Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

A Zen Summer August 16, 2016

imagesYou 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.

Izzy's job is to carry my water and clippers in her backpack.

Izzy’s job is to carry my water and clippers in her backpack.

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.

My patting boulder. Old lady with fern hat or Green Man?

My patting boulder. Old lady with fern hat or Green Man?

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.

The stone mandala I made about 15 years ago captured in a Yin/Yang moment of shade and sun.

The stone mandala I made about 15 years ago captured in a Yin/Yang moment of shade and sun.

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.

This beech standing on tiptoe could be the next victim of erosion on our mountain slopes.

This beech standing on tiptoe could be the next victim of erosion on our mountain slopes.

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?

11406420_810904575646427_1976885749494247402_oFeed 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.

images-1The 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

 

Memories of Childhood Dreams March 5, 2013

mybabypicI was born in Michigan. My mother was a nurse, my father was a policeman, and I had an older brother named Jimmy.  When I was four, Daddy and Mama sold our Victorian cottage, hitched a trailer to the back of our car, and we headed south. That first year we lived near Tampa.  The only thing I remember about the Temple Trailer Park is that it was situated beside an icy cold natural sulphur spring where I learned how to swim. A year later Daddy found a job as a highway patrolman and at the end of the summer we arrived at Mitchell’s Trailer Park in a wooded area of Tallahassee. Daddy parked our trailer under a mossy oak tree beside a deep drainage ditch whose sides were webbed with tree roots. I had never seen a ditch or a tree that big and everything about our new forest home seemed magical to me.

Our dark green trailer had a life-sized Indian head at the top where the curved front wall met the roof.  To me he was a friendly guardian warrior. Our new home was too small for a bathtub, so Mama would bathe me in the big sink in the community wash house. With the help of the trailer park handy man, Daddy built a screened porch and put in bunk beds for Jimmy and me. I loved sleeping out there.  The nights were cool and you could hear crickets, tree frogs and hoot owls. In the mornings the birds began chirping at first light. On windy nights it sounded like the trees were humming, and when it rained we fell asleep to the rat-a-tat-tat of rain drops and acorns drumming on the tin roof.

Mama got a job working nights at the hospital. She slept during the day while Daddy was at work and Jimmy was at school, so I entertained myself. I got so accustomed to being alone that once when a little girl asked me to come out and play, I wouldn’t go. She bit my hand and ran away! I couldn’t imagine what her problem was. Another time I folded several pieces of typing paper into a book. Since I didn’t know how to write, I drew pictures.  First, I drew myself waking up in bed. Then I was sitting on the potty, then eating a bowl of oatmeal at the kitchen table. By the fourth page I couldn’t think of anything else to draw. I found this very frustrating. Filling a book with the thoughts and images inside my head seemed like a beautiful, impossible dream.

lantanaOne summer day Daddy took me for a walk down the dirt road beside the trailer park. The drainage ditches on either side were rimmed with colorful wildflowers and he taught me their names. Snapdragon. Lantana.  Japanese honeysuckle. When he stopped beside a wood fence I climbed up, looked over the top, and fell in love! It was a stable yard. I had never seen a horse before and thought these were the most beautiful creatures I’d ever seen. When I saw people riding them I wanted to ride too, so Daddy paid a quarter for a lesson.  While the lady cinched up the saddle, the brown and white pony took a deep breath to balloon his belly. When he let it out the girth loosened up. At first this was fine, but when he trotted the saddle began a slow slide down his right side and before long I was on the ground! I thought this was a great adventure. That’s the day my dream of having a horse of my own was born.

A few days later all I could think about was how much I wanted to ride that pony. I couldn’t find a quarter, so since Mama was asleep I borrowed one from a lady in a nearby trailer. Then I walked to the stable and had a fine ride. When the lady told my parents about my visit, I couldn’t understand why they seemed worried. I was rather proud of my creative solution! They gave me a quarter to pay back the lady, told me to apologize for borrowing money, and said I was never to do it again. I didn’t.

My life has changed in many ways since then, but some things haven’t changed at all. I still love trees and the patterns of roots and the magic and mystery of forests. I love the way Native Americans respect and protect nature. I love the night, the sounds of wind and rain. I love being alone. I love writing books. I love flowers and horses and new adventures. And when a dream feels really, really important to me, I pursue it until I make it happen.

My wish for you is that you’ll remember who you are and what you love, and that you’ll be able to pursue your dreams until you make them happen.

You can find my newest book, Healing the Sacred Divide, at my Amazon author’s page or Larson Publications, Inc.

 

The Symbolic Meaning of Trees February 15, 2011

Recently I wrote about how a book on personality types I read at the age of 18 used the central metaphor of a tree to describe my “type.” In those days I had no idea a symbol could have important meaning for me. But what I have learned since convinces me that whether the author’s choice to use this symbol was random or deliberate, it was perfect for one whose driving force is the search for meaning and purpose.

The tree has meant many things to many people throughout history, but the theme that runs through them all is humanity’s psycho-spiritual journey from ignorance to consciousness. With roots that reach deep into the earth, arms that reach up to heaven, and trunks that connect the space in between, trees mediate between heaven and earth, thus symbolizing the soul’s journey through the manifest world in both its sacred and mundane aspects.

A major theme related to this is centrality. The Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge grow in Paradise. The Tree of Life is at the center and signifies regeneration, the return to the primordial state of perfection. The Tree of Knowledge is dualistic and associated with humanity’s fall from the innocent paradisal state. Conversely, it represents our potential for a Great Awakening into an enlightened Wisdom in which all dualities are overcome, as in Buddha’s Bo Tree which represents his essence as a Sacred Center. Similarly, the Kabbala’s Sephirotic Tree has a right and left-hand column representing duality and a middle column that balances the others and restores unity. And the Islamic Tree of Blessing which is neither East nor West and therefore central represents blessing and illumination.

Another theme is life. In Scandinavian mythology the Yggdrasil or ash is the Tree of Life. In Greek mythology Athena’s olive tree symbolized the intellectual life of mental strength and wisdom. The Shamanistic birch is the Tree of Life with seven branches representing the seven planets and heavens. And of course, Jesus, like all Dying Gods, loses his life on a tree.

The Herder Symbol Dictionary says, “Psychoanalysis sees in the tree a symbolic reference to the mother, to spiritual and intellectual development, or to death and rebirth.” It also notes that the fruit, shade, and protective nature of trees have caused them to be seen as feminine or maternal symbols; yet, at the same time, the erect trunk is a phallic symbol. Perhaps this is why, for Carl Jung, the tree symbolized the Self, androgyny (integration and equality between the masculine and feminine principles), and individuation.

The psycho-spiritual journey begins and ends in a tree. As a symbol of the maternal matrix in which we spend our early years the tree represents our unconscious conformity to conventional thinking. Later, as we meet the challenge to become integrated and authentic it becomes a symbol of spiritual development, rebirth, individuation and androgyny.

I had two epiphanies in late adolescence, the traditional time of mother-leaving, and both featured trees. Perhaps this is mere coincidence, but from then on my internal compass was set on the search for meaning, purpose and enlightenment.  I haven’t “arrived” anywhere and don’t expect to, but my travels have brought me closer to my sacred center and enriched my life beyond measure. Taking the symbols that show up in my waking and dreaming life seriously has been central to that search. Next time I’ll share how the tree symbolizes the struggle to leave our early innocence and dependence behind. What symbols have directed your life’s journey?

Paperback and Ebook versions of Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 
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