“The ego has the capacity of seeing itself, at least in some measure, in relation to the rest of the world, a power that the autos does not have. It also becomes aware that others likewise possess ego consciousness and the power of criticism. Thus it is aware of what others think and say, and aware also of what it for its own part thinks and speaks. It can say, “I am the one, I am the thinker, the doer.
“But beyond this it does not go. For instance, a man in this stage of self-consciousness does not realize as a rule that ideas occur to him without his willing them, that actions are performed through him—that he is being used by thoughts and impulses arising from something other than his I.” E. Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 204.
We live in an era dominated by Epoch II masculine-oriented ego consciousness. Realizing we are separate from Mother and nature has led us away from our previous immersion in natural law and toward the human law which is subject to dualistic thinking.
Epoch II egos see everything in terms of opposites: self/other, familiar/unfamiliar, good/evil, right/wrong, male/female, human/nonhuman, strong/weak, soft/hard, worthy/unworthy, entitled/unentitled. Our choices for one side and against the other are motivated by self-interest.
This psychological reality is at the root of our world-wide epidemic of hatred, fear, violence, crime, war, terrorism, genocide, animal extinction, and destruction of nature. No government or religion can stop the madness until we acknowledge our inner divides and take steps to heal them.
Our species has evolved naturally into Epoch II, but thankfully we know it’s not our final destination. History provides examples from every era of individuals who acquired what has been called a higher, enlightened, or unitive consciousness. Developing this holistic way of seeing ourselves and others is a slow and gradual process that varies among individuals and never ends.
For example, Carl Jung reported that he was eleven when one day on his walk to school he stopped with the sudden revelation: I am! I am what I am!” He realized that until then he had been living in a mist. This new level of awareness is common to adolescence; however, as Jung soon learned, we can expect many more awakenings during Epoch II before we acquire an integrated consciousness that transcends the ego’s self-centeredness.
I experienced a rush of self-awareness at eleven too. I could say, “I am the thinker, the doer.” But this knowing only marked a huge onslaught of painful self-consciousness which undermined my confidence, and I remained minimally self-aware for many years.
It wasn’t until I was 37 and had been nudged forward by several more revelations that I awoke from the fog that had obscured a devastating truth. I was the pawn of powerful unknown inner forces which were compelling me to consider some frightening possibilities.
Did I dare abandon strategies that had kept me safe so far? Was it conceivable that I might actually break sacrosanct rules and pursue fascinating new ways of thinking and living?” At that time it didn’t occur to me to ask, “Could this temptation possibly be a blessing and a beginning and not an ending and a curse?”
Eve must have asked herself similar questions as she stood on the threshold of Epoch II ego consciousness. Some of us are asking them today as we approach Epoch III integrated consciousness.
“Whereas Epoch I is about Mother and Epoch II about Father, Epoch III belongs to the Self, or Divine Couple. Their relationship develops within us as we consciously integrate opposites that were formerly separated.” J. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 73.
Why isn’t humanity there yet? What’s holding us back? Simple. The Epoch II masculine-oriented ego.
Imagine a baby chick morphing out of egg white and yolk into a fuzzy form strong enough to peck out of a shell that has become painfully restrictive. In the same way, our species evolved for thousands of years before it broke out of the Epoch I maternal matrix in which instinct provided our only agency. In succeeding, we obtained the self-awareness and personal power that characterizes Epoch II.
Fueled by their fear of the Great Mother with whom they associated their previous unconsciousness, our patriarchal forebears systematically persecuted and repressed her. They would rather die than lose the ground they’d worked so hard to gain. This resistance is still deeply ingrained in the most primitive pockets of every psyche, and every ego instinctively fears losing its power if the feminine regains hers.
Nobody thinks this consciously. The Epoch II ego is far too self-absorbed to notice or admit its deepest fears and it will do anything to escape them. Hence, the obsessions, addictions, and abuse of women that are the hallmark of our time. Nonetheless, it is true. Our one-sided ignorance of our unconscious self, which we associate with the feminine principle, stands between us and psychological wholeness, spiritual enlightenment, and world peace.
