“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry, an umbilical spot of grace where we were each touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologists call it the Soul, Jung calls it The Seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it the Atman, Buddhists call it the Dharma, Rilke called it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qualb, and Jesus calls it The center of Our Love.
To know this spot of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it. This is a hard lifelong task, for the nature of becoming is a constant filming over of where we begin while the nature of being is a constant erosion of what is not essential. We each live in the midst of this ongoing tension, growing tarnished or covered over only to be worn back to that incorruptible spot of grace at our core.” Mark Nepo
How Do You Find Your Center? January 7, 2020
Aging and Becoming July 9, 2019
“These are writings about ‘becoming’ as an ongoing and active process with its especial significance as we age….becoming assumes a ‘changing to’ and a ‘moving toward.'” Susan Scott and Susan Schwartz
The above words are from the preface of Aging and Becoming: A Reflective Enquiry, by Susan Scott, a writer from Morningside, Johannesburg, and Susan Schwartz, a Jungian analyst from Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Each of the 26 chapters in this slender volume begins and ends with an appropriate quote, most from wise women throughout history. In between is a conversation between the authors on topics ranging from A–Aging & Attitude–to Z–Zero. Stitched together, these musings create a nurturing patchwork quilt of a month’s worth of meditations on how women can age consciously and wisely. Here aging is not treated as a downhill slide to a disastrous end, but a series of challenges and opportunities to grow your soul into its intended fruition.
A: Aging and Adapting
Susan Scott: Attitude is a word of motion that in its best sense expands and broadens. Many of us who do not allow for an expansion of attitude, a growth in our view of ourselves and the world and our place in it, can get stuck…This entrenchment of attitude is limiting and draining to personal power and leaves little room for movement or maneuver.
Susan Schwartz: We are not only on a descent but also on an ascent into a more complete rounding out of our personality….Perhaps what is referred to as wisdom is the ability to cope and find reasons, strategies or ways of being and for valuing the present moments….The wisdom and spirit of age can be demolished only if we agree or collude with those attitudes that denigrate and demean.
Susan Schwartz: The time for conformity and fitting in just to be accepted is over. Real forms of self-expression derive not from a false front or to superficially conform, but arise from the real self, a more complete woman self. As we age, the need to define and express our essence becomes more insistent. The image of the older woman as frumpy is not true. Voice, artistic writing, style, intellect comes in all these numerous garments and more for expressing her soul.
Susan Scott: Healthy self-care differs from the obsessive body panic. The fine line is to be aware of judgments about the body as negative or perfect. That signals the false ego rather than a devotion to restorative self-attention.
D: Dreams, Death & Depth
Susan Schwartz: Dreams are both messages and messengers. And how awful it is to be ignorant of them. The mystery of not understanding them while holding them preciously allows for secrets to gradually unfold….[Dreams] illustrate, through their mirroring function, how the personality keeps on presenting information about life events, aging and changing.
Susan Scott: The dream reveals our own metaphor, our own myth, as a gift to one’s self. It carries great responsibility and opportunities. The rich and honest soil of the dream, unconscious and wanting some light thrown on it requires attentive watering for its fertility and to bear fruit.
F: Fear & Fulfillment
Susan Scott: When I am assailed by fearful feelings I realize that they are often the spur that shakes me out of my languor and torpor. It is not easy sitting with them. Yet, by virtue of sitting and being in that fearful place, another kind of awareness may emerge creating a slight shift.
J: Joy & Journey
Susan Schwartz: Jouissance is a French word for physical or intellectual pleasure, delight, or ecstasy…it means to go beyond the superficial and metaphorically get out of the box. Jouissance transports us to what is beyond the familiar. It represents…intricacies to be appreciated as the journey wends its way even more uniquely and we continue to define and refine.
M: Moon, Mourning & Mystery
Susan Scott: The moon’s principle is constant change and as such is symbolic of an emotional inner and outer principle. What other force is there like the moon that pulls the oceans from shore to shore? Now as we age we are more mindful of the powers of darkness, the night atmosphere represented by the moon and its associations to the feminine energy.
