12 Symptoms of Your Psyche’s Immaturity April 10, 2018
Since the aims of the second half of life are different from those of the first, to linger too long in the youthful attitude produces a division of the will. Consciousness still presses forward in obedience, as it were, to its own inertia, but the unconscious lags behind, because the strength and inner resolve needed for further expansion have been sapped. This disunity with oneself begets discontent, and since one is not conscious of the real state of things one generally projects the reasons for it upon one’s partner. A critical atmosphere thus develops, the necessary prelude to conscious realization. ~Carl Jung, CW 17, Para 331b
The mother bear is one of the most tender, nurturing, and fiercely protective mothers in the animal world. The first and most difficult lesson she teaches her new baby when they emerge from hibernation in the spring is to stay hidden and quiet high up in a tree while she searches the forest for food. Soon the baby learns to stay in the tree until mother comes home and they are joyously reunited.
This goes on for about two years and then one day the mother bear trees her cub as usual. She goes out into the woods as usual. And she never comes back. It may seem cruel, but the good mother’s job not only is to protect but also to liberate. If she does not leave her cub when the time is right—a time roughly equivalent to adolescence in a human—and if the cub does not disobey the good mother by climbing down from the tree it will never survive to preserve the species.
We humans are like that cub. We began our lives as vulnerable, instinctive animals utterly dependent on Mother. She was the center of our universe and we had no choice but to submit to her, our caregivers, our teachers, our leaders because conformity to outer authorities kept us safe. In time we grew into adolescents with growing awareness of our egos and our agency. We believed we were thinking for ourselves and making our own choices. But most of the time we simply parroted what we’d been taught by others, claiming their preferences as our own and defending them with fervor. And when we found jobs and love partners and moved out of our parents’ homes, we thought we’d grown up.
But in the cosmic view of humanity’s history, our species is still in its adolescence. We may not be consciously tied to our mothers any more, but in the world of our psyche, our unconscious attitudes toward or against her still prevail and we have yet to take the hero’s journey to conscious individuation. How do we know we’re still in the tree? Here are 12 symptoms:
when things go wrong we proclaim our innocence while blaming our mother, father, partner, or someone else
when we resent our mother for unresolved childhood grievances which govern our thoughts and behavior toward her instead of being able to forgive and love her as she is
when we who are safe, well-fed, and comfortable resent our family for not serving our needs, our religion for not helping us change, and our government for not treating us fairly while taking no steps to rectify these situations on our own
when we despise our flawed unworthiness and beg our gods to fix us instead of facing our inner realities and doing the necessary work to understand and heal ourselves
when we’re afraid to listen to our own hearts, trust our own instincts, explore our own dreams, communicate honestly, and live our own lives in accordance to our interests, enthusiasms, and passions
when we sulk, complain, and criticize others without accepting the responsibility for and consequences of our own negative attitudes and choices
when our unconscious inner inertia prevails over our resolutions to change our toxic habits and attitudes
when we want freedom, yet stay exactly where we are because conformity and familiarity are preferable to exploring the frightening unknown
when we haven’t suffered the agony of making an original choice in the direction of our own hearts and passions
when we can’t love ourselves or forgive each other
when we resist changing our attitudes or values in directions that serve the greater good
when we ignore the fears and fantasies that trap us in our trees
We are living in the twilight of the psyche’s immaturity. Those of us in the second half of life must accept responsibility for our part in contributing to the growing darkness. No one can save us but ourselves. We must leave our trees and become good mothers to ourselves, each other and the planet. If we cannot awaken from our dreamy fantasies and childish attitudes—if we cannot develop our own authority and speak the truths of our own spirits and souls with love, if we cannot face and deal with our disappointments, discontent, and fear of death, if we cannot live our own lives with the passion and joy we were born for—we will contribute nothing to the evolving consciousness which alone can birth a hopeful new dawn.
There was a time when time stood still as death.
I shinnied up the mast of an old oak, breezes
ruffling my boat’s leafy sail, floating
dreamily over an ebony sea. One branch
was a mustang. We raced through the West
herding cows, chasing rustlers in black hats.
