Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

How Do We Grow? December 6, 2016

imagesA 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.

14918779_1402325989807599_6359112785560545926_oWhen 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.

Bon voyage.

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 KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Healing America’s Political Divide November 29, 2016

projections-jung-unknown-face-jungcurrents-2“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.” ~Carl Jung, Aion, Christ: A Symbol of the Self, Pages 70-71, Para 126.

“There’ll just be four of us for Thanksgiving dinner this year. We’re a politically divided family.”~Overheard at Whole Foods Market the week before Thanksgiving.

They’re Rioting in Africa

They’re rioting in Africa
They’re starving in Spain
There’s hurricanes in Florida
And Texas needs rain.

The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The french hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch
And I don’t like anybody very much!!

But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away!!

They’re rioting in Africa
There’s strife in Iran
What nature doesn’t do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.

At 14 I was fascinated by the profundity of this song. When has the world ever been at peace?   Certainly not since Jesus preached a gospel of peace. And obviously not before that either, or else he wouldn’t have needed to preach it.

Why don’t we learn from our mistakes? Because for most of us, history is a powerless abstract concept that has nothing to do with us. But there is something with the power to change us: a painful experience of our personal shadow: our ego’s inner opposite.

The Shadow is our unconscious side, the part of us we don’t know about and don’t want to know about. It’s far more fun to blame others than face our shadows. So we unconsciously project our shadow qualities onto people who remind us of them, and we derive great pleasure from excluding, vilifying, and blaming them.

Naturally, they resent this, so in retaliation they project their shadows onto us. And there you have it. Our outer world mimics the inner conflicts between our “good guy” egos and “bad guy” shadows while we sit back enjoying our outrage and tut-tutting with pious self-righteousness. In my opinion, nobody describes this phenomenon better than my favorite minstrel bard, Kris Kristofferson.

Kris+KristoffersonJesus Was a Capricorn

Jesus was a Capricorn
He ate organic food
He believed in love and peace
And never wore no shoes

Long hair, beard and sandals
And a funky bunch of friends
Reckon we’d just nail him up
If he came down again

‘Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on
Who they can feel better than at any time they please
Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty decent folks can frown on
If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me

Eggheads cussing rednecks cussing
Hippies for their hair
Others laugh at straights who laugh at
Freaks who laugh at squares

Some folks hate the Whites
Who hate the Blacks who hate the Klan
Most of us hate anything that
We don’t understand

‘Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on
Who they can feel better than at any time they please
Someone doin’ somethin’ dirty decent folks can frown on
If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me

“I swear he was reading my mail when I was in my forties! His songs are still among my very favorites…I used to refer to him as “my favorite philosopher.” Still, often, I felt a twinge, and wished that he wasn’t singing about me.” Comment from a viewer of this video.

14470608_1364095146964017_1336560227455489139_n-2He was reading my mail too.

We won’t heal America’s political divide until enough of us heal our personal ones. Have you ever caught a glimpse of your unknown face? It’s easy to see. Just notice who you look down on tomorrow.

Credits:  Gratitude to Lewis LaFontaine for the quote images. They’re Rioting in Africa:  Written by Sheldon Harnick, Sheldon M. Harnick • Copyright © BMG Rights Management US, LLC. Jesus Was a Capricorn:  Written by Kris Kristofferson. Jesus Was a Capricorn lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.

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, Inc.

 

How Will Your Shadow Shape the Future of Our World? October 18, 2016

the_good_and_evil_angels_tate_blake“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular. ~Carl Jung, CW 13: Alchemical Studies, par 335. 

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.

webb_sending_out_the_scapegoatProjection. 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.

images-2“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.

The only lasting contribution any of us can make to world health and planetary peace is to know our own shadow well enough to restrain it without projecting more darkness into a world that already has enough to destroy us all. One pair of opposites has the power to determine our fate. Love is the most powerful healing and unifying force in life. Hate is the most divisive and destructive.

images-4Hating our shadow and seeing it in others instead of ourselves will set us on a path of conflict and destruction. Owning our shadow will activate compassion, ethical behavior, wholeness and enlightened consciousness.Will we choose to see and befriend our shadow and the people who carry it, thereby serving love? Or will we choose to ignore our inner darkness and hate the people who remind us of it?

Which way will your vote go?

