Monday, April 15, 2013

Awareness of Archetypes in Game of Thrones

Last night's episode of Game of Thrones was particularly dark and gruesome.  The Game of Thrones books and HBO series depict a power struggle among a group of ruling families within a fictional society based on feudal, medieval Britain and Europe.  

I enjoy watching even the more violent and disturbing episodes, because they make me think about forward progress through history and Jung's collective unconscious. I love to work with archetypes in my own self-growth process and Game of Thrones is chock full of them.  

An archetype is a universal symbol that alerts us to repeating patterns and behaviors embedded in our individual and collective psyche.  Archetypes range from the broad and general to the refined and specific; both simple and complex characters in literature, film and television invite us to recognize archetypes.  In Game of Thrones we have a complex structure of interconnected archetypes and characters, some simple and obvious: Warriors like Jon Snow and Rob Stark, The Heroine (Daenerys), The Witch (Melisandre), The Villain and Corrupt Ruler (Joffrey). We also see characters embodying multiple archetypes or evolving from one archetype to another, such as Catelyn Stark, The Mother and the Wise Old Woman, and Shae, The Prostitute who evolved into a dutiful Servant and Lover.  

In the twins, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, I recognize an interplay between the Anima and the Animus, and even through their long separation, Jaime has found another way to keep this going with Brienne of Tarth. Here comes a spoiler, so skip the next sentence if you are not caught up on the episodes.  In the violent scene where Jaime loses his right hand, we are reminded that he was once an unmatched swordsman.  It is significant that he lost his last sword fight to a woman serving as a knight, and that he lost his hand saving her life and her virtue. The right hand was cut off, and the right side of the body represents the masculine.  Brienne of Tarth is a masculinized noble lady, a female knight.  Those of us working to balance and allow expression to both Anima and Animus can play with all of the subtleties of the Jaime Lannister character. I am excited to see how his relationship with Brienne unfolds, and also to watch how the incestuous dynamic will change between him and his female twin Cersei.  

Many of us are also developing awareness of ancestral patterns and tapping into collective memories.  The more violent and barbaric scenes in Game of Thrones, depicting cruelty, ruthlessness, enslavement, prostitution, sexual abuse, warring, relentless power struggles, betrayal and torture--these alert me to repeating behaviors throughout the development of human history.  We see the underbelly of our tribal beginnings and the struggle for survival and dominance we have shared as a species. These conditions still exist on our planet today, but have continued to improve over thousands of years, with periods of regression followed by quantum leaps of forward progress.  

In my interfaith seminary training, we have studied the theory of conscious evolution and also Jungian techniques in spiritual counseling. I have learned that we must work to bring our collective and individual Shadows to consciousness.  Carl Jung said, "What is not brought to consciousness comes to us as fate." Seeing violence and upheaval, within ourselves, in our world, in our relationships, or even on television... is unpleasant.  We can turn off a show or put down a book, and it is wise to use caution in what we take into our consciousness. At the same time, it can also be therapeutic and constructive to actively work with dark literary or artistic content. It shakes things loose so we can recognize them and lessen their grip on us. As someone with a literature background, I have done this for years and will continue to do so.  I applaud the Game of Thrones writers for bringing so many collective issues to a mass audience.  I will keep watching and doing my own work on the side. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Gift of Prayer

Prayer is always a gift. When you pray alone, it is a gift to God and to yourself. When you pray with others, it is a gift to them and to God.

Prayer changes based on whom you are praying with and for, and it flows from
the heart. If your heart is not open, you will be constricted in praying spontaneously for others and with others. Many of us live more from our heads than from our hearts. On a day when you know you will offer prayer for people in need, perform actions that open the heart: recall what recent blessings and synchronicities have graced your life; recall your failings and the forgiveness
you have received; sing; or open your heart center in the body through yoga or dance.

