Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Search for the Spiritual — An Interview with Jean Benedict Raffa June 20, 2018

Note: My friends, my new book is coming along nicely. Meanwhile, I’m excited and honored to share an interview written by Audrey Schultz which appeared yesterday, June 20, on the Swenson Book Development blog. I hope you enjoy it.

If you’re someone who is curious about the human psyche, spirituality, and the connection between femininity and masculinity, chances are you’ll enjoy reading the work of Jean Benedict Raffa, whose writings and teachings focus on “psychological and spiritual matters from a perspective informed by Jungian psychology and personal experience.” She is the author of several books, including The Bridge to Wholeness, Dream Theatres of the Soul, and Healing the Sacred Divide, and recently, she has announced Schiffer Books will publish her new book titled The Soul’s Twins, which “offers a self-guided journey to wholeness and enlightenment by transcending masculine-feminine oppositions.” In light of this recent news, I had the chance to interview Jean for Swenson Book Development.

Swenson Book Development: Have you always known that you wanted to write? Was there a specific point in your life when you realized that this was what you wanted to do?

Jean Benedict Raffa: I’ve always loved to write, but it took a very long time to know what I wanted to write about. At five I made my first book by folding a few pieces of blank paper in half. Since I didn’t know how to write, I drew pictures of myself going through my day—waking up, sitting on the potty, eating breakfast. Then I got stuck. How could I draw what was really important—the thoughts and feelings in my head? It was words and understanding I wanted, not images. At ten I started my first real book, then trashed it after 30 pages. Discovering I had nothing to write about was a disappointment I carried around for many years.

My favorite assignments in school always involved writing, but it wasn’t until I spent a year writing my doctoral dissertation about the effects of television on children that the puzzle pieces began to fall together. The hundreds of late-night hours spent alone at my desk while my husband and children slept felt like minutes. With no pressure from the outer world, time, space, and even my body disappeared while I explored an inner realm of my own making. There I experienced the joy of creating, organizing, and arranging my ideas into words that had real value to others. This was what I was born for. But it was still only half the puzzle. It took a lengthy spiritual crisis during ten more years of struggling with unfulfilling work to know what I was born to write about.

SBD: You’ve stated on your website, “My work focuses on spiritual and psychological growth, the empowerment of women, generating reverence for the feminine principle and creating partnership between masculinity and femininity.” When people read your books, what is the impression that you hope readers are left with?

JBR:  I hope readers go away from my books thinking, “This is important. It’s about me, the way I’m living my life, and the big questions I struggle with—not just meaningless, distracting surface stuff I’ll forget tomorrow. It touches my yearning and brings me hope. I want more of this.”

SBD: What inspires you to keep writing your books?

JBR: The ancient Greeks had a word, daimon, for the natural spirit — a genius replete with knowledge which is not quite human and not quite divine—in every individual. Your daimon is a very powerful force —a personal guardian who protects, guides, and inspires you as you travel through life. It starts out like a tiny seed buried in your unconscious and grows in response to your attention and unique experiences. It feels like a deep hunger to discover and manifest your natural gifts for the benefit of the world. Everyone has this yearning, but few heed it—partly because they don’t attend to it, and partly because they fear acting on it will result in banishment from their tribe.

I felt my daimon at the age of five, but it took over 40 years to blossom. And it’s still growing. I write because I have to write. I no longer have a choice. My daimon drives me to obey it, and I’ll always be grateful that I had the sense to listen and follow its guidance.

SBD: Do you view writing itself as a kind of spiritual practice?

JBR: Yes. Humans are evolving into greater consciousness. This is both a psychological and spiritual journey. Involving yourself in practices that lead to self-discovery develops skills that automatically connect you with your soul, your spirit, your daimon, other people, and the Self. The Self is Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung’s name for the sacred within you. It is the core and circumference of your psyche, the archetype of wholeness, and your religious instinct. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, nor does it matter if your spiritual practice is sanctioned by outer authorities. What truly matters is that when you connect with it, it brings self-knowledge, expands your mind, opens your heart, fulfills your yearning, and infuses your life with zest, vitality, meaning, and most of all, love. The practices that have helped me connect with my Self are writing, dreamwork, study, and paying attention to synchronicities that excite my daimon.

SBD: What are you most excited for regarding your latest book, The Soul’s Twins?

JBR: It feels like the completion of my life’s work. Seen from this perspective, my first book laid a foundation, my second designed a blueprint, the third built a framework, and this one feels like the finished house—basement, attic, and everything in between. It also has the most potential to serve the largest and most diverse audience.

