Soul Connections
Psychology & Spirituality to Heal the Soul

Argentine tango as a dance of Love. As an exercise in 'Presence' it is superb. It is also about the perfect balance/union between a man and

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Many of us know what the Shadow is, and everyone will know who Eve was but who or what is the Wounded Feminine? She is, of course an archetype of both the collective and personal unconscious.

“There is a void felt these days by women and men who suspect that their feminine nature, like Persephone, has gone to hell. Wherever there is such a void, such a wound agape, healing must be sought in the wound itself”
-Nor Hall

As a Jungian therapist of thirty years and a seasoned wounded woman, I can safely say that I know her. I am in illustrious company; I join Silvia Plath, Marilyn Monroe, Camille Claudel, Frida Kahlo, Whitney Houston and countless other wounded women who lost themselves to their men, their lovers, their careers, or to the call of the glittering Persona all at the expense of themselves. It is a simple fact that if you feel unworthy deep inside, then you will sell your soul for love or what you consider to be love......

Who is the Wounded Feminine?

The Wounded Feminine is just that, wounded. She longs to be loved, but often travels down the wrong road looking for it.

The feminine in me is both the voice of my soul and my heart, a benevolent and essential part of my nature but as a shadow figure in my unconscious, she is deeply wounded. As wounded, she is unreachable, likely to be critical, harsh and judgmental of any weakness or vulnerability instead of nurturing and compassionate. And if I can’t connect with her, then I cannot heal myself. And I remain incarcerated in the mother complex like Rapunzel in her tower, shut away from life (consciousness).

An archetype is a force that informs our being, our psyches; we feel its influence through our inner imagery and outer behaviour. The feminine is of course, not gender related and so men’s wounded feminine might be in your hidden hurt, in your inability to reach your heart, in your loneliness and emotional isolation-in your relationship difficulties. The story of Rapunzel, locked away in a tower is symbolic of our inner (young) feminine, imprisoned by our inner witch, the part of us that doesn't want us to grow, that controls and keeps our life force in the unconscious, in the Shadow.

And what remains in shadow emerges into our life unbidden. As Jung said, "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." On a collective archetypal level, our jailor may be a cold heartless hierarchy, a church or an institution that shuns or tries to control the feminine keeping it in shadow (out of sight, out of mind). Our recent history is heavy with a culture of the shaming, blaming and incarcerating of pregnant women and the forced, cruel separation from their babies. Sexuality(especially if it resulted in unwanted pregnancy), childbirth and women were viewed with suspicion and fear. It was not so long ago after all that women were ‘churched’ after childbirth. We may have moved on, but history cannot be erased, and the scars and wounds still haunt our psyches and influence our lives. We hear her in the voice of the lost mothers and grandmothers and in the cry of the Magdalene whose sacred  wisdom was silenced. We can call it misogyny, religious and church values or dominance by intellectualism (avoiding the body by staying in the head). Either way, our inner feminine, the voice of our soul is both ignored and shunned. And so feminine consciousness, the ability to love, to create new life and instinctual nature are in shadow (repressed, shunned, unknown), resulting in what Jung called the Wounded archetype.

We have our own brand of the Wounded Feminine archetype here in Ireland. Our history is witness to this wounding, so it is no wonder we may find it hard to be in our hearts and connect with our souls, our precious and sacred  feminine. A wounded feminine image/archetype/belief structure impacts our ability to give and to receive love. How can you (we) love when we have cut out our hearts or stifled the voice of our inner feminine?

Healing the Wounded Feminine

Without the Feminine we cannot heal or grow. Healing involves deep inner communion with our psyches: it involves trekking our souls, listening to our unheard stories of abandonment, pain and heartbreak. It involves crying, suffering and endurance of the healing process that can take a long time. It involves forgiveness, acceptance and compassion, deeply soulful qualities. It can be the acknowledgment of how we were hurt, cursed and abusedthat comes first. Most of all, it is about forgiving ourselves for loving the wrong person, for selling ourselves short, for not feeling good enough, for abandoning or silencing ourselves.

Then, through suffering and the slow work of engaging with our emotional wounding, comes the awakening of our inner healer. No one can heal us, only we can. Forgiveness and compassion, a component of feminine consciousness, is an essential part of healing. In my recent webinar The Compassionate Soul-Learning to Forgive Yourself and Others I noted several key  ingredients to being able to forgive.

One is an acknowledgment of the wrongdoing; two is having the humility to admit one was wrong and three apologising. And so, the first step in healing is an acknowledgment of our hurt.

