Mothering New Life April 29, 2014
Most of us are familiar with the religious practices of prayer, fasting, good works, scripture study, service, regular attendance, tithing, and so on. While their merits cannot be denied, unfortunately traditional religious practices do not automatically lead to lasting healthy changes in personality, behavior, relationships or quality of life. Nor do they signify spiritual maturity.
In contrast, regular practices that connect our inner and outer lives and have self-discovery as their goal bring about positive growth in every area of our lives. Some examples are meditation, active imagination, psychological studies, creative expression, symbol work, dreamwork, body work, breath work, art, depth analysis, remything our lives to honor the feminine unconscious, journaling, and ritual.
Knowing this, many religious groups today sponsor ongoing dream groups. I have discussed the value of dreams and conducted dream workshops for Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Unitarian Universalists. Jeremy Taylor, a Unitarian Universalist minister, has written books about understanding dreams from a psychological perspective. And John Sanford, author of Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language, was both a Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest. These religious leaders understand that the aims of religion are compatible with those of psychology. They know that we need not fear our dreams, for they come to bring compassion, healing and wholeness. Aren’t these the goals of every authentic religion?
For many years I helped the Rev. Greer McBryde, an Episcopal priest, work with her dreams. Like many intelligent and ambitious women, over time she had developed a more conscious and accepting relationship with her masculine side than her feminine. But when she began to experience health problems and have disturbing dreams that seemed to warn of disastrous consequences if she continued to pursue her single-minded Warrior attitude and lifestyle, she realized she needed to give more time to her Mother. So she took an early retirement to rest, rediscover her center, and devote her energies to her relationships with herself and her family. Some time later she sent me this dream:
I am having a baby and the full-term child is born. It is a big baby with a full head of hair and eyes wide open. It is full of energy and ready for life. A nurse takes the baby from my body to clean her. When she hands the baby back to me she is small, hairless, and very delicate with almost transparent skin. She is so small that she fits in the palms of my hands.
Greer says of her dream, “I believe that I have given birth to a new me, and it was time for that to happen (the baby is full term). This was not premature nor was the child in any way not ready for life. When my nurse (the part of me that is a caretaker) returned her to me, I saw and felt how small and fragile this new life really was. I would have to handle her very carefully and nurture her with gentleness. That new life has been put into hands that are capable of allowing her to grow.”
As Mother’s Day approaches, Greer’s dream reminds me that tending new life, whether in the form of personal growth or societal reforms, is the province of our feminine, nurturing sides. Everyone has one. Yet many seemingly mature religious and political leaders are still so deeply suspicious of femininity and their own feminine sides that they would rather perpetuate blatantly dysfunctional masculine attitudes than support the fragile feminine growth that is full of energy and ready for life in ourselves and the world.
Fortunately, Dream Mother’s nightly guidance is available to all. Each of us can, like Greer, learn how to listen, receive, and mother new feminine life in gentle hands that are capable of allowing her to grow.
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 .
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.
Partnership Between the Lover and Beloved: The Healer November 2, 2012
The archetype that represents the union between the Lover and Beloved is the Healer. Healers are strong enough to address their own pain and the pain of others without trying to ignore it or escape. Their love can be tough. They can confront and forgive others without becoming victims or seeking revenge. They understand the use of love’s energy, conserving their own by not giving too much, and respecting the energy of others by not taking too much.
The love of the Healer is a great and mysterious paradox. One part (we can think of it as the drive for species-preservation) gives out love—a great, powerful surging of caring and compassion—freely and unconditionally. Yet, knowing that the gift can easily be refused, and recognizing the need to protect his or her own energies, the Healer keeps another part (the drive for self-preservation) to her- or himself, remaining unattached to the outcome. Thus the Healer’s heart is open, free-flowing, joyful, and generous at the same time that it is calm, objective, balanced, and detached.
This is not an easy condition to attain. Indeed, it is usually found only in those who have been initiated into their proper relationship with the Self through an experience of suffering for the sake of love and then been healed by it. Because Healers know they are totally loved, they can love totally; having been healed by love, they can heal with love. This is the meaning of the term, “wounded healer.” Their healing can be physical, social, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Or it can be all of these at once.
Authentic Healers do not heal to satisfy their egos or impress others. They do not make elaborate plans to heal, nor do they strain and struggle to make it happen. Their healing is rarely obvious and never flashy. They simply go about their business of being emotionally present to others without worrying about the past moment or planning for the next. Simply by caring and being real, by listening with understanding hearts, forgiving thoughts and generous spirits, by responding to all with interest and compassion, they attract the wounded and bless them gently, subtly, spontaneously, just by being themselves. Authentic Healers heal because they feel. Because they care. Because they love.
When love is the only rule, there is no need for other rules. For instance, Healers are not interested in your religious beliefs as long as you love. They have no need to legislate your sexuality, to confine it to relationships between particular kinds of people who have received certain kinds of sanctions via specified rituals, as long as you never use sex to cause pain. For Authentic Healers, religions and sexual practices are not sources of status or self-esteem, bids for acceptance, ways to escape suffering, or means to acquire power over others. They are simply ways to connect with and express our love: for the Self, for the Other, for the miracle of Life. This love doesn’t come easy. You have to want it with all your heart, ask for it, and be willing to work for it.
When do you withdraw love from yourself and your Beloved? What secret fear and pain prevents you from giving it? What are you prepared to do to become a Healer?
Understanding Archetypes October 30, 2012
After my last post, a reader asked me some questions about the Lover and Beloved archetypes. Before I answer them I want to remind you that the whole concept of archetypes was only introduced to the West about 90 years ago and for everything we think we understand about them, there’s much more we don’t. Here’s what I think right now.
