Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Message To America From a White Horse November 7, 2016

lone_ranger_and_tonto_with_silver_1960I’ve always been proud of my country. As a child, I thought the Lone Ranger, Tonto and Silver symbolized everything good about the U.S.A.: respect for human rights, individuality and diversity, strength of character, integrity, commitment to our civic responsibility to protect the weak, the helpless, the innocent and poor. But if there were any vestiges of that naïveté left in me before this presidential race, they’re gone now.

Never have I ever felt so disillusioned about America. Never have I, like award-winning novelist Barbara Kingsolver, taken a political race so personally. The constant reminders of our collective shadow have been monumentally toxic and I’m sick of it. But I didn’t realize how sick until last week’s dream of a white horse.

Dream #4792:  I’m in a house (my psyche) where several people (inner characters) are attending a retreat. Two persistent and annoying women (parts of my shadow) want my attention and feel sorry for themselves when I don’t give it.  An elder white-haired man summons me outdoors where I’m given responsibility for a white horse (powerful unconscious emotions). Its owner (aspect of my animus) is in the house. He has neglected it so badly that it’s ill. The old man leaves the horse with me. Annoyed at the owner’s negligence, worried and sad about the horse’s condition, I caress it lovingly. When I turn my back on it to go and notify the owner, it crumples behind me and lies there, pitiful, sad, and listless.

That morning the sad feelings lingered so I searched Google and found this blog post from 2009.

Jung & Horse

Mark Wallinger's White Horse Sculpture

Mark Wallinger’s White Horse Sculpture

“There has been a massive outpouring of love for Mark Wallinger’s white horse, the 165 foot sculpture which will be placed at the new International Rail Terminal at Ebbsfleet, Kent. This is interesting for many reasons, not least because public art isn’t usually enjoyed by the lay person, ironic and upside down as that may sound. The iconic white horse has captured something in the collective consciousness, something primal and English to its core. Today, I stumbled upon this piece of an essay by equine behaviourist Chris Irwin:

“Clearly, some link between horses and the human psyche was surfacing. I’ve since learned that there is a branch of psychoanalysis, pioneered by Carl Jung, that tries to weave a balance between the outer world of action and events and the inner world of dream, fantasy and symbolism. A distinguishing feature of Jungian analysis is the concept of archetypes, symbols rising from the dark, deep psychic pool of the collective unconscious where humanity’s common experience is stored.

“Archetypes express a complex of images and emotions that surround the defining experiences of human life. Examples include the Hero, the Divine Child, the Great Mother, Transformation, Death and Rebirth. They are the same for us all, no matter who we are or where we come from. It’s as if they are built into the wiring of our brains. And one of the most commonly recurring archetypes is – you guessed it – the Horse.

Some of my horse books.

Some of my horse books.

“The Horse archetype throughout the ages has been closely linked with our instinctive, primal drives. Jung thought the Horse’s appearance could signify instincts out of control. The horse evokes intense feelings and unbridled passion instead of cool, collected thought.

“In many different situations and in many different ways, horses were enabling people to make contact with feelings they’d buried deep inside their shadow. There didn’t seem to be any doubt that equine-assisted therapy worked. The question was, why?

“Horses, by embodying one of the deepest archetypes in our consciousness, most definitely stir us up. All those things that are buried away or girdled safely up start swirling around in our psyches. Horses can be a direct connection into the unconscious. When we look at a horse, and especially when there’s a horse strutting across the pen in front of us, we see the flesh-and-blood incarnation of powerful forces bottled up within us that we wish we had the guts to saddle and ride.

More horse books.

More of my horse books.

“These are the forces that Jung called the shadow self. We know those forces could take us to our dreams and turn us into our best selves. We also know those forces could destroy us. That’s why we bottle them up in the first place. And when feelings are stirred-up and agitated, that’s when we have the chance to work with them and learn to control them. Horses give us this opportunity. They do this to us whether we’re aware of it or not. But what a powerful tool to be able to use consciously!

“Carl Jung also talked a lot about life’s paradox, and how important the embrace of seeming contradictions is as we travel the never-ending journey towards becoming fully human. Horses, which can both free us or hurt us, embody this paradox. How we handle this paradox in the arena becomes a metaphor for how we handle it everywhere. Only in this case, it’s such a potent and direct metaphor, that we can use it to change our reality. Horses force us to face our shadow selves. Once we do that, we discover much greater freedom, exhilaration and inspiration as we go forward in life.” ~Chris Irwin, author of Horses Don’t Lie

14358643_1430859230264226_4748031632577132298_nDream Mother gave me the perfect image to get my attention. My white horse was suffering the consequences of intense bottled up feelings:  grief, empathy, agitation, worry and self-pity, plus concerns about my recent diminishment of life energy, my neglected need for self-love and care, and my country’s neglected need for self-love and care.

