What Matters More: Matter or Meaning?


“As we hurtle toward a cold and barren cosmos…the only direction to look is inward. That is the noble direction to look. It is a direction that foregoes ready-made answers and turns to the highly personal journey of constructing our own meaning. It is a direction that leads to the very heart of creative expression and the source of our most resonant narratives. Science is a powerful, exquisite tool for grasping an external reality. But within that rubric, within that understanding, everything else is the human species contemplating itself, grasping what it needs to carry on and telling a story that reverberates into the darkness, a story carved of sound and etched into silence, a story that, at its best, stirs the soul. ~Brian Greene, Until the End of Time, pp. 325-6.

Science and psychology, outward and inward, matter and meaning, reason and imagination, are themes that stir my soul. Let me tell you a story. At 7:00 AM this morning I awoke to a tap, tap, tapping at one of our bedroom windows. I knew what it was. A cardinal, perhaps confused by the reflection it sees at certain times of day, has been intent on flying into our room since we arrived here. Sometimes it taps, sometime it flutters against the glass. Perhaps from its perspective it sees an enticing fork in a branch of a tree over yonder where it wants to build a nest. That would be the rational explanation.

But what if, from an entirely different perspective, it’s trying to get my attention? To a rational physicist, that would be a ridiculous, irrational thought. But what if this idea intrigues me? Fires up my imagination? Arouses my curiosity about dreams I’ve had that feature the color red? What if I find enormous pleasure in looking inward for a meaningful message in the symbols of red? A bird with red feathers?

Just now, at 4:00 PM, he’s outside the window again as I sit at my desk pondering tomorrow’s post. I had planned to write about the North Carolina hemlocks that are dying from an invasive insect called the wooly adelgid, and how that connects with Brian Greene’s theme of the death of the universe. Earlier today I took the photos I intended to use. But I guess I’ll have to save that for next week. I can’t drop the compelling call of this cardinal, so I’m going to see where it takes me.

Forty-five minutes later and I’m back after searching my dream journal for the word “red.” I hear the determined, “What, what, what, what, what, what, what, what’s truuuuue?” of the cardinal. There he is outside the window, perching on a barren branch. He seems to be looking in at me. Okay, okay. I hear you already.

My search turned up 17 dreams so far this year that feature the color red. Two mention Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit, the publisher of my book, The Soul’s Twins. In one dream I’m looking for a red jacket. In another, a priest is found guilty of embezzling money from the church. The proof is a large red button in his possession that he snatched off a woman’s red jacket.

Three dreams feature clothes I’m wearing. In one, the owner of a clothing shop has gifted me with a white jacket and silk pants in stripes of red, gold, pink and orange, because I gave her a copy of my book. In a second, a red-haired teacher of a psycho-spiritual class has instructed me to sew something creative out of a red square of fabric and use it to teach a class on a certain topic. In a third, I’m wearing a red flowered blouse as I tour a beautiful home that’s for sale. In the backyard, surrounded by lush trees bordering a sparkling lake, I stand in awe, gazing at an exquisite glass garden room. I want a room like that. I fantasize about buying the house and using the garden room for my studies and writing.

Other dreams feature a trickle of red blood from a puncture wound on my finger, a red bruise on my hip as I look at photographs of three people I care about who have been deeply wounded by life, my sun-reddened legs, a strange creature that looks like a mix between a fox and a large rodent that has four red dots on its fur where it has been shot, two elegant women with lush red hair who befriend me (one is a therapist), a red-haired boy who needs to have his temperature taken by a nurse to see if he has Covid19, two attractive red-haired men—one who is charismatic but chauvanistic toward women, the other who is kind and gentle and wants to date me.

Each of these dreams has a plot. A few are so opaque that I can’t find any meaning in them. But in most, I felt emotions that I experienced in my outer life a day or so before I had the dream;  warm gratitude, worries about book-related projects, thoughts about a topic that fascinates me, concerns about my health, a sense of wonder.

“Red is the color of heightened emotion, strength, and power. It’s invigorating, intimidating, and it’s never boring.” Sensationalcolor.com

These are helpful reminders to stay conscious of the life-giving forces in my psyche and pursue the meaning of taps on my window. I’m doing that now by tracking my cardinal muse in this post. I find it fascinating.

Will pursuing meaning prove to be as worthwhile as focusing on the material universe? Or am I wasting precious time?

Physicist Brian Greene thinks both matter, but ultimately meaning matters more. C.G. Jung, a scientist and an explorer of the universe within, believed the same. What do you think?

“Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable—perhaps everything. No science will ever replace a myth, and a myth cannot be made out of any science. For it is not that “God” is a myth, but that myth is the revelation of a divine life in man.” C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962), p. 340.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Her Wilbur Award-winning book, Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Her new Nautilus Award-winning book, The Soul’s Twins, is at Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit and wherever books are sold. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.

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15 Responses

  1. I guess my first thought was that he was a visitor from the heavens insistently wanting you to pay attention to him, his message, the one who provided the message, or perhaps just turn your thoughts to the unexplained and unexpected…

    1. Hi Heather,

      I resonate with your associations. I’ve found that exploring the symbols that show up consistently in my life not only makes for a deeper, richer inner life, but also connects me with my spirituality. In fact, the spiritual life is a symbolic life.

      If you’re interested in following that line of thought, I recommend Jungian analyst Jason Smith’s book, Religious But Not Religious. I wrote a post about it a few weeks ago. You can find it here: https://jeanbenedictraffa.com/2021/05/25/religious-but-not-religious/ He explains it beautifully.

      Thank you very much for taking the time to comment.

  2. My first thought was ‘cardinal’? Aren’t some in the church (RC) ‘cardinals’ appointed/annointed by the Pope? Is there a cardinal sin? Does it also mean ‘fundamental’? As in eg are there some cardinal points here that must be taken into account when eg passing judgment as in a court of law. Anyway, that’s my logos kicking in …

    I love that you explored further the meaning of red Jeanie. Such a vibrant colour, of blood, of flowers and birds, butterflies (also two walls in my study recently painted, more of a wine-red). And also, that you used the persistence of the cardinal to have your imagination piqued enough to go further exploring! I loved the quotes. I think and feel that there is meaning in matter and if we lose meaning in our lives, we would be barren indeed.

    Thank you for this lovely post. Love, Susan

    1. My mind moves in the same logos directions when I first approach dreams, Susan. I love to look up the meaning of symbols and see if/how they apply to my life. I almost always find valuable insights and personal meaning there. Thanks for sharing your associations. I’ll ponder them.

      It’s taken me years of dreamwork to notice the emotional content of my dreams. During the first half of my life I was dismissive and almost totally unaware of my inner world. I thought my job was to be strong and stoic and good in the outer world. To me, that meant unemotional. I think you and I have had this conversation before. I recall you saying that you were raised or inclined to be stoic too.

      Discovering my inner universe was a major turning point in my growth. I guess that’s why this topic feels so important to me. I know how much richer a life can be with personal meaning, and how barren without it.

      I’m glad I went with the vibrantly alive cardinal instead of the somber theme of the death-dealing wooly adelgid. Both are part of reality and a fully lived life, of course. It’s just that going with whatever’s tapping on the windows of our soul (as Deborah so aptly mentions below) is infinitely more stirring. Thank you for writing. Love, Jeanie

  3. What a wonderful post! The image of love’s red breast (the cardinal) tapping on your window fires this poet’s imagination. For the soul that truly seeks is given what it needs. It’s as if the cardinal is saying, “Here is my heart, take it!” And any pain of separation is eased. For is not human love but a window to divine love. Thank you so much Jeanie for sharing.

    My own “Red” Dreams, as I call them, often take me to Alchemy and the “Rubedo” (the reddening) to what the Alchemists saw as the fourth and final stage of their “Magnum Opus”. Without repeating much of what’s already been written about these stages online, for those interested search “Rubedo” … I think there’s even a Wikipedia page all about it.

    Matter or meaning? I love Jason Smith’s opening words, “Man cannot stand a meaningless life” whenever he posts a new podcast from his Digital Jung collection online. I agree with Greene, both matter, but meaning matters more. Like the instant recognition of a soul friend … knowing what we learn from each other wasn’t meant for our ourselves alone.

    Love and light, Deborah

    1. Deborah, I love your association of love’s red breast saying, “Here is my heart, take it.” And “the soul that truly seeks is given what it needs.” These thoughts bring tears to my eyes. You’ve touched on something deeply important to me here. And yes, the “Rubedo” stage of alchemy is usually one of my first associations too, although for some reason, it wasn’t yesterday when I wrote this.

      Thank you for reminding me of Jason Smith’s quote. It’s so simple, yet profoundly true. I so wish I knew how to teach that in a way that could be easily grasped. But it seems we have to find out for ourselves, in our own way, in our own time, when we’ve had enough suffering to bring us to our knees.

      Your final comment, “knowing what we learn from each other wasn’t meant for our ourselves alone” touches me deeply. Yes, we each need to tell our stories. Our souls are so hungry for nourishment. That’s what I love most about this blog. It’s brought me soul friends. Thank you for being one of them. Love, Jeanie

  4. I relate to your finding tracking fascinating. I think of the survival strategy “swim with the riptide “. Yes this call to the tapping leads to stepping back and falling through…..
    Here’s what was tapping after your deep thoughts.
    Paradox as it may seem, we likewise find life meaningful only when we have seen that it is without purpose, and know the “mystery of the universe” only when we are convinced that we know nothing about it at all.~Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity .Sophia Cycles@Sophia Cycles

    On a stormy sea of moving emotion
    Tossed about, I’m like a ship on the ocean
    I set a course for winds of fortune
    But I hear the voices say

    Carry on my wayward son
    There’ll be peace when you are done
    Lay your weary head to rest
    Don’t you cry no more, no
    Kansas 1976

    Thanks so much you all!🙏🏼

    1. You’re most welcome, Mark.

      My favorite vacation ever was a week-long “tracking in the Southwest” expedition. There were no riptides there to swim with, but there were mountains to climb at high altitudes, and a mesa to walk across in a fierce thunder storm, and tents to erect and sleeping bags to sleep in, and dreams to tell each other in the mornings, and food to cook and eat and clean up after together, and lessons to learn about tracking a drum beat while walking blindfolded through an unknown forest, and tracking animals by examining their scat, knowing what trees had edible food just beneath the bark, and sitting quietly in the underbrush to wait for the creatures to come to us…… Stepping back from my mundane life and and falling through into nature was so basically human! I had never felt more alive than I did that week.

      Your (Alan Watt’s) point about finding meaning when we see that life is without purpose and tapping into mystery when we know we know nothing at all is perfect. I’ve experienced my share of mystery, but reading Brian Greene’s Until the End of Time over the past couple of weeks has awakened me to a greater sense of it.

      Is the poem by you? Or is it song lyrics? I can’t quite tell. But I love it. Thank you for sharing it. And thank you for joining us here in this community of seekers.

      1. Thanks for tracking through the forest for me. No no you go ahead l’ll just wait here…..
        Those are lyrics from the song Carry On Wayward Son from the group Kansas.

        I also like being on the same dimension blogging with the friendly group . 🔴🔴🙏🏼🔴🔴

  5. Susan, Deborah, Mark, I meant to tell you in my earlier comments, but somehow forgot: the cardinal woke me up at 7AM again this morning with his gentle but insistent tapping! It gave me the warm fuzzies. 🙂

  6. It amazes me when I read your tell about a day of your life with this lovely and curious cardinal, and I become really jealous when I read about your fascinating dreams, the coloured dreams. I can’t remember if I ever had one. I think I can only dream in black and white! Stay safe, and thank you always for your wise letters.

    1. Hi Aladin. I’ve discovered that many people don’t remember seeing colors in their dreams until they begin a practice of writing their dreams down every day. After a while they begin to notice colors. The first one is often red. It’s as if the unconscious is responding to their growing awareness of their inner world of emotions….

      1. That’s a good tip! Thank you dear Jeane 🙏 I remember my dreams rarely unfortunately, but I will try to do so. Heartfelt thanks again ❤🙏😘

  7. You encouraged me to go back and look at the dreams I’ve recorded in a computer file I started in 2015. Unfortunately the dream journals from 1967 on aren’t in that file, but I found over 20 references to the color red. Lots of blood and some brutal such as the way the buffalo were killed. Some about the possibility of new life as in menstruation blood. Red cars, red clothing, and on. It’s an interesting way to think about my dreams. I love your red messenger from the avian world. They’re here now, but they’re especially startling in the winter against snow, although I’ve never had a cardinal tap on my window. It wants something special from you.

    It was interesting to live with a theoretical physicist who was so immersed in meaning. His first book title was criticized by a colleague for using the term “soul-making,” but Vic loved science but didn’t love the way it wanted to be the only measuring stick of value. For him, meaning was primary, although we both loved Robert Bosnak’s approach to dream (Embodied Imagination) which was more about bringing images into body than exploring meaning. Thanks for a fascinating red message from the Great Below.

    1. As I read this, I’m sitting on the porch and a female cardinal is ten feet away from me at the bird feeder. If I move more than my finger she’ll fly away. Another fascinating synchronicity. I’m beginning to think maybe you and Heather and others are right. The cardinal wants something from me. But what?

      I’m so impressed by Vic’s courage and confidence to speak and write his truths in the face of criticism from his learned colleagues, something I still struggle to with. 😘

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