 Image Credits: The Good and Evil Angels, Blake, Wikimedia Commons. Sending Out the Scapegoat, Wikimedia Commons. Witch Hunt, Wikimedia Commons. The Red Button, Wikimedia Commons.

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, Inc.

 

Dreams As Spiritual Guides October 11, 2016

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When you are in the darkness you take the next thing, and that is a dream. And you can be sure that the dream is your nearest friend; the dream is the friend of those who are not guided any more by the traditional truth and in consequence are isolated. ~Carl Jung, the Symbolic Life, CW 18, Para 674

And if you lose yourself in the crowd, in the whole of humanity, you also never arrive at yourself; just as you can get lost in your isolation, you can also get lost in utter abandonment to the crowd. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Page 1020

For 27 years, my spiritual practice has been dreamwork. Dreams aren’t commonly thought of as spiritual aids but they absolutely are. Carl Jung demonstrated this in The Red Book in which he recorded what he learned about himself from visions and dreams over a three year period. This formed the material and inspiration for his groundbreaking insights into the true nature of the psyche, and for his belief that acquiring self-knowledge and becoming who we truly are is our spiritual task and the privilege of a lifetime.

I wish I had understood this during the middle of my life. Throughout the 1980’s I functioned well in the outer world, juggling a home and family with college teaching. But inside I was struggling through a “dark night of the soul” crisis in which I was increasingly dissatisfied with my religion, my work, my relationships and myself.

Near the end of that decade I joined a Jungian study group. When I learned that dreams show us unknown aspects of ourselves in a visual, metaphorical, symbolic language, I began to record and work with mine. By the time I had this Big dream, I knew that taking my nocturnal dramas seriously was vital to my wellbeing.

Dream #155: “Going Against the Current.”

I’m walking downstream in a rushing river beside a rocky bank.  People are shooting by on rafts and I wonder how they keep from bashing themselves against the rocks. I turn around and laboriously make my way back upstream in water up to my chin.  The bottom is rough and rocky.  I reach up and hold onto some thin, flimsy branches sticking out over the water. This helps, but soon there are no more and I have to go on unaided.  

At the last turn I come up against thousands of people heading downstream. Friendly people press in on every side as I struggle against the current toward the place I’m supposed to be—my base camp. Sometimes I touch a head or shoulder to propel myself forward. When I reach the mouth of the river I put my palms together and gently part the people; this reminds them of Moses parting the Red Sea and they smile indulgently.  

Then I’m far out in the ocean in deep water, tired and afraid. Will I make it? A younger, blond-haired woman appears, only her head showing above the water. “That was smart of you,” she says. I know she’s strong and rested and will support me if I need to float for a while. Together we head slowly to my base far away on the left shore, a place I’ve never been but know to be my destination.

unknownIn exquisitely beautiful imagery, this dream told the story of my psycho-spiritual development. It said that when I began my journey (walking) through the unconscious (water) I was still aligned with the collective (going with the flow downstream). But I had become aware of the passing of time (river) and the danger of continuing to rush mindlessly along on the path of least resistance (downstream) while ignoring my undeveloped self and unfulfilled yearnings.

Redirecting my focus to my inner world was making my journey more difficult (going upstream). The form of spiritual support (branches) I had always clung to—the heavenly spirituality of the Sky God that requires conformity to dogma—was of no further help to me (the branches disappear) and I had to continue alone.

Like the children of Israel when they crossed the Red Sea, I was leaving my slavish allegiance to the collective (crowd of people) behind, and entering the unknown: my frightening and dangerous (deep water) unconscious self (the sea). There I caught a glimpse of my anima or soul (the blond woman), the feminine half of the Self which, in Jungian language, is partner to the masculine animus or spirit. Together they form our central archetype, our God-image, symbol-maker, and connection to the Sacred. The message of this dream was that assuming my own authority and trusting myself would bring me to my true self (base camp).

Until I discovered dreamwork, no books or scriptures, no religious beliefs or sacrifices or regular church attendance, none of my ego’s hard work or good behavior, no well-intentioned thoughts or knowledge or cleverness, no psychological expert or religious authority—nothing in my life had any lasting transforming or healing power for me. But this dream from the Self did.  The Self knew me.  It spoke to me in the symbols of this dream which it fashioned solely for me when it knew I was ready to listen.