As I write this it’s the day before the election. If Hillary is elected, I’ll celebrate. Either way I’ll be facing my shadow as I get on with my life. I hope Uncle Sam will too. I won’t turn my back on either of us.

A final note: I’ve just read an extraordinary article by award-winning author Barbara Kingsolver on why Trump has not been called out for the horror show he’s put our country through.  If you’re still sitting on the fence about this election, I urge you to read it.

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

Image Credits: The Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Silver; Mark Wallinger White Horse Sculpture, Wikimedia Commons.  Uncle Sam Cartoon, Facebook.

 

What Does It Mean To Be Unconscious? July 5, 2016

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“Consciousness can only exist through continual recognition of the unconscious…” ~Carl Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Par 178.

What does it mean to be unconscious?  It doesn’t mean we’re dull, socially clueless or lacking in intelligence, creativity or passion. It simply means we are so used to thinking and behaving in habitual ways that we’re minimally aware of inner forces that move us every day.

These forces include our shadow (potential our ego actively disowns, both positive and negative), our anima and animus (untapped feminine and masculine potential)and a wealth of other archetypes (inherited psychological patterns and images) including the Self (our core and circumference and our connection to sacred Oneness).

All these entities influence our thoughts, attitudes, and behavior; sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. If we don’t notice and reflect on why we’re thinking or acting the way we do, we miss valuable opportunities to develop our fullest potential.

For example, you and I are having a calm, civilized discussion about politics and you bring up your candidate’s take on a certain issue—say emigration, abortion or gun control—and suddenly I become indignant.  So what brought that on? you wonder as I aggressively spout opinions about the rightness of my position and the wrongness of your candidate’s position.

The more I talk the more justified and self-righteous I feel in my indignation. I might even get frustrated and angry at you. My position feels perfectly reasonable to me. How could you not see things the way I do? I wonder. How could you vote for that terrible candidate?  Meanwhile, you’re mystified by the heat of my response. You might have strong opinions too, yet you have no problem discussing them calmly.

quoteinspirationneverstopexploring01I’ve studied and thought about this issue. I think I know exactly why I believe what I do and I assume any rational person would feel the same way. But the truth is, I don’t really have a clue because I’ve never explored the inner forces that moved me to adopt my position in the first place.

So what has happened? Something about the mention of this issue activated an unconscious complex of associated memories, attitudes, and emotions. Maybe my complex arose from an early wound—a parent’s cruel neglect, a dismissive attitude or unjustified accusation, a traumatic experience at school or church, a cruelty I suffered at the hands of another, a secret shameful act I once committed. Or maybe the issue reminds me of painful conflicts I’m currently suffering.

My ego doesn’t want to admit to anxiety or self-pity or suffering. I associate these feelings with weakness and victimization, so I ignore them. But now the pressure cooker into which I have stuffed my complex has boiled over. The floodgates separating my ego from my unconscious self have opened, my ego is swamped with emotion, and every cell in my body wants to fight or escape. This time, my instinct is to fight.

I don’t stop to wonder why. I’ve gotten so good at dismissing my anxiety as unimportant or unacceptable that I barely notice it. Nor can I see that my agitated response to you is uncalled for and hurtful.

If you bring this to my attention, I’ll deny any wrongdoing and believe the fault is yours. Later on I might wonder if I came across a little too strong, but unless I’m unusually reflective I’ll soon forget the incident and lapse back into unconsciousness. Sadly, my ego’s dualistic resistance to my unconscious self has once again won the day. And I’ve lost another opportunity to learn, grow and heal.

Your-own-self-transformation“The contemplative stance is the Third Way. We stand in the middle, neither taking the world on from another power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We hold the dark side of reality and the pain of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in the evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness. Once we can stand in that third spacious way, neither directly fighting nor denying and fleeing, we are in the place of grace out of which genuine newness can come. This is where creativity and new forms of life and healing emerge.”  ~Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, pp. 169-171.

Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness. We need to explore new ideas of who we are.

Image Credits: Terence McKenna quote,  Thesyncmovie.com. Never Stop Exploring, Quotesgram.com

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 KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

How Self-Aware Are You? Epoch I: Physical Consciousness May 10, 2016

Lewis Lafontaine's photo.

