Time Out January 31, 2017
My son brings Izzy, his four year-old golden retriever, to our house. We will dog sit until his family returns from their winter vacation. She’ll be with us for five days. I love this dog, but she’s not easy. She’s big, rambunctious, needy, demanding of attention. Will the time and attention I’m willing to spare be enough for her? I hope so.
We take a little walk. She sniffs around, does her business. Good. We return to the house so I can work and she can rest.
It’s evening. I feed her and leave for my ukulele lesson. When I return home Fred says our daughter has invited us to join them for dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant. We are delighted. Izzy will be fine alone for a while. She’s been here many times. I give her a treat, tell her we’ll go for a walk when I get home, say goodbye.
Over dinner our granddaughters recount last week’s accomplishments. A perfect score on a difficult and important math test. A thrilling promotion from the junior varsity to varsity softball team. Does anything feel better than this time out with them?
Back home, Izzy wakes up from her nap on the kitchen floor. She looks up at me, tail thumping, waiting to see what’s next. I wrap her leash around my shoulders, stuff a green doggy-waste-bag in the pocket of my blue jeans, and we step out the front door. Our little neighborhood is small and secluded so the leash is just a back-up plan in case we run into cars or other late-night dog-and-human-walkers.
I love being outdoors at night. The fresh cool breeze off the nearby lake. The quiet. The shadows. The open space. The peace. No people to talk to. No cars to avoid. A few pale street lights…just enough to keep Izzy in sight. The pleasure of giving her this time out, knowing she’s enjoying it, feeling confident and secure because I’m there with her.
She stops in the middle of the road, sniffing road kill. It’s too dark and the creature’s too long gone to tell what it is. Was. Osprey, raccoon, opossum, squirrel? I look at the stars, happy to wait, enjoying her pleasure. She glances back at me. I step forward, so does she. We move on to the next olfactory infusion. She stops, transfixed. I stop, transfixed. Does she remember I’m here, or is this new smell her entire universe in this moment?
We walk on. She sniffs something else, looks back, reads my body language. “It’s okay. You’re okay,” my body says. She understands and moves on. I’m still her lighthouse. I follow her lead. Knowing we’re connected as surely as if she were on a leash. Gratified that we trust one another so much that she doesn’t have to be tied physically to me. Pleased that she’s free to follow her nose. Humbled that we’re so acutely aware of the significance of each other.
We approach a crossroad. She looks back at me. Looks to the left. Looks to the right. Starts off to the right. No, I think. Left toward the lake is better. No traffic that way. She’ll be safer. I whistle one note. She freezes. Glances back. I point to the left. Just a slight movement of my arm and index finger. She turns around and goes left.
I feel a surge of joy. This moment. This connection with Nature, this utterly delicious intuitive knowing. This trust between two animals who have such different languages and ways of processing life.
So different, and yet….we see each other. We know each other. In some invisible way we are touching each other, our minds sharing the same time and space. It feels magical. Miraculous. We’re part of a mystery so vast my mind can’t encompass it.
But, oh! I can enjoy it. This night under a starry sky. This dog who trusts me, who I trust. This connection to the unknown. I’m filled to bursting with gratitude and love. Does anything feel better than this time out?
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.
A Zen Summer August 16, 2016
You trust your unconscious as if it were a loving father. But it is nature and cannot be made use of as if it were a reliable human being. It is inhuman and it needs the human mind to function usefully for man’s purposes. Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her. ~Carl Jung, Letters Volume 1, Page 283.
Remember Mr. Miyagi, the Japanese handyman who was a Karate master in the classic 1984 film, Karate Kid? Everyone’s favorite part was the way he used hard work, specific movements, and mantras to train Daniel, a misguided youth. “Wax on, Wax off. Sand the floor. Paint the fence. Paint the house.” For Daniel, the work was grueling, pointless and demeaning until, as shown in this dramatic scene, his suffering led to a revelation akin to a transformational spiritual awakening.
