Why is the Soul So Shy?

I have tentatively started – yet once again – to write in a journal, inspired by Virginia Woolfe, Anais Nin and even Kierkegaarde. My earliest inspiration for doing do was The Diary of Anne Frank, which I read  around the same age she was when she wrote that remarkable book – at the ripe old age of 12. I was so moved by her courage in the face of the horror that surrounded her and her family.


Every time I tried writing in a journal in the past, I would face my own inner horror which would say: ‘can I dare to be totally open and true to myself and the page?’ This existential terror would whisper…..’what if someone finds it and reads it? There is no hiding place that is good enough’. On a deep soul level this fear always slammed on the brakes.

 Now I am finally beginning  to see this for what is – the shyness of the soul – and I realize I am not alone. I came across this wonderful quote from Maya Angelou the other day and I realized that what I had been thinking about, she had articulated in another way – but that we were talking about the same thing:

 I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.

We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.

 Maya Angelou

 As a child I lived much of my life in that presence, but I had no words for it. When I was younger I couldn’t speak about my inner reality or my inner truth, because there was no “I” strong enough to do so. As in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of  The Little Mermaid, a story that I adored as a child, I had no voice. It took the long, slow process of growth into maturity to understand that like the little mermaid, I longed for a connection with The Prince. In Jungian terms this is understood as the inner connection to the animus (a woman’s inner connection to the masculine).


 For the complete story from Hans Christian Andersen:


 If we look at the fairytale from the Jungian perspective, the little Mermaid suffers and sacrifices herself in order to connect with her prince in the hopes that it will bring her into a grounded relationship with him. The horrible sadness of it is that she sacrificed her voice in order to get legs, so she could walk by his side and be in the same reality in which he lived. Like the little mermaid, the woman’s connection with the animus is the bridge that brings us into the world, but then the soul has to struggle to find its voice.


In this story, the Prince does not realize that it is the little mermaid who has saved his life when he was on the brink of drowning after a shipwreck. It is a man’s lifework to find and deepen the connection to the inner feminine and to give it voice. It is a woman’s lifework to find and embody the will, the strength and the courage to be and find her rightful work in the world, her true voice, her calling.

 This fairytale is about the longing of the soul for a grounded connection in life, and it also about its essential shyness. Until we are strong and courageous enough to speak from the soul, for the soul – we are silenced by our fear, distracted by our distractions, living a provisional life.

 This is not meant to blame – it takes a lot of time and courage, and perhaps many lifetimes to wake up. We need to be compassionate to ourselves and to others, while not allowing ourselves to be fooled into thinking this is all there is – so that we must rush and grab and step over others to gain a little inch for ourselves.

 When we do begin to wake up to this reality, we can begin to forgive ourselves for our lack of consciousness and our mistakes. Then, and only then,  can we begin to forgive others.  Perhaps they haven’t yet had the strength, courage or enough awareness to listen to their own souls and find their true voices.

 As Christopher Frye says in The Sleep of Prisoners, “It takes so many thousand years to wake, but will you wake, for pity’s sake?”

To listen to Sir George Trevelyan recite this poem go to:


A Sleep of Prisoners

by Christopher Fry

The human heart can go the lengths of God…

Dark and cold we may be, but this

Is no winter now.

The frozen misery

Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;

The thunder is the thunder of the floes,

The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere,

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size.

The enterprise is exploration into God.

Where are you making for

It takes

So many thousand years to wake…

But will you wake, for pity’s sake?



Whom or What Do We Serve?


The image of this beautiful cow at the Cow’s Ball in Bohinj, Slovenia has stayed with me since attending this wonderful local annual festival in Bohinj last September. It is an annual ritual in which the local people celebrate and honour the cows as they bring them down from the high mountain pastures to the valleys below each fall. I loved the Slovenian people’s connection and closeness to nature and the way they have kept their old customs. But this is not a travel article. There is a terrible poignancy about looking into the face of an animal and looking into its eyes, especially when you don’t stand on the moral high ground of being a vegetarian (which I am not). But this is not about vegetarianism either.

About a month later I had this dream, which has also stayed with me, and which has brought me back to the age-old question made famous in The Grail Legend. In my dream I was shown a place where many human corpses (supposedly criminals) had been beheaded and hung upside down so the blood would drain away. It was reminiscent of a slaughterhouse. I could see three levels from where I stood – each one the same. Each head was placed neatly beside its corpse.

Horrified but transfixed, I wondered, what were these corpses doing there? What was the purpose? What is our purpose? Whether we end up on a peg or end up in the ground or as burnt ashes, what purpose does our life serve? In The Grail Legend, the question was “Whom does the Grail serve?

On waking, I wondered if the blood was drained away and used in some way, and I was reminded of the blood sacrifices that were an inherent demand of man’s earliest religious experiences. Despite the modern face of our civilization we still make blood sacrifices through our endless warring with each other, although these sacrifices often seem meaningless and devoid of any higher purpose than the lust for power, domination and control.

Emma Jung, a Jungian analyst in her own right, spent her life devoted to the study of the legend of the Holy Grail. Eventually after her death, renowned Jungian analyst, Marie Louise von Franz completed the book entitled The Grail Legend, which Emma had been working on for so long. In this book, they emphasize, “ it is not so much the crucifixion of Christ which is looked upon as the redeeming factor but rather the blood flowing from his side after his death”. As they point out, from time immemorial, blood was seen as embodying the life principle and was considered the seat of the soul. The Holy Grail, was the mythological chalice that was held up to catch his blood, and because of its shape, it symbolizes the feminine principle. It is also often seen as the chalice that was used at the Last Supper.


Perceval is the young man who is returning from his adventures with King Arthur to find his mother, and lands up at the Grail Castle – understood by Emma Jung and von Franz as the motherly realm of the unconscious. Here he finds the wounded Grail King (sometimes known as the Fisher King) whose wound will not heal. He sits in his castle, rich but maimed with this festering sore. His kingdom is sick and stagnating, and nothing can help him. According to the legend, he guards a mysterious, life-preserving and sustenance-dispensing object, the Holy Grail or chalice. The king can only be restored to life if a knight of excellent character finds the castle and at first sight of the Grail asks a certain question. If he does not, everything will remain the same, the castle will vanish and the knight will have to set out once more on his journey. The land will lay in waste. If the knight does succeed in asking the question, the King will be restored to health and the land will begin to grow green, and the hero will become the guardian of the Grail from that time on. At the feast which is served, Perceval sees a beautiful chalice mysteriously paraded by a gorgeous maiden, but he doesn’t understand, and he doesn’t ask anything about it. He is a young soul and does not yet understand life. He is not questing for meaning or truth – he is still in the domain of the ego.

The chalice containing blood is a symbol of the feminine. And so too is the Holy Sepulchre or grave, which  also has “ a maternal meaning, since the mother is not only the place of birth, but also as Mother Earth, that which receives the dead back into herself……Both the food- and drink-imparting, life bestowing aspect and the aspect of death and the grave are exhibited by the Grail. They mystery of coming into being and of ceasing to be is bound up with the image of the mother; this explains why Mysteries with this process as the content of their ritual were connected with the cult of mother goddesses such as Demeter and Isis. (p.127, 128, The Grail Legend).

As I pondered the interconnectivity of all life I was reminded of this poem by Rumi:

For thousands and thousands of years I lived as a mineral

And then I died and became a plant.

And for thousands and thousands of years I lived as a vegetable

And then I died and became an animal.

And for thousands and thousands of years I lived as an animal

And then I died and became a human.

Tell me. What have I ever lost by dying?

translated by Coleman Barks

What feeds on us I wondered. And whom do we serve?

Referring to the Grail King, and quoting Jung, they say, “Psychologically he represents a symbol of the Self become visible in a human being, to which the entire social and psychic organization of his people is adjusted.” (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis) He is a symbol of man in his fallen, stricken state and seems unable to cure himself or his land.

I cannot do justice to the book or their research in this small essay, so I will have to limit myself to a few of the most salient points for me. As Emma Jung and von Franz examine myths of the Grail from various cultures and time, they talk about a common motif…..that there was a violation of the fairy kingdom and of nature, and the theft of the bowl (chalice).

“Thus a wrong against a feminine being and a plundering of nature was perpetrated. It is interesting and remarkable that the origin of the trouble was looked upon as an offence committed against the fairy world, i.e., actually against nature. The motif of the plundering of the fairy world appears in numerous legends and fairy-tales, such as the legends of the Swan maidens and the Rheingold. It is always a question of something either unlawful won from, or done to, nature which results in a curse……The fairies and the maidens in the hills do not so much personify evil in feminine form as they do a purely natural aspect of the anima, They are, as it were, the soul of the spring or tree or place and equally, what man feels psychically in such places. The growth of masculine consciousness and of the patriarchal logos principle of the Christian outlook are concerned in no small measure with this development. They have certainly made possible the emancipation of the human which has given man mastery over nature. That which has been stolen from nature must, at the same time, however, be understood as something ‘torn from the unconscious’…………….a deadening and violation of nature, which imply a tremendous los of soul, have gradually resulted from the achievement of consciousness effected by Christianity.” (Pp.204, 205 The Grail Legend)


As I reflected on my dream image I wondered about the meaningless of a life which has severed itself from the pursuit of consciousness. If we do not devote our lives to the pursuit of consciousness, wisdom and truth in some way, then we are just fodder for a higher cycle of life. If we do not serve consciousness with a respect for the feminine ideals – kindness, relatedness, compassion, then Kali in all her bloodthirstiness will mow us down. Kali is the goddess who understands the wisdom of destroying the old before new growth can begin. In my dream it doesn’t seem to matter that all these corpses are strung up like so much meat in a slaughterhouse. It is a horrifying sight, but there is a matter-of-factness about it my dream.

We will all die in the end, one way or another, and it is good to keep that in mind. When we look back at our lives, we won’t say, I wish I had made more money and spent less time with my family. We won’t say, I wish I hadn’t been as kind or as compassionate or that I had spent less time helping others.

The cow – a sacred image of the feminine in India, here symbolizes nature, in all her beauty, and she sacrifices herself for us over and over. But we should ask ourselves, whom or what do we serve?

Here is the nectar of the great teacher, Coleman Barks reciting Rumi – Connection – The Natural Ecstasy

All quotes are from The Grail Legend by Emma Jung and Marie Louise von Franz

Being at the Crossroads


photo by: http://www.martin-liebermann.de

So much of our real growth in life, whether we think of it in terms of the soul or merely personal, happens when we are at a crossroads in some way. It is a place of transition, change or potential new directions, and its hallmark is suffering. So often at the intersecting points of our lives we struggle with the question of Which Way? The quintessential problem in this place is the seemingly opposing directions, however that is manifesting in your life. Invariably when we are getting ready to shed some part of our life that is no longer healthy for us, we often struggle and debate with ourselves – weighing pros and cons, as if this were a rational choice. Deep down we often have an inkling about what we are being called to do, but the other part that resists change sets up a quarrel. And so we agonize, we angst, we go over and over it in our minds and then we go into stall. And the whole thing starts to feel like a cancerous growth, as we are unsure about what the right thing is to do. We are caught in the crossroads, prey to all sorts of mental and emotional machinations. So how can we approach these crossroads in a way that is helpful?

As I was thinking about this image, I turned to A Dictionary of Symbols by J. E. Cirlot as well as The Herder Symbol Dictionary and looked at the references to the crossroads and to the cross (which is at the heart of this image) which are extensive.


Here are some highlights:

From Cirlot

“The complex symbolism of the cross neither denies nor supplants the historical meaning in Christianity. But in addition to the realities of Christianity there are two other essential factors: that of the symbolism of the cross as such and that of the crucifixion or of ‘suffering upon the cross”. ……The cross is often represented in mediaeval allegory as a Y-shaped tree, depicted with knots and even with branches, and sometimes with thorns. Like the Tree of Life, the cross stands for the ‘world-axis’.


Placed in the mystic Centre of the cosmos, it becomes the bridge or ladder by means of which the soul may reach God. There are some versions which depict the cross with seven steps, comparable with the cosmic trees which symbolize the seven heavens. The cross, consequently, affirms the primary relationship between the two worlds of the celestial and the earthly……it stands for the conjunction of the opposites, wedding the spiritual (or vertical) principle with the principle of the world of phenomena. Hence its significance as a symbol for agony, struggle and martyrdom…….Jung comments that in some traditions the cross is a symbol of fire and of the suffering of existence, and that this may be due to the fact that the two arms were associated with the kindling sticks which primitive man rubbed together to produce fire and which he thought of as masculine and feminine. But the predominant meaning of the cross is that of ‘Conjunction’…..  

Under Crossroads: “According to Jung, it is a mother symbol. He comments: ‘Where the roads cross and enter into one another, thereby symbolizing the union of opposites, there is “the mother”, the object and epitome of all union.’ “  

From Herder  

Under Crossroads: “In most cultures it is a significant place of meeting with transcendent powers (gods, spirits, the dead). It is often close to the symbolic content of the DOOR, since the crossroads can also symbolize the necessary transition to the new (from one phase of life to another; from life to death). To win the favor of the gods or the spirits, obelisks, altars, or stones were erected, or inscriptions were placed at crossroads. …..”


In Women Who Run with the Wolves, the wonderful Jungian storyteller, Clarissa Pinkola Estes recounts the Russian version of the archetypal story of Cinderella, who in Russian is called Vasilisa. In this story Vasilisa, who has been given the task of sleeping by the fire to ensure that it doesn’t go out, is tortured by her evil step sisters who steal the fire while she is asleep, and then blame her and harass her for letting the fire go out. They send her out to the deep, dark woods in search of the evil Baba Yaga who is the only one who has fire. The problem for Vasilisa is that no one really knows where Baba Yaga lives, and Vasilisa has no idea which way to go. Utterly terrified of making a mistake and of dying alone in the woods, the only thing that helps her is a doll that her beloved mother gave her. Every time that she comes to a crossroads in the forest, she stops and waits in agony, hoping to be informed by the doll. The doll acts as the transcendent function and the connection to the archetypal Good Mother. If she is on the right path, the doll jumps up and down with excitement – letting her know her inner ‘yes’. In fact, just touching the doll as she makes her way through the dark woods makes her feel better.

Here is what Pinkola Estes has to say about this tale in Women Who Run with the Wolves:

“To my mind, the old Russian tale “Vasalisa” is a woman’s initiation story with few essential bones astray. It is about the realization that most things are not as they seem. As women we call upon our intuition and instincts in order to sniff things out. We use all our senses to wring the truth from things, to extract nourishment from our own ideas, to see what there is to see to know what there is to know, to be the keepers of our own creative fires, and to have intimate knowing about the Life/Death/Life cycles of all nature – that is an initiated woman.        Stories with Vasalisa as a central character are told in Russia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Poland and throughout all the Baltic countries. In some instances, the tale is commonly called “Wassilissa the Wise.” I find evidence of its archetypal roots dating back at least to the old horse-Goddess cults which predate classical Greek culture. This tale carries ages-old psychic mapping about induction into the underworld of the wild female God. It is about infusing human women with Wild Woman’s primary instinctual power, intuition.” Although Pinkola Estes is addressing this book to the woman’s journey, I believe it can have parallel value to men who are in touch with their inner feminine.

For a short synopsis of the story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasilisa_the_Beautiful

baba yaga and vasilisa the beautiful

This story goes on, but this part of the story is particularly significant in terms of understanding how to approach the crossroads. Perhaps Jung was right in his understanding of the crossroads, in the sense that here at this intersection there is sacred possibility. It is the possibility of connection with the Good Mother archetype – she who will guide you with wisdom if you but wait and ask for guidance.