Q: “What is the difference between the Beloved and the true self? Is the Beloved the true self?”
A: As I wrote in my new book, the term Beloved connotes many different things. In your physical life it can mean the person you love above all others and with whom you enjoy sexual intimacy. Psychologically the Beloved is the beautiful, soulful, feeling, emotional, magnetic feminine aspects of our true selves that attract and inspire our masculine ego/Lover to undertake the search for love, pleasure and union. In Christianity it often refers to Jesus, or the Church, the body of Christ which is God’s beloved. Beloved can also be an encompassing term for the soul, or for all the feminine archetypes making up the feminine side of the Self, or it can mean the Self itself: our spiritual essence, the sacred Other with whom we wish to unite, our true self, the Christ within, and so on.
Q: “Is the Lover the one loving and the Beloved the one loved?”
A: Essentially, yes. The Lover is the part of us that pursues love and pleasure, (physical, and spiritual), and the Beloved is the part that receives, accepts and deserves love and pleasure.
A: Either or both can be unawakened, which means that we will have trouble feeling and/or accepting the positive emotions of love and pleasure and will tend to look for them in the wrong places. Until our Lover is awakened—which usually occurs when we have traumatic conflicts or experiences that compel us to acknowledge and work with our honest feelings—he will not have the passion to search for love and awaken our Beloved’s positive and tender feelings. Until he does, she will still be asleep, carrying all our unacknowledged feelings in our unconscious, and we will not have access to them.
Q: “I thought the Shadow carried the unacknowledged feelings.”
A: Our Shadow does include the unacknowledged feelings of the Lover and Beloved, but it also contains unacknowledged qualities other than emotions. Some are mental, like the dogmatic Scholar’s calcified, childlike, one-sided ideas, opinions and attitudes and the immature Wisewoman’s tendency to be too gullible, receptive and permissive; others are a combination of social, mental and behavioral, like the shadow King’s dominating, authoritarian manner.
Many who are fascinated with the psyche have tried to draw clear boundaries around the archetypes. I’ve worked for years to devise a framework that could help me understand myself, and I’m passing on what’s been useful; however, nobody knows for sure how closely our descriptions fit reality. In truth, it’s not possible to fully understand. Archetypes are unconscious patterns that we only become aware of when we project them onto Gods and Goddesses and portray in myths. The most fruitful thing we can do is observe how their energies move in us, then express them in imaginative ways. If naming them helps, good. But if writing, painting or dancing them helps more, even better! Theories can guide, but only personal experiences can heal.
Something to think about: What does your Halloween costume this year say about your archetypal energy? Happy Halloween!
Partnership Between the Lover and Beloved October 23, 2012
Our goal in the emotional domain is to feel and sustain the positive emotions of love and pleasure. This need arises from the instinct for sex. For primitive humans whose struggle for survival must have consumed almost every waking moment, sex was one of the few activities that took them away from the daily grind of work and provided emotional satisfaction, if only briefly. Even today, most people still find it extremely difficult to separate their desire for love and pleasure from their desire to have sex with another human being.
Interestingly, the two parts of the brain responsible for emotions and instincts adjoin one another. The so-called reptilian brain at the top of the spinal cord is the bottommost portion of the brain. This brain stem appears to be the source of our instincts. The limbic system, the portion of the brain that processes emotions, is the next higher level which flares out and over the brain stem.
These two parts appear to have developed very early in our evolution at a time when the primary task of the human species was to survive. The cerebral cortex is a more recent addition. This is a wider, double-hemispheric mass that rises above the brain stem and limbic system. Psychologically, we can say that the two lower parts of the brain contain the most basic and deeply unconscious aspects of our mental functioning and correspond with the unconscious self, or other. Likewise, the cerebral cortex is the realm of conscious selfhood, or ego. Because our emotions and instincts “lie beneath” our conscious awareness, it is extremely difficult for us to understand or deal with them in controlled, rational ways.
The emotional energy of our instinct for sex fuels not only sexual passion but also spiritual passion. The archetypes which represent it are the Lover and the Beloved. One way to see them is as personifications of self and other, our conscious and unconscious emotional lives. From this perspective, the Lover represents our ego’s sense of selfhood and concerns about self-preservation: our desire for self-development, our longing for fulfillment, our passion to become individuated and enlightened.
A strong, heroic Lover feels great passion; a weak one fears and represses emotions, especially tender ones. A brave Lover recognizes his desires and honors his powerful appetite; a deeply wounded one barely allows himself to want anything at all. A mature Lover understands the dangers of excesses and maintains some discipline and self-control; an immature one cannot control his emotional life, develops addictions, or swings from one emotional extreme to the other.
The Beloved can likewise be awake or asleep, strong or weak, brave or cowardly. An immature Beloved is not open, authentic, or intimate with Otherness, including the Great Mystery, other people, our shadows, or our contrasexual opposites of anima or animus. In this unconnected state we project our disowned emotions onto people and activities that we expect to satisfy our deepest emotional needs, and when things go wrong we blame them. But the true culprit in dysfunctional relationships is our fear of opening emotionally to Otherness, both human and divine. It is our ego’s lack of feeling that creates problems with the very people in whom we invest our hope for love and pleasure. The antidote is to know and feel compassion for our rejected selves.
How are you doing in the emotional realm? When do you fail to feel love for yourself?
Please note: Syndicated talk show host Al Cole is airing a radio interview with me about my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, on his show “People of Distinction.” You can listen in at this link. I hope you enjoy it.