Most of us are familiar with the religious practices of prayer, fasting, good works, scripture study, service to others, regular church attendance, tithing, and so on. While their merits cannot be denied, unfortunately they do not automatically lead to lasting healthy changes in personality, behavior, or relationships. In contrast, spiritual practices based on self-discovery — such as meditation, active imagination, creative expression, symbol work, dreamwork, body work, breath work, art, depth analysis, remything our lives to honor the feminine unconscious, journaling, and ritual — bring so many personal insights that they cannot help but lead to transforming new life.
Knowing this, many religious groups today sponsor ongoing dream groups. I myself have conducted workshops for Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Methodists. Jeremy Taylor, a Unitarian Universalist minister, has written books about understanding dreams from a psychological perspective. And John Sanford, author of Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language, was both a Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest. Such churches and religious leaders recognize that the aims of religion are compatible with those of psychology. They understand that we need not fear our dreams, for they come to bring healing and wholeness.
For many years I helped the Rev. Greer McBryde, an Episcopal priest, work with her dreams. Like many intelligent and ambitious women, over time she had developed a more conscious and accepting relationship with her masculine archetypes than her feminine. But when she began to experience health problems and have disturbing dreams that seemed to warn of disastrous consequences if she continued to pursue her single-minded Warrior attitude and lifestyle, she realized she needed to give more time to her Earth Mother. So she took an early retirement to rest, rediscover her center, and devote her energies to her relationships with herself and her family. Some time later she sent me this dream:
I am having a baby and the full-term child is born. It is a big baby with a full head of hair and eyes wide open. It is full of energy and ready for life. A nurse takes the baby from my body to clean her. When she hands the baby back to me she is small, hairless, and very delicate with almost transparent skin. She is so small that she fits in the palms of my hands.
Greer says of her dream, “I believe that I have given birth to a new me, and it was time for that to happen (the baby is full term). This was not premature nor was the child in any way not ready for life. When my nurse (the part of me that is a caretaker) returned her to me, I saw and felt how small and fragile this new life really was. I would have to handle her very carefully and nurture her with gentleness. That new life has been put into hands that are capable of allowing her to grow.”
Tending new life is the province of our feminine sides. Everyone has one. This is why some men are very mothering as are many women who have never physically birthed a child. But in today’s world many healthy aspects of Queen, Earth Mother, Wisewoman and Beloved are unconscious and undeveloped in males and females alike. As a result, even some very well-intended religious organizations don’t know how to nurture new life in individuals. Fortunately, Dream Mother speaks to us nightly and each of us can, like Greer, learn how to listen. I wonder… could Greer’s new baby girl have signaled the birth of a new aspect of Earth Mother into her conscious life?
Ego and God-Image: Part VI
[T]he most important relationship of childhood, the relation to the mother, will be compensated by the mother archetype as soon as detachment from the childhood
Thank you Jean for your wonderful post and for sharing Rev. Greer’s story. It’s beautiful. Please pass a thank you to her for letting you share it with us. Here is what came for me:
Emmet Fox in his lovely essay that inspired the name of my blog, “The Wonder Child,” suggests that everyone who, as a result of wisdom or just plain suffering, learns to “put God really first” as a matter of discipline, creates a “virgin” soul—one ripe with child. We all become Mary and give birth to a child. And interestingly no one really knows the origins of the name “Mary.” Some believe it means rebellion, others bitter sea, and still others, star of the sea—they all fit to me…
Anyway, Fox goes on to say that once the child is born we must nurse it and take care of it in all ways like a real mother, but that then, after awhile, the tables are turned and it mothers us (Brian Wilson’s “Child is Father to the Man” comes to mind).
So the child is born after a period of suffering and of darkness. And I am reminded by your words of the importance of dream work. For one of the key (and unsung) characters in the story of the Christ Child’s birth is Joseph. He is the one who listens to his dreams and leads Mary and the child to safety.
I am also grateful to your mention of bodywork. For as I have slowly come to accept and love my body after years of struggling through intense self-hatred s a result of the abuse…I now see how important the body is to the whole deal. It is more than a taxi for the “self”—as so many believe. It is a holy, divine, and precious gift in its own right. It is the ultimate (and by that I mean last) expression of the soul. And through things like EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) I have learned to honor and listen to my body. And through the agonizing process of feeling the affects (and effects) of the abuse and learning to remyth my life, I have learned to love my body as well. So thank you.
