The Mother Wound?

Mom in the 40sThis is a rather rambling, stream-of-consciousness post, but that fact just reflects how new this stuff is to me.

I went to get some energy work today to help with the pain (which is better but still problematic this week). So much information is held in the body, and if we’re lucky, this kind of work releases some of it to consciousness.

One major realization from today’s session is just how much I’ve ignored my body over the years. Back in my professional-speaker days, I used to teach a class in avoiding burnout for overworked corporate types. And we all know that we teach what we need to learn, right?

Well, I’m apparently a VERY slow learner, because twenty years later, I’ve finally realized, once and for all, just why it is that you have to put your OWN oxygen mask on first if your plane springs a leak. Yup. Took me that long to actually get the message.

Can we all say, “self-care”?

So a lot of things suddenly make sense: why, for instance, the pain goes away when I dance, or when I’m hanging out in the pasture with my horses, doing “nothing.” Those are about the only times when I’m actually IN MY BODY, working with it, and not in my head. So much for what I thought was going on.

I think that’s maybe what my study group was trying to tell me last Saturday, when they were talking about how the inferior function of an intuitive is the “sensate” part—the information that comes from the body itself. Maybe, with practice, I might re-learn to trust my body, instead of viewing it as a source of fear and vulnerability. Anyway—interesting. Interesting….

The second insight that I had was that I’m dealing with “the mother wound,” or “the Dark Mother.” Yeah, you say. You’ve been saying that already….

I’ve been saying it, but apparently not understanding it.

Two blog posts from friends today turned my attention to it, and the light bulb went on. The first one, by my friend Angela Dunning (“Equine Reflections” on Facebook), references Bethany Webster’s blog  post “Bringing the Dark Mother Into the Light.” Angela says,

I see this in many clients who, at first, can only speak positively of their experiences of their mother and/or speak in platitudes such as: “I know she did her best for me…”

Taking the next very brave step to add: “And yet, this IS how I feel about what happened…” though, is when healing begins.

We all have a dark side, all our mothers had a dark side. The need to suppress it and to be seen as only a good mother is massive in our society. Yet when we take off our rose-tinted glasses and see how we weren’t well-mothered, THEN we can begin to make up these deficits in ourselves by learning to be a good but honest mother to ourselves.

It’s not about blame – it’s about honesty and really healing…

(Bethany’s site, “Womb Of Light: The Power of the Awakened Feminine,” contains much interesting and insightful information and is well worth checking out.)

How interesting! I really had no idea! But apparently that’s pretty typical. You either hate your mom or idolize her. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but I’m definitely one of those women who always said, “I don’t have a problem with my mother,” but then would go on to say how she never told me anything about my body, how I have her pain in my jaw, and so on.

But I’m ready—oh, so ready!—to heal.

Been thinking about how this has played out in my life: My body is and always has been “bad.” Look at all the things that “went wrong” around my sexuality, for instance! And look at how I was always “not good” at physical things, when in fact I’m graceful and connected to an unusually high degree. And there’s likely more, much more.

I wonder if this is part of why I have not become aware of the meaning of my bodily sensations—that “inferior function.” It may not be just the function I’m least conscious of, but in fact, it may have been deliberately discouraged. I wasn’t supposed to have bodily sensations—certainly not lusty, erotic ones—and so I suppressed them even more than might have been expected, given my personality type.


But there’s another thing: I’m very much in touch with my body, but I don’t usually attempt to “make sense” of it—is that what they’re talking about? And I tend to ignore it—like when I’m uncomfortable around someone. I feel it, but I don’t analyze it, and I generally force myself to stay put because it’s polite. That kind of thing? Dunno….


And suddenly the weird thing that my dear Aunt Margie (my mom’s sister) and I have always done makes perfect sense: We don’t write, don’t call, for months on end, and then have these long, wonderful, intimate chats when one of us finally breaks down and picks up the phone or the pen.

I sometimes feel like, “If you really loved me you’d call me.” Maybe she feels that way, too. I’ve always felt that the communication was largely from me to her, at least in the last decade or two, and I’ve actually resented it…and then felt guilty for resenting it. But that’s how she was raised, that’s how I was raised, that’s how my mom was raised; that’s probably how her mother Hazel was raised, and on back through the generations. It’s all we know. And we do love each other, very much….

