The Shape of Water: The Shape of Change? January 30, 2018
Filmgoers may have laughingly dismissed Godzilla, the Teenage Werewolf, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the 1950’s, but nobody laughs at the real-life monsters we see on television every day in the form of terrorists, genocidal dictators, and political leaders who incite divisiveness and spout nuclear threats. We get it. Dystopia is us. Our problems are caused by humanity’s psychological and spiritual ignorance, and they will not be resolved until enough individuals acquire more mature and humane ways of thinking and behaving. What used to be the role of deities and religious authorities has now become everyone’s job.
Fortunately, there are seers among us to show us the way. They are the courageous and gifted artists who create books and films depicting ordinary people who evolve into heroic individuals. The Star Wars series, Avatar, Arrival, and The Shape of Water are examples. Their mythic themes and archetypal characters limn the shape of our own souls. Everyone enjoys a good story. But do we realize these stories are about us? Do we understand their metaphors and decipher their symbols? Do we apply their lessons to our own lives?
Each of us contains a possible hero like Luke Skywalker, an indomitable Amazon heroine like Princess Leia, a Wise Man like Yoda, a menacing Warrior like Darth Vader. You may relate to Avatar’s Jake Sully, a vulnerable wounded Warrior with the potential to be healed by love, but his counterpart—the dark side’s ruthless, power-hungry Colonel Miles Quaritch—also lives in you. Regardless of your gender you can activate the healing of an Earth Mother like the Na’vi’s Mo’at, a beautiful Beloved like princess Neytiri, or a benevolent Wise Woman like Dr. Grace Augustine. Archetypes are latent patterns of energy in everyone’s soul. They teach and empower us when we listen.
Consider Arrival’s gentle Louse Banks, a linguist who’s tormented by intuitions and visions which fill her with confusion and dread. She’s the image of a person in whom the Mediatrix archetype is activated. When the U.S. Army recruits her to communicate with alien life forms hovering over the earth, she breaks the rules to gain their trust. In a blog post titled “Arrival: How the Feminine Saves the World,” depth psychology expert Carol S. Pearson notes this “reveals how traditional elements of the Lover archetype are morphing to meet new challenges.” The world leaders see the aliens as dangerous threats and are preparing to make war on them. But because Louise is motivated by love, not fear, she sees them as wondrous life forms to communicate with and befriend. This prompts us to ask ourselves: Do I respect people and species different from me? Do I listen to the subtle messages of my body? Do I befriend my thoughts and emotions or try to ignore them?
In The Shape of Water, an even more vulnerable heroine saves the life of an amphibious monster. The year is 1962. Elisa is a mute, mousy janitor on the night shift of a top-secret government research lab desperate to get one-up on the Russians. One night a promising “asset” arrives in a portable tank in the form of a scaly green creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon lookalike from a Brazilian rainforest where he was worshiped as a god. Deeply drawn to this equally voiceless and powerless creature, Elisa initiates a fairy-tale romance with him by playing Benny Goodman on her portable record player, placing hard-boiled eggs on the lip of the tank in which he’s confined, and teaching him sign language when he emerges from the water to eat them.
As it turns out, the real monster in this story is Richard Strickland, a sadistic, square-jawed military officer who tortures the green man, sexually harasses Elisa, and makes racist comments to Zelda, her co-worker. Overhearing the scientists’ plans to kill and dissect her beloved in the name of science, a frantic and determined Elisa enlists the help of Zelda and her gay neighbor, Giles, to rescue him. The remainder of the film builds the tension amid a dreamy, watery green ambiance before reconciling it in a surprise ending that leaves us wondering: What just happened? Is he what he seems? Do I have it in me to do what she did? Does love really have a god-like power? How strong is my Lover archetype? Do I truly know how to love?
