Avatar and Cultural Transformation November 10, 2015
Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet to come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. Carl Jung
Culture is created by the human psyche. Intended or not, there is a psychological dimension to every art form. This is nowhere more evident than in James Cameron’s 2009 epic science-fiction film Avatar, a personal favorite.
Avatar’s characters, symbols and themes are updated versions of archetypes featured in stories from every nation, generation, and religion throughout history. Its symbols of interconnectedness—the wormy squirmy tentacled pony tails that bond with similar anatomical appendages of bizarre beasts, and the electrochemical connections between tree roots—are imaginatively resonant of ancient Hinduism’s Diamond Net of Indra, Jung’s collective unconscious, and quantum physics’ holographic universe. And its themes of self-discovery, initiation, revolution, transformation, and redemption have been with us since the first story ever told around a fire.
This lush film eloquently depicts the transformation occurring in humanity’s heroic journey into wholeness and consciousness. It does so by contrasting an ego that succeeds by opening to otherness and change with one that fails because it refuses to grow. Indulge me for a moment as I engage in a bit of imaginative word play to illustrate my point.
The time is the mid-22nd century. The place is Pandora, (mythically, the Greek goddess whose curiosity unleashed all the evils onto the world but whose ultimate legacy was hope). Pandora is a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system that is being colonized to mine a rare mineral. The plot revolves around the expansion of the mining colony which is threatening the existence of the local tribe of natives known as Na’vi.
Corporal Jake (Biblically, Jacob was Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson who overcame adversity to become the patriarch of the Israelites) Sully is a soldier whose body is bound to a wheel chair and whose soul has been sullied—i.e. contaminated and made impure—by bitterness, self-pity, and the aggressive mind-set of his dominator culture. Yet, by the end of the story, he is transformed into a heroic Warrior and passionate Lover.
Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other. Carl Jung
After undergoing training to be an avatar, Jake’s crippled body rests in a remote location while his mind inhabits a genetically engineered Na’vi body that interacts with the natives. His bravery, his respect for princess Neytiri (who says”nay” to tyranny and is Sully’s equal, savior, and Beloved), and his receptivity to the foreign ways of her culture all lead to his redemption and the salvation of the Na’vi.
And what might the name Na’vi symbolize? This tribe has long navigated safely through a difficult world by honoring the sacred underlying patterns of life. But because the people will not capitulate to the dominator ego mentality which has destroyed Earth, their culture is in danger of extinction.
Other archetypal themes are represented by the Na’vi’s spiritual leader Mo’at, (an abbreviation of Mother Earth?) who is a blend of the Jungian archetypes of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman, and Beloved. Her earth-based values and connections to Nature are the glue that have enabled the Na’vi to flourish thus far. Then there’s Jake’s mentor, Dr. Grace Augustine (a saintly name if ever there was one), who symbolizes the archetypal Queen’s regard for shared authority and individual differences and the Wisewoman’s intuitive intelligence and pursuit of truth.
Finally we have a plot with the necessary obstacles every hero must overcome: the self-absorbed and self-serving ego symbolized by Selfridge, corporate administrator of the mining program; and the obsessive Warrior mentality of the head of security, Colonel Miles Quaritch (from quarantine, a place of detention? Or quarrel, an angry dispute? Or quartz, a hard rock?). Cameron’s soulless dark invader, like Lucas’s Darth Vader, has miles to go in his own journey because of his rock-hard rigidity and unrelenting itch to maintain his power regardless of the cost to anyone or anything.
So here we have a story about a brave, heroic ego vs. a rigid, fearful ego. Earthly and cosmic connectedness vs. personal self-interest. Accepting our shadows. Opening to otherness. Learning from feminine wisdom and nature. Moving toward balance. Uniting opposites with respect and love. Using our Warrior energy to protect and empower the vulnerable. Overcoming crippling disadvantages to become a force for positive change.
This haunting story is more than just another movie. It is a mythic reflection of us at our worst and best. Of our blind ego with its rigid and self-righteous attitudes. Of our dysfunctional dark shadow that clings to old habits and blindly fouls our planetary nest. Of our power-hungry Warrior who continues to dominate families, neighborhoods and societies.
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. Carl Jung
Our hope lies with Jake who represents the resilience, creative imagination, and heroic potential of every ego, no matter how much suffering it endures, to overcome its lethargy and choose consciousness: consciousness of our light shadow with its unique gifts and ideals and sensitivity and care. Consciousness of our healthy Warrior with the courage to say no to ingrained attitudes and practices that produce chaos, pollution and destruction. Consciousness of the love waiting to blossom between healthy femininity and masculinity.
Image Credit: Google Images
The Interior Designer Within September 9, 2014
In the middle of my life I was forced to face some uncomfortable realities about myself. During that time I had many “unsuitable house” dreams. Their message was clear: if I moved into the “house” I had spent years designing and building I would be miserable. I had no idea why.
