“I have treated many hundreds of patients. Among those in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook.” ~ C.G. Jung,
Seeing Through a New Lens: Part II November 1, 2016
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.
What Does Mature Religion Look Like? August 30, 2016
“Religion is supposed to teach us the way of love. Jesus even commanded it. Though I’m not sure that you really can order or demand love, it’s so all-important that the great spiritual teachers always do, saying with urgency, as it were, “You’ve got to love or you’ll never find your soul’s purpose. You’ll never find the deepest meaning of life itself.” Philosophically, you will never discover the Logos, the blueprint, the pattern, the template of all reality, what Jung would have called ‘the soul of the world.'” Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
Do we, the majority of us in the contemporary world, do we understand what love means? Do we feel fulfilled and spiritually satisfied in the depth of our souls? To the point that we’ve found our soul’s purpose? To the point that we can feel love for others whether they love us or not? Most of us don’t. I think that’s why our world’s in such a mess. Consider how our ideas about love for God and others develop…..
AN INFANT’S IDEA OF LOVE: You satisfy every instinctual need.
Come here right now! Feed me. Hold me close. Touch me gently. Make the hurt and hunger and loud noises go away. Smile at me. Make soothing sounds.
A CHILD’S IDEA OF LOVE: You give me what I want.
No! I won’t eat that nasty broccoli. I’ll throw up if you make me eat it. I want this toy! Don’t take it away from me! I won’t lie down. I don’t want to take a nap now. Come back here. Don’t leave me alone. Give me what I want and I’ll be good. Don’t leave me with the baby sitter. I’m afraid. Look under my bed. Did you check the closet? Just one more story and I promise I’ll go to sleep. Pleeeeeeease! Suzy’s touching me! Make her stop looking at me!! Thank you for giving me that (insert item) I wanted. You’re the best mommy/daddy/god in the whole world!
ADOLESCENT: You leave me alone.
There’s something wrong with you if you won’t let me do what I want to do. Why don’t you understand me? I was definitely born into the wrong family. I can’t wait to get out of here!!
If you love me you’ll always make me feel this good and I will love you forever! (Unless, of course, you stop making me feel good, in which case I’m outta here!)
I don’t feel as good as I used to. What’s happened to you? If you really loved me you’d …. (fill in the blank.) You don’t love me any more. I don’t love you any more either and its your fault: (Pick one:) A. But, I’ll stay (and make both our lives miserable because being with you is familiar and I’m afraid to change) or B. So I’m leaving (you’ll be sorry, but I know there’s someone out there who will love me.) There’s a C option too, but most of us never get to that…..
“I have treated many hundreds of patients. Among those in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook.”~ C.G. Jung,
MIDDLE AGE: You’re not enough for me.
Is this all there is? I’ve done everything I thought I was supposed to do and I’m still not happy.What’s wrong with my partner? Could there be something wrong with me? How can I feel better? Would it be wrong to tell the truth and act on my honest feelings? Will God punish me if I change my beliefs and break my promises?
“Meaty spirituality must first of all teach us freedom from the self, from my own self as a reference point for everything or anything. This is the necessary Copernican Revolution wherein we change reference points. Copernicus discovered that Earth is not the center of the universe. Now we have to discover that we are not the center of any universe either. We are not finally a meaningful reference point. Although we do have to start with self at the center to build a necessary ‘ego structure,’ we then must move beyond it. The big and full world does not circle around me or you. Yet so many refuse to undergo this foundational enlightenment.’This ultimate reality, the way things work, is quite simply described as love.'” Richard Rohr, Falling Upward
May our religion become Love.
Image Credits: Pinterest. Google Images.
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
What Is Love? October 27, 2015
“There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self.” ~Carl Jung
My last post concluded with the question, “And what about my prayer for love? Did that work?”
For the past 35 years I’ve traveled a slow and circuitous route to unravel the mystery of love. First, I had to learn what love is not. Here’s what I’ve discovered.
Discovery #1. Love is not a role we play or an act we perform.
In my early years I was largely unaware of my inner life and the fact that my behavior was dictated by a compulsion for safety and approval. I just wanted to be good, and being good was easy for me….until it became hard.
“The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.”
Letting go of ego starts with recognizing and dissolving the persona (social mask) we built in our youth. If we continue to identify with our role—in my case, being the loving and devoted daughter, wife, and mother; the pious believer; and, to a certain extent, the compassionate savior—we’ll pay a price for not seeing our shadow.