A three-pronged fork was an eagle’s
aerie where I savored new books…
as I awaited my mother’s return.
There was a time when time stood still as
death: I played house in log cabins outlined
with fallen twigs, imagined mother inside.
Prepared pretend lunches of crushed acorns
and mud, swept dirt floors and tangled roots
with dead branches, covered beds with crisp
leaf quilts, napped beneath a shaded
canopy, mother-made for me…
as I awaited my mother’s return.
Once, time moved as slowly as a glacier
and waiting and pretending were enough.
Now time surges like a raging river;
my gut growls and I am hungry, restless
to leave this tree despite the father bears
who crave me and my heresies for lunch.
But, oh, the bliss of frozen fantasy…
as I await my mother’s return!
How mature is your psyche?
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.
A Wrinkle in Time: A Timeless Tale March 13, 2018
By the 1970’s, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962) was a staple in youth literature throughout North America. As an adult in 1977, I fell in love with it while doing research for the Children’s Literature course I taught. Considering that it was published in the pre-internet/social media era, this modern fantasy was arguably as popular with young readers in the 1970’s and 80’s as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series was with millennial youth. In 2003 Disney turned it into an award-winning made-for-television film, and now, 56 years after its inception, a new version of this classic has at last arrived on the big screen. I couldn’t wait to see it, and did last weekend.
Meg Murray (Storm Reid) is the gifted oldest daughter of two brilliant astrophysicists who are developing theories about the origins and nature of the universe. When we meet her she’s an angry middle-school misfit, tormented with self-loathing and grief over the unexplained disappearance of her beloved father (Chris Pine) four years earlier. Meg’s only joy is her little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), a precocious genius and telepath whom she deeply loves and fiercely protects from bullies.
The story takes off when Charles Wallace introduces Meg and her new friend Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) to his strange new friends—Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). Like the benevolent Mother Goddesses they symbolize, these beings have come to Earth from somewhere in the cosmos to help Meg and Charles Wallace rescue their father from imprisonment by the evil shadow known as IT. Traveling across a wrinkle in time and space called a tesseract—a new theory being developed by Meg’s mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) but as yet unproven by her—they are transported to the dark planet Camazotz where they rescue Dr. Murray but lose Charles Wallace to the evil. The timeless message of this story is conveyed by the way Meg saves him from the gathering darkness.
Almost everybody who reads a book before seeing the movie says the book was better. Unfortunately, I think this holds true for A Wrinkle in Time. Like dreams, we always prefer our own inner images to those of others. Nonetheless, there is much to love about this film.
For example, the child actors are remarkable. Storm Reid is pitch perfect as Meg. At times, her depiction of an array of confused and conflicting feelings brought me to tears. I’ve been there. Levi Miller as Calvin is a natural at portraying a wounded boy who hides his secret sadness beneath his earnest, inherent kindness. And Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace is a constant surprise and delight. Sometimes the youngest children, like eight-year-old Brooklynn Prince of the Oscar-nominated film, The Florida Project, are uncannily confident actors because they’re still too delighted with the imaginary world of “let’s pretend” to be self-conscious about it.
Once the travelers reach Camazotz, the costumes, sets, makeup, and auditory and visual effects are gorgeous and highly imaginative, but for me, unsettling and too much. Almost annoying. I would have preferred a more subtle palette with less in-your-face, technologically contrived color and pizazz! And as much as I admire the actresses who play the triple Mrs.’s, (symbolic of Hecate, Greek mythology’s three-faced goddess guide through the underworld), they are too young and glamorous for me.
Madeleine L’Engle described Mrs. Whatsit as a frumpy, bumbling and eccentric old woman (who morphed into a young and beautiful white winged creature that was part horse and part manta ray), Mrs. Who as a plump little woman in enormous spectacles, and Mrs. Which as a coldly authoritative black-robed, beaked-nose witch with a broomstick who had difficulty materializing into human form. In the film version none of them is remotely old or witchy. Mrs. Whatsis is a gorgeous young redhead and Mrs. Who an exotic, raven-haired beauty. And the majestic Mrs. Which is a stunning Queen of the Cosmos with a glass-beaded unibrow, glittering eye shadow and lipstick, a shimmering, constantly changing wardrobe, and impossibly thick blonde-white hair….. I quite envied her hair…..
