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.
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 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:
- 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.
- Next, she advises us to place a pen/pencil, paper/dream diary, or voice-activated recorder within easy reach of our beds.
- 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.
- 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:
- Videos: https://www.youtube.com/c/JeanRaffa
- Books on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords.
- Jean Raffa’s Blog
- Jean Raffa’s Website
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.
Categories: Pilot Fish Trailblazer Awards