Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

What Is Love? October 27, 2015

The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

“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)

images-2Jung 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

unnamedSo 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 RaffaHealing 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 KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.

 

The Positive Side of Depression April 22, 2014

In her brilliant book, “Psychic Energy,” Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding writes: “When life presents us with a new problem, a new chapter of experience for which the old adaptation is inadequate, it is usual to experience a withdrawal of the libido. For one phase of life has come to an end, and that which is needed for the new is not immediately at hand. This withdrawal will be experienced in consciousness as a feeling of emptiness, often of depression, and certainly of inertia, with an overtone of self-rebuke because of what seems like laziness or sloth.”

Have you ever been there? I have. Many times. And each time it happens it takes a while before I remember that this is simply another step in the journey. The road may be leading downhill for now, but it’s still there, and as long as I can place one foot in front of the other the story isn’t over yet. But what are we to do while we’re in the abyss of emptiness? The depths of depression? The islands of inertia? The swamps of self-rebuke?

First of all, we need to remember that when our libido, or psychological energy, withdraws, it is not gone forever. The laws of physics tell us that energy can be transformed but not destroyed. When we feel a loss of energy it simply means that the energy which was formerly available to our ego has sunk into the unconscious. Once it gets there, forces over which our egos have no control will have to be mobilized before the energy can return to consciousness. The ego usually feels to blame, but it is not, because it has no control over unconscious forces.

Second, in the words of Harding, “When the light of life dims and one is left in the darkness of depression, it is much more effective to turn for the moment from the objective task and to concentrate attention on what is going forward within, instead of forcing oneself to continue by a compulsive effort of the will.” Once the libido is no longer available to our ego, will power can only be used effectively to “follow the lost energy into the hidden places of the psyche by means of creative introversion.”

Creative introversion means working with our fantasies and dreams in creative ways that feel meaningful. These products of our unconscious speak to the hidden forces which have sucked our libido down into the dark belly of the whale, and their images can give us clues not only to the nature of the difficulty, but also to the solution.

For example, many years ago toward the end of an extended period of libido loss I kept imagining myself as a baby chick still inside an egg, pecking at the shell. I knew I felt trapped, but I didn’t know what was trapping me or how to get out. Exploring this and other waking and dreaming images through art, journaling and dreamwork highlighted features of my persona that had initially protected the new life in me but were beginning to smother it. As I kept pecking away, cracks appeared in my shell until it finally collapsed and I stepped out of my self-imposed prison. The extraordinary infusion of new life I’ve experienced since then has taught me to see libido loss and depression not as obstacles or enemies, but as helpful guides along the way.

My thanks to Dr. Judith Rich for the inspiration for this post. Check out her article on the Huffington Post to see her wonderful take on a related topic.

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 Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

Insights from Ireland: Getting the Human Thing Down May 24, 2013

A snake/dragon for Maeve

A snake/dragon for Maeve

I love the humanness of the dream I’ve been sharing. It’s so “lower chakra” with its symbolism of a possum and its excrement. Why do I love that? Andi sent me this quote in which Catholic priest Richard Rohr explains: “History has revealed too many people who have tried to be spiritual before they have learned how to be human! It is a major problem. Maybe this is why Jesus came to model humanity for us—much more than divinity….Get the ordinary human thing down, and you will have all the spirituality that you can handle.”

Kundalini yoga and Jung say the same thing. The colors of the rainbow represent the entire spectrum of human experience, from the infra-red of instinct and emotion to the ultraviolet of spiritual transcendence. We can devote our lives to spiritual strivings in the heady, upper chakra realms, but if we ignore our earthy roots we’ll still be plagued by issues related to self-esteem, security, physical identity, survival, fear, power, sex, pleasure, anxiety and relationships.

Ideally, the first half of life is for getting the human thing down, but life is rarely ideal. My parents were ill-suited to each other and when I was born my hard-working mother’s emotional health was precarious. Mom had just learned of my father’s infidelity and her mother-in-law blamed her for his moral lapse. Only now do the puzzle pieces, vague hints about family secrets, fall into place.  Deeply sensitive and intuitive from birth, I absorbed the crisis-laden atmosphere into which I was born. I see it now. My mother’s deep pain. The profound anxiety of a little girl who did not receive the nurturing she needed and assumed the fault was hers. The shameful secret I have borne since childhood:

I am unlovable.