“So long as the child is in that state of unconscious identity with the mother, he is still one with the animal psyche and is just as unconscious as it.

The development of consciousness inevitably leads not only to separation from the mother, but to separation from the parents and the whole family circle and thus to a relative degree of detachment from the unconscious and the world of instinct.

Yet the longing for this lost world continues and, when difficult adaptations are demanded, is forever tempting one to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile…” ~Carl Jung, CW 5, Para 351

People often find Jung’s theories and writing difficult, and it’s no wonder.  He was introducing humanity to a radically different way of seeing and thinking about ourselves, and he used words and phrases in ways that only someone familiar with his work is liable to understand.

The above quote is a good example. What did Jung mean when he wrote about a child being “in that state of unconscious identity with the mother?”  What does it mean to be “one with the animal psyche?” What was he trying to say in this quote? Essentially he’s referring to a common problem that can obstruct our psychological growth.

Lioness with Cub, national Reserve, Pilaneberg, South Africa

Lioness with Cub, National Reserve, Pilaneberg, South Africa

FreudEriksonPiaget, and Kohlberg have described psychological development as a series of stages in which people exhibit typical behavior patterns and abilities.  Jung and Neumann went a step beyond in focusing on the development of consciousness itself, particularly in terms of our psychological and spiritual self-awareness.

Based on these and other developmental theories, I’ve summarized the development of consciousness in three general “epochs” of self-awareness. In this system, Epoch I is Physical Consciousness,  Epoch II is Ego Consciousness, and Epoch III is Integrated Consciousness. For most of us, the first is of relatively brief duration,  the second is quite long (the whole of life for many people), and the third sometimes does not even begin.

“In the first epoch our awareness is limited to our five senses and the forces of physical instinct:  bodily urges, unchecked emotions, and primitive images.  As infants we are like hungry wolf cubs in a vast and comforting wilderness.  We don’t question our habitat or behavior or wonder if there is any other way to be;  we simply act and react to physical stimuli without plan, reflection or guilt….Unburdened by self-consciousness and self-doubt, we are unthinkingly innocent of any wrongdoing because we have no moral code and feel no need to alter or repress anything about ourselves.”  ~J.B. RaffaHealing the Sacred Divide, pp. 20-21.

This earliest phase of life is “that state of unconscious identity with the mother,” Jung referred to:  a paradise of egoless, guiltless, free-and-easy instinctual behavior. During this magical time we are in heaven.

Disney's Peter Pan with the Lost Boys.

Disney’s Peter Pan with the Lost Boys.

“If we have a concept of time it is that we dwell in eternity.  If we have a concept of God it is this bliss of oneness that connects us to everything and makes us feel buoyantly, vitally alive. Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, Epoch I is simply everyone’s earliest experience of being a human being.  All our future psychological and spiritual growth plays out against this primal background of immersion in a maternal ocean of innocent, unconscious, infinitely pleasurable physical life.” ~J.B. Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide, p.22.

Is it any wonder so many of us, like Peter Pan, continue to long for this lost world and struggle to stay young for as long as we can?  In a child, this is a natural and charming way of being, and there are people who remain in this state of harmless, guileless innocence throughout their lives.  Others grow increasingly dissatisfied with themselves as adults. And some become dysfunctional. In fact, a lack of guilt or sense of responsibility,  self-centeredness, emotional immaturity, antisocial behavior, and low impulse-control are all characteristics of sociopaths.  This is why we need egos, (organs of consciousness), and why our egos need to grow in self-awareness. At this point in history, learning to critique and control our more primitive “inner child” has become crucial to our very survival.

Mary Cassat, Mother and Child

Mary Cassat, Mother and Child

Despite humanity’s evolutionary advances, negative aspects of an Epoch I mentality still pervade contemporary society. Symptoms include:

  • a  large population of unhappy adults who cannot seem to make difficult adaptations into adulthood,

  • the temptation “to make evasions and retreats, to regress to the infantile,”

  • blaming others for our unhappiness and expecting them to make us happy,

  • obsessive glorification and pursuit of youth and physical beauty,

  • addictions to substances or behaviors that provide temporary escape from our problems and responsibilities,

  • a single-minded focus on satisfying our own instinctual needs without caring about the needs of others, and

  • self-centered, irresponsible, antisocial attitudes, words and behaviors without regard for consequences.