Mr. Miyagi comes to mind when I think about this summer in the mountains. I’m a writer and practitioner of inner work and contemplation…not much of a physical doer. I look forward to being here all year, imagining the pleasures of no deadlines, no agenda. I picture myself spending long hours on the porch reading and writing in peaceful meditation. Then I arrive and barely find the time to publish a weekly blog post or finish reading a book.
Here, my life is centered on my granddog Izzy, and Nature. Like Mr. Miyagi, both are exacting masters. Feed birds. Feed fish. Feed dog. Groom gardens. Groom trails. Groom dog. Pick up trash. Avoid poison ivy. Wash dog. Worry about trees. Worry about rain. Worry about dog. Appreciate boulders. Celebrate rain. Pet dog. Four of these were especially prominent this summer.
Appreciate Boulders. I found a new favorite stone on the trail our handyman blazed through the dense forest last winter. It’s huge, mossy, and wrinkled as an old lady wearing a hat of ferns. Or is that Green Man whose face I see in the shadows? I can’t resist reaching out and patting him/her when I pass by. A few days ago I found this in one of my favorite blogs:
“The central symbol of the Zen garden is the stone. For Jung, it signified “something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul;” for Cirlot it is “the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.” Stones are pure and perfect in their simplicity, yet powerful, mysterious and inscrutable like the gods.” From Symbol Reader, Symbolism of Gardens.
Worry About Trees. The hemlocks are being decimated by a parasite and we’re treating many of them with biennial doses of medicine, but we can’t save them all. On every hike after a big wind I have to remove or circumvent heavy branches and another fallen tree or two. A neighbor across the creek has several dead ones still standing. A few threaten to land on our house.
One evening after a storm with gale force winds we heard a commotion out on the main road. A giant oak had fallen and neighbors with chain saws were cleaning it up. It was there a century ago when the dirt road leading to our property was carved out of the mountainside, and over time its roots were exposed and weakened by erosion. Luckily no cars were beneath it when it finally surrendered to nature’s purposes.
Celebrate Rain. I don’t know what it is about rain, but it feels magical. One evening Fred and I were rocking on the porch and watching black clouds gathering above the mountains when suddenly the ozone-scented breezes and whisper of raindrops coming up the valley transported me to an unusually intense meditative state. Curious, I checked my heart rate on my Apple watch. Within moments my normal resting rate of 61 beats per minute plummeted to a shocking 45. Cool.
A woman too has a peculiar attitude toward nature, much more trusting than that of a man. ~Carl Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 123.
Was Jung right, or was he still conditioned by some of the prevailing stereotypes about women in the early 20th century? I don’t know. But I do know I am deeply connected to this land. I love it and trust it, and sometimes I worry about it. Will my grandchildren and great grandchildren love it as much as I do? Will they feed the birds and clear the paths and pat the boulders and love the trees enough to learn their names and do their best to protect them?
Feed Birds? Last week Izzy’s fierce barking woke Fred at 1:30 in the morning. Exhausted from a day of “doing,” I was sleeping like a stone. Thinking she had to go out, Fred took her downstairs. But instead of heading for the front door, she stood transfixed at the glass door to the side porch. What was going on?
The mystery was solved the next morning when we found our biggest, sturdiest, squirrel-proof bird feeders mangled on the ground. Only a scattering of seeds remained. Somewhere in the Nantahala National Forest up the mountain a contented bear was snug in its den dreaming about last night’s tasty meal.
The Asian martial arts are rooted in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Their spiritual elements gave purpose and meaning to the ancient warriors who loved and practiced them.
The same can be said of those of us who find purpose and meaning in loving Nature, our Mother. If our practices have a spiritual element, so do hers. After all, inhuman though she may be, we come from her, and she’s an “incomparable guide if you know how to follow her.”
Credits: Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes. Karate Kid video from YouTube. “Anyone can slay a dragon quote” image by Brian Andreas from www.pinterest.com. “Try not to change the world” quote by Sri Chinmoy from www.srichinmoybio.co.uk
Signs at the Crossroads September 8, 2015
“To understand is quick and exciting but to embody is slow and penetrating.” ~John Tarrant
As I write this post I find myself at a crossroads; it’s my last week in our Smoky Mountain summer home. By the time you read this I will have left. Part of my heart doesn’t want to leave this sanctuary; the other part looks forward to returning to my Florida home and family.
