Symbolism: A Magical Key to a Secret Garden

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Watercolor Painting of two slugs curled around an egg. (This numinous symbol was discovered on my doorstep one cold November night.)

I’ve always been curious about what’s inside. As a child I opened things, from clock radios to music boxes. I’d get a butter knife from the kitchen to remove all of the screws, take it apart, and look inside. For what? I wanted to see how it worked. If the item didn’t work, I thought I could look inside and fix it, which I never could, but that didn’t keep me from opening things.

My grandparents lived on a farm with all kinds of buildings. There was the corn crib, the two-story chicken house, a garage that sheltered the farm truck and tractors, the barn, a spring house, and the smoke house. All of these places provided endless opportunities to look inside on the endless search for some previously-undiscovered hidden treasures.

The opportunity for discovery faded somewhat until in my thirties, when, primarily fueled by the boredom of an uneventful time in my life, I began to pay attention to my nightly dreams. I had been writing them down for a while by the time I entered grad school. I majored, this might not come as much of a surprise, in psychology. I asked the professor in every single psych class what dreams were about and no one could answer.

Then, as luck would have it, the conservative Catholic college I was attending offered a one-credit course on dreams. I kinda feel sorry for the other students in the class, because I was so excited and curious about dreams, I asked a lot of questions. That professor basically handed me the key, and opened the door, to the magical world of symbolism. The class inspired me to continue exploring this dream language, which is a passion that excites me to this day.

In a patriarchal culture where the value is placed on the literal, logical, rational, and practical, anything that doesn’t fall into those categories is often dismissed as irrelevant, fantasy, imaginal, etc. There is an emphasis on the seen over the unseen, which means the inner world is often overlooked, since the outer is perceived as what really matters.

Symbolism is the language of the inner world and the soul. Dreams speak to the soul and that’s why I believe they are most often symbolic in nature. When you understand symbolism, you can decipher your dreams. That key will unlock a world that has remained hidden from the literal, rational, logical mind.

This language is not dualistic in nature, but is unitary. It brings together, deepens understanding of what’s happening, adds meaning to the seemingly meaningless, and reveals to us that there is so much more to life than what we can see. The soul, even though we can’t see it with our eyes, is relevant to the quality of life that we live.

The soul, and the symbolic world in which it resides, are deep and numinous. Nature and beauty are the food and inspiration for the soul. It is whole and complete unto itself. There isn’t anything missing when we rest in the soul. It’s love and the the world in which it exists is one of love as well, which means it’s a space that is outside of duality. This love isn’t superficial, but is the unseen nature of all that exists.

Dreams speak to the soul, they feed the soul to awaken it from it’s slumber. Our nocturnal experiences strengthen it, so that it may become the foundational self from which we live.

When the symbol, or image, unites with the word, it’s like the male and female joining to give birth to something new. There is a link created between the two polarities and what results is an expansion of consciousness. I must confess, it’s a somewhat addictive process, as the wisdom that is often generated is so inspiring. It’s also often incredibly pertinent to exactly where you are on the spiritual journey and assists in moving consciousness out of old states of awareness and into greater unity and wholeness.

When we live from the soul, which is what we really are, we are outside of duality. We can discern the connection between things that seem separate, we love all of life and are aware of its inherent value, we are free to follow our hearts and honor the sacredness of life. Symbolism opens the gate to the secret garden of the soul that is inside of and all around us. The world of the soul is our world, inner and outer, and despite being unseen, it’s value is inestimable to the quality of life. For us and for the planet.

 

 

 

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Story as a Map through Consciousness

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Beauty and the Beast by Mme. Leprince de Beaumont art by Erica Ducornet

I read once about how a tribe of indigenous people passed stories down through the generations as a way to remember how to navigate long distances. They embedded the features of the land into the story in order to know which way to go. The story might instruct the ambler to pass by the south side of a series of seven hills spoken of as seven sisters or to walk toward a mountain with a hump resembling that of a buffalo.