Always speak the names of the people present with you in your prayers and thank
God for them. When praying in a group of 8 or fewer, every person in the room
can be lifted up to God personally by name with specific needs, however small.
In a larger group, the collective body and their needs are expressed, sometimes with attention given to certain ones who have requested prayer.

In prayers for healing, the ailments and specific body parts affected are named
and the desired transformation in the body is described in as much detail as
possible. It is very helpful to mention the tissues and cells of the body, to
speak to them and bless them. The body responds to spoken prayer and inspired
voice commands amazingly quickly.

Prayers are sealed with love and gratitude. In whatever way your heart directs
you, offer praise and thanks to God and gratitude for all those present as you
close your prayer.

In your life, remember the words of Paul and pray without ceasing. Our lives are living prayers.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Long Game

Last week I had dinner and went to yoga with a busy friend.  When I say busy, I mean four children, full-time job and wake up before 5 a.m. busy.  So I was flattered that she made time for me and impressed that she made time for herself.  We talked about busy women, balancing family with work, and looking at life as "the long game" (not a reference to the British TV show).  

Here is what I took away from the long game discussion: in a lifetime, a woman can experience and accomplish a dizzying number of things, but when we try to hit all of our targets at once, that's when we really get dizzy.  I know, I know...when we were little they told us we could have it all: a spouse, children, a rich education, a meaningful and/or lucrative career, developed interests and passions and a travel map full of colored thumb tacks. Our generation of women was to be liberated and gifted. Some of us had the idea we'd have all of this at once. And some women do, and if we feel like it, we can be inspired by their examples. We can also be inspired just looking at our own lives. 

Wherever we are, we can be pleased with ourselves. Why? Because some of us never really thought we'd do it all at once.  Others may have changed their outlook once the reality of a rewarding yet all-consuming career set in--maybe the single life was a better fit after all.  Motherhood may have caused us to adjust course, balancing priorities and re-evaluating short and long term goals, based on a family's particular needs. Or perhaps an ailing parent or sibling needed help and reduced hours were required. It could be that a divorce inspired an international move, a couple of years off for travel, or a prioritization of self-growth over the drive to reproduce. The scenarios are endless, but it's clear that most people, not just women, aren't hitting every aspect of the idealized life at one time.  

If you are like me and the busy mom I was talking to, you have your passions, your interests, your goals and your precious relationships. You have trips you want to take and skills you want to refine. In spite of everyday pressures, you enjoy each day for what it has to offer, but you can't help thinking about next steps and new ways to grow.  This doesn't make us restless.  In fact, it's an auspicious sign--it means you have hope, you are optimistic, you can still look at life as if you were 18, but instead of saying, "my whole life is in front of me," you say, "the rest of my life awaits me." I'm 41. If I look at what I have done since I was 18, it is such a long view.  It opens up more space for me to realize that I have hit many, many points on my short list AND my long list. Had I boiled all that down to five years... well, that would be impossible! Make that calculation for your own life, and watch the time pressure disappear. 

Maybe you're not seeing your kids as much as you thought you should when you went back to work. Or, maybe you plunged head first into parenting and community, but your career is on a hiatus. Maybe you haven't gone on a honeymoon yet or you never got around to learning ballet or running the New York marathon. That doesn't mean that those things won't happen--it just means they didn't all happen at the same time.  For most of us it's impossible to live out all our dreams in the short term. And many people who seem to be doing it are mostly unable to savor anything; they are under-slept, overstimulated, over-medicated and possibly overrated. 

We live in a culture of extremes, but we intuit that moderation is better for us.  However we choose to do it, we learn to prioritize, balance, and find the combination that works best.  We can do it all and have it all, if we expand our perspective and view our life as from above, rather than down low, crowded in among the blades of grass. We can look out over the horizon.  We can see our way ever expanding before us, with plenty of space to evolve. There is no rush, no urgency, unless we impose it. We can give ourselves permission to love what we have right now, believing that the well-rounded life of childhood dreams is possible, when we play the long game.