Freeing Buried Emotions August 28, 2012
Recently Deepak Chopra posted an article on Huffington Post about the relationship between physical health and consciousness. He wrote that the mind and body are connected in a feedback loop which works all the time, whether you’re awake, asleep or in a coma. But here’s what I found most interesting: when you participate in the feedback loop with self-awareness, you make your mind and body allies in a positive partnership that leads toward increased health and longevity.
After reading Dr. Chopra’s and Dr. Rudy Tanzi’s eleven “prescriptions” to a self-aware approach to life, I copied two into my blog file thinking I might want to write a post about them. Behind my conscious reason, however, was another of which I was barely aware: I needed these prescriptions for myself! One was: “Free yourself emotionally — to be emotionally resilient is the best defense against growing rigid.” In other words, there’s a cause and effect relationship between mental and physical inflexibility and vulnerability.
This advice has been simmering in my mind since then, and now I know why I found it so compelling. I haven’t exercised regularly this summer and am getting increasingly stiff. Today I did a lot of bending and stooping and weed-pulling in the garden around the root cellar, and soon afterwards felt the need for two Aleves! I know this isn’t unusual for my age, but I also know it’s not inevitable. So what’s the mental correlate that might be contributing to it?
My mother was a wonderful woman, but she was not emotionally open or resilient. In fact, she was so emotionally vulnerable—fragile, really—that to her death she strongly resisted feeling and manifesting any strong emotions at all. Since she never dealt consciously with this aspect of her shadow, I naturally inherited it. So here’s the connection. She died four years ago this month, five days short of her 94th birthday. My brother and I knew she wanted to be cremated, but she never told us what to do with her ashes. So I’ve kept them in a closet. As you can imagine, this has been weighing heavily on my shoulders. My rather stiff shoulders. Does this suggest anything to you? It sure does to me!
I’ve been trying to uncover some long-buried emotions for several years and it’s paying off. I’m less sensitive and emotionally reactive, and I’m losing my unconscious tendency to deny physical and emotional pain. A few months ago when I read a post on Elaine Mansfield’s blog about the stone cairn she and her sons built over her husband’s ashes, I had an epiphany. Our North Carolina property is practically a quarry! Burying her here under a cairn was the perfect answer! The fact I was ready to let her go tells me I was also ready to let go of some guilt, anger and denial related to her.
Last Saturday evening my brother, husband, and I buried Mom’s ashes in a garden we created for her this summer. At one point Jim paused for a moment. The sound of the gurgling creek flowing past the garden had brought back a memory from our youth. We rarely went on vacations, but once Mom saved enough money to rent a beach cottage. That week she spent most of her time on the porch reading and doing crossword puzzles. One day she said to Jim, “I just love listening to the water.” In dreams, water often symbolizes emotions. She may not have heard her pain in life, but now she has no pain, and she can listen to something she loves for eternity. Rest in peace, Mom. We’re both freer now.
Three Perspectives on Dream Symbols January 27, 2012
After my last post about the dragon dream, Rob asked if we dream out of both the personal and the collective (archetypal, therefore shared by everyone) unconscious, and if dreams about one’s personal unconscious sometimes use archetypal imagery. Yes. Many dreams seem to be purely personal, a few are purely archetypal, and most, like my dragon dream, are a combination of both. In fact, every dream symbol and theme actually has three possible levels of meaning: personal, cultural, and archetypal, so I always look for associations at all three levels. I’ll demonstrate with the symbol of a house.
Personal Meaning of House: My dragon dream took place in the house in which my husband grew up. When Fred and I were dating I was invited often for meals, and after our marriage it was the setting for numerous family gatherings and fun celebrations. I have many warm associations with this house, all involving Fred and his funny, quirky family. Although my mother visited there a few times, I do not associate this house with her. I find this a curious aspect of the dream. The kitchen in Fred’s house was the core of family activity and most of our gatherings were centered around meals cooked by Fred’s beloved grandmother or stepmother (with whom he had a conflict-filled relationship). My mother never entertained and she cooked only the simplest of meals out of necessity, never passion or even interest, so her presence in this kitchen is an odd detail. The room in the far left corner of the house, streetside, was the bedroom shared by Fred’s brothers George and Tony. I adore them both and imagine them dreaming many beautiful dreams in there. In realilty, of course, the room had no garage door, although there were high windows. The actual garage was on the other end of the house, on the right side next to the kitchen. This was the garage I was heading for at the end of the dream.
Cultural Meaning of House: Houses everywhere represent protection from the elements, family, warmth, and comfort: nurturing qualities all. Kitchens are traditionally the purviews of grandmothers, mothers and other women who prepare food for their families. They are also rooms in which flour, milk, water, yeast, sugar and salt are mixed and baked in ovens, a magical process which transforms them into nourishing bread. Kitchens also have fresh water available for cooking and cleaning up.
Archetypal Meaning of House: Houses represent the psyche and everything that goes on in our minds. Archetypes are mental pictures of physical instincts. The needs of all five instincts (nurturance, activity, reflection, sex, and creativity) can be met in houses. This dream features three instincts. Nurturance is represented by the house, my mother, and the kitchen. The kitchen contains two especially vital symbols: a womb-like oven which transforms basic elements into the bread of life, and a source of water, the cleansing, life-giving element associated with humanity’s maternal Source, the Great Mother (she’s also associated with dragons). Activity is shown in the dragon’s banging on the roof and walls, and in my dream ego’s walking, then running away. Reflection is symbolized by the windows which provide an outlook into the unconscious, the dragon with its fiercely knowing, staring eye, and the keys representing access to secret knowledge and wisdom.
Do you see the wealth of multi-leveled meanings I can glean from these symbols? All but the dragon are parts of everyone’s personal life, yet most also appear in the myths and fairy tales of every culture. I’m still working on the dream. It could take a long time to understand, if ever. For now I’m just letting it cook.
Gaia’s Children October 18, 2011
My third-grade grandsons were given an assignment to write about the most beautiful place in nature they can imagine. Connor’s story, published in my last post, is about how he spent a summer day at the beach. His twin brother Jake has wonderful memories of a winter day in the Smoky Mountains. He drew the picture you see here. This is his story:
“Once I went to North Carolina and I just could not wait to feel the snow at my feet. When I got there I found out that my grandpa bought me a sled for the snow! Would you like that to happen to you? I got all of my gear on and raced outside. I could feel the cool breeze in my face. Then I formed a ramp and slid down it. Then I fell off my sled and landed in the pearl-white snow. It was fun! Would you like that to happen to you? Next I went exploring in the woods. I hiked all the way up to my uncle’s house. It was a lot of work! When I came back down I got a little lost but then I passed a tree I recognized. That tree was close to the house! When I got to the house I was really tired. I jumped on the couch and drank hot chocolate. I wish you were there to enjoy the snow with me.”
Last time I described how the teacher made this writing assignment so much more fun by sending a “top secret” note home asking the parents to respond to their children’s essays. The children knew something mysterious was going on and had to wait a few weeks to find out what it was. The mystery was solved when they opened the sealed envelopes their parents had sent back to school and found their special letters inside.
Connor and Jake’s mother, Robyn, has a master’s degree in education and is one of the best mothers I’ve ever known. I’ve learned so much from her about how to listen and respond to children with patience, kindness and respect that I honestly think she should make instructional videos for parents! You’ll see the kind of person she is when you read her response to Jake:
“I remember last winter like it was yesterday and I couldn’t have described our experience as well as you. When did you become such a talented writer? Reading your essay actually made me feel cold! I now long for new sledding adventures and more treacherous hikes. Most of all, I’m now seriously craving a mug full of rich, steamy hot chocolate!
“I, too, find North Carolina the most beautiful place in nature. As magical as the snow-covered Smokies are in winter, I tend to prefer summers in the mountains. I love our drives there each July, counting down the hours until we arrive. It’s always thrilling to see the first mountain range, then eventually make our final turn onto Buck Creek Road. How I love to roll down the windows just to smell the forest! Can you imagine that woodsy scent right now?
“In North Carolina I feel as though we are one with nature. I am in awe of the animals we encounter, from the tiny hummingbirds that buzz around like giant bumblebees to the chubby chipmunks that scurry across our porch hoping not to be seen. How many slippery salamanders do you suppose we have caught over the years? Not to mention the fireflies — it’s incredible how they light up the night sky! What about the black bears we cautiously avoid on our long walks through the woods? I’d secretly love to catch sight of one — from afar, of course!
“I couldn’t write about the glory of North Carolina without mentioning the waterfalls! I’m amazed that some begin as tiny trickles from above. How do they then explode into raging bursts of water that dramatically plunge hundreds of feet downward?
“Of course I have to mention our rafting adventures! The rapids are exhilarating, but I think my favorite part is the very beginning when we paddle out early in the morning watching the mist float on the surface of the river, listening to the cheerful birds loudly chirping and squawking, greeting one another at the start of a new day.
“On our annual trips, hiking in the woods offers the most beauty. When we arrive at the end of each trail the sights are breathtaking! I could sit at the top of Whiteside Mountain all day, gazing down at the trees in the valley far below, feeling humbled and mesmerized and grateful all at once.
“I have traveled to North Carolina every year since I was a child, and I have forever cherished my time there. I am blessed to share my love of the mountains with you, Jake, and can’t wait for our next trip. What else do you think we might discover?
“All my love, Mom.”
I’ve published these stories and letters partly because I’m a proud grandmother who delights in celebrating my grandchildren’s accomplishments; partly because I’m an educator who wants to share a very special activity for other teachers and parents to use; and partly because I’m a nature lover who’s worried about the carelessness with which we’re treating our Earth Mother, Gaia. At this stage of my life one of my greatest fears is for Her welfare. Likewise, one of my greatest hopes is that my grandchildren’s grandchildren will inhabit a world of unspoiled beauty in which they too can experience the mystery and wonder of swimming in an unpolluted ocean and sledding over pristine white snow on a densely forested mountain.
If a crystal ball could show me my great-great-grandchildren’s world would I dare gaze into it? I’m not sure I want to know.
A Thanksgiving Blessing November 23, 2010
Years ago when The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth was first published, I presented several workshops about the differences between the life cycles of men and women. Using the model of the ancient descent myths which preceded hero myths and often featured women whose journeys followed a pattern of sacrifice, suffering, death, and rebirth — for example, the Sumerian myth of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth — I encouraged participants to reflect on how they had experienced these stages in their own lives.
My purpose was threefold. First, I wanted them to understand the differences between how their feminine and masculine sides experience life, and to know that both are valid and worthy of our attention. Second, I wanted to guide them in an experience of inner work that would expand their self-knowledge. Third, I wanted them to understand the repetitive nature of life’s processes so that they might acquire trust that each ending is also always a hopeful new beginning.
One memory from those workshops stands out from all others. Having experienced a lengthy and painful death-like period in the middle of my life, I was speaking about the hope and gratitude that had followed it when a psychiatrist asked me a question. “I have a client who is a deeply depressed and bitter quadriplegic,” she told us. “He can’t do anything for himself. He will spend the rest of his life this way. He is not religious. What hope can I give him about rebirth? What should he be grateful for?”
The room was silent. My first thoughts were, Who am I to be talking about rebirth when I’ve never had a death experience remotely like the one this man is suffering at this very moment? What kind of hope does he have? I had an answer, but in that moment I couldn’t think how to express it in a way that wouldn’t sound flippant. I was very humbled and remember expressing that feeling, but have no recollection of what else I said. I have carried that question with me ever since and would like to answer it to the best of my ability now, just in case that doctor or patient, or someone like them, might someday find my thoughts helpful.
If you are reading this post on the day of its publication two days before Thanksgiving, I am on a plane headed for Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia, sites of some of the most horrendous killing fields on the planet where vast numbers of human beings suffered and died in ways I cannot imagine or bear to think about. What was left for them to be grateful for in their last moments?
Life. They had Sophia’s sacred spark of Life. Until their last breaths they had traces of sensory awareness, memories, thoughts, feelings. Perhaps they saw the sunlight sparkle on a blade of grass, felt a cool breeze, remembered the taste of chocolate ice cream or the feel of a mother’s tender touch, experienced a rush of love for their lovers, children, or grandchildren.
We have Life. What could be more worthy of thanks? May the miracle of being alive in this precious moment, this perfect Now, give you hope and gratitude on this Thanksgiving Day and in the days to come.
Horse Crazy May 9, 2010
I saw my first horse at the age of five when my father walked me down a dusty Tallahassee road to a stable near our home. How to describe what happened to me that day? Have you ever fallen in love at first sight? That’s how it was with me. I was knocked out, bowled over, and blown away by the magnificent creatures I saw that day and I’ve been crazy about them ever since.
Perhaps you know a horse-crazy teen-aged girl. The odd thing is, this phenomenon is far more common in girls than boys. What’s that all about? I’ve asked myself and others this question for years, as have many horse lovers, and I think I may have found an answer.
Love is about nurturing and being nurtured. Each of us carries around an unconscious blueprint inscribed with thousands of memories, feelings, and associations related to the people who cared for us as children. Some are positive and some negative, but when someone or something comes along that resembles that blueprint, our soul responds with profound emotion while the clueless ego stands there and wonders, “What just happened?”
Which brings me to the symbolism of horses. Think about it. Horses are big and warm. Their coats are soft and smooth, they smell good, and they carry you around. Your mother was big and warm. Her skin was soft and smooth, she smelled good, and when you were a baby she carried you around. Or not. Either way, that’s what you wished for.
Horses are so tall that when you’re on their backs you’re higher than everyone else, which makes you feel important and special. Isn’t that how you felt in your mother’s arms?
When you spend a lot of time with horses and treat them with love, they love you back and serve you willingly and faithfully. That feels really good, the way an attentive mother makes you feel. And if your mother didn’t make you feel that way, your unfulfilled need became part of your blueprint.
If you ever get lost when you’re riding in unfamiliar territory, all you have to do is trust your horse and it’ll always take you home safely. So will most mothers.
Horses have an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what you’re thinking and feeling. Did you ever suspect your mother might be a mind-reader?
And here’s the clincher. With horses, you get to be the boss. These humongous, potentially dangerous creatures have to do what you tell them to — go fast, go slow, go here, go there, jump, stop, turn around — and if they won’t, you get to punish them! Now is having that kind of power over your mother the dream and demand of every savage young ego or what?
In sum, I think horses are mother substitutes. All children need their mothers’ affirmation of their power, lovableness, and worth. But since girls tend to identify primarily with their mothers, they have a special need for maternal intimacy and reassurance. So if we have nurturance issues with our mothers, some of us work them out with the horses we love. And some go on to fall in love with our Sacred Mother as well. Happy Mother’s Day.
Thanks to Jodie Otte www.jottephotography.com for permission to use this amazing photograph.