Both places hold special charms for me. Here it’s secluded, cool, mountainous, and forested. Everywhere I go I’m surrounded by nature’s wild beauty. My life is slower, less “mental”, more contemplative and physical—perhaps I should say, “embodied.” I have lots of solitude, plenty of time to listen to my inner promptings and do whatever appeals, a large granddog companion to accompany me on daily hikes, and occasional house guests to enjoy and entertain…all at an easy, reasonable pace that feeds my soul at a deeply satisfying level.
My life in Florida has a different kind of beauty with its daily and weekly routines: regular workouts, ukulele lessons, social commitments, holiday celebrations, and fun times with my family, always with enough time left over to write. The pace is faster and more exciting, given Orlando’s thriving and diverse cultural offerings, but since I prefer a minimum of “fast and exciting,” I usually manage to stay within my comfort level there too.
The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create. The meaning of events comes from the possibility of life in this world that you create. It is the mastery of this world and the assertion of your soul in this world. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 239.
The thing that makes dividing my time between these two paths work so well is that I’ve finally learned to listen to how I really want to spend my time and to look for meaning regardless of where I am. In Florida I find meaning in my family and friends, writing, music, and art. Here in the mountains I mostly find it in nature, a road less traveled in our fast-paced world.
I’d like to show you what I mean. These are some of the meaningful signs I’ve found in nature during this crossroads week. Each one speaks to how I want to live my life, regardless of where I am.
This morning I saw this magnificent display of light in the bathroom. It came from a single sunbeam that found its way through the slats of the window blinds.
The first thing Izzy has to do on our walks is chase the trout around the pond while I feed them.
As we stepped onto the trail, the trunk and green necklace circling the base of this beautiful old tulip poplar captured my imagination.
The next thing to catch my interest was this unusual curved tree trunk.
Izzy loves to run ahead, nose to the ground, while I like to take my time on the trail. But she doesn’t go far, and before long, she always comes back to check in.
Yes, she does wait for me, but not always where I would prefer!
She also waits at crossroads to see which way I’ll go.
I think she prefers the road less traveled too.
The other day our friend, Sam, found what we’ve decided is an old moonshine jar almost buried beside the new path. Over the years, Mother Nature has turned it into a terrarium filled with green life. We left it there for Nature to do her thing, and to remind us of the history of these mountains. And to enjoy on our next walk.
We were being serenaded by crows near the end of our walk today when I found a crow feather. At the trail’s end I placed it on our Crow Altar.
This last sign came when we returned from town one twilit evening. I heard a loud rustle in the woodpile and saw a hawk fly up to a nearby branch. It peered down at us with interest and patiently waited while I pulled out my cell phone and took pictures.
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.
Animal Healers August 6, 2014
A couple of years ago I babysat a precious golden retriever puppy for three days so my son and his wife could surprise their sons with her on Christmas morning. During that time she developed some digestive issues and by Christmas day she was in obvious distress, needing to be let out of the house every fifteen minutes or so. Was it my fault? Had she eaten a poisonous plant in our yard or swallowed something she couldn’t pass? The thought that I might be responsible was agonizing and I wondered for the umpteenth time why we get so attached to animals and experience some of our greatest joys and deepest sorrows because of them.
Certainly mammals have body structures, nervous systems, organs, instinctual needs, and even DNA very similar to ours. So when they’re sick, wounded or in pain, we know how they feel. Moreover, although most animals can try to flee from danger, there are always forces—including humans and Nature herself—that are far more powerful. Knowing our own fears and vulnerability, we can relate to that aspect of animals too.
Then there’s the unconditional love some animals give us. It’s so comforting when your dog follows you around, your cat purrs contentedly in your lap, or your horse comes running at your approach. You feel known, appreciated, valued. A happy, thriving pet reminds you that you can be loving, nurturing and morally responsible. We crave these good feelings and love the animals who elicit them, so it’s only natural that we get emotional when they suffer or die.
