Staying Conscious April 11, 2017
Surprise! I’m back with an update. Reworking my old manuscript is bringing enormous satisfaction. My unconscious is sending solutions to knotty problems via my dreams and early morning ruminations before I’m fully awake. I’m meditating for 20 minutes before I get to work and writing for hours at a time. The latest entries in my dream journal say it all.
I’m teaching a one-hour college class in Language Arts. I have two pages of written notes stuck to a clipboard and am carefully peeling them off so I can hold them in my hands while I teach. Little chunks of the bottom of the second page stick to the board, but there’s nothing written on them so I won’t worry about them now. I suddenly realize I’ve spent the first 15 minutes getting my notes together and have no idea what’s in them. I feel an urgency to start teaching.
I start quieting everyone down, but interruptions and distractions prevent me from actually teaching. This is okay with me, because I can use this time to figure out what to talk about. I hope I’ll know by the time the class is ready to listen. A mother comes in late with two little girls. I don’t want them here but realize she must not have a choice so I smile to let them know it’s okay, all the while hoping she’ll keep them from disturbing the class. A loud male student gets my attention and I firmly ask him to quiet down. I realize I was too harsh and could have handled this better. I see I’ve used up another 15 minutes.
In the third 15 minutes the little girls fall backwards into a deep hole or well in the floor—it’s round and maybe 4 feet deep. The girls are submerged in a foot or two of water. I’m worried, but the mother doesn’t appear to be. They’re holding their breath and enjoying themselves. I decide they’ll come up when they’re ready and continue thinking about what to teach. But soon everyone is gathered around and I can’t ignore the situation anymore so I ask the parents (the father is here now) to pull them out.
Now I only have 15 minutes left. What’s the best way to use this time? I realize I haven’t given them the course syllabus yet. They need it to prepare for their end-of-semester project. I try to remember what it is. Oh yes, they have to create original learning centers. I feel better now. I know what to say before the class is over and I have to leave. I organize my thoughts and begin to teach.
This feels like a metaphor for the way I’ve spent my time in Earth School.
During the first quadrant I unconsciously spent my time preparing myself, gathering information without having a clue about what I was meant to do with my life.
In the second quadrant I was teaching and becoming aware of forces within me that were preventing me from finding and fulfilling my life’s work. One challenge was juggling parenthood with teaching and learning. Another was some strong masculine energy that presented me with problems I didn’t know how to handle gracefully.
During the third quadrant I committed myself to dreamwork as a means of self-discovery and wrote my first three books. At last I knew what my purpose was: to share what I knew about the transformation of human consciousness. Sometimes my immature feminine shadow fell back into unconsciousness. But I knew the importance of my mission and had the awareness to ask the Self (the parents) to bring her back into awareness.
In the final quadrant where I am now, I know how little time I have left to fully prepare my students (whoever might be influenced by my teaching and writing) for what is to come. Now I know what to do and am doing it.
There’s a girl-woman I know well who’s done something problematic. She’s got a bandaged wound. I’ve apprehended her and have to keep my eyes on her at all times to make sure she doesn’t escape and create more problems. This feels extremely important. Occasionally I take her by the wrist to keep her near. She’s pleasant and compliant, but I can’t trust her.
The girl is my feminine shadow. The dream says I am seeing her clearly and objectively. When I stay with her she’s not a problem. But if I fall back into unconsciousness and forget to watch her, she will resurrect and negatively impact my work and relationships.
Staying conscious is vital to this last quadrant of my life. I meditate every day now to be more mindful of subtle thoughts and inclinations that might prevent me from doing my best work. When something uncomfortable emerges I align with my observer/Self to look at myself objectively, recognize my shadow, and gently bring myself back into a place of repentance, forgiveness, gratitude and love. Making this effort is working.
Sending you love and blessings, dear friends. I’m having the time of my life.
How Will Your Shadow Shape the Future of Our World? October 18, 2016
Opposites. A basic theorem of Jungian psychology is that for everything we know about ourselves—beliefs, values, attitudes, emotions—there is a corresponding unconscious opposite. This is because we see everything in terms of either-or, good-bad, and automatically disown and repress the less desirable option.
For example, your family stressed the importance of love and kindness. Growing up you emulated these values and were affirmed for it. You think of yourself as a kind and loving person. Yet, there have been times when you were filled with anger and hate and your good intentions flew out the window. Nevertheless, because being anything less than “good” according to your family’s standards doesn’t fit your image of yourself, you’ve justified your “lapses.” After all, you know how hard you try, how well-meaning you are, so it had to have been the other person’s fault. You were right/good, so they were wrong/bad. Right?
