Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Feminine Symbolism of Vessels February 16, 2016

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?

Photo Credit:  “Chalice” by Barbara Sorensen

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 Kobo, Barnes and Noble,  and Smashwords.

 

The 52nd Week December 29, 2014

Izzie and Bear
Izzie and Bear

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.

Ebook versions of Jean Raffa’s 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.

 

The Feminine Symbolism of Vessels February 12, 2014

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?

Photo Credit:  “Chalice” by Barbara Sorensen

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, IncEbook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords,and Diesel Ebooks 

 

Animal Medicine: Developing Body Awareness April 19, 2013

When it comes to body awareness, my horse Shadow was a genius. In this respect, he was the opposite of my conscious, cerebral self, which tends to be so inner directed and one-track minded that I can be oblivious to what’s going on in my body and the world around me. Have you ever known someone who can be feeling vaguely uncomfortable for hours before realizing she’s cold, or hungry, or has a headache? Or who can be standing directly in front of the object she’s looking for and simply not see it? That’s me. Or it was me before Shadow.

Lots of people are like this. The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory says I’m a very strong intuitive, which means that my sensory awareness is equally weak. My desire to shed some light on this shadowy area of my being was one of the main reasons I bought Shadow, for I knew that training and learning to ride him well would be a demanding mental and physical challenge with the potential to bring more awareness and balance to my personality.

One day shortly after I bought him we spent about forty-five minutes in a large fenced arena doing ground exercises meant to generate mutual respect and bonding. When we were finished I took off his halter and let him loose to explore the arena on his own while I went over to the gate to talk to Sissy, the owner of the stable. As Shadow ambled away, the sky, which was gray when we started, grew more threatening, the wind picked up, and I heard rumblings of thunder in the distance. When I had bought Shadow he had a lumpy rash on his back which comes from rain that sits too long on the skin; so, as an inexperienced and over-protective new owner, I was more anxious than necessary about keeping him dry.

Suddenly I felt a rain drop. Startled and worried that a downpour would soon follow, I said to Sissy, “Oh, oh, I need to get Shadow,” and turned in his direction. From the far corner of the arena he lifted his head and pointed his ears at me. And then, to my astonishment, he walked directly toward me. When he reached my side he stood stock still and ducked his head to make it easier for me to put on his halter. I did, and we walked quietly to his stall.

I was stunned. I felt as if he had read my mind and for a moment was convinced I had a brilliant telepathic horse on my hands! Actually, as any horse owner knows, horses do at times appear to be extremely telepathic; but I don’t think this is the whole explanation for what he did. I think all our bonding activities that day had caused him to accept me as his leader — an alpha mare, if you will — and made him acutely sensitive to my every movement.

Even though he had his back turned to me and was nibbling at grass sprouting through the fence, this expert reader of body language was keeping an eye on me. When I reacted to the rain drop, my body must have changed from a posture that spoke of casual relaxation to one of alarmed alertness. Seeing that something was wrong, he was drawn to me in the same way a fearful child seeks the comfort of a trusted parent in a tense situation.

I’ll never be as aware of my body or physical matter as I am of my inner life. It’s just the way I’m made, and that’s okay with me. But thanks to Shadow, I’m much more conscious of my body’s messages to myself and others.  Unfortunately, I’m still a lousy finder!

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Children and Meditation March 19, 2013

My Latest Writing Candle

My Latest Writing Candle

Achy and tired from a one-hour morning walk on the treadmill, I sat at my computer a while ago with a single question.  What shall I write about for tomorrow’s blog post?

Before fully awakening this morning I dozed off and on in dreams about a new post. But I can’t remember a word of it now. Plus, my mind is still absorbed in the book I was reading on Kindle (The Bet, by Vivienne Tuffnell) as I walked. What I really want to do is keep reading. But one-track-minded as my ego is, it decided to defer that particular gratification until I’ve written this, with no idea what this would be.

Years of dreamwork and meditation have taught me some valuable realities. One is that my ego’s conscious thoughts and feelings are balanced by equally valid and influential unconscious material. Another is that when I experience a writer’s block it’s because an unconscious issue “wants” to be addressed. Third, my ego can gain access to this material. I have rituals for times like this, and I trust them because they never let me down.

So I lit my ever-present candle—the current one has a nostalgic scent of cinnamon and evergreens called Joie de Noel—closed my eyes, held my hands in front of me, focused on feeling the tingling in my palms and the beating of my heart, and entered the pregnant darkness (a term for the unconscious I got from the title of Jungian analyst Monika Wikman’s book.) Within seconds I was far away.  I’ve been feeling stirrings of excitement lately about the coming of spring and our annual mid-May trek to North Carolina, and this is where I immediately went.

I saw myself sitting cross-legged in the center of the tipi we erect each spring. Our grandchildren were sitting in a line facing me. I was going to teach them how to meditate. I was wondering how to start and what to say and how they would react, imagining jokes and giggles and restless stirrings, when I realized how far my mind was from my hands. Immediately I was back at my desk feeling the tinglings. Within less than two minutes, what I wanted to write about was birthed into my awareness. Or rather, what I wanted to ask you about.

Except for the few minutes of deep-breathing combined with the simple  centering mantra I teach my dream groups and use to open my workshops, I’ve never taught anyone to meditate. I have little formal training and am largely self-taught with help from books. There are many different kinds of meditation and people respond differently to different methods. The one that works for me involves following my breath and the life in my body, noticing when my mind strays away from that focus, and then bringing myself gently back to it. With almost no effort or strain,  my ego swiftly goes to the place wanting the most attention.

