While writing my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness, I had a dream.
I’m in the kitchen with a woman who personifies motherhood to me. We’re standing before a low, double-doored freezer in the middle of the room. As we open and close the doors, getting things out for a dinner party, my friend accidentally bumps the head of a dark-haired boy between ten and twelve standing between us. He starts to cry. I think she should kiss his head where she bumped him. But I realize she knows how to handle this, so I say to the boy, “She has children of her own.” He looks up and stares deeply into my eyes and says, “Yes, but does she have a stallion?”
Like the woman in my dream, I grew up believing relationships with my husband and children would fulfill me. So I gave up my passion for horses. Perhaps my friend’s passion for her family was enough. Maybe she never heard the compelling call of the Self. But the little boy whose eyes pierced my soul is my own inner boy and he knew that once I was horse crazy. That I was the kind of woman who needed more than relationships: I needed my stallion, too.
One might assume that because passion is such a powerful emotion it must be associated with the active masculine principle. But this is not so. The word passion comes from the Latin passio, which means suffering, or being acted upon. Thus it is associated with the passive feminine principle. (I’m not talking about men and women, but the feminine principle in all of us.) When one has a passion, one is acted upon—e.g. the passion of Jesus Christ—by a calling from or to some unknown power that cannot be ignored without endangering one’s very soul. Moreover, passion is an emotion, and emotion is associated with the dark, feminine, dangerous animal side of our natures, as distinguished from reason and light, which are associated with the masculine.
“I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid…If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”― Joseph Campbell
I knew what bliss was. I felt it every time I was around horses. Obviously I had a passion for them. What I didn’t know was that a spiritual passion was also stirring. When I heard the call of the Self at a Billy Graham crusade at 17, I tasted a new kind of bliss, and I believed it could best be served by sacrificing myself in service to others. So from then on I used religious beliefs and ideals to fortify the wall I’d been building to separate me from my shadow side.
By 37 my wall was developing cracks. Despite my stoic self-discipline I could no longer ignore the dangerous new feelings and uncomfortable questions stirring behind it. Something was wrong. One night, torn by an agonizing inner conflict, I prayed the most authentic, heartfelt prayer I had ever prayed: Help me. Please, please teach me to love.
Thus began a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ spiritual crisis. For the next nine years I consciously and painfully tolerated the tension between the life I had chosen and the life of joy I hoped was waiting for me. All that while I managed to ‘hold my horses,’ i.e. avoid rash actions that might betray my soul or hurt someone else. Was this love? I didn’t know.
This vigilant waiting, this alchemical tending of the fire, of keeping the passions in the crucible of my soul at a simmer…this was magical. Despite my mental suffering, I knew it even then. What I was doing felt important, right somehow. Sure enough. Beneath my conscious awareness, powerful transformations were occurring. Old dysfunctional attitudes and habits were dissolving. Tenuous new insights and connections were coalescing. My wall was crumbling to ash.
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”― Joseph Campbell
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I love the insight and power of your spiritual journey. Thank you, Jean!
Thank you, Melody. I know you’ve gained enormous insight and power on your spiritual journey as well, and are sharing what you know. We have been blessed. Sending more blessings to you, Jeanie
Vigilant waiting. The knowing the change is coming. I’ve had a rough few months just now and the waiting for what is coming,, a retirement from nursing, a move to the coast and a focus on writing is bubbling away within. Looking forward to the wild horses of all that.
The waiting can be so tough. The impatience, the not-knowing if, or how, your efforts will pay off, even tougher. But my Shadow taught me that containing a slow bubbling with vigilance and gentle restraint—applied with lots of compassion and frequent treats (like freedom from judgment and giving yourself a pat on the back)—is key to horse training. I look forward to enjoying the fruits of your opus one day down the road, my friend.
Thank you Jeanie for this lovely post! And for articulating so clearly the alchemy that continues throughout our lives if we pay attention to the bubbling, dissolving, steaming, stasis, boiling that goes on in our psyches. I guess the opposites are necessary for us in order to hold them in tension and attempt to bridge and blend them – to get beyond the awful separation that has been conditioned into us …?
Hi Susan. You’ve touched on the essence of all my work, inner and outer: “the problem of the opposites.”
The separations are not only conditioned into us but are also inherent to human nature. The moment we become aware of our ego as being separate from Mother and her all-enveloping maternal matrix, we feel this alienation from the ‘whole’ in which we were previously enveloped. Hence, the expulsion from Paradise and our ‘fall from grace.’ From then on our thinking is automatically dualistic, and this is reinforced by society’s standards of good and evil, fear of otherness, etc.
Jung said that “the problem of the opposites” is the greatest challenge facing humanity. This conflict is at the root of our self-consciousness. To quote Jung, “All opposites are of God, therefore man must bend to this burden; and in so doing he finds that God in his “oppositeness” has taken possession of him, incarnated himself in him. He becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict.” Finding a way through this truly is holy work.
I was very fortunate to stumble on the solution….or perhaps I was ‘led’ to it by my prayer for love and the inner forces which responded to it. At any rate, it was only after enduring my Dark Night for many years that I discovered Jungian psychology. Learning from him that the way through is to “hold the tension of the opposites”…and that this was exactly what I had been doing, was what turned the lights on for me!! Holding the tension, doing it consciously, is what creates the pressure in the alchemical vessel, and the pressure is the necessary catalyst for the successful transformation of impure to pure elements in the psyche, or soul.
I love the way your comments keep inspiring me to clarify and expand on important points, and I want to thank you for that. Once again, this could be another post, and may well become one. Thank you. Jeanie
Thanks Jeanie for your lovely reply :). Yes, a post on the opposites would be wonderful! Duality – we all have those opposing forces within us, sinner-saint; light-dark etc. They need to be seen for what they are – the opposite always in the unconscious, the attempt to be accessed by self examination eg dreams.
I love Jung’s quote: ‘The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves’.
Ah, such ongoing holding of the tension of the opposites! But allowing the transcendent to come through sometimes! I wrote a chapter ‘The Opposites’ in my book … prompted in part from my awareness of being both a pessimist and an optimist; or a pessimistic optimist or optimistic pessimist …:)
Thank you for these wonderful comments that expand so beautifully on this theme of the problem of the opposites. I really resonate with your ‘pessimistic optimist or optimistic pessimist’. I have some of that too. I keep hoping for the best, yet preparing myself for the worst! Perhaps that’s partly what you mean! 🙂 Thanks again. Jeanie
Dear Jeanie, thank you so much for sharing more deep wisdom, psychological understanding and spiritual insights with us, truly appreciated. I’ve been away travelling, so was delighted to see that you’ve posted again when I returned today. I enjoy your writing immensely!
‘The compelling call of the Self’ … oh I love that! So true, for when we fail to listen to the soul, the heart breaks down in fear. Despair becomes our constant companion. Even as Susan brilliantly reminds us of the psychological rule, we still do not understand what is happening to us … still we look outside to those events known and unwisely believed as Fate. What an incredible, life-changing insight this rule is!
How to build the Shadow … simple, divide ego/shadow consciousness! Separate out good/evil, light/dark, war/peace and then construct ourselves, our very own ivory tower to live in … far, far away from the soul where we will choose to believe that we are good, light, and peaceful souls who inhabit a world of dark, evil war-filled world … and yet, and yet … ‘we are all vessels filled with this divine conflict.’
You are so right ‘holding that tension of opposites creates the pressure in the alchemical vessel, which in turn becomes a necessary catalyst for the successful transformation of impure to pure elements in the psyche, or soul.’ I love your clear, concise language Jeanie and agree wholeheartedly that ‘holding the tension is truly holy work.’ How adeptly you illustrate the ancient alchemist transforming base metal into pure gold … I truly believe this is your gift to the world!
How to embrace the Shadow … simple, hold the tension, tend the fire, and keep the passions simmering. Such brilliant telling! Oh my goddess I love that you named your beautiful horse Shadow. As an INFP the only way I enjoy getting out of my typology is when I get into my body, by walking or cycling … I am not good at these activities, but the pleasure I get at holding sensate and feeling tensions are second to none. A great balancer, superb article! Blessings, Deborah.
Dear Deborah, Thank you for sharing your wonderful, insightful thoughts. And for the kind words about my writing/way of telling my story. My favorite teachers have always been people who were willing to share their human vulnerabilities as well as strengths in their own stories. Somehow, hearing about their struggles and triumphs brings me closer to my own, and makes it easier to forgive myself for my flaws. This reminds me of one of my favorite comments from Phil Cousineau. In his book, The Oldest Story In the World, he wrote, “If you tell it, it’s a lecture; if you show it, it’s a story.” I guess I like to show, and be shown. Much appreciation for the enthusiasm and sincerity you add to these comments. Blessings, Jeanie
This is wonderful! I identify with so much in your writing. Thank you.
Thank you. I’m really glad to know that. It’s what I hope for when I write a story like this: to let others know they’re not alone and to help them find meaning in their experiences.
I love hearing how your life unfolded, Jeanie. I wonder about those dark years of 37-47. That’s a long time. Is that when you got your Ph.D? I don’t remember. How did you keep the lid on that boiling unconscious energy? How did you deal with the misery of waiting so many years?
Thanks to Susan Scott for engaging you in an interesting discussion about the opposites.
Writing my first book was passionate and focused, a coming into light and life after a long period of caretaking and grief. I HAD to write the experience and uncover the hidden teaching. I miss the fire of those years and hope it returns.
Here in upstate NY, we’re facing the dark cold season. The first light snows will arrive soon. I’m filled with foreboding as I usually am this time of year. It’s easy to fall into depression and isolation in our long winters, but Darkness is where I find inspiration and passion. So I will write and dream and study the goddesses who go down. I trust they will guide me, even though I always fear they won’t.
Actually, the dark years started in 1980, when I was back in school getting my doctorate. I graduated in 1982 and started teaching that fall, which helped some. Also, I had a family to take care of, and, of course, that was my strongest motivation to tolerate whatever was happening to me. But I would say my primary source of comfort came from faith. I’d been a very serious seeker since 1960 when I started reading the Old Testament over and over. In 1970 I had another huge awakening with a vision….I describe it in Healing the Sacred Divide….so, since I associated it with the Christian God-image, I was very active in my church for the next decade. Then came my prayer for love in 1980. I can see now how all this preliminary work laid a strong spiritual foundation in my psyche and gave me a deep faith in a benevolent deity. So when my “crisis” arrived, I knew deep within myself that somehow it was all for the best and someday I’d understand why, so essentially I got through it by trusting the process. That’s what kept me going. When I discovered Jungian psychology in ’79, I began to understand and the pain burned away.
Yes, thanks to you, and Susan, and Deborah, and Brian and all who respond here for the wonderful conversations!!! I enjoy them so much.
I totally understand your passion, focus and determination to write. Pain and loss are profoundly motivating, and for people like you, me, Susan, Deborah and Brian, writing is enormously cathartic and healing. Wait, I only just now saw that writing connection between those of us I just mentioned. You, Susan, and I write books, Deborah and Brian write poetry! Very cool. And Skip, who is equally passionate about the inner life, is a writer too!
Wishing you a rekindling of the inner fire to warm your days and bring joy throughout the coming winter.