Grief is a sacred journey

Follow an Intuition,Trust a Dream

1024px-Loxodontacyclotis

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Jean Raffa and I spent two days brainstorming and writing a workshop proposal. The night after I left Jeanie’s home, I had this dream:

A quick dream sketch

A dream sketch of an elephant blessing

I look down into the streambed on my land.  My small stream is a wide deep river surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. Huge elephants splash in the water. Elephants here? On my land? Near the elephants, a large white stone with a black circle at one end protrudes out of the water. An elephant reaches out to touch the stone with its trunk, the way elephants bless people’s heads in India. The stone moves and rises. The black circle is a shining nose. A giant white bear emerges from the river, glistening, dripping with water. The elephants step back and watch the bear in reverence. So do I.

The stream that became a dream river ( photo from 1997)

Overlooking the stream on my land (1997)

I’d met Jean Raffa in 2004 at a Jung workshop in Orlando, FL led by my husband Vic. I was awed by her deep understanding of Jung and her silver-haired feminine elegance. Jeanie’s personal warmth matched her deep red lipstick. I’d been a student of Jung since the 1960s, so we shared a passion.

After that meeting, I read Jeanie’s three books: The Bridge to Wholeness, Dream Theatres of the Soul, and Healing the Sacred Divide. Later, she wrote an endorsement for my book Leaning into Love. We also exchanged guest blogs—mine on mythology as a guide during grief, hers about embracing the wise crone.

I began hearing something Kim Kluxen Meredith would call a “whisper,” a small inner voice, an intuition. I want to do a workshop with Jean Raffa. The words circled through my mind for days.

Jean Raffa with her feathered mask

Jean Raffa with her feathered mask

Was it possible? Jean was in Florida while I was in upstate New York. We hardly knew each other. Would she be interested? Besides, we had no place to give a workshop.

The voice insisted.

Before Vic’s cancer diagnosis in 2006, my women’s mythology class spent two years studying Inanna, the Great Goddess of Heaven and Earth in Sumeria or Mesopotamia (~3000 BCE). Her story gave me an inner map for being with death and learning from grief before I knew I needed it.

Inanna’s Descent to the Great Below to be initiated into the Wisdom of Death made it clear that even the great goddess was not All Wise if she hadn’t experienced mortality. As I accompanied Vic through his illness and death, the myth reminded me that we were both being initiated.

Inanna and Date Palms (2400 BC)

Inanna and Date Palms (2400 BC)

I took a plunge and asked Jeanie if she would be interested in co-leading a workshop. Since she’s another woman who listens to unconscious prompting and synchronicities, she didn’t blink an eye. At least I didn’t see her blink. She said she loved Inanna’s story and had taught a workshop on it. I didn’t know that.

As our ideas unfolded via email, Jeanie queried the C.G. Jung Society of Sarasota, FL. Yes, they were interested in a lecture and workshop about working with dreams and ancient mythology during illness, grief, and loss.

Why should we consider these dark ideas? Since we are mortal, we must deal with death, illness, limitation, and grief. In contrast to the ascending heroic myths of power and achievement loved by our culture, the Descent of Inanna prepares us for the deep soul lessons of loss.

ParrotEleven years after our first meeting, Jeanie picked me up at the airport in Orlando. Creative ideas flew and flowed. That first night, I dreamed of a tropical bird—a spirit bird with long colorful feathers. My unconscious mind approved of our work.

White bear

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In two days, we trusted we had a workshop and knew we could work together even if we still had plenty of planning to do on Skype and email. Our Friday night focus would be the wisdom of dreams to help us navigate grief and mortality. Saturday’s workshop would focus on Inanna’s Descent.

I paid attention to the affirming spirit bird the first night and told Jeanie the dream the next morning. Then tropical deep green vegetation showed up in my dream the next night. To make sure I got the point that I was moving in a fertile direction, my small stream became a deep river with sacred elephants splashing in life-giving waters, including an awe-inspiring white spirit bear.

I trusted I was on the right track.

***

Elephants have been a healing symbol in my family since Vic and I traveled in India in the 1990s. For another article about elephants, see Ganesha: Patron of Writers and New Beginnings. I encourage you to look at Jean Raffa’s website and explore her articles and videos. She’s a gifted teacher. I hope to see some of you on March 11-12 in Sarasota, FL for an exciting and inspiring weekend.

22 Comments
  1. What a fascinating topic Elaine, analyzing dreams – something I’m always trying to do.Thanks for the introduction to Jean. 🙂 What a great workshop that will be! 🙂

    • Thanks, Debby. Rather than analyzing, I try to take in the image, find how it makes me feel, and let it transform me. Sometimes I get a clear insight. Sometimes there is no conceptual clarity, but I still pay attention to the image. I had so many dreams during deep grief and I paid attention to them by painting them–and talking to my dream therapist.