If these indigenous stories were about the outer world, then myths, religion, dreams, and stories, such as fairy tales, are maps that help us to navigate the inner terrain. Dreams are our personal GPS device, (although, at times they also speak to the collective), and stories refer to the narratives being lived by a larger segment of the population, but all are personal. Stories continue to be passed down and transform across time because they speak to something deep within us.

The Wizard of Oz was published in 1900. That’s over 100 years ago and it still resonates with us because the transformation it speaks about is still happening. If we look at it literally, we might be astonished that after all this time that we are still enchanted by a young girl’s journey on a yellow brick road with a lion, scarecrow, tinman, and barky dog called Toto. This quirky story continues to be watched and read all over the world.

“Beauty and the Beast” has been traced back to an ancient Roman novel called The Golden Asse dated 170-180AD. The story of “Cupid and Psyche” is a chapter in that book, which has evolved into “Beauty and the Beast.” I find it fascinating that a tale can persist in consciousness for such a long time. Why do we keep retelling this story? Because it entertains the mind while also speaking to the heart and soul. It’s a map for the evolution of consciousness and a reminder about how to awaken the soul from its slumber.

The soul has been conditioned to believe, since birth, that it’s the story of me, or you, (aka the ego). We are constantly bombarded with the idea that the only satisfaction to be found is in the outer world. The journey in the tale, and in our lives as well, is to free us from what we have erroneously come to understand is the nature of reality. “Beauty and the Beast” is still around because we have yet to collectively awaken from our slumber. We are currently more conscious than ever that we need to free ourselves from the old outdated narratives and embody our truths. The stories illustrate how to transcend our limitations and erroneous beliefs.

These maps have been passed down through the generations to us by our ancestors, who weren’t able, for the most part, to achieve the level of consciousness that’s required to be able to receive the new reality. They each contributed, in their own way, to the evolution of the story, and consciousness, so that we might be able to awaken at this time. It seems as though we may have reached a critical moment in history that appears to require such a collective transformation.

Our dreams come every night to instruct us on how to transform the old stories and prepare us to navigate through the chaos and unfamiliarity of unknown territory. We have the maps and we are ready to shift beyond these old narratives to embody a new state of consciousness. The time is now.

 

You are Enough as You Are

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My grandmother was an amazing cook and was known throughout the valley for her culinary talents. She could make anything, from pies and cakes, to meals, and holiday fare. When we went to any kind of function, such as a church supper, family reunion, or picnic, we’d always try to get in line early so that we could get a serving from her dishes before they ran out. Everyone knew which ones were hers and they always went first. You might think, since we ate her cooking at home all the time, that we might eat someone else’s food when we were out. Even my grandfather went for her pie.

I had my favorite foods, which she made for me whenever I was at home. She made a beef roast in an iron skillet that was so tender you could eat it with a fork, creamed lima beans, string beans with bacon, scalloped potatoes, and her well-known butterscotch pie.

When I was in my thirties, I became a sugar-free, wheat-free, vegan. One day she lamented, “What can I do for you? What can I cook for you?” I didn’t know what to say, since I didn’t eat virtually anything the way she prepared it anymore. In hindsight, I wish I’d just eaten it anyway, but I didn’t realize at the time how much it mattered to her.

Then, the other day, as I contemplated love and thought of her, I realized what I really wished. I think she believed that she had to do something for me, or give me something. I am not sure she realized how much I loved her. In the midst of another conversation once, she and my sister told me that they knew I loved them. But I think she might be amazed to learn just how much.

I loved how she laughed, the way her hands held a fork, her smile, and the smell of the powder she used to dust herself. I adored how open she was to different ideas, how she kept her home, baked a pie, canned, and would sit with me on the glider to pass the evening. She would bake chocolate chip cookies with my sister and I and then meet us on the porch for a tea party. She taught me how to draw a cat, make a bed, and roll out pie dough. At the end of the day, when all the chores were done, Gram was a master at the embodiment of being. I’d sit quietly with her in the evening, in the dark sunroom, and I’d bask in her presence. There is so much of her that I remember.