We often struggle with our own vulnerability and wish for our wounded natures to just magically disappear. We hope we can ‘think’ and analyse our wounds away. That doesn't work. Healing the Wounded Feminine means to free your Rapunzel, to let her out of her tower, to bring your feeling life force out into consciousness so your healing journey can begin. The feminine is about process and not product. It is important to remember this when we are healing.

Jungian author Jeanne Achterberg writes “In a balanced viewpoint that includes both masculine and feminine perspective, healing is seen not as a technique, but as a process.

This serves a reminder that our aim is always to seek the balance of both sides of our nature. The inner marriage of masculine and feminine is essential to psychic, spiritual and emotional wellbeing-and to healing. Whenever we are split, we are un-whole and therefore unhealthy. What heals us is firstly, to access our inner feminine, letting her out of her prison. And secondly, enlisting our inner masculine to heal her. Masculine energy and consciousness are about being proactive, talking steps to heal ourselves.

I once heard Jungian author Marion Woodman in a workshop I attended, tell us ‘The Masculine takes the Feminine out into the world because he loves her” –he is our inner King, the part of us that we can rely on to help us heal, to listen to us and to take action to protect us. Leaving your tower means freeing yourself from whom or whatever force has oppressed you. It can be an addiction, a relationship, and your own deep sense of unworthiness that has kept you trapped in unhealthy situations.

It often goes like this...

You wake up one morning, and make the decision to finally leave a relationship, job or situation that is no good for you and in which you have ‘allowed’ yourself to be caught for whatever reason… you walk away from the tower and start to live. The scales of projection, oppression or misguided vision fall from your eyes and you can see clearly for the first time. You can identify the cause (and cure) for your sickness, your incarceration, and you take yourself in hand. You begin to live, to heal, to forgive, and to finally move on. A new world awaits you. But none of this you could have seen or achieved without due process; without time, effort, engaging your heart and trekking your soul.

Therapeutically, healing the Wounded Feminine means taking the time to engage with the voice of your soul and listening to your dreams and imagery. That bite from your dog or the sick cat in your dreams is not meaningless; your instincts are trying to get your attention. The feminine is your instinctual life and your nature.

Navigate your history, go back and take note, let the tears come, draw, paint, write or dance. If your mothering or fathering has been harsh or you feel you haven’t had much mothering or nurturing…become your own mother. I still hear the voice of my therapist, thirty-five years on, who tells me to be my own mother, not to abandon myself, to love myself. It sounds simple and it is, but not without courage and a willingness to feel and to endure all the while trusting in the wisdom of your inner feminine to guide you towards what you need for your healing.

(Article first published in Network Magazine, April 2018 Amended June 2019)

“It is…only in the state of complete abandonment and
loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures”-CGJung

The essential wisdom of Jung’s teachings inform many of us today and yet the very word abandonment tends to strike terror into our hearts. Nobody wants to feel abandoned. And although we know from the beautiful poetry of the mystics that the ‘dark night of the soul’ so immortalised by John of the Cross is in fact a beacon to individuation and soul growth, we usually avoid going there. Dark nights of the soul often come upon us unbidden, usually as a result of a life event such as bereavement, loss of a significant relationship or other crisis. In the dark night we feel cut off, disconnected and lost, without direction. And utterly abandoned. Abandonment is not something we seek. And yet it is part of the human condition to feel abandoned from time to time; times where we feel lost or disconnected from both ourselves, others, and ultimately from God or the Divine. Deep in our hearts we are yearning for a lost wholeness…our soul holds a distant memory of boundless love and
being part of a great force, of oneness; it also has a sense of having lost this wholeness…and so we feel abandoned. It is our sense of abandonment that constellates our Inner Orphan. The orphan is propelled by a deep need to find home, a home being a place of belonging, or soul group. Indeed, the search to belong is so basic in us as to be archetypal. We may not be actual physical orphans in the ‘real’ world but many of us feel that we are psychological or emotional orphans. We may feel that we are not connected to our birth family or to the tribe or culture we have been born into. We feel different, as though we don’t belong somehow. So, we have a longing, a longing deep within us to find home, to recover a sense of ‘belonging’. Jungian author Pinkola Estes writes, “Even though
we have only heard or seen or dreamt a wondrous wild world that we belonged to once,
even though we have not yet or only momentarily touched it, even though we do not
identify ourselves as part of it, the memory of it is as a beacon that guides us toward what
we belong to”
.

The Orphan Archetype

The essential energy of the Orphan archetype is the search for belonging. Orphan children suffer a great deal, since they cannot find their true home. They feel abandoned and left to find their own way. Like all un-mothered children, their instincts have not been sharpened and nurtured, so that they have to find their way, not through guidance but rather, like the ugly duckling, through trial and error. They have to find their way alone. You do not need to be actually orphaned to be an un-mothered child, to be an ugly duckling. If you feel you were not nurtured in your essential self, if you feel not part of your birth family because you are ‘different’, the ugly duckling in you will push you to find your truth. Your inner orphan will propel you on a healing journey to inner wholeness. Because of our innate drive to adapt and conform, our parents’ attempt to mould us and make us what they want us to be will often develop in us a painful set of conflicting emotions. We want to be loved, but we
feel rejected for who we are; we feel we cannot gain this love without compromising ourselves. Such a situation is very painful and wounding because, at base, our soul requires different things from us, and we find we cannot live our truth in our family. The pain of not being true to ourselves may eventually drive us out of the nest, like the ugly duckling. In my book Love in a Time of Broken Heart (2008) I wrote: “Being the outsider in a family
constellates within us the Orphan archetype. It is our Inner Orphan that impels us to find
our true spiritual parents and family – a place where we can be ourselves, where our
‘knowing’ is accepted and acknowledged. The Orphan Child looks for his/her true home,
where he/she will find nourishment and peace. Searching for and finding where we belong
is a crucial and central part of individuation”
. The theme of the exiled or outcast is archetypal and primeval, and forms part of our spiritual journey. The outcast is compelled to find his/her way back home. The trials of the orphan’s journey serve a spiritual purpose. When the outcast or the orphan arrives home, he finds he has, like the ugly duckling, grown
up.

The Ugly Duckling

The tale of the Ugly Duckling, as a metaphor for the orphan’s journey, is a psychological and spiritual root story. Archetypal and universal, it is about our elemental search for belonging, a sense vital to the spiritual well-being of every individual. Without it we are bereft. Healing our inner orphan is recognising our journey from abandonment to a place of belonging as one of healing and spiritual growth. The Ugly Duckling’s journey is also about persistence and endurance in the face of adversity. We can take lessons there; the Ugly Duckling’s trials and hardship can help us in situations where we feel like giving up. His
persistence and endurance pay off and show us that we should never give up on finding where we truly belong. And no matter how lost we are, we also have moments when a knowing comes in to warm us. This, I imagine, is what Jung refers to when he writes about finding the ‘helpful powers of our own nature’ in our loneliness and abandonment. In profound vulnerability, a deeper intelligence comes through- from our own soul. Our abandonment has pushed us into an elemental search for belonging. The Ugly Duckling and the Orphan Child can help us develop the faith we need that we will eventually be united with our own kind. That our abandonment will be healed. In psychological terms this amounts to coming to a sense of belonging to oneself. Individuating: feeling good in your own skin-a sense of spiritual home.

Healing our Inner Orphan

Healing our inner orphan is about consciously engaging with and navigating our journey to wholeness and enduring both the dark night and our abandonment. And surrendering to the process in the knowledge that our soul knows what it needs and is guiding us there. I am reminded of the words of the poet Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet “So you must not be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall’.

Follow your nature and trust your soul to guide you. The Ugly Duckling follows his nature and gets help along the way. One day, when his loneliness is at its peak, and he swims in a cold pond, he hears the cry of creatures that fly overhead, and his heart leaps. Their cries resonate somewhere deep inside him. He looks up and sees the most beautiful creatures he has ever seen, and they cry down at him. His heart rises and breaks at the same time, and he feels a desperate love for these great white birds that he cannot understand. After they leave, he is even more bereft. The swan’s cry of recognition is painful, because it is the cry of belonging and the cry of loss at the same time. The ugly duckling had seen his kind and his soul family had recognised him. But he was not yet ready to join his family. He had not yet recognised the swan in him, and he still had growing to do. How often have we been in this painful situation; when a part of us feels abandoned and another is moving forwards
towards home and a sense of place? How many of us, because of a painful childhood or life experience that has dented our sense of self, find it hard to recognise our inner swan, our divine natures?

This is what we must heal. Reminding us that early mothering and the sense of belonging activates in us innate wisdom, Pinkola Estes writes: “We all have a longing that we feel for our own kind, our wild kind. Something great and big in us longs to be connected again with this primeval mother, and the ugly ducking in us will go on, until we find it”.

In conclusion, healing our inner orphan is recognising and loving the orphan within us that guides us toward finding our home. But it is of course important to do this in consciousness so that we are aware of the negative side of the orphan archetype which can keep us ‘orphan’ children all our lives by always projecting home onto others and repeating a pattern of finding ‘surrogate’ families to give us a sense of belonging. Instead of going within to find our home. We are all capable of recognising our ‘inner swan’ but often we need to ‘grow into it’, to grow into a sense of our essential self to be able to reach a place
in our hearts when we can love ourselves unconditionally.

