A Mother’s Love

Gloria and Bessie 1983

…the mother stands for the collective unconscious, the source of the water of life…

~CG Jung Individual Dream Symbolism… CW 12: §92
I worked through this dream with Jane Teresa Anderson in the early days of her dream show podcast (link), way back in August 2009. It has taken all this time to unfold fully and though I am in a much better emotional space than I was when I had the dream, meeting the challenge I set myself in it is still a work in progress.

The dream:

I am in the study of my house with Mary. As we come out of the study, I notice water on the floor. I point it out to her so she won’t step in it. When we reach the dining room I see there is a large puddle of water also pooled on the carpet by the table. I notice an empty glass in the place where I usually sit for meals. I get a mental image of someone picking up the glass, and without realising it is full, spilling it and leaving the trail. I know that ‘someone’ is me but don’t recall doing it. The trail of water leads back to the study through the kitchen and family room to where I first noticed it.

I fetch a towel from the laundry basket and while I’m on my knees mopping up the water on the carpet, I tell Mary about Frank Sinatra’s rejection by his mother. She bursts into tears and I stand and put my arms around her and she cries on my shoulder. She says it reminds her of the way her mother rejected her. I say I am not surprised and then say very gently but clearly: ‘You can’t find love outside yourself, not even from your mother, you’ve got to find the source of love within yourself and connect with that.’

Using the concept of all dream characters representing aspects of the dreamer, Jane and I explored the idea that Mary’s emotional outburst represented some unresolved grief in me concerning my mother’s rejection. This did fit for Mary’s relationship with her mother but I couldn’t relate to it, as I didn’t perceive my mother as being rejecting. As we explored the issue further, I concluded that perhaps my child’s mind had perceived her frequent absences through physical illness and nervous breakdowns as a form of rejection and we let it go at that and went on to explore other aspects of the dream imagery. Days later, the memory of a very traumatic estrangement from my mother that had occurred almost 30 years before, surfaced from the depths and the scene with Mary made total sense.

The estrangement occurred as part of the fallout from my disclosure about the sexual abuse that had occurred throughout my childhood at the hands of an uncle – the husband of Mum’s sister. Although my mother and my aunt were the only ones I had spoken to, somehow word got around and all hell broke loose in the family. It emerged that this uncle’s activities were not only very widespread but also well known. In spite of that, I was branded a troublemaker and a liar and treated like a pariah by all except my sisters. I became the family scapegoat. It’s an all too common scenario for anyone who rocks the boat by speaking up and a powerful deterrent that perpetrators and their enablers exploit. Mum didn’t speak to me for 9 months and when she did reconnect, the subject was never discussed.

When she finally rang me, she broke the ice with the sad news that her precious dog had to be put down. She had been very attached to him and perhaps losing him made her reflect on our estrangement. When that topic was exhausted, she asked if I’d heard Anne Murray’s latest album. We were both big fans. I hadn’t and she told me it was called ‘I’ll Always Love You.’ I knew it was her way of saying what she was never able to say directly and this, together with the news of Sooty’s death and the fact that she was talking to me again had me blubbering like a baby. When I got hold of the album and heard the title song, I played it over and over. It was almost worth all the pain I had been through to hear the opening lines:

Standing by my window, listening for your call

Seems I really miss you after all

Time won’t let me keep these sad thoughts to myself

I’d just like to let you know, I wish I’d never let you go and…

 I’ll always love you, deep inside this heart of mine

I do love you…

When I went to see her, we both carefully avoided the dreaded topic but as I was leaving she said to me “I know I’ve been a bad mother, Gloria.” I didn’t know what to say and her words haunted me for years. I wanted to put my arms around her and comfort her and tell her how much I loved her but sadly she was not comfortable with such behaviour and I knew where to draw the line. I also felt that she somehow needed to make that confession for her own benefit and I didn’t want to take that away from her. She wasn’t a bad mother – bad mothers are the kind that hate their kids and want them dead, like so many stepmothers in myths and fairy tales. She was, though, a Puella Aeternus – an eternal child – who in one sense make good mothers because they can relate to the child on their own terms but on the other hand lack the emotional maturity necessary to handle the responsibility entailed in raising children. She was basically unsuited to a role that was her lot as a woman of her time and place and had the added misfortune of marrying a man whose alcoholism led to him abandoning her to the sole responsibility of raising their five children. The odds were stacked against her in so many ways.