And yet, she didn’t have to do anything. Cook, or give, because all I wanted was to be with her. I loved her company. That’s what I hope she knew, how much I loved her for her. And as I thought about that, I realized that, at times, I’d felt the same way about others. They didn’t need to do, or be, anything other than themselves, which was enough. It was more than enough.

It’s so easy to slip into the dominant cultural belief that we have to do something, or be someone special, in order to be enough and to have value. I know I can slide into that way of thinking without even realizing it. But, as my musings revealed to me so clearly, it’s just not true. We are enough, exactly as we are, in this moment. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, or if we can’t see it, or feel it, or recognize it, we are lovable. I’m pretty sure my Gram didn’t have any clue just how much she was loved, by me, or anyone else. And so, if you haven’t heard recently, or have had any doubts, please remember that you are loved. Maybe you just don’t know about it.

Drink from the Silver Cup

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I was a sensitive child and could often sense what others were feeling. When in a large group, it could be especially intense, like when I went with my grandparents to their church. They attended a lovely country Protestant parish within walking distance of their home. The parishioners were always very kind, welcoming, and generous to me.

What I picked up from the congregation though, was an undercurrent that felt like a sense of desperation, loneliness, or maybe longing. I can’t seem to find exactly the right word to truly capture the feeling and accurately describe it, but that phrase “leading lives of quiet desperation,” often came to me when I was a little older.

My grandparents and I were having lunch one day after church. I hadn’t attended with them on that day and thought we might have a little chat about the sermon. “So, what did the reverend talk about today?” I asked. They looked at the ceiling thoughtfully, then at their food, at the wall, at each other, it was pretty quiet when Gram finally confessed, “I don’t know.” She looked at my grandfather in the hopes that he might have a clue. He shrugged his shoulders indicating he couldn’t remember either.

I asked the same question the following week. Well, they were both ready for me and had their answers prepared. They’d paid attention, because they thought I might ask again, since they knew how much I liked to talk about spirituality. They’re pretty open-minded, which means we were able to have a nice discussion about different interpretations of the sermon’s meaning.

They were also familiar with my passionate stance about religion and attending church. If people made the effort to go, then I believed it’s up to the minister to inspire them.

What was that apathy and “quiet desperation” I felt from the people? My grandparent’s minister changed several times over the years, with one woman in particular who repeatedly pushed the boundaries, but the congregation seemed immune to what she said. As I found out one Easter during a conversation with my self-described feminist mother.

We were all walking out of the church, after I had given an exuberant hug and wink to the minister for going so far out on a limb, when I whispered to my mom, “Well, what did you think?” She looked at me, clearly confused about the question, “About what?” I thought it was obvious, but I guess not, “About the sermon?” She puzzled over the question a minute, “I wasn’t listening. What did she say?” I was disappointed that she had missed what I felt was a momentous feminist occasion, “The minister just gave the entire Easter sermon on Mary Magdalene. It’s supposed to be about Jesus. I think she might have mentioned him once or twice.” Her response wasn’t what I expected, “Oh.”

Of course, I don’t know if all of the people were numb to what was said, but I do know that I intuited “quiet desperation” from the crowd whenever I was there. The ministers words seemed to float over their heads and just dissipate into thin air. It appeared as though attending church had become something to do on a Sunday morning.

The inspiration had gone out of the people, they’d given up on expecting to find something meaningful there, and seemed to have stopped listening. I wanted somebody to notice and say something. I would often feel this incredible urge when I was there to stand up and sing…

This is for all the lonely people, thinking that life is passing by, don’t give up until you, drink from the silver cup, and ride that highway in the sky… – song lyrics by America

But I remained silent. Well, maybe then, but not forever, because all of the situations in our lives are like seeds planted by life. Now I know that it’s only those who have found their way back home, and who have sipped from the silver cup themselves, who can tell you with complete and utter confidence…

Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup….