Now I do. Practically every choice I had made to that point was based on my need to please others and prove my worth. Because my focus was on how I appeared in the outer world I had no idea who I really was or what would make me happy. It felt selfish to even think that way! My only hope came from studying Jungian psychology and taking my dreams seriously. Today I am living proof of the benefits of this inner work. To show you what I mean, here’s a “house” dream from a few nights ago.
Dream #4569: I’m Leading a Dream Group at My Childhood Home
I’m in my childhood house. It has been totally remodeled from a shabby little Victorian cottage into the most lovely and satisfying place I could imagine. I’m in the new dining room. It spans the width of the house in the space where the old kitchen and dining room used to be. I’m facing the front of the house where the screened porch, living room, my bedroom, and new kitchen are. Behind me is the back half of the house: Mom’s bedroom, the bathroom, the hall in between, and the back porch. This middle place is where I write.
The dining table is long, white, and surrounded by white chairs. There are flowers in the center and a few place settings in shades of white, cream, beige and soft greens. The adjoining kitchen is now in the front half of the house and mostly white too. It’s all very open, expansive and filled with light. I am awe-struck by how perfect it is for me.
I see people with books and notebooks coming through the front door into the living room. I realize they’re here for today’s dream group. I’m not quite ready yet so I ask the woman hovering nearby if she’ll offer them some water while I get ready. I’m already dressed in casual white capris and a loose white shirt, but haven’t done my hair or makeup. I look into the mirror on the table beside my work area and realize I look fine and will only need a minute.
The others are sitting in front of the house in a big circle under the trees. There are more people on the left side than the right with empty chairs in between. I ask them to form a smaller circle so everyone can see and hear everyone else. I’m feeling relaxed and comfortable, happy that these people have come to my home to work on their dreams with me, and looking forward to today’s group.
The last sentence says it all. This is how I’ve been feeling lately: casual, unhurried, in love with the remodel of my childhood house (my psyche: the way I’m living now), and deeply grateful to have a circle of like-minded friends who want to discover their true selves and discuss their dreams with me (that would be you guys!!). Upon reflection (mirror), I realize I don’t fret nearly so much as I used to about appearances (makeup). And I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned (dream group). I love this life which is the exact opposite of how I used to live!
Who is the mysterious woman hovering nearby? I never actually see her, but she’s appeared in many dreams, especially recently. I’m pretty sure she’s the same woman who rescued me when I found myself in deep water in “Going Against the Current,” one of the earliest dreams I recorded. I think she’s Sophia, the Sacred Feminine who has been helping me remodel my house since I started working on my dreams.
Here are my reasons for telling you this. First, no matter how good things may look from the outside, the inner life is a struggle for everyone. Second, we each have an interior designer who knows how to remodel our house in a way that is perfect for us. Third, the price for her help is engaging in a regular practice that brings self-knowledge. Fourth, working on my dreams works for me.
What are your house dreams telling you?
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
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.
Portrait of a Jungian Analyst: Monika Wikman January 25, 2013
Last October I met many like-minded souls at a conference that addresses the interface between religion/spirituality and the work of Carl Jung. Monika Wikman was a major presenter. Drawn to her authenticity, integrity and vast wisdom, I bought her book, Pregnant Darkness.
Its impact on me was powerful and lasting. I wrote a review on Amazon and am sharing her quotes on my social media sites. These have been so well received that one internet friend, Stephanie Pope—a cultural mythologer and poet-essayist who publishes Mythopoetry Scholar Ezine—requested a post about Monika. This is for you, Stephanie, and all whose lives have been transformed by tending to the inner life of the soul. Here’s Monika’s extraordinary story in her own words.
“In the early 1980s my body was over-run with an aggressive stage IV ovarian cancer that had spread throughout various organs. After working with the illness for four years and seeing the illness rise and fall within a range in which I could just about eek out a life, suddenly the illness and its effects rocketed and I was told I had a few weeks to live. After years of working with the illness, and then being given the terrible two-week prognosis, I was entirely exhausted, and finally gave up. In the instant that I confessed my exhaustion to myself, and was ready to accept death, windows onto the psychoid (a transpersonal realm of autonomous energy beyond the personal psyche) spontaneously opened and I experienced a series of visions.
“Afterward, there was no sign of cancer anywhere in my body. I took medical tests the next day and for many consecutive weeks after in awe as the tests that measured for active ovarian cancer that were previously sky high, were now below the normal range. All the symptoms had vanished as well. ‘Spontaneous remission,’ the doctors said, and closed my file. Meanwhile, my heart, mind, and life were doing the opposite. They began to open, increasingly moved with gratitude and awe to the mysteries and the map and the grace between us and the autonomous energies living in the psyche and psychoid beyond ordinary consciousness. C.G. Jung’s work gave me the lens that enabled me to see these mysteries at work.”