Our relationship pretty much picked up where we had left off and Mum died a few years afterwards. Until this dream, I hadn’t realised how much guilt I had been carrying over telling her about the abuse. As kids we were trained to be good girls and not to worry Mum, with the unspoken threat that to do so would result in her going away yet again. From my uncle I was warned not to tell ‘our little secret’ or else I would go to jail and so would he. Together with upsetting Mum, the thought that I would be responsible for his family being without a father and thereby suffering the same fate as mine was enough to keep me silent until I was 30. After the avalanche of hostility that was unleashed on me then, I closed down for another 20 years, until the death of my husband and the many life changes it entailed brought it to the surface with a vengeance. This dream – and many, many others – was a part of the healing process both of the childhood abuse and the trauma that occurred through my disclosure as an adult.

As I worked through the dream with Jane, we looked at the significance of the reference to Frank Sinatra. A few days before the dream, I had read an article about him in which he had stated that he hated the song My Way and that the only reason he did it was because his fans requested it and that it didn’t reflect his attitude at all. Following the thread of the mother theme we explored the idea that children have to go their own way and that made sense in the context of the dream but again it was only later that I recalled a vital piece of information that was a further key to understanding the dream within the context of the mother complex.

One of the most efficient entries into a dream is to consider what might have occurred in the day or two prior to the dream. We had discussed the article about Frank Sinatra but as interesting as that was, it didn’t have any real emotional charge to it. What did have a charge though and totally relevant to this dream was that the night before I had it, I had decided spontaneously to stop going to a Zen style meditation group I had been attending for about 15 months and had emailed the teacher to let her know. This was a very difficult decision to make because I had a deep affection for her. I had no doubt of her sincerity but was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with what I perceived as a lack of psychological awareness and the attitude that meditation practice alone is ‘the way.’ Several weeks after I stopped going, I woke up in the early hours one morning and had an almost desperate yearning to see her again. As I explored the intensity of the feeling, I recognised that it was the same kind of feeling I used to have at being separated from Mum when I was young. I knew then that separating from the teacher was another necessary step in loosening the attachment bonds of the mother complex.

One aspect of the dream analysis I did with Jane that I was never fully satisfied with was to do with the spilled glass of water. I said to her that it had brought to mind the song My Cup Runneth Over With Love and she suggested it might symbolise having an over caring attitude towards others and ‘spilling’ my love indiscriminately. That certainly had validity but I felt there was more to it than that and it was only when I connected the dream with the meditation teacher – my ‘spiritual mother’ – that I was able to join the dots. The two rooms in the dream – the study with the computer and Internet connection and the dining room where I did all my reading – represented ‘my way.’ The connection with the meditation teacher also added another dimension to the water symbolism; because life as we know it cannot exist without water, at the archetypal (spiritual) level it symbolises the life force itself – another name for which is love. The way I understand the symbolism now is that I was unconsciously spilling my life force energy (love) by following a path that wasn’t suited to me. My way home to myself was very eclectic. I studied widely and was involved in various groups but the main practice aspect of it was through a combination of meditation, dreamwork, Jungian psychology and A Course in Miracles. All of these methods have as their common denominator the development of trusting one’s own inner guidance and this dream was clearly demonstrating that very principle.

At the end of the discussion with Jane I confessed that though I agreed with the sentiment expressed, i.e. the need to find the source of love within, I was at a loss as to how to do it. She suggested a dream alchemy visualisation exercise but I never followed through on it. I had by that stage developed my own way of working with dreams and this kind of prescriptive approach, as well intentioned as it was, felt too controlling and manipulative. As the dream unfolded organically over time, I realised that I was on the right path already with what I was doing and just needed to have patience, perseverance and faith. I often felt lost and lonely and still do at times but I realise now that is the price to pay for following one’s own destiny.

The choice by the dream author of Mary as my alter ego was very auspicious. We met through a study group of A Course in Miracles and became very good friends. As our friendship developed, we found many correspondences in our lives, including being born in the same year, growing up in the same town and moving to the same city at the same age and living in similar places as our lives progressed. We are also alike personality wise, with many common interests. The main difference in our lives is that she has children and I don’t. I can’t think of anyone I know who would be a better fit as a reflection of myself. I don’t think it’s coincidence that she shares the same name as the most well known Western icon of the Great Mother. She also shares another connection with Mother Mary – her birthday is the same as the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, the recognition of the purity of the mother of the Christ Child at her own conception. I don’t know what to make of that but this dream seems to keep unfolding.

The World is not Left by Death but by Truth

Roger and Gloria Easter Dance 1993“The world is not left by death but by Truth” is a quote in A Course in Miracles that I came across in 1999, in the wake of a fairly dramatic visit from my deceased husband in which he had asked me to speak to his mother because she wasn’t letting go of him. The visit and its aftermath convinced me of two things: that his consciousness had survived and so had the attachment bond to his mother. Both of these scenarios had caused some consternation when they collided with my previously held worldview that life ended with the death of the body but it was a troubling incident at the time of his diagnosis that caused the ‘Truth’ quote to resonate most strongly within me.

Back in 1996 when Roger first told me he had terminal cancer, I asked him how he felt about it and without hesitation he replied, “It will solve a lot of problems.” His statement reflected the attitude I had long held for myself that death was a way out when life got too hard but it was a shock to hear him voice the same attitude. I had always regarded him as the strong one and capable of surmounting any difficulties, however he had recently begun to see a psychologist, so obviously all was not well.

He’d had a couple of major depressive episodes over the years we had been together and had appeared to pull through them but like a lot of men, he was reluctant to talk about emotional problems and I was not privy to what was really troubling him. From the scraps of information he shared and the gradual unfolding of events, it transpired that it was his estrangement from his mother three years earlier that was causing him the most grief, at least on the surface.

The final falling out had had a long incubation period, as these things do, stretching way back into childhood and involving a complex web of family relationships that are almost impossible to tease apart in any way that is ultimately satisfactory. In the final analysis love and forgiveness are the only way through the pain but we don’t give up our defences without a fight when we perceive them as protecting us. With his cancer diagnosis he stopped seeing the psychologist but he did reconnect with his mother. Though there wasn’t much change in the situation overall, at least they were able to spend some quality time together and I was very grateful to have her help to share the care that he needed.

One day I was lamenting the situation with a friend and he offered the opinion that some folks just know they’re not going to make it in this lifetime, so they check out. He then shared his views on reincarnation and his belief that our relationships are neither accidental nor confined to a single physical lifetime. After listening politely I replied that I didn’t believe in that sort of thing and that as far as I was concerned, we are all accidents of chemistry; we are born, we live, we die, end of story. He didn’t push it any further but what he said had struck a chord with me because of my own ever-present ambivalence about life.

At some level what he said made sense and it planted the seed of the idea that our complex relationships are embedded in some sort of continuum of existence. I eventually did my own deep investigation into the concept of reincarnation because of unusual experiences of my own and though I don’t think the birth-death cycle can be viewed as a linear process as the conventional model of reincarnation portrays it, I have no doubt that the non-physical realm interpenetrates the physical plane in ways that can’t be comprehended with our rational minds.

There is a poem by Goethe, The Holy Longing and it’s poignant final lines come as close as anything to explaining to me the reason Roger ‘checked out’ so seemingly prematurely and my own attachment to an escape clause:

And so long as you haven’t experienced this:
to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

It is only in following the path that was opened up to me through Roger’s illness and death and the many life changes that followed it, that I have come to understand the meaning of those words for myself. Life is not just about survival and achieving our ego goals but has real purpose and meaning. What has to die are all the false beliefs about who we are, who others are and why we are here; the conditioning we take on in order to be accepted within our family, society, and culture and to make our way in the world. It’s not easy deconstructing patterns and programs when they have become solidified into an identity through repetition. The catalyst for change is usually suffering and it often becomes so intense as to be physically and/or psychologically overwhelming.