So what can we learn from all this? I think the hardest thing we have to do when we are at a crossroads in our life is to wait. There can be an agony of suffering in the waiting, in holding the tension of the opposites. (see blog on Holding the Tension of the Opposites). We are often propelled into action, any action, because it is so hard to wait for clarity. We stew and angst and go in circles, stirring up an inner storm with all the inner community clamouring to be heard, (see blog on Inner Community) until we get utterly sick of ourselves. If only we could get quiet and breathe and pray for guidance, there might be a chance for that still, small voice of wisdom within to be heard. The voice of wisdom has no charge around it, no axe to grind. This is how we recognize it. It is simply an inner knowing or awareness of how things are, and we are often humbled by the realization. When this happens, you must give thanks and then proceed on your journey, trusting your life, trusting that you will be guided if you continually ask for guidance, in all humility.

Seven Habits of the Happy Introvert: Living in the World of Yin


Notice I didn’t say the “successful” introvert. Self-help books abound on how to be successful: The 10 Habits of a Successful Leader, Seven Ways to be an Effective Leader, The 8 Habits of the Self-Made Rich, How to be a Success and Achieve Abundance: 8 Steps to Achieve Your Goals, etc. Frankly,these titles just make me feel tired. It recently occurred to me that all of these type of self-help books are geared towards extroverts and achieving success in the outer world. What about introverts? For most of us, just having and retaining an okay presence in that world takes up a great deal of our resources. So this blog is for the introverts.

The outer world that dominates western civilization is very yang or masculine in its orientation. We live in a culture that values power, control, domination over the other, war, one-upmanship, aggression, competition, status, speed, technology and capitalism. The winner takes all. And it is a world in which extroverts thrive. They love the social parry and thrust of daily interactions. The best of them excel and rise to the top. There are only a few professions, apart from research, where introverts excel, and those tend to be the ones connected to the arts in some way. And in this category I would include psychotherapists, and psychoanalysts – as this is more of an art form than a science.

So I began to wonder if the inner worlds that introverts live in is more the realm of the feminine, the realm of yin. Many extroverts have very little awareness of the richness of the inner worlds we dwell in. Because we are introverts, only a small percentage of writers, poets and artists succeed in bringing this forward to the busy, outer world. In a world that seems to have less and less value for the arts and for beauty, many of our artists and writers are starving and ignored.

Recently I went to an exhibit of Francis Bacon and Henry Moore at the AGO and had a new insight into their works. In a way both of these artists show in their works how the bodies of their subjects were mutilated and ravaged – symbolizing the ravages to the human psyche.  Given that many of their works are post World War II, we can situate these works in that context. These artists, each in their own way, are compelling because the stark brutality of Bacon’s images and the gaping holes in Moore’s monumental bodies shock the viewer into confronting these realities – the horror and starkness of a world that lives by the dictates of the masculine alone – a world that places little value on the beauty of the inner feminine.

So in order to encourage and give heart to the introverts out there, I am compiling my Seven Habits of the Happy Introvert. This will be a work in progress and I welcome your input and feedback. We need to support and help one another to bring our values into this world we happen to be living in.

1)     You have found a way to carve out some sort of daily meditation practice. This might involve sitting or walking meditation, solitary walks in nature, yoga or tai chi. This has become an essential part of your routine because introverts take the world into themselves. The world actually flows through them, as opposed to extroverts who bounce themselves off others or outer situations in order to find out who they are. It can be very difficult for a young introvert to figure out their core self because as the world flows through them they can be easily overwhelmed by the energies of other people or toxic situations. As introverts learn to plug back into their Source, they can release all these outer energies and influences and find the still, clear core within. Core is linked to Coeur (heart) in French, which is no accident. When we find that still, quiet place within we are in the place of the Heart. Refreshed, cleansed and renewed we can face into another day.

