On Interrelatedness: No Beginning, No End March 21, 2014
Yesterday I met with my writer’s group, The Purple Pros, at the Barnes and Noble Café. As is our custom in this group which has met for over twenty years, one of us brings a meditative reading; another brings a topic we write about for five minutes. Despite the fact that these activities are randomly chosen, their themes are almost always remarkably similar, if not identical. Moreover, the same themes inevitably crop up again during our touch-in ritual. We never fail to be awed by the mystery of this synchronicity.
It happened again yesterday. Margie lost her beloved husband several years ago. To the great joy of those who love her, she’s found love again and will soon marry a wonderful man. To celebrate this happy occasion, I light a small candle in a sparkly gold container and read a blessing from John O’Donohue titled “For a New Beginning.” Margie tears up as I read. Afterwards she tells us of a synchronicity that makes this blessing especially meaningful.
Since I’ll be out of the country the day of her wedding, and since she and her fiancé are both patrons of the arts, I give her a carved wooden Endless Knot that was hand-painted by the young students at an art school we support in Bhutan, a country whose economic development is based on “gross national happiness.” I bought it there several years ago. The tears continue to roll down her cheeks as she tells us the paint is the exact colors of her wedding! Enclosed is this description: “In the endless knot all the lines are interrelated to each other and the knot has no beginning and no end. It symbolizes the infinite knowledge and love of Buddha to all sentient beings. It is good to give as gift to your dear ones as an expression of your eternal love and compassion.”
Lenny’s writing assignment is to write a scene that depicts happiness that is meaningful and true to us. Here we go again. First we celebrated Margie’s upcoming marriage ritual which is all about love and happiness; then I give her a gift from a country whose official goal is to promote happiness; now we are to write about what brings us happiness. Usually I need time to think before I start writing; occasionally I never even get started. This time my scene arrives immediately and fully formed. I can’t write fast enough. Only after I’m finished do I connect all the dots: it’s about the interconnection between happiness and ritual, relationship, meaning and love.
This is what I wrote. It makes me happy just to think about it!
My granddaughters are excited about tonight’s sleepover. They ring the doorbell then run and hide, a ritual they started in early childhood and still enjoy. I loudly lament their absence until they race from their hiding places and give me hugs and kisses.
After depositing their backpacks their first stop is my bedroom. Sophia sorts through the makeup in my vanity drawer and picks out something to take home while Alex tries on my shoes. When she falls in love with an old pair that fit perfectly, I give them to her.
Dinner is delivery pizza consumed over a favorite video. Dessert is freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm.
The rituals continue at bedtime. They bathe in the spa tub with bubble bath crystals and fragrant lotions. Sophia pulls the pillow cases off her favorite Swedish foam pillow. Alex asks for her glass of water.
I tuck them in and kiss them goodnight then sit at my desk on the balcony outside the same room their mother once occupied, my presence a reassurance they still crave. Their door swings open and Sophia comes to me clutching the large furry rabbit hand-puppet I brought her from a trip to the Grand Canyon a few years ago.
“You forgot to say goodnight to Snuggle Bunny!” she says with questioning eyes as she tentatively holds out her beloved bedtime friend. Will I still want to enact a ritual that means so much to her? I receive Snuggle Bunny with infinite tenderness. As my fingers animate her head and arms in gestures of shy love, we three murmur our goodnights.
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
Image Source = Wikipedia: Zeskanowana praca ręcznie wykonanej kopia ogólnie dostępnej grafiki
Formula for a Successful Marriage February 19, 2014
Yesterday my friend Pat sent me a link to an article in the New York Times she knew I’d like called The All-or-Nothing Marriage. It asks the question, “Are marriages today better or worse than they used to be?” Writer Eli J. Finkel writes,
“This vexing question is usually answered in one of two ways. According to the marital decline camp, marriage has weakened: Higher divorce rates reflect a lack of commitment and a decline of moral character that have harmed adults, children and society in general. But according to the marital resilience camp, though marriage has experienced disruptive changes like higher divorce rates, such developments are a sign that the institution has evolved to better respect individual autonomy, particularly for women. The true harm, by these lights, would have been for marriage to remain as confining as it was half a century ago.”
After studying the scholarly literature on marriage, Finkel offers a third view.
“Perhaps the most striking thing I learned is that the answer to whether today’s marriages are better or worse is “both”: The average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore.”
The reason for the success of the best marriages comes as no surprise to me: “Those individuals who can invest enough time and energy in their partnership are seeing unprecedented benefits.” So Finkel’s magic formula for a successful marriage is T (time) + E (energy) = SM (successful marriage.)
