Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

A Story of Living and Dying February 2, 2015

51pPyvcRbyL._AA160_As you read this, I’m enjoying the company of my friend Elaine Mansfield. Many of you will recognize her name from comments she frequently makes here, or from my Facebook page.  She flew down from New York to spend a few days with me before she goes on to Tampa where she’ll be presenting a workshop for a small fraction of the half million women who lose spouses each year.  While she’s here, we’re planning a new workshop on grief.

We met about 16 years ago.  She was with her husband, Vic, a physics professor who had written a new book on synchronicity, when he came to speak at the Winter Park Jung Center where I was teaching.  Fred and I took them out to dinner afterwards and enjoyed them so much that Elaine and I began an email correspondence.  Nine years later Vic died of cancer.

Some of you have lost a spouse; some, even two.  Others have spouses with terminal illnesses that could take them within the next few years.  So I want you to know about Elaine’s new book called Leaning into Love:  A Spiritual Journey through Grief. 

One reviewer describes it as a “touching and courageous memoir about love, illness, death, and grief.” Another says, “This magnificent, profoundly moving book gives encouragement and solace to all.”  Alison Lurie, Pulitzer prize-winning novelist writes, “Elaine Mansfield knows far more than most people about love and loss, and she tells it with admirable honesty and clarity.”

A mutual friend of ours and sister lover of Jungian psychology, Candace Boyd, wrote to Elaine some weeks ago and copied me. Candace wrote,  “I read your book in two days. Your writing is so powerful, and so beautiful. I wish that I had had this book to refer to a year and one half ago.” That was when her husband was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Synchronistically, as I was writing the beginning of this very paragraph I received another e-mail from Candace saying, “Cancer seems to be endemic to our lives now.”  I think I’m supposed to be writing this post today!

One of the more remarkable aspects of Leaning into Love is how honest and personal it is. Elaine doesn’t shy away from sharing occasions when she and Vic were irritable with each other. You don’t always see this kind of candor from loved ones who’ve been through the grueling day-to-day stress and strain of caregiving.  And when you do, it’s often accompanied by terrible guilt.

What’s so beautiful about this is that Elaine seems to have found a way to forgive herself for being human.  Maybe that’s because of the remarkable tenderness, understanding and love that infused their relationship.  Maybe she could forgive herself because she knew Vic forgave her for her flaws, just as she forgave him for his.  And for dying and leaving her all alone.

A big factor that undoubtedly influenced the patience and kindness these two consistently showed each other through their ordeal was their mutual desire for psychological and spiritual growth.   In the early years of their marriage they studied together with Anthony Damiani, a brilliant teacher who introduced them to Jungian psychology, meditation, and the philosopher Paul Brunton.  Later he guided them through Greek philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, and many Western philosophers. What they learned from him influenced them and their marriage in the best possible way.

Nobody is free from suffering, not even Anthony, who died of cancer at an early age.  And we don’t usually get to choose what causes our suffering.  But we can, like Vic and Elaine, choose to respond to it with courage, mindfulness, and kindness.  Of all the beautiful messages I received from this book, this is the one that made the deepest impression on me.  They practiced kindness.  What a beautiful thing to share in this dangerous, chaotic world.

Kindness. That’s what Elaine shares in her book. And, knowing her, I think it’s also one of the reasons she wrote it.

You can check out Elaine’s author page on Facebook here and buy her book here. 

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Mythological Healing in Times of Crisis November 19, 2013

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to my guest blogger, Elaine Mansfield.  Elaine and I met about 15 years ago at the Winter Park Jung Center where her husband Vic made a presentation about his newest book.  Talking over dinner afterwards,  Elaine and I discovered that we had many interests in common, including dreamwork, women’s issues, and mythological studies. We have stayed in touch ever since. The following piece is an especially poignant example of how her inner work helped her through Vic’s cancer and death:

Orpheus

Orpheus

While my husband Vic began chemotherapy in 2006, I absorbed Rainer Maria Rilke’s message in Sonnets to Orpheus: within the darkness of our experience, there is always light. Rilke praised the impermanence of the natural world where all that is born dies. Vic and I lived and loved as he—and we—were also dying.

Ah, the knowledge of impermanence

That haunts our days

Is their very fragrance.

During that chemotherapy autumn while my safe world collapsed around me, I studied Rilke’s sonnets and the myth of Orpheus in a mythology class. Vic struggled, suffered, and kept going. In the chemotherapy room, I watched brave women with scarves askew, bony men with smooth skulls, and angry teenagers with oversized baseball caps concealing their baldness. I saw how each patient balanced their darkness with a call from a friend, the smile of a nurse or companion, or music on their IPod. As I held Vic, the myth held me and taught me what it means to be mortal and live in this world of opposites.

Rilke’s words helped me accept as toxins entered Vic’s veins.

Let this darkness be a bell tower

and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.

Orpheus and the breath of life

Orpheus and the breath of life

Rilke helped me see that death is always present in my experience, even in pleasure.

Full round apple, peach, pear, blackberry

Each speaks life and death

into the mouth.

Searching for life and light within the darkness of Vic’s dying became my spiritual practice.

For almost twenty-five years I’d been part of a mythology class with women grounded in Jungian Psychology. We studied the Greek goddesses and gods, a few Eastern European and Asian fairytales, and Inanna’s descent to the underworld to be initiated into the mysteries of Death. Soon after Vic was diagnosed, a class member spotted Sonnets to Orpheus in a bookstore window and suggested we explore the myth of Orpheus.

Lyre

Lyre

Orpheus was a demigod, musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek mythology. After his beloved wife Eurydice died, he traveled to the Underworld to play his lyre, sing his lament, and gain Eurydice’s release. The beauty of his song convinced Hades and Persephone to grant her freedom, but Orpheus was told not to look back at Eurydice until they were in the Light. Being at least partly human, he glanced back and lost his Love forever to Death.Our group met twice a month and worked on one sonnet each meeting for over two years since there are 55 sonnets. We explored the mythic ideas, read many translations, studied various versions of the Orphic myth, and painted the poetic images—the god, a tree, a lyre. We also included images from personal experiences in our drawings. Within the vessel of this archetypal myth, Rilke’s poems, and a circle of wise, loving women, I remembered that my world of heightened opposites held just as much living as dying.

A gust in the god. A wind.

A gust in the god. A wind.

But life holds mystery for us yet. In a hundred places

we can still sense the source: a play of pure powers

that—when you feel it—brings you to your knees.

Elaine Mansfield

Elaine Mansfield

Elaine Mansfield’s writing reflects 40 years as a student of philosophy, Jungian psychology, mythology and meditation, and life on 71 acres of woods, fields, and sunset views in the Finger Lakes of New York. Since her husband’s death in 2008, Elaine’s website and blog have focused on bereavement, marriage, and the challenges and joys of her emerging life. Elaine has written a book about love, loss, and new life to be published in 2014. She facilitates hospice support groups for women who have lost partners or spouses and writes for the Hospicare and Palliative Care of Tompkins County newsletter and website and other on line publications.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry is from  In Praise of Mortality: Selections from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus.

Original art by Elaine Mansfield.

 

 
%d bloggers like this: