Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Healing With Visualization

We've heard a lot about the power of intention and positive affirmations over the years, but those of us who have worked with intentions know that every thought does not carry the same impact. Sometimes we feel as the mind really can't change reality, and yet when we give in to negative emotions, we can feel the results very quickly.

The issue is that every conscious thought does not carry an equal amount of weight, and every unconscious belief does not always hold sway in our lives. The levels of mind are as varied as the levels of energy and emotion that we access as part of life, and learning to wield the wand of intention is a soulful process.

In Peru, shamanic proteges spend decades learning to influence the subtle realms of energy and spirit. It requires far more than technique. It involves a lifetime of coming deeper into relationship with our soul self, and the world of spirit, of living light, that they call the Kawsay pacha. Kawsay is the living light that animates life throughout creation and learning to influence this realm, being a powerful co-creator of the cosmos, is what they call learning to "push" kawsay (living light).

Intentional power involves much more than thought, and for the shamanic path, it always begins with our own healing. Shamans must learn to heal their own wounds and come into right relationship with the Divine in order to have power with the Divine.

I have gone into this to help explain why sometimes when you "want" to change something, and you "focus" on that change, change does not always occur. Often, we have to journey inward and start making the changes within ourselves first. Mythic visualization is one way to make the inner shifts.

You might work with this visualization as a starting point. Think of a particular area in your life where something feels damaged or weak.

Sit or lie down and take a few breaths to relax. Imagine yourself sinking down and through your body, sinking below the floor, into the ground and continuing until you come to rest in an underground cave. In this cave is a beautiful underground river, with a gentle water fall at the head and a slow wide middle that narrows at the bottom as it heads deeper into the ground. Across the wide slow river, on the other bank, you see an opening in the wall. Cross the river, walk into the opening--here you may find yourself still in a cave, or in a room or landscape. Look around for an object that represents something in your life that needs clearing or healing. You may have to look in crevices or drawers or within the leaves of a plant. Look around until you find the object. Take the object back to the water. Rinse the object in the river with the idea of cleaning it, clearing it, or healing it. When it feels clear and beautiful take it back across the river with you. Lie down on the rock shelf by the river and pull the object into your heart. Remain there several moments while you feel the gifts of this healed object coming into your heart chakra and nourishing your system. Now imagine yourself rising back up through the ground and into your body.

When you are ready, you might want to take some time to journal about the process. I also recommend making an offering to Spirit in the form of a verbal thank you, or by burning incense. May you journey well!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why the Soul needs Tending

Despite what mainstream media and public personas may suggest, we need a lot more in this world than what the material and commercial realms can offer. We need more than material things, surface beauty, scientific facts, and escapes from the trials of life. At some point, we need deeper, more spiritual, and more meaningful qualities to feel whole and balanced in life. We need a better understanding of ourselves and our world. In reality, a great pizza, a large screen TV, and a good movie cannot solve all our problems or fill all the gaps inside of us. At some point, we find ourselves faced with problems or questions that ordinary life barely acknowledges and is even less prepared to resolve. That’s when we need to turn inward, and when we look around for like-minded companions and mentors. That's when we need to make time to rediscover and nourish our inner self.

If we had a good childhood, our soul-self may have been nourished and even encouraged, but odds are, somewhere along the way in life, you began editing your inner nature. Some of that is merely part of maturity, like learning not to say everything you think or take everything you want. But sometimes the editing is far more disfiguring to our true nature. We may get hurt in a way that teaches us to live in fear or lose self-confidence. We may be taught that progress, power, strength, or winning are better than our desire to be artistic or friendly. We may be taught that what we want cannot be achieved or what we don’t want cannot be shed. We may wake up and find that we don’t really even know who we are anymore. We cannot change the material history of the past, but we can absolutely change the way that history is recorded in our mind, body, and life. Learning to work at the soul level, look beyond the patterns and beliefs of your life routine is a first step to tending the soul.

As a first step to looking deeper into what you need at the soul level, do this journal exercise. Draw a vertical line to make two columns on your page, and write these two headings at the top of the columns: “Who I seem to be” and “Who I really am.”