Susan Schwartz: it is time to unravel the shadow pieces lying on the dark side of the moon. This expands the personality making us more inclusive and complete. We could then be more honest, openly accessible to ourselves and to others. Honesty is not hiding what we never had to hide to begin with.
P: Path & Pain
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Gloria Steinem
Susan Scott: The quest in life is being aware of the questions–about who we are, our place in this mystery of life as we experience it. We can ask the questions, stir things up a bit as it will surely do…we can welcome whatever arises as we would a guest, coming newly into our home. Can I live the questions I ask of myself? The only foolish question is the one not asked.
Susan Schwartz: The end of the alphabet, zero, is a letter than denotes what begins and ends…An aspect to Zen is waiting, awareness, feeling and not feeling the body and its sensations and reactions, being and not being caught in the mind….And the zebra that is such a lovely and unusual animal…Like the zebras none of us have the same stripes. This is similar to how we move through aging by negotiating its complexities and living consciously….Aging presents challenges that we do not escape at life endings.
Aging and Becoming is not a work to rush through. It is contemplative reading, packed with thoughts to savor slowly, like a leisurely conversation over coffee with a beloved friend. It will activate your ego’s awareness of your soul’s natural condition: an appreciation for wonder, mystery, and curiosity, and a knowing of the essential meaning and potential of your life. Like winter, these inner events portend spring’s renewal.
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. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.
The Lone Ranger of Writing Asks for Help February 10, 2015
Last week’s visit from Elaine Mansfield was fun and productive. We talked, walked, ate, laughed, and wrote a proposal for a workshop on loss and grief. And an especially wonderful thing happened. I, the Lone Ranger of writing who has always written and revised every word of every manuscript with no help from anyone until entrusting it to an editor, experienced a significant breakthrough.
Knowing Elaine had recently sought advice from friends for her Tedx talk, I asked her to listen and comment on my first rehearsal of my upcoming keynote presentation for the IASD convention. This morning’s dream had something to say about my “bold” new approach.
I’m in the lobby of a large library. Before I can find and study an article I need for my work I have to be interviewed by a person in charge. When it’s my turn she grants me a permit, but by then it’s so late I have to leave. As I gather my belongings I realize I have too much baggage to carry alone. Just then, Fred arrives to help me.
I find myself alone on the side of a very steep stone mountain outside the library. The path is extremely precarious and as narrow as one of my feet. The trail ahead disappears into the cliff wall. My only support is a very slight bulge in the wall to my right. When I grasp it it flakes off like disintegrating slices of cardboard.
The ground is very far away. A jump or fall will kill me. I feel no fear and trust that whoever created this path provided a way out. I look over my left shoulder and see a wider, more gradual slope about 30 yards behind me. It has no stairs, but a metal railing offers man-made support down the middle of this rock road. I must have been on that path before branching off onto this one. I wonder why I left it.
My only option is to return to that place of relative safety. I inch slowly backwards, trusting in my balance and supporting myself with a gentle touch on the crumbling ledge with my right hand. After a few steps I look down and am surprised to see the ground a foot away. I’m safe.
As usual, I had no idea at first what this dream could mean, but when I started reflecting on my associations to the symbols I soon realized it was about my speech.
Looking for an article in a library: My mental work of acquiring knowledge and writing.
Baggage: Too much knowledge and too many memories to sift through. Which mental “stuff” shall I use for my talk? Which stories, ideas and pictures are the most relevant to my topic?
Fred arrives to help: My sweet helpful husband and an image of my Animus, both of whom are always there for me without my having to ask.
Finding myself alone on a narrow, dangerous and disappearing path on a steep mountain: My independent way of traveling through life is becoming increasingly challenging and outmoded. Something needs to change.
Trusting and feeling no fear: Many dreams in recent years have placed my dream ego in situations that would once have terrified me but no longer do. This speaks to my growing trust in the benevolence and internal guidance of the Self.
Walking backwards: Relinquishing my need to control my way of living and working; returning to a place (attitude and way of living) of more receptivity to help and comfort from outside myself. Even the Lone Ranger had a mother once! And what about Silver and Tonto, for heaven’s sake? “Lone” may not have realized it, but he was never really alone.
Gently touching the rock with my right hand: Staying in touch with my instincts and the physical world which are always there to support me.
This morning I sent a summary of this dream in an email to Elaine, who, by the way, has arrived home safely despite the hazardous travel conditions. Here’s part of her comment: “You descended from the mental realms and hit the earth. It’s a promise to work through the huge amount of material available to you and pull all the ideas down to earth. And you’re already so close. Love, love, love that gentle right hand inching down the precarious rocks and going down backwards.”
I’m so grateful that 26 years of dreamwork have taught me to trust my inner resources, especially the Self, to help me through life. And I’m so grateful for a husband and friends who want to help. Despite my unduly proud and independent spirit, I never really was alone, was I?
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.
So after my last post, my best friend Ann, a Jungian therapist who now lives in Texas, called to chat. As usual, it took only a few moments of touch-ins before we got into Jungian psychology. We’ve been known to go at this for hours with no sense of passing time. It’s our particular “zone.” This time our topic was the Actress archetype. Actually, I’m not sure if anyone has ever formally named or written about this as an archetype. If you know of someone who has, I hope you’ll let me know.
Anyway, as we see it, the Actress/Actor is an aspect of the fundamental archetype of the psyche that Jung called the Persona. Beginning in childhood, every Ego automatically creates a Persona. This is a filter or mask we wear to hide the socially undesirable parts of ourselves while revealing those deemed acceptable. A persona is like our wardrobe: by the time we’re adults most of us have a collection of different clothes for different occasions. We wear one outfit for our siblings, another for our parents, a third when visiting our extended family, a fourth for our friends, a fifth at school, a sixth at work, a seventh with co-worshippers, an eighth when with the “other” political party, a ninth in very formal settings.
The Actress/Actor aspect of our Persona can be a positive or negative thing depending on how much we’re hiding and pretending, what we’re revealing, and whether our major concern is to please, impress or be real. Hiding and pretending saps our energy; telling the truth fills our tank and fuels our inner light. Yet, being authentic and transparent can be problematic if we say exactly what we think when our thoughts are critical, our emotions are hostile, or our concern for the feelings of others is nonexistent.
The ideal is to communicate who we really are and what we truly care about with clarity, effectiveness, compassion, and respect for our audience. And here’s the kicker: our underlying motive must not come primarily from our Ego’s need to bolster its self-image, but from the Self’s desire to be of benefit. I doubt if we can ever completely erase our Ego’s needs, but we can subdue and redirect them in service to the Self. Finding this balance is tricky, of course, but when we do, activating our Actress or Actor is powerful and beneficial. As Ann said, “It’s not losing strength, it’s gaining strength.”
I discovered my Actress around the age of 10 when I sang “How Much is That Doggy in the Window? ” punctuated with barks, in a church camp talent show. I loved the laughter and applause. After that I rushed onstage at every opportunity: in classes, plays, as a teacher, president of the PTA, church leader, chairman of the board. It wasn’t until my mid-40’s that I noticed how little I really enjoyed these activities and how draining most of them were. That’s when I realized I was pretending.
Within a year, and with great relief and no guilt, I reduced the number of my obligations to causes outside my immediate family from ten to two. The two I kept were women’s groups in which no one starred and leadership was shared. Since then, my only ongoing social commitments and leadership roles have been related to my soul’s passions.
My dreams of panicking before going onstage because I can’t find my costume or haven’t learned my lines have steadily diminished. A few years ago I dreamed I was singing my own songs in an intimate nightclub with no stage and a receptive audience. I haven’t lost my Actress; I’ve gained a valuable ally in my life’s work of learning to be true to myself.