Psychologically speaking, everyone has a feminine and a masculine side—a full palate of potential from which to make works of art out of our lives. Recent events have raised collective awareness that too many qualities from the feminine spectrum have not received equal attention, respect, or expression because of outdated gender stereotypes. I’m excited that The Soul’s Twins has the potential to be of help in humanity’s inevitable march toward creating inner and outer partnerships that dissolve harmful stereotypes and heal our divided psyches.

SBD: Has your experience in writing The Soul’s Twins been different from your experiences with your other books, or has it been much the same?

JBR: Each book has been different. The first, largely a memoir, took over a year to write. The second only took four months. Both quickly found publishers. Then in the mid-nineties I worked on The Soul’s Twins for two years before I realized the audience for it was too small, and there was still much I needed to learn. So I set it aside and wrote several iterations of Healing the Sacred Divide over a period of 18 years until it morphed into its current form. Once it came out, my daimon had nothing to say about another book until last year when a particularly meaningful synchronicity sparked my interest in revisiting and reworking my long-dormant manuscript. This time, my timing was right on.

SBD: If you could pick just one piece of advice to give, what would it be and why?

JBR: Think psychologically; live spiritually. By this I mean take your inner world seriously. Pay attention to what’s going on in you—reflect on it, accept your wounds and shadows as natural parts of your path, and learn to love yourself. Open your mind to new ways of thinking and living. Adopt a practice that brings self-knowledge and improves your relationships. Then, moment by moment, take the next step you must take and do the thing you must do.

You can connect with Jean and find out more about her work on her website, blog, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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.

 

Thank Goodness For Facebook Friends November 14, 2017

“Aaarg, this is grueling,” I growl to myself as I pick up the next book I need to read. I’m feeling frustrated. I want to work on my book. Analyze ideas and tie them together with other ideas.  Find flaws in imperfect sentences and paragraphs. Mold them into clearer, more precise ones. Feel the pleasurable high that writing always brings.

Mentally gritting my teeth, I remind myself this is something I have to do. Comparing the manuscript I’m working on with similar books on the market is an important part of the proposal I will submit to potential publishers, but I’ve been dragging my heels to get it done. Recording and analyzing the dream I had last night was so much more meaningful and fun.

I read for a while, underline passages, take notes, decide to take a break. I’ve been neglecting social media for a while so I go to Facebook. The first thing I see is a note from a friend who’s just finishing her first book.  She writes, “I trust your new book is coming along well, Jean.  I will be working closely with Jill myself when I get home from Mexico.  I’m both a little nervous and excited! I guess those emotions are close enough to be compatible…”

Jill Swenson is a book developer my friend and sister author Elaine Mansfield introduced me to. Elaine thought so highly of her that I decided to consult her about my new venture. This book is a real bear and I need help.

I smile at Jenna’s words. I can relate. Big time. I pause. Think. Then write:

“You’re right, Jenna. The two emotions are compatible, as are many other conflicting ones. And I think this is inevitable and necessary. My project of updating, revising, and cutting 535 pages I wrote over 20 years ago down to less than 200 and doing a ton of annoying research to create a thorough proposal is a real challenge.

“This book is the hardest one yet. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between the frustration and self-criticism of “I can’t do this,” and the excitement and elation of “Oh, wait, I can do this,” for about 6 months now, and making pretty good progress anyway. Then just when I think I’m getting over this ping-pong process I have a dream like the one last night.

I’m at a travel stop and keep going back and forth between a dingy, disorganized and frustrating inn where I can’t even get something to eat and and the delightful landscape just outside the door: a vast beautiful plain carpeted in lush green grass harboring two big friendly and furry bizarre animals — one of whom speaks in a melodious voice and offers me a piece of candy — all of it ringed by distant misty mountains.

 

“This picture of my current emotions shows me I’m still conflicted but not fighting the process. Just feeling what I feel, comfortable and uncomfortable, and accepting it. I think that’s at least partly because I have Jill to steer me through it. She’s been a real treasure. You’ll love working with her. Having just described this dream here I’m reminded that it’s been a while since I’ve published a new blog post and this would be a good subject for it! I think that would be a nice break for me at the moment. Thanks for the prod!”

It’s amazing how refreshed I feel after writing this post just now. I needed this. Thank goodness for Facebook friends. And thank you also for my Twitter and WordPress friends.  It’s been too long since I’ve communicated with you and I’ve missed you. Thank you most of all to Jill, who will understand better than anyone how badly I needed this break and how restorative it’s been. Sending love to all of you.

Okay. Back to work.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soul-Making Halfway in Between August 21, 2012

The other day I was on the phone with a regular reader and commenter to this blog. We live only a few hours apart during the summer, and we were trying to arrange to meet halfway in between for lunch. At one point she wondered aloud about the outcome of my inner work. Do I feel better? Wiser? Am I happier? More loving, balanced and spiritually connected than when I began?

My immediate response was, and is, “Yes!” But I’m not sure my explanation addressed this deeply sincere seeker’s question.  Was she wondering if, as an introvert who has traveled my own way for the last 22 years with very little support from therapists, groups or spiritual guides other than books, I am satisfied with the results? Or was she wondering if determined inner work in general has resulted in my feeling somehow finished? Am I always wise and peaceful? Always emotionally open, balanced, loving and spiritually connected?  Perhaps even… enlightened?  If she meant the former, my answer is still, “Yes!” But if the latter, it would be an equally emphatic, “No!”

Sometimes I feel very stupid.  Also anxious, emotionally closed, unbalanced, selfish, and judgmental. Certainly not whole or enlightened. Enlightenment is a term I first heard in reference to Eastern religions. Once, the idea drew me forward like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey’s face, but then I discovered Jungian psychology, turned around, and met my Shadow.

Essentially I find the meaning of my life in soul-making. This is a process, not a final product. Currently I’m reading “Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine” by Peggy Tabor Millen. If you’re a woman who writes, I highly recommend her books. Malaprop’s Book Store in Asheville, North Carolina has put us together for a joint presentation on Sept. 21st and I hope you’ll come if you’re in the area. Anyway, with her unique combination of Western and Eastern thought and practice, Millen strives to activate her creativity by balancing her masculine and feminine energies through writing and teaching. She calls this struggle to release her authentic creativity soul-making.

A typical Westerner, Carl Jung approached his soul-making work by strengthening his mind with logic and will-power until his ego-spirit mustered the courage to step aside. This allowed soul to move into consciousness, revealing disowned parts of his psyche. In the process, his unique creativity was released.  The East historically begins its quest by quieting the mind and practicing physical austerities aimed at humbling and displacing the ego-spirit. But eventually the same thing happens. Letting go enables spirit to hear and express soul’s deep, compassionate voice.

For millennia these different approaches were separated by a divide that was geographical, philosophical, religious, spiritual, and psychological. Yet both have always aimed at uniting masculine spirit with feminine matter. As Millin says, the ideal is for both  to participate in a cyclical yin/yang flow from one to the other which ensures that when balanced one never dominates, except temporarily.

Since the Dalai Lama made his home in the West, these perspectives have begun to merge and overlap.  Each of us is discovering a new way to live in a never-ending process of moving first this way, then that, re-inventing ourselves anew every day in a middle way that encompasses both streams. The sacredness of this mandorla way speaks not to where we start or finish our journey, but to our willingness to release the creative flow in our natures with each step.

Has there been a payoff for my form of inner work? Yes indeed. But that says nothing about your form. Eventually, all paths to growth use the same process. The last thing that matters is how we got there.

You can purchase Healing the Sacred Divide at www.larsonpublications.com and www.Amazon.com .While you’re at Amazon, check out the newest review written by Joey Madia.

 

Dream Interview Part I: Writers and Dreamwork May 29, 2012

Writing this blog has introduced me to some wonderful people. Shirley Showalter is one whose inspiring site is filled with fascinating information and practical tips for memoir writers.  Recently she requested an interview, and what began as fodder for one post quickly grew into material for a few more! Here’s my answer to her first question.

Q: You say on your website: “My life is a dream; my dreams are my life.”Also, you’ve recorded over 4,000 dreams since 1989 if I remember correctly. I can see how helpful it would be to be guided by dreams as a writer. But many of us, myself included, do not remember our dreams very often. Can you provide suggestions on how to become more conscious?

A: As of today, the number of recorded dreams is 4,355!   I know it sounds like a mind-boggling undertaking, but really it’s just been a day-by-day, step-by-step thing that I did several times a week when I had the time and energy, or when I felt the need, or when I remembered enough of a dream to be curious about it. Of course, I didn’t work on every one of these, and I’ve had several in between that I never even recorded, plus lots more I simply couldn’t remember.

At first I was worried about not capturing them all in writing so I could keep coming back to them. But our psyches are always trying to communicate our soul’s purpose and desire to us via our dreams, and I learned to trust that if the messages were important enough, they’d return in other dreams until I “got” them.

All my books but the first, which was an outgrowth of my dissertation, are essentially memoirs, and dreamwork has been invaluable to me in this endeavor. Writing has always been a deeply satisfying means of expression for me, and when it’s combined with working on my dreams it’s my fundamental “practice” that brings enormous meaning to my life and helps me tie up all the disconnected threads of my personal history.

Especially helpful in this regard is the fact that since my college days I’ve had a habit of jotting down my day-to-day activities and appointments on calendars, and I’ve kept them all. Likewise, when I started working on my dreams I dated and numbered them. Having this dual, inner world/outer world record of my life to return to when writing my books has been invaluable.

So my first suggestion to memoir writers about how to become more conscious would be to keep some kind of written record of what’s going on with you both inside and out, including a dream whenever you remember one. It may not feel important now, but years from now having this information could add powerful layers of meaning to your writing.

Having a regular practice of some sort is also essential to becoming more conscious. You’ve simply got to take time every day to pay attention to your inner life, even if it’s only a few moments a day. The major obstacle to this, of course, is the extreme busyness of life in today’s world, so it’s imperative to carve out at least 20 or 30 minutes every day when you won’t be distracted by kids, telephones, music, computers, or television so you can write undisturbed, or do whatever else you’re drawn to: writing, of course, but also body work like dancing, massages or yoga, or regular talks with a wise friend or psychotherapist.

But as far as I’m concerned, regular meditation is the Queen of consciousness-raising. Initially, I was reluctant to take the time to meditate so I made a deal with myself.  I could only start writing if I meditated for at least 20 minutes every weekday morning first! This worked wonders and also brought more balance to my life, because I left evenings and weekends free for my husband and children.  More next time.

The photograph is of two perfect peonies from my mountain garden!

Order my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, at www.larsonpublications.com

 

Birthing a Book May 8, 2012

In response to queries about my new book—where I got the idea, how it’s progressing, when it will come out, if it can be pre-ordered, and so on—I’d like to share some of the process and answer your questions in this and the next post. I know you come here for the psychological content, but I assure you I’ll weave some of that in along the way. It won’t be difficult, since I always look for, and usually find, psychological meaning in everything! Plus, the book’s about psychology!

While certain basics never change, the details of the process—from the conception of a book, to the writing of it, to its publication—are as unique as each book. When I started writing my first psychological book , The Bridge to Wholeness:  A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth, in the fall of 1989, I had just retired from college teaching because of a restless discontent with my work and a deep knowing that I had something to say that was vastly different from anything I had written professionally. With no expectations for what would emerge, I followed my heart and for three or four days a week wrote a series of memoir-type essays via which I searched for meaning in my life’s most interesting and puzzling experiences. Essentially, I was re-mything my life from a Jungian perspective.

I’d been recording and working on my dreams for over a year, so I was delighted to discover that my unconscious self supported my writing by providing material at night that often inspired the next day’s work.  Six months into this project I was sitting in front of my make-up mirror one morning when a fairy tale wove its way into my awareness via a spontaneous session of active imagination. This story provided the focus that pulled all the essays together and a year later I sent a proposal and three sample chapters to ten publishers. With a hint from a dream and a suggestion from a Jungian writer, one was based in California. Three days later Lura Geiger of LuraMedia called and told me she wanted it, and my new creation entered the world in 1992!

My next book, Dream Theaters of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dream Work, underwent a very different gestation. Shortly after Bridge was launched I was again filled with restless discontent, so one day I began to explore ideas for a book to help others understand their dreams. Within a few hours I had an outline. Three months later the completed manuscript was also accepted by LuraMedia and it was published in 1994!

Encouraged by my previous successes and motivated by a powerful longing for answers to some pressing questions, in 1993 I began researching and writing the next book. Fifteen years later I had five manuscripts in my computer! Each had a different title and focus and none felt finished, but they were all related to my passion for understanding how gender and family issues, plus my religion, spiritual experiences, and psychological development had influenced my search for self-discovery and spiritual meaning.  By the summer of 2009 I had a new manuscript with a new focus that combined elements from all five. After another rewrite based on suggestions from three experts in their fields, I signed a contract with Larson Publications in March of 2011. That book will be formally launched this summer with the title, Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World.

Honestly? The others were deeply satisfying, but this baby feels special! More about it next time.

 

 
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