When Roger died my world was completely turned upside down. I was only 18 when we met, we had worked together from early on in our marriage, had no children to distract us from each other and did pretty much everything together. In many ways, his family was a better fit for me than my own and so my identity became lost in his. His, in turn, had been lost in his parents’ and I believe it was this struggle to individuate, as Jung called the process, that became too much for him. His death from cancer at 48 was a shock that took years for me to assimilate and it has only been through confronting the identity crisis that it precipitated in me that has enabled me to see his struggles in a different light. This identity crisis is ultimately a spiritual crisis and though Roger was not able to embrace the option of a spiritual path for himself while he was alive, I have no doubt that he was guiding my life in that direction from the other side when he passed over. My dream life opened up almost the instant he died and apart from the healing it facilitated, I received a lot of what I can only call spiritual direction through the dreams.

One particularly powerful bit of guidance came in the form of a type of dream I eventually learned was called a disembodied voice dream, where you wake up hearing a voice speaking but with no memory of a dream. It came at a time when I was trying to find some direction in my life; I had begun a counselling course as a possible future vocation and was also participating in various women’s groups. Somewhere along the line I picked up the practice of doing affirmations and one day I decided to use a forty minute bus ride to do repetitions of the affirmations I had been learning. They were mostly of the self-esteem and confidence boosting kind and I just kept repeating them over and over, concentrating intently so as not to let my mind wander. During the night I awakened from sleep hearing a voice say:

It’s not about self-esteem, the real questions are “where have you come from, what are you doing here and where are you going?”

My well-considered and highly intelligent response was “Huh?”

Next day I happened to see a friend who I knew was involved with Eastern spirituality, so I asked him if he knew what it meant and he said “You come from God and you’re going back to God.” I don’t recall what he said regarding the middle part but the idea about God was not welcome news. At that time the word had connotations of a fickle authoritarian figure who demanded allegiance in the form of suffering and blood sacrifices. Since then my God-image has undergone a considerable transformation and I am happy now to substitute attributes like love, joy and peace for the word God.

I have contemplated these dream questions much in the fifteen years since they came to me and have struggled to make sense of the countless experiences that convinced me that life is indeed continuous. I have come to the conclusion that what I am doing here is learning how to live fully into those God-like qualities that feel so elusive in the everyday struggles of a mortal life. It’s not so much about doing as being and especially being as fully in the here and now as possible and in one sense that makes the question of origination and destination superfluous.

When A Course in Miracles says the world is not left by death but by truth, it is referring to the world we believe is real – the physical world of bodies and dense matter and time and space that we inevitably identify with as we journey through this human life. It is not left by death because what we call death is not the end of life but just the point in time when the soul leaves the body. This is the truth that sets us free. Life is not circumscribed by the events we call birth and death and our little lives here are an integral part of the whole of existence. Coming to a realisation of that for myself has made all the difference in how I view life with all its dramas and has enabled me to accept my own problems and use them for growth and healing rather than constantly trying to escape from them.

Without the spiritual life that was awakened in me through my husband’s death I would not be here today. I am only now beginning to fully appreciate the gifts and blessings that flowed to me from that event because I’ve had to do a lot of healing of my own and went through a very long dark period where I felt like a bottomless well of grief and could see little point in being here. It is only in retrospect that I can see that I have been guided all along.

In 2006 I participated in an Adult Enquirers group attached to the church that I eventually became baptised in and we were invited to write a reflection to end each evening. As I was wondering what on earth I could write, not being given to that sort of thing, a poem began to form that almost wrote itself. I just had to tweak it a bit here and there to make it flow. Many people at the group said they could identify with it and as it pretty well sums up everything I’ve said here, I thought it would be worth sharing. I called it Surrender and it is essentially the story of a soul lost and found. At the time I wrote it, the idea of surrender was pretty scary and it still is in a way but I’m learning to trust that there is a greater wisdom than my little ego that’s really been in charge all along anyway.

