Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Dreams: Your Personal Treasure Trove April 30, 2019

For the last 30 years, dreamwork has been my primary psychological and spiritual practice. Nothing has brought me as much self-knowledge, self-acceptance, meaning, and all-around life satisfaction as remembering, recording, analyzing, ritualizing, and journaling about my dreams.

My dreams are my personal treasure trove. They have known me better and guided me more surely toward my true gifts than any human seer or counselor could possibly do. They have been wiser than any teacher, more valuable than material possessions, more constant than any friend, more affirming of what’s true and important to me than any compliment, mirrored reflection, or admiring glance I’ve ever received. Had I not discovered this hidden wealth within me, none of the accomplishments I hold most dear—not my loving relationships with my family, my mentoring of my students, my books and other writings, or my spiritual growth—would have been possible.

Knowing of my passion and long experience working with my dreams, two weeks ago, Tzivia Gover, Director of the Institute for Dream Studies founded by Justina Lasley, hosted me as a speaker for an online class with her international group of students. I was asked to talk about my new book, The Soul’s Twins, with its emphasis on the feminine and masculine archetypes and how they can appear in dreams. After my talk we had a lively Q & A session. Tzivia wrote today to tell me that her students were still discussing some of the topics and had a few more questions for me. I’m sharing my answers here for other like-minded souls.

Q: How did you make the transition in your late thirties when you underwent a spiritual dark night and shifted your focus from the outer world of achievement and conformity to the authentic inner life of the psyche? What challenges did you have to overcome? How was this beneficial in the long run?

The transition was long, slow, and difficult. It began with an experience that awakened an instinct that had been relatively unconscious until that time. It centered around a painful conflict between two very real and valid parts of myself. The part that felt new, scary, and bad (my instinct) wanted to act. The part that had always been “good” and proper and careful and conforming—and felt rather proud of herself for being that way (my ego)—most certainly did not want to act! The problem was that both sides were extremely compelling and both choices would have been intolerable.

Until that time, I had believed I was doing everything right. For the first time I was faced with challenges to the persona I had carefully built over the years and could not dismiss them with self-discipline and will power. My religion was no longer a helpful guide. Prayer didn’t take my problem away. My major challenge was to face my spiritual questions and doubts and have it out with my God-image, who was really my church’s God-image, not mine, although I didn’t realize that at the time. These internal dialogues kept me awake for hours many nights.

Another challenge was to carry on normally by day without allowing my suffering to infect my family life and work. A third was to think through all the possible scenarios that could result from either choice without taking any impulsive actions I might later regret. A fourth was to trust a tiny intuition that this was all happening for a reason. A fifth was to tolerate the tension of clarifying my conflict and persevering until the solution arrived. When it did after about six months of this, I chose to go against convention and honor my instinct.

Once I was firm in my intention and made that original choice, the conflict was resolved by outer circumstances beyond my control. Acting on my decision was no longer an option. I felt cheated, betrayed, abandoned, mistreated, abused, and deserted by my God. My grief was intense. I suffered the deepest anguish I’ve ever felt for about two years without allowing my suffering to hurt anyone else. This was my trial by fire, and it lasted nine years.

During that time I began to experiment with trusting my instincts and pressing needs more often. I also became aware of a new God-image of compassion and love that was emerging in me, although I often failed in my intention to put love first in my everyday life. I still do. I faced and endured many agonizing conflicts because I wanted to protect the realities of my inner and outer life at the same time without betraying either one. When I discovered Jungian psychology and my dreams, I finally quit a job I hadn’t liked for years and started my first book about the inner life. That’s when the light started streaming back in.

As for the benefits, I’ve answered that question above. The fact that I’ve discovered my calling and befriended many of my dragons doesn’t mean I no longer have conflicts or flaws. It just means I’m much better at forgiving myself and seeing, facing, and resolving them quickly.

Q: Can you say more about the discoveries you uncovered when exploring the feminine approach to the hero myth?

I learned the hero myth is not about acquiring the outer trappings of success in the eyes of the world. That’s been patriarchy’s interpretation for thousands of years. It’s really a story about your masculine side (usually your conscious ego), cooperating with your feminine side (your soulful, feeling self), so that together these parts of you can find the courage to uncover and befriend the forces of ignorance in your own unconscious.

I learned it’s okay to have a shadow and to experience conflicts with it. Everyone does. And it’s never as bad as you think it is at first.

I learned that just because my religion and family and country have definite ideas about right and wrong doesn’t necessarily mean their views are correct or good for me. I realized that the point of the hero’s journey isn’t to kill my dragons–my shadow, instincts, and true feelings–but to build a relationship with them based on trust and compassion for myself and respect for their differing realities. Because they’re the ones guarding my treasure. And until I get past them by approaching them in peace and friendship—carrying on dialogues with them, and accepting their qualities as mine—I’ll never gain access to it.

Tzivia’s students at the Institute for Dream studies have two more questions about archetypes, but this is already too long so I’ll answer them next time. Dreamers, please know that it’s true that your treasures lie within. You are courageous warriors to seek them, and I salute you. This post and the next are dedicated to you.

Image credits: Dream, artist unknown, Google Images. St. George and the Dragon, Rogier van der Weyden.

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. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

 

Perfection, or Who’s the Purest of Them All? April 19, 2016

8365_1213225978717602_2921151023910765268_nWhen one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive.

People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvellous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions, or they try to minimize them and to shift the responsibility elsewhere. 

The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.  It is surely not the divine will in man that he should be something which he is not, for when one looks into nature, one sees that it is most definitely the divine will that everything should be what it is.”   ~Carl Jung, Visions Seminar, Page 569.

“What?” you say?  “You mean I have to accept the bad parts of myself?  No Way!  You must be crazy.  I’m not giving in to laziness, lust, selfishness, fear, or greed.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be perfect.  Now you say I have to stop?  Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48)? Well, that’s all I’m trying to be:  perfect!”

In the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, the word perfect meant completed, or whole, not always good or spotlessly pure.  Here’s the paradox Jung was addressing and we find so difficult to accept:  to complete ourselves we have to be honest with ourselves, and this means acknowledging those things in us we think of as bad as well as the ones we consider good. We can’t be complete by accepting only half our nature. For example, by identifying solely with reason and logic, we cut off our capacity for passion, intuition, instinct, and the tender feelings of empathy and compassion. Then we start finger-pointing, name-calling, wall-building, and war mongering.

Accepting our flaws is not for the faint-hearted.  Like Christine, the innocent young singer who, in the classic Gaston Leroux novel, earnestly persuaded the Phantom of the Opera to take off his mask, we may be painfully convinced of our puny audacity in challenging the archetypal masters and mistresses of our unconscious, and we may faint at our first sight of the ugliness.  But it is only when the ugliness has been unmasked and we can see it for what it truly is that it loses its negative power over us and we can begin to learn from it.

The Phantom was certainly a dark and frightening creature, but behind that hideous face was a pure musical soul with the voice of an angel.  If Christine had refused to grant her negative animus its rightful place in her life, she would not have achieved her destiny.  Fortunately for her, instead of rejecting the Phantom she came to love him, and in the final act of lifting the mask a second time and kissing his grotesque face, her ego grew up and she developed an honest relationship with her unique Self.

Snow White had the same problem.  She was tormented again and again by her wicked stepmother, a dark, vain, and passionate feminine antagonist—psychologically the opposite, shadow side of her own conscious personality—who did everything she could to destroy the sweet passive child who knew nothing of evil.  Snow White’s trials were long and painful, but by patiently enduring them she was brought to the point where she could awaken to her masculine strengths (represented by the kiss of the prince), conquer her own evil tendencies (represented by the evil Queen), gain enough balance and maturity to stand on her own two feet, and marry her prince (the Sacred Marriage, or hieros gamos).

In the masculine hero myth, the hero kills his dragons, or inner and outer enemies, thereby earning his way to salvation.  It is true that a kind of death always precedes transformation and rebirth. However, the feminine way, which we must incorporate into our psyche as well if we wish to continue to evolve, is not to fight perceived imperfections in order to destroy them.

Rather it is a peaceful way of withdrawing, descending into our own depths, seeing, reflecting, grieving, accepting and integrating.  This happens slowly, gradually and naturally, through a diligent desire to let our immature egos die a natural death to make way for the new, the way flowers fade and wilt after they have produced seeds from which new growth will arise in the spring.

No matter how hard we may try, we’ll never be perfected in the traditional sense of the word.  But it is possible to become more aware and individuated, and thus less vulnerable to our hellish inner demons. By owning them as parts of ourselves, we’ll be less apt to project them onto others.  This is our only hope of moving ourselves and the world a little closer to our enduring ideals of peace and salvation.

Lewis Lafontaine's photo.

Quote and Image Credits:  My thanks to Lewis Lafontaine for sharing this quote and these images on Facebook. 

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.

 

The Authentic Hero’s Quest June 3, 2014

Here’s another favorite of mine from August, 2011.  I hope you enjoy it.

The other day I read an article on the internet about a mostly male mindset called the “culture of honor”  which places such a high value on defending one’s reputation that it results in more risk-taking and accidental deaths. Reportedly, this way of thinking is most prevalent in small towns and rural areas of the South and West in such states as South Carolina, Wyoming, and Texas. I wondered: What myth inspires these unfortunate men to take such dangerous risks that they are killing themselves?  Why do they follow it?  I found my answer in the wisdom of two of my favorite authors: Joseph Campbell and Carol S. Pearson.

Campbell tells us that classic hero myths feature powerful male warriors who slay dragons to prove themselves and become masters of the world. Instead of recognizing this as a metaphor for the ego’s heroic struggle for consciousness, patriarchal cultures have tended to take it as a literal model for external achievement, encouraging people to climb to the tops of hierarchies where they can define what the heroic ideal is and decide who is entitled to it: usually the few. We see the dark side of this interpretation in ruthless political leaders and business moguls who deliberately spread lies and foster conflict and hatred to keep their money and power rather than trust the masses enough to share with them.

Pearson describes another unhealthy consequence: “focusing only on this [interpretation of the] heroic archetype limits everyone’s options. Many…men, for example, feel ennui because they need to grow beyond the Warrior modality, yet they find themselves stuck there because it not only is defined as the heroic ideal but is also equated with masculinity.  Men consciously or unconsciously believe they cannot give up that definition of themselves without also giving up their sense of superiority to others — especially to women.” Pearson gives the example of the main character of Owen Wister’s book, The Virginian, who leaves his bride on their wedding day to fight a duel for honor’s sake. Why? Because the only other role available to him is the victim, or antihero.

An obsession with the hero-kills-the-villain-and-rescues-the-victim plot distorts healthy heroic behavior (having the courage to fight for ourselves and change our worlds for the better) into the dangerous “culture of honor” ideal we see among the young working-class and minority men who still embrace it in many parts of the world. Isolation, impoverishment, religious fanaticism, social disenfranchisement and inadequate education all feed this mentality. The only thing apt to change it is the awareness that not everyone thinks this way and there are healthier alternatives.

Pearson’s research in the 1980’s revealed that women were rediscovering the true meaning of the dragon-slaying myth. Their story in which there are no real villains or victims — just heroes who bring new life to us all — is being adopted by males and females alike. While the timing and order may be slightly different for men and women, we all go through the same basic stages of growth in claiming our heroism.  “And ultimately for both [genders], heroism is a matter of integrity, of becoming more and more themselves at each stage in their development.” This is the Jungian path of individuation.

The heroic, self-disciplined quest to avoid the inauthentic and the superficial conquers the slumbering dragon of unconsciousness and births the courage to be true to one’s inner wisdom. An individuating person knows, in Pearson’s words, that “assertion and receptivity are yang and yin — a life rhythm, not a duality.”  Freed from the tyranny of conflict between opposites, such a person names our divisiveness and promotes care, cooperation, compassion, community and unity. Do you know someone who fits this description of an authentic hero?

Art:  Rogier Van der Weyden, St. George and the Dragon

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 Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

Disney Princesses August 30, 2011

In the 1970’s Westerners experienced a huge surge of awareness about gender stereotypes and we began a concerted effort to free ourselves from them. One issue receiving a lot of attention was how the depictions of female characters in traditional literature unconsciously influenced little girls’ beliefs about themselves and their place in the world. This led many women, myself included, to revisit our personal stories to see how we had limited ourselves.

Huge changes occurred in our cultural stories too. Television shows like Charlie’s Angels  featured women in roles that had been traditionally reserved for men.  Scholars like Marija Gimbutas (The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe) and Merlin Stone (When God Was A Woman) wrote books that examined feminine aspects of spirituality. New volumes of fairy tales were re-written to give the female characters more power and control over their lives. Since then, our growing awareness has fostered greater gender balance in many sectors of society.

How then do we account for the phenomenon of the Disney Princesses? Some see them as positive role models for their daughters, but many see them as stereotypes which are bound to scar our daughters’ minds.  Why do they think this?  Because the rule for female leads in such tales as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast is that they must be young, beautiful, sweetly shy, innocently seductive, charmingly vulnerable, and, for the most part, deferential to males. Moreover, although there are occasional deviations, the plots almost always follow the  masculine-hero-rescues-feminine-victim-and-conquers-villain formula for heroic behavior.

If we take these stories as literal models for gender behavior in the outer world  they are, indeed, limiting. But what if we see them as symbolic of the inner life of the soul which has a masculine and a feminine drive? What if we realize that each of us contains a sweet and vulnerable Cinderella/Snow White/Aurora/Belle Orphan who needs to be rescued from its child-like dreaminess so we can become conscious, mature, and responsible? What if we recognize the cruel Stepmothers, Stepsisters, and untamed Beasts within us who can influence us adversely if we do not become more aware of them?  What if we see that helpful Fairy Godmothers, noble Kings and Queens, and heroic savior Princes are also part of our potential and we can choose to empower them if we wish?

The characters and plots of our cultural stories are projections of our psyches that show us who we are and who we have the potential to become. If we view them as opportunities for self-reflection they can be portals to growth and self-discovery. The Disney Princesses represent a youthful stage of development of our feminine sides. As such, they will appeal to most children for a little while. A few might even stay in that stage throughout their lives — perhaps because the archetype is simply a powerful part of their true personality, or perhaps because they’re afraid to risk changing — but most will grow beyond it. And when they do, there are plenty of other role models out there to pick from.

At 6 and 9 my granddaughters have already outgrown the Disney Princesses. I wonder how long it will be before they discover Barbie and Ken…

 

The Authentic Hero’s Quest August 26, 2011

The other day I read an article on the internet about a mostly male mindset called the “culture of honor”  which places such a high value on defending one’s reputation that it results in more risk-taking and accidental deaths. Reportedly, this way of thinking is most prevalent in small towns and rural areas of the South and West in such states as South Carolina, Wyoming, and Texas. I wondered: What myth inspires these unfortunate men to take such dangerous risks that they are killing themselves?  Why do they follow it?  I found my answer in the wisdom of two of my favorite authors: Joseph Campbell and Carol S. Pearson.

Campbell tells us that classic hero myths feature powerful male warriors who slay dragons to prove themselves and become masters of the world. Instead of recognizing this as a metaphor for the ego’s heroic struggle for consciousness, patriarchal cultures have tended to take it as a literal model for external achievement, encouraging people to climb to the tops of hierarchies where they can define what the heroic ideal is and decide who is entitled to it: usually the few. We see the dark side of this interpretation in ruthless political leaders and business moguls who deliberately spread lies and foster conflict and hatred to keep their money and power rather than trust the masses enough to share with them.

Pearson describes another unhealthy consequence: “focusing only on this [interpretation of the] heroic archetype limits everyone’s options. Many…men, for example, feel ennui because they need to grow beyond the Warrior modality, yet they find themselves stuck there because it not only is defined as the heroic ideal but is also equated with masculinity.  Men consciously or unconsciously believe they cannot give up that definition of themselves without also giving up their sense of superiority to others — especially to women.” Pearson gives the example of the main character of Owen Wister’s book, The Virginian, who leaves his bride on their wedding day to fight a duel for honor’s sake. Why? Because the only other role available to him is the victim, or antihero.

An obsession with the hero-kills-the-villain-and-rescues-the-victim plot distorts healthy heroic behavior (having the courage to fight for ourselves and change our worlds for the better) into the dangerous “culture of honor” ideal we see among the young working-class and minority men who still embrace it in many parts of the world. Isolation, impoverishment, religious fanaticism, social disenfranchisement and inadequate education all feed this mentality. The only thing apt to change it is the awareness that not everyone thinks this way and there are healthier alternatives.

Pearson’s research in the 1980’s revealed that women were rediscovering the true meaning of the dragon-slaying myth. Their story in which there are no real villains or victims — just heroes who bring new life to us all — is being adopted by males and females alike. While the timing and order may be slightly different for men and women, we all go through the same basic stages of growth in claiming our heroism.  “And ultimately for both [genders], heroism is a matter of integrity, of becoming more and more themselves at each stage in their development.” This is the Jungian path of individuation.

The heroic, self-disciplined quest to avoid the inauthentic and the superficial conquers the slumbering dragon of unconsciousness and births the courage to be true to one’s inner wisdom. An individuating person knows, in Pearson’s words, that “assertion and receptivity are yang and yin — a life rhythm, not a duality.”  Freed from the tyranny of conflict between opposites, such a person names our divisiveness and promotes care, cooperation, compassion, community and unity. Do you know someone who fits this description of an authentic hero?

 

 
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