But, guess what. Your “negative” emotions and thoughts don’t go away just because you deny or ignore them. They merely sink beneath your conscious awareness to a place where your ego can’t see them. We call this dark realm the unconscious. As your ego is the center of your conscious self, your shadow is the center of your unconscious self. Since you’re a reasonable person, your ego is probably willing to admit to a few shadow qualities here and there. But for every “flaw” you acknowledge, there are many others of which you have no conscious knowledge.
Projection. This leads to a second basic theorem of Jungian psychology: Whatever we disown in ourselves we project onto others. Those onto whom we project our shadow have a “flaw” similar to one of our own. Jungians say they have a “hook” onto which we can hang a disowned quality of our shadow. The hook can be a minor personality trait that can be easily overlooked or a major one that consistently causes problems for them and others. Either way, we are easily offended by people who remind us of our shadow. This gives us a simple way to see our shadows if we’re willing to look, and provides us with a handy scapegoat if we’re not.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections, Page 247.
Entropy. A third psychological reality Jung stressed is that when opposites remain isolated from one another, any disorder lurking within them remains constant or increases. Thus, the longer we ignore our shadow, the more apt it is to cause trouble. Refusing to acknowledge it when it shows up is therefore not only psychologically ignorant, but dangerous. Unfortunately, the Western world does not recognize the shadow, either in individuals or in collective consciousness, and our ignorance perpetuates our prejudices, hypocrisy, broken relationships, self-righteousness, crime, war, and destruction of our planet.
“Only an infantile person can pretend that evil is not at work everywhere, and the more unconscious he is, the more the devil drives him. It is just because of this inner connection with the black side of things that it is so incredibly easy for the mass man to commit the most appalling crimes without thinking. Only ruthless self-knowledge on the widest scale, which sees good and evil in correct perspective and can weigh up the motives of human action, offers some guarantee that the end-result will not turn out too badly.” ~Carl Jung, Aion, ¶ 255.
This election season has pitted two candidates who couldn’t be more different against one another. Never, in the history of our country, has the divide between two potential presidents been wider. Never have so many citizens of the United States or the world been so shaken by this ugly polarization. Never has the collective shadow of America been so obvious to all.
Beneath all our conscious beliefs and rationalizations we are being influenced by our shadows. The less self-aware among us are defending the candidate who most represents their ego’s self-image and who promises to serve their self-interest; and they are projecting evil onto the “other” candidate and anyone else who carries hooks for their repressed shadows.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 236-237.
The only lasting contribution any of us can make to world health and planetary peace is to know our own shadow well enough to restrain it without projecting more darkness into a world that already has enough to destroy us all. One pair of opposites has the power to determine our fate. Love is the most powerful healing and unifying force in life. Hate is the most divisive and destructive.
Hating our shadow and seeing it in others instead of ourselves will set us on a path of conflict and destruction. Owning our shadow will activate compassion, ethical behavior, wholeness and enlightened consciousness.Will we choose to see and befriend our shadow and the people who carry it, thereby serving love? Or will we choose to ignore our inner darkness and hate the people who remind us of it?
Which way will your vote go?
Image Credits: The Good and Evil Angels, Blake, Wikimedia Commons. Sending Out the Scapegoat, Wikimedia Commons. Witch Hunt, Wikimedia Commons. The Red Button, Wikimedia Commons.
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.
Dreams As Spiritual Guides October 11, 2016
When you are in the darkness you take the next thing, and that is a dream. And you can be sure that the dream is your nearest friend; the dream is the friend of those who are not guided any more by the traditional truth and in consequence are isolated. ~Carl Jung, the Symbolic Life, CW 18, Para 674
And if you lose yourself in the crowd, in the whole of humanity, you also never arrive at yourself; just as you can get lost in your isolation, you can also get lost in utter abandonment to the crowd. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Page 1020
For 27 years, my spiritual practice has been dreamwork. Dreams aren’t commonly thought of as spiritual aids but they absolutely are. Carl Jung demonstrated this in The Red Book in which he recorded what he learned about himself from visions and dreams over a three year period. This formed the material and inspiration for his groundbreaking insights into the true nature of the psyche, and for his belief that acquiring self-knowledge and becoming who we truly are is our spiritual task and the privilege of a lifetime.