If you get nothing else from my books or blog, remember this:
“…integrating the… [feminine principle] into our personalities, world-views, and God-images is not a foolish idea promoted by a bunch of angry libbers longing for a sentimental regression to a Golden Age of matriarchal power and psychological innocence! It is the next and necessary step toward increased consciousness in which our egos become less self-centered and more God-centered, and the solution to individual and global strife.” J. Raffa, HSD, p. 75.
Next time: Epoch III.
Note: This is the fifth in a series about self-awareness. For more information read the previous four posts or consult Healing the Sacred Divide.
“Obviously we do not know how the ego arose in man. We have certain myths showing how ancient man thought about this problem, and we can observe the phenomenon in very young children today. Just as the individual child must undergo training and discipline, so too the primitive nature of man had to be housebroken and domesticated, restrained and adapted, if he was to advance in culture and in ability to control his environment.” Esther Harding, Psychic Energy, p. 197.
Since we learned to talk, humans have told stories around the campfire about the inner life of the psyche and the mysterious archetypal energies which indwell it. We call these stories myths. With borrowed images from nature that instinctively aroused strong emotions like fear, awe, passion, wonder, greed, hope and gratitude, myths presented characters, settings, plots and themes that attempted to answer humanity’s most universal and fundamental questions: Why are we here? Who made us? Why do we act the way we do? How can we stay safe? What are we supposed to do and be?
Most of these images—like the sun, the moon, mountains, trees, bears, snakes, unusual stones, springs of fresh water, thunder and lightning—still have emotional power over us. Early humans would not have understood what their fascination with these images said about them. Nonetheless, they resonated so deeply that the stories are still being told.
“Myths are concerned with origins, the fear of death, and the hope for the overcoming of death in another world.” A.S. Byatt, Introduction to Maria Tatar’s “The Annotated Brothers Grimm,” p. xix.
Let us imagine how the Bible’s account of our origins came about. A storyteller wonders where the first parents came from and imagines them being created by a superhuman Father God. Fondly recalling his/her own early carefree days when every need was met by doting parents (Epoch I of self-awareness), our storyteller memorializes this idyllic time in the image of the Garden of Eden, a paradise where humans and animals co-exist in harmony…. as long as everyone obeys Father God.
Early humans would have understood this rule completely. Life was hard, and children who strayed away from camp would be in peril. Parental obedience was essential to their survival.
Other images also called to mind their instinctual need for safety. For example, a gigantic tree could be climbed when danger threatened, and its thick canopy of leaves provided cover from rain. So it made sense to situate a Tree of Life in the center of the Garden. Sometimes tribal rituals were performed around special trees to show gratitude for their protection. So far, so good.
“The further development of the individual can be brought about only by means of symbols which represent something far in advance of himself and whose intellectual meanings cannot yet be grasped entirely.” ~Carl Jung, CW 4, Para 680.
As humans gained more control over their environments, travel and communication with other tribes exposed them to other myths with different images and new symbolic meaning. Whose stories were right and whose were wrong? Which god-images and rituals were good and which were evil? Dualistic thinking had entered the picture.
This advanced the plot further. Enter the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Enter Eve who is fascinated by the luscious ripe fruit, symbolizing the psyche’s readiness for a new level of self-awareness. Enter an evil snake who represents a powerful temptation to challenge the status quo. Enter a new problem: seeing and having to choose between opposites. Enter the consequences: after Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden, the dire implications of the problem of opposites for the future of humanity was anticipated with the symbolism of Eve giving birth to twin boys, one of whom killed the other.
The symbols speak for themselves. Disobeying the Father God by eating the fruit marked a revolutionary advance in the psyche. What Eve would not have known, and her storyteller probably barely intuited, was that in departing from the collective mentality, she became the mother of Epoch II Ego Consciousness.