The characters in these films play out their roles against a backdrop of mythic themes:
the destructiveness of our shadow Warriors
the crises and suffering necessary for the making of a hero/ine
the need to respect, communicate with, and accept help from other people and species
love’s victory over ignorance and hatred
But here’s a not-so subtle difference. It used to be that only men got to be heroes, but we’re seeing more heroines now. Although the first Star Wars film to appear centers primarily on Luke Skywalker, it is his heroic sister, Princess Leia, who turns him into a hero. The same is true of Avatar’s Jake Sully whose heroism is inspired by the equally heroic Princess Neytiri.
The most recent of these—Arrival, The Shape of Water, and The Last Jedi—convey a theme new to our time which resonates with many souls today: the feminine as savior. Louise, Elisa, and Rey are not fantasy superheroines like Wonder Woman and Aquagirl. And they’re not sidekicks who help the main character accomplish his goals. They are ordinary women who initiate change and accomplish it with the respect and cooperation of healthy, caring men. Louise’s heroism is aided by Ian, a scientist. Giles helps Elisa save the green man. And in the newest Star Wars episode, Rey becomes the last Jedi with the help of Luke Skywalker. The main protagonists are females.
This shift in the spirit of our times is reflected in recent statistics. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports that of the top 100 films in 2014, only 12% featured female protagonists. But then something happened. In 2015 the figure was 22% and in 2016 it jumped to 29%.
Although the data are not in for 2017, we appear to be seeing the beginning of a trend. Water, like earth, has always been considered a feminine element, and in dreams, water and earth symbolize the unconscious self. Societies have unconscious selves too. Like the ocean, our collective unconscious contains monsters, but it also holds overlooked hidden treasures. Is the feminine as savior of the world the shape of change? Are you and I the shape of change?
Note: For more posts like this, please check out the blog of noted author Carol S. Pearson, where this post first appeared.
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.
Books: The Perfect Holiday Gift December 18, 2017
Holiday Greetings to all. It’s a week before Christmas, so there’s still time to order books for the readers on your list. In case you’re looking for ideas, here are some of my recent favorites. They’re all wonderful. Enjoy.
Regina Aguilar, Alchemy of the Heart: The Sacred Marriage of Dionysos and Ariadne. Chiron Publications. November 7, 2017.
Manipulated by mythologies which legitimate the authority of those who use them for economic and political advantage, we are increasingly estranged from our Source, our environment, one another and ourselves. We need stories that describe the soul’s healing, bring reverence for life, and connect us to an inner authority based on experiential knowing. Alchemy of the Heart—an in-depth Jungian analysis of the myth of Dionysos and Ariadne—is such a story. Dionysos exemplifies the destruction and restoration of wild, virile, passionate masculinity in deep rapport with the earth and femininity. Ariadne symbolizes innocent, trusting, devoted, but deeply wounded femininity in patriarchy. When a woman’s romantic illusions are shattered by masculine betrayal, the experience of feeling her supportive inner masculine brings renewed vitality and a mystical sense of oneness with life. The story and eventual union between the masculine Lover and feminine Beloved in the alchemical sacred marriage described in this myth is a metaphor for the inner path of integration and individuation available to you.
HeatherAsh Amara, The Warrior Goddess Way: Claiming the Woman You Are Destined to Be, Hierophant Publishing, October 24, 2016.
Written for women, The Warrior Goddess Way is filled with wise principles and insights from which anyone seeking greater power, passion, and freedom can benefit. Amara describes a pathway of presence, baby steps, and practice—a road to reclaim all of you, including your darkest fears and most precious gifts. It asks you to recognize how you have been trained to think and behave, to witness your mind instead of believing everything it tells you, and to embrace yourself in your entirety. Most of all it asks you to stop resisting things beyond your control and learn to love it all. To say Yes! to every situation in your life and ultimately, Yes! to death. Befriending death frees you to be more fully engaged with life. Examples and activities demonstrate the value of such qualities as presence, forgiveness, apology, authenticity, respect, listening, stillness, and awareness.