I wish I had understood this during the middle of my life. Throughout the 1980’s I functioned well in the outer world, juggling a home and family with college teaching. But inside I was struggling through a “dark night of the soul” crisis in which I was increasingly dissatisfied with my religion, my work, my relationships and myself.
Near the end of that decade I joined a Jungian study group. When I learned that dreams show us unknown aspects of ourselves in a visual, metaphorical, symbolic language, I began to record and work with mine. By the time I had this Big dream, I knew that taking my nocturnal dramas seriously was vital to my wellbeing.
Dream #155: “Going Against the Current.”
I’m walking downstream in a rushing river beside a rocky bank. People are shooting by on rafts and I wonder how they keep from bashing themselves against the rocks. I turn around and laboriously make my way back upstream in water up to my chin. The bottom is rough and rocky. I reach up and hold onto some thin, flimsy branches sticking out over the water. This helps, but soon there are no more and I have to go on unaided.
At the last turn I come up against thousands of people heading downstream. Friendly people press in on every side as I struggle against the current toward the place I’m supposed to be—my base camp. Sometimes I touch a head or shoulder to propel myself forward. When I reach the mouth of the river I put my palms together and gently part the people; this reminds them of Moses parting the Red Sea and they smile indulgently.
Then I’m far out in the ocean in deep water, tired and afraid. Will I make it? A younger, blond-haired woman appears, only her head showing above the water. “That was smart of you,” she says. I know she’s strong and rested and will support me if I need to float for a while. Together we head slowly to my base far away on the left shore, a place I’ve never been but know to be my destination.
In exquisitely beautiful imagery, this dream told the story of my psycho-spiritual development. It said that when I began my journey (walking) through the unconscious (water) I was still aligned with the collective (going with the flow downstream). But I had become aware of the passing of time (river) and the danger of continuing to rush mindlessly along on the path of least resistance (downstream) while ignoring my undeveloped self and unfulfilled yearnings.
Redirecting my focus to my inner world was making my journey more difficult (going upstream). The form of spiritual support (branches) I had always clung to—the heavenly spirituality of the Sky God that requires conformity to dogma—was of no further help to me (the branches disappear) and I had to continue alone.
Like the children of Israel when they crossed the Red Sea, I was leaving my slavish allegiance to the collective (crowd of people) behind, and entering the unknown: my frightening and dangerous (deep water) unconscious self (the sea). There I caught a glimpse of my anima or soul (the blond woman), the feminine half of the Self which, in Jungian language, is partner to the masculine animus or spirit. Together they form our central archetype, our God-image, symbol-maker, and connection to the Sacred. The message of this dream was that assuming my own authority and trusting myself would bring me to my true self (base camp).
Until I discovered dreamwork, no books or scriptures, no religious beliefs or sacrifices or regular church attendance, none of my ego’s hard work or good behavior, no well-intentioned thoughts or knowledge or cleverness, no psychological expert or religious authority—nothing in my life had any lasting transforming or healing power for me. But this dream from the Self did. The Self knew me. It spoke to me in the symbols of this dream which it fashioned solely for me when it knew I was ready to listen.
My Beloved knew where I’d been, what I sought, where I was going. It knew I was turning my life around before I did. It reassured me that replacing my old life of passionless conformity with the great adventure of exploring my unconscious self was the right choice for me. Above all, it convinced me I could trust it to tell me the truth and guide me in the direction of my heart’s desire. Eventually this knowing emboldened me to leave work for which I was ill-suited to follow my passions for writing and self-knowledge. That choice has made all the difference between a false life of meaninglessness, dissatisfaction and confusion, and the real life of increasing clarity, trust, meaning and peace I’m living now.
Contrary to popular belief, discovering and being true to who you are beneath the mask you wear, and doing it for the sake of love, is the authentic spiritual journey. What did you dream last night? What did you learn about yourself?
Photo Credit: “Going Against the Current,”Luo Quingzhen, Google Images. Salmon going upstream: unknown, Wikimedia Commons. “Danube Salmon Swimming Against the Current,” unknown, Wikimedia Commons.
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
Join the Epoch III Ego Evolution Revolution June 14, 2016
“People must know they are in conflict. They must be able to carry the conflict. That is consciousness.” Carl Jung, as told to M.I. Rix Weaver, J.E.T., Pages 90-95.