Synchronistically, today is my husband’s birthday and I read this article immediately after wrapping his presents and signing his birthday card. I don’t think he’ll mind if I share what I wrote with you: “I can’t believe you’re 70, my darling. Our love feels so much younger than that! Perhaps it’s because we’re just starting to get it right!!” His response after reading it this morning was, “We are, aren’t we?”
As I wrote to Pat, obviously I didn’t mean ‘younger’ as in, naïve, unformed or immature (we were certainly that, having married at 20 and 21!), but light, youthful, rejuvenating, hopeful, free. As someone who has worked hard at my marriage and myself, I can tell you that both endeavors are paying off in a deeply satisfying way at this stage of my life.
When Fred and I met we could hardly have been more different. He’s Irish/Italian, I’m Dutch/English. He was an extraverted, socially confident jock; I was an introverted, serious-minded student. He was an outspoken “bad boy” who always said exactly what he thought; I was a quiet and reserved “good girl” who kept my feelings and opinions to myself.
A recipe for disaster? Many people probably thought so, yet here we are in our 70th year on Earth preparing to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary this summer. So what’s our secret? Part of it has to do with Finkel’s findings about the importance of Time and Energy to devote to our relationship. Somehow we both found work we love that gives us enough time to share a lifestyle we both enjoy. Likewise, we both lucked into good health and plenty of energy. Believe me, we know how fortunate we are. As Finkel notes, so many people don’t have these luxuries!
But I’d like to add two more ingredients to Finkel’s equation that have been essential to us. Despite our differences, the one thing we both share is a deep ‘Commitment’ to each other and our relationship. Second, in mid-life I devoted my remaining years to a search for self-knowledge via a regular program of Inner Work. So what’s my magic formula for a Successful Marriage?
T & E + C & IW = SM
As Finkel writes,
“The bad news is that insofar as socioeconomic circumstances or individual choices undermine the investment of time and energy in our relationships, our marriages are likely to fall short of our era’s expectations. The good news is that our marriages can flourish today like never before. They just can’t do it on their own.”
This one’s for you, Fred. Happy Birthday.
Photo Credit: Amy Smith Photography
Something Different About Last Weekend November 7, 2013
I want to tell you about last weekend.
But first, some background. Around 35 years ago, my husband’s youngest brother, Tony, called us late one night from college to tell us he was gay. My first reaction was surprise. This was in the late seventies, when homosexuality was still so closeted that the average straight person rarely thought about it, let alone openly encountered it.
My next reaction was a flash of understanding. Suddenly Tony’s unhappiness and occasional troubling behavior as a teenager made sense. How alone he must have felt. How he must have despaired of ever finding acceptance.
That’s why my third reaction was admiration for Tony’s courage. Where had that come from? What pain had brought him to this place? How much more would he experience now that he had chosen to reveal his truths to a judgmental and unforgiving world? I had never met anyone with that kind of bravery before, and I was in awe of it. Could I be that brave? I didn’t think so. I was still too afraid of failure and censure to leave the conventional path I was on.
Years passed. Tony became an interior designer and thrived in a profession he loved. Eventually he started his own successful design firm in Houston. Meanwhile, I grew increasingly unhappy with myself. Unlike Tony, I didn’t love my work as a college professor, but I was too afraid to quit and start over.
Then, when I thought there must be something terribly wrong with me and had given up hope of ever finding fulfillment, I discovered Jungian psychology. Afraid of what I might learn about myself, but even more afraid of wasting my truths on an unlived life, I turned within and stepped into a bold new adventure of self-discovery and authentic living.
By the time Tony and Scott met I had quit teaching and written my first book. Two years later they invited Fred and me to Houston where I conducted their commitment ceremony. Never have I felt such warmth and kindness, such sincere interest and approval, as I received from their friends that weekend. The natural, unforced acceptance of these total strangers was a revelation.
Since then I’ve encountered this attitude many times. Always from Tony and Scott and their friends. Most recently I felt it last weekend at the city clerk’s office in New York where Fred and I went to witness their marriage. While waiting for their number to be called I sat next to a producer of Broadway musicals. In just moments, he and his partner would be legally married after being together for 35 years. They, too, exuded a rare, unguarded friendliness.
What makes people like this so different from the norm? I found my answer at the play we attended that night. Kinky Boots is a delightful musical about a young man who saves his father’s shoe factory by making boots for drag queens. Its theme is acceptance: how it is withheld by some and freely given by others.