“Regardless of gender, the key to success in life is creating meaningful relationships.” With this line, the reader is ushered into a bold new territory where successful men care more about connecting and being real than wearing macho masks. In today’s world, authenticity and other qualities this two-sport All-American athlete now associates with greatness—like empathy, insight, honesty, vulnerability, compassion, acting for the good of others, and the ability to heal from one’s own wounds—are traditionally associated with femininity. Howes hopes to change this one-sided and outdated stereotype by describing nine toxic masks men wear which, when discarded, enable them to accept their vulnerability and evolve into a modern-day masculine archetype of benevolent and compassionate power, courage, inner peace and happiness.
Ira Israel, How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening, New World Library, November 7, 2017.
Western culture’s beliefs in capitalism, science, and religion taught you to value the wrong things like productivity, consumerism, and romantic love. Your futile struggles to find happiness and unconditional love via these beliefs created resentments and judgments about the past. As an adult you still dwell on these beliefs and ignore your present pain to stave off future pain. In How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult, psychotherapist Ira Israel deconstructs common dysfunctional mindsets and encourages you to accept and own the reality of your life. Suggestions to raise and reorient your consciousness include seeking a new definition of authenticity—encompassing the psychological principles of attachment, atonement, attunement, presence, and congruence—and practicing Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Three Jewels. Your practices will alleviate suffering, promote loving relationships, and help you live with authenticity and love.
Winifred M. Reilly, It Takes One to Tango: How I Rescued My Marriage with (Almost) No Help from My Spouse—and How You Can, Too, Touchstone, April 4, 2017.
Written by marriage and family therapist Winifred M. Reilly, this wise and practical book addresses unrealistic expectations and dysfunctional interactions which damage love relationships. With examples from clients and her own marriage, Reilly takes the reader through five developmental stages of partnerships. She concludes the key for positive change is for one partner to name the basic issues that create conflicts, accept personal responsibility for their role in them, learn how to manage their anxiety, and take risks to respond in new ways. This weakens habitual patterns and transforms the relationship into a more forgiving and loving partnership.
Tosha Silver, Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead, Atria (Reprint Edition), July 12, 2016.
Doctrinaire religions can leave you spiritually alienated because they focus on external observances instead of internal realities. Tosha Silver suggests you align with the Divine by asking for what it wishes for you instead of insisting on your ego’s preferred outcomes. When you offer your problems to the Divine and invite it to take the lead, then symbols and synchronicities tell you when to act. Your openness and trust in a divine order of love and abundance frees you from worry and allows the perfect solution to any problem to arrive at the right time. Silver shares a fascinating and entertaining collection of brief stories which illustrate these principles at work in her life and the lives of others.
Sara Avant Stover, The Book of She: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power, New World Library, October 13, 2015.
Building on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1973) and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey (1990), yoga and meditation instructor Sara Avant Stover’s The Book of She describes how women can reclaim their feminine power. Combining personal stories, examples from wisdom traditions, and advice from noted psychological and spiritual teachers, Stover highlights 13 stages of the feminine journey. These are organized into five parts: Preparing for the Journey, The Descent, The Initiation, The Ascent, and The Homecoming. Readers are encouraged to explore and heal their inner and outer lives with numerous activities, rituals and guided meditations within a framework of guiding principles—cultivating an ongoing practice, welcoming silence and prayer, clarifying your priorities, taking responsibility for your life, exploring dualities, and facing your shadow.
Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Whitaker House, October 4, 2016.
“Bad theology is like pornography—the imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one.” This sums up the theme of The Divine Dance—a repudiation of Empire and a celebration of Relationship. Central to this celebration is your willingness to actively change what you let into your heart and consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved. Trinity is a foundational principle of perennial philosophy—the core beliefs common to every religion. Some call it the Third Force. It is also a living reality—a circular flow of love in you and the universe that mirrors the orderly spinning dance of subatomic particles which birth and sustain life. The 67 essays in this book depict God as absolute relatedness. They affirm that your participation in the dance can transform your illusion of separation into a spiritual experience of radical relatedness with yourself, your life, and the Divine.
I think of you often as I work on my next book and will stay in touch in the New Year. I wish you the happiest of holidays. As the nights grow longer and darker, may your inner light grow stronger and brighter.
Staying Conscious April 11, 2017
Surprise! I’m back with an update. Reworking my old manuscript is bringing enormous satisfaction. My unconscious is sending solutions to knotty problems via my dreams and early morning ruminations before I’m fully awake. I’m meditating for 20 minutes before I get to work and writing for hours at a time. The latest entries in my dream journal say it all.
I’m teaching a one-hour college class in Language Arts. I have two pages of written notes stuck to a clipboard and am carefully peeling them off so I can hold them in my hands while I teach. Little chunks of the bottom of the second page stick to the board, but there’s nothing written on them so I won’t worry about them now. I suddenly realize I’ve spent the first 15 minutes getting my notes together and have no idea what’s in them. I feel an urgency to start teaching.
I start quieting everyone down, but interruptions and distractions prevent me from actually teaching. This is okay with me, because I can use this time to figure out what to talk about. I hope I’ll know by the time the class is ready to listen. A mother comes in late with two little girls. I don’t want them here but realize she must not have a choice so I smile to let them know it’s okay, all the while hoping she’ll keep them from disturbing the class. A loud male student gets my attention and I firmly ask him to quiet down. I realize I was too harsh and could have handled this better. I see I’ve used up another 15 minutes.
In the third 15 minutes the little girls fall backwards into a deep hole or well in the floor—it’s round and maybe 4 feet deep. The girls are submerged in a foot or two of water. I’m worried, but the mother doesn’t appear to be. They’re holding their breath and enjoying themselves. I decide they’ll come up when they’re ready and continue thinking about what to teach. But soon everyone is gathered around and I can’t ignore the situation anymore so I ask the parents (the father is here now) to pull them out.
Now I only have 15 minutes left. What’s the best way to use this time? I realize I haven’t given them the course syllabus yet. They need it to prepare for their end-of-semester project. I try to remember what it is. Oh yes, they have to create original learning centers. I feel better now. I know what to say before the class is over and I have to leave. I organize my thoughts and begin to teach.
This feels like a metaphor for the way I’ve spent my time in Earth School.
During the first quadrant I unconsciously spent my time preparing myself, gathering information without having a clue about what I was meant to do with my life.
In the second quadrant I was teaching and becoming aware of forces within me that were preventing me from finding and fulfilling my life’s work. One challenge was juggling parenthood with teaching and learning. Another was some strong masculine energy that presented me with problems I didn’t know how to handle gracefully.
During the third quadrant I committed myself to dreamwork as a means of self-discovery and wrote my first three books. At last I knew what my purpose was: to share what I knew about the transformation of human consciousness. Sometimes my immature feminine shadow fell back into unconsciousness. But I knew the importance of my mission and had the awareness to ask the Self (the parents) to bring her back into awareness.
In the final quadrant where I am now, I know how little time I have left to fully prepare my students (whoever might be influenced by my teaching and writing) for what is to come. Now I know what to do and am doing it.
There’s a girl-woman I know well who’s done something problematic. She’s got a bandaged wound. I’ve apprehended her and have to keep my eyes on her at all times to make sure she doesn’t escape and create more problems. This feels extremely important. Occasionally I take her by the wrist to keep her near. She’s pleasant and compliant, but I can’t trust her.
The girl is my feminine shadow. The dream says I am seeing her clearly and objectively. When I stay with her she’s not a problem. But if I fall back into unconsciousness and forget to watch her, she will resurrect and negatively impact my work and relationships.