Article first published in Network Magazine June 2017 amended October 2017

Despite the best will in the world, simply uncovering our wounds does not guarantee healing, because healing is a matter of the heart involving love, acceptance and surrender. In this article I write about spiritual awakening, love, forgiveness and healing our hearts.

Healing Your Heart: Forgiving Yourself & Others

In Egyptian mythology, there is a story that says that when a person dies, the soul travels to a different dimension to undergo a life review. In that timeless, space-less realm, the god Anubis places the recently deceased’s astral heart on a scale to weigh it  against the feather of truth. If the heart is lighter than the feather, then the soul is liberated for eternity. If the heart is heavier than the feather because it is filled with regrets, resentment, and remorse, then the soul is sent back for another lifetime of learning and evolution. (Chopra Centre)

In our age of increased spiritual awakening and desire for emotional healing and consciousness, this delightful story, like many myths, contains lessons as well as essential sacred truths from which we can learn.

Despite the best will in the world, simply uncovering our wounds does not guarantee healing, because healing is a matter of the heart involving love, acceptance and surrender. Almost thirty years as a therapist and my own life experience, has taught me this fact. One can spend years in ‘therapy’ or counselling, have a cognitive understanding of the experiences that have traumatised and caused us to shut down, and still not heal or move on. We can tell and retell our story, and have it witnessed and acknowledged by our healer/therapist, time and again and still nothing happens. And nothing will, that is until you allow the miracle to take place in your heart-the miracle of love and forgiveness.

The ability to forgive is essential to spiritual as well as emotional wellbeing. But no miracle, no forgiveness, indeed no healing can happen from a closed heart.

Shutting down is a natural reaction to pain/trauma. We shut down as a means of protecting ourselves
from further hurt. Nonetheless, our closed heart would never pass the test in the story above and be released into eternity, it is too heavy. It is filled with unshed tears and a myriad other emotions, sorrow, remorse, anger, bitterness, envy, resentment.

I have lived and been a therapist long enough to know that healing is a process and the longer I live the more I  respect the natural unfolding of life, consciousness and the soul. Franciscan Richard Rohr writes: “Your heart has to be prepared ahead of time through faith and prayer and grace and mercy and love and forgiveness so you can keep your heart open in hell, when hell happens”.

Healing cannot be rushed or forced; our hearts need time to feel safe. Opening up will hurt, but it is a suffering that, if engaged with consciously, will lead us to healing.

What is called for I believe, is a leap of faith, a leap into the unknown and a great deal of courage. Courage to be yourself, to be authentic enough to honor your pain, accept it, move through it and move on.

Whether we have been bereaved of a loved one or suffer from a sense of abandonment or betrayal, or are filled with resentments, anger, bitterness or envy, we must be able to let go in order to be free. A heart burdened with these emotions for too long will grow tired and sick, eventually adversely affecting our physical health.

We know this, but we still find it hard. That is, until we go through the process of conscious suffering and learning that our wounds are conduits to growth.

As I wrote in my book 'Love in a Time of Broken Heart', every betrayal or heartbreak is a call to consciousness. If only we could see adversity in this way, it might not lessen our pain but would undoubtedly hasten our journey
towards healing and resolution.

Being able to forgive is essential to healing. I recently gave a webinar entitled The Compassionate Soul: Learning to Forgive Yourself & Others. A common block to healing and spiritual growth, is an inability to forgive oneself.

It appears we can forgive others more easily than we can ourselves, perhaps because of deep seated lack of self acceptance or self love. Carl Jung refers to the difficulty of self forgiveness as an inability to accept ourselves
completely, Shadow and all.

Alan Watt says of Jung that he was the sort of man who could feel anxious, afraid and guilty without being ashamed of feeling this way. In other words, he (Jung) understood that an integrated person is not a person who has eliminated all these ‘difficult’ feelings and is wooden or all ‘Persona’.

Jung embraced his dark side and exhorted us to do the same if we want to be integrated, soulful human beings. Without this self acceptance, our attempts to help others are futile.

As therapists, we know that the clientt does not feel accepted unless the very worst in them is accepted too. So, when it comes to self forgiveness, how can we expect to heal what we shun? How can we heal our hearts if we are ashamed of what it holds?

Forgiveness can have a ‘religious’ connotation, which many find difficult or paradoxical. Forgiveness and  compassion are lauded as a path to God, but if you were taught that you are innately sinful how can you truly forgive yourself?

Forgiveness, true forgiveness opens the heart and leads to compassion. But first comes the work of self acceptance and self love in all our imperfections.

I do not believe that here in the West we have yet learnt to value our vulnerability sufficiently.