“When the ego begins to develop and gains some autonomy—some power, over against the might of nature, to determine and control itself and its environment—it gradually acquires a feeling of being a separate entity. The individual learns to differentiate between the I and the not-I, with an ever increasing emphasis of the value of the I. That is, he becomes aware of being a self. This awareness is accompanied by an intoxicating sense of selfhood, an inner expansion of the I. Unchecked, this will produce an inflation…
“In the outer world the ego seeks to dominate its environment and to subject all things, persons, and conditions alike to its interest. In the inner world, as many psychic contents as possible are brought under its control, and those which cannot be dominated are suppressed.In this way a threshold is built up between the conscious and the unconscious part of the psyche.” Harding, p. 241.
I’ll have more to say about this second phase of self-awareness next time. Meanwhile, keep in mind that the story isn’t over and “happily ever after” is nowhere in sight. If we are to reach our fullest potential we will need to agonize over more conflicts and ask new questions like, What new thoughts, impulses and images are arising in me? Where are they coming from? Who or what do I try to dominate? Which aspects of my inner world do I try to suppress?
Image Credits: Google Images: Garden of Eden, Lucas Cranach. Quote Image courtesy of Lewis Lafontaine.
I’m at my desk reading the Goethe quote on my coffee mug: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” I feel the truth of this deeply, but wonder if I really understand it or can express it adequately. I want to try.
I close my eyes to feel the life in my body and follow my breath. Tiny tinglings everywhere…chest and belly rising and falling…the air conditioner fan whirring away to my left, an airplane humming overhead…the solid floor beneath my feet…the warmth of my clasped hands…the softness of my velvet robe.
I open my eyes and look out the window at the stand of bald cypress with their knotty brown trunks and newly green foliage. I watch the soft sway of their gray Spanish moss beards. I wait…for what I don’t know. I smile. It’s a relief not to need to know. A love bug lands on the window at eye level. No, wait; it’s two love bugs! My smile expands. My heart seems to expand too. I’m enjoying this tiny reminder of love. Fluttering leaves sparkle. Some show their paler sides; others are a deeper green. A dragonfly flits by. Cottony clouds with dove gray undersides sink slowly below the cypress canopy.
I rise and step outside to see if the great blue heron is still fishing across the creek. S/he’s gone, but a pair of black-feathered, yellow-legged, red-billed birds (young coots?) fly past, then abruptly make a U-turn and hurry back in the opposite direction.
I remember the brilliant cardinal that kept dropping by one day last week to peck at the picture window, either flirting with his image or trying to pass through the sky’s reflection. I Googled the symbolism of cardinals and found this: [The cardinal] “reminds us to hold ourselves with pride – not ego pride. Rather, the cardinal asks us to stand a little taller, be a bit more regal, step into our natural confidence as if we were born to lead with grace and nobility.” Good advice. But that was a few days ago. I return to this moment.
Other random thoughts intrude and I invite them to pass on so I can stay present. I realize I’m hoping to close these musings with some sort of sign or synchronicity I can share to prove how rewarding just appreciating this day can be! But nothing is showing up and I’m running out of writing space.
Wait. Something is showing up. (As I write these words a cardinal darts by…is it my cardinal?… but that isn’t what I mean.) What shows up after I’ve written the previous paragraph is an awareness of my ego’s influence over my thoughts and writing. My ego wants a sign it can use to be impressive, but my soul just wants to be! And just as I was thinking this the cardinal passed by. I guess I did receive a sign after all: ego pride! I smile and let it be. Self-knowledge is healing but self-criticism erodes my confidence and robs me of this moment. Simply being aware of everything, including my baser tendencies, is the true value of this day.
Why do I meditate? Because it slows down my monkey mind and makes me more mindful of my body. Because when I’m mindful of my body, I experience this fleeting miracle of being. Because experiencing the miracle of being—being alive, being me, having this body, this day, this comfortable place to live, my health, people who love me—fills me with love and gratitude. And when I remember love and gratitude, I remember to choose love more often that day, no matter what’s happening in my outer world. For me, that’s reason enough.
