Saturday, February 27, 2016

And the blog continues.... a new location. Visit me at for further adventures....

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What the heck is an archetype, and why do I need to know about that stuff anyway?

This post may not seem to have anything at all to do with horses, but if you read through it, it may make it a bit easier to understand the way I make sense of my work with horses, and life in general.

I’m trained as a depth psychologist, and that means that I pay a lot of attention to the symbolic and, yes, “archetypal” nature of the world and my life as I experience it. Dreams are important as sources of information, and so are events in my waking world. I watch for patterns, and for “synchronicities” that show up and practically beg me to look for their meaning.

My worldview has been greatly influenced by Carl Jung's ideas, and in this post, I'd like to give you an overview of some concepts found in Jungian psychology that I've found useful. I promise to keep it short and sweet.

First, there’s what Jung called the collective unconscious, the ground out of which consciousness arises. Jung believed that the experiences of humankind, from the beginning of consciousness, all exist in a kind of psychic field that he called the collective unconscious. The contents of the collective unconscious are not concrete, specific images. Rather, they’re what he called archetypes: patterns of experience and behavior that are common to all humans. I’ll say more about archetypes in a minute.

Within the limitless unconscious, there are centers of consciousness that correspond to individual human beings. Each of these centers is an ego, which in Jung's view is an association of experiences and images that begin to coalesce around a physical body in infancy to form a personality. Some of the experiences that a person has remain conscious; others are forgotten or (as in Freud) repressed into what Jung calls the personal unconscious.

In Jung's view, before an infant becomes aware of her surroundings, she is completely subsumed by the collective unconscious. Life experiences bring about the development of the ego, as the baby’s consciousness differentiates from her surroundings.

Then there’s the persona. In order to live together, people have to form a society or culture with rules and norms for behavior. Any society has shared ideas of morality, aesthetics, and behavior to which we must adapt. These rules, learned consciously or picked up without awareness, are internalized. Each person has a social role, and in response to our need to “fit in,” our ego chooses bits from the collective unconscious that fit our particular social role, and calls these bits its own. This is what Jung calls the persona (from the Latin, meaning a mask, false face, or character in a drama): “a more or less arbitrary segment of the collective psyche” that our ego assembles as an ideal image of itself that it shows to the world.

Often, we identify with the role we play. “I’m a psychologist,” or “I’m a wife and mother,” or “I’m successful”: this is often how we really identify ourselves, even to ourselves. You can see this identification and its power when, for instance, a person loses their job or when their spouse leaves them, and they go into a complete depression. “Who am I if I’m not (a successful IT professional/mother/wife/husband/provider)?”

We’re often (or usually!) completely unaware that the persona is in fact a mask that overlies a huge repository of repressed material. This repressed material gives rise to dreams, fantasies, and neuroses. Images that appear in dreams and fantasies take characteristic forms that remain more or less constant across individuals and even across cultures. These images come from the collective unconscious, and group themselves into patterns or archetypes.

Archetypes themselves can never be fully understood. They exist as overarching patterns that can only be represented symbolically as images in dreams, fantasies, and neuroses, and can be experienced by each of us as particular events in our lives. For example, every human has a mother. Each person’s experience of “mother” is unique, and taken all together, humanity’s experience of mothers and mothering takes its form from, and contributes to, the archetypal pattern “Mother.”

Another term: our complexes. During the development of our psyche from infancy onward, bits of the unconscious coalesce around an archetypal pattern and function as though they themselves were conscious. Jung called these autonomous groups of contents complexes. We've all heard “mother complex,” for instance. It’s not important right now to fully understand what Jung meant by this concept. We just need to know that our complexes are initially unconscious. We notice a complex when it suddenly “takes over,” often at inopportune moments. We may suddenly say or do something wildly inappropriate and wonder, “Where the heck did that come from?” The answer: from our unconscious. Our complex made us do it.

In a more or less normal person these complexes lose their control over our lives as we become more aware of what’s going on with them. In other individuals, the complexes prove stronger than the ego and overwhelm it, resulting in neurosis or psychosis.

