year but I’m pretty sure I would have spent most of it reading, studying and underlining one of the 20 or so books by Jungian analysts I had immediately ordered from Inner City Publishers. Intense study was the first of the practices I undertook that made the year of 1990 a threshold into the most life-changing, soul-satisfying and creative period of my life.
My other main practice was recording and studying my dreams. Throughout the nineties I did dreamwork every morning and wrote every afternoon. I also meditated and practiced yoga. But I always devoted the 52nd week of each year to rereading my dream journals, summarizing important themes and trends, noting new developments, and highlighting valuable insights. Remembering and integrating my soul’s processes at the end of every year was an extremely valuable ritual for me in those days. Essentially I was building a new foundation for my psyche and I could feel it growing stronger with each passing year. This was my decade of finding, connecting with, and honoring the unconscious and the Self.
The new millennium brought new insights and year’s-end rituals. Feeling an unprecedented need to get in touch with my body and nature, I usually spent the 52nd week hiking and climbing the mountains near our cabin. As my grandchildren began arriving, they and their parents would join us; we’d also play games and enjoy lots of physical, outdoor, non-cerebral fun like sledding, making snow angels, and building snowmen!
Once again it’s my favorite week of the year. This year Fred and I brought Izzie—our grand-dog who’s a female version of her predecessor, Bear—with us to the cabin. One of my favorite things so far has been to take a long daily hike around the property with her. Another was to prepare a welcome meal of chili, salad, homemade biscuits, and key lime pie for my son’s family who joined us a few nights ago.
So far, the only theme I see emerging during this decade is to listen and follow the guidance of my instincts and energy. I don’t feel much need for closure any more—annual or otherwise—and the days of making special preparations for the 52nd week are long gone. In fact, I rarely do much of that any other time of the year either. Mostly I just like staying present with myself, my family, and the moment and its opportunities.
Above all, I’ve been spending a lot of time savoring the many blessings of my life. Believe me, I’ve had more than my share and I’ve never felt more grateful for them. Right now, that’s enough for me. Whatever the new year may bring, I welcome it with open arms.
May the new year bring you renewed awareness and gratitude for the special times of your one, precious life.
If you’re interested in hearing more about my introduction to Jungian psychology, you might enjoy this radio interview I did for the Centerpoint Foundation.
Last time in “The Psychology of Creativity” I discussed how creativity originates in the body’s physical instincts. But, you might wonder, what does this mean for me in practical terms? How do I gain access to my creativity? Where do I direct my energy and attention? What, exactly, is the link that connects my body’s natural instincts with my ego’s potential to produce something truly original?
Actually, more than one link needs to be forged between our conscious and unconscious selves before we can fully activate and manifest our creativity. Here are five I consider to be of primary importance.
1. Libido: Libido is psychological energy, the zest for life which enables us to get out of bed every day and act on our instinctual urges, including the instinct for creativity. We all have the urge to grow and learn, but life presents many obstacles that can sap it. Chief among these is the ego’s lethargy. Our child-like desire to regress into unconscious dependence is extremely powerful; nobody finds it easy to rouse themselves from the cozy maternal matrix we inhabited during our early years. Other drains come from early trauma, lack of nurturance, self-destructive habits, poverty, debilitating accidents and illnesses, toxic relationships, grief, and anything else that stifles our instincts and brings hopelessness and despair. It’s not impossible for an individual with insufficient libido to find a creative outlet, and that in itself will provide an increase of libido, but we can’t develop our fullest creativity without a good dose of it.
2. Balance: Psychological one-sidedness can imprison our instincts, thus inhibiting our creativity. Some examples: the person whose obsession with logic and reason causes scorn for spontaneity, intuition and emotion. The one whose extreme emotions eliminate the possibility of rational decision-making. The person full of inspired, creative ideas who can’t handle the daily show-up and follow-through. The religious fanatic who idealizes disembodied Spirit and fears and hates his bodily temptations. Balance is a bridge that allows opposites to interact, and the resulting fertilization creates something new.
3.Self-Awareness: You can’t mend your psychological imbalance if you don’t see it. Most of us spend the first half of our lives on auto-pilot. As long as we’re driven to do what we need to do without questioning or taking over the controls, our creative offerings are minimal. This may be fine for one who doesn’t feel the creative urge, but for those who do, self-awareness is indispensable. Noticing the different ways you feel in different situations, then figuring out where you feel best and spending more time there, frees up repressed libido. The more you watch your actions, listen to yourself talk, or notice the direction your life is taking, the more aware you are of alternatives. The more alternatives you have, the more original your choices can be.
4.Feeling: At your psyche’s core you are a unique individual with important values, ideas and images that contribute to your creativity and give shape to your life’s purpose. But from the moment you first saw a frown on Mother’s face or heard the impatient edge in Daddy’s voice you started covering up your true Self until you lost touch with your essence. Reconnecting with the Self requires trust in what feels meaningful and important regardless of what others think.
I was reminded of this while watching the Florida State vs. Florida football game Thanksgiving weekend. Back when FSU’s football program was young and unknown, Fred was one of two freshmen to earn a walk-on scholarship. Naturally, we’ve rooted for the Seminoles ever since. In those days I’d watch Chief Osceola stir up the crowd during a game and think, “That Indian needs a horse!” I wasn’t aware of Horse’s symbolic meaning. I just knew a horse could bring pride, unity and strength to our struggling athletic program. I had no idea it could do the same for my psyche! Nine years after we left, FSU got a horse mascot. Today Chief Osceola and Renegade are national icons and Horse has a profound influence on my writing.
I’m not suggesting there’s anything new about a Native American on a horse, or that there’s a cause and effect relationship here, or that winning and fame should be our ultimate goals! My point is that recurring feelings and images signal creative developments emerging from the spirit of the depths, and taking them seriously can enhance our creativity.
5. Self-Love: The final and most important link to be forged between our egos and instincts is Love. If we can’t love our bodies and their instincts, we can’t love our flawed humanness, and without a measure of self-love we are in grave danger of living libido-deprived, unbalanced, unaware, unfeeling and uncreative lives. Living with love and creativity is our greatest joy and reason for being. We bring forth these life-giving qualities through conscious dialogues with our instincts. This is holy work.
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.