Despite advances in understanding the emotional needs of a human being, we still feel somehow that it is ‘not ok’ to break down, spend time in the dark night of the soul, cry out for the support and love of others, or retreat from  society long enough to heal oneself.

I learnt a lot about healing, love and forgiveness when I was studying in Mexico some years ago. I had gone there just a few weeks after losing a dear love and soul mate-I was bereaved in the deepest sense of the word and my heart (despite myself) was closed down. This was soon spotted by the Shamans and healers there who hauled me off to their healing sanctuary, performing several rituals, which left me exhausted but ultimately healed.

‘Your heart is closed down, you are ‘de luto’ (Spanish for in mourning) they informed me. ‘You need to cry, walk by the sea, let it out, express the grief in your heart and your soul will open again’.

After some time, and several healing sessions, I felt a huge heart opening which rooted in me feelings of love and
compassion which I have never lost. I forgave myself. I forgave my late partner with whom I had had a complicated and at times painful relationship.

I opened up to the tearing pain of losing a man, a soulmate, a love that I felt to be part of myself. And when he died, part of me went with him. I have no doubt of that. In opening my broken heart during the healings, I found love again, I found the lost part of my soul and came away feeling more whole and complete.

Louise Hay writes that ’Forgiveness is for yourself because it frees you.’ Forgiving others is a different matter and yet totally dependent on an open heart.

Here again, I discovered that forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive, or indeed that you exonerate or excuse their behavior, or even wish to have a relationship with them again.

You may confuse forgiveness with excusing or letting the other off the hook, but in essence, forgiveness is for you; being able to forgive sets you free. It brings you back to yourself so that you realize what you have learnt from the experience and how you have changed as a result.

You may even find that in time you thank your ‘aggressor’ or ‘wrong-doer’ for the part he/she played in your soul growth. When we reach this point, we are well on the path towards compassion.

Christine Neff, author of Self Compassion writes that ‘self compassion honors the fact that all human beings are fallible, that wrong choices and feelings of regret are inevitable…”

Understanding this helps us to forgive others for what they did or did not do to us. And when we develop the courage to admit when we ourselves were wrong and work past our resistance to apologizing, we develop a deep sense of respect in ourselves and a humility which is an essential part of healing.

You may also wish to pray to your higher power for help in your process of self-forgiveness. Many of my clients have reported that by doing this they believe they received help in this endeavor. I know that the Divine offers us openings all the time to help us grow and become more conscious. And that when we go through the open door, we are always met on the other side.

Tools to help us Forgive and Heal our Hearts

  • Meditation and Mindfulness. Spend time going within and listening to your inner voice.
  • Self-Examination and non-judgmental awareness
  • Express your feelings. (What you don’t feel you can’t heal)
  • Give yourself Time and Unconditional Love
  • Reach out to Others, we are all human with human weaknesses
  • Pray. Praying to you higher self to forgive you and ask for comfort and love as well as help in your healing process
  • Practice disengaging from your mind and your feelings, allow God/the Light/Oneness to speak to you. Become aware of being part of that Oneness.
  • Practice allowing rather than 'doing' (ego doing)
  • Be with your Higher Selves/dissolve lower frequency energies
  • Claim Ownership, claim ownership of aligning to higher frequency/ to your soul
  • Align with the Presence within you and merge with your soul

Article first published in Network Magazine April 2019
Amended Sept. 2019

Living on the Edge: A piece written and read at the Clifden Arts Festival September 2016

"Where do you live, he asked, “In Connemara” I replied.

“Where’s that?”, “Its in Ireland, on the Wild Atlantic Way. I live on the edge of the land, next step the vast ocean, next step the Americas”.

“What’s it like?” “Its like living on a rugged piece of land jutting out over eternity…”

“That sounds dangerous”

"..it is, very. It is dangerous because everything is wild and rather unpredictable, just like my own heart, wild. Its dangerous living here for one thing, because the mists can come down at a moments notice obscuring your vision, and if your half way up Diamond Hill or out at sea thats anything but safe.

Ah, but living on the edge you don’t know whats going to happen next. And that can be exciting, if daunting. I feel I have lived on the edge all my life…and most of the time I like it."

"I enjoy the frisson of possible danger and pitting myself against the elements. I relish a challenge and seldom take the ‘safe’ road or the highway preferring instead to take my chances on the side roads. And unlike those who maybe ‘test’ the waters of life, I dive in with both feet, no matter how deep or how strong the current is.

Living on the edge means Itake a lot of chances and try to have ‘no regrets’ if things go wrong or I stumble into trouble. Not surprising really since as a young girl, Edith Piaf’s immortal song ‘Je ne regrette rien’ became my motto as I strode forwards into adult life, determined to have no regrets and relieved to leave an uneasy childhood behind.

