Learning how to think metaphorically about my life was a powerful turning point in my journey. I discovered that I could be accountable for my experience of the conditions of my life while allowing others to be responsible for theirs.
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My introduction to the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell opened my eyes to a new way of seeing and being in the world. I could move from blame, of others or of myself, to empowered choosing.
The Power of Metaphor
Welcome to Love Lies Beneath. I’m Zette Harbour. I’m glad to have you here. Do you feel like stress, fear or pain take up way too much of your energy? Have you wondered if you’ll ever be free of that heaviness of your past? Do you long to feel as good on the inside as your life looks on the outside?
In this podcast, you’ll discover the story of who you really are, and how to set yourself free. Together, we’re going to travel into those wild spaces of our inner landscapes, and dive deeply into the rich soil of our lives, reclaiming Soul through Story and healing our Hearts. My book, Love Lies Beneath is the map. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss any of this enriching journey. And now, let the adventure begin.
This is Episode 12. I want to talk with you about stories as guides to greater self awareness, and greater self acceptance. I think what happens is, most often we don’t even notice our stories unless they’re causing us some stress, fear or pain, that’s when they really get our attention. And that’s exactly why they cause those difficult, unpleasant, irritating feelings. And so when I have people and experiences in my life, that are causing me stress, fear and pain, it’s really easy for me to look at them and say, it’s you, you are the problem. In fact, most of the first 30 years of my life, most of that time, I looked at those around me. And I was certain that the problem was them.
I knew that I was responsible for myself, I knew that I could be accountable for my behaviors. What I didn’t understand was that by looking at them as the problem, I was missing an opportunity to really come home to myself in a really powerful way. And I remember when I realized that the things that I thought were facts about my life, in actuality, they could simply be stories, stories that were giving me messages. It was like they were encoded into the details of the stories. So what appeared to be the problem on the surface, that other person, that situation was, in fact, an invitation. And it was really the moment I learned how to think metaphorically about my life. That is all changed for me. And that’s what I want to read for you now, in this next section of my book.
Dreams & Archetypes
One way to uncover the truth that love lies beneath all of your beliefs is by allowing stories, including folktales to act as guides. I can still remember learning this. I had worked with a therapist for a few years to one of their her was a gifted guide, and my work with her saved my life. She introduced me to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.
Jung: Carl Jung has often been called the father of transpersonal psychology Jung introduced the collective unconscious concept, a psychic system of a collective universal and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. He also identified two ways of interpreting dream images.
Objective, people in my dream represent the actual person in my life. Subjective: People in my dream represent an aspect of me.
In later years, the Subjective approach was broadened to include the idea that any objects in the dream also represented aspects of myself. The characters, symbols and signs of the dream were communications from my unconscious mind, whose purpose was to move me along in the individuation process, my self development.
When it comes to story, I see the characters, objects, landscapes and events as mirrors of parts of myself. That which I see feel and hear within the folktale carries a message from some aspect of my unconscious mind. It is information that I have been unable to attend to in other ways. Whatever I noticed most about the story and its elements is directly tied to what I need most to learn or understand about myself. The story transmits deep wisdom and insight through its imagery.
The universal, mythic characters are a part of humanity’s collective unconscious and have relevance to me. However, what stands out to me at any given time, is a message from my unconscious. All of the people, the villains, the heroines, the heroes, and the supernatural, are all aspects of myself. Tapping into Story in this way, requires the capacity to think metaphorically. It is the ability to allow an image from a story to represent an aspect of myself,. It cannot mean what it appears to mean.
Instead, it is an imaginal expression of profound truth. When I am willing to receive it as a messenger, my story deepens.
Campbell: Joseph Campbell was a professor, author and mythologist, his best known book, The hero of 1000 faces popularize the idea of universal mythic themes. In listening to Campbell, I felt a sense of amazement and hopefulness that the stories about my life that I thought were factual, could be mythological. Surprisingly, it was the story of the Madonna and child that opened my eyes to this.
I had been born and brought up in the Catholic Church. My parents and grandparents were from upstate New York. We came from an unruly mess of immigrants from Ireland, England and Germany. The story of Jesus and Mary was as familiar to me as any of my own family. Despite loving the spiritual underpinnings of the church, I had been wary of its teachings about the role of women from a pretty early time. I attended Catholic school almost exclusively, which meant mass every week.
Even with my misgivings about the church’s gender prejudice, I participated wholeheartedly and was an avid reader of the lives of the saints. I played guitar for services and sang in the choir. Finally, in my young adulthood, I gave myself permission to rebel and to become a feminist. One of the things that stuck in my craw was that Mary’s divine child had to be a male at its core. My argument was with the whole maleness of divinity. In Catholicism, where was the honoring of the female as the treasured cherished one. So much of my childhood centered around the church and it’s rituals. I had been baptized and while I certainly did not remember it, I knew it was a big deal that it had been done. When I was about seven or eight, I went to confession for the first time. That was terrifying. That I wore my white frilly dress and veil for my First Holy Communion, which felt much more like a party. And as a teen, I had been confirmed, choosing the name Augustine because we were encouraged to select a male name.
I loved the smell of the incense, the chanting the priests ritualized motions, and the pageantry of it all. I was deeply in love with the stories of the saints lives, and often had prayed to be one of them. My secret desire was to become a priest. Although that would never happen, at least not in my lifetime. By the time I was a young adult, I had abandoned the church, ultimately believing that it had betrayed me. Like any unrequited lover, I was bitter and rejected everything I had ever experienced with it. That is how I thought and felt about Catholicism, especially the male centrism of it all. when Joanna pointed me in Joseph Campbell’s direction.
I listened to his exploration of the symbolism of the iconic image of the Madonna, bringing the male child into being I felt freedom open up within me, as I understood that this was a visual metaphor for the breathtakingly beautiful universe, giving birth to all of life. The child was male to represent that life is entirely unlike that from which it arose, and that this source of life has been feminine throughout history. Suddenly, I saw grace in this symbol where before I had only seen oppression. Even though this story had been passed on to me by the church as a literal truth, here, I could see that it held much more profound and more powerful wisdom.
Almost as if by magic, I understood that my own factual and true stories could also be the bearers of beauty and wisdom. As Campbell shared this mythic story’s earlier manifestations, my perception expanded beyond the borders I had previously accepted. This created an inviting spaciousness, and planted the seed from my relationship with storytelling.
Who To Blame
What struck me most powerfully about both Jung and Campbell was the notion that the ordinary details of my life played a smaller role than I had been taught to believe. Both of them talked about archetypes and myths as powerful drivers of one’s life. I learned the language of epic themes and dreams by listening to them and reading their work. I began to see patterns in my own experience that felt similar to these universal human adventures. Suddenly, I realized that I was not some isolated, untouchable, and broken being, undeserving of love and happiness. I began to contemplate the possibility that I might actually be a part of something greater.
Up until this time, I felt like I had been asleep at the wheel of my own life. There were good and bad days, but they all contained an undercurrent of bleakness. I wanted to have love in my life, yet, I looked forward in all the wrong places. I had honed my skill at ignoring my pain and suffering. My level of denial allowed me to project what passed for a sunny disposition most of the time, diving deeply into my life felt much too risky, so I kept to the shallow end of my moat. In my fog, I clung to the fantasy that one day I could emerge victorious from the, all too often bloody, skirmish that was my life. I believed that all I needed to do was figure out how to focus the force of my will correctly, and somehow, the enemy would be overcome. The enemy was something formless hard to see, and it was out there. It certainly wasn’t within me, or so I desperately needed to believe. My sense of who I was relied on all of this being true.
By awakening to Jung and Campbell’s uncommon wisdom, I could now discern the faint shape of something. Perhaps some of this messiness was more about my perceptions than it was about others’ betrayals, even so I still wasn’t ready to take full responsibility for all of the garbage in my life. After all, I had very clear stories about the adults from my childhood, that I knew were unquestionably true. At this point, I believed those people were responsible and needed to be held accountable. More to the point they were to blame. Not me.
Seeing Your Life With New Lenses
Where in your own life do you have the opportunity to stop seeing details as facts, and to give some room within your mind, your heart, and your soul to considering what the greater meaning, the metaphor, might be in the stories that you have about yourself, your world and your place in it? When you connect to the epic themes of life, the universal experiences of all humankind, it gives you a connection, it gives you purpose, it gives you power, because you are no longer this solitary, isolated misfit who has no place in the great story of life.
This is the main reason it is so important to find stories that resonate with these epic themes that tell us what it is to be human. And for me, that came in the form of traditional folklore. When I started to see myself in these stories, I began to feel a sense of connection that I had not known since before I had words, to even describe it. It was something I longed for, but never even knew what it was. And when I found myself in the stories, and I saw that I could be the heroine of the story, I could be the villain of the story, I could be the magical figure in the story. I could be any in all parts of the story, I could see myself within all of those characters and places and events. And in finding myself there, I was able to call those pieces of myself back home into me.
None of them had to be perfect. None of them needed to be right or wrong. They just needed to be seen, embraced, appreciated, and loved. And it was in doing this, that I truly began to understand what the journey to returning to wholeness would look like for me. It’s been another almost 30 years, and I have found so many of my pieces of myself. Some I found in these folktale. Some I found in my own stories, when I truly learned their special and unique code, that I could dive deeply into these stories, and find myself again, and it has been in that finding of myself, that life has become more meaningful, fulfilling, enriching, enlivening, vital, and dynamic.
They Still Get To Be Responsible
And there’s one thing I want to make really clear, allowing yourself to be accountable for your experience of the conditions of your life is not at all to say that other people are not responsible for their thoughts, feelings and actions, that other people are not accountable for what they feel, do, and say. It’s a little like that scene from Dirty Dancing, when Patrick Swayze is teaching Jennifer Grey the dance they have to do for the Big Show, and she is terrible at this. And he calls her spaghetti arms, and she does not know how to hold her dance space. So he explains to her that the space right in front of his chest between his two arms, that’s his dance space. And then he shows her that same space in front of her chest between her arms, that’s her dance space, and he tells her that he stays in his dance space, she stays in hers. And that is the secret to them having a successful performance.
And that is what I am talking about. By reclaiming these parts of yourself through story by recognizing all the pieces of yourself whatever they may look or feel or sound or even smell like, you are taking responsibility for your dance space. And the other person gets to take responsibility for theirs. So, as you move forward, carry this thought with you, how are you able to really tend to your dance space? How are you able to allow others to be responsible for their dance space? And what part of your stories are you able to relax and open your imagination to, to see the possibility of greater meaning and depth, and wisdom.
I’m Zette Harbour and this is Love Lies Beneath. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast so that you don’t miss a single episode of this adventure as we travel into our inner, wild landscapes. And remember to travel with kind curiosity, seeking the Story Wisdom, so that you can reunite, reclaim, and restore all the parts of your Soul that are waiting for you to come home to yourself. You can also connect with me at LoveLiesBeneath.com. There you can find show notes, resources, and you can even reach out and make a virtual coffee date. I look forward to hearing your story. Go raibh míle maith agat!