Conscious Femininity

Excerpt: Marion Woodman

  Creativity is divine! To me it is the virgin soul opening to spirit and creating the divine child. You cannot live without it. That’s the meaning of life, that creative fire.

     The child picks up that unspoken yearning, that unlived life, and the compulsive repetitiveness that expresses and escalates denial. The child in its own way tunes into what is absent in the parent and goes after it.

I think to get to the core of the problem, you’ve got to look at what we have done to the body, what we have done to matter in our culture.

     The Latin word mater means “mother.” Mother is she who cherishes, nurtures, receives, loves, provides security. When the mother cannot accept her child in its peeing, puking, animal totality, the child too rejects its body. It then has no secure home on this earth, and in the absence of that primal security it substitutes other mothers: Mother Church, Mother Alma Mater, Mother Social Insurance, even Mother Food, which it also cannot accept. A desperate love/hate relationship develops. The terror of losing Mother equals the terror of being buried alive in her. Without the security of the body home, the individuals must rely as best they can on these substitutes for the maternal security they do not have. More than that, if the body is rejected, its destruction becomes one’s modus operandi. The fear of cancer does not make an addictive personality stop smoking.

      In the absence of the nourishing mother, whether personal or archetypal, people try to concretize her in things, as if to make present what they know is absent. Ironically, what they capture is not a presence that they always experience as absent but the absence itself. Think of how people try to photograph everything, tape-record it, try to capture and hold an event in a static state. That’s what I mean by “concretize.” Like the evil witch who turns everything to stone.

     William Blake says the body is “that portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses.”

     My soul is fed. I see, I smell, I taste, I hear, I touch. Through the orifices of my body, I give and I receive. I am not trying to capture what is absent. It’s that interchange between the embodied soul and the outside world that is the dynamic process. That’s how growth takes place. That is life.

      Most people do not feed their souls, because they do not know how. Most of us in this culture are brought up by parents who like the rest of society are running as fast as they can, trying to keep up financially, socially and every other way. There’s a drivenness that the child is subjected to even in utero. In infancy the child is expected to perform. Often the parent isn’t able to receive the soul of the child, whatever the little soul is, because the parent doesn’t take time to receive or doesn’t like what the child is. Many parents are too interested in seeing that the child will have dancing or skating lessons, a good education, and be at the top of the class. They are so anxious about all they are trying to “give” to the child that they do not receive from the child.

     The child, for example, comes running in with a stone, eyes full of wonder, and says, “Look at this beautiful thing I found,” and the mother says, “Put it back outside in the dirt where it belongs.” That little soul soon stops bringing in stones and focuses on what it can do to please Mommy. The process of growth turns into an exercise in trying to figure out how to please others, rather than expanding through experience. There’s no growth without authentic feeling. Children who are not loved in their very beingness do not know how to love themselves. As adults, they have to learn to nourish, to mother their own lost child.

     In the story of Persephone and Hades there is a child. Hades abducts Persephone and takes her into the Underworld, where in some versions of the myth she has a child. In many of the myths, Leda and the swan, Danae and the shower of gold, for example, the human woman is impregnated by the god. In other words, matter is penetrated by spirit and the child of the union of matter and spirit is the divine child.

     What is going on then in a person who is forced to surrender, to say, “Yes, I am an alcoholic, I am an addict, I am powerless over my addiction. I have to turn myself over to a higher power”? That person is surrendering matter to spirit. There’s the union that can produce the divine child. The addiction has made receptivity possible. Many of us cannot understand how powerful femininity is until we are brought to our knees through addiction or illness.

     I think it’s important to recognize that on some level, in some peculiar way, we’re all in the same mess, whether we’re alcoholic, children of alcoholics, anorexic, workaholic, or drug or money addicted. Addicts are trying to run away from God as fast as they can. Paradoxically, they are running right into her arms. Consciousness makes them realize how the soul is trying to lead them into the presence of the divine if only they can understand the symbolism inherent in the addictive substance or behavior.

     Take food as the addictive object. The biggest problem in dealing with an anorexic is that once she starts to eat, stops fasting and breaks the euphoria caused by the fasting, she feels life is boring. Eventually, she has to recognize that rejecting food is rejecting the reality of being human, and her addictive behavior is the acting out of her tyrant child determined to control or escape the tyrannical parent, whether that parent is inside or outside. So the anorexic, and this is true for all addicts, has to come to a new way of life.

     If you live day by day, in touch with the world around you, even a minute a day, as Blake says, then that’s the moment in each day that Satan cannot find, it’s what you need to keep the soul alive. Because you are in touch with the eternal, you hone into Home. Then you can see the bronze blue morning; you can hear your child’s silence. Then life is never boring. Too many people never take that moment in the day, so they run around trying to find it, outside. That’s the problem: they try to do it outside themselves and that hurls them into the addiction.

     All the running is away from the tragic fear that we are not loved. Unless we perform well, we are not lovable. That terror leads to self- destructive behavior. It can also lead to global self-destruction.          