Surrender

I knew You once in all Your glory
When I was unafraid
And had no guilt to block Your light
No tears, remorse or shame

I basked in You, I had no story
To shield me from Your Love
And Your forgiveness and delight
Shone unimpeded from above

Bit by bit, my soul withdrew
I know not how, or why
I slowly turned my back on You
And thought ‘twas You who’d died

For many years my heart stayed closed
But You did not give up
When grief cracked open my resolve
The darkness glimpsed Your love

Once again, I turned to run
But now I could not hide
Your love, Your light were far too bright
At last, my will succumbed

My Introduction to A Course in Miracles

You Are A MiracleMost people who develop a long term relationship with this remarkable work have a story to tell not only about their first encounter with it but also about the conflicts that quickly develop once the initial infatuation wears off. If that sounds like a regular relationship, it’s no accident, for the book was written by a most unusual process which involved a psychology professor taking down dictation from a voice she heard internally, which she perceived as none other than Jesus. Anyone who is drawn to it then, is also inevitably drawn into a challenging relationship with this enigmatic figure of history regardless of their religious background, or lack thereof. Because the Jesus of the Course is a radically different figure from the one of conventional Christianity and the popular cultural image, it is a huge challenge to both the intellect and the emotions.

The book is essentially a spiritual path combining meditation practice with psychological techniques, the primary aim of which is to guide practitioners of it to a state of inner peace and thereby into an enhanced attunement with one’s own inner guidance. It employs an ingenious and methodical approach consisting of a theoretical foundation and daily exercises for practicing what it teaches. After 15 years of working with it, there is no doubt in my mind that it is from an inspired and wholly benevolent source. What that source is exactly is beyond my comprehension but my initial encounter with it led to a conversation with an inner voice myself and though brief, it was very compelling and had a deep impact on me. I have also come to believe that the vision I had 2½ years prior to learning about the Course foreshadowed my connection with it.

I first learned of it when a friend gave me a book to read called A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson but I have to say I was put off by her evangelical style and wasn’t tempted to look into it any further. I would occasionally come across quotes from the Course in other reading however and the different contexts in which it was mentioned would pique my interest but again I didn’t feel moved to look any further into it.

Then one night at a Jung Society meeting, which I had been attending for a bit over a year at the time, I bumped into a woman who had once worked at the vet’s where I took my cats. I was very surprised to see her there but she had come because she was interested in the evening’s talk, which happened to be on dreams. In the course of catching up with each other’s news, she told me she was about to start a group studying A Course in Miracles, so I said I would be interested in doing it. The meeting got going before I found out the details, so I planned to catch up afterwards. The talk went on and on and as with many of the Jung talks for me at that time, most of it went right over my head. I hung in only to see my friend afterwards but when it finally finished, she was nowhere to be found. Apparently it had gone over her head too. We had no way of contacting each other, so I assumed that was the end of the matter.

Four days later, amazingly, I bumped into her at my local shopping centre and she told me the group was off, at least temporarily, because the venue had fallen through. I offered to have it in my rumpus room and so we started on June 15th, 1999. My friend ended up not taking the group herself after all but handed it on to a friend of hers who I didn’t know and who was relatively new to it herself. As I knew nothing about it at all, this didn’t seem to be too much of a problem but as I soon found out, it was a case of the blind leading the blind and after 4 months I was ready to throw in the towel. In an attempt to revitalise my fast waning interest, I decided to find out a bit more about it and got onto the biography of how it came into being, Journey Without Distance.

The book described how those involved with it prayed for guidance about the publishing process. There were 4 people involved at this point and they would base their decisions on the information they received.  I wondered to myself if that would work for me, so, remembering the vision, I said, in my mind, “O.K. Jesus, you said ‘ask and you will receive’ so I’ve got some questions for you” and proceeded to ask questions. Instantly a voice, which was definitely not my own thoughts, began answering and soon the answers were coming before I had finished asking the question. Then it began giving me information without me even formulating a question. At one point I managed to get in ‘why the short sharp answers?’ and it shot straight back ‘it saves time.’  It also told me that I need to trust the process.  Because of the rapidity of the dialogue and the surprise factor, I have no idea what my initial questions were but did manage to record the last part. I had an appointment with my hypnotherapist next day, so I asked, ‘What do I need to work on?’ The voice in my head answered me:

‘Fear.’

‘Fear of what?’

‘Fear of abandonment.’

‘I’ve already worked on that.’

‘You haven’t worked on your fear of abandonment by God.’

‘What! I couldn’t go to Pat and say that. I would be too embarrassed.’

‘There’s no need to be. She will understand. I have sent you to Pat.’