All of this is has been mostly unconscious, of course. Add to that the genuine doubt that we are, in fact, loveable…so if the other one doesn’t write, or call, or whatever, then maybe they actually don’t love us. Maybe we actually do not deserve to be loved. That’s how it feels to me, at least.

Well. Onwards and upwards, I guess. Onwards to the next phase of the learning.

Trigger Warning

Alchemy 2This pain has been ramping up, slowly, for a few weeks now. But it’s like boiling a frog: Start him in a pot of cold water and he’ll never notice. Yeah, it’s like that. What I was conscious of, early this month, was an increasing sense of “upset” about the Presidential campaign.

I didn’t see the connection.

On Sunday the 9th, I watched the second presidential debate, even though my intuition told me it wasn’t a good idea. Watching it wouldn’t change things, obviously, and I was already upset. But it’s like gawking at a car wreck—so very hard to look away as you drive past.

Sunday night I went to bed full of the image of Donald Trump lurking behind Hillary Clinton, glaring intensely at her in the most physically threatening manner imaginable. I do not know how she managed to stand there and continue calmly to speak; I was cowering, unable to sit down and watch. Even now, typing this, my heart rate goes up at the memory.

Less than an hour after going to bed, I was awakened by an agonizing jolt to the nerve in my jaw. Then another, and another—the assault continued most of the night, let up for an hour or so, and then resumed as soon as I woke up.

Nearly two weeks later, the pain has finally relented enough for me to function again, though I’m exhausted and not thinking very clearly. I can speak, cautiously, at least a few words at a time again; I can eat without much pain provided I run everything through a blender and water it down first.

Not fun, folks.

Here’s the interesting part: I am far from the only person suffering in this way at this time. The viciousness, anger, and misogyny of this election campaign has affected many, many of us.

Donald Trump, in that debate setting, in his statements, and in the recordings that have surfaced, displays the kind of physical and emotional threat behavior that so many women have experienced all our lives. Trump embodies the abuser. I’m not going to try to say more about that: Just attempting to describe his behavior, and the effect on my own psyche, raises my heart rate and drives most coherent thought right out of my head. I just want to run somewhere and hide.

Not just me. A therapist friend of mine said, “You wouldn’t believe how many of my clients are reporting having trouble with this!” Clearly, I’m not alone—it’s triggering trauma survivors all over. All over social media, people are posting and tweeting responses.There was even a post in the Washington Times offering suggestions on how to cope.

One brave woman got a million tweets after asking other women to tweet their first sexual assault. “Harrowing” is one of the words she uses to describe the responses. Mine? Minor, by comparison to some, but significant: Fifth grade, one of my male classmates snapped my bra strap. He was followed by a few of his companions. I was afraid to cry for help; the teacher looked away.

“I was afraid to cry for help.” That tells me that it was not, in fact, the first time; just the first time that I can now remember.

I can’t write much more now—I risk the return of the pain, which I can feel lurking in the background. But as the ability to think and understand returns, I’m working on making sense of this. For now, though, let me just post a “dialogue,” facilitated by a shaman friend of mine, from the beginning of this month. I was addressing the pain itself:

Kay to the pain: Why will you not leave?

Pain: I am anger! I am rage!

Kay: You frighten me! How can I help? This anger and rage—it’s hurting me! How can I help?

Pain: Stop! No words! Fire. Tears. No breath. Help me!

Kay: I understand; I hear you. I feel that rage! Is there something I can do to help?

Pain: [Long silence] I’m afraid too.

Emily’s Paper: An Archetypal Exploration of a Painful Symptom

Concrete, medically diagnosed illness … is not only a clinical event.  It is also, if not first and foremost, a psychological event whose physical aspects require a psychological examination. … Everything matters to soul and expresses its fantasies, whether ideas in the head or bones in the body…. The components of any illness–affected organ or system, causal agent, style of disease process–all have their significances in the language of pathologizing fantasy as well as that of pathological facts.  – James Hillman

10557189_10152163740116441_9004527298024650714_n[This is a version of a paper I did fifteen or so years ago for a class at Pacifica. It’s a story amplified by material from James Hillman’s writings (you can check out the bibliography at the end if you want). The story itself is worth reading—I’ve got that in bold italics. You can read just that part, but if you want more of of the background, read the parts in between. Long, but fun to read!]

Archetypal psychology, as James Hillman talks about it, introduces a different way of thinking about our lives and about psyche.  Rather than just looking at an image, an event, or a symbol, Hillman suggests we approach it by means of imagination, and look for the deeper, wider, richer meanings.  Each thing is given an importance beyond what is seen on the surface.  “The archetypal perspective offers the advantage of organizing into clusters or constellations a host of events from different areas of life.” No longer is behavior just behavior, distinct from our style of consciousness; no longer is our consciousness distinct from our images.  Rather, each “category” enriches the others, and we begin to sense, or imagine, the depth of psyche.

It’s a Friday evening, and I’m visiting with an unusually intuitive friend of mine, someone who knows me well and whom I trust.  We’re talking about a job interview I had this afternoon—it looks like within a couple of weeks I’ll have a part-time job that will help pay my school and travel expenses, plus give me much-needed health insurance.  This is an exciting turn of events. 

This particular night, however, I am in tremendous pain from a several-year-old injury to my lingual nerve. It usually affects just my tongue, but tonight the entire side of my face is throbbing.   My friend says, “Interesting that it’s so much worse today.  Could there be a connection with the job thing?” 

The pain is incredible. Oh great, I think to myself, I sure hope there’s no connection—I’ve been looking for this kind of job for months!  But I have too much experience with this kind of synchronicity to discount the possibility. “Well, maybe, but I sure don’t know what it might be.  It hurts too much to think.  Any suggestions?”

My friend is quiet for a minute, tuning in.  Finally she says, “You’re not listening to your body.  Hmmm—this is interesting: I get the sense that somebody in there has some stories to tell.  Wonder what that’s about?” 

 The pain is on the left side; I try to pay attention to the left side of my body, but nothing comes to me at first. Continue reading

“In Defense of the Un-Swallowable”

20160930_101255This story begins with a dream:

The dream came with a title, as I awakened: “In Defense of the Un-Swallowable.” There’s this thing, this object, about the size of a goose egg. It’s pink and hard and lumpy, with a few odd black and gold specks on its surface. It’s “medicinal” and I have to swallow it somehow, so I put it into a glass of water. Then it softens and I put it in my mouth and kind of chew it up and swallow it. It’s not nearly as gross as I thought it would be, and goes down very easily.

Uh oh, I thought when I awoke. Another transitional object! I’ve had some experience with those! Something like RED, maybe? Or hopefully not that dramatic and shocking…this object is pink and, in the end, not that “hard to swallow.” But still….

But I’m endlessly curious about such things, notwithstanding the potential stress and difficulty of working on yet another aspect of my ego, so I decided to recreate the “un-swallowable object” in the waking world, as nearly as possible. Embodying it would bring it into my consciousness and help it do its job, whatever that was.

The waking-world object has turned out very close in appearance to the dream-object—I am pretty pleased. Right size, right shape, dents and bits of “dirt” in the right places. It feels good in my hand, just as I remember it.

More Dreams

During the week, while I patiently added coat after coat of acrylic and tissue paper, I reviewed the other dreams that have appeared in the past month, looking for patterns that will add information. The one that feels most closely allied with this object and the transition it embodies is this one:

This dream feels more like a story, or a movie—I don’t seem to be part of it; it’s like I’m watching it unfold. It takes place in “historic” time—maybe the 19th century. There’s a serious and uptight young man who’s following an odd character around. The character’s name is Aries, and he has two female companions, a Miss Lam(b) and another woman whom I never see. He’s mysterious and very sexually active. The young man has an important message for Aries, and he goes all over town trying to find the trio at their usual hangouts, but they’re not there. Finally he goes to the house of a friend where the three are staying. It’s the middle of the night, but he pounds on the front door of this old brownstone house, and he calls out to them. “Aries! Miss Lam(b)!” and we can hear them inside, and apparently they are coming to the door when I wake up.

Immediately upon waking, I knew that Aries is a psychopomp (“guide of souls”), a figure who can lead me “between the worlds” and farther along my soul’s path. I’ll be working with him in various ways for some time to come, I expect.

Several other dreams occurred within a few days of these two. Many of them were very encouraging and supportive, which is rather unusual for me.

In several dreams, I come to the defense of creatures who are being mistreated or neglected. My own cat is injured (on the left side of his face, of course; right where my own “injury” is located) but ignored by the vet to whom I’ve brought him; a group of cows are being confined under water (magically able to breathe) and are being “exercised” in a cruel way by handlers that they trust before they’re sent to slaughter; a small, abandoned and injured dog is in need of rescue; a cat’s owner brings it to me, telling me that it’s died and that I should bury it, but in fact the owner has been actively starving it to death. The dominant emotion in these dreams is anger and indignation.