Most of us have been hurt by some form of prejudice, whether because of our nationality, race, religion, social or economic class, age, appearance, gender or sexuality. The people who automatically judge and reject us do so because they fear and reject their own differentness. Those who freely accept us have broken through their fear and found the courage to accept themselves.
Reflecting on last weekend, I realize why it was so very special for me. Since that late night phone call so many years ago Tony has been a beloved teacher who paved the way for me to stop fearing my life and start living it. He did that by showing me what courage, self-acceptance, and open-heartedness look like. These are among my most treasured lessons and I will always be grateful.
Congratulations, Tony and Scott!! May your marriage be long and happy. And thank you for being in my life.
How Love Emerges January 31, 2012
Creative works which make such powerful impressions that we never forget them hold valuable lessons because they always depict the themes of our soul’s journey, usually in symbols that become deeply meaningful to us. This can be true of something as simple as a folk song or as complex as a symphony.
In the early years of our marriage my husband and I saw the film Blume in Love, starring George Segal and Susan Anspach. As we used to say in the 70’s, it “blew my mind!” There on the screen was a couple I could identify with. Blume was a successful young attorney blithely immersed in his work. Nina was a sensitive, serious-minded, idealistic social worker who sought inner peace and wanted to save the world.
While these two loved each other very much, both were self-absorbed and neither had a clue about the other’s inner reality. Nina’s discovery of Blume in their bed with his secretary resulted in their divorce and initiated a painful maturing process in which Blume came to see Nina’s significance as an individual in her own right, and Nina began to empower her true self while softening and forgiving Blume for being human.
Although the plot details were different, this romantic comedy portrayed a variation on our theme and depicted the essential challenge of every couple in an intimate partnership: to learn how to love. As a shockingly innocent and ignorant product of 1950’s and 60’s social conditioning, I was finally getting it that marriage is not a happily-ever-after instant fix involving two separate individuals whose roles and feelings will never change, but a container for soul-making. Every committed relationship is, in fact, a crucible in which two souls are melted down, refined and transformed in the evolutionary fires of change.
Blume in Love showed me that both partners will make sacrifices, suffer, be tempted, and make mistakes. And if love is to grow and last, each will need to understand that the other has equal merit and deserves equal rights and respect. This is how we learn to love.
The film’s ending in which Blume and Nina are reconciled in Venice’s Piazza San Marco taught me another archetypal truth: In a relationship that survives this ordeal, both partners can experience a revitalizing new birth. Notice how this theme is symbolized by Nina’s pregnancy in the image above.
In the years since I first saw this film, I’ve had many dreams about being pregnant. Although I rarely understood them fully at the time, in retrospect I see that they signaled gestating new life of some kind that would soon emerge into my consciousness. Blume in Love made a powerful impact on me and the Self adopted its symbolism to advance my consciousness.
An earlier version of this post was originally published in January of 2012. Synchronistically, as I was writing it, my editor who was helping me prepare my book Healing the Sacred Divide for publication, sent me an e-mail containing the following quote by Adyashanti (from Emptiness Dancing). It’s a very apt ending for these musings about relationships:
“Most relationships start out as unconscious relationships. When the light of awakeness comes to shine inside of that relationship, the unconsciousness within it is going to be revealed. It’s very important not to spiritualize it when it gets revealed. Some people want to spiritualize their relationship instead of making it conscious. They want to make it into a spiritualized fantasy in which their partner meets all their spiritual ideas about what a relationship could be. They think they know what it’s supposed to be like, what it could be like, where it’s going to go.
“When you ease back from that, you return to something that’s very intimate and innocent, where you are finally willing to tell the truth, not to hide, not to force consciousness into some relationship agenda, but to simply let it emerge. Then you never know what it will be like at any moment — how consciousness, awakeness, and love are going to want to emerge.”
What books and movies fascinate you? How have they helped love emerge?
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.
Dream Symbols of Transition and Transformation October 25, 2011
Inner work causes gradual changes in our inner and outer lives. When an important change has occurred, the Self may send a “big” dream to let us know our work is paying off and to furnish the energy and motivation to continue. Following are some symbols we might expect to see in these dreams.
Dreams use symbols as metaphors for what’s going on in our unconscious and are rarely meant to be taken literally. For example, death is an important symbol that often depicts the end of an old outmoded aspect of our personality or phase of growth. Likewise, the birth of a baby usually symbolizes the emergence of healthy new life.