The last statement left me dumbfounded but I gathered my thoughts enough to grab a pen and wrote down what I could remember. I had to admit that I did indeed find Pat through what seemed to be a series of orchestrated steps. This kind of thing had happened often through my life, as it undoubtedly does for everyone, so wasn’t particularly noteworthy but to be told by a voice in my head that he was behind it, was a bit unnerving. What is remarkable in this conversation is that there was no comment whatsoever on what I now see as an incredibly naïve and arrogant statement that I had worked on my fear of abandonment. When my short lived second marriage ended 3 years later, I would get to confront this issue in all its profound complexity and it wasn’t pretty.

The following day at my hypnosis session, I told Pat about the conversation and to my relief she was quite unfazed. She suggested we try a musical journey to see what came of it but I got absolutely nowhere and it was the most unproductive session I had ever had. Jesus showed up and tried to communicate something to me but I just couldn’t get it. At that point in my life I was still struggling with the whole notion of God, conflated as it was with the conditioning of the past and my own rebellion against religious ideas. My inner conflict created much resistance. Fortunately the Son had never suffered the same hostile reaction as I had towards the Father. As much as I harboured serious doubts about the validity of many of the stories, I was never quite able to shed the deep affection I’d had for Jesus as a child and for that I am grateful. I suspect now that children are able to intuit the truth within the cultural overlays.

The whole experience did serve to keep me persevering with the Course but only for another 4 months. My life was undergoing a lot of changes and since the group had started, the group leader had moved into a house close by, so the group continued at her home. The book sat on my shelf for the next 5 years and every now and again I would dip into it. Gradually, as I did wider reading and life’s continuing dramas had primed me sufficiently, it began making sense to me. I picked it up one day, began reading the text and decided to start the workbook from scratch again. It has been an everyday part of my life since and I have no doubt that it is a ’til death do us part’ relationship. The beauty of both the language and its message and the challenge of its thought system, has a depth that is ever unfolding and quite simply, I love it.

My experience of a voice that sounded very much like the kind of experience Helen Schucman, the scribe of the Course had, gave me greater confidence in and appreciation for what I was reading, although it would be several years before I began to fully trust it. The conversation I had was just a few minutes long, so I can only imagine what it must have been like hearing this voice over 7 years and taking down the dictation, then going through the transcription process with her colleague Bill Thetford as he typed it up.   All this while holding down very demanding professional positions and trying to keep the whole thing secret. Mama Mia!

When I came to type up the notes I had made, I put ‘Fear of abandonment of God’ instead of ‘by God,’ and then became confused about what I actually heard. I concluded at the time that it was probably both but in the intervening years I have learned from personal experience that we can neither be abandoned by God, or abandon God ourselves, because God is integral to all existence. This understanding is a far cry from my atheist days – ‘we are all accidents of chemistry, we live, we die, peaceful oblivion, end of story.’ I don’t mean to imply I know what God is because I don’t but I can say that when I was at my lowest point after the marriage break up, there was something other than my own little will to live keeping me going. This ‘something’ I am satisfied to call God. The Course offers the best definition I have come across: ‘We say God is… and then we cease to speak.’

One thing I learned from the confusion over what I heard was not to take anything I read as Gospel, no matter how trustworthy I believed it to be. There is no such thing as a pure channel. Even if the transmission is perfectly pure, it is still filtered through the receiver’s own mind and life experience and the transcription process, as in any translative endeavour, is not an exact science. As the Course itself puts it ‘…words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from Reality.’

I find it ironic now that I was introduced to A Course in Miracles at a Jung meeting where the topic was on dreams. Jungian psychology, dreams and ACIM would eventually come to make up what I would refer to as my Holy Trinity of Healing and they complement each other perfectly. The Course has much to say on dreams, as does Jungian psychology and my worldview has had a considerable shakeup since that night back in 1999. I don’t nod off in Jung meetings anymore for starters and I have long since let go of the kinds of conflict I used to experience in trying to get my head around this extraordinary work. In fact it’s not something that can be understood with the head at all but has to be experienced through the heart. A statement from the introduction sums this up:

The Course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance.

These blocks are our psychological defence mechanisms and being based in protecting the identity we have built up since the year dot, they are not relinquished without a fight.