Yes, the costumes and makeup are gorgeous and highly imaginative, but for me they don’t work. It’s not that I dislike what today’s highly sophisticated technology can do—after all, it made Star Wars, Avatar, and The Shape of Water possible. But too much of it detracts from the story and makes it difficult for the viewer to suspend disbelief, an attitude essential to the full enjoyment of a fantasy like this.
Despite this, the story and characters are as moving and inspiring in this film as they were in the book. Meg’s wounded but indomitable will, Charles Wallace’s belief in his inner knowing, Calvin’s desire to help, and the determination of the three Mrs.’s to conquer evil with good are deeply familiar, soul-satisfying themes. Most satisfying of all is the way Meg saves Charles Wallace. By loving him. It’s the same timeless message about how anyone is ever really saved from the world’s darkness. Love is the one power evil doesn’t have, will never have. Knowing that love conquers all, we can endure anything. Even a highly anticipated film that doesn’t quite live up to our expectations.
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.
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.
Another Dog Story May 4, 2017
NOTE: I just received a comment about this post I wrote 6 years ago and wanted to share it with you. The new book is coming along very well. I’ll keep you updated from time to time. XOXO
As I write this I’m agonizing over something that happened earlier this evening. During the summer I live in a remote, mountainous area with curvy, dangerous roads. This evening I was headed to town to attend a lecture by an eminent theologian when I came upon a huge, black-and-white shaggy dog standing in the middle of the road looking very lost and confused.
My first thought was to stop and help it. My second, that it could be sick, rabid, mean, filthy, etc. My third, that I really wanted to hear the lecture. As I slowly passed the dog I looked out my rear-view mirror. It was standing in the road forlornly watching me drive off. I felt as if it were saying, “Please help me.” I considered stopping. I drove on.
That look haunted me all the way into town where I discovered that the lecture had been rescheduled for two hours earlier and everyone had gone home. So I headed for the grocery store, arriving just in time to see the last two employees leaving. They close early on Sunday nights. My only option was to go home. As one who seeks meaning in everything, I wondered: Was I being given a second chance to help the dog? I drove home more slowly than usual, scanning the roadside. If I saw it I would stop, look for a collar with a phone number, try to help.
Halfway home a teen-aged girl dressed in white staggered across the road and flagged me down. She had hit a big shaggy black and white dog which had run off howling, and her car had spun into a ditch. She was shaking violently and limping a bit, and there was a dark red globule of blood above her heart where the seat belt had bitten into her skin. This leg of the road has no cell phone service. While we tried to decide what to do, two more drivers stopped and one volunteered to drive the girl to the next town where she would call her father. I went looking for the dog. After searching along the road and in the woods below the embankment I left without finding it.
Back home I sat on the porch pondering these events. I realize they were not all about me; nonetheless, I can find meaning in them. The message I received was that I chose to listen to my head, which wanted to hear the speaker, instead of my heart, which wanted to help the dog. Had I followed my heart the accident would not have happened. With that realization I saw a small, odd-looking lump on the deck and went over to inspect it. It was a dead hummingbird. Symbolically, hummingbirds are spiritual messengers. The subtle message became a blaring headline: Woman’s Desire to Hear Wise Spiritual Words Trumps Spiritual Behavior!
After my parents divorced then my father died, being smart and “spiritual” became my major sources of comfort and self-esteem. But at what cost? I can write profound things about the meaning of religion and the importance of caring, but has my tendency toward intellectualization dulled my capacity for actually behaving with compassion?
I know I’m beating myself up over this and few would condemn me for a choice most of us have made, but the truth is, someone with more heart would have skipped the lecture and helped the dog. Had I done that it could be happily lying by my side right now where Bear used to snooze. Another dog, another death. Another thing to forgive myself for. At least I buried the hummingbird.
The Invisible Cord December 20, 2016
If you fulfil the pattern that is peculiar to yourself, you have loved yourself, you have accumulated and have abundance; you bestow virtue then because you have luster. ~Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Page 502.