      Addictions may be the Goddess’s way of opening our hearts to what love is love of ourselves, love of others, love of the dear planet on which we live. Lots of people are trying to find spirit through sexuality. Through orgasm they think they can be released from matter; for one brief moment they hope to experience this extraordinary union of spirit and matter. But if they can’t bring relationship into sexuality it’s just a fly- by-night thing. Eventually it just becomes mechanical, and then they become frantic. ”I’ve got to have it. It’s got to work. It’s not going to work. It’s my fix.”

      Sexuality without love is matter without spirit. People who are unable to love may be addicted to sexuality and be driven over and over again to try to find love. What they are projecting onto sexuality is the divine union they so desperately lack within themselves.

     Jung said the opposite of love is not hate but power, and where there is love there is no will to power. I think this is a core issue in working with addictions. Sooner or later, the feminine face of God, Love, looks us straight in the eye, and though her love may manifest as rage at our self-destruction, she’s there. We can accept or reject live or die.

     I don’t know about muffins in the States, but muffins in Canada are numinous. A patient came in yesterday, a woman with an eating problem and she was crying. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “You tell me I have to recognize my feelings. Most of the time I don’t do anything I want to do because I don’t feel it would be right. I was driving here, and I had a desire to bring you a muffin. Then I thought you wouldn’t want the muffin. But I know you would love a muffin, but no I won’t buy it. You don’t take your analyst a muffin. But then I got into such a state, I was just sweating, because I wanted to get the muffin so much. I stopped the car, went back, got the muffin, and I have the muffin in the bag, but I don’t know whether to give it to you or not. I feel such a stupid child, but I don’t know what to do.”

     “Well,” I said, “I want to receive the muffin.”

     I broke the muffin in two and gave her half. Because of the love that was in the muffin, and because she had been received, it was a communion. It’s a simple, simple story, but I tell you, people at that level of feeling are so terrified of being rejected that a muffin can bring out the rejection of a lifetime. In outer reality this woman is most competent. She’s very professional, highly respected. Everybody thinks she is very mature, and she is except for this rejected child. Here’s the weak again. The little child says, “I want to take Marion a muffin.” If that child has been rejected and rejected and rejected, it goes almost into a state of nonexistence. It experiences loss of soul. The person becomes disembodied. That’s the point of vulnerability to an addiction. It is also the point where the god or goddess can enter.

     At the heart of it is the religious issue. Our soul is our eternal relationship with God. The soul’s language is the language of dreams. As I see it, every dream is a communication with God. We have an inner dialogue going on all the time. At night we experience it. But I think if we stop to daydream during the day we drop back into the dream.     

      Periodically, we come to consciousness, then we drop back The dream gives us symbols, images, but because we’re so concretized we don’t understand the symbols. We say dreams are crazy, silly. We have cut ourselves off from the world of the symbol, and so we have forgotten the language of dreams.

     Thus we make the mistake of assuming that if we’re uneasy, insecure, it is food that we want. Thirsty? We have to drink. Feeling a little empty in the gut? We need sex or whatever other concrete thing we can get hold of. But it is the soul that is calling out in dreams and the soul communicates through symbols. If we meditate on these images, they reach us on all levels: imaginative, emotional, intellectual. Our whole being, including our body, resonates. We feel ourselves whole. The images of that eternal world are the images of the bread-and- butter world food, drink, sexuality. That’s where the two worlds meet. That’s why we have to be so careful interpreting dreams. A sexual dream, for example, may be the soul’s way of expressing a need for the union of spirit and soul some creative act such as dance, painting, writing.    

      Alcohol as a symbol may be a need for spirit. Gallons of ice cream cannot bring sweetness to the soul, nor will gallons of gin float you into the presence of God.

      Our own inner child has to be disciplined in order to release its tremendous spiritual power.If we identify with its childish side we say, “I was always a victim. I will always be a victim and it’s all my parents’ fault.” Then we can go around with a hangdog look the rest of our lives. If on the other hand we identify with the childlike part we say, “My parents were the victims of a culture, as were their parents and their parents. I will not be a victim. I will take responsibility for my own life. I will live creatively. I will live in the now.”

     To be childlike is to be spontaneous, able to live in the moment, concentrated, imaginative, creative. Most of us have forgotten how to play, forgotten the joy of creativity. Without joy, we find ourselves running away from pain. Without creativity, we run away from emptiness. The faster we run, the more severe our addictions. We cannot face our own nothingness. Nothingness is the ultimate anguish of childish people who live their lives knowing who they are not rather than who they are.

      In the New Testament when the divine child was born, Herod the King ordered the killing of all the babies in the kingdom. That’s what happens when our own inner child is born. Herod represents the conventional collective attitudes that will be destroyed if new life thrives. As soon as our inner child comes alive and says, “This is who I am. These are my values,” all the terrified Herods in our environment rise up and say, “You are a fool.”

     If the baby is not protected, it will be killed. It takes immense courage to find out the values of our own divine child and even greater strength to live those values. Addictions drown it, starve it, drug it, try to kill it. Ironically, they keep us in touch with it as we run round and round the hole where it is hidden.