“…we have forgotten, or been denied, the depths of this mystery, of how the divine light of the soul creates a body in the womb of a woman, and how the mother shares in this wonder, giving her own blood, her own body, to what will be born. Our culture’s focus on a disembodied, transcendent God has left women bereft, denying them the sacredness of this simple mystery of divine love. What we do not realize is that this patriarchal denial affects not only every woman, but also life itself. When we deny the divine mystery of the feminine we also deny something fundamental to life.” ~Lewellyn Vaughn-Lee (Parabola, Spring, 2016)
In the pre-history of our species we struggled to survive like every living thing. We acted on our instincts to mate (the instinct for sex) and find food and protect our young (the instinct for nurturance). We knew how to find and build shelters (the instinct for activity) in the same way foxes know how to dig dens and birds know how to build nests.
Our survival depended on hunting. The best hunters were emotionless, task-oriented, focused, and factually precise. These are qualities of the brain’s left-hemisphere. As the human brain evolved, the most successful hunters were those whose left-hemisphere qualities were more highly developed. While this improved our chances for survival, we were far from finished.
One of the most significant outcomes of the left hemisphere’s development was the emergence of the ego from the maternal matrix of primordial unconsciousness. Until the ego showed up we were unaware of ourselves as a separate species, as beings who could choose not to act on our every instinct.
The birth of the ego marked the birth of human consciousness. The unique combination of the ego and physical developments like thumbs and the ability to walk upright eventually resulted in the emergence and strengthening of two additional instincts: the instinct for reflection and the instinct for creativity. Increasingly our specialization in these two set us apart from other animals.
With the creation of words, the basic unit of left-brained logic and reason, we had new tools to aid our survival. We wondered who had created us, we told stories to explain life’s mysteries, we celebrated the mysteries with ceremonies and rituals, colorful fabrics, beautiful art and crafts. And we taught our children to do the same.
But when we created alphabets in the second millennium BCE and could record the words for future generations, a subtle change was set into motion. The cleverest and most dominant males who saw the power of the written word began to equate their left-brained logos qualities with masculinity and maleness and used their written words to acquire power.
Eventually, the patriarchs of Judaism, Christianity, and then Islam forbade people to create life-like, ‘graven’ images (images and symbols being specialties of the brain’s right hemisphere) of God for worship. Many historians, philosophers and theologians now believe this was an effort to eradicate all signs of Goddess worship. Gradually the bias toward left hemisphere qualities and against those of the right, especially ones not consciously understood or those seen as threats to male-dominant hierarchies, spread to include femininity and femaleness.
Our ego creates and uses words to try to understand life’s mysteries, while our unconscious Self naturally and spontaneously creates symbols and images that bring us into a meaningful relationship with the mysteries. Both genders are born with two-hemisphered brains and the capacity for both perspectives. Each is necessary to a complete God-image and a conscious, balanced, meaningful life. Yet some people still profoundly distrust mythos thinking, women, creativity, and anything they consider “feminine.”
“The same sacred source that gave birth to each of us is needed to give meaning to our life, to nourish it with what is real, and to reveal to us the mystery, the divine purpose to being alive.” ~Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee
Luckily, humanity is still evolving. We bring moral sensibility to the table. We no longer condone a dominator, dictator mentality. We question unjust cultural biases, economic practices, and religious beliefs, even our own. We want our lives to have meaning and purpose. We are in search of our souls. To find them we’re re-engaging the faculties of both sides of our brains in maturing ways.
Thus, is the Western world returning to the Divine Feminine, but in a newer, more conscious way. This quote from Corpus Optima provides a biological explanation:
“The corpus callosum is the connecting terminal between the two lobes, the main channel between the two hemispheres, consisting of a profuse number of neural connections. It…allows the two lobes to communicate with each other. It holds the most complex group of nerves in the human body and provides for an integrated whole brain–and consciousness. It is through the neural connections of the corpus callosum that the two hemispheres work together for wholeness.”
Now we seek a new God-image: a deity of fully conscious, fully integrated masculinity and femininity to remind us of the sacred wholeness that dwells within each of us.
