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/
The intuitive’s morality is governed neither by thinking nor by feeling; he has his own characteristic morality, which consists in a loyalty to his vision and in voluntary submission to its authority. ~Carl Jung, CW 6, para. 613
Every day was Labor Day this summer. Mental labor. Emotional labor. A labor of love. Labor nonetheless. That’s just the way it is when you’re writing a book. At least for me. I’m exhausted. I’ve been back in Florida for four days, trying to let myself rest. Yesterday was Labor Day. We celebrated our granddaughter’s thirteenth birthday at the beach with our family. Pure pleasure. How can she be thirteen?
Today’s my first day back at work. I’m eager — well maybe anxious is a better word — to get started, but putting it off. It’s time to give you an update. I finished six chapters this summer. Yaayy!! Only two more to go before the first draft is finished. Almost….. There’s so much more to do.
You spend eight hours a day writing two pages and end up on a great high. But by the time you go to bed you’re worried about the next problem. Plus, You have a deadline. Yes, okay, that’s a year away but there’s so much to be done. And so much you’re not sure of. You go back to it the next morning and realize half of what you wrote yesterday needs to be trashed because it’s empty. Boring. Meaningless. Dry. Too wordy. Whatever. You dread starting over. Find excuses to stall. Force yourself to start. At the end of the day you feel good again because you know it’s better. Maybe you’ll change it tomorrow. But that’s okay. You’re making progress and that feels wonderful.
You fall asleep quickly, wake up the next day forming sentences, playing with words, choosing this one over that one. You can’t wait to get to your computer because you’ve rewritten the opening lines in your head and don’t want to forget. You think you may have had a dream. What was it…..? But you can’t remember. All you have are the words you woke up with. The dream is lost. You wish you could recapture it. You think it might have been a good one.
You write down the words before you forget. Izzy nudges your elbow. She needs breakfast and a walk. You throw on some clothes, feed her, take her for a walk, make yourself a quick breakfast. Go back to the computer. The next thing you know it’s four hours later. Time for lunch. You don’t want to stop because you’re on a high again. But the phone rings, or the handyman knocks on the door. Or Izzy wants to go out.
So you do what needs to be done, all the time thinking about the last paragraph. Rehearsing the beginning of the next one. The pressure to get back to work never leaves. You make notes to yourself on your iPhone as you walk through the woods, impatient to return. You feel guilty because you’re not even enjoying Izzy’s delight at running around free, sniffing everything. Oops. She’s finishing a half-eaten, ant-ridden green tomato some critter gnawed on, then dropped. Digestive enzymes will see to them.
You force yourself to stop thinking. Just observe. Breathe. You smile. Gaze at the cloudless pale blue-gray sky. The mountains peeking through the spaces between the trees surrounding this valley nest where you live every summer. Like those Carolina wrens that return every year to the same nest in your porch planter. A yellow leaf spirals to the ground, a fiery flicker of light from the cherry tree that’s struggled all summer. Another tree dying?
You give Izzy a treat and make a lunch and force yourself to sit on the porch in your favorite rocking chair. You worry too much. Push yourself too hard. You need to enjoy the moment. You close your eyes. Slow and deepen your breath. Tell yourself the book will wait. Watch the birds vying for perches at the feeders.
A hummingbird stares at you and flies closer. It hovers a foot away from your face. You hold your breath, afraid to move. It flies lightly past your left ear. You sit still as stone, feeling the gentle breeze from its wings on the back of your neck. Do stones feel the breezes of hummingbird wings? You hear the soft hum in your right ear. She’s circling your head. You want to hold out your hand and invite her to rest, but you know she’ll only fly away. She does anyway. You smile, relish this magic moment. Then you get up, put your dishes away, go back to work.
The next morning you wake up with more words. A dream image flashes past. You let go of the words, close your eyes, breathe. Invite the image back.
Dream #4972. My friend and I have ridden motorcycles to the back of this vast complex of buildings. I’m hiding in the shadows by the back door. I’m trying to disguise myself as an old woman. I have to cover my hair with a cloth and stoop over so they won’t recognize me. The man with me is over on my left, trying to bluff a guard into letting us into the building. I’m afraid they’ll discover we don’t belong here. I think we’re imposters. But my friend convinces them that John Somebody invited us. Somehow, the man lets us in. We wander through. There are others here. Why are they here? Why are we here? I don’t know. I only know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve made it this far. Might as well have a look around until I know what the next step will be.
It’s been like that with my book every day. Joy and angst. Worry and guilt I can’t shake off. Conflicts I don’t know how to resolve. A mission I can’t stop trying to complete. I feel like an imposter. Yet my animus keeps pushing me to do this. I don’t know why. We just have to.
To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, p. 249
It’s a beautiful obsession. Back to work.
Special thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for posting the exact quote on Facebook I needed this morning.
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.