Here’s the really important thing to understand about our complexes: As long as they’re unconscious—as long as we aren't aware when they’re taking us over and why they do it—their actions and effects on us seem mysterious, and we tend to experience them as events or persons in the outside world.

This is the idea of projection. Our complexes get “personified” and appear to us as independent entities or personalities. These can be people or things in the outer world, or images in dreams and fantasies. Either way, they don’t seem to belong to us, and we don’t control them. Rather, they function as autonomous “beings” that seem to make decisions for us.

How do you become more aware of your complexes? Notice the next time someone makes you really, unreasonably angry, for instance. Feel into that. At the core of that irrational anger is a complex. That person may remind you of your father, or maybe he reminds you of something in yourself that you really don’t like. That’s where the complex lies. Incredibly valuable information!

Finally, there’s the concept of individuation. For Jung, the goal of life is increasing self-knowledge: becoming conscious of our wholeness while at the same time developing our uniquely individual nature (as opposed to the “herd mentality” or blind acceptance of the dictates of our culture). We accomplish this through integrating our unconscious complexes into our consciousness. Jung calls this process individuation.

According to Jung, the process of individuation leads to the person expressing more of her unique qualities even as she becomes more conscious of the collective elements in her psyche. Individuation is the process of becoming aware of the totality of our being.

Individuation involves hard, sometimes psychologically dangerous work. Looking at the material in our personal unconscious is particularly difficult and uncomfortable—that’s why it was repressed in the first place! It takes a lot of courage. But Jung believed, and so do I, that doing our own internal work, no matter how difficult the task, benefits the world at large. It’s worth the effort.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Proof of Heaven?

The other day a friend recommended Proof of Heaven, by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, MD. I ordered it via Kindle (LOVE my Kindle!) and just finished it a few minutes ago.

It’s a fascinating read, detailing his “near-death experience” while he was in a coma brought about by bacterial meningitis. The disease, in effect, killed the outer layers of his brain, and no one expected him to survive. All of the data about his disease, his body functions during the week he was in a coma, and his treatment were recorded in detail, and nothing in the scientific literature can explain his experience or, for that matter, his survival.

Furthermore, his scientific knowledge and training as a surgeon grants his account more credibility, in my opinion, because of the rigor with which he explores both his experiences and the possible explanations for them. I would highly recommend the book to anyone with an open mind. As he says, he himself would have dismissed an account like this as fantasy—until it happened to him.

So I finished reading the book. It rings true, based on my admittedly limited experience of that other world in visions and meetings with folks who have already crossed over. The similarities and points of agreement are striking. Of course, I’ve not been there myself in the state of consciousness that he had—and I’m heartily glad of that! Even though I have had some encounters with the Other Side, I’m still pretty well shielded by my own resistance.

The part of his experience that most resonates with my own is the feeling of absolute, unconditional love. We are loved for ourselves, no matter what. That’s what I’ve felt from the Ladies, from my Guides. There is no judgement, and nothing we do will change the love in which we are held, no experience will separate us from the One, the Divine, and this immeasurable love and compassion.

It’s interesting—the question is, of course, what am I going to do with this?

I feel encouraged by the book. It feels like corroboration from an outside source. The author is not only a scientific guy, a neurosurgeon, but he’s also a lifelong skeptic. So for him to come back after this impossible physical damage that he suffered, for him to come back totally healed with this kind of message—that, I needed to hear.

Why is this book so much more encouraging than the other accounts that are out there, or (for pete's sake!) my own experiences? Because, truth be told, all my Pacifica friends and colleagues, and all the New Age folks who are saying the same thing, somehow are a little suspect, because of what I’ve called the malleable nature of the Imaginal. It’s so easy, if you don’t watch yourself in the imaginal world, to see just exactly what you want to see. And that’s not the same as experiencing the true nature of reality, which is what he’s talking about in the book.

Right now I need to figure out what to do with this encouragement. How am I going to proceed with my work? I’m especially interested and curious about how this can affect my work with Galahad and the other horses. It’s so easy to slip back into my head, which is where I spend most of my time, and stay here and write about it or talk about it, but I need to get out in the living world that we call reality and see what happens there.

I know that it’s “only” a matter of opening to something that is already there, that I know is there, that I’ve already experienced.

But if I’m lazy in any particular way, it would be this: I was going to say “intellectually lazy,” but it’s not intellectual—it’s spiritually lazy. I want it to come easily. I want to just flip a switch and there everything and everybody is. I don’t want to sit and do meditation.

On the other hand, maybe that type of meditation isn’t the one for me, simply because of who I am. I have never been any good at sitting meditation. Even in the way I wrote the dissertation: Almost none of it, or very little, anyway, was from sitting meditations, from active imagination per se. Most of the insights came from my day-to-day work in the world; from being open to other types of communication, other realms, at the same time I was “in the world.” That’s hard to do, but I can do it. I have done it before, and I think that’s what I’d like to try.

That means I have to get up off my duff and get moving, even if it’s only 34 degrees outside….


Monday, July 2, 2012


This afternoon, after posting the previous entry about “bzzzzz-yness,” I walked out to get the mail. On the way, I stopped to take a breath and look at the clouds from a thundershower that’s missing us to the north.

As I looked up, something buzzed past me—a dragonfly, which landed on the ball-topped antenna of my car just above eye level. There it stayed for the longest time—minutes!—surveying the surrounding area for prey. It saw me; I saw it tilt its head to look as I shifted position. It took off and circled a few times, always coming back to rest on the antenna tip. It even thought about landing on my outstretched finger once, but decided the antenna was a better perch.

What an amazing experience! It was no more than three or four inches away—close enough that even my nearsighted eyes could see its tiny antennae and the veins in its wings. I had time to fill myself with seeing it—that’s so rare with any wild thing, much less with something so swift and wary as a dragonfly.

The spell was broken when I sneezed. But it was magic, indeed! I’m kind of glad I didn’t have my camera (this photo is from Wikimedia commons), so that I could see it without anything in between—no lens, just my perception and my sense of wonder. Grateful to have slowed down enough to experience that.


Interesting thing today: I woke once again from rapidly vanishing dreams that left the impression of frantic busyness. That’s been a theme lately—nothing that I can remember except being “in charge” of too much to do. Not a good feeling.

Yesterday afternoon, after visiting the horses at the barn, I was wiped out from the heat and took a nap for an hour or so. When I woke up, I didn’t want to get out of bed—not because I was depressed or unhappy in any way, but just because it felt so good lying there doing nothing. Same thing this morning, when I allowed myself my one day a week to sleep in. It felt so good to do nothing at all, and I didn’t want to get out of bed.

Then, on facebook, I saw an article someone shared about why, in order to “save our sanity,” we as a country and culture need to go back to the 40-hour work week. It made so much sense, and talked about things I’ve been feeling for a long time. A couple of hours later, an editorial in the New York Times came through my email—this article was about our self-inflicted too-busyness. 

In between reading those two articles, I allowed myself ten minutes to watch yellowjackets drinking from the bottom of the now-defunct waterfall, where I’ve been keeping a little container filled with water. I just squatted there and watched them, enjoying the quiet and the reverie.

OK. I get the message, though it’s almost to the “we’re gonna hit you upside the head if you don’t listen” stage. My Guides often have a really hard time getting through to me. It’s time to get back to the quieter, more contemplative part of my life. It’s summer, and my appointments are limited because of the heat.

It’s so hard, though, to remember that quiet and reverie are vital to the work I do. Surrounded as we all are by a culture that values only measurable “output,” and raised as I was by a father who believed that even sitting down to read a book was inexcusable idleness, it’s especially tough. Tough—but necessary.

This has helped make sense of my late-night obsession with Spider Solitaire (and possibly my insomnia, as well): mentally exhausted, physically tired, but unable to just shut down, I often spend an hour or more playing that all-but-mindless, addicting game until I force myself to shut off the computer, take a couple of Benadryl tablets, and try to sleep.