For example, after noting that, “…the pious Drummond once lamented that ‘bad temper is the vice of the virtuous'” Jung added,
“Whoever builds up too good a persona for himself naturally has to pay for it with irritability.” ~Jung (CW7, par.306)
Jung said of a patient that when she first came to him “…she was able to play her traditional role of the supremely wise, very grown-up, all-understanding mother-daughter-beloved—an empty role, a persona behind which her real and authentic being, her individual self, lay hidden. Indeed, to the extent that she at first completely identified herself with her role, she was altogether unconscious of her real self. She was still in her nebulous infantile world and had not yet discovered the real world at all.” ~Jung, (CW7, par.248)
Discovery #2. Love does not grow in a nebulous infantile world.
Love needs familiarity with our real self. As Ghandi said, love is not a “garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being….If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.” ~Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi, ed. Thomas Merton, On Non-Violence, pp. 36-38.)
Discovery #3. Love is a choice. It has taken me many years to learn that love is a practice we willingly engage in minute by minute, day by day. The goal of our practice is not to use our ego’s willpower to love, (or act like we love) others, but rather to use our healthy, mature ego in service to acquiring self-knowledge. But isn’t that egotistical, people often ask? No. Because love dwells in the Self. And with daily practice—that long, slow, circuitous route to the Self—we will eventually connect with the love at the core of our nature. Only then can we truly love others.
In other words, consciousness travels hand-in-hand with love. As consciousness grows, so does love. This leads me to the inevitable conclusion:
Discovery #4. Love is consciousness. Consciousness is love.
Catholic monk Richard Rohr, one of the foremost spiritual teachers of our time, affirms this conclusion and describes the practice which led Ghandi to consciousness, love, and non-violence:
“Gandhi’s answer is always the same: steadfast, persistent, dedicated, committed, patient, relentless, truthful, prayerful, loving, active nonviolence. In other words, universal compassion must become your whole way of moving through life.” ~Richard Rohr
So have I learned to love? Well, yes and no. I know that love dwells in the unified Self, but I also know that knowing about love is not the same thing as loving. Unless the knowing is accompanied by authentic loving words, motivations and actions, it’s just dualistic thinking that values the head and mind over the heart and matter.
But yes, in my 35 years of circumambulating the Self I’ve experienced love, and sometimes I manifest it…when I remember it’s already there, waiting for me to choose to access it. But no, I don’t access the love that indwells me all the time. First, I have to be conscious of my non-loving feelings and attitudes. Then I have to choose to connect with love and act from it instead.
But I’m hopeful knowing that love is a process of growing increasingly conscious through recognizing and integrating the opposites in my life: ego and Self, persona and shadow, even yes and no! And yes, I’m involved in that process. Anyone can be. You don’t need to be a saint to enjoy the benefits of awakening to your life.
“Life becomes infinitely more meaningful when the focus of our existence changes from separating to connecting. The more opposites we unite, the more conscious we become. The wiser we grow, the more sacred significance we see…and the more deeply we experience our lives.” ~Jean Benedict Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide
Image Credits: Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, Wikipedia via Google Images. Jungian image quote: Lewis Lafontaine. Quote image: Brooke Snow via Google Images.
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.
Signs at the Crossroads September 8, 2015
“To understand is quick and exciting but to embody is slow and penetrating.” ~John Tarrant
As I write this post I find myself at a crossroads; it’s my last week in our Smoky Mountain summer home. By the time you read this I will have left. Part of my heart doesn’t want to leave this sanctuary; the other part looks forward to returning to my Florida home and family.
Both places hold special charms for me. Here it’s secluded, cool, mountainous, and forested. Everywhere I go I’m surrounded by nature’s wild beauty. My life is slower, less “mental”, more contemplative and physical—perhaps I should say, “embodied.” I have lots of solitude, plenty of time to listen to my inner promptings and do whatever appeals, a large granddog companion to accompany me on daily hikes, and occasional house guests to enjoy and entertain…all at an easy, reasonable pace that feeds my soul at a deeply satisfying level.
My life in Florida has a different kind of beauty with its daily and weekly routines: regular workouts, ukulele lessons, social commitments, holiday celebrations, and fun times with my family, always with enough time left over to write. The pace is faster and more exciting, given Orlando’s thriving and diverse cultural offerings, but since I prefer a minimum of “fast and exciting,” I usually manage to stay within my comfort level there too.