Beneath it all, beneath the story of Joseph and the Virgin Mary, the baby Jesus born in a manger surrounded by animals, the star, the shepherds, the angels singing, the three wise kings with their three gifts. Christmas trees, lights, decorations, presents, food. Santa Claus, Rudolph, the elves, snow. Beneath all this, what is Christmas really about? Where did this need to celebrate new life come from?
Jesus’s birth is celebrated in the middle of the coldest, darkest part of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Here, the Winter Solstice, which occurs on December 21 or 22, marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. This was celebrated for thousands of years by our ancestors because it appeared to them as if the sun had been withdrawing since Midsummer. Since their lives depended on hunting, gathering and growing, the longest night marked the end of the sun’s disappearance and the rebirth of light, hope, trust, and a new growing season.
But does this mean Christmas is just a pagan festival celebrating a change in the weather? Of course not. Light, star, rebirth, new life and abundance have symbolic meaning too. And symbols, rituals and celebrations address inner realities as well as outer ones.
Awakening from a long sleep during which our egos have been unconscious of our inner truths, and moving into a more mature way of living and loving is what Christmas is really about. Thus, one message of the Christmas story is that just as a brilliant star stands out from the others in the midnight sky, each of us has the potential to become an individuated, enlightened human being. And that star, that unique baby who brought kings and wise men from afar to worship in a humble manger brings another message too; one about the deep connections between all things.
Everything psychic has a lower and a higher meaning, as in the profound saying of late classical mysticism: ‘Heaven above, Heaven below, stars above, stars below, all that is above also is below, know this and rejoice.’ Here we lay our finger on the secret symbolical significance of everything psychic. ~Carl Jung; CW 5; para 77.
We and our world are bi-polar, which is to say, governed by the principle of opposites. Earth has a Northern and a Southern Hemisphere. For every night there is a day. For every season of darkness is a season of light. For every outer event there is a corresponding inner one which resonates in ways that bring joy and meaning to our lives. Thus, all opposites, outer and inner, are bound to each other by an invisible cord which is as real and essential to us as our heartbeat.
The invisible cord is a middle realm where, as Picasso explained, “Everything you can imagine is real.” This place where all opposites merge and overlap has been called by many names depending on our perspective. A physicist might call it the Quantum Field. A symbologist, a Mandorla. An artist, Imagination or Muse. A Jungian, the Ego-Self axis. A religious, Holy Spirit or God.
Whatever you call it, this third place of Trinity, this realm where outer events are connected to—and symbols of—meaningful inner realities, is real. Moreover, the ongoing interactions in this realm create oneness.
And so, although each of us is a unique individual, a glowing star like no other, by means of the invisible cord we are also all bound together in unity. No part can exist without the other. We and our world, our very universe, are one gigantic bundle of connected and interacting impulses and elements, vibrations and particles. It’s called Life. And it’s all holy.
And our conscious, loving interaction with the world along that middle space is where the magic occurs. Where an idea manifests into an object. Where a symbol brings personal meaning. Where a feeling breeds a relationship of twoness which becomes a marriage of individuated oneness.
There is an absolute, eternal union between God and the soul of everything. The problem is that Western religion has not taught us this. Our ego over-emphasizes our individuality and separateness from God and others. ~Richard Rohr Meditation, Dec. 17, 2016.
And so we celebrate the birth of a child who became the foundation for a new religion long ago, instead of our own holy inner light and our process of awakening to it and to life: the new life we experienced last year and the new life we hope for in the coming year. And we struggle to prove our worth with outer achievements while struggling against the realities of our life, the very things which make us who we are and which, once accepted, can turn us into the enlightened being we can become.
Mystics like Francis and Clare lived from a place of conscious, chosen, and loving union with God. Such union was realized by surrendering to it, not by achieving it! ~Richard Rohr Meditation, Dec. 17, 2016.
If you’re not a religious person, just replace the word “God” with any or all of these three: Life. Love. Reality. It’s all the same thing.
May this Christmas season strengthen your star and the invisible cord between all peoples of the world.
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons. Thanks to Lewis LaFontaine for the Jung quotes and Diane Croft for the Picasso quote.
Dreams As Spiritual Guides October 11, 2016
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