Pilot Fish Trailblazer Nominee: Dr. Jean Raffa

Humanity’s noblest dream is universal peace, justice and love. We have pursued this dream throughout our history, but always we are stopped short by a vast chasm that separates us from ourselves, each other, and the world.Dr. Jean Raffa

The Divided Self

Many years ago, when I was in my 20’s I had a reoccurring dream. I was trying to drive a car, but I couldn’t reach the pedals or the steering wheel. Then, I realized why. Instead of sitting upfront in the driver’s seat, I was sitting in the back. Time and time again, I tried stretching my hands and feet towards the controls, but books and papers were piled high around my feet. I tried to kick them aside, but I still couldn’t grasp the steering wheel or press the pedals.


Source: Balazs Sprenc on Flicker: Creative Commons. No changes made to image.

Why did I share my dream with you? To make you laugh, perhaps. But I also want to use it to introduce our next Pilot Fish Trailblazer nominee, Dr. Jean Raffa, who is an explorer of new territories, not in the physical world, but within ourselves. Using the symbolic imagery of dreams and the power of introspection, she delves deeply into the unconscious, to illuminate the “dark spots” within us and to heal old wounds. Using her own experience as a guide, this remarkable pioneer shows us how to shed light on our fears, prejudices, and stumbling blocks. This understanding, she believes, will help us heal the divide within ourselves, each other, and the rest of the world.

What divide within ourselves?  The separation between the “ideal self” we show the world and the “real self” we keep hidden.  The divide between the parts of ourselves that we acknowledge and the shameful, fearful, or embarrassing parts we disown.

Why is that important?  Introspection and dream work are valuable and life-changing tools to bring about change.  As an example, let’s return to my dream and see what it reveals.

I had these recurring “car” dreams when I was in my 20’s and had just finished college and graduate school.  This is the time when we are under societal and perhaps parental pressure to take charge of our lives, our careers.  Like many of us at that age, I believed I was in control of my life (symbolized by the car), but was I?  The message from deep within my unconscious told me that I wasn’t in the driver’s seat.  I was taking a passive “back seat” role, surrounded by books and papers.

During this same period of time, I was struggling with a fear of city driving, something I needed to do to get to a Saturday teaching job at a community college in Queens, far from my home in Brooklyn. I was also new to teaching and felt a bit overwhelmed.  I wanted desperately to believe I could handle all of this, but clearly my unconscious was giving me a different message:  I needed to understand myself, my strengths, my fears, my weaknesses—including the parts that were hidden deep within, parts that I did not want to acknowledge.

Over the next few years, the car dream served as a guidepost as I worked hard to find my place in higher education, to shed light on my fears, and become more confident in teaching and driving.  As my life changed, so did my dream.  Finally, in my last “driving” dream, I was sitting in the front seat of the car, my hands resting on the steering wheel, feeling completely comfortable and in charge.

A Pilgrimage of Discovery and Self Understanding

Dr. Jean Raffa

Dr. Jean Raffa

Dr. Jean Raffa encourages us to embark on a “pilgrimage” of self discovery.  In her books, blog, and lectures, she uses her own experience as a guide to show us the power of exploring and healing the dark spots in our psyche.  By taking the very brave step of revealing her own weaknesses and attitudes, she shares how she has achieved greater peace and understanding of herself, and others.

Jean’s spiritual quest has taken her very far from her roots in traditional Christianity.  Her search for self-understanding and spiritual meaning started in her childhood.  Although Jean was born into a religious family, she freely admits that she had no true appreciation of God or her own inner life until she attended a Billy Graham crusade when she was 17.  At that time, she was convinced that devoting herself to Bible study, doing volunteer work, and teaching Sunday school would bring her happiness, but that turned out to be an illusion.  Jean explains what happened:

I was taught that my hope for a purposeful and meaningful life lay in conforming to the religious behavior and beliefs of my culture while ignoring my differing thoughts, needs, and feelings. But when these insisted on being heard, I saw that mindless conformity wasn’t making me spiritually mature. Moreover, clinging to my old God-image didn’t have nearly the beneficial effect on me that my own creative work did: things like writing my dissertation, turning it into several articles and a book, and writing poetry. In fact, it was getting so I couldn’t even sit through a Sunday service any more without getting a stomachache. Still, taking things that were personally comforting and meaningful to me more seriously than my religion felt terribly misguided, selfish and self-indulgent.

Like many of us, she forged ahead until she reached an impasse at mid-life.

At the Crossroads

In her late 40’s, she was at a crossroads.  That’s when she began devoting more time to her passions for self-discovery and writing.  Then, after several turning points, she enrolled in a 4-year course in Jungian psychology, which dramatically changed her life.