After a time of inner work we may have an important dream of transition that deals with our acceptance of our anima, or unconscious feminine side. Perhaps we befriend a woman we have previously disliked, or are attracted to an especially unusual and interesting woman. Likewise, a dream about accepting our animus, or unconscious masculine side, might feature men who initially feel threatening but become more friendly; or perhaps we are in an intimate relationship with an especially attractive man. Allowing our femininity and masculinity to merge and overlap as equal inner partners is how we empower our souls to become all they can be. It is also a major step forward in healing our relationships.
Dreams about the union between our feminine and masculine aspects often use the symbol of the wedding. In his book The Kingdom Within, Jungian analyst John A. Sanford says the most auspicious wedding dream is one in which the dream ego is not too directly involved. When the ego plays the role of the bride or groom, it suggests an “inflated” ego that’s a bit self-important and full of itself. What matters most is that we be invited to attend the wedding. This suggests our ego is heeding the call of the Self to witness the sacred joining of our inner opposites without taking credit for this miraculous gift.
Other symbols of transformation include the moon (which is transformed each month from a tiny, silver sliver into a full, glowing orb), bears (which have always held sacred meaning because of their hibernation, or death, each winter and their apparent rebirth each spring), and snakes (which shed their old skins, or old lives, and grow new ones). These symbols are archetypal; that is, the meaning attached to them is so universally accepted that we know they come from the collective unconscious. They are also associated with the Self, which is ultimately responsible for our inner transformations.
A dream about an initiation, a dramatic change in direction, a visit to a spectacular garden beneath the ocean, or a dynamic nuclear reaction at the earth’s core also probably signifies that some important life-changing transformation has occurred deep within our unconscious world. While the exact nature of the change my not be immediately apparent, dreams like this fill us with hope and bring special meaning to our lives. It is enough to know that our inner work is paying off in an especially potent way.
Note: This post is an adaptation of a section about “big” dreams from my book, Dream Theatres of the Soul. Since I wrote it, other symbols have appeared in my dreams to suggest important life changes. Do you have any to contribute to this list?
What Education Should Be About October 14, 2011
In my last post I wrote about the rewards of parenting and grandparenting and promised to share two essays written by my twin grandsons who are in the third grade this year. This is Connor’s. The assignment was to describe the most beautiful place in nature he could imagine. He also drew this picture. Enjoy.
An Amazing Day At The Beach!
“When I’m at the beach I always wake up to the beautiful sound of birds and the tide rolling in and out. Then I chomp down my breakfast, throw on my bathing suit and run down to the beach. I can always feel the sand sifting through my feet like an hour glass. Then when I finally get there I go out to the beautiful aquamarine and white sea. I can hear the seagulls flying overhead. Then I go boogie boarding and feel the cool breeze in the air and the foam in the water falling around my neck and I feel like I’m flying. Can you imagine that? Then I go up to the sand and try to collect shells. Once I even found a crab shell. It had specks of bright red but most of it was a beautiful tangerine orange color. Then I eat a wonderful dinner and sometimes go for a walk on the beach. I saw an amazing sunset that was purple like a grape and red like a cherry. Have you ever experienced something as amazing as that? When we were walking back it started to rain but I still had an awesome time! And I thought to myself what an awesome day! I hope some day you can have such an amazing day as I.”
Connor copied his story in his best handwriting and handed it in. As far as he and his classmates knew, this was the end of it. But their teacher had a surprise for them. She thought this activity would be much more fun if the parents wrote letters in response; so she put each child’s essay in a large envelope, added a page of instructions, sealed the envelope, put the name of the family on the front, and at the bottom wrote the warning “Adults Only” in red ink!
When she handed out the envelopes a few days later, the children had no idea they had anything to do with their essays. She simply told them something top secret was going on, and only the adults could know about it for now. But, she assured them, it wouldn’t be long before they would be let in on the secret. So on the back of their envelopes the children wrote in large letters, “Please Don’t Show Me! Top Secret!” and took them home to their parents.
Our son, Matt, wrote back to Connor; our daughter-in-law wrote to his brother, Jake. (I’ll be sharing their stories next time.) Both responses were returned to the teacher in sealed envelopes. What happened next is the coolest thing ever. Along with his job as an economist Matt is a gifted screenwriter, (he even has a Hollywood manager), so instead of a regular letter, he wrote a script! At the age of three Connor had carried a stack of stapled papers around for weeks, adding scribbles from time to time to his “script.” Can you imagine how he must have felt when he opened his envelope and saw a script from his father, written just for him, inside? I’ve included it below.