Leaving our Epoch II ego consciousness behind is daunting and painful because the ego is suffering the trauma of dying to “the world’s” opinions. As Dr. Michael Washburn notes (Transpersonal Psychology in Psychoanalytic Perspective, pp. 183-216), symptoms of the ego’s death throes include a lack of psychic energy, a sense of alienation from the world, unstable relationships, mood shifts, depression, extreme anxiety, impulsiveness, potentially self-damaging behaviors, intense and inappropriate anger, emptiness, boredom, identity disturbances, and so on.
These common symptoms point to the Epoch II ego’s dis-ease and its need for purging and opening before new psycho-spiritual life can be born. This process often starts with a painful crisis that forces us to acknowledge our shadow and the undeveloped masculine and feminine forces of our psyche. Help can be found in various forms of mental training that explore the unconscious. Some people use spiritual practices—prayer, meditation, contemplation and mindfulness—to observe their thinking. Psychological practices like dreamwork, psychotherapy and active imagination likewise help us retrieve repressed material and identify and control toxic mental events and emotions.
“…this work brings many benefits, including affirming self-knowledge, deeply satisfying personal meaning, freedom from the compulsion to please or impress, the joy of clearly seeing the underlying patterns of our lives from a cosmic perspective, a sense of connectedness to nature and all of life, and benevolent thoughts and actions guided by a conscious immersion in the Divine Unity.” J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p. 73.
Jung noted that this work leads
“to the union of opposites in the archetypal form of the hierosgamos or ‘chymical wedding.’ Here the supreme opposites, male and female . . . are melted into a unity purified of all opposition and therefore incorruptible.” C.G. Jung, CW xii, para 37.
The alchemists called this the sacred marriage of the King and Queen. Psychologists call it individuation and wholeness. Spirit persons refer to it as enlightenment. All are names for Epoch III Integrated Consciousness. As the famed ‘pearl of great price’ it is highly sought; however, the way is closed to even the most intelligent and pious Epoch II ego until it is brought low enough to face its powerlessness and ask for help. Richard Rohr quotes Bill Wilson, Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous:
“How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness, that humiliation goes before resurrection; that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.” –Bill Wilson (Cited in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, June 10, 2016).
Every living thing is compelled to evolve into an improved form. As individuals find healing and rebirth, society follows. But pain, weakness and humiliation do not go down well in patriarchy and at present we can expect little help from that front. In writing about the rash of mass shootings in the U.S. over the last several decades, Mary Harrell, a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist, points to the need to incorporate qualities associated with the feminine principle into societal institutions. Harrell asks
“How can our nation’s boys effectively manage hate and rage when they live in a society that splits all aspects of the human condition into good and evil?” Mary Harrell, Imaginal Figures in Everyday Life, p. 79.
“Unfortunately, it is our schools—reflections of the larger culture—that have marginalized the archetypal feminine, the Goddess. Because she has been cast into the dark place of repression and denial, she can’t transform excesses of rage and hate.” Harrell, p. 82.
Harrell notre that transforming educational systems
“…requires conversations, and especially direct initiatives aimed at inclusiveness and effective response to cultural wounding. Valuing the Goddess calls for consideration of issues of war and peace within a frame of death and life, rather than through a sole masculine expression of “higher values” like nationalism, and freedom, thereby bloating an expanded military agenda….These goddess perspectives need to balance the patriarchal attitude, which defines the school curriculum, usually by overvaluing science, math, and technology (intending that the nation will stay ahead in a competitive—masculine—rather than a collaborative—feminine—process).” Harrell, pp. 83-4.
I wrote the above last week. As I conclude this post two days before its scheduled publication, I am struck by a bizarre synchronicity. This morning a rage-filled young man killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in my home town of Orlando. Mourning this outrage, I still remain hopeful of positive change.
1. Notice and reflect on what’s happening in your inner and outer life.
2. See your conflicts and crises as meaningful messages from your inner feminine who wants to awaken deep feeling, humility, willingness and surrender.
3. Help her express herself creatively through art, poetry, writing, dreamwork, ritual, etc.
4. Unless you are in an abusive situation, tolerate the tension as long as possible without doing anything rash. Trust that healing and balance will come if you stay with your struggle.
5. Share your earned wisdom in your own unique way.
Together, we can make a difference. If a critical mass of individuals frees their dragons from their psychological prisons, future generations will see us as heroic pioneers who led humanity into the “Epoch III Ego Evolution Revolution.”
“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” ~Jung CW 9i, Page 32, Para 66.
Image Credits: Google Images
Jean’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 also at Amazon as well as Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
The Burden and Blessings of Self-Consciousness April 12, 2016