Under the left heading, write words and phrases that describe how you present yourself in the world. How do others see you? How do you feel and act in your daily or routine life? How do you spend your time? What roles do you play? What attitudes or emotions drive most of your behavior?

Under the right heading, write words and phrases that describe who you feel you really are. Try to look below the routines of your life to find the underlying emotions and personality traits that you may or may not be giving voice to in your life. What are your unused talents or passions? How would you do things differently if you had more control, time, money, etc.? What were you like as a child when people let you be yourself?

While you may believe that other people or situations are driving who you are and how you live, the truth is that most of the patterns of your life are being run by your own programming. Even if an event drove you to certain reactions, you have become who you are and have created the patterns you live as a result of choices you have made as a result of such events. That is, an event can cause a particular defensive response, but once the period of influence of the event is over, how you continue to behave or believe is up to you.

Yes, there are some material constraints.  If you are married with children, you really aren’t likely to be able to run away from your responsibilities and join the circus or circumnavigate the globe on a one-person sailboat.  However, you could nourish your adventurous nature without leaving your family, and your spouse and children might possibly like you better for it. The point is that while there may have been causal experiences in your past to trigger certain patterns in your personality, how you respond to those events and live out the rest of your life is yours to decide. In traumatic cases, a lot of healing support is needed. But there are always things you can do for yourself, also.

At the bottom of the left column, write down one trait or behavior in that column that you can do differently and be more authentic to your nature. That is, choose one thing you can do that will change something in your persona to bring it more in line with your true nature.

At the bottom of the right column, write down one thing you can do to nourish or unleash one of the listed under-used or neglected parts of yourself. Our sailing dreamer above might take sailing lessons, or join a boating club. You might bring your inner artist out to play with paint or other mediums. You might join a choir or take dancing lessons. You might start offering to help someone at work who is doing the job you wish you had, providing you an opportunity to do what you like and perhaps get your talents recognized. It is never too late to open up and give voice to our soul parts.

We cannot really expect others to see our potential when we can’t even see it for ourselves. We can’t expect others to love what we cannot love in ourselves. When you begin to look inward, awaken and value your inner qualities, then you can receive the most important thing we need to feel whole in this life: genuine self-love. Not an egoic selfish love, but a deep spiritual connecting love that reminds you of your own spiritual nature, and connects you with the living energy that runs through all creation. Namaste

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Imagination: Gateway to the Sacred