Repression and projection have something to do with the magical relationship we have with animals too. All of us deny some of our unwanted qualities and project them onto people and animals. For example, I once knew a tough-minded woman who showed no emotion when talking about her own difficult circumstances, yet she cried easily at the thought of abused animals. To her it felt safe to sympathize with the pain and helplessness of a dog or cat, but she was unwilling to feel her own pain.
At the time I didn’t know if anyone else noticed this about her, but it was painfully obvious to me. From where did this insight come? Personal experience. When my parents divorced I cried my heart out. But when my father died three months later I didn’t shed a tear. I was so traumatized that I shut down emotionally so I wouldn’t hurt any more. Denying pain became so important to me that I even refused novocaine when I went to the dentist! For years I couldn’t cry for myself but I could use up a box of tissues watching an animal movie. I still can!
Animals mirror our unconscious, instinctual selves. This is why we love our pets so much. As they are vulnerable, so are we. As they suffer, so do we. We know how they feel, they seem to know how we feel. We think we understand them; they seem to understand who we really are. We know we have unlovable shadows, yet they love us anyway. We see their instinctual shadows, and we love them anyway. Because they trust and depend on us we do not take their devotion or suffering lightly. We deal with it as best we can, and we know we are better for having made the effort. In the process of learning compassion for them, we discover that we are as deserving of love as they are.
Over the years Miss Lottie, a sensuous Siamese cat; Peri, a perky little chihuahua/terrier mix; Shadow, an elegant, high-strung thoroughbred gelding; and Bear, a handsome and gentle golden retriever, have been my teachers, therapists and healers. Training and caring for them taught me patience and respect for the ways of others. Their simple joy in being alive taught me greater awareness and appreciation for my body and the life in it. Their love and devotion to me helped me feel and express more tenderness and love to everyone, including myself. And the copious tears I shed at their deaths softened my heart and taught me more compassion for others who suffer loss.
By the way, Isabella, or Izzy as Matt’s family called their new puppy, was fine the next day. Apparently her problem was caused by the rawhide puppy treats I gave her to keep her from chewing on my kitchen cabinets. I felt terrible about it, but she kept loving me anyway. And now that she’s come to live with me for the summer, I remember something I forgot after Bear died. Being with her makes me feel better about myself. It’s a mysterious thing, this healing power of animals, but it’s real. And I’m deeply grateful for it.
Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
What More Did I Think I Wanted? June 26, 2014
This morning the eastern sky was red. “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” It will probably rain today.
The sun is slow to reach the west side of the house. For now the garden is shrouded in shadows and mist.
“Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing can be pleasing, how little in this hard world it takes to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest.” ~Wendell Berry
Izzy watches attentively while I fill her bowls with food and fresh water. This is her first summer here and her interest in the smallest things is rubbing off on me. I’m unusually attentive too as I prepare my breakfast of coffee, fresh strawberries and blueberries, yogurt and walnuts while she wanders in and out of the house. Although I intended to meditate every day, I haven’t yet. But this morning, this stillness, this heightened awareness….it’s all a meditation.
Our walks through our 28 acres bring new wonders every day. Izzy has been fascinated by flowers since she was a puppy. At two and a half, she still sniffs every new one she sees.
The crows seem determined to attract our notice this summer. Or am I just more aware of them? They wake us up in the morning, punctuate the quiet air with raucous caws throughout the day, leave their perfect black feathers on the trail. This year we brought gifts for them. Izzy approves.
“Whenever we touch nature we get clean. People who have got dirty through too much civilization take a walk in the woods, or a bath in the sea. They shake off the fetters and allow nature to touch them. It can be done within or without. Walking in the woods, lying on the grass, taking a bath in the sea, are from the outside; entering the unconscious, entering yourself through dreams, is touching nature from the inside and this is the same thing, things are put right again.” (Carl Jung, Dream Analysis: Notes on a Lecture Given in 1928-1930).