Image Credit: Brain Balance: Google Images. Corpus Collosum: Google Images.
Your ego is a key player in your soul’s journey to wholeness. A strong, mature ego aids your psycho-spiritual growth; a weak and fearful ego holds you back. Tracking your dreams gives you a better understanding of your ego’s status. Your ego shows up every night as you, the dreamer: the one climbing the mountain, driving too fast down the dark road, running from the stranger, forgetting to feed the baby, standing naked in a crowd.
In my dream The Elephant in the Cave, the “I” trying to bar the door was my ego, and the elephant symbolized a strong inner force I didn’t want to acknowledge as part of me. In other words, my ego was frightened, rigid, closed, and one-sided. Ouch. Several months later, my dream Going Against the Currentconfirmed that my dreamwork was paying off. But was I finished? Had my ego grown open, strong, and brave? Not by a long shot. A few months after that I dreamed Hiding from the Enemy. There was the fear again. Even though I (my ego) was taking my inner life seriously, the dream said I was still afraid of something in my unconscious, still trying to hide from it. Still rigid. Still one-sided. What was this all about? I had no idea.
Fast forward about a year when along came a dream I called Killing the Weeds:
I’m carrying a container of weed killer with a thin tube coming out of the top. I’m careful not to touch the tip of the tube because I don’t want to get poison on my fingers. I walk along a patterned brick path adjoining the foundation of a large house and let the point of the tube fall on two large weeds that have sprouted up in the cement joint between the path and the house.
This was confusing. Weeds are Nature, and although most of us want to get rid of weeds, they’re not always bad. A weed in one part of the world is a greenhouse plant in another. What if I was trying to kill something in myself that was actually good? It was only when I put the dream into the context of my waking life that I saw what it could mean. A few days earlier I had made an uncharacteristically outspoken speech to a group of Episcopalians and two priests had openly disagreed with something I said. To my surprise, I was devastated by the implied criticism of these religious authorities.
My dream explained my discomfort. Until that point in my life, pleasing and impressing conventional authorities had been fundamental to my personality (the foundation of the house). Not rocking the boat, not disturbing or annoying others, not creating conflict, not doing or saying anything that someone might think of as bad, avoiding criticism: these things almost felt like life or death issues to me. Sure, I had some rebellious feelings and original thoughts and unmet needs of my own, but I was extremely careful not to let any of them leak through the “good girl” persona (social mask) that had served me so well since childhood, especially when it came to my education and religion. I had achieved a certain amount of success in the eyes of my world by hiding my true self behind my persona, and I was simply too fearful and insecure to risk taking it off.
But after about two years of Jungian studies and dreamwork, I was beginning see my need for society’s approval as a pesky, unwanted trait (weeds) that had forced its way through the rigid foundation of my spiritual journey (patterned brick path). Realizing that my strong need to conform marred my prospects for continued growth, I had chosen to rid myself of it by pursuing self-knowledge (my dream ego was killing the weeds).
For the most part, this had been very empowering. My persona was becoming a bit more flexible and my ego was growing stronger. But there was still an immature part of me that feared losing the approval of religious authorities. Questioning my traditional religious beliefs felt subversive and dangerous, as if I might lose the approval of God, and my inner child was deeply afraid of being punished (poisoned).
Now I know why I resisted my soul’s flowering for so long: The ego’s fear of retribution for being different is a soul-killer! We feel so much safer conforming to the wishes of authority figures than challenging them. Don’t we learn the importance of obedience as children? But there comes a time in the life of every individual when we need to grow up, develop our own authority, find our own voice, and speak and act from our soul’s truths. When that time comes, it’s up to our ego to enter the soul’s garden, take off our mask, have a look around, and start weeding.
Last week I told you about my new YouTube video series called Dreams as Guides to Self Discovery , and shared the first video, The Theatre of the Ego. This time I invite you to view the second one, The Theatre of the Persona. You can find the entire 5-part series here on my blog (on the above right of this page,) on my website , and at this link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMS7ZEV9HgLz1wuOVOCkDrLx6YR7ZfQSU Or simply google Youtube, Jean Raffa.