One last thing, about 20 years ago I used to be in a men’s group and we would do all sorts of psycho-dramas. I would get so high from the emotional catharsis and the insights gained from the whole process, I’d short circuit and act out with my addictions on the way home…I share that to say, that, while valuable, such work needs to be mothered, if you will, very carefully by skilled and caring people like you. Some people, like me, were having babies too young and at the hands of very inexperienced midwives.
It is rare, I think, for anything to “automatically” lead to a lastingly transformed life (other than trauma and utter redemption from that trauma), but giving and serving to others, I have found, to be very transforming and insightful. Not only have I learned about my antipathies and sympathies through the disciplined art of serving others, but I have learned much about gratitude, fear, and the hazards of carrying expectations. I have learned much also about the nature of love. However, if I just gave without reflection and without a deep exploration of my motives, my giving would perhaps still help others, but it would yield little fruit for me spiritually. So, I am not disagreeing with you about the lasting and efficacious changes dream work and journaling etc…can make, I am simply saying that unless they lead outward into the world of service and community (just as service to the world needs to lead inward) their value will ultimately not be lasting either. At least that has been my experience.
Thank you again for the inspiring words and for the chance to give my 2 (lengthy) cents.
You are very welcome. I really appreciate your sharing Emmett Fox’s wisdom about the virgin soul that is ripe with child! All you’ve written about its birth and transformation into mother resonates with my own experience. I have not read his work, but am inspired to after knowing this.
Your comment about the importance of deep inner work being mothered by experienced midwives is very true! I am comfortable helping the “average” walking wounded person work with his/her dreams, but have not worked with anyone in need of professional psychological expertise. I have, in fact, gently discouraged a few people from attending my dream groups when I realized the depth of their wounds. Some souls are simply not strong enough to face their terrifying depths and are better off not opening up the Pandora’s box that dwells there. I’m so glad you managed to find your way out of your own trauma and congratulate you for having the strength and courage to pursue your healing.
And yes, giving and serving may be the greatest of all spiritual teachers. How wise you were to follow them! Thank you for sharing your wisdom here.
My very best,
You’re welcome. The journey is most wonderful. Your ability to guide people AWAY from your dream groups sometimes is astounding. How much you must care about their souls to suggest they sometimes try another way. How much you must know yourself to be able to honor your gifts so well and to honor those people. What you just shared is really beautiful to me. So many people’s egos get goofy once they know they can help guide others to the touch the soul. By guiding them away occassionally, how much you must love them to do so. That’s the most refreshing news I’ve heard in a while. And I know you didn’t share it for that reaction–but that’s that–I am moved by your act of kindness for those you know are not ready to be born. One cannot force the flower to blossom nor induce the birth of anything before it is ready. Bravo.
And I need to say that I didn’t find my own way out of my trauma. I had many loving, wise, and gentle angelic helpers along the way. Did I choose to follow them? Yes. Did I use my own strength to do so? Yes. And ultimately, did I choose to not only survive, but LIVE? Yes. But without the help of those who have gone the way before me, I would not be here today.
Thank you again for being one to help light the way with your strong, encouraging, and loving wisdom.
Cheers and blessings,
Joseph, you are such a breath of authentic, unpolluted air!! It’s most refreshing! Jeanie
Reading Greer’s comment ““I believe that I have given birth to a new me…” sent a chill through my body. Gorgeous.
I wish I could comment on the intellectual level that you and some of your friends share, although I must say that I think I have intuited and experienced that of which you speak on a number of occasions. Your explanation of the “feminine side” allows me to understand my feelings in a way I hadn’t in the past.
As always, your intellect and insights provide a great way to start the day.
All the best,
Your comments and writing on your blogs show your deep understanding, psychological awareness, and honoring of the inner life of the psyche, regardless of the psychological terms we might use for its contents. I’m very glad my posts are bringing some of your intuitions and feelings into clearer focus. That is exactly my intention on this blog!! It’s so lovely to hear from you and to know that I am succeeding! Thank you.
I just finished A Red Tent. I’m sure you’ve read it years ago but I just was given it. I think it speaks of such power of women and their contributions.
Yes, it’s a wonderful book! It spawned all kinds of wonderful retreats and events that have been very empowering for women who need a reminder of just how powerful they are.