That’s when I learned that there was a psychological as well as spiritual explanation for what I had been undergoing. The Swiss psychologist Dr. Carl Jung called it an initiation into the process of individuation. Christian mystics called it The Dark Night of the Soul. Contemporary culture called it a mid-life crisis.

Through Jung’s work, she began to dive deeper into her study of the unconscious, the power of symbols, and continued her inner spiritual work, which included dream analysis.

Helping Others Face the Shadow

For more than 25 years, Jean has been exploring Jungian psychology and using her experiences to help others.  She says:

The kind of inner work I undertook, especially dream work, was so affirming that it emboldened me to face my flaws: my dark side or Shadow. As I grew aware of old dysfunctional attitudes and habits, I saw healing alternatives and made choices to change them. The more I admitted to painful wounds the less power they had to swamp me with damaging emotions. Seeing my own role in relationship problems was humbling and made me softer, less resentful, more compassionate and forgiving. Recognizing my fear of conflict and criticism and daring to express my true needs and desires led me to resign from work I wasn’t suited for and guided me to my passions for self-knowledge and writing. By far the most satisfying benefit is that I am learning at last to love myself, others, and the miracle of life.

Through her work, Jeanie has helped thousands of people, including professionals in the fields of psychology and religion, their clients and others by offering practical guidance to explore our inner world.

In this video she explains the 4 life-guiding principles she’s learned and wants to share with others:

How to Explore Your Dreams

A lot of people say they don’t remember their dreams, but Jeanie offers us some tips to become more attuned to them:

  1. Her first piece of advice is to be intentional. Before going to sleep, she says we should ask our dream maker (she calls her Dream Mother) to send us a dream.
  2. Next, she advises us to place a pen/pencil, paper/dream diary, or voice-activated recorder within easy reach of our beds.
  3. Third, she recommends that we jot down key words and images to help us remember our dreams when we wake. Another alternative is to write down the entire dream in detail as soon as possible. She recommends that we include colors, emotions, images, and behaviors and describe the action as if we are still experiencing the dream.
  4. Then, she suggests that we choose an especially interesting dream to work on. This may be a dream that has more intensity and returns to us at various points in the day.  There are several dream books that provide guidance in how to explore our dreams. Her book is titled Dream Theatres of the Soul. 

The Impact of Self Understanding on the Wider World

In Jean’s latest book, Healing the Sacred Divide:  Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World, she writes that healing ourselves is the first step in trying to understand the differences in others. She believes this greater self-awareness also brings more compassion for others and makes it easier to forgive those who have hurt us.  Forging bridges between us and others will help us solve some of our world’s greatest challenges.

Why is this so important?  The answer is simple. Jean believes that our divisiveness has the potential to kill us through warfare and violence.  And our ignorance of our true self blinds us and encourages us to live in fear of “otherness” and “the stranger” who is different from us.  But this only creates more problems.  She says,

With few models to guide us we repeat this pattern (of fearing and blaming others) down the generations. We don’t learn from history because we don’t understand the forces within us that cause our problems.

Instead, she encourages us to bring about real change in this world, by starting to understand ourselves.

To read more about Dr. Jean Raffa and her work, click on the following links:

This is the ninth in a series of articles about forward thinkers who are helping to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. These remarkable people are helping to define the future direction of their community, country, and even our global society.   To read more about the Pilot Fish Trailblazer Awards and the nominees Dr. Fred Sanger, Paolo Soleri, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Goodall, Alice Waters, Swami Vivekananda, The Man in Black, and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar click on the embedded links.  Suggest new nominees in the comments section below.

31 replies »

  1. Many thanks, Patti. I’m very honored to be in the company of your other nominees. And I appreciate how beautifully and effectively you’ve summarized the focus of my work and life.

    By the way, I had the exact same out-of-control car dream for many, many years! (I wonder if it’s common to young academics….). It took me forever to understand what it meant, but ongoing dreamwork gradually brought understanding. I wonder if people in the 19th century had the same dream about out-of-control horses! What an adventure life is, and how fortunate we are to be experiencing it.



    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jeanie. That is interesting that we had the same dream! I would imagine that there were different versions of it through the ages–with horses, chariots, and so on. It’s been my pleasure getting to know you and your work, as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve enjoyed reading about Dr. Raffa’s work. I’m always interested to hear how people deal with the crossroads of their lives. I’ve found that our bodies tend to give us hints to what our minds don’t or can’t address. I’m one of those who doesn’t remember her dreams very often. I’m going to give those tips a try.
    You’ve done a terrific job, Patti!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Many thanks, Jackie! It’s true that how we deal with the crossroads of life is very revealing. It says a lot about our character and resiliency. As Jeanie recommends, the dream journal can be very helpful. I started one many years ago and it offers so many insights. Hope you find it helpful too. 🙂


    • Hi Jackie,

      I’m with you. I’ve experienced body hints many, many times. Sometimes their messages get through to me when dreams don’t. For example, around 20 year ago I went to Zurich for an intensive study at the Jung Institute. As we walked through town in freezing weather the day we arrived, we decided to go inside a beautiful old church. When I stepped down some icy stone steps my feet slid out from under me and I fell so hard on my left side that the next morning I was bruised from head to toe.

      In keeping with the symbolism associated with left and right, I see the left side of my body as my “feminine” side and the right as “masculine,” so the meaning this “accident” held for me was that my femininity was bruised, wounded and hurting. I knew this was true and became more intentional about exploring my dreams for information on how that wound manifested in my attitudes and behavior. This led to some major insights. I have no doubt that when we take our inner lives seriously and symbolically, messages flow in from everywhere!

      Thank you for writing. Blessings on your dream work!


      Liked by 1 person

  4. Patti, I complement you on your excellent choice. Congratulations, Jeanie. I know Jean Raffa’s work well. Her teachings are a unique blend of Jungian psychology, modern spiritual philosophy, and personal wisdom. Her dream work encourages readers to look into their inner worlds and find meaning there. Recently, Jeanie blogged about our lack of universal health care, so she’s tackling big social issues, too. Thank you for honoring Jean Raffa and sharing her powerful work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I forgot to add that I had a glut of out of control, stuck, lost, blind-driving, driving without lights car dreams after my husband died in 2008. I drove from the backseat a few times, too. These were mixed with dreams of longing, deep love, and connection to my husband, but in the upper world, the conscious world, I had to learn to drive a new vehicle into a new life–and I had no idea where I was going.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing this perfect example of how the universe without constantly mirrors our world within and vice versa. The longer I do this work, the more obvious it is that everything is connected in a universal matrix of love and consciousness, and that everything has meaning.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks so much Elaine for your thoughtful comments and insights about your own dreams! Jeanie’s work is remarkable. I’m so glad that you agree! It’s true that we need to find our way through new challenges–as you’ve mentioned. I can only imagine the sense of being “lost” after a spouse’s death. I’m so glad you found your way.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Patti, thanks for sharing this symbolic dream, and I like your choice of Dr. Jean Raffa! I like Jung as he made Freud’s ideas much more easier to understand, and also created a modern vision to oppose him as well. Each stage of my life seems to have had a shadow in it, probably related to the pangs of growing up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Maria,

      I relate to your sense that each stage of your life has been accompanied by a shadow. I guess that’s partly because each new stage presents a new challenge: one that we can either open to and accept or fear and deny. And the two always seem to come into conflict, which only gets stronger, especially if we keep avoiding the challenge with unhealthy escape mechanisms until we come to terms with our shadow/fear and find a way to move past it.

      And then there are the shadow aspects of ourselves that come with our personality and life experiences and choices. These are always with us: the parts of our fuller selves that we’ve unconsciously disowned that always show up in problematic ways in work and relationships. And the only way past them is to see and accept them in our thoughts and behavior so we can choose new ways of responding to them.

      Jung was brilliant in seeing and describing these powerful inner forces that hold us back from health and healing!

      Many thanks for your thoughtful comment.



  8. Enjoyed this introduction very much. I went to a dream group for a year and it was very rewarding. We went through one member’s dream every meeting, and followed a well documented procedure every time. Together we helped the dreamer to better understand her dream. And so we all became better at understanding our dreams. I will have to look more into Raffa’s work. Thank you for choosing her.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Ann-Christine. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Jean is doing great work. How fascinating that you belonged to a dream group. How did you meet? It must have been fascinating to hear what others were dreaming and how to interpret them.


  10. Hi Dunelight. Yes, that is unsettling. I’ve had a few that were unnerving…like dreaming about the death of a friend’s mother and then having her call me out of the blue that morning to tell me that her mother had died just a few hours before. I will never forget that moment. And yet, it’s reassuring in a way, to know that we are connected closely to some people, even more than we ever expected.


  11. Hi Dunelight. Like Patti, I’ve found it very reassuring to know that we are all far more deeply connected than most of us imagine. My dreams have shown me that over and over. I also accepted them as pure entertainment until my forties, when my “dark night of the soul” forced me to seek self-knowledge in new and scary ways. Initially, I found many dreams unsettling, although I only had a couple that were precognitive; but when I got over my fear they became very self-validating and affirming…so much so, that my practice of closely observing and working on my dreams became almost an addiction. Nothing else even approached the comfort and healing this brought! Now they are as real and meaningful to me as my waking life experiences. And that is a joy. Thanks so much for writing!

    Liked by 1 person

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