Childhood for me, being born in extremely dangerous circumstances in this Wild Atlantic land, was already a rocky affair, so I got used to living on the edge, perilously balanced on the knife edge between life and death. I came to consider nature with its predicable cycles, as a hand I could count on, and a place I could lie down in.

God was never a man with a fluffy beard living in the sky, God was more like a Goddess and lived in the land on which my frail house stood, and in the sea surrounding us. God was in the animals that nestled close to us for warmth, and in the wind that caressed me fiercely. God was in the earth, that very earth I came from and loved so deeply and with such a fierceness that I held it to my bones to stop me from falling off the edge.

Life here on this rugged ledge of the Wild Atlantic was what you made it. And in some ways it’s unpredictability and harshness gave you wings and an ability to survive no matter what. Being cradled by nature and having a trust in life itself is implicit to living on this edge, as paradoxical as this may seem.

The constancy of nature reminds me I am part of the heartbeat of the world and restores in me some kind of order and calm when questions lie like opened paperclips in my mind. Nature eases the turbulent storms that might rack my heart and tear at my soul so that everything in me lies orderly like a neatly ploughed field. And the questions"

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Lie down like tired cows after a day’s grazing. It seems to me that 'living on the edge' means having to have complete trust…not to fall into the sea and drown, not to be blown into the abyss, not to be burnt out of existence by the wind like the tender leaves of my trees fighting hard to survive the fire of the salt laden wind.

Those who live here on the edge grow used to being moulded and remoulded and at times wonder how it happens without even noticing.

Living on the edge means taking risks and I do, emotional risks.

Falling for the lure of exotic but essentially  unknowable and often dead ended romance means frequent tumbles some that draw blood when the sharpness of heartbreak cuts deep. But with no regrets I generally pick myself up and dust myself off ready for the next adventure.

Living on the edge means being fearless in the face of adversity and I can say that I am that. Danger and a sense of adventure is implicit to living on the edge so that I open doors that have seldom been opened and travel down roads less travelled, and where there is no path, I forge my own and get used to the sense of aloneness that comes with the territory.

Now - After a life time of taking risks and chances and being burnt by the wind and the vicissitudes of the heart, I have however, at a more mature age, grown a little tired and a tad more cautious.

And although living on the edge still has its charm, for the sake of my adrenal system I am seeking a more calm, peaceful and secure life where the danger of falling is minimal. And where I can rely on a fair dose of sunshine to strengthen my ageing bones. I may seek to rest awhile in smooth pastures although I doubt my wild heart will cease to beat to life on the edge.

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Sometimes, like life, the journey is hard, its tough, and we have to navigate fallen branches and stones on the way.

Life's journey is like walking in nature, sometimes its easy and sometimes more difficult and we stumble as we climb the mountains of our challenges. And often, if the road or path is a winding one, which it usually is, then we cannot see too far ahead of us but we trudge on nonetheless, trusting, because trust is all we have along with our courage and determination to pursue our path diligently.

Why do we fear our vulnerability, our gentleness and the tenderest part of us? We imagine that if we have a tender heart with all it's petals open like a flower, that we will be stepped on and crushed...but like a flower, our heart never dies, merely sleeps awhile......and blooms again...

There are times when we have to cross the rivers or even seas of our pain and our sorrow and heartbreak, and  when these come, it takes us time to cross. For there is no rushing of grief, of sorrow, and of the process of healing. Patience and endurance, those hardest of spiritual qualities, can only be achieved through LIVING and enduring.

 

How do we begin to heal our lives in a culture that does not revere the feminine? Healing involves deep inner soul work; the work of connecting with our inner (shadow) feminine, source of  nurturing and compassion. In light of current and upcoming events which affect women in Ireland we will explore the collective shadow that has been cast upon both women and the feminine in our history. I will look at how the archetype of the Wounded Feminine has impacted us personally and collectively in our lives and our ability to love.

A Long Distance: Story written and read by Benig on Connemara Community Radio 2016.

Talk given at Clifden Arts Week 2015: Benig Mauger on Spiritual Wellbeing in Everyday Life

An account of my time as a volunteer teacher in Thailand.

Monks, Mosquitos and Mobiles - A volunteer’s tale

‘Look!’ exclaimed the saffron robed young man, pointing to his hand held camera mobile phone. From where I was sitting in the pick up truck with Maha Suphachai the abbot, I had a good view of the four monks crowded into the back. I thought monks were meant to give up all such worldly things but I smiled as he took my picture and proudly showed it to me.

A GSC volunteer, I was in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, a town some 80 miles west of Bangkok. Built around the river Kwae, Kanchanaburi is set amidst lush vegetation and densely wooded hills. The home of the JEATH War museum, Kanchanaburi attracts tourists eager to view the infamous ‘Death Railway’ built by prisoners of WW2 and immortalised by the film ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’.