Yesterday brought us a rare visitation from a beautiful timber rattler who barely moved but eyed us warily as we passed. “A truly numinous encounter with Other-ness, Jeanie. Very auspicious— just give plenty of room for her to move. Many Rattlers do not even carry venom. They come as Teachers of the ancients,” says Facebook friend, Melissa La Flamme. Elaine Mansfield agrees, “Wow, Jean. A visitation. Respect and caution needed, but what a gift to mine. I imagine you writing about this soon.” Yes, I will write about this once I’ve absorbed its message.
This morning I found a skeleton by the back steps. It looks like a baby alligator’s head, but that’s impossible! Not in the Smokeys! What could it be? What can it mean?
Other gifts arrived this morning via Grandmother Spider’s world wide web, including the quotes and poem I’ve cited here. Her messages speak to my immediate experience. Such synchronicities no longer surprise me.
“Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of the same thing.” (C.G. Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, Collected Works Vol. 8, para. 418).
Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.
Within the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.
Jean Raffa’s newest book, 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
Dream Symbols of the Beloved: Part II August 31, 2012
My friends, My family is with me in the mountains to celebrate summer’s last hurrah! Writing two posts a week takes more time than I have right now, so I’m republishing this post from two summers ago. It’s one of my favorites—and one of my readers’ favorites as well. Enjoy. I look forward to your comments. Have a happy Labor Day!
I’ve just arrived at my soul’s home in the mountains of North Carolina where I will spend the remainder of the summer. I’ve often wondered why I love this place so dearly, why it makes me feel so loved and connected and alive and grateful for my life. My answer came last night and this morning as I read your comments to my last post (Dream Symbols of the Beloved) and did a bit more research.
I’m at my desk looking out an east-facing window. The morning sun enters my backyard late because it has to rise above the mountain before its rays filter down through a thick tree canopy. Most of what I see is in shade but a patch of sun has highlighted the brilliant silver threads of a spider web between two branches of a buckeye tree. Grandmother Spider is busily checking connections, tightening threads, and hunting for tasty morsels that got trapped during the night.
This morning I opened Aion, Volume 9, ii, of Jung’s Collected Works, to re-read his section on symbols of the Self. In paragraph #356 he writes about animal symbolism. He says, “The commonest of these images in modern dreams are, in my experience, the elephant, horse, bull, bear, white and black birds, fishes, and snakes. Occasionally one comes across tortoises, snails, spiders, and beetles. The principal plant symbols are the flower and the tree. Of all the inorganic products, the commonest are the mountain and lake.” Spiders. Mountains. Trees.
When I entered the gravel road last night my arrival was heralded by a cawing black crow who flapped off toward the house. The first thing I did was feed the rainbow trout in our pond. Black birds. Fish. Lake. (Do you think a pond counts?) Then I walked around the garden to check out the flowers. My treasured peonies are already spent, but the pink New Dawn roses and purple clematis are a-riot on the trellis, the hydrangeas look like giant blue and white powder puffs, the hostas are sending up tall bud-laden spikes, the astilbe have myriad pointed white cotton candy tufts, the golden daylilies are in full bloom, and there’s a huge mound of pink petunias by the kitchen door. I don’t garden in Florida. It’s just too hot. But here I can have my flowers. Flowers.
Below Bear Pond and Shadow Brook there’s a small pasture and stable where my horse, Shadow, used to spend his summers. I’ve always had a thing for horses. And Shadow, well, he’s a subject for another post. Horses. By the way, bears are the theme of this mountain home. They’re all over the house. But that’s another story too. Bears.
Speaking of bears, every summer for ten years I’ve come here with my sweet friend, a handsome golden retriever whose name was Bear. He passed on last August, but his ashes are in a white box with a label that says “Bear Raffa: Forever Faithful” in the cabinet four feet to the right of where I sit. I cried when I entered the house without him last night. But this morning when I was still in that borderland between sleeping and waking, I heard his joyous bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back.
Do I need any further reminders from the Beloved of how loved I am and why I love this place so? Not really, but such is the nature of the Self that I’ll probably continue to get them every day anyway. And night, too. Sweet dreams of the Beloved, my friends.