“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

What did Jung mean by this?  I’ll address this and more as I explore the evolution of consciousness in coming posts.

Image Credits:  Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes and deer child image, Wikipedia for the Disney image of Peter Pan, and Pinterest for the lioness and cub image.

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 KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

 

Following Our Symbols: Healing Our Souls March 15, 2016

My photo of a black bear raiding a bird feeder in Highlands, NC.

A black bear raiding a bird feeder in Highlands, NC.

There is a thinking in primordial images, in symbols which are older than the historical man…[that] still makes up the groundwork of the human psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them.”~C.G. Jung

Last weekend, Elaine Mansfield and I presented a Friday night lecture and Saturday workshop to the C.G. Jung Society of Sarasota about the lessons to be learned from loss and grief.  A major theme was how our culture’s one-sided emphasis on the brain’s left-hemisphere logos thinking has severely crippled the fullest development of our souls. Like Carl Jung, we believe that ignorance of right-hemisphere mythos, a way of thinking which employs imagination and symbol, undermines our hope of finding healing and meaning in our suffering.

Through sharing, writing, examples, and interactive experiences, we demonstrated how to use mythos to find meaning in the symbols from our dreams and myths. Dreams are personal myths. They come to bring healing and wholeness. Cultural myths do the same thing. If we know their language, both can guide us on our soul’s journey through and after life. As Jung noted, using this language to develop a harmonious relationship with our symbols is the first step toward wisdom.

“First we must learn to think mythologically. Powerful things happen when we touch the thinking which myths, fairy tales, and our own dreams bring to us.” ~Robert Johnson

I began studying mythos in my late forties. Every night I recorded my dreams. When I had time for reflection I consulted good symbol books for possible meanings. Occasionally I used active imagination with compelling symbols. Among these were bears. Today Bear is one of my most valued healers and guides.

Bears, in their simple willingness to shake off their unconscious sleeps, abandon the dark caves of their births and hibernations, and make their solitary ways into the forest, are associated with endings and new beginnings. They demonstrate that transitions from known to unknown are not to be feared as obstacles or punishments, but embraced as thresholds to enriched living. This lesson from my dream bears brings me peace and trust during times of change.

During hibernation bears fall into a sleep so deep that they appear to be dead; yet, wonder of wonders, they emerge from their caves in spring as if they have been resurrected, often with a new cub or two. In terms of our soul’s journey, this pertains to experiences of transformation and rebirth  that awaken us to new insights about the unconscious world beneath our ordinary awareness.

A golden bear in my collection of bear symbols.

A golden bear in my collection of bear symbols.

It was only natural that Bear would become a cherished symbol when I was compelled by unconscious forces to embark on a painful spiritual quest. Although initially devastating, my encounter with the Self within eventually brought far greater rewards than the familiar comforts I left behind. Like Bear, I too am now at home in the unknown where I love to roam the wilderness and fish for nourishment in dark, deep waters.

Many Native Americans associate bears with spiritual introspection. So do I. Bear emerged during a phase of massive psycho-spiritual house-cleaning and remodeling. I was attending weekly classes on Jungian psychology, studying books, recording my dreams, and writing down meaningful insights in my first book about psycho-spiritual development. For reasons I did not fully understand, a golden bear became a prominent symbol in that book. Just as Bear spends long periods of time in inward-focused hibernation each year, so was I thoroughly immersed in my inner world.

Some years ago a new theme, return to nature,  began to demand my attention. It manifested in ways unusual for me then: a decreased motivation to write, restlessness, attraction to the outdoors, and an alien itch for more physical activity. I recognized another threshold, another opportunity to follow Bear.

As large animals that are so human-like at the same time they are so strangely other, bears generate an awareness of, and reverence for, the instinctual life of the body and soul. In a culture such as ours, based as it is on a centuries-old tradition of valuing mind over matter and repressing the instincts, Bear reminds us that we ourselves are animals, and that, in the soul-stirring words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver,

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Fred and me before a circus-themed costume party.

A scary bear and an affectionate bear tamer before a circus-themed costume party.

Once the golden bear called me out of unconsciousness and into awareness of the sacred place within. Now it calls me out of myself. You’ve hibernated long enough, my bears say. Come out here and find us! It’s time to explore your senses and immerse yourself in your body and nature, the final sacred place for pilgrims such as you.

What symbols have appeared in your dreams?  How have they brought healing meaning to your life’s journey?