In today's world, we have lost the connection to essential aspects of ourselves and the cosmic reality, but here's one exercise to begin awakening your intuitive senses.
     The modern West prides itself in the pragmatism of science and rationalism. While we need the tools and knowledge that this realm produces, we have lost the knowledge, skills, and even the awareness of dimensions that we need even more. It is true that knowledge has at times been stifled in the past to serve religious belief and parameters, but the over-application of scientific knowledge has become as stifling as the edicts of any church or tribal superstition. If we believe that only what can be proven by science is real or true, we have returned the world to a flat, two-dimensional place, defined only quantitatively by various rulers and scales. But what about those soulful aspects of life that we crave, and many people experience, beyond the realm of material existence.
     Despite mainstream (Newtonian) science's tendencies to disregard or disqualify the mysteries and vagaries of life, quantum studies have begun to suggest or even validate certain concepts taught through perennial philosophy and mysticism. For example, auras have been described for millennia in mythological writing and art, called the rainbow body, light body, subtle body, halos, and more. The West is beginning to wake up to the realization that there is more than can be explained in the world, as Shakespeare's Hamlet said to his friend, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
     We will never penetrate all of the mysteries of creation, but we can develop the intuitive senses that we have lost through the intuitive censorship consequential to the agnostic posture of rationalism. Two concepts were universal to the pre-science mythologies: 1. There are three worlds--dimensions of reality (Upper, Lower, Middle) and 2. Humans have access to all of those domains. The mystics and shamans throughout time have spoken of a center channel by which we can move between the dimensions of reality. These worlds and the central channel, the axis mundi, have been represented by various images, such as a mountain, tree, poles, ladders, crosses, medicine wheels, holes in ceilings or floors, and more. Cosmic mandalas, such as Native American medicine wheels and the South American Chakana, symbolize various aspects of the cosmos, including the three worlds and the axis mundi by which we can access them.
    The axis mundi is understood to be the central axis of the universe, but it exists inside each of us. We access this channel within ourselves--by way of our imagination--not necessarily fantasy. There are many traditions and techniques for gaining access to this gateway, meditation, trance work including breathwork and drumming circles, shamanic techniques including plant medicines, and more. But the critical element is letting the conscious mind quiet and opening to the intuitive sense--opening from a stance of belief, not disbelief.
    Visualization exercise: Perhaps the best place to begin is to explore is by practicing visualization. Imagine you are floating down a river that sweep you underground into a magnificent inner world. This inner world has grassy banks beside the river on which you float. On one of the banks you see a temple. Walk over to the temple, find an entrance, and walk in. Look for someone in the temple, and when you find him/her/them, ask a question. Once you have communicated, lay back down to float on the river and feel the current reverse and sweep you back up to your ordinary world. Write about your experience in your journal.
At first, you may need to just practice feeling yourself in the river. However, try not to get caught up in actually "seeing" or "feeling" the place as if you were there, at first. Allow a vague sense of it to be enough at first if that is what comes. Sometimes we know things from the back of our head rather than with our eyes or the front of our head. That vague knowledge is valid truth too. As you write about your visions, they will usually become a bit more vivid, and believable. Also allow for whatever you see or experience to be true and good for you, even if it is unexpected.
    While psychologists would argue that these places that our mystical imagination can take us are merely mental constructs, I would argue that they are dimensional realities that we can access. Mystics from across the globe and in various times have described many similar "places" and "spirits" that have been encountered during their journey work. There are too many similarities to believe we are each making up the same kinds of experiences despite different ages and cultures. Your temple will be both unique and universal. Our imaginal experiences are filtered through our uniqueness, but we will encounter archetypal energies that are transpersonal--beyond the mere imaginings of our minds. Yet, it is the imagination that opens us to our center connection to the mystical cosmos.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Goddesses Mine ~ Light & Shadow

"Why do we find ourselves having to rediscover that women’s lives and bodies are important—even sacred—and can be experienced as important indicators of and clues to the grand scheme of the cosmos? How were such perceptions ever lost, when they are so all important, deeply satisfying, and nourishing to men as well as to women?”  (Donna Wilshire, Virgin Mother Crone: Myths and Mysteries of the Triple Goddess 27)
We go on many heroes’ journeys in our individuation process, but the most important journey of my life has been the heroine’s journey of finding and restoring the various aspects of my feminine psyche. Amazingly, much of the journey for me has revolved around Greek mythology. While the Greek society may have been as patriarchal as any, they had not yet killed off their goddess awareness and the mythic connection to the feminine psyche.
            Our reason-based, morality-based, wound-based society has made femaleness a vulval entrapment of man’s mind and power, denying the nurturing, fluid yet stabilizing, and creative elements of femininity. Certainly there is a reawakening of femininity in the world, in both male and female psyches, but the world in general still operates in feminine denial. 
The three primary faces of feminine psychology are the Mother, Crone, and Maiden, each of which has been known in various aspects according to time and attitude: Mother as goddess, Madonna, and queen; Crone as sage and wild woman; and Maiden as virgin, purity, and innocence. Each archetype provide rich healing treasures to the psyche, both personal and collective. Each archetype has shadow features, as well. The Mother Goddess can become the Bitch Goddess, jealous or angry and abusive with her power. The Crone can become the Witch, spiteful and manipulative with her knowledge, or perhaps even mad with her wildness. Even the Maiden has shadow sides, as when her innocence becomes ignorance, or her purity an excuse to avoid engaging in the world, stepping into her goddess power. Sophocles’ Electra myth demonstrates some of the feminine shadows, as we see Clytemnestra as the manipulative murderess after her daughter was killed, spiteful Electra as the motivator of murderous revenge because her father and her significance were taken from her, and Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister who seems to be ignorant of and useless in the dynamics of their world. While Sophocles’ play is an exercise in extremes, modern psychology teaches us that severely suppressing key parts of our personalities can only lead to eruptions in the form of physical or mental “dis-ease.”
 Women go through these archetype-based stages as they mature, and a common tendency is to cast off the trappings of the previous stage when we reach the next. Though the female psyche must grow into her various stages, once the psyche is ripe for a new stage of development, it is important for her to keep access to the previously experienced stages (or elements of them) in order to balance her psyche. However, if we deny ourselves any part of our psychological parts, we suffer and eventually can act out our suffering, like a grieving Demeter. Jung discusses the way in which, by allowing both the Demeter and [Persephone] archetypes room in the feminine psyche, we have “a more comprehensive personality which has a share in the eternal course of things” (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious 188). He goes on to say this gives our psyche a universal and timeless element of connection. An experience of this kind gives the individual a place and meaning in the life of the generations, so that all unnecessary obstacles are cleared out of the way of the life-stream that is to flow through her. At the same time the individual is rescued from her isolation and restored to wholeness. (188)
This, at least in part, answers the question of why Persephone must come back to her mother some of the time. The Goddess cannot permanently lose access to the maiden and maintain her balance as a goddess. Failure to balance the goddess unleashes Demeter’s shadow side, that must rage and tantrum like a storm until she gets the attention and appreciation she craves. So who are these archetypes that define the constructs of the feminine mind?
The Maiden is frequently referred to as Virgin, but not in the context we think in contemporary thought, as one who has never had sex. Instead, she is one who is moving between childhood and womanhood “beginning to explore and taste her grown-up Self. She is in bud—full of potential, unfinished, entering the unknown in a state of joyous uncertainty. Such a one is full of wonder and Becoming, curious about all the possibilities in herself and the world—open to the Mysteries and dangers that lie ahead” (Wilshire 49) She is associated with creativity and purity, and she is generally felt to be innocent of the difficulties that come with adulthood, not yet darkened or weighted by masculine energy, and not yet jaded by the responsibilities and challenges of marriage, even if she is pregnant or raising a child. Donna Wilshire captures the essence of the maiden in this segment of her story of Hebe, the virgin:
In the beginning
            everything that is was mere Possibility,
            everything that is was merely Becoming,
            for everything was gestating
                        in the womb of the Great Goddess,
                        in the close-and-holy Darkness
                                                of Her great womb.
For in the beginning SHE WAS!
In the very beginning SHE is ALL that was.
                        SHE, The Source.
                        SHE, our VIRGIN MOTHER!
VIRGIN, our Mother,
            For in the beginning
                        She—being ALL-That-Is—
                                    Conceived by Herself!
VIRGIN!   not meaning celibate.
VIRGIN!   meaning She who is sufficient-unto-Herself.
VIRGIN!   not meaning celibate.
VIRGIN!   Meaning belonging-to-Herself-alone.
            Primordial Oneness.
                        Pregnant with Possibility!     
                        Pregnant with untold POSSIBILITY!!
Ohhmmm!      Ohhmmm!    Ohhmmm!                                  (66-7)

The Mother-Goddess encompasses motherhood also, but from the perspective of the maternal guidance and grounding of motherhood. She depicts the aspects of womanhood that include being a wife and mother, though it is not necessary that she actually be either of these in her physical life. She “symbolizes love and concern for Self-as-Other and Other-as-Self” (Wilshire 116). The Mother-Goddess role is based as much or more in the goddess aspect, nurturing and ruling her local universe, and carrying weight of responsibility and the power to move those in her orbit. This is the aspect of womanhood that animates a woman’s leadership capabilities, strengths, and talents, as well as the nurturing and supportive elements of our personality.
            The third primary archetype of feminine psychology is the Crone, wise-woman, in general, past her child-bearing years, though as with all of these archetypes, they are more psychologically relevant than biologically dictated. Still, to activate one’s Crone nature, one must be relieved of the obsessive passions and distractions of the Virgin and Mother mind-sets. In mother-centered societies, the old women have been respected and looked to for their wisdom and timeless perspectives. “Crones were the ones most capable of offering guidance and direction to others, the most likely persons to have the wisdom, the time, and experience to heal the sick and minster to the dying…. It was their ability to respond to large cycles that kept all events in perspective” (Wilshire 211).
            Over time, the old woman has frequently been seen as a witch, which has evolved from healer, hermit, and wise-one, to evil-doer, especially in fairy-tales and Christianity. Contemporary culture does not quite know what to do with our rambling, slow, tech-illiterate old people: the pace and isolation of our current lifestyle does not accommodate them. However, when we do take the opportunity to be with a Crone, we usually find two virtues in her age: the first is broader perspective that comes with experience, as discussed above, and the second is a disregard for the mores and pressures of convention. Older people tend not to care so much about the expectations of others. The archetypal vision of this is in the wild-woman characters of myth and literature. “Ever-changing crones—the in-between ones—are famous for their laughter, for knowing something others don’t know. Hags—experienced, confident, full of secret knowledge, with nothing to lose—get away with being raucous, brazen, bold” (Wilshire 213)
            Beyond hag, we need to understand that this wild-woman is a woman of true liberation and joy of life. We see her animated in the Demeter myth as the laughing, dancing Baubo who exposes her genitals. Jean Shinoda Bolen says in her Goddesses in Older Women “This gesture and the laughter it provoked restored a mother goddess’s ability to nurture and brought sunlight back to the world; it could not have been the hostile laughter of ridicule nor the snickering laughter at an obscenity. Something deeper and more significant was revealed” (99).
            Inexperienced or psychologically immature women may not have access to all of these archetypes, but as a woman experiences the limits of each archetypal element, she seeks and embraces the virtues of the next. While there is a certain progression to the maturity, none of these phases are dependent entirely on age or biological circumstances. A mature woman, a goddess in her fullness, will have access to her Maiden, Mother, and Crone natures, bringing a balanced and fluid essence to her relationship with the world. However, most of us have closed off aspects of our natures, subjugating one or even all of our feminine perspectives. Once we realize we are psychically deficient, we find ourselves on a healing journey to restore ourselves to a wholeness of spirit, but what does that whole woman look like?
We see many models of the three archetypes in mythology, especially Greek and Roman, yet it is not easy to find samples of a whole woman, an intact feminine psyche which embodies all of the feminine aspects. Patriarchal systems have parsed the feminine into serviceable categories, each of whose “purpose and reason for being was defined primarily by her relationship and service to a male—his wife, his mother, his daughter, his muse and inspiration, and so forth” (Wilshire 43) The most ancient goddesses were all-encompassing models of the feminine principle as it informs the world, with the powers of creativity, nurturing, and dissolution all part of their realm. However, with the development of systemized pantheons, came goddesses of narrower roles. 
            Clarissa Pinkola Estés dedicates her entire book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, to this concept of the whole woman and what that looks like in the mind and the world, past and present. She calls this whole woman, a “wild woman,” but meaning something quite different than our ecstatic crone above. She defines the whole woman as being in touch with her natural essence, her wildness as a part of nature, and equates her with a healthy she-wolf, at times referring to her as La Loba, the wolf woman. While she tracks a number of names and references for this dynamic, yet balanced creature, for our purposes we will utilize La Loba for this whole woman because, “by naming her we create for her a territory of thought and feeling within us” (8).
            Estés goes on to advise us that we need to understand and embrace this wildish nature that is essential to the feminine psyche. This wild woman, La Loba, “is the health of all women. Without her, women’s psychology makes no sense. This wilderwoman is the prototypical woman . . . no matter what culture, no matter what era, no matter what politic, she does not change. Her cycles change, her symbolic representations change, but in essence, she does not change. She is what she is and she is whole” (8-9).
To have a healthy female psyche, to be a whole goddess of femininity within, we need to embrace all of our phases and talents, the Maiden, Mother, and Crone, and be able to draw from these any time as ever-present resources. Yet this requires more than just acknowledging our various roles and attitudes. Whether we call her Aphrodite, goddess of love, sexuality, creativity, beauty and femininity, or whether we call her La Loba, the wolf woman who knows her deepest self and connects to the free and natural rhythms of her nature, as a part of all nature, to be a healthy and balanced female, she must embrace her deepest and varied nature as a woman.
            We, too can benefit from letting go of the restrictions and confines in which we have stuffed bits and pieces of our soul in order to accommodate the demands of our world and our roles, and restore Aphrodite to her throne at the heart of our psyche. “There is an aliveness that Aphrodite brings to the psyche, that imbues life with love and beauty and is enhanced by her ability to be in the present moment” (Bolen 174). Aphrodite’s fun-loving nature cannot rule every aspect of our lives, but we need to make room for the flow of her influence through us, bringing us the ability to appreciate each moment and bringing creativity into all of our roles. “An Aphrodite who ages very well does so because she has developed wisdom—as personified by Hecate, Metis, Sophia, or Hestia. She is not driven by the Aphrodite archetype nor has been deserted by it. She retains an ability to be fascinated by the beauty she sees in the world and in people. She savors experience and, hence, enjoys life” (Bolen 174). Estés says that to comprehend this wild woman is “a psychology in the truest since . . . a knowing of the soul. Without her, women are without ears to hear her soultalk or to register the chiming of their own inner rhythms” (8)
            As part of my own journey, I wrote the following poem to help me value my own natural assets and embody La Loba. Though it lacks Sappho’s genius, this is my own personification of the feminine aspects portrayed as blossoming life on a mountainside.
When the Mountain Sings
La Loba tracks up the side of the mountain
Stopping at the crest to sniff the timeless air.
Her eternal gaze pan’s the wild terrain, painted in
Dusty greens and browns and specks of brighter color.

On one sunny glade bright faces reach boldly
up for the light—blooming with a bursting “See me!”
Their white petals signal a purity so bright,
They draw perfect attention to their
hopeful golden wombs
Each daisy swaying and praying
                      to be plucked in the name of love.

A bit farther uphill, in the crags of brush and stone,
An occasional thistle also reaches high for the sun.
She’s grown a firm stalk that has pushed its way up
Through the rugged landscape,
And wears the mantel of prick and sting to protect her precious treasure.
After the dainty white petals below have faded, her coarse bud opens
            Into a brilliant purple blossom,
Which none may pluck without consequence.
Finally, her fertile womb opens, yielding a nest of offspring
            In a sensational display of white splendor.
Magnificent - - Inspiring - - Magical
            And gone with the first strong puff of summer breeze.

The hardy bush that blankets this side of the mountain,
Watches the seasonal cycles with her Sage eye.
Her sturdy arms protect and comfort any who seek her help—
Be it those who slither, walk, or fly into her shade.
Patiently, she endures the summer drought and heat,
Yet still sweetens the mountain with her constant perfume,
And gives the land its last burst of color before Winter claims the Sun.

La Loba sniffs the air again, aware of the countless seasons
            Of blooms past and the endless seasons to come.
She feels the bounty swell in her chest
Until she throws back her head
And howls her heartsong of joy to all creation.

She begins to move—running faster and faster—
Across time and space—paws becoming feet,
Fur becoming hair, and
Howl becoming a woman’s laughter so free and so full
That the mountain hums along.
                  By Gay Wolff 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Honoring the Dark Night of the Soul

Darkness and light are both part of our journey. Darkness is the depth of spiritual potential hidden in the void of infinite possibility. Light is the manifestation of that potential in the external dimension of time and space” (M. B. Beckwith, Spiritual Liberation 240). 
Winter has already brought us the hard freezes that obliterate whatever may have been left of last year’s growth, and February is bringing us even deeper into the shivery days of days of winter. For many of us, it seems like it has been ages since we have had a true growing season or a time of harvest. Our human nature is to wish away the dim light of winter and long for the first signs of spring. However, to do so is to throw away a precious prize that cannot be won without journeying through the Dark Night of the Soul, the dark wintry landscape of deep soul work.
What happens to a plant underground during the fall and winter is as important as the above-ground sprouting in spring rains and the blossoming in summer suns. Likewise, when we find ourselves in the midst of difficult times, it is an invitation to open our hearts and minds to reflection and the nourishing opportunities provided by the journey downward and inward. Though such times feel like trial and punishment, Beckwith says “It is a gift to the soul that provides the teaching which becomes the cosmic doorway through which we take a closer step to spiritual awakening” (Spiritual Liberation 241).
We are of a mind in the West that all that is good must grow without ceasing, yet that excess of growth is exactly what defines cancer and makes its “living” a destructive force. In nature, death and mulching are essential properties of life. We can try to ignore it or avoid it, but to be alive is to change, and all change involves a letting go of what was and the creation of what will be. The soul journey is like the mythic journey of the sun – moving across the sky during the day, then descending into the dark underworld at night, only to be reborn on the following dawn. Enlightenment through personal soul work involves both the obvious teachings of the day, and also, those mysteries of the night, of the shadow Self. We cannot know ourselves without spending time in our own shadow.
Despite popular belief, the psychological shadow is not the “bad stuff” in our personality. It actually consists of all the undeveloped or unknown “stuff” in our personalities. Yes, it is true that traits that I choose not to give influence to in my life, like greed or gluttony, are in the shadow because even though I do not want to be greedy or gluttonous, I still have those trait potentials in my humanity. Therefore they are potential resources (or vices) that I choose to keep minimized and not give significant sway over the day side of my personality; yet, should my life conditions change, I might choose to utilize them more, or they might simply slip out and become more active. Besides obvious undesirable attitudes, the shadow contains things like artistic talent, emotions and personality traits, moral or philosophical perspectives, qualities that I may not have exercised or  even realize that  I possess or have access to. For example, if I have always been subservient to or under the control of others, I may not recognize my gifts to be a good leader until I am pushed into it by life circumstances that force me to step up.  Having my life pushed into a new situation might  create a great deal of chaos, fear and insecurity, and even  grief or anger at being forced into a state of uncertainty. Thus, we can descend into that dark and painful place of destruction and rebirth, leaving the comforts of the day life that we have been used to in order to excavate and unleash previously suppressed potential. But that which is in the day is that which I already know and have accessed. The unknown, the new, my potential, can only be found in the shadows of my heart and mind – that underworld that destroys the pillars of the known world and awakens our awareness to the potentials we have not yet mined or developed.
Sometimes, recognizing that we are in this place is enough to give us some comfort, because just as we cannot stay forever in the light, we will not be stuck forever in the dark. However, by honoring the process, looking for the lessons, recognizing the issues that needed to shift or evolve for our ultimate benefit, can help us move along through the night and not get lost down dark and dangerous side paths of doubt, fear, and depression. When we try to avoid the journey—the darkness, the change—and find instead some temporary reprieve that makes us feel comforted, like striking a match to bring a moments light, we can interfere with the process, delaying it and complicating it, and often causing ourselves more suffering. Ultimately, when the match goes out, as it always does, we may find ourselves with scorched fingers, standing again in the dark, yet no further down the path than when we first lit the match.
Self-love and self-acceptance are critical to the healing process of the Soul Journey: that is, loving not only what we show the world, but what lies hidden in the dark nooks and crannies of our soul. Even in America, we cannot expect life to be so one-sided that there are never recessions, regressions, or set-backs, because those are critical to the process of life: no matter how much savings, insurance, legal support, medical know-how, political balance, or other material resources we have.  Now is a perfect time to do what one does in the winter to prepare for spring: prune, cull, rest, look inward, re-evaluate, make plans, thus focusing on reflection and self-support rather than productivity. In winter we can honor our deeper and quieter needs as do the plants when they grow roots, store up resources that make the spring burst possible. Now is a good time to study, meditate, appreciate, hold hands, cook soups and hum by the hearth. The light and warmth of spring will return, and then we will be too busy to rest and enjoy the intimacy of self-reflection that is the primary gift of this Dark Night. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

When the Soul Speaks

Daily life is a symphony created by the melody of our conscious living and the harmonies and cacophonies of our unconscious living. Despite our intentions and will power, much of what happens in our lives seeps up from some uncontrollable place, and often yields chaos. While it is natural to choose who we want to be, Carl Jung warns us against completely denying our shadow parts and says that our unconscious seeks to communicate even when we try to ignore them. He advises that we embrace the parts of our psyche that we bury in the shadows, so they do not start pushing their way into our lives uncontrollably. By bringing them out into the light of our conscious acceptance, we honor and balance them.
Our unconscious frequently reaches out through our dreams, but it also reaches out in our waking life. We are living a personal myth, and with a little help, we can read the bleeps and burps of our unconscious to understand its cryptic messages before it must scream out in big ways to get our attention. Have you noticed certain patterns, like repeatedly losing or breaking things, seeing similar shapes, hearing similar sounds? Did some image catch your attention? Those weird repetitions and oddities that draw our intense awareness are Soul Speak: essentially a divine code. When the soul speaks, we must listen. But how?
When you begin to take notice of patterns and attention-catchers, then you can begin to hear what they want to say. For example, for some time I have had dishes break in half. I finally recognized the pattern and began a dialogue and soon recognizing an imbalance in my life with constructiveness. My normal focus is holding things together, building, creating, or healing, with no room allowed for the natural and necessary energy of destruction. I suddenly felt a powerful need to destroy something, grabbed my reading glasses and began a ritual that included tearing the glasses apart. With each snatch, rip, and crack of the lenses I felt a bubble of energy ripple through my body. It was glorious, like popping bubble wrap through my whole being. Later, my husband and I designed a plate-breaking ceremony (breaking was optional) for a family dinner, using our outdoor fireplace. It was surprisingly thrilling, freeing, and reverent.
This healing lesson resonated in my life as my children eventually left home. Breaking helped me honor the role that dying plays in growth and change—helped move the energy within me so that I could release my fear of the dismantling force at play as my family evolved. I did not need to break all of my possessions, my marriage, or my sanity in order to honor the destructive archetype, as that would be letting it become dominant. I do not want it to lead, but I must embrace it as an important part of life. Acknowledging it, allowing it a voice, can be enough. The same kinds of archetypes and symbols that show up in dreams will also show up in life. For many Soul Speak situations, we can use the same kinds of tools as we would for working with myths or dreams, such as symbol dictionaries, meditation, and soulful journaling or art. You might also want to try the technique suggested below, but remember this is a symbolic, energetic, and intuitive process. Seek insight rather than answers. What we must learn is, when the soul speaks, we must listen. And when possible, join it in a mythic dialogue.
Suggested Mythic Dialogue Technique.
  1. Become aware of repetitive patterns or potent images. When something arouses unusual interest or confusion for you, target that for a dialogue.
  2. Dialogue with the pattern or image (suggestions): • Journal writing (or meditation): begin a conversation with the pattern or with yourself or your guides by asking simple questions. Write whatever seems to flow, over one or more sittings. • Artistic expression: paint, draw, play music, write a story, or any other form of artistic expression that you love. Set your intention and then enjoy your art.
  3. Devise a healthy and safe ceremony or act that allows you to interact with your insights. This may be a one-time or periodic ritual, or it may need to be a regular part of your life. • Write or draw something on a piece of paper and burn it in a flame. • Make an outdoor sand painting (mandala), which can be made out of rocks, sticks, or anything you find. Choose a place, open sacred space with prayer, create a circle type boundary for your painting, and then place objects symbolically within the space. Honor the painting for its teachings and blessings, checking on it and rearranging objects as needed until it feels finished. • Make an altar, just a small space on a shelf can work, where you honor the archetype. Use similar techniques as for a sand painting, opening sacred space and checking in periodically.
  4. Express self-love: Honor yourself in a small but significant gesture, embracing your wholeness. Let yourself receive blessings of beauty and wholeness.
                    by Gay Wolff ~ Revised version of article previously published in Oracle 20/20