Freeing Love

I was working on the practicum requirement for a Masters degree in counseling psychology, when I got myself into a bit of a quandary. I was in a drug rehab center conducting my first session with a woman in her forties who was married with two children. I the only thing that I recall from my session with her was that at one point I was overcome with divine love and told her I loved her. I had been in that situation before and her reaction was typical. It was a kind of wide-eyed, “OMG what’s happening here?” response, in which the person on the receiving end senses this is an out-of-the-ordinary situation.

That night I was totally overcome with anxiety. “What have I done?” I know I’m not allowed to say something like that to a client. I thought about how I could get into trouble and my career as a therapist was ending before it had even begun. I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my belief that God was loving her through me, I just happened to be an open and convenient channel to send it through, and the therapeutic rules of the relationship. I didn’t feel it was personal at all. But the rules are clear and I was out of line.

Therapists have since told me it’s not a big deal and things like that can happen, but it made me wonder, “What takes precedence?” The rules of therapeutic relationship, or being overwhelmed by the desire of God to love someone when they really need it?

These moments of transcendent love have always been profound for me to participate in. I am usually deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve Love in the world.

This morning, the above memory surfaced and as I contemplated it, I began to ponder the ways we restrict love. I realized we are conditioned throughout life to love certain things and reject others. Love has been an ongoing curiosity for me though, as I explore the oddities I’ve experienced, from God’s love in the therapy session, and trancendant love for total strangers, to my grandfather who had Alzheimer’s.

He was, ah, let’s say, a difficult man. He scared me as a child and I was cautious around him as an adult. He had a very strong personality and stories circulated through the family about the many injustices he visited upon others. So, I was quite surprised on the day that I visited him at an elderly care home when everything changed.

He was there because he couldn’t take care of himself any longer. I walked into his room and sat in the chair beside his bed. He had no idea who I was and kept calling me by my mother’s name. Then, the most curious thing happened. I was flooded with love for him. I was so overcome by the feeling, that I blurted out, “I love you.” He looked at me, and with the innocence of a young child, said, “Thank you.” Every time I visited him after that, the exact same thing would happen.

What had changed? I’d never felt even the faintest warmth or affection either for, or from, him. How could it be so different in that rest home?

I further contemplated one of the other unusual circumstances with love. In this situation, a boyfriend had done something most of us would label as unkind. But, I, as a good depth psychologist, explored the situation and traced it back to childhood to discover the origin of the pattern that he had activated. Once I had done that, I normally would have stopped working with it, but on this one particular day, for some unknown reason, I didn’t. I just sat with it even longer. I don’t know just how long I sat there, but eventually, like a flower opening, I realized he wasn’t just acting like his normal unkind-self, he was actually acting out of pure love.

It was as though I had pierced the veil of the illusion.

I was overcome with love and gratitude when I realized that he was merely playing a role. It was as though we had an agreement that he would enact this situation so I could awaken to the truth that everything is love. I knew that he loved me so much that he was subconsciously “sacrificing” his own consciousness, in order for me to learn. It was all orchestrated by love, which permeates all of creation. Experiences in which we don’t love are the places that life points out so that we may embody more love.

Then it came to me… Love just wants to love all that is here through us. The longing I feel for a loving relationship, to do work that I love, to live in a place I love, and be surrounded by people I love, is looking in the world for that which I already am. For what we already are. When we remove the restrictions and limitations we have placed on love, then it’s the Lover loving all of creation as the Beloved.

The Climate of Our Times

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I watched the new Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) movie the other day. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. She’s an inspirational powerhouse.  I got goosebumps too many times to count as I watched her exhibit such strength and passion as she advocated for equal rights. One of the key quotes in the movie was attributed to a professor Freund who said, “A court ought not be affected by the weather of the day, but will be by the climate of the era.”

We can get distracted by the weather and miss the bigger picture, which is that the climate is changing. I’m not talking about the environment here, but the culture. RBG said in the movie that change was already happening and the laws needed to be updated to reflect the change. We often think of it as the other way around.

As I look around, I see a continuous wave of the feminine rising and at the same time, a reaction to it. The new can often feel threatening to the status quo, and well, it is, but we are in the midst of a revolution. Although it’s one of the heart and the fears about that shift are clearly evident. You might think that it would be easy to choose love over fear, but often it isn’t.

It’s as though this next phase began in January 2017 as we marched in Washington. This movement has continued with women entering politics in unprecedented numbers, the Parkland students speaking out, and with the children around the world standing up for the environment. We are living history and our participation in this is critical to the future.

But what role does each of us play in this revolution of the heart? What can we do as the climate is changing? One thing we can do is choose love and compassion in each moment and be as courageous as we can in attempting to live it. The other thing we can do is to turn within. That is the only place where we can discover what our own unique individual part is in this transformation of the culture.

If we listen deeply, love speaks to us, through dreams and intuitions, synchronicities and inspirations. We need to bring as much love as we can into the world now. Share as much love as we are capable in every way imaginable and give our divinely-inspired gifts without reservation. We need to choose to love ourselves, our neighbors, and well, everyone. Let’s work together to create a climate of love and acceptance and let that be our legacy to the future.

 

 

The Living Waters

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I was contemplating the Living Waters years ago and had the following dream:

I am flying out the bedroom window and down the street. I wonder if I will be able to get back into my body. I decide to turn around and go back to make sure I can. I fly back to the house, through the window, to the bed, and into my body. It’s as though my physical body is a portal into a vast ocean.  I  swim through the water and can breathe. I go back up into my body, face up, and awaken. I am lying face down in the bed.

I felt amazing. It was as though my body had been scrubbed clean inside, from head to toe. I knew it was an answer to my question about the living waters, but I confess, I didn’t really know what it meant other than that they were inside of me. Then it came to me, and I finally thought I understood what the Living Waters are.

The Living Waters are the Source of Life and renewal. I had the insight once before that everything is love, and therefore if all that is inside me is the living waters, they must be Love. There isn’t anything that can renew us like love does. When we do what we love, or spend time with someone or something we love, we feel renewed. Whenever I was overwhelmed by life, I used to go visit my grandparents. Their love, and time spent in the country, made me feel refreshed and able to return to the world.

In the fairy tales I work with, the old masculine sacrifices his daughter repeatedly. Sometimes he does it for money, sometimes to save his own neck, and often because of some sense that there isn’t enough. He doesn’t choose love, but when the new masculine appears, he does.

Camelot had turned into a wasteland toward the end of the story of King Arthur. He was close to death, Camelot was desolate, most of the Knights of the Round table had perished, Lancelot was insane, and Guinevere was in a convent. How did they get into the wasteland? Arthur forgot what was important, and put being a king, before love.

Parsifal was the last hope for Camelot as he wandered through the parched and barren land. He saw Lancelot, but Lancelot didn’t appear to recognize him. The starving people beat Parsifal and pushed him into the river. He’s pulled underwater by the weight of his armor. In that liminal space between life and death, he shed his armor, and burst to the surface gasping for breath. As he walked out of the water, clothed in simple linens, he said, “I can’t give up hope, it’s all I have.”

The drawbridge to the brightly lit inner grail castle opened. He went inside and walked up to the throne. A booming voice asked, “Who am I and whom does the grail serve?” The quest was to remember that life serves the inner King, Spirit, not the worldly one. The king and the land, the inner and outer, are One. And thus, the new masculine is born.

When Parcifal reminded Arthur that he and the land were One, and Arthur sipped from the grail cup, the king and the land were reunited and renewed. The inner divine was reawakened in the consciousness of the new masculine, the unity of all life was seen, and love was realized as the truth of all that is. Eden was restored.

Love is the impulse of life that compels the butterfly’s wings to unfold. It’s the breeze that ruffles the trees and the life that beats our hearts and the air we breathe. If fear separates, love unites and makes whole. We live in a sea of love and a Universe of grace that makes the planets move and the murmuration of birds in perfect harmony. We are a part of something much larger and we are revealing, through all we do, the truth that it’s all love.