OK. Time for some major changes. Can I do it? Dunno…. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

On Corsets and Hoops

The following is a bit from my dissertation (which will account for the scholarly tone—my apologies) that I’m posting in response to the image that a friend posted on facebook this morning. The painting depicts a group of obviously wealthy men and women “enjoying” a day at the beach, ca. 1860. The women are all wearing fashionable hoop skirts. This prompted a discussion of this “beach wear,” and I promised to post these few paragraphs.

I've made and worn corsets from a number of different eras, and this piece is based on my personal experience. My re-enactor friends will find a few things to disagree with here, and I have deliberately cited difficulties that are increased at the tighter end of the "lacing scale." Nevertheless, see what you think:

Corsets and Morality in the Victorian Era

Every woman, perhaps especially those youngsters growing up now who seem to have so little idea of what “women’s liberation” is all about, should spend a day wearing the undergarments that our foremothers had to endure. The myth of the Victorian lady helpless to retrieve her dropped handkerchief is no myth. Victorian corsetry was designed to mold and contain the female form, which (like woman herself) was by cultural definition naturally weak and unable to support itself. Feminine weakness was both physical and moral; her tight lacing kept her upright, contained, and virtuous. The term “loose woman” originally referred to the woman who did not lace her corsets tightly and was therefore (again by cultural definition) morally lax as well.

Women policed each other carefully; it is the real triumph of the patriarchy that we women are complicit in our own enslavement, thereby rendering it even more difficult to see the patriarchal origins of the restrictions. As Morgan (1999) notes, the patriarchy is not a “transhistorical, monolithic spectre for women.” Rather, there is a “diverse dynamics of the reality of female subordination,” in which women “were never merely passive victims of patriarchy, but often crucial to its perpetration” (p. 93).

A corset is an odd garment to wear. Although a properly fitting corset is not painful if tight lacing is avoided, it does not allow for freedom of movement. A corset is difficult to put on without help, at least the first time before one gets the lacing adjusted, or if one is dressing to fit into a ball gown that requires, as mine does, a smaller waist than one’s day dress. Pulling the laces tight often results in a lightheaded feeling that, fortunately, quickly passes. Once in place, the corset alters one’s breathing: One’s chest expands not outwards but upwards, pushing one’s bosom toward one’s chin with every breath. A good corset does wonders for the posture, without one needing to make any effort whatsoever. One can slump within the corset without changing one’s posture outwardly. No inward strength is required. Clothing can be as elaborate and delicate around the midsection as desired, since one does not disarrange the waistline by either bending (impossible), breathing (redirected), or overeating (painful and definitely not recommended).

A corset generally does not hurt when first donned, but only as the day goes on. Pressure from any folds or creases in the undergarments begin to wear on the skin; the lower end of the ribcage begins to bruise from pressure against the steels. The underarms are sometimes rubbed raw by the pressure of the bones through their casings, especially if the corset is a tiny bit too long, or if one has begun slumping from the pain of having one’s spine held in a fixed position for hours on end. Then, just when bedtime comes and one expects sweet relief at last, one discovers the corset’s final misery: It hurts even more when one takes it off than it did when it was on. The reason for this eludes my understanding, but it is true nevertheless. For the first few minutes that the corset is off, one nearly wishes to put it back on again.

Corsets functioned to both create and maintain many of the Victorian myths about the frailty of woman (Steele, 2001). The effect of the corset on the female body is remarkable. Muscles that nature intended to support the body are not used, and the woman becomes, over time, quite literally weak and unable comfortably to hold herself upright for long periods. The displacement and deformation of the ribs and internal organs of the wearer are legendary, as are the tales (possibly apocryphal) of those who had ribs removed in order to achieve a slimmer waist. Breathing is restricted and a woman is far more likely to faint because of it. One can only with difficulty tie one’s own shoes or retrieve a dropped hankie; one becomes literally helpless. Women who had to work for a living, or those who kept their own houses because they could not afford servants, could not wear their corsets laced fashionably tight and still function; they were literally, if not morally, “looser” than their wealthier sisters.

Then there is that other fashion innovation of the mid-19th century, the cage crinoline. The crinoline, or hoop skirt as we now know it, consists of a variable number of steel bands encased in cloth. It was hailed as an invention that freed women from the close confines of numerous heavy petticoats catching about their ankles. True enough. The crinoline, which in its heyday around 1860 might be twelve feet or more in circumference at the lower edge, left plenty of space around the ankles.

Plenty of space, that is, for drafts to reach one’s private parts (the long drawers of that day were made of two separate legs connected only at the waistband), plenty of area out of sight under one’s skirt so that one could trip on almost anything, plenty of skirt volume to swing, sway, knock things over, and hinder one’s passage through doorways and up stairs. More than one woman was burned to death when her dress brushed into an open fireplace or a bonfire on the street. And, in the context of undergarments and morality, one attribute of the hoop skirt should be noted: It is difficult to reach one’s nether parts, either for hygiene or self-defense, while wearing a large hoop. How curious that a garment designed to “free” women from restrictions functioned, in fact, to decrease their mobility and increase both their sexualization and their vulnerability.

Aside from a very few gentlemen who, out of vanity and an expanding midsection, wore corsets for dress occasions (Steele, 2001), what man would for an instant put up with the constant daily restriction on function that the Victorian woman lived with? The patriarchal and paternalistic beliefs about and restrictions upon women were both fostered and supported by women’s dress. Best of all for the patriarchy, the men almost never had to say a word; women themselves did the enforcing!

Morgan, S. (1999). Redressing the balance, transforming the art: New theoretical approaches in religion and gender history. In D. F. Sawyer & D. M. Collier (Eds.), Is there a future for feminist theology? (pp. 84-98). Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press.

 Steele, V. (2001). The corset: A cultural history. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Friday, April 20, 2012

“RED,” Revisited: Be Careful What You Ask For

The other day, a bright red car reminded me of this post, “Red,” about an incident back in 2004. In it, I reported how an alchemical encounter with the color red, in many different guises, seemed to have brought about a profound change in my psyche and my outer life.

I posted the link on my facebook page, with the disclaimer, “Be careful what you wish for!” and noted that the entry always makes me a little nervous. Yup. Rightly so: “red,” apparently, is a signpost along my life journey. When I notice, and I mean really become aware of it, like the other day—look out for changes!

Two days later, with “RED” still in my mind, I started getting serious about putting together a brochure and an elevator speech for my business, which has not exactly been thriving. Elevator speech composed, I contacted a potential client for my business. She was delighted, excited, raring to go! “Well—that’s different!” I thought. So we set up a time to get together, and I gave her some preparatory assignments.

Then I headed off to the barn, to meet with a friend to talk about a dream she had been wondering about. On the drive out, I pondered the reason behind my lack of success in getting clients.

Interestingly, I discovered that working my business has felt a lot like riding my horse: I know instinctively how to do it, and I can feel myself being very, very good at it. However, my brain registers fear, and shuts down my intuition and my confidence. The result: I don’t ride as much as I want to, and my business doesn’t thrive.

Well. That was a revelation. Everyone who knows me is probably saying, “Well, duh!” But we all have to come to stuff on our own, and in our own time, or it’s meaningless.

I found myself getting excited about the client I’d just talked with, and planning activities and inquiries that will be useful in helping her on her journey. Exhilarating!

At the barn, my friend and I talked for well over an hour about her dream and how it might relate to her psychic and spiritual journey. I followed my intuition and my hunches, and drew on the years of education, training, and experience I’ve had. She talked about how she’d noticed the power that comes from focused intention, and how she was working on being more conscious of that. It was an enjoyable and, according to my friend, productive session.

As she got up to leave, she said, “And I’d like to pay you for this.”

“Nah,” I said, “We’re just talking.”

“Nope. You taught me this: You have to know your worth and be willing to charge for it.”

Well. That was a shock. It had not occurred to me, quite literally. But I knew she was right.

Wow. I needed that reminder! She has my sincerest thanks for reminding me of my own worth…and of the power of focus and intention.


This morning, another potential client, a referral from a therapist friend of mine, called me to set up an appointment for this coming week.


Looks like my business is going to thrive after all. I’m surrounding myself with RED again.

What a blessing.