My Beloved knew where I’d been, what I sought, where I was going. It knew I was turning my life around before I did. It reassured me that replacing my old life of passionless conformity with the great adventure of exploring my unconscious self was the right choice for me. Above all, it convinced me I could trust it to tell me the truth and guide me in the direction of my heart’s desire. Eventually this knowing emboldened me to leave work for which I was ill-suited to follow my passions for writing and self-knowledge. That choice has made all the difference between a false life of meaninglessness, dissatisfaction and confusion, and the real life of increasing clarity, trust, meaning and peace I’m living now.

imagesContrary to popular belief, discovering and being true to who you are beneath the mask you wear, and doing it for the sake of love, is the authentic spiritual journey. What did you dream last night? What did you learn about yourself?

Photo Credit: “Going Against the Current,”Luo Quingzhen, Google Images.  Salmon going upstream: unknown, Wikimedia Commons. “Danube Salmon Swimming Against the Current,” unknown, Wikimedia Commons.

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, Inc.

 

The Unseen Partner September 6, 2016

51JQhuqU2cL._SY401_BO1,204,203,200_“The time is ripe for the unconscious and conscious dominants to meet each other.  The death of the old dominant is indicated by the fact that the king is about to die.  This corresponds to the fact that the God-image, the collective dominant of the Western psyche, is moribund.  In preparation for its death, it opens up an ancient tomb;  in other words it opens up the unconscious.  This activates the feminine principle, which had been dead and buried in the very same tomb, in the unconscious.  As the tomb is opened, the unconscious is penetrated by consciousness . . . and a revitalization occurs.” ~ Edward Edinger

With this opening quote a beautiful new book, The Unseen Partner: Love & Longing in the Unconscious, prepares the reader for a unique experience of a universal story: the hero’s journey to individuation. Unique, because this personal account shared in a mythical, poetic voice is utterly original and will impact each reader differently. Universal, because beneath the art, poetry, and expertly-crafted prose is the mythic story of Everyman. Two decades in the making and released this Labor Day weekend, Diane Croft’s The Unseen Partner is a most refreshing and artful contribution to the literature on Jungian psychology.  I absolutely loved it!

By midlife, Croft had taken a predictable path to a comfortable life and successful career. Educated at Wittenberg and Harvard Universities, she became a publisher at National Braille Press. And then an unknown force invaded her conscious psyche and set her on a new path. As her press release notes, this force pulled her “into an energy field—the sacred temple at the center of the psyche—” (called the “Self” by Jung), where she captured the poetic voice she heard by means of automatic writing.

Croft explains:

“In the summer of 1996, I fell into an experience of automatic writing.  I was seated at my computer getting ready to compose a budget narrative.  Instead I wrote a few lines of verse that appeared without thinking or intention.  ‘Born in a cataclysm of cosmic violence/the lunar birth of daughter moon.’ And then a second poetry fragment appeared . . . and so it continued for three years, at roughly the same time each morning, until there were more than seven hundred odd verses.  People ask me if I heard voices.  No, I say, I just took dictation. The fingers moved and the words were typed.”

The Unseen Partner is based on 55 of these verses. Each is accompanied by an artful image that symbolizes an aspect of the individuation process. Croft’s commentary on the meaning she gleaned from the poetry and imagery is the third factor that weaves everything together into a remarkable book which is itself a creative work of art.

Here’s an example. This poem titled “Holy Ghost” features the symbolism of “the third.”  The accompanying image and commentary illustrate how these three factors work together.

Who is this three of thee and me

a holy ghost in daylight calling

stirring in my bed this night

cauldron for my troubled soul,

reminding me again and again

of the living power it holds

over my dominion.

Croft’s commentary:

Unknown“Since I was baptized Lutheran, the image of the Holy Ghost was not foreign to me, though I understood nothing of its meaning.  Since I now believe this collection is about the relationship between my conscious ego and the larger archetypal Self, then I can only say that that relationship involves a third.  Who is this three of thee and me?  In Mythology of the Soul, Baynes writes, ‘The number three is specifically associated with the creative process. . . . Every function of energy in nature has, indeed, the form of a pair of opposites, united by a third factor, their product.’ Jung identified “the third” as one of the stages of individuation: ‘The advance to the third stage means something like the recognition of the unconscious, if not actual subordination to it. . . .’  So, as I understand it, stage one equals the original state of wholeness (the pre-conscious totality), stage two represents separation and the emergence of opposites (ego consciousness), and stage three would be the union of the opposites through the agency of the Holy Ghost, now contained within the human vessel.”