      • It’s wonderful that you have a dream therapist to share with Elaine. You’re blessed to have a wonderful spiritual circle of friends. 🙂

        • Debby, I had an upsetting dream of a starving baby girl 5 months before Vic died. I was inwardly drained and knew I needed support and nurturance. I had tried grief-focused therapists, but needed someone who worked with dreams. I still work with her, although not as often now. She helps me stay focused on those night messages and the clues they offer.

  2. Oh, Elaine. This is so beautiful. That you for being so kind and affirming. I was just as surprised as you at how similar our interests were, how quickly we took to each other, and how seamlessly we slipped into a fun, open and easy relationship. I feel so fortunate to have found a friend like you. I look forward very much to our work together and hope it will bring as much comfort and inspiration to those who attend our presentations as it has already brought to us. Jeanie

    • To quote you, Jeanie, “It’s great to know someone who takes dreams as seriously as I do.”
      As we create this new workshop and work together for the first time, we’re also becoming close friends. I have no doubt this weekend on using dreams and ancient myth as support in times of loss and grief will bring comfort and inspiration to others.
      And here’s a cheer for Skype because we can talk, share images, and go over every detail together even though we’re over 1000 miles apart. Modern magic!

  3. Dear Elaine, This is such a great article! What a beautiful, abundant dream you were given on your night of leaving! How reassuring that the deep mysteries within you were being blessed and awoken. For the coming together of two very great energies of Elephant (Self-image) and Bear (Great Mother), let alone the symbolism that surrounded them in your dream must have been amazing. I greatly enjoyed your drawing, and read in utter reverence!

    I love how you describe your relationship with Jeanie. How the two of you met, and how you got to know each other through reading each other’s ‘words’ over the following years. How wonderful that you are finally coming together to deliver, what will be an extraordinary workshop. I am so impressed by your two years of studying this myth and can relate well to the healing inner map of grief and suffering that the Inanna myth offers.

    ‘Follow an intuition, trust a dream.’ That’s so true, and what a great title for this post! Thanks to Jeanie introducing David Whyte (poet) in a recent post, earlier this week I listened to Whyte on YouTube reciting David Wagoner’s incredible poem ‘Lost’ … I had never heard this poem before, and it simply took my breath away. I feel it makes for excellent ‘descent’ reading. A wonderful poem that I have found myself reading over and over again! Blessings always, Deborah.

    Lost

    Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
    Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
    And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
    Must ask permission to know it and be known.
    The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
    I have made this place around you.
    If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
    No two trees are the same to Raven.
    No two branches are the same to Wren.
    If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
    You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
    Where you are. You must let it find you.

    • We’re on the same wave length, Deborah. I wrote a blog about that poem called Lost in My Own Backyard. Here’s the link: http://elainemansfield.com/2012/lost-and-found-in-my-own-backyard/ I love David Whyte and often share his poems on my FB page.

      Thank you for your affirming feedback about my writing, my inner worlds, and the coming workshop. It’s a powerful thing to develop deep friendships with other women, and this one with Jeanie brings in so much of me from animus to Self. I’m a feeling/sensation type in Jungian typology, so intuitions are powerful for me but not always trustworthy. This one needed dream affirmation.

      The white bear was awe-inspiring and so unexpected. I don’t think I’ve dreamed of a bear in the past, and definitely not a white one. From Native American traditions, the huge bear would be called Great Mother. I’m still exploring just what that image means to me. If I’m patient, more information comes. Thanks again for reading so carefully and responding so deeply. I’m honored.

  4. I wish I could be there for your workshop. I’ve been having interesting dreams that are telling me I’m taking on too much and need to back off. I am an intuitive myself and always heed the feelings I get about things and work with my dreams. And synchronicity is nothing to be sneezed at!

    • I wish you could be there, too, Joan. I’m glad you can count on your dreams. I keep my dream notebook next to my bed. I usually remember a few dreams a week. When I was in deep grief, I had dreams most nights and often painted them. I don’t sneeze at synchronicity, Joan, but many people do. They’re missing the boat. I don’t have many synchronistic experiences, but my husband Vic had so many powerful ones that he had to reconcile his inner experience with his outer world job as an astrophysics professor. His first book was called “Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making.” One of my synchronicity experiences is in that book. It happened in Taiwan and I have great photos. Someday I’ll make it into a blog.