In other dreams, animals that I’m caring for and am worried about are seen to be doing very well indeed, due to my loving efforts. I woke from these with a feeling of pleased wonder.

There have been a dozen or more with these themes—some have been nightmares, some have been full of joy and excitement when I realize, in the dream, that I can do something to help. In several, there are characters “in authority” who thank me for my efforts.

And then there are a few dreams where I stand up for myself, firmly and without anger. Finally, this one:

As I’m waking up, I hear a foreign man’s voice say to someone, “What is that name that you are calling me? Why are you calling me that name? That is not my name!” He is disturbed about it and angry, but not yelling. How odd!

There’s so much work still to do on these—I’ve only begun to unpack this bunch! In active imagination the other day, Aries himself showed up on the porch of my imaginal cabin, dressed not in the 19th-century garb of the dream, but as a gunslinger—cowboy hat and boots with spurs, flannel shirt over his paunchy middle, and a gunbelt. He himself wasn’t—isn’t—the least bit threatening, but I asked him what the meaning of his costume was. “Stereotype,” he said, and went on chewing his toothpick. Hmmm….

And in Waking Life…

Each of these dreams deserves an entire post in itself, and I will write more here about some of them. But for now, I want to talk about what’s been happening in waking life the last week, and sum up what I think the message is for me just now.

As I write this, it’s the last day of September, 2016. We’re a little more than a month away from the presidential election, in the heat of what is by far the strangest and most disturbing campaign I’ve ever experienced. It seems like the Universe has given us two candidates whose archetypal significance is writ not just large but in flashing neon. You can’t miss the meaning.

Normally, I avoid election coverage like the plague, and I never, ever post political material either here or on social media. But yesterday I saw a post that has made me change my rule.

It’s not about the actual political positions of the candidates—Democrat or Republican, to me, isn’t the point here. The image that I find so very disturbing is that of a a woman candidate—highly qualified, with more experience than most men who have run for the office and won—opposed by a man who is a blatant, in-your-face misogynist and bully. Women throughout social media are responding to this man’s tactics with fear and recognition—and posting about their responses. And so am I.

Speaking up and speaking out. It needs to be done, by me, too, despite my six decades of silence. Not so hard a pill to swallow, after all!

What Does It Mean?

How does that relate to the dreams? I’ve just started working with all of this, but I think I can see the gist of it.

I believe that Aries the psychopomp is helping me bring out my own inner Masculine, the part of my psyche that’s been shut out of my waking consciousness since childhood. I’m being encouraged to speak up for myself and for others—to speak what I see, without silencing myself like I’ve almost always done. The lesson I’m learning is that despite what I’ve been told all my life, I’m worth the effort. I and other woman have been frightened into silence for too long now, and it’s time to speak out and claim our place.

It’s the logical next step for me. After all, my dissertation looked at the effects on the feminine psyche of millennia of patriarchal silencing. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, and I’ve finally learned it. Now it’s time to speak it, no matter how scary it is.

It’s not easy, but it feels very right. And interestingly, it really isn’t such a hard pill to swallow….

Asking for Help…and Knowing It’s There

A friend and I were chatting the other day about our books. She’s published hers, and is busy doing interviews and special appearances talking about it.

I admit to being a bit envious. I’ve been thinking and talking about putting my dissertation into book form for years now, and have been actively trying to get it started since the begin20160923_121623ning of 2015, with no luck so far. I get completely overwhelmed every time I attempt to reorganize the material. So I decided to ask my friend what her secret is.

The answer I got was enlightening and extremely helpful, though it took me a while to hear it. She gave me lots of really great suggestions, but as it turns out, the HUGE INSIGHT wasn’t what either one of us thought it was at the time.

Let me explain.

The other part of our conversation was that my friend wanted some ideas on how to be less nervous when giving talks, which she finds difficult but I do not. My secret, I told her, is that I never feel like I’m giving the talk, or teaching the class, all by myself. I count on the presence of my Guides and whichever of the imaginal beings are most interested in sharing the information. I get nervous, sometimes, at the very beginning, until I remember that the Others are there, too, and will help out. It’s never just me.