This was particularly resonant to me. I don’t remember ever reading this quote by Jung before, but in Healing the Sacred Divide (2012), I used the symbolism of “the third” to illustrate the three epochs of the development of consciousness. Each of my epochs corresponds with Croft’s description of the stages of individuation. This synchronicity comes as no real surprise, for “the third,” like all the symbols treated in this marvelous book, represents an archetypal pattern residing in every psyche. Nonetheless, I had so many delicious “Aha” moments in reading it that the overall experience took on the flavor of meditating on, and with, a sacred unseen partner.

As Rumi warned, (and as Croft writes in the last line of her epilogue), “‘Don’t go back to sleep.’ Wake up and dip your cup into the living waters.”  I could not recommend The Unseen Partner more highly, and I’ll be returning to it again and again, for in it I recognize a reliable companion and guide to the living waters within me.

The Unseen Partner can be found at Amazon

Image Credits:  Book cover, Amazon.  “Friendship,” 1907, Mikalojus Konstantinos Ciurlionis, Lithuania, Wikimedia Commons.

Jean’s newest book, 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 also at Amazon as well as KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

 

Following Our Symbols: Healing Our Souls March 15, 2016

My photo of a black bear raiding a bird feeder in Highlands, NC.

A black bear raiding a bird feeder in Highlands, NC.

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.

A golden bear in my collection of bear symbols.

A golden bear in my collection of bear symbols.

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.”

Fred and me before a circus-themed costume party.

A scary bear and an affectionate bear tamer before a circus-themed costume party.

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 KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

Learning From Our Lady of the Beasts March 8, 2016

“The Earth Mother is…the eternally fruitful source of everything…. Each separate being is a manifestation of her; all things share in her life through an eternal cycle of birth and rebirth….Her animals….embody the deity herself, defining her personality and exemplifying her power.”  Buffie Johnson, Our Lady of the Beasts, Inner Traditions

The successful wielding of power to enhance our soul’s development is a primary concern of the feminine archetypes. For them, power is not about controlling otherness, but about loving and learning from otherness so that our souls are empowered to become what they were created to be. If this is to happen, our energies need to be redirected away from pursuits aimed at acquiring external, historical power toward those that bring internal, natural power. By natural power I mean the soul’s power to act from its rich, authentic core, unencumbered by the chains of fear, ignorance, and conformity. One way of loosening these chains is to learn from Earth Mother’s manifestations in nature.

The farther removed we are from nature, the less apt we are to hear Sophia’s voice or learn from her natural guidance. One night after an eventful weekend at our mountain home I recorded five valuable insights I had acquired, all of them necessary to my empowerment, and none of which I would have learned had I stayed indoors. Through my adult interactions with nature I am rediscovering something I knew as a child but never had the words for: staying close to nature brings me closer to my truest self.

A major step in my own return to nature began when, in my fifties, I fulfilled a childhood dream of buying my own horse to train: a two-and-a-half-year old gray thoroughbred I called Honey’s Shadow Dancer — gray to symbolize the union of the opposites of black and white for which I strive, Honey for his sweetness, Shadow to signify my desire to be always mindful of my own shadow, and Dancer to honor the ever-changing dance of life. For me, the physical care I lavished on him and our efforts to understand and trust one another were spiritual practices that were every bit as meaningful as my earlier, more cerebral ones.

Native teachers and healers Jamie Sams and David Carson tell us that for many native peoples Horse represents both physical and unearthly power, and that the impact of Horse’s domestication was akin to the discovery of fire. “Before Horse, humans were earthbound, heavy-laden, and slow creatures indeed. Once humans climbed on Horse’s back, they were as free and fleet as the wind. Through their special relationship with Horse, humans altered their self-concept beyond measure. Horse was the first animal medicine of civilization.”

The term animal medicine refers to life lessons learned from animals whose characteristics and habits demonstrate how to walk on our physical Earth Mother in harmony with the universe. Like Buffie Johnson, I think of the aspect of Earth Mother that conveys lessons through wild creatures and beloved animal companions as Our Lady of the Beasts.

What animal teachers has Our Lady of the Beasts sent to you?

Image Credit:  Google Images

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 KoboBarnes And Noble, and Smashwords.

 

 
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