Though I paid a visit to the to the railway and War museum, tourism was not the purpose of my visit. I had been engaged as a volunteer to teach English to monks at one of the many Wats (monasteries) dotted all over Thailand.

During my four-week stay I lived with a local Thai family, ensuring total immersion in the culture and customs of Thailand. My host mother Somsung spoke fairly good English since she taught it at the local school so communication was good enough, though her two sons spoke none. However, we got along well and lived harmoniously together with their tiny dog ‘CD’ in a modern (by Thai standards) ramshackle house in a leafy suburb of Kanchanaburi.

My first morning I woke early (7am) and after a cold shower (you get used to that, it’s a welcome relief from the relentless heat) was offered a breakfast of rice and pork dumpling soup (Thais eat rice three times a day at least) which I declined in favour of a fresh mango from the garden and a mug of hot water.

Then it was off to the Wat some 45 minutes away. We piled into the car with me clutching my bag of goodies, teaching aids, water and most importantly my mosquito repellent! Somsung would carry on to the school and I would meet her there at noon after having taught the monks for a couple of hours.

Some afternoons I taught at the school also, a task I found less stimulating than the monk teaching, probably because of the relentless heat, humidity, and the ever-present mosquitoes who defied all repellents in their pursuit of me!

When I arrived, Suphachai was waiting patiently in his study, and after announcing the class on his loudspeaker to the monks spread around the grounds of the Wat and gathering a few dozen copybooks, he led me along to the open-air school (hence the prevalence of mosquitoes who, judging by their numbers seemed to enjoy English!).

Soon about 20 saffron clad monks ranging in age from about ten years to middle age were all seated in front of
me. Not being a teacher and having no curriculum or plan, I found the teaching daunting at first. Then I relaxed and just taught simple things like days of the week, greetings and so on. I gave them all an English name and there was much laughter and amusement as I did the roll call each day.

I found the monks warm, humorous and very willing to learn from the ‘falang’ (foreigner) who had come to teach them. And learn.

I learnt a lot about Thailand, about its people and its customs, and most of all about Buddhism. This is why I had come. To be so close to and made part of the Buddhist rituals and life, was for me, probably the highlight of my trip. And it was not simply the monks from whom I learnt.

Living with the people I learnt how their religion is not just a formality, it is a way of living.

It permeates they way they relate to each other and themselves.

The Buddhist principles are strong here, Karma is something all Thais are not only aware of but live by. The knowledge that every action brings with it an equal reaction perhaps in the next life is something Thais take to heart. ‘If we have sinned, we cannot have these washed away by a priest as in your religion’ explained Suphachai. This means each individual has responsibility for his or her own spiritual health.

I think this is something we Westerners can learn from.

Additionally, there seems to be a community spirit many say we have lost in the West. This community spirit and sense appears to be inherent to Buddhism I noted, as I joined in the many festivals and celebrations during the month of August.

I showed them maps of Ireland and they were amazed that it rarely snowed but nonetheless it could be cold. They asked about religion and wondered if we believed in reincarnation. During my time there I was taken by Suphachai who liked to keep me near him so as to practice his English, to many Buddhist rituals such as ordinations and funerals.

These rituals are steeped in symbolism, which appealed to my Jungian mind. Most rituals involve threes; turning three times around the Buddha, the temple or the funeral pyre whilst unravelling a white thread for example. This symbolised the line of life and three cycles birth, death and karma (rebirth).

One day Suphachai asked me to meet him at a local roadside restaurant of which there are many in Thailand. Thais love to cook and are excellent at it. Of course, not being allowed too much proximity to a woman, he sat as usual, at a different table. Even during class times, since it is forbidden for a monk to touch or be touched by a woman, copy books and such like that passed between myself and my students had to be placed on a nearby table.

This was something I also got used to though I found it rather silly to be so obsequious to a ten-year-old boy even if he was a monk! Especially since I learnt too that almost all Thai males at some stage in their lives enter a monastery, usually for a period of study and Buddhist immersion.

This stay can be brief or extended. It is again, part of the culture and though females I was told also can become nuns for a time, this is not viewed with the same reverence or importance. A hangover from the Lord Buddha’s time?

But back to the roadside restaurant. After lunch, Suphachai took me to the monks College (the seminary) in Kanchanaburi where he taught.

Standing in front of a large room with fifty odd monks of all ages, he introduced me, gave me a microphone and asked me to talk about my country, my religious and moral views, and myself.

There followed a most interesting question and answer session between these learned monks and myself: about
reincarnation, about karma, about life and about love. They asked questions about my work (psychotherapy) and wondered what I thought were the reasons for human suffering.

I told them I had lost two babies in pregnancy and asked them where they thought these little souls were and why a baby chooses to come for such a short time.

They asked me if I believed in the principles of karma and decided after one hour of discussion that I had many Buddhist ideas.

Their warm invitation for me to return and join them ended with a ten-minute blessing in the form of chanting which I found very moving. I sat quietly with my hands together in a ‘Wai’ (traditional Thai greeting) and received their  blessing. I left the college and later Thailand, full of gratitude, love and felt truly blessed. I also felt I had made a contribution, whatever that was.

Looks at the importance the father has on the psychological life of his children, especially boys.

Boys need their Father

Life seems to be tough for boys at the moment. Girls outstrip them in schoolwork, exams and the ability to relate and have close friends. According to one source, 80% of children with behavioural difficulty are boys. (Humphries, Examiner April 02).

Emotionally speaking, boys lag behind girls in their development, and are more likely to retain lasting psychological damage from early life events such as the breakdown of their parents marriage than girls. They are more likely to commit suicide or become criminals.

These facts alone indicate that emotional isolation and terrible loneliness forms part of a great many boys and young men s lives.

What is the reason for this imbalance? In my view, one major factor is absent fathers, something which is on the increase. All children need their fathers, as they do their mothers.

Boys, however, need their fathers in a very specific way. It is from his father that a boy learns to become a man. Quite simply, boys in order to be boys, take their cues from their fathers. A father is a boy s role model.

Although the role of the father has never received as much attention as that of the mother in the life of the child, it has increasingly become apparent that the absence of father in our modern world has given rise to all sorts of problems. Everyone is concerned with the increasing crime rate, the vast majority of which are perpetrated by males.

Perhaps it is not commonly known that one of the major things a father brings to his child psychologically speaking is a sense of order. Unfathered men have been shown to have greater difficulty in ordering their lives and working towards a goal than those who were adequately fathered.

Boys look to their fathers for direction, and many unfathered boys find this in sports and other male dominated activities that can act as a form of male bonding.

Studies show that children who are adequately fathered do better, have a higher selfesteem and are more confident that youngsters who have no father present. Fathers may be physically present but unless he is also emotionally available to his child, the child will experience him as absent. Fathers also help their sons find a purposeful outlet for their natural aggression.

Unfathered boys are found to be reactive rather than proactive and have more difficulty asserting themselves and making decisions. Or, feeling weak internally, they may turn to violent behaviour as a way of self expression. A strong father son relationship will help the boy develop into a strong, confident man; this is because father
brings a sense of strength and structure.

Difficulties in relating intimately mean that many fathers do not have a close emotional relationship with their children. This is a pity because it is from his father that a boy will learn about love and relationships from a male perspective and how to be a father himself one day.

When a boy does not have a close emotional relationship with his father he is likely to have difficulties in intimate  relationships later on. He may have a fear of commitment due to an unconscious but powerful emotional bond with his mother, which he will take with him into adult life.

This is because psychologically, it is the father who helps the boy separate from his mother in order to grow into a man able in time, to choose his own partner. If father is absent, then the boy remains not only emotionally tied to his mother, but also father hungry. This hunger will drive many of his relationships with other men.

I believe that changing ideas about masculinity and the erosion of traditional male roles has confused boys. It is common knowledge that men now appear to have become the more vulnerable sex. They die younger, are more prone to stress related illnesses, and suffer more from a depression that is likely to end in suicide, than their female counterparts.

Studies indicate that men do less well psychologically than women after a separation or divorce. Many fail to move on and develop new long lasting intimate relationships that fulfil them emotionally, or enrich their lives in other ways. Hurt by their pasts, men are more likely than women to close the door on their hearts. They may have many ‘friends; but nonetheless remain emotionally isolated.

The problem from the start is that men have more difficulty expressing their feelings than women do. Such difficulties are compounded by society, where men by and large are expected to be tough and where any display of emotion particularly around love, is seen as a weakness.

Quite simply, there is no place to go when it hurts. Women are better at dealing with emotional pain; they talk to each other and are more likely to go to a therapist or counsellor. As a therapist with many years of clinical practice behind me, I can say that the number of women seeking help far outweighs men, and in work with couples, it is usually the woman who brings the often recalcitrant man along.

This is nothing new, but in today's fast-paced society, where awareness of our growing hunger for spiritual guidance is driving many to explore their inner souls, men are being challenged as never before to open their hearts. And boys need their fathers to help them become good fathers themselves some day.

(Article first published in the Irish Examiner, Sept.6th 02 ‘Daddy s Boy )

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