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
A Dialogue with the Self August 2, 2016
Carl Jung said the Self is both our core and our circumference. Some think of it as our soul, the totality of who we are and who we have the potential to become. Jung called it the archetype of wholeness. In later years he referred to it as our god-image and connection to the Mystery some call God. Composed of the twin drives for self-preservation (i.e. masculine logos, represented in alchemy by the King archetype) and species preservation (feminine mythos/eros symbolized by the Queen), the Self shapes our ideas about what is sacred.
As the source of our irresistible compulsion to grow into our true selves and express our unique creativity, the Self is an ongoing, never-ending process. I see it as the psychological equivalent of the physical exchange of energy and information constantly occurring at the quantum level between the molecules of our bodies and between us and our environments. As I understand Jung, he suspected that the energies of both processes, inner and outer, are united in one intelligent, purposeful, evolving collective unconscious, Force (as George Lucas named it), or Zero Point Field (as some physicists now call it), which promotes increasing order, health, and wholeness.
We associate the Self with six attributes: wholeness, centrality, unity, love, pattern, and the life-giving force. We grow conscious of its guidance by noticing these themes in the symbols and synchronistic events of our dreams and waking life. Benevolent by nature, the Self calls our egos to their heroic destiny of merging with the indwelling Mystery. Our egos often reject its guidance, but it never gives up on us. The more we notice and respond to it, the more it responds to us.
The following story from one of my earliest blog posts illustrates the loving interaction that can take place between ego and Self:
I’ve just arrived at my soul’s home in the mountains of North Carolina where I will spend the remainder of the summer. I’ve often wondered why I love this place so dearly, why it makes me feel so loved and connected and alive and grateful for my life. My answer came last night and this morning.
I’m at my desk looking out an east-facing window. The morning sun enters my backyard late because it has to rise above the mountain before its rays filter down through a thick tree canopy. Most of what I see is in shade but a patch of sun has highlighted the brilliant silver threads of a spider web between two branches of a buckeye tree. Grandmother Spider is busily checking connections, tightening threads, and hunting for tasty morsels that got trapped during the night.
Pursuing the threads of last night’s thoughts, this morning I picked up Aion, Volume 9, ii, of Jung’s Collected Works, in search of symbols of the Self. In paragraph #356 he writes:
“The commonest of these images in modern dreams are, in my experience, the elephant, horse, bull, bear, white and black birds, fishes, and snakes. Occasionally one comes across tortoises, snails, spiders, and beetles. The principal plant symbols are the flower and the tree. Of all the inorganic products, the commonest are the mountain and lake.”
Spiders. Mountains. Trees.
When I entered the gravel road last night my arrival was heralded by a cawing black crow who flapped off toward the house. The first thing I did was feed the rainbow trout in our pond. Black birds. Fish. Lake. (Do you think a pond counts?)
Then I walked around the garden to check out the flowers. My treasured peonies are already spent, but the pink New Dawn roses and purple clematis are a-riot on the trellis, the hydrangeas look like giant blue and white powder puffs, the hostas are sending up tall bud-laden spikes, the astilbe have myriad pointed white cotton candy tufts, the golden daylilies are in full bloom, and there’s a mound of pink petunias by the kitchen door. I don’t garden in Florida. It’s just too hot. But here I can have my flowers. Flowers.
Below Bear Pond and Shadow Brook there’s a small pasture and stable where my horse, Shadow, used to spend his summers. I’ve always had a thing for horses. And Shadow, well, he’s a subject for another post. Horses. By the way, bears are the theme of this mountain home. They’re all over the house. But that’s another story too. Bears.
Speaking of bears, every summer for ten years I’ve come here with my sweet friend, a handsome golden retriever whose name was Bear. He passed on last August, but his ashes are in a white box with a label that says “Bear Raffa: Forever Faithful” in a cabinet four feet to the right of where I sit. I cried when I entered the house without him last night. But this morning when I was still in that borderland between sleeping and waking, I heard his joyous booming bark. Twice. He’s glad I’m back. I’m glad I’m back.
Do I need any further reminders of how loved I am and why I love this place so? Not really, but such is the nature of the Self that I’ll probably continue to get them every day anyway. And night, too. Sweet dreams of the Self, my friends.
Following Our Symbols: Healing Our Souls March 15, 2016
“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.
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.”
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 Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
A Warm 52nd Week: 2015 January 5, 2016
“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” ~Carl Jung
We returned home from the cabin last night after a week of unseasonably warm and rainy weather and equally warm family gatherings. Unfortunately, this morning the cold that’s been threatening me for a couple of days finally showed up in a sore throat, laryngitis, and the other usual symptoms.
So instead of writing a longer, more time-consuming epistle, I’ll summarize my final week of the year with a quick post sprinkled with pictures. After which, as the Victorian ladies say, I’ll “take to my bed” for a long winter’s rest. With popcorn. And movies. Hey, I’ve been good! And I really need this today.
Izzie and I took several hikes. The first day we discovered that after a week of solid rain, the little brooks that are usually only trickles had become serious contenders with our big and bold Buck Creek!
We had the good luck to run into Hermenio, who lovingly tends and beautifies our property. He took us on a guided tour of the new trail he’s building.
The winter woods are full of treasures. Like this delicate ground-cover plant with tiny green leaves and bright red berries that loves the damp ground and mossy sides of rocks and boulders. Does anyone know its name?
One of my favorite things to do on hikes is look for Mother Nature’s art. Here are a few samples.
Cooking is a favorite pastime and we have lots of food rituals.
On our last hike the boys finally found some frost and played a game of tic tac toe made from weather-impervious marble. Their table is the stump of a hemlock.
Wishing you warm memories of 2015 and a happy, healthy, prosperous, and wildly love-filled New Year!!
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.