Wikman, an embodiment of the Wisewoman archetype, went on to earn her Ph.D. from California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego, teach graduate school at California State University, Los Angeles, and graduate from the Jung-Von Franz Center for Depth Psychology in Zurich. She currently has a private practice in New Mexico as a Jungian analyst and part-time astrologer.
Wikman’s “imaginally archetypal language,” to use Stephanie’s phrase, is a particular delight to those who have experienced the transforming power of creative imagination, the hallmark of mythos thinking. With help from alchemical symbolism, she unpacks numerous examples from her dreams and those of clients and friends to demonstrate that, “Without experiences beyond the tiny mind, how isolated we become, how utterly dried up consciousness and culture become—cut off from the living root of our existence. Through reconnection with the numinosum, we can recover. It is up to us. These instinctual religious patterns living in us can search out the mysteries, find nourishment in the numinosum, and then replenish the soul, body, psyche, personality, relational life, and the planet itself.”
If you learn nothing else from Pregnant Darkness or my books and blog posts, it is my fervent wish that you learn this truth which motivates and guides my thinking, my writing, and my life: The numen—the holy, original spirit informing life—does exist. By tending to our souls we can experience it and heal the divides “between heaven and earth, human and divine, conscious and unconscious fields of awareness and between all polarities.”
It is up to us.
Partnership Between the Scholar and Wisewoman October 19, 2012
In my last post I wrote about the Warrior and Mother archetypes. This time we’ll look at the Scholar and Wisewoman. The instinct for reflection is about the basic human “end” to be released from delusion. There is something in all of us that wants to know and understand. Children want to see, feel, touch, taste, and smell everything. As we grow older, if our curiosity is not stifled by too many rules and inhibitions, we want to understand why and how things work. Later still our curiosity about the world extends to the inner universe. We just naturally feel good about ourselves when we acquire helpful new insights into our behavior because self-knowledge is its own fine reward.
The instinct for reflection is symbolized by the archetypes of Scholar and Wisewoman. The clear, piercing focus of the Scholar is motivated by the drive for self-preservation. He believes the key to our survival and self-fulfillment is the ability to reflect on life, study, acquire knowledge, and learn the secrets that will release us from our delusions. In the mandorla symbol of interlocked circles, our Scholar is the circle representing the left hemisphere of the brain, the logos that primarily processes information with focused consciousness and logical thinking by means of linear, rational, verbal thoughts and ideas. With his preference for clear discrimination and knowledge of objective phenomena, the Scholar’s specialty is the thinking of science and technology.
His archetypal partner, the part of us motivated by the drive for species-preservation, is the Wisewoman, our all-knowing mistress of the hidden arts. Her specialties are the brain’s poorly understood right-hemisphere qualities of mythos. The primary functions of mythos are diffuse awareness and analogical thinking. These spawn several ways of knowing: body awareness, spiritual awareness (knowledge of, and connection with, the Other), the ability to synthesize paradoxical messages from diverse sources, and the ability to create meaning from subjective experience, emotions, relationships, intuition, gnosis, imagination, and symbols.
When the Scholar’s focus, clarity and objectivity are intentionally employed in service to exploring our unconscious depths, the Wisewoman’s intuitive connectedness, self-awareness and openness to otherness are unearthed and activated. Empowering both of these poles of the instinct for reflection strengthens our mindfulness and leads to expanding consciousness. This is a mental state of heightened awareness and receptivity to information coming to us from both the exterior and interior worlds. Being open to both is the hallmark of partnership in the mental domain. The result of this inner marriage is the activation of the Sage archetype. Other names for this energy include mage, magician, philosopher, prophet/ess, sorcerer/ess, shaman, wizard, medicine woman/man, and wise old woman/man.
This form of archetypal energy can be identified by several specific skills. They include truth-seeker, mental juggler, light-bearer, lifelong learner, wall-wrecker (breaking through our resistance to otherness), chain-breaker (losing old habits and releasing attachments to outcomes), choice-maker, namer (of truth and reality), clown (or life-changing trickster), connector, and problem-solver.
Archetypal psychologist Carol S. Pearson says Sages have little or no need to control or change the world; they just want to understand it. The Sage’s path is the journey to find out the truth—about ourselves, our world, and the universe. At its highest levels, it is not simply about finding knowledge, but about becoming wise. It is our Sage within who, like Wisdom People from every tradition in every age, resonates to the adages, “Know thyself,” “To thine own self be true,” and “That ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
The more free you feel to seek the truth, regardless of societal consequences, the more mature your Sage will be. How badly do you want to know the truth? How powerful is your Sage?