2)     You have learned to march to your own drummer. Introverts are in the minority – there are many more extroverts than introverts, and society as a well-oiled machine depends on the extroverts. They make it all work. So introverts often appear awkward or shy – they don’t seem to fit in very well unless they have learned to adapt and disguise themselves as extroverts. A lot of us have learned to do this, but at the end of the day we are exhausted and depleted. Moreover it is easy for introverts to develop an inferiority complex because they so often seem maladapted. The successful introvert knows he/she is different, accepts this and has learned to value, protect and cherish his/her inner world. The judgements or critical valuations of the extroverts do not faze him. He/she has come to peace with feeling alone and different. The successful introvert accepts the fact that a third of the people will love him/her unconditionally no matter what, another third will hate him/her or think them weird – no matter what, and the other third simply don’t care. So the successful introvert has learned to be him or herself, and therefore radiates an inner strength and peace – which paradoxically gets noticed out there – simply because a quiet, confident Presence is SO RARE.

3)     The happy introvert has given up trying to wear the extroverted shoe, despite huge pressures from family, schools and society – all of which usually show a preference for the extroverts on the big stage of life. The happy introvert chooses a profession that will honour and make use of his/her gifts. She will not try to continuously push herself into an extroverted path because she knows it will be at a huge cost to her soul. This is not to say that he/she does not learn to adapt to the extroverted world – but she must know that she is accommodating for a short while in specific situations. Jung said that in the latter part of life extroverts must learn introversion and introverts must learn extroversion. This is very wise. However, the problem is that so many introverts just feel defective and are constantly trying to fit in, without having an awareness of their own unique gifts and orientation. This calls to mind the story of The Ugly Duckling, who when he finally realized he would never be a duck in the duck family, woke up to his own awareness of his unique swan beauty and elegance.

For the Story of the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson:


4)     The happy introvert strives to find a way to bring the realities of his/her inner world to the outer world. While this can feel very challenging, it is the path of your individuation or self-realization. I firmly believe there is some reason you chose to come into this world with these gifts, through your specific life situation and family. Your karma has shaped you and continues to shape you. You have a unique perspective and gifts that no one else in the world has, and if you do not bring them into this world, they will be lost. Do not be defeated by the ways of the world. Always continue to try and find a way to bring your gifts forward. In your own way, Be the Swan. If you do not honour yourself in this way, your light will be hidden from the world. After all, what else can you do with your life? Be all of who you can be in your uniqueness. You will have to find enough extroversion within yourself to make these gifts manifest.

Watch this beautiful rendition of the Dying Swan as danced by Maya Plisetskaya

David Whyte’s wonderful of Rilke’s beautiful poem The Swan:

5)     You will have learned the power of No. In an extroverted world that values go, go, go, do, do, do…..you will inevitably feel pressured to conform, join the party, the committee, the excursion. You have to honour your own need for down time, for decompression time. It is very difficult for extroverts to understand this, but you will have to be okay with finding soft and gentle ways of saying no, sorry, I wish I could, but….. You may not be understood. Offer your authentic truth and get okay with the fact that a third of the people might be unhappy, and the other third won’t care.

6)     You understand the value of a few close friends. Introverts are not hermits, they just don’t particularly like crowds or large gatherings. Introverts chose quality over quantity – something extroverts have a hard time comprehending. Introverts prefer to go deep rather than to go wide. Young introverts often suffer at school because young people often tend to travel in tribes or cliques. The young introvert needs to be taught that it is okay not to conform, that it is okay to be different, that it is okay not to join the crowd. They need to learn early on to stand in their values and not be swayed by the crowd. This can be particularly painful for a young person, so if you have a young introvert in your midst, reach out and support and encourage them. It seems they have to grow up and mature a little faster in order to survive in the extroverted world.

7)     Give up on the guilt. Because we live in a world dominated by extroverts, we often feel guilty for not fitting in, for not behaving in the ways others expect us to. Think of the lone salmon fighting its way upstream. This is how it often feels for the introvert, striving to find his/her way back to the Source, fighting against the expectations of the collective. But the salmon can only do what is in its nature (see blog on Life of Pi), as can the introvert. The salmon might disappoint the schools of herring that want him to join the fun of swimming and dancing together, but there is no point in the salmon feeling guilty. In fact, guilt can ravage the soul of the introvert, tearing the flesh off his back. As long as your actions are not damaging someone else, you must do what you need to do without guilt and without shame, and honour the calling that carries you forward towards your true home.

Listen to Susan Cain’s TED talk on introverts: