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
Dreams As Spiritual Guides October 11, 2016
A Zen Summer August 16, 2016
You trust your unconscious as if it were a loving father. But it is nature and cannot be made use of as if it were a reliable human being. It is inhuman and it needs the human mind to function usefully for man’s purposes. Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her. ~Carl Jung, Letters Volume 1, Page 283.
Remember Mr. Miyagi, the Japanese handyman who was a Karate master in the classic 1984 film, Karate Kid? Everyone’s favorite part was the way he used hard work, specific movements, and mantras to train Daniel, a misguided youth. “Wax on, Wax off. Sand the floor. Paint the fence. Paint the house.” For Daniel, the work was grueling, pointless and demeaning until, as shown in this dramatic scene, his suffering led to a revelation akin to a transformational spiritual awakening.
Mr. Miyagi comes to mind when I think about this summer in the mountains. I’m a writer and practitioner of inner work and contemplation…not much of a physical doer. I look forward to being here all year, imagining the pleasures of no deadlines, no agenda. I picture myself spending long hours on the porch reading and writing in peaceful meditation. Then I arrive and barely find the time to publish a weekly blog post or finish reading a book.
Here, my life is centered on my granddog Izzy, and Nature. Like Mr. Miyagi, both are exacting masters. Feed birds. Feed fish. Feed dog. Groom gardens. Groom trails. Groom dog. Pick up trash. Avoid poison ivy. Wash dog. Worry about trees. Worry about rain. Worry about dog. Appreciate boulders. Celebrate rain. Pet dog. Four of these were especially prominent this summer.
Appreciate Boulders. I found a new favorite stone on the trail our handyman blazed through the dense forest last winter. It’s huge, mossy, and wrinkled as an old lady wearing a hat of ferns. Or is that Green Man whose face I see in the shadows? I can’t resist reaching out and patting him/her when I pass by. A few days ago I found this in one of my favorite blogs:
“The central symbol of the Zen garden is the stone. For Jung, it signified “something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul;” for Cirlot it is “the first solid form of the creative rhythm —the sculpture of essential movement, and the petrified music of creation.” Stones are pure and perfect in their simplicity, yet powerful, mysterious and inscrutable like the gods.” From Symbol Reader, Symbolism of Gardens.
Worry About Trees. The hemlocks are being decimated by a parasite and we’re treating many of them with biennial doses of medicine, but we can’t save them all. On every hike after a big wind I have to remove or circumvent heavy branches and another fallen tree or two. A neighbor across the creek has several dead ones still standing. A few threaten to land on our house.
One evening after a storm with gale force winds we heard a commotion out on the main road. A giant oak had fallen and neighbors with chain saws were cleaning it up. It was there a century ago when the dirt road leading to our property was carved out of the mountainside, and over time its roots were exposed and weakened by erosion. Luckily no cars were beneath it when it finally surrendered to nature’s purposes.
Celebrate Rain. I don’t know what it is about rain, but it feels magical. One evening Fred and I were rocking on the porch and watching black clouds gathering above the mountains when suddenly the ozone-scented breezes and whisper of raindrops coming up the valley transported me to an unusually intense meditative state. Curious, I checked my heart rate on my Apple watch. Within moments my normal resting rate of 61 beats per minute plummeted to a shocking 45. Cool.
A woman too has a peculiar attitude toward nature, much more trusting than that of a man. ~Carl Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 123.
Was Jung right, or was he still conditioned by some of the prevailing stereotypes about women in the early 20th century? I don’t know. But I do know I am deeply connected to this land. I love it and trust it, and sometimes I worry about it. Will my grandchildren and great grandchildren love it as much as I do? Will they feed the birds and clear the paths and pat the boulders and love the trees enough to learn their names and do their best to protect them?
Feed Birds? Last week Izzy’s fierce barking woke Fred at 1:30 in the morning. Exhausted from a day of “doing,” I was sleeping like a stone. Thinking she had to go out, Fred took her downstairs. But instead of heading for the front door, she stood transfixed at the glass door to the side porch. What was going on?
The mystery was solved the next morning when we found our biggest, sturdiest, squirrel-proof bird feeders mangled on the ground. Only a scattering of seeds remained. Somewhere in the Nantahala National Forest up the mountain a contented bear was snug in its den dreaming about last night’s tasty meal.
The Asian martial arts are rooted in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. Their spiritual elements gave purpose and meaning to the ancient warriors who loved and practiced them.
The same can be said of those of us who find purpose and meaning in loving Nature, our Mother. If our practices have a spiritual element, so do hers. After all, inhuman though she may be, we come from her, and she’s an “incomparable guide if you know how to follow her.”
Credits: Thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for the Jungian quotes. Karate Kid video from YouTube. “Anyone can slay a dragon quote” image by Brian Andreas from www.pinterest.com. “Try not to change the world” quote by Sri Chinmoy from www.srichinmoybio.co.uk
Three Signs of a Healthy Ego April 26, 2016
We make roots, we cause roots to be, we are rooted in the soil, and there is no getting away for us, because we must be there as long as we live.
That idea, that we can sublimate ourselves and become entirely spiritual and no hair left, is an inflation.
I am sorry, that is impossible; it makes no sense.” ~Carl Jung, Kundalini Seminar, Page 29
This quote reminds me of a true story. In 1848 England, art critic John Ruskin married 18 year old Effie Gray. Five years later their marriage was annulled because Ruskin had failed to consummate it. As Effie told her father:
“He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and, finally this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April.” Wikipedia
On their wedding night John discovered that Effie had pubic hair. His malady, which by today’s standards may seem laughable, was psychological. But consider the context: John grew up in Victorian England. His father, John James Ruskin,
“helped to develop his son’s Romanticism. They shared a passion for the works of Byron, Shakespeare and especially Walter Scott…. Margaret Ruskin, an Evangelical Christian, more cautious and restrained than her husband, taught young John to read the King James Bible from beginning to end, and then to start all over again, committing large portions to memory. Its language, imagery and stories had a profound and lasting effect on his writing.” Wikipedia
A romantic, an idealist, and the only child of an evangelical Christian mother, John had so sublimated his instinctual, physical roots that it hadn’t occurred to him that his beautiful young wife’s body would be any different from the smooth, marbled statues of Greek goddesses he so admired.
By ‘sublimate’ Jung meant to unconsciously transform socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations into acceptable actions or behaviors. Freud believed this was a sign of maturity in individuals and civilization. By this means one could deflect the sexual instinct with its erotic energy into so-called “higher” and “socially useful” physical, scientific, artistic, or religious achievements.
Likewise, a person with aggressive tendencies can channel them into acceptable contact sports like football or boxing. A person with an urge to kill someone might join the military where he could justify his urge in the name of protecting his country. A literary example is provided in Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None. In this story a judge with homicidal urges gives unusually harsh sentences to guilty criminals in the name of protecting the citizens and upholding the law.
“One is only confronted with the spiritual experience when one is absolutely human.” ~Carl Jung, Visions Seminar, Page 394
But Jung had higher hopes for individuals and societies. He believed we could be transformed into psychologically whole and spiritually enlightened beings without denying our instinctual roots. And he knew that when the defense mechanism of sublimation remains unconscious, it is an obstacle to an individual’s fullest and healthiest development. Individuation only becomes possible when our egos consciously acknowledge our instincts and choose to channel them in harmless and healing ways. To remain unconscious of them leaves them free to attain toxic extremes.
An ego which denies its entanglement in the roots of the physical body and unconscious psyche can become dangerously inflated, capable of doing unspeakable things while believing itself to be virtuous. One can’t help but wonder what hidden evils the Spanish Inquisition‘s zealous Tomás de Torquemada was striving to deny when he had around 3,000 people tortured and executed for heresy against the Catholic Church.
The same might be asked of more contemporary political leaders like Stalin, who it is widely agreed was responsible for millions of deaths; Hitler, who was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed socially undesirable Untermenschen (“sub-humans”); Cambodia’s Pol Pot whose policies were responsible for from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of roughly 8 million; and Saddam Hussein whose security services killed an estimated 250,000.
If we don’t start taking the human psyche far more seriously, countries including our own will continue to enable toxic, minimally conscious egos to acquire positions of far-reaching power. We can change that by learning to recognize three signs of an ego that is growing into health and consciousness:
It explores its unconscious roots with an ongoing self-reflective practice;
It recognizes and reins in its defense mechanisms, including projection and sublimation; and
It acknowledges its shadow without allowing it to control its thoughts, words and actions.
Meanwhile, we might ask ourselves, “Does anyone in the next election show signs of an unhealthy ego?”
Image Credits: My thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for sharing the Jungian quotes and images on his Facebook Jung site.
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 Kobo, Barnes And Noble, and Smashwords.
What Principles Do You Live By? February 2, 2016
This past weekend I attended a symposium featuring the internationally renowned poet, David Whyte. As the subtle beauty of his words and images—and even more, the silence behind them—washed through me, an intense inner resonance asked to be heard. “This is a fellow traveler,” it said. “Pay attention,” it said. “You can learn from this one,” it said.
He told stories, he recited poems, and over and over the same three threads ran through. One was “the conversational nature of reality.” This reminded me of an observation from the American Buddhist, Jack Kornfield,
“All of spiritual practice is a matter of relationship: to ourselves, to others, to life’s situations…Whether we like it or not, we are always in relationship, always interconnected.” ~Jack Kornfield
David Whyte would no doubt add, “…always having a conversation.” Everything we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, think or feel initiates a relationship, a conversation with otherness. Otherness that sparks our imagination. Otherness that provides clues, if we’re observant, to who we really are. Our ongoing conversations—sometimes between ourself and another, sometimes between Inner Ego and Inner Other—motivate us to reflect, form questions, discover new insights, and ultimately, act on what we know to be true.
Which brings me to a second thread that colors his poems: the importance of asking “beautiful questions.” Again, not just of other people, but of all hidden otherness everywhere. For example, while sharing a story about the thoughts and feelings that an ancient stone carving of a woman’s face evoked, he said, “We stand on the threshold of what has not yet occurred…a possible future. What is the invitation?” What is the invitation of this joy? These tears? That yearning?
A question like this invites us to take a new step, in a new direction, to a newer, truer reality. Toward my growth. My truth. My reality. Toward the life I was born to live.
A third thread binds the others into the artful fabric of a life: “Beauty is the harvest of presence.” It’s true. The seeds of our beauty are sown with our presence. The bud of our beauty opens petal by petal as we practice presence moment by moment, day by day, year by year.
“Start close in. Don’t take a second or third step. Start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take. Take a small step you can call your own. Start with your own question.” ~David Whyte
If we’re not listening to the Other right now there will be no conversations worth having. If we’re unaware of standing on the threshold of what has not yet occurred, of a possible future, we will never ask the beautiful question, “What would it mean for me to be the ancestor of my future self?” If we don’t stay present long enough to see and take the step we don’t want to take, the fabric of our lives will never flower into a work of art.
Inspired by the beautiful poem that is David Whyte, I have a beautiful question for you: “What threads run through your life?” Or as my friend Rachelle Mayers, a gifted videographer and media consultant, asked me three months ago: “What principles do you live by?”
Here was my response:
Image Credit: Pinterest, unknown.
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.
David Whyte’s books can be found here.
Horse Crazy Part II: How to Heal the Separations October 20, 2015
While writing my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness, I had a dream.
I’m in the kitchen with a woman who personifies motherhood to me. We’re standing before a low, double-doored freezer in the middle of the room. As we open and close the doors, getting things out for a dinner party, my friend accidentally bumps the head of a dark-haired boy between ten and twelve standing between us. He starts to cry. I think she should kiss his head where she bumped him. But I realize she knows how to handle this, so I say to the boy, “She has children of her own.” He looks up and stares deeply into my eyes and says, “Yes, but does she have a stallion?”
Like the woman in my dream, I grew up believing relationships with my husband and children would fulfill me. So I gave up my passion for horses. Perhaps my friend’s passion for her family was enough. Maybe she never heard the compelling call of the Self. But the little boy whose eyes pierced my soul is my own inner boy and he knew that once I was horse crazy. That I was the kind of woman who needed more than relationships: I needed my stallion, too.
One might assume that because passion is such a powerful emotion it must be associated with the active masculine principle. But this is not so. The word passion comes from the Latin passio, which means suffering, or being acted upon. Thus it is associated with the passive feminine principle. (I’m not talking about men and women, but the feminine principle in all of us.) When one has a passion, one is acted upon—e.g. the passion of Jesus Christ—by a calling from or to some unknown power that cannot be ignored without endangering one’s very soul. Moreover, passion is an emotion, and emotion is associated with the dark, feminine, dangerous animal side of our natures, as distinguished from reason and light, which are associated with the masculine.
“I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid…If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”― Joseph Campbell
I knew what bliss was. I felt it every time I was around horses. Obviously I had a passion for them. What I didn’t know was that a spiritual passion was also stirring. When I heard the call of the Self at a Billy Graham crusade at 17, I tasted a new kind of bliss, and I believed it could best be served by sacrificing myself in service to others. So from then on I used religious beliefs and ideals to fortify the wall I’d been building to separate me from my shadow side.
By 37 my wall was developing cracks. Despite my stoic self-discipline I could no longer ignore the dangerous new feelings and uncomfortable questions stirring behind it. Something was wrong. One night, torn by an agonizing inner conflict, I prayed the most authentic, heartfelt prayer I had ever prayed: Help me. Please, please teach me to love.
Thus began a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ spiritual crisis. For the next nine years I consciously and painfully tolerated the tension between the life I had chosen and the life of joy I hoped was waiting for me. All that while I managed to ‘hold my horses,’ i.e. avoid rash actions that might betray my soul or hurt someone else. Was this love? I didn’t know.
This vigilant waiting, this alchemical tending of the fire, of keeping the passions in the crucible of my soul at a simmer…this was magical. Despite my mental suffering, I knew it even then. What I was doing felt important, right somehow. Sure enough. Beneath my conscious awareness, powerful transformations were occurring. Old dysfunctional attitudes and habits were dissolving. Tenuous new insights and connections were coalescing. My wall was crumbling to ash.
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”― Joseph Campbell