Staying conscious is vital to this last quadrant of my life. I meditate every day now to be more mindful of subtle thoughts and inclinations that might prevent me from doing my best work. When something uncomfortable emerges I align with my observer/Self to look at myself objectively, recognize my shadow, and gently bring myself back into a place of repentance, forgiveness, gratitude and love. Making this effort is working.
Sending you love and blessings, dear friends. I’m having the time of my life.
How Do We Grow? December 6, 2016
A hunger to understand the forces that aided my psycho-spiritual growth has dogged me since I first wrote about the inner life 27 years ago. Intuitively, I structured my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth, around stories of painful early experiences that had influenced my life. That’s when I realized it wasn’t my intellect or will power or idealism or good intentions or good behavior or following the rules or listening to sermons or heeding other peoples’ advice that instigated my growth. It was my painful experiences.
These were experiences I couldn’t forget because they made a powerful impression on me, created difficult questions, internal conflict, fear, self-doubt and suffering. Like, why did Daddy divorce Mama and then die? Was it because he was bad and God punished him? Why did the Lone Ranger shoot me in my dream at the age of 10? Why was Ken mean to me in high school? Why did I get so angry at my fiancé for fearing for my safety and wanting to protect me? Was I selfish? Insensitive? Cruel?
We all experience things like this. It’s just the way the world is, the way the human psyche is structured.
To live oneself means: to be one’s own task. Never say that it is a pleasure to live oneself. It will be no joy but a long suffering, since you must become your own creator. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 249.
Painful experiences create painful emotions. Painful emotions create conflicts. Pain and conflict are notices that something isn’t working, and opportunities to try something different. Even though everything we’ve ever learned has convinced us that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. Even though we know we are perfectly justified in being the way we are. Even though it’s so wrong and unfair we just want to forget it. Pain and conflict make us realize we can keep making the same old choices or make a new choice. It’s our choice.
Adult suffering is caused by many things: physical pain, financial deprivation, illness, accidents, fear, self-hatred, regret; bad memories, bad parenting, bad habits, bad luck, bad experiences, bad mistakes; conflicting thoughts, painful emotions, a mind too rigid and closed, a mind too open and easily influenced; loyalty to old belief systems combined with fear of questioning them and risking something new; losses, betrayals, temptations; and any manner of other things. But whatever the cause of suffering and whatever else it may be, suffering is also a wake-up call from our unconscious asking us to pay attention, know that we have choices, and take action.
When we’ve had enough of suffering and summoned the courage to do something good for ourselves instead of waiting for something or someone to remove our suffering for us, we see an array of choices. We can change our partners, doctors, teachers, churches, addictions, bodies, lifestyle, home, job. Unfortunately, if our choices originate in fear of criticism or abandonment, anger, blame, self-hatred, self-pity, stubborn self-righteousness, or a refusal to take responsibility for our lives, they will take us from bad to worse. Fortunately, we can also choose to stop ignoring and despising our suffering and do something constructive to address it. Something like conducting our own research, reading a book, taking a class, committing to a practice, writing…anything we’re drawn to that brings insights about who we really are and why.
If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Pages 132-133.
But without the right motivation, choice and action are still not enough. Our action has to come from an honest recognition that we can’t do it alone any more. We need help. And it has to come from a humble attitude that sincerely wants and asks for help. Furthermore, our asking has to come from an attitude of surrender for the sake of love. Finally, we have to stay open and mindful enough to notice help when it arrives. It can come from anywhere: an experience that brings us to our knees. A dream that frightens and fascinates us. A new teacher or opportunity. A mind-blowing synchronicity between inner and outer events. A chance comment from a family member or friend. And when help comes and we know in our gut that it is beneficial and true, we have to trust our instincts, jump on board, seize it with all our being, and hang on for dear life.