The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create. The meaning of events comes from the possibility of life in this world that you create. It is the mastery of this world and the assertion of your soul in this world. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 239.
The thing that makes dividing my time between these two paths work so well is that I’ve finally learned to listen to how I really want to spend my time and to look for meaning regardless of where I am. In Florida I find meaning in my family and friends, writing, music, and art. Here in the mountains I mostly find it in nature, a road less traveled in our fast-paced world.
I’d like to show you what I mean. These are some of the meaningful signs I’ve found in nature during this crossroads week. Each one speaks to how I want to live my life, regardless of where I am.
This morning I saw this magnificent display of light in the bathroom. It came from a single sunbeam that found its way through the slats of the window blinds.
The first thing Izzy has to do on our walks is chase the trout around the pond while I feed them.
As we stepped onto the trail, the trunk and green necklace circling the base of this beautiful old tulip poplar captured my imagination.
The next thing to catch my interest was this unusual curved tree trunk.
Izzy loves to run ahead, nose to the ground, while I like to take my time on the trail. But she doesn’t go far, and before long, she always comes back to check in.
Yes, she does wait for me, but not always where I would prefer!
She also waits at crossroads to see which way I’ll go.
I think she prefers the road less traveled too.
The other day our friend, Sam, found what we’ve decided is an old moonshine jar almost buried beside the new path. Over the years, Mother Nature has turned it into a terrarium filled with green life. We left it there for Nature to do her thing, and to remind us of the history of these mountains. And to enjoy on our next walk.
We were being serenaded by crows near the end of our walk today when I found a crow feather. At the trail’s end I placed it on our Crow Altar.
This last sign came when we returned from town one twilit evening. I heard a loud rustle in the woodpile and saw a hawk fly up to a nearby branch. It peered down at us with interest and patiently waited while I pulled out my cell phone and took pictures.
Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places? February 24, 2015
Have you ever put yourself in a relationship or situation that filled a deep need and seemed totally harmless? And then suddenly something happened that made you aware of an unsuspected dark side of what you were doing? And it got so out of hand that you couldn’t control it and were swamped with anxiety and dread?
Most of us have experienced something like this at some point in our lives. So what do you do? Ignore it? Keep plugging away and hope for the best? Pray? Fantasize? Wait for a prince to ride up on a white horse and rescue you? Lay the blame on someone else while denying your part in it? Ask for help then get angry when it doesn’t come? Run away? Carry your guilt, fear, hurt and anxiety in a secret compartment and refuse to visit it while telling yourself you’re just fine? Only to put yourself in another situation somewhere down the road that’s just as bad as, or even worse than the first? Then go through the whole thing again?
These are the responses of an immature ego with limited self-awareness. When we see this happening to someone we know, it’s obvious that whatever they’re doing isn’t working. Yet, like a hamster on a wheel, some people keep traveling the same old path without getting anywhere no matter how good their intentions or wise their counsel. I’ve been there. Maybe you have too. Old habits and attitudes have strangleholds on our egos, regardless of how toxic the consequences. So how do we break free?
“To live fully, we have to…bring back to life the deepest levels of the psyche from which our present consciousness has evolved.” Carl Jung
But how do we follow Jung’s advice? Ask your unconscious for a dream. Dreams compensate for our conscious attitudes by showing us different ways of viewing our issues, especially problematic ones. The unconscious contains everything about ourselves of which we are unaware, including hidden potentials we haven’t yet discovered or alternative ways of being we’ve disowned. Situations like the above are invitations to bring them into our awareness so we can move forward.
This is not easy for an ego that’s oblivious to the inner life and thinks dreams and fantasies are “just our imagination.” Plus, few of us welcome the effort it takes to reflect on them. Most difficult of all is giving up our illusion of being in control and trusting some unknown part of ourselves to help us out. We experience the power of these archetypal entities all the time in strong emotions, urges that seem to come from nowhere, and synchronicities, yet we rarely “waste” much time trying to understand them. But it’s the only way to go if we really want to grow. Consider this:
“The essential thing is to differentiate oneself from these unconscious contents by personifying them, and at the same time to bring them into relationship with consciousness. That is the technique for stripping them of their power. It is not too difficult to personify them, as they always possess a certain degree of autonomy, a separate identity of their own. Their autonomy is a most uncomfortable thing to reconcile oneself to, and yet the very fact that the unconscious presents itself in that way gives us the best means of handling it.” Jung: Memories, Dreams and Reflections, pp. 185-188.