So here’s my question.  Have any of you ever taught children to meditate?  If so, would you do it with children between the ages of five and eleven or is that too early? If not, should I find a fun way to teach what works for me, or have you had success with a different method? Of course, all of this is predicated on the assumption they’ll be interested in learning. But I figure it won’t hurt to give it a try.  I’d love them to have a mental practice to ease the stresses they’ll be experiencing in the coming years.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

You can find Healing the Sacred Divide here at Amazon, and at Larson Publications, Inc.

 

The 52nd Week December 28, 2012

Izzie and Bear

Izzie and Bear

I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For me it stands out from the other 51 weeks in a year like a peaceful Zen garden amidst chaos, 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 there were years when I’d spend 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 my special week 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 that decade was about perfecting and preserving the collective values of the times in which I was raised. But on the inside I’d been on a dark, underground journey and I was desperate to understand the conflicts that were tormenting my psyche.

In the fall of 1989 I joined a Centerpoint group based on Jungian psychology. A year later I had quit my job to write a book, attended my first Journey Into Wholeness conference, and was recording and studying my dreams. The year of 1990 was a threshold into the most life-changing, soul-satisfying and creative period of my life.

Throughout the nineties I did dreamwork every morning and wrote every afternoon. In the 52nd week of each year I reread my dream journals and summarized important themes and trends, noted new developments, and highlighted valuable insights. The annual practice of remembering and integrating my soul’s processes brought greater awareness to my daily life and provided useful data for my writing. This was my decade of finding, connecting with, and honoring the inner kingdom of the Self.

The new millennium brought new insights and year’s-end rituals. Initially, I employed “animal medicine” to address an unprecedented need to get in touch with my body and nature by fulfilling a lifelong dream to own and train my very own horse. Later, when my grandchildren began arriving, I was given a second chance to develop and indulge my maternal, care-giving instincts. This time around I was far more conscious and joyful. Since then we’ve spent the week between Christmas and New Years’ at the cabin with our children, grandchildren and dogs enjoying, yes, you guessed it, physical, outdoor, non-cerebral fun like sledding, making snow angels, and building snowmen!

Once again it’s my favorite week of the year. We arrived at the cabin last night with Izzie, my new grand-dog who’s a female version of her predecessor, Bear. Some family will arrive tonight, the rest in a few days. This morning Fred and I threw out the outdated food in the pantry and freezer. Now he’s grocery shopping while I’m writing this blog post, an endeavor that has brought me enormous pleasure for almost three years.

It’s still too early into this decade to forecast what its theme or 52nd-week ritual will be. But for today, savoring my life as I’ve been doing these last two hours has satisfied every need of my soul. May the new year bring you renewed awareness and gratitude for the times of your own one, precious life.

In closing, if you have a bit of extra time you might enjoy this radio interview I recently did for the Centerpoint Foundation about my introduction to Jungian psychology.

 

Remembering the Soul’s Language November 1, 2011

One day my 5th-grade teacher asked the girls in our class to follow her to the auditorium. We had no idea why. There we joined the other girls our age, and, after a brief introduction from one of the teachers, we watched a Disney-esque film about the birds and bees.

I don’t recall there being a question-and-answer session afterwards. We simply paraded back to our rooms where the boys were waiting for us. As I took my seat I noticed the boy behind me looking at me in an odd way. Was that a gleam in his eye? What was that about? I’m sure I blushed deeply when, with a knowing smile, he asked me where we’d been and I realized the boys had a lesson on the same subject while we were gone. I was so embarrassed I wanted to fall through the floor.

Maybe you had a similar experience. Remember how curious it felt to become aware of your body in a whole new way? How all sorts of puzzling things the adults and older kids said began to take on new meaning? How the boys and girls began to see each other from a perspective that wasn’t there before? If you’re like me, you, too, experienced a major epiphany upon your discovery of this unsuspected new dimension of life.

Developing heightened self-consciousness around the age of eleven is a universal experience. With bodily changes girls tend to start worrying about their hair, clothes and makeup; boys, about developing muscles, being strong and tough, and taking impressive risks. Both genders begin to define and judge their worth less by the individual interests they’ve been pursuing with innocent, unconscious abandon and more by their appearance and standing in the social pecking order. For some, this external focus softens with time and merges with inner realities into a comfortable balance. For others it sharpens into a life-long one-sided obsession.

Just as nature predisposes us to physical self-consciousness in early adolescence, Carl Jung discovered that it likewise draws our awareness to our interior lives as we approach mid-life. In response to my post, Making Connections, Sandy wrote that some of us hear and/or feel this “deep energetic calling to take the next step in the evolution of consciousness,” adding that for “those who have never learned or intuited that they can listen more deeply, it is difficult for them to understand the words that are being used by the other side. We’re actually speaking two different languages.” The difference between these languages is as marked and baffling as our pre- and post-eleven-year-old languages, and stepping into this new dimension is likewise a life-changing epiphany.

Sandy concluded with an observation about the global consequences of failing to balance the language of collective consciousness with the language of our individual souls: “Neither is right or wrong, but one will more likely allow all of life to be sustained for a longer period of time.”

You knew your soul’s language when you were ten. Then you did not yearn for a secret, solitary life of discord, dread, agitation, blame, guilt, exhaustion and self-disgust; you yearned for kindness and tender care, creativity and meaning, intimacy and partnership, joy and passion. Luckily, it’s never too late to remember your soul’s language and follow it into, in Sandy’s words, “a future that enlivens rather than frustrates and generates hopelessness.” I hope to see you there.

 

 
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