      Lucifer and Christ are very close together in many addicts who yearn for a “high.” A fast high. They want to be gods in control of a perfect world in which they are perfect. They long to be like Lucifer, the morning star, the brightest star, the first son of God. And like Lucifer, their pride brings them into collision with God. They cannot accept their own human imperfection. They cannot live in a universe they cannot control. When they stand in their own desert, their inner Lucifer faces their inner Christ and says, “I will give you all the power and material goods you want if you will bow down to me.”

      Life moves in cycles, consciousness expands. Each time we are faced with some new truth about ourselves part of us dies and a new part is conceived. In the fullness of time we have to move through a birth canal and birth canals can be dangerous. In any experience people tend to repeat their original birth trauma each time they attempt to leave the warm womb they have cuddled into. If they were Cesarean births they may hesitate to confront; if they were breech births, they might go at things backward; if their mother was drugged, they will tend to find some anesthetic (drugs, alcohol, food) to throw them into unconsciousness. These points of transition where we are called to stretch into new maturity are the points where the addiction is most liable to resurface.

     Our culture is not geared to process. It values security and the status quo, and because we are living under the shadow of nuclear war and annihilation we try to hang onto whatever permanence we can. The pain of leaving the old life behind and facing the new without any real understanding of who we are becomes unendurable. Some cultures have rites of passage that give meaning and companionship to people in transition. Most of us experience total aloneness. I see it in dreams where the dreamer comes to a border crossing in pitch dark, confronted by fascist customs officials or has to cross a rickety bridge that spans a river of whirlpools. Addicts tend to be loners; their dark intuitions take them out of their bodies. In an ungrounded state, sheer terror can drive them back to the addiction.

      Intuition can be a blessing and a curse. People who are intuitive are never quite in their bodies. They are confounded by possibilities and driven this way and that exploring what might be. They are rarely in the present, never filling their bodies. Their bodies then become vulnerable to all the pain in their environment. Through osmosis they pick up other people’s unconscious garbage. When the load becomes too heavy, they escape through an addiction. (Think of this dynamic between parents and children.) Again, it is the problem of absence. The soul is hiding somewhere in the gut; it isn’t animating the whole body. You feel that when addicts hug you. Their children sense it, and while they can’t articulate it, they are haunted by emptiness. They feel they are living in an illusion where nothing is quite what it seems; the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Dad is charming; Dad is vicious. Mom dresses like a model; Mom is a slob.

      Transitions are hell. Your beloved dies or goes away and you are left alone. That is hell, it is also an opportunity to grow. Alone, we dialogue with our own bodies, our souls. Their wisdom is exactly what we need for our own wholeness. It makes quite clear what is real, what is illusion. It strips off layers of false pride. It make us human. What a relief to be a human being instead of the god or goddess Mom and Dad projected onto us!

     Each hell burns off more illusions. We go into the fire, die and are reborn. To put it in Christian terms, we carry our own cross, we are crucified on our own cross, and we die and are resurrected on a new level of awareness. We find our balance on that plateau for awhile and then another period of growth is demanded and a new cycle begins.

     Addiction, like any illness, can bring us into our bodies. Healing comes through embodiment of the soul, the soul living in the here and now. The body is. The soul in matter is what I think the feminine side of God is all about. The agony of an addiction can break the heart open to the love that is present in all creation. It is that breaking point that is so important that’s the edge where addicts tend to live annihilation or apocalypse. Our technological age pushes us so fast that we annihilate what is happening to us. We pass by the moments of soul. We move from incident to incident without being there. An anorexic in a euphoric trance can move to the edge of death without any awareness of what is literally happening. If I say, ”Look, you’re going to die,” she looks at me in bland astonishment. Unless an incident is made conscious, it does not happen in the soul. It has to be thought about, written about, painted, danced, made into music. In other words, it must move from literal to metaphoric if it is to be assimilated into the soul’s flowering.

     That’s what analysis is about. As analyst, I become the mirror to reflect back to the patient what is being said, what the body is saying, what remains silent. Without a mirror, we can’t see ourselves. But one doesn’t need an analyst for reflection. Keeping a journal can provide an opportunity for reflection, for example. Parents who are locked in their own narcissistic need cannot provide a mirror for their child, and therefore the child cannot develop an individual identity. Take the small incident of that muffin. Had we not taken time to reflect on the need and the love and the faith epitomized in buying that muffin, we would have committed soul murder. Such a tiny interchange seems like nothing until you remember the moments in your own childhood when you hoped and you loved and you gave your all and nobody received you. That’s death.

     It happens again and again with my analysands. Their pain is so deep that it takes a very long time for the real feeling to surface. People are ashamed of what they call their childishness, but those blocked feelings cannot mature if they have no one with whom to interact. So long as we are determined to move at our swift, logical pace, the child remains hidden. The natural rhythms of the body are slow. The little soul-bird that was put away in a dark box in childhood needs time and silence to learn to trust again.