  5. You have the coolest dreams, Elaine! Thanks for the reminder to listen to the heart’s “whisperings.” Will remember that today. :O)

    • I’m grateful for my dreams, Colleen, so maybe that’s why they keep coming. I often don’t understand the meaning in a conceptual way, but I try to find relationships with what’s been on my mind or something unusual or upsetting that happened recently. Yes to the heart’s whisperings. Thanks so much for your comment and for your terrific support for writers as well as being a successful author yourself.

  6. Thank you for this inspiring post Elaine showing how important it is to be aware and attentive of the promptings of our inner guide/s and, even if a whisper, to hear and answer the call. What extraordinary dreams, taking flight in their freedom as shown by the bird! And your bear emerging in all its glory, slowly but surely! May the land and its abundance continue in its fertility in and of you as it surely will.

    • Thank you, Susan. Dream Elaine was astounded to see elephants, a huge river, and tropical vegetation during one of the coldest winters I’ve experienced on this northern climate land. I’ve seen such things in life, though, and had a small jade statue of an elephant in my forest and many elephant images inside my home–and also at my son’s home. But no bears except one sighting of a small black bear on National Forest land a few years ago. This white bear, larger than an elephant, remains the biggest surprise and mystery. I’m watching to see how that image unfolds in time.

  7. It occurs to me in this post and then in how you commented to Debby that trusting a dream is a lot like writing memoir as you “try to take in the image, find how it makes me feel, and let it transform me. Sometimes I get a clear insight.”

    One writing coach has suggested that personal essays speak to the mind while memoirs speak to the heart, engaging our sympathy. I suppose speaking to both mind and heart would be a real coup.

    • My dreams aren’t usually as clear as these were, but I’m grateful when they are. In the first years after Vic’s death, my dreams dealt with longing, love, trying to accept Vic’s absence, anxious searching, feeling lost and confused, and so many other emotions. They were obvious and didn’t need interpretation.

      I understand that differentiation between personal essay and memoir–and know that I prefer the heart, but love to read books that have both. I just got Paul Kalinithi’s book ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ and after reading many of his articles and essays, I expect this one to bridge that gap.

  8. I wonder what it is about the care-giving for one’s loved one that leads to such vivid dreaming. I actually wrote down some amazing dreams during my almost-3 years in and out of hospitals with my daughter. I still keep a paper and pencil on my nighttable but haven’t had any remarkable dreams to record since shortly after my daughter died.

    • I’ve recorded dreams since I was in college, Robin. They come and go in intensity and in how often I remember them. At the moment, I haven’t remembered a dream for a week. I write about dreams that felt memorable, but when I dig into “boring” dreams, they are informative one way or other. After Vic’s death, I don’t think my conscious mind could take in the enormous transformation my life was going through so the unconscious worked double time to help me through and keep me in one piece. Keep that notebook by your bed.

  9. Elaine,
    I was honored by your mention of my ” whispers”. Thank you for your kind remarks.
    I wish that I could be at your conference in Sarasota for two reasons. Number One, it sounds like it is going to be fascinating and I find your presentations peaceful and inspiring. Number Two ( this is the selfish one) it would be nice to escape the cold grip of winter. We are in single digits now in Lancaster and the windchill will take us to negative territory! I wish I could listen to you while gazing at palm trees. Sarasota is beautiful.
    I hope that you have a wonderful conference and I can’t wait to hear all about it. Or, I will just tune into my ” whispers”. They have been coming in pretty loud and clear lately.
    Safe travels friend !

    • You and your work immediately came to mind. Ah, those little whispers that persist.
      Yup, it’s bitter cold here, too, but warm inside and I have a pile of firewood on the front porch. It’s the first fierce winter of the season. Sarasota will be a welcome relief in a month and after the workshop, I’ll spend a few days on the beaches and visiting manatees. It looks like the workshop will be recorded so it will be available to anyone interested. The Friday night lecture will be the most conducive for recording. It’s about dreams as guides during grief and extreme illness.
      Be warm and don’t eat too much chocolate this weekend.

  10. Wow, this post was wonderful! I am all about learning from dreams. My mom and I were just having a conversation about this yesterday. Carl Jung is so spot on about these things. He was a brilliant man. I think 2016 is the year of truly trusting our intuition!looking forward to reading more from you

    • Thank you for your kind words, Anna, and welcome to my world. I love dreams. I’ve also loved working with many “dream workers” in my life, painting my dreams, and taking them seriously. They help me tremendously when times are hard. When I write down a dream, I also write down what happened the day before to keep the dream in context. I don’t always write about dreams (sometimes someone else’s dream is deadly boring), but I have dream notebooks going back many years. I keep a notebook and pen by my bed so I can capture the dreams fresh in the night. Last night I dreamed of a coyote/dog howling and then emerging from tall weeds in my yard with a pup. I knew if I fed them they would be mine. I planned to feed them.

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