Now, here’s the funny part: My friend is like that about her writing. “I never have trouble with my writing,” she says. Her Guides point her to exactly the right reference or reading material, and give her ideas and suggestions about what to write and how to do it. She’s never alone; it’s never just her doing the writing.

Light bulb!

This morning I sat down to see what I could do with my book. There is a HUGE amount of material already written, but I’ve been stuck on the outline—it can’t just be the same as the dissertation, obviously, but I’ve never been able to figure out how it might actually work.

But hey! How about I use my friend’s method? If the Guides are there for me when I’m talking, why on earth would I not just assume—KNOW—that they’re there for me when I’m writing? Duh….

So I sat down and wrote the outline. Literally. “Chapter One, …” and out it came. Chapter after chapter, in a lovely, sensible order. I didn’t even look at what I was typing—just listened and typed, without fuss and without overthinking anything. NO problem.

Oh my goodness. And of course, I can hear the laughter in the “background,” as they cheer me on. Very cool.

Isn’t it funny, how we all “get it” in some areas of our lives and absolutely do NOT get it in others? And yet we all have the answers. Sometimes it takes a good friend to give us that last nudge past our blocks.

And so I’ve started, folks! I’ve got words for a good chunk of the introduction written, and the outline of where all the other big pieces fit. It’s nothing like the order of the dissertation material, but it makes perfect sense in terms of why I’m actually writing the book.


Now that I’m actually putting things together, I can make use of my friend’s other really good suggestions. Onwards and upwards!

That Particular Spider

A friend and I have been having a lively discussion about a couple of praying mantises who apparently arrived at her home on some plants she purchased for her new patio garden. It reminded me of this post, which was written last year but had never actually been posted. So here it is, better late than never. Enjoy!


There is something about the particular that’s important. That idea was brought home to me last weekend [Sepember 2015], which I spent at a conference called “Honoring the Altar of the Earth” held at a local retreat center.

Every spare moment I spent outdoors, walking the trails and noticing everything I could, communicating as best I could with my fellow beings. My attention was especially drawn by the world of the tiny—there are great communities of living beings in any given square foot of the natural world.

The retreat center has some forested areas—disturbed, second-growth, weedy—and quite a bit of manicured lawn area with widely spaced trees, perfect for walking meditations. There’s an ephemeral creek running through the property; at this point in the summer, it’s composed mainly of puddles where mosquitoes breed unhindered. I stayed away from that.

Not wanting to trek through the brush where chiggers lie in wait, I knelt down on the path and focused on a small patch of grass, nettles, and pokeweed. Whom might I encounter there?

A hunting spider (or maybe a nursery-web spider) poised on top of a nettle leaf caught my eye—she ducked and ran to the edge of her leaf when I knelt down, but then returned—it was her leaf, clearly—within minutes. Nearby wandered a female of some strange stick-insect species. A true bug crouched and sucked a leaf. Another, almost-invisible spider suddenly came into focus, hanging on a truly invisible line of web stretched over an open space a couple of feet wide. She sat with legs spraddled, but when I blew gently on her, she turned into a long and narrow “racer” who glided swiftly along that invisible track. I couldn’t see how she moved. Amazing. A (relatively) huge daddy-longlegs prowled among the leaves and stems.

I walked on for a while, hoping for a path into a wilder space, but came quickly to the outer edge of the property, and turned back. When I got back to that little patch of weeds and knelt town again, I was oddly thrilled to see my “friend” the spider, still home atop her leaf; and her buddy the harvestman down closer to the ground.

What was it about encountering these fellow creatures again that was so special? Maybe it’s because I had become aware of them as individual beings, more solidly real than just a kind of generic “spider” or insect—they’re not any more ephemeral than I am myself, and they have strings of days and nights made up imperceptibly of each moment, just as I do.

I persuaded my cell phone’s camera to focus on my little friend—not easy to do—and really enjoyed the encounter, and the act of attending to things so very small. The spikes on the nettle leaf, from the spider’s perspective, are large and easy to navigate. The world is so different at this level of awareness, and so beautiful.

When I got home and processed my photos from the trip, I was horrified to discover that the photos of the spider were not there. The pictures I most wanted to see were gone. Wow. But then, I hadn’t asked her permission to take her picture….