This is a process with which I’m intimately familiar. Although the insights I’ve gained from studying and using Carl Jung’s practices have changed my life, I’m not just parroting his theories. What I know to be true for me is based on personal experience. Somehow in the middle of my life I started taking my life seriously. Somehow I sensed that my suffering and self-absorption, painful and humiliating as they were, had a healing purpose. Somehow I tolerated the tension of staying with it. Somehow I know others can too.
Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it’s going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we’re used to. This is always painful at some level. But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger (John 12:24). If we’re not willing to let go and die to our small, false self, we won’t enter into any new or sacred space. Fr. Richard Rohr. From his online meditation, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2016.
Image credits: Growth: Wikimedia Commons. Jung Quote: Thanks to Lewis LaFontaine.
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.
How Will Your Shadow Shape the Future of Our World? October 18, 2016
Opposites. A basic theorem of Jungian psychology is that for everything we know about ourselves—beliefs, values, attitudes, emotions—there is a corresponding unconscious opposite. This is because we see everything in terms of either-or, good-bad, and automatically disown and repress the less desirable option.
For example, your family stressed the importance of love and kindness. Growing up you emulated these values and were affirmed for it. You think of yourself as a kind and loving person. Yet, there have been times when you were filled with anger and hate and your good intentions flew out the window. Nevertheless, because being anything less than “good” according to your family’s standards doesn’t fit your image of yourself, you’ve justified your “lapses.” After all, you know how hard you try, how well-meaning you are, so it had to have been the other person’s fault. You were right/good, so they were wrong/bad. Right?
But, guess what. Your “negative” emotions and thoughts don’t go away just because you deny or ignore them. They merely sink beneath your conscious awareness to a place where your ego can’t see them. We call this dark realm the unconscious. As your ego is the center of your conscious self, your shadow is the center of your unconscious self. Since you’re a reasonable person, your ego is probably willing to admit to a few shadow qualities here and there. But for every “flaw” you acknowledge, there are many others of which you have no conscious knowledge.
Projection. This leads to a second basic theorem of Jungian psychology: Whatever we disown in ourselves we project onto others. Those onto whom we project our shadow have a “flaw” similar to one of our own. Jungians say they have a “hook” onto which we can hang a disowned quality of our shadow. The hook can be a minor personality trait that can be easily overlooked or a major one that consistently causes problems for them and others. Either way, we are easily offended by people who remind us of our shadow. This gives us a simple way to see our shadows if we’re willing to look, and provides us with a handy scapegoat if we’re not.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections, Page 247.
Entropy. A third psychological reality Jung stressed is that when opposites remain isolated from one another, any disorder lurking within them remains constant or increases. Thus, the longer we ignore our shadow, the more apt it is to cause trouble. Refusing to acknowledge it when it shows up is therefore not only psychologically ignorant, but dangerous. Unfortunately, the Western world does not recognize the shadow, either in individuals or in collective consciousness, and our ignorance perpetuates our prejudices, hypocrisy, broken relationships, self-righteousness, crime, war, and destruction of our planet.
“Only an infantile person can pretend that evil is not at work everywhere, and the more unconscious he is, the more the devil drives him. It is just because of this inner connection with the black side of things that it is so incredibly easy for the mass man to commit the most appalling crimes without thinking. Only ruthless self-knowledge on the widest scale, which sees good and evil in correct perspective and can weigh up the motives of human action, offers some guarantee that the end-result will not turn out too badly.” ~Carl Jung, Aion, ¶ 255.
This election season has pitted two candidates who couldn’t be more different against one another. Never, in the history of our country, has the divide between two potential presidents been wider. Never have so many citizens of the United States or the world been so shaken by this ugly polarization. Never has the collective shadow of America been so obvious to all.
Beneath all our conscious beliefs and rationalizations we are being influenced by our shadows. The less self-aware among us are defending the candidate who most represents their ego’s self-image and who promises to serve their self-interest; and they are projecting evil onto the “other” candidate and anyone else who carries hooks for their repressed shadows.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 236-237.