Seeing this belief at the root of my personality is the biggest insight of all. So this is why I’ve always been so hard on myself!  Guided by the high-minded spirituality of my family, I responded to my unworthiness with self-consciousness, perfectionism and self-blame. I hid my anxiety beneath a smooth persona of stoic calm and poise. I tried to kill strong emotions. I played dead.  X, the shadow animus in my dream who also has a deep mother wound, wants me to maintain this persona. Acting reasonable, calm and cool can be a survival strategy for an insecure child who fears the emotional abandonment of its mother.

At the start of the conference the strain of playing dead was wearing me down. Dream Mother wanted me to know I’ve grown strong enough to deal with my lower chakra realities. So she let the possum out from her hiding place and she let my dream ego have the temper tantrum I was never secure enough to have as a child: “I’m not cleaning up this shit!” I yelled with no trace of a perfectionist persona in sight.

The alchemical detail of electric blue possum excrement suggests spiritual transformation. Am I getting the human thing down? The dream said I knew cleaning up after the possum was my responsibility and I would deal with it. Dream Mother was right. I’m cooking my inner contents in a sturdy golden vessel of writing and dreamwork. And now I have a new shadow to learn to love.

Hi, Little Possum. Welcome to my conscious world. Your mother may not have been able to carry you, but I can. You won’t need to play dead any more.

About the picture: On Monday’s hike I found a stick that looked half-dragon, half-snake. Meaningful symbols are keys to hidden chambers of the unconscious. Dragon represents difficulties that must be overcome before an important goal can be reached; snake is a symbol of transformation. I brought my stick to Maeve’s Tomb on Tuesday to leave as an offering on her special hazel bush. When Fred found a swatch of red (root chakra and Maeve’s color) cloth, I tied it to the dragon-snake’s back with dental floss. The red scarf tied to the trunk below is Monika’s.

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

 

Crumbdungeon or Changing Woman? September 11, 2012

I’m back in Florida now. This summer I didn’t experience much of the peace and solitude I usually get at our mountain cabin. Living amidst that wild beauty was restorative, but this was mostly counteracted by the 10 hours I spent at my computer every day unless Fred, the kids, or guests were there. I love the writing phase of a book, but promoting it is an entirely different matter! Neither my personality nor my brain finds anything fun or easy about that. It didn’t help that my computer skills are rudimentary and our internet service was wonky!

Another thing. After months of obsessing over final edits and revisions, double-checking citations for my sources, answering my publisher’s questions, and attending to numerous other mentally demanding details, by summer’s beginning I was thoroughly out of touch with many realities of daily physical  life. Adjusting to the drastic changes in setting, home, and social responsibilities required skills I hadn’t used in a coon’s age, and sometimes this magnified my usual social and sensory spaciness to embarrassing extents!

Of course, the stress of having to employ my inferior functions day after day was an open invitation to my Shadow! She found these changes in my habitual lifestyle so difficult and frustrating that by mid-August I was resigning myself to the new and decidedly uncomfortable self-image of curmudgeon! Or as my friend Eleanor calls it, crumbdungeon! Naturally, my perfectionist Spiritual Bully was not amused to see this “flaw” in my Persona.

But I learned some very valuable lessons. My difficulties forced me to ask for help more often than usual. And I received it, especially from Fred and two of his office staff in Florida. And when the kids visited, my son cleaned out over 100 items on my computer that were causing unnecessary obstacles. HUGE help! Plus, my publisher’s marketing department knocked itself out on my behalf. These almost daily gifts warmed my heart and took a huge chunk out of my tendency take the blessings of my life for granted.

In short, my “vacation” was unusually challenging but surprisingly gratifying. For example, persisting despite my struggles reactivated some left-brained circuits my brain hasn’t used for far too long. It was eye-opening to see the limitations of my personality type—INFJ on the MBPI—and the perils of obsessing over it. Combine one-sided rigidity with the natural effects of aging and you have a recipe for diminishing mental functioning. You know the saying, “Use it or lose it.” I get that now and I’ll be more proactive about balancing my inner and outer lives from now on.

Launching my new book will offer additional challenges in the coming months. With many more obligations than usual, I’ll need to think farther ahead and plan more carefully if I want to keep doing everything that’s important to me. One of these is publishing two posts a week. Thursday I’ll be presenting for the Literary Sala in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and the following week’s schedule contains four more book-signings. Yikes! This leaves little time for writing.

But I think it’s going to be okay. This summer I also learned that while I can’t always be balanced, flexible, or free from my shadow’s influence, the energy and skills I need to pursue my passions will be there when I need them…as long as I remain healthy, self-aware, and open to redefining myself every day!

You can order Healing the Sacred Divide at www.larsonpublications.com or www.amazon.com.

Here’s a link to the site of the San Miguel Literary Sala for whom I’ll be presenting Thursday evening:  http://sanmiguelliterarysala.org/archives-2012/september-2012/

For a neat video of the San Miguel de Allende writer’s conference, click this link: U-TUBE VIDEO

 

A Dream With Meaningful Symbols April 13, 2012

Has it ever happened to you that an ordinary symbol or image from everyday life suddenly feels significant? Perhaps it happens after a synchronicity like falling in love with a painting then finding the same image on the cover of a fascinating new book. Or maybe you have no idea why an image moves you deeply.

Either way, your heightened awareness of a symbol tells you you’ve connected with an unknown aspect of your unconscious self that is bringing more meaning to your life. You can ignore this, which is what most of us do, and life will go on as usual. But if you want to understand yourself better and feel more spiritually connected, you can take these inner awakenings seriously and look into the meaning of the symbols that elicit them. In doing so, you create a new story for yourself: you remyth your life.

Once I got serious about self-knowledge and began to pay attention to my dreams, things like this happened quite often. At first I hid my growing fascination with certain symbols for fear people would think I was weird and make fun of me. But after a few years a special dream gave me more confidence to be myself.

Dream #860: Acquiring the Courage to Be Real. I’m walking through an underground corridor lined with narrow but beautiful rooms decorated with elegant antiques. It is the mansion of an older, reclusive, hardworking woman. I live here too. The doorbell rings, telling me my friend has arrived. The older woman asks me to buy her some lemonade while I’m out. To be polite, she asks if my friend wants to come in. When I say no she is relieved.

I climb the stairs and open the door into a big, dark, dusty warehouse. I follow a narrow path through broken pieces of junk to a door which opens onto the street. It’s opened by my beautiful, young, black-haired friend who wears a white trench coat and is bathed in brilliant white light. We walk through a rundown, weedy front yard onto a busy street. The passersby do not suspect there is an elegant, but somewhat narrow mansion below the ground behind this junky facade.  The older woman is afraid of people knowing she is there or how she lives.

This dream told me I had a fearful shadow (older woman) who was hiding the best parts of herself—my richer, fuller spiritual nature (mansion)—deep inside (underground) behind a neglected persona (warehouse, weeds, front yard). That she wanted some lemon “aid”  (in Judaism the lemon symbolizes the human heart), said that she lacked the compassion to give more of herself and the courage to be real.

It was very heartening to know that my ego had grown enough spiritually (walking up stairs) to step through my barrier of fear (doorway) and enter life in the outer world more fully. And to know that the feminine aspect of the Self (friend, the opposites of black and white, white light) wanted to help me obtain what I needed (lemonade) felt absolutely wonderful. This was when I  finally understood that the sacred feminine is real, that she lives in me, and that she’s a helpful friend!

Understanding the symbols of this breakthrough dream emboldened me to reveal more of my true self to family, friends, and in my writing in a way that nothing else had the power to do. And yes, I am now aware of levels of spiritual meaning in many things I never thought twice about before, including narrow mansions, lemons, doors, stairs, warehouses, white light, and even junky yards!

 

The Positive Side of Depression July 1, 2011

In her brilliant book, “Psychic Energy,” Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding writes: “When life presents us with a new problem, a new chapter of experience for which the old adaptation is inadequate, it is usual to experience a withdrawal of the libido. For one phase of life has come to an end, and that which is needed for the new is not immediately at hand. This withdrawal will be experienced in consciousness as a feeling of emptiness, often of depression, and certainly of inertia, with an overtone of self-rebuke because of what seems like laziness or sloth.”

Have you ever been there? I have. Many times. And each time it happens it takes a while before I remember that this is simply another step in the journey. The road may be leading downhill for now, but it’s still there, and as long as I can place one foot in front of the other the story isn’t over yet. But what are we to do while we’re in the abyss of emptiness? The depths of depression? The islands of inertia? The swamps of self-rebuke?

First of all, we need to remember that when our libido, or psychological energy, withdraws, it is not gone forever. The laws of physics tell us that energy can be transformed but not destroyed. When we feel a loss of energy it simply means that the energy which was formerly available to our ego has sunk into the unconscious. Once it gets there, forces over which our egos have no control will have to be mobilized before the energy can return to consciousness. The ego usually feels to blame, but it is not, because it has no control over unconscious forces.

Second, in the words of Harding, “When the light of life dims and one is left in the darkness of depression, it is much more effective to turn for the moment from the objective task and to concentrate attention on what is going forward within, instead of forcing oneself to continue by a compulsive effort of the will.” Once the libido is no longer available to our ego, will power can only be used effectively to “follow the lost energy into the hidden places of the psyche by means of creative introversion.”

Creative introversion means working with our fantasies and dreams in creative ways that feel meaningful. These products of our unconscious speak to the hidden forces which have sucked our libido down into the dark belly of the whale, and their images can give us clues not only to the nature of the difficulty, but also to the solution.

For example, many years ago toward the end of an extended period of libido loss I kept imagining myself as a baby chick still inside an egg, pecking at the shell. I knew I felt trapped, but I didn’t know what was trapping me or how to get out. Exploring this and other waking and dreaming images through art and journaling highlighted features of my persona that had initially protected the new life in me but were beginning to smother it. As I kept pecking away, cracks appeared in my shell until it finally collapsed and I stepped out of my self-imposed prison. The extraordinary infusion of new life I’ve experienced since then has taught me to see libido loss and depression not as obstacles or enemies, but as helpful guides along the way.

My thanks to Dr. Judith Rich for the inspiration for this post. Check out her latest article on the Huffington Post to see her wonderful take on a related topic. Welcome back, Judith.

 

Cleaning Up My Act May 28, 2011

Of the many forms of mind-training that bring more self-knowledge, my favorites are writing and dreamwork. When I combine the two, as I usually do, I never fail to gain a valuable insight. For example, the following dream from a few weeks ago dramatizes my ego’s growing awareness of its attitude toward an unlikeable shadow.

Dream #4329: “Cleaning Up My Act.” I enter the basement laundry room of a hotel with five soiled items of clothing. I see the clothes of a traveling companion soaking in a big tub of hot, sudsy water. Their owner, a rather withdrawn, grumpy woman who doesn’t seem to like me, is nowhere in sight. Since there’s plenty of room in the tub I add my clothes to hers and leave.

When I return the only item of mine still in the water is a white blouse. I take it out wondering where everything else is. I see the woman’s suitcase sitting open on a counter. I move her clothes around to see if she might accidentally have put mine in with hers.

Just then she walks in the door and says, “What are you doing with my clothes?” in a suspicious, accusatory way. I feel confused and guilty. As I try to explain my innocence I start to wonder why I put my clothes in with hers. That was her laundry, not mine. Did I overstep her boundaries? Did I do it again just now by going through her suitcase? I realize with a bit of a shock that my behavior was not as justified as I originally thought it was. This unlikeable woman is the victim here, not me.

At first my dream ego sees little wrong in what I did. But once I see the woman and am seen by her I begin to question my assumptions. I realize my behavior was not exemplary, and I see that to dismiss her significance because she doesn’t like me is not in accord with my preferred image of myself as a kind and accepting person. In fact, I was feeling a bit self-righteous and critical of her, and it is a shock to realize she sees me the same way.

I’ve been aware of traveling through life with this shadow for a while now, but so far my tendency has been to ignore her. The theme of wanting to wash my dirty clothes says I want to clean up my persona, or public personality. But the dream says my efforts are being stymied by my ego’s ignorance about this shadow — where she lives and how she influences my personality — and by my reluctance to take care of this unfinished business.

This dream reminds me to pay closer attention to the feelings and behaviors this shadow represents until she and my ego ease up on their judgments of each other. I need to be less critical of her, and she needs more acceptance from me to feel safe enough to express her feelings honestly and appropriately.

Every soul is different and the direction our inner work takes varies from one individual to another. Most people probably don’t have as strong a need as I do to improve their personas, and not everyone with an inner curmudgeon wants to stifle it. But whatever our issues, the same rule applies: Until we can see and come to terms with the shadows our dreams show us, they will continue to disturb our inner peace.

 

 
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