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.
“What should I do?” I asked my husband. “This feels like a test about choosing between courage and cowardice. Or is it between my noble and selfish selves?” We were talking about a relationship issue that was brought to my attention by a timely and bizarre synchronicity. The odds against this coincidence occurring must have been millions to one. Because of the wild improbability I knew there was a lesson in it for me. But what was it?
Which part of me should I act on: the part that could see this objectively, laugh it off and let it go, or the part that took it personally, felt betrayed, and wanted to let the other know? I couldn’t tell. My habit of suppressing my truths to avoid conflicts or hurting people was still too strong. As a child and young woman, I’d seen this as a noble trait, but I was learning that keeping my mouth shut wasn’t always the right choice. Sometimes it was merely ‘settling.’ Sometimes it was not believing enough in my basic worth to draw firm boundaries and stand up for myself. At the very least it was a lack of authenticity.
Over the years a recurring dream has addressed this issue: I’m in a social situation with a mouth full of sticky mush that I have to remove and dispose of so I can talk. No matter how much I take out, there’s always more. Having people around me is uncomfortable and embarrassing. When I finally understood this was a metaphor for being afraid to use my own voice, I became determined to heal this wound that has its roots in my earliest childhood.
I grew up believing I must protect my mother from agitation or conflict. Something told me she’d had too much pain in her life and I shouldn’t add to it; for example, by arguing with her, or expressing my disappointment that she didn’t attend my theatrical and musical performances, or begging her to drive me anywhere, or expecting special attention or praise from her. It was too risky. I realize now that this is symptomatic of a mother complex.
The part of me that wanted to reclaim my voice believed that expressing my truths in the current situation was the right response. But knowing it could be hurtful to the other party held me back and caused me to question my true motivation. Was there something in me that wanted to hurt this person? The thought that there probably was made me deeply uncomfortable. So what was I to do? Suppress my truths yet again or take the risk of exposing my secret thoughts? Beneath this was a bigger question: Which side of my dilemma represented my shadow and which the Self?
I asked my husband to help me clarify this issue, then made my decision. But we both still had misgivings. So I asked my daughter. I should tell you she’s a level-headed person with a doctorate in marriage and family counseling. I trusted her response to be truthful and objective. After describing the situation and how I’d decided to handle it, I immediately sensed her hesitation. “What?” I asked. “Is this bogus? Am I being childish?”
“Yes,” she said smiling gently. “I think it’s coming from your mother complex. Your wounded child feels neglected and wants attention and revenge.” The undeniable truth of this resonated, a dark cavern in my unconscious was flooded with light, and a weight I didn’t know I was carrying vanished. It explained so much about parts of my shadow I’d been struggling so long to understand. A few nights later a vivid dream confirmed the truth. In it, an intelligent and accomplished young Asian woman went to her hotel room after making an important presentation, and I heard her screaming for her absent mother in anguish and anger. The youthful, ambitious, perfectionistic achiever in me still wanted her mother’s affirmation.
“In each of us there is another whom we do not know. [S]He speaks to us in dreams.” `Carl Jung
Carl Jung believed complexes are perfectly normal. As I recall, he once said he had 13. No matter how hard we try to think and act wisely, everyone has clusters of attitudes, feelings and beliefs that can impersonate wisdom and shadow our judgment. And when our ego is swamped by a shadow complex, it’s very good at justifying its self-serving motives. So how can we discern the truth and make the best choice?
We can bring the True Self into the picture by asking it to observe our conflict as we follow this 7-step process:
(1) Name both sides of the conflict.
(2) Listen carefully as each side expresses itself fully.
(3) Examine the beliefs, emotions and motives of both sides with objectivity and compassion.
(4) Forgive both sides for being human.
(5) Grieve our hurt fully.
(6) Create an original work wherein our ego, shadow and Self invent their own meaningful sacred dance.
(7) Ask for help if we’re still in the dark.
Then we can choose to step toward the light. Life is too precious to waste in the shadows.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.