That particular spider—that individual creature, with her own awareness and will—that was one of the messages I received from her: her particularity. It was so delightful to find her again the second day on a different leaf, and so disappointing to find her gone, or hidden, the third day. And it was such a shock and a loss to realize that her pictures had also gone—her individuality lived in my memory, but there was nothing visible or tangible left to me. She exists in this plane still, perhaps, but no longer in my part of physical reality. And I felt her loss.

A few days later, I sit next to my waterfall, journaling, and notice a tiny stone here beside me that bears the ossified, crystallized remains of tiny sea creatures, the remains of individuals whose lives in this plane of reality ended eons ago. They and their relatives—by the billions—once had living bodies that in their death have given me the limestone formations underlying the land on which I live now.

In this small stone I can see the remains of three, maybe four, individual creatures. These creatures, this stone, this human now examining it and trying to imagine a watery life, breathing in my food and oxygen in a shallow, dark sea…. I can’t comprehend billions of creatures forming that limestone bluff; but I can see, in my mind’s eye, these four individuals.

And the pair of doves who used to sit and preen on the deck railing after their bath: I haven’t seen them recently—but yesterday I did see a dove startle up from the ground, largely denuded of its feathers by an encounter with a cat. My cat? That individual bird—was it one of the pair who used to come, now damaged and maybe killed by my own cat? This brings things close to home.

Would “civilized” humans kill so carelessly if we looked into the eyes of the animal and saw the soul behind them? Would we thoughtlessly eat that individual animal if it had a name and a face? I doubt it. Easy to eat meat packaged neatly in plastic wrap. Easy to kill—or not. Rather, easy to eat what has been killed, anonymously, by others out of our sight. We have no responsibility for its life or death, right?


And that particular, individual spider chooses to be, once again, invisible to me. I’m reminded that I never asked her permission after all. Rude of me….

A couple of days after I finished this piece, I chanced to check the recycle bin on my computer, looking for something entirely unrelated. Lo and behold, the “lost” photos of my friend the spider were there after all. Gotta love it. But she sure did provoke a lot of thought, which is a very good thing indeed. And I’m glad to have her back!


The Importance of Community in the Individuation Process

20160528_204208 (2) for blog (350x197)While I was working on material for my study groups on Encountering the Imaginal in Everyday Life, I came across this bit from my dissertation. It feels important to share.

Throughout most of my life—actually, until the last ten years or so—I felt very much alone in the world, unable to form deep relationships with anyone. It’s still something I struggle with at times, but so much has changed, and in a very positive direction.

This is what I wrote almost a decade ago:

Engagement with others, with community, is a requirement for the soul and for the process of individuation. Jung (1921/1971) said, “As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation” (p. 448). Hillman (1972) says that

psychological development stops in isolation; it seems unable to forego the context of other souls…. Soul-making would seem to have a Dionysian hole through which the individual soul is drawn into a communal “madness” …. This leakage … between souls dissolves paranoid isolation and seems required by the soul in contradistinction to the spirit, which proceeds, as Plotinus said, from the alone to the alone…. Psychology is created within the vale of living intimacy. (pp. 26-27)

My engagement with community—the Jung Society, the dance community, the horse owners at the barn, my students, and even Facebook—has been tremendously healing for me. A recent journal entry reads,

Somehow, through this experience, I’m being called upon to rebuild myself. And now, as I realize this, I find a quote from Judith Herman (Robb, 2006):

Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In her renewed connection with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological faculties that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic capacities for trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy. (p. 341)

Whatever trauma I encountered in my childhood—damaging experiences in the hospital, a difficult relationship with my father, the violence of cultural repression—are slowly being healed through my relationships with a community of friends.


Hillman, J. (1972). The myth of analysis: Three essays in archetypal psychology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types. In R. F. C. Hull (Trans.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 6). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1921)

Robb, C. (2006). This changes everything: The relational revolution in psychology. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.


Analysis of a Dream: An Archetypal Look at Caregiving

20160623_083500(This is a slightly edited excerpt from my dissertation; it’s part of a longer discussion of women’s voice and agency in a patriarchal culture.)

What our society has for so long considered “women’s work”—the daily activities of nurturance and caretaking—is utterly indispensable to human life. For many of us women, care and feeding of a family preclude any thought of realizing whatever other dreams, goals, and aspirations we may have had as girls and young women, at least until the children are grown. We are taught that this is the natural order of things; this is women’s function in the world. And until women gained some control over their own reproductive cycle, it was women’s fate and function.

For millennia, the patriarchal establishment has fostered this idea, and we women, by and large, buy into it. After all, it feels good to be needed, for all of us—men and women alike. But there is a darker side to being needed, which was brought home to me by the following dream. It takes place in the busy emergency room popularized by the long-running television series “E.R.” and features one of the central characters from that drama:

I’m with Dr. Luka Kovač. I’m crying, exhausted from caregiving. Luka says “You’re working too hard; let them take care of themselves.” I cry and lean against him, saying, “I can’t do that. I can’t stop while there’s one person in pain who needs help. Neither could you!” He looks at me and arches one eyebrow. I notice him pulling out a small case of a white powder and scratching it into the skin of his hand with a needle; it’s cocaine.

The dream suggests that the good feelings generated in us women by taking care of others function as a drug. “Helping others” becomes, in effect, a drug that dulls or transforms the pain we might otherwise feel as a result of what has been denied us by the patriarchal culture: our own autonomy and agency in the world. For many women, myself included, our addiction to this “drug” prevents us from caring for ourselves and our own psychic needs.

A second factor is that following the leadings of Soul is a daunting task, and one that requires a stout heart and strong motivation. Even for those of us who do have a sense of vocation that leads beyond the household, following one’s own path is terrifying. Many women, given the culturally sanctioned alternative to what would be a serious cultural and psychic struggle, turn readily to the “opiate” of helping others in order to dull our terror. And so the least call from the child, the spouse, the sick cat, the pile of laundry, and we cannot resist the lure of the drug to which we have become addicted. The call of the domestic wins out.

The more insidious side of this situation is the way in which the patriarchal culture has supplied us with the very drug that keeps women quiet, submissive, and frequently unaware of their own repression.

We are told from girlhood that men value the angel in the house, the “little woman,” the good little girl, and so we should aspire to fulfill these roles as we grow up. The ideal woman is described as, among other things, exquisitely sensitive to the needs of others, and her finest and truest nature and calling, it is said, is service to others. These are the idealized feminine images that girls to this day receive along with mother’s milk. The patriarchy extols the virtues of this ideal of Woman, idolizes her, puts her on a pedestal. And at the same time patriarchal culture devalues everything that has been so clearly defined as woman’s highest purpose. But our senses have become dulled to the pain of our own repression.

Women must overcome this addiction. Caregiving and nurturing activities are heartwarming, soul-nourishing, and utterly vital to human survival. But we women—and men—must become aware of the essential nature of what has been denigrated as “women’s work” and cease to buy into the patriarchal devaluation of these activities.

I am not suggesting that all who do these jobs are women; nor that all women do these jobs; nor yet that all that women do can be encompassed within these jobs. What I am saying is that the tasks typically described as “women’s work,” and those who perform them, have historically been devalued by our culture; and that many or most women have internalized this devaluation and incorporated it into a sense of self that is shrunken and damaged. In her essay “The descent of Inanna: Myth and therapy,”  Sylvia Brinton Perera (1985) suggests that women often have an identity that is based upon “projections hooked onto us” and that we lack a sense of our own truest self:

In the West, women have too often been defined only in relation to the masculine as the good, nurturant mother and wife, the sweet, docile, agreeable daughter, the gently supportive or bright, achieving partner. As many feminist writers have stated through the ages, this collective model (and the behavior it leads to) is inadequate for life; we mutilate, depotentiate, silence, and enrage ourselves trying to compress our souls into it, just as surely as our grandmothers deformed their fully breathing bodies with corsets for the sake of an ideal. (p. 141)



Perera, S. B. (1985). The descent of Inanna: Myth and therapy. In E. Lauter & C. S. Rupprecht (Eds.), Feminist archetypal theory: Interdisciplinary re-visions of Jungian thought (pp. 137-186). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.






A Message From Galahad

20140520 ST Galahad (9)Sometimes the imaginal component of my work with horses is more obvious than at other times.

The other night, on the edge of sleep, I was jolted by an image: My big buckskin Galahad was right there in front of me. He seemed huge, and his energy was high, with a distinctly unpleasant edge to it. He barged into me and nearly knocked me over; then, just as suddenly, he was gone. I came to complete consciousness as I tried to catch myself to keep from falling.