I love everything about this assignment. Is there a third grader in the world who doesn’t love mysteries, secrets, and surprises? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to receive a warm and personal letter from a parent praising a job well done? Who wouldn’t think writing is so much fun they’d want to keep doing it? Providing exciting and personally meaningful learning experiences is what education should be about.
AN AMAZING DAY IN ST. THOMAS!
INT. OFFICE – MORNING
A rectangular black desk sits on a floor of white marble
tile. The surrounding walls abound with smiling faces,
moments in time captured and preserved in frames of wood.
With warm hearts and innocent eyes, the smiling faces (three
brothers at various ages) look down on a MAN who sits at his
desk, reading a piece of paper.
The man is slender and in his late 30’s. He has coal black
hair with flecks of gray. His eyes are big and brown, just
like the boys in the pictures.
On his desk is an opened envelope that reads…
PLEASE DON’T SHOW ME! TOP SECRET!
With a big smile, the man places the paper on his desk. We
see the title of the paper. It reads…
AN AMAZING DAY AT THE BEACH!
The man turns to his computer and begins to type.
Connor, I am so very proud of you.
Your writing, like the day you
described, is truly “amazing”.
When I read your essay, I felt as
though I was actually at the beach.
I could hear the seagulls and feel
the sand between my toes. What a
special day that was. And, what a
truly astounding job you did of
capturing that day forever in
If it’s alright, I’d like to share
a special day in nature with you.
I’m certain that I will not be able
to express myself as beautifully as
you did, but I will try.
Here goes. My day begins like
EXT. ST. THOMAS – U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – MORNING
SUPER: JULY 1, 2000
The crystal clear turquoise water washes in and out over the
soft, cotton-white sand. Seagulls dance in the cool breeze.
An iguana slumbers on a nearby cropping of palm trees.
EXT. OUTDOOR CAFE – MORNING
The man (late 20’s, no gray hair yet) sits across a small,
cloth-covered table from a beautiful WOMAN (late 20’s, green
eyes, the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen). The two sit
eating breakfast with big, eager smiles on their faces.
EXT. BEACH – MORNING
The man and woman relax on chairs as they gaze out at the
endless blue sea. Islands once inhabited by pirates dot
the tropical landscape. Sail boats with sheets of white
flapping in the wind float across the tranquil horizon.
EXT. OCEAN – AFTERNOON
Beneath the sea the man and woman swim with masks and
snorkels. The man points out a delicate reef of white
speckled coral. Urchins, anemones and sea fans in shades of
lilac and crimson cling to the reef and wave to and fro. A
school of blue and yellow fish swims past. It is amazing.
INT. HOTEL ROOM – AFTERNOON
The man stands before his FATHER (late 50’s, black hair and a
mustache). Both men are wearing black tuxedoes. The FATHER
helps the man straighten his silver tie.
The father smiles, holding back his tears.
Hopefully, one day I’ll be doing
this with my son.
EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – SUNSET
The woman stands next to a PRIEST, before a crowd of FAMILY
and FRIENDS. She is wearing an elegant white gown and
holding a bouquet of white lilies. She is the prettiest
thing on Earth. The sun sinks slowly behind her into the
ocean. Shades of tangerine shimmer across the bay.
The man sees the woman for the first time and cannot help but
cry. Wiping tears from his eyes, he walks toward her.
EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – SUNSET – MOMENTS LATER
The man and woman hold hands and stare into each others’ eyes.
Seagulls float overhead. Palm trees rustle with the breeze.
An acoustic guitar plays in the background. Just then…
A seagull poops on the woman’s dress. The two cannot help
EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – SUNSET – MOMENTS LATER
The man and the woman share a kiss. The crowd cheers. They
are now husband and wife.
EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – EVENING
The night sky is alive with the twinkle of a million bright
stars. Music plays from a nearby ballroom. Everyone is
singing and dancing.
EXT. OCEAN BALCONY – EVENING – LATER
With glowing sparklers in hand, family and friends make a
tunnel for the man and woman to run through. Everyone
EXT. BEACH – EVENING
The man and woman walk hand in hand on the peaceful, moon-lit
This was the best day ever.
Maybe one day when we have kids
we can come back here.
That would be great.
By the way, how many kids do you
think we’ll have?
One maybe two.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we had
I don’t know about that.
The two laugh and smile as they walk on. Holding hands, they
disappear into the darkness.
INT. OFFICE – MORNING
The man takes the essay and lovingly places it back into the
envelope. He returns to his keyboard and types…