“Meeting the Woman Within” is part of a book-in-progress entitled Sex with Spirit: Hints and Provocations.
“ ‘Meeting the Woman Within’ is a record and exploration of a series of startling dreams which inaugurated a recent development in my own spiritual awareness. They arrived during a serious illness spanning most of two years, and the four published here are only the simplest and most dramatic of the series. The dreams concern the emergence and recognition of an inner, feminine consciousness — a collection of energies which Carl Jung identified as the anima (or soul) of man. (Women possess a comparable, but masculine bundle of energies, labeled the animus.) Jung suggested that the process of falling in love, for a man, consists of ‘projecting’ his ideal vision of a woman, which lives within him as the anima, onto a real woman in the world. As romance dies, he withdraws the projection until he finds another woman whom it seems to fit. But without examination, the repetition of this process does little to help him understand his own feminine nature, which is his key to emotional growth and experience of the divine. Such an understanding can only be inaugurated by accepting the reality of the inner world, thus taking responsibility for his own interior femininity. This can begin voluntarily, in therapy, dreamwork, or creative imagination, or it may commence unexpectedly, as it did for me, in a mystifying and cathartic trauma. ‘By repressing the feminine,’ writes Nor Hall in The Moon and the Virgin: Reflections on the Archetypal Feminine, ‘one encourages a violent emergence.’ I suspect that I am not alone in experiencing such an emergence. I communicate my experience to other men (and women) with the suggestion that much suffering can be avoided if one turns to speak to the soul before she or he erupts in impatience.
“The prayers which follow the four dreams represent my attempt to find a personal, powerful language for communication with the God within — both as anima and as a creative intelligence beyond her. The somber, dutiful style of the Christian prayers I learned as a child is of no use to me in developing this language. Perhaps an essential step in human maturity is the private rediscovery of the purpose and practicality of prayer, regardless of one’s inherited religious tradition. Even those determined to remain nonreligious can explore prayer as a means of revelatory inner conversation, a fulfillment of the philosophical commandment to ‘know thyself.’ When one decides to speak to the spark of life carried within, the form of address probably matters less than the desire to communicate.”
January 12. Conception Dream.
I am outdoors with a young, blonde girl. Though I don’t recognize her or have a name for her, it is obvious that she is my girlfriend. She sits on a rock, looks up at me and says, “Your illness means I am pregnant.” I begin to worry whether I can make enough money in nine months to support a child.
Lord, I may be a man, but I am pregnant with grief. I have only just gotten used to crying, and now I am rolling about and wailing out loud, clutching my painful belly as if struggling to unhitch a beast who has leapt upon my center, clawing. But the beast is inside; my stomach has turned against me! It spasms and contracts in the service of an inexplicable distress. It bloats with the eruption of unspoken violence.
Before this mess I was doing just fine, really I was. Sure, I felt weakened and angry — perhaps I begrudged my friends their many unfair advantages, and of course I suspected the loveliest women of vampirism. But God knows — don’t you? — that I was only trying to fit in, striving for that cachet of legitimacy, straining mightily to outgrow my childish idealism and perhaps, someday, Get a Real Job. Yes, I was thrashing clumsily after a reputation that might reassure my parents their passion was not in vain. Is there anