The Holy Grail in Our Times

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6 16

When the maps for living that we have been following have become irrelevant, the ancient myths continue to provide reliable guideposts.   Here ‘myth’ does not mean something untrue.  On the contrary, it refers to a traditional story based on a profound reality.  Being embedded in the archetypal (universal) level of human consciousness, the truths in myths are timeless.  One myth in particular, which continues to provide direction and wisdom in these chaotic and often frightening times, is that of the Holy Grail.

In studying this myth, what interests me most is how, as Carl Jung observed, it is connected to spiritual/psychological alchemy, that is, our inner transformational process of becoming whole. The two traditions are inseparable - both goals, the Grail and the Philosophers Stone (lapis) are one. In fact, the Grail, in its earliest manifestation, was a stone.

Whether either has been or is an actual physical phenomenon, what is relevant for us is the inner process that leads to the goal. We are knights seeking,  We are alchemists creating the elixir, the healing medicine.  We are also vessel and stone. Both traditions provide windows into the deeper workings occurring in ourselves as well as in the world, as transformation occurs. Not only that, they can teach us how to support this process and show us the next steps when we can no longer find the way on our own. 

Both the Grail legend and alchemy are ultimately about reuniting the feminine and masculine principles, in a mystical marriage known as the hieros gamos. From this union the new self/divine child is born and we enter a new reality. But there is an inevitable and challenging undergoing before the forces come together. Perhaps this provides a context for the polarities and tensions that are so obvious in the world today. If we trust the ancient stories and heed their messages and guideposts, perhaps we will discover a brave new world - and “find rest” for our weary souls.

Feminine Consciousness

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It’s been a while since I have written, partly due to time, but I know that when I really want to write, I find the time. I think the real reason is that something has been brewing, and I have been waiting for it to become clear. I’m not sure it has entirely, but I have felt a shift in myself and in the world, and it's time to write. And here I am at the same topic I was at before.

In my previous post I said I believe a change of consciousness needs to take place in order for planetary healing to occur on the level that allows us to survive. I mentioned that according to Depth Psychologist, Carl Jung, it isn’t necessary for everyone to achieve the necessary level of consciousness. There only have to be enough awake individuals in order to transform the collective consciousness and prevent the global destruction of life on the planet.

I sense that though things are looking pretty dark at the moment, healing is actually occurring, and I am anxious but hopeful about the state of affairs. Have you also been sensing a significant shift in recent weeks? Tensions have risen, yes, but this may be a necessary part of the process. It’s like a dam has broken and a force has been set loose. Or maybe it was the force that broke through the dam. In any case it feels powerful, and I have some things I wish to say about it.

I believe this force, whether we imagine it as a river or flood or tempest or maybe even a fire, is a consciousness breaking through, and there is no holding it back. The Kavanaugh hearing (which probably wouldn’t have occurred if not for the ‘Me Too’ movement) and the United Nations report on climate change are recent events that are markers and have also helped unleash its ferocity.

How they are linked is that the old guard, that is, the negative aspects of the patriarchal system, particularly the rigid systems that have oppressed women and the environment, are taking their last gasps. In speaking of patriarchy, I am not pointing a finger at men, not even at Brett Kavanaugh or Trump. By blaming them we are missing the point. (I am in no way excusing Kavanaugh and Trump) We have all participated in and supported the patriarchy. What is relevant is that a universal intelligence and energy, what is referred to as the feminine principle (also known as feminine consciousness, and divine feminine, etc.) is moving through us and the world with a vengeance, whether we are comfortable with it or not and we need to become conscious of it so we can work with it. It may be a while before its rage has subsided and it may also be a while before the patriarchy takes its final gasp, but this is the necessary healing medicine for our planet at this time.

The feminine consciousness/intelligence/principle is not on a mission to destroy the masculine, which would only create more polarity and problems. Ancient wisdom tells us the two forces need to be united. The patriarchy has been in the way, though we might argue it was a necessary stage in the transformation of consciousness. Men and women (and those who identify as neither) now need to hold both feminine and masculine consciousness within themselves.

I am aware that some people reject the idea of the feminine and masculine principles because they believe it supports a paradigm of duality. But we cannot attain a state of non-duality without becoming whole. (Etymologically, ‘to heal’ means ‘to become whole’) We need to embrace our rejected “shadow” sides before we can even grow close to wholeness and true non-dual consciousness.

Women are representatives of the feminine principle but it is also part of men (and those who identify as neither). Men have been socialized to reject it in themselves, and to reject it in women, even if they have exploited it. Women have also been taught to disregard it and reject it in themselves and the world. As a result, we unthinkingly harm ourselves and each other and exploit nature as well because it, too, is representative of the feminine realm. Furthermore, with this half of life lost in shadow, we miss out on being deeply fulfilled and living our true potential on a personal and collective level.

Before he died in 1961, Jung said that unless we embrace the feminine principle, we will not survive as a species. He had little hope that we would, but he thought there was a chance we might squeak through. He was adamant we would survive only if we woke up and honoured and integrated the feminine.

While I support activism, I don’t believe it is enough to make the necessary changes at this point. Nor is recycling or taking the bus (though I do both anyway). We need to develop our feminine consciousness and ultimately bring it into relationship with masculine consciousness, but this is not as simple as it may sound. It does not come about by just making simple changes. It is a way of life and a transformational path. And as Jung noted, as we transform our own consciousness, we transform the collective consciousness.

I hope to write about the many ways we can do this work. You may be well versed in all of this already, but in case you aren’t, as a start, I discuss below what is generally associated with the feminine principle/consciousness, though granted, different cultures may consider some items masculine. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we become whole. If you see any weaknesses within your own system in any of these areas you can start there.

Openness, receptivity, vulnerability and listening are associated with the feminine. Surrender is also part and parcel with this consciousness. Already you can probably see why we are uncomfortable with it. But the feminine is not weak. In fact, it is inseparable from Nature (as a force). The challenge is to attune to (listen and be receptive to) this force so we can align ourselves with it. This is how we live our potential and is the real meaning of living our destiny.

Also associated with the feminine are the heart, feelings, empathy, and intuition. The body and its sensations and messages are related to the feminine, as is relationship. This includes relationship with our selves, our bodies, the earth, the beings of the earth, others, and with the divine.

Inner experience and the unconscious are feminine phenomena. Attuning to invisible realities and Wisdom are as well. Understanding symbols and perceiving layers of meaning (as opposed to literal thinking) are essential aspects of the feminine.

Mystery is part of the realm of the feminine and honouring the Mystery without having to dissect it or even understand it is a way to pay our respects to it.

Along with Mystery, the feminine is associated with the dark, that is, the night and the winter. Awareness of life in terms of cycles and spirals instead of in linear lines helps us align with the feminine. Death, transformation, and rebirth are all aspects of this principle.

Being present and process oriented and allowing goals to present themselves rather than arbitrarily choosing them, are ways to align with the feminine. Descending into our depths and into our souls are essentially feminine paths. In fact, our souls, themselves, are generally associated with the feminine, whereas spirit is more associated with the masculine.

In mythological terms, in seeking the feminine, you are on the quest for the holy grail. And as the story tells us, when you find it, the masculine too (symbolized by the wounded king), will be healed, the waters will flow again, and the wasteland will be restored to its richness and abundance. Life on the planet will thrive.

On the Beach

 The pervasive lack of awareness and denial of the issues of climate change in Canada and in most developed countries, are disturbing to me. As President Macron of France recently said to the U.S Congress, "There is no Planet B". But what concerns me even more is that we only hear the bad news, which leaves us feeling paralyzed. We have been recycling and purchasing environmentally friendly products and we are told things are getting worse. The truth is, if we no longer drove cars or flew in planes, it still would not be enough to reverse the damage. This is because there is an even deeper problem, but if, as individuals, we can muster the courage to address it, together we will be a powerful force of change.  My husband, Ian, an ecologist, and I, a counsellor, have ongoing conversations about climate change and the psychology around it. By the latter I refer to what is driving humanity to participate in the destruction of the planet. Ian and I wonder how we are all going to live our lives in the near future as we increasingly experience dramatic changes in our landscape and everyday reality. We also ask if it’s still possible a tide can change that can result in us living in relationship with the natural world rather than exploiting and destroying it .  Going by current reliable research, we are at or past the tipping point of no return regarding sudden and dramatic environmental damage, but even if we were not there yet, it seems there is little motivation to change our habits. In fact, there is as much denial as ever. The University of Calgary is awarding environmentalist David Suzuki an honorary doctorate and the hatred and vitriol this has unleashed, not only toward Suzuki, but also toward the university president who wanted to honour his environmental legacy, is astounding. What is more incredible is the number of people here in B.C. who are more concerned about the cost of gasoline if there is no pipeline, than the future of life on earth.  A couple of days ago, I read an article in  the Guardian  about an acclaimed and now aged British architect and town planner, Mayer Hillman, whose view is that we are now at the stage where no individual effort such as recycling or taking transit instead of driving will make any difference. Since governments are unwilling to make the radical decisions needed, he suggests we are “doomed.”  Recently Ian and I were reminded of a novel we read as adolescents called  On the Beach  by Nevil Shute, first published in 1957. It takes place on the southeast coast of Australia after a nuclear blast in the northern hemisphere. Residents in Melbourne know it is inevitable the radiation and assured death will reach them and they deal with it in different ways. In our present situation, climate change has become the more imminent threat.  If you are still reading this, I commend you. This topic is frightening and sad. But there is hope, perhaps not hope that we will continue to enjoy the same world we know (when water levels rise suddenly as predicted, many of us who now live inland will be ‘on the beach’ literally), but there is hope of a new way. Perhaps things have to become even more dire before the new reality can be birthed.  And I do believe we need to continue to make our individual efforts – composting, living simply, riding bicycles, etc., because these efforts continue to remind us of the value of our dear planet. These small actions also help us stay awake, and this is essential.  The world population is in a kind of trance. Yesterday I came across an interview with Canadian physician and author, Gabor Mate, in which he discusses his theory of why we are in this trance and experience so much ‘resistance to reality.’ He believes it is due to dissociation caused by trauma.  He says,   Take the simple case of climate change, which is beyond controversy in the mind of anybody who is halfway rational . The human role in rapid climate change is frightening - the widening gap between icefloes in Antarctica, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising of the seas. What world do you have to live in not to be concerned about those things or not to recognize that they exist? 1   Call this “world” of the unconcerned  trauma induced dissociation  (as Gabor Mate does),  denial ,  unconsciousness ,  childlike consciousness , or  resistance to reality . Fritz Perls said we are  pain phobic  and therefore we live false and deadened lives. Many aboriginal cultures would call it ‘soul loss’. There are many ways to name it but it all boils down to the same thing. We are barely awake.  Near the end of his life (he died in 1961), Carl Jung was asked if he believed the world would survive. He solemnly and hesitantly answered that we just might squeak through if enough people become conscious, that is, awakened. Not everyone has to wake up. Only “enough”.  That is because consciousness/awake-ness connects with other consciousness. It is not an individual but a collective force. It is also contagious. When in the presence of an awakened individual, something is stirred in us. We experience healing (which means ‘becoming whole’). By waking up we can become part of a healing wave on the planet.  The opposite of ‘dissociated’ is ‘connected’ – connected to ourselves, others, nature, everything on the planet, and to the divine. This requires intention and work. As Gabor Mate says, “on a personal level it’s (becoming reconnected) a matter of deep self-work.” Maybe this doesn’t sound fun, but it’s a fascinating process that leads , not just to intellectual understanding that we are connected to everything else, but the experience of this oneness.  In truth, it is not us that wakes ourselves up. We can only do the work – we can cultivate the conditions for a life in which consciousness is more likely to occur. This is what I plan to blog about for a while, not because I am an awakened being who can give instructions to others, but because I have the intention of becoming a more awakened and alive individual myself, and I hope to be part of the new tide.  1 Jenara Nerenberg, June 8, 2017, Why Are So Many Adults Today Haunted by Trauma, Greater Good Magazine, greatergood.berkely.edu.

The pervasive lack of awareness and denial of the issues of climate change in Canada and in most developed countries, are disturbing to me. As President Macron of France recently said to the U.S Congress, "There is no Planet B". But what concerns me even more is that we only hear the bad news, which leaves us feeling paralyzed. We have been recycling and purchasing environmentally friendly products and we are told things are getting worse. The truth is, if we no longer drove cars or flew in planes, it still would not be enough to reverse the damage. This is because there is an even deeper problem, but if, as individuals, we can muster the courage to address it, together we will be a powerful force of change.

My husband, Ian, an ecologist, and I, a counsellor, have ongoing conversations about climate change and the psychology around it. By the latter I refer to what is driving humanity to participate in the destruction of the planet. Ian and I wonder how we are all going to live our lives in the near future as we increasingly experience dramatic changes in our landscape and everyday reality. We also ask if it’s still possible a tide can change that can result in us living in relationship with the natural world rather than exploiting and destroying it .

Going by current reliable research, we are at or past the tipping point of no return regarding sudden and dramatic environmental damage, but even if we were not there yet, it seems there is little motivation to change our habits. In fact, there is as much denial as ever. The University of Calgary is awarding environmentalist David Suzuki an honorary doctorate and the hatred and vitriol this has unleashed, not only toward Suzuki, but also toward the university president who wanted to honour his environmental legacy, is astounding. What is more incredible is the number of people here in B.C. who are more concerned about the cost of gasoline if there is no pipeline, than the future of life on earth.

A couple of days ago, I read an article in the Guardian about an acclaimed and now aged British architect and town planner, Mayer Hillman, whose view is that we are now at the stage where no individual effort such as recycling or taking transit instead of driving will make any difference. Since governments are unwilling to make the radical decisions needed, he suggests we are “doomed.”

Recently Ian and I were reminded of a novel we read as adolescents called On the Beach by Nevil Shute, first published in 1957. It takes place on the southeast coast of Australia after a nuclear blast in the northern hemisphere. Residents in Melbourne know it is inevitable the radiation and assured death will reach them and they deal with it in different ways. In our present situation, climate change has become the more imminent threat.

If you are still reading this, I commend you. This topic is frightening and sad. But there is hope, perhaps not hope that we will continue to enjoy the same world we know (when water levels rise suddenly as predicted, many of us who now live inland will be ‘on the beach’ literally), but there is hope of a new way. Perhaps things have to become even more dire before the new reality can be birthed.

And I do believe we need to continue to make our individual efforts – composting, living simply, riding bicycles, etc., because these efforts continue to remind us of the value of our dear planet. These small actions also help us stay awake, and this is essential.

The world population is in a kind of trance. Yesterday I came across an interview with Canadian physician and author, Gabor Mate, in which he discusses his theory of why we are in this trance and experience so much ‘resistance to reality.’ He believes it is due to dissociation caused by trauma.

He says,

Take the simple case of climate change, which is beyond controversy in the mind of anybody who is halfway rational . The human role in rapid climate change is frightening - the widening gap between icefloes in Antarctica, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising of the seas. What world do you have to live in not to be concerned about those things or not to recognize that they exist? 1

Call this “world” of the unconcerned trauma induced dissociation (as Gabor Mate does), denial, unconsciousness, childlike consciousness, or resistance to reality. Fritz Perls said we are pain phobic and therefore we live false and deadened lives. Many aboriginal cultures would call it ‘soul loss’. There are many ways to name it but it all boils down to the same thing. We are barely awake.

Near the end of his life (he died in 1961), Carl Jung was asked if he believed the world would survive. He solemnly and hesitantly answered that we just might squeak through if enough people become conscious, that is, awakened. Not everyone has to wake up. Only “enough”.

That is because consciousness/awake-ness connects with other consciousness. It is not an individual but a collective force. It is also contagious. When in the presence of an awakened individual, something is stirred in us. We experience healing (which means ‘becoming whole’). By waking up we can become part of a healing wave on the planet.

The opposite of ‘dissociated’ is ‘connected’ – connected to ourselves, others, nature, everything on the planet, and to the divine. This requires intention and work. As Gabor Mate says, “on a personal level it’s (becoming reconnected) a matter of deep self-work.” Maybe this doesn’t sound fun, but it’s a fascinating process that leads , not just to intellectual understanding that we are connected to everything else, but the experience of this oneness.

In truth, it is not us that wakes ourselves up. We can only do the work – we can cultivate the conditions for a life in which consciousness is more likely to occur. This is what I plan to blog about for a while, not because I am an awakened being who can give instructions to others, but because I have the intention of becoming a more awakened and alive individual myself, and I hope to be part of the new tide.

1 Jenara Nerenberg, June 8, 2017, Why Are So Many Adults Today Haunted by Trauma, Greater Good Magazine, greatergood.berkely.edu.

Incident in Ottawa

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Someone I know is performing in an Arthur Miller play called Incident in Vichi, which my husband and I attended on the weekend.  The setting is France during the second world war, and the entire play takes place in one room, which may or may not be a waiting room for deportation to a death camp. None of the characters have been told why they are there. They range from feeling terror because of what they already know, to confusion and complacency, to rejecting the idea that there is even a problem.

This play, which was written in the fifties about the holocaust, is striking a chord with audiences and the house is now full every night.  Parallels have been drawn between the range of responses of the characters and the political situation in the U.S.  But we do not have to look that far afield.  On the same day we attended the play, Justin Trudeau announced his decision (for all Canadians) to expand the Kinder-Morgan oil pipeline, and there are parallels in the play to what is happening right here in Canada. 

Maybe I sound like I am catastrophizing.  Nobody here is facing a gas chamber and Justin Trudeau is certainly no Hitler, but choices are being made which will lead to the extermination of fish and other ocean life, and the continuation of burning fossil fuels is contributing to the devastation of the entire planet, which will eventually include humans.  

I am aware that, as with the situation in France during WW II, there is a resistance movement.  There are also those who, like me, are fully aware of the situation but are doing little about it, and there are those who deny there is a problem.  If there is any kind of future for humankind, I don’t want to be one of those of whom it will be asked, “How could they have stood by and done nothing?”

So I am signing petitions and I am writing.  At this time, I am not willing to be arrested or have a criminal record.  But in my heart I feel I am not doing enough.

School for the Soul

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There is a candle in your heart ready to be kindled.  There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you?    Rumi

What if, as Richard Rohr tells us, there is a “well-kept secret” of a deeper journey and process available to us all?  Or, as Carl Jung remarked, we need special colleges to teach us how to navigate this transformative process because even if we knew about it we might not even know how or where to begin.

Most of us are so immersed in our ‘ego’ based lives, chasing goals, scrambling to meet expectations of others or our own, comparing ourselves to images in the media, and otherwise investing our energy in what Thomas Keating refers to as “happiness projects,”  we miss the life of the soul, the very one that would provide us with the richness of experience we deeply desire.

Perhaps this is changing.  There are now countless ‘Wisdom Schools’ popping up everywhere.  Most are interfaith and based on the mystical traditions of various religions.  I have participated in a few and found them valuable.   They focused on spiritual/contemplative practices, and occasionally they specifically addressed the soul. 

Over the years I have wondered what an actual School for the Soul would look like, and being a college instructor, I am particularly interested in curriculum and course planning.  What would a special college, or even course, for the soul entail?

Two things come to mind.  The main focus would be learning ways to build relationship with the soul. Just as with the counselling training I am involved in, the most essential piece needs to be relationship and connection.  Being warm and welcoming toward our soul, practicing skills of listening and attuning, while putting aside our own agenda, help establish a trusting relationship.  As with counselling, it is the deepest self who is the true facilitator.  The intention would be to trust the wisdom of the soul and its guidance, and also, just delight in its unique character.

Another necessary focus would be dealing with the resistance – all the reasons why we do not listen.  Naysaying – being dismissive of the soul and/or its relevance in our lives - is an obvious way we resist.  One reason we refuse to listen is fear.   We fear the unknown - where the soul would lead us if we did heed its call. We fear its depths, of what other people would think, appearing weird or crazy, being scorned and rejected, feelings that might surface....  The ego fears losing its control and central role in the personality. 

If you are willing to try something, take a moment and allow an image to come to you of your soul’s invitation to you to ‘join up’ - to participate and collaborate with it in a unique and transformative life adventure.  Imagine how you would do a sculpture or painting of this image (or actually do one) or even allow your body to express this invitation.

You might have envisioned the soul in a posture reaching out, arms extended, palm of hand open.  Or the image might have been something like an egg, a seed, some clay, or a path...  Just don’t dismiss however the soul presented itself to you. 

Now allow an image of your resistant self to come to you. 

Maybe it was an eye roll.  Or a hand pushing  away.  Or arms folded.  Maybe it wasn’t a posture at all, but a hard shell or a thick wall...

What would it take for this image to change?  For the two parts to join up?  Would you even want them to?