It was an extraordinary experience whose “reality” was as intense as if it were actually happening. I sat straight up in bed, heart pounding. The image was not related to anything I had been thinking about—I had been peacefully drifting off to sleep.

Knowing that I had a client coming the next morning to work with Galahad, I made a mental note to be a bit more cautious around him, just in case. Then I went on to sleep.

Next morning, my client and I walked out into the pasture to get the big guy. He saw us immediately and headed our way…and just kept coming. His energy was just as he showed me the night before. The flies were driving him mad, and he was in a terrible, sullen mood—I doubt that he got any sleep at all. Fortunately, I was prepared for this attitude. After I moved him around the pasture pretty strongly for a few minutes, he calmed down. Once he had some fly spray, he was much better.

Pretty amazing.

It’s actually not the first time he’s “spoken” to me like that. A year ago, we had to put Galahad in a stall for a couple of nights because he seemed to have some version of the flu. During that time, I took his temperature several times. Each time, he stood like a statue for me.

It turns out that Galahad HATES the thermometer, and he let me know in the same way: I was nearly asleep the second night when suddenly, in my mind’s eye, Galahad jerked his head angrily toward me as I was inserting the thermometer. I came wide awake with a start—it was so obviously real….

He’s contacted me in a gentler way by sharing a dream (you can read about it here), and I can often sense his energy from home. But these “tantrums” are strange and a bit unsettling! However, I’d rather know about his moods ahead of time than discover them accidentally.

How interesting!



Cross-posted on The Alchemical Horse.

All Shall Be Well

20160430_192242A few weeks ago I had another amazing experience.

I had spent a couple of nights sitting up with my beloved Miss Ellie the Cat, who, at 23 years old, is on borrowed time. She was having one of her bad spells, unable to keep down even water. Her discomfort made me wonder about intervening, about helping her cross that Rainbow Bridge. Surely she was suffering way more than she needed to.

Ellie, though, has let me know in no uncertain terms that she is NOT ready to leave this life. When she’s ready, I’ll help her if she wants help; but not until she tells me so. And so I sat up with her all night, just dozing, because she seemed comforted by my presence.

My choice of reading and late-night television echoed my mood: North of Here, a novel by Laurel Saville. Such troubled people, such damaged people; so much loss. A documentary by Anderson Cooper about his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. Such troubled and damaged people; so much loss. The news: a building collapse in Kenya, a “mistaken” bombing of a children’s hospital in the Middle East. So much loss.

Life…and death.

The next afternoon I went to the grocery. We were out of cat food, and Ellie by some miracle was up and eating again. That cat has used up about 17 lives so far, I swear.

A big storm was coming in, but Ellie was hungry, so I decided to try to get to the grocery and back before it hit.

The sky was absolutely amazing! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such sharply defined cloud formations. Despite my worry, I stopped halfway up the hill to look and try to get a couple of photos. But as I started on my way again, I noticed the “Get gas NOW!” light was on. Oh dear. On this particular car, that light comes on at the very last minute before the gas is GONE. Rats. I’d need to stop before heading for the store.

But at the top of the hill, distracted by the beauty around and above me, I turned toward the grocery instead of the gas station. Oh no…. The last thing I wanted was to run out of gas in the pouring rain.

So I “checked in,” to see if my intuition had anything to say. “All’s well,” I heard. So despite some misgivings, I decided to believe what I felt—there was plenty of gas.

As I pulled into the parking lot, the storm was all around. Brilliant lightning, incredible clouds, and clearly lots of rain to the north, but no rain here. So I raced into the store, got the cat food, got back to the car—and a few rays of sun came out under the clouds. So unexpected, and so beautiful.

I knew there would be a rainbow. Sure enough, there it was. I would have missed it altogether if I had gotten gasoline first (the gas station building would have been in the way), and if I hadn’t known to turn and look for it.

Couldn’t help myself: I hollered at a couple of women passing in the parking lot. “Hey! Look at the rainbow!” They both looked and smiled—they would have missed it if I hadn’t called their attention to it. One went on to her car after a brief conversation; the nearer one stood and told me the story of Noah and how he believed what God said and so he and his family were saved while everyone else perished.

So I think the lesson of today is that indeed, as Julian of Norwich wrote almost exactly 600 years ago, “All shall be well; all shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.” Believe in God’s promise, and always—always!—look for the beauty even in the midst of the storm.

The heavens opened just as I reached my front door….