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 KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

Keeping Score June 11, 2013

big-spiderA BIG black spider crosses the porch toward me. What if it climbs up my leg while I’m absorbed in my book? My territory. I consider stepping on it. This feels harsh. Maybe I’ll just relocate it. I slide a piece of paper under it but it leaps onto the nearby wall and scuttles beneath a plank of cedar siding. I turn my rocking chair to watch. Why did it come here? Is it looking for food? A place to weave a web?

“When you have the experience, don’t miss the meaning.” John O’Donohue

This area of the Smoky Mountains is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, a culture rich with legends about animal helpers and teachers. In “Living Stories of the Cherokee” by Barbara R. Duncan, storyteller Kathi Smith Littlejohn tells about a time long ago when there was no fire and everything was dark and cold.  The animals knew there was fire on the other side of the world so they decided to get some.  Buzzard went first, but when he tried to carry hot coals back on the top of his head, he burned all the feathers off. The little black snake, who wasn’t black then, tried next, but the only place he could carry coals was on the back of his neck and it burned his body black all the way down. To this day he’s still black.

Then Grandmother Spider said, “I’ll get the fire.” Of course, the other animals laughed at her, but she said, “I may be small, but I’ll get it.  You watch me.”  So she went to the river and made a little pot of clay. She carried it on her back to the other side of the world, put some hot coals into the pot, and carried them back. That’s how she brought fire to this side of the world and gave the Cherokee people the idea of making pottery.

The mythological motif of the smallest one succeeding when others fail is universal. It teaches that when your intention is sincere and benevolent, fierce determination, careful observation, and creative thinking count more than size, age, gender or physical strength. Can I learn something from careful observation and creative thinking about this spider?

I watch her explorations until I lose her. What did I learn? I think back. I’ve been worrying that my preoccupation with writing dulls my appreciation for the life and beauty that surround me so I came out to the porch to get out of my Mind. One point for Nature. But I brought a book with me! One point for Mind.

My first instinct was to kill the spider. Instincts are Nature.  Point. But when I recognized my instinctive response I decided to spare her. Choosing to override an instinct comes from the Mind. Point.

I reflected on this experience.  Reflection is both Nature (according to Jung it’s a natural human instinct) and Mind (it requires a deliberate choice to use cognitive skills).  Point. Point.

Three points each so far.  But here’s the tie-breaker:  I took notes! Then I turned the experience into another blog post.  Darn! My writer animus is relentless!  As usual, Mind trumps Matter.

I worry. Is this imbalance in my personality a bad thing? Just as taking action satisfied Grandmother Spider’s need to bring life-giving fire to her community, writing satisfies my need to understand myself and help others acquire self-knowledge. So what’s the difference between us?  I worry about which aspects of my personality are dark, which are bright, and which side’s winning. She’s too busy doing her thing to worry. Here’s Grandmother Spider’s message to me:  “Keeping score is more appropriate to gaming than living.  Your job is not to perfect every aspect of your personality;  it’s to do the work you are uniquely suited to.”

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

 

Insights from Ireland: My Associations to the Dream May 17, 2013

opossumNow that I’ve related my dream from the night we arrived at the Jungian conference in Ireland, I’d like to use it to demonstrate how I work on my dreams.

Every year I start a new file on my computer and write out dreams in the order of their arrival, giving each one a number, date, and title. I try to include every detail, image, event, color, plot change, behavior, thought and emotion I can remember.

Next, I go through the actions and symbols and record my personal, cultural, and archetypal associations to them. I also note my dream ego’s emotions throughout the dream.

Finally, I look for connections between the dream and what’s happening in waking life. When I don’t understand something, I jot down questions. Sometimes this is enough to give me a sense of closure. Other times I’m left wanting more. When this happens I might think about the dream for days or even weeks, watching for more insights and adding them to my journal so I won’t forget them.

Following are my associations. Next time I’ll share what I think the dream was saying about my inner and outer life at the time I had it.

  • Fred: My husband. He often appears in my dreams. Sometimes as himself, sometimes as my animus, sometimes both. I associate my positive animus with qualities like self-discipline, ambitious goal-oriented activity, clear logical thinking, and persistence in heroic striving for psycho-spiritual growth. I’m annoyed at him for creating this mess.
  • Interior designer: An aspect of my animus that’s helping my ego re-design the interior of my psyche.
  • House: Me, my psyche, my personality: the place where I’m living now.
  • Golden urn: An alchemical vessel, container for my inner work.
  • Dining Room: A place to take in nourishing food so it can be transformed into useful energy.
  • Filling in holes on the pin board: The pinboard was like a household bulletin board that holds notes, schedules, lists and reminders. Smoothing out my persona, my outer social personality.
  • X doesn’t want me to see what lies beneath the list: X is an intense person I know whose extreme attitudes and behaviors sometimes make me uncomfortable. A shadow aspect of my animus.
  • The other designer arranges antiques into a still life on the right side of the mantel: An aspect of my animus which sees some older parts of me as valuable qualities that should be displayed in a prominent place. He arranges them above the hearth/heart, the center of my body and its chakras, the source of compassion and inner fire. I like many of my older qualities too, and think this is the right place for them. I assume that once they’re arranged they’ll be still and I won’t have to make any more changes. Hah! Joke’s on me!
  • Possum: A primitive, instinctual, and very alive aspect of me that’s been hidden from my ego’s awareness. My ego doesn’t want it messing up my psyche and I don’t want to clean up after it.
  • Excrement: Alchemy’s prima materia: raw, disowned, instincts and emotions.
  • Electric blue zig-zagged lines: Spiritually transforming energy like lightning bolts and electricity.
  • Beautiful patterned carpet: The underlying pattern of life; archetype of the Self; my god-image. I want my spirituality to be clean and pure, not marred with possum excrement (my flawed, human, physical, instinctual self.)
  • I know it’s my job to clean this mess up: Like it or not, I’ve accepted the responsibility to deal with this situation.

Any more thoughts?

 

Should You Trust Your True Emotions? October 5, 2012

Since writing my last post about my “white coat syndrome,” which has to do with hidden anxiety as manifested by high blood pressure, I’ve thought a lot more about the mind-body connection. And I have a theory:  our authentic emotions, whether we’re aware of them or not,  have as much to do with our health as any other factor.

We can eat healthy, low-calorie foods at every meal; yet, if while we eat we’re feeling anxious about something we’ve said or worried about something outside our control, or if we’re feeling sad, hurt, or angry, our emotional pain will have as much to do with our blood pressure, and therefore our physical health, as what we’re eating, our genetic inheritance, or how much exercise we get.

I know.  This is not a scientific study. I’m my only subject, and my blood pressure is the only objective measure. But I’m telling you this:  when I feel emotionally uncomfortable my blood pressure goes up.  When I’m in an emotionally good place, doing something I love and am good at, it goes down. This is simply the way it is with me.

For social reasons my parents taught me to repress emotions they considered negative:  self-pity, anger, frustration, impatience, criticism, judgment of others, pride in my accomplishments (“Don’t get a big head!”), enjoyment of my body’s skills (“Don’t show off!”), and so on.  My mother’s favorite saying was, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Apparently her thinking was that if I didn’t express or act on a negative emotion, it wasn’t real and couldn’t hurt me or anybody else.

My education taught me to trust left-brained objective and logical thinking, things like my knowledge and test scores, not what felt important and meaningful to me. To believe accepted theories, not inner realities. To conform with social norms and ignore the gut feeling when something felt wrong. I was convinced my parents and teachers knew better than me, so I duly de-valued and ignored my emotional self, believing that at worst it was evidence of a terrible flaw, and at the least, unimportant.

I was wrong. My blood pressure confirms it.  Emotions are the body’s natural expressions of our instinctual, archetypal selves. If we’re hungry we feel anxious or irritable. If we see blood we feel fear. If someone says something mean to us we feel hurt or angry. If an object of our affection rejects us for another we feel jealousy and pain. If someone thwarts our desire we resent them. When someone dies we feel sad. These are powerful physical realities that every human experiences and there’s nothing wrong with them.

The ugliest emotion we can feel is as worthy of our attention as the noblest. This doesn’t mean we need to express or act on it, but it does mean that knowing what we feel and where the feeling comes from is good for us. And it means that engaging in practices that reduce the strength of unhealthy emotions and replace them with healthy ones—like acceptance, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion for ourselves and others—is essential to the healthy functioning of our bodies and souls and has everything to do with the quality of our lives. As Deepak Chopra says: “It is up to you to keep the messages that course through your body positive instead of negative.  No other duty in life is as important or vital to your health and well-being.”

The latest data: When I returned home today after the funeral of a friend, my pressure was 130/83.  After finishing this post two hours later it was 115/78.

First image credit:  Feeling sad and lonely by ppawelczak of deviantART

My new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, can be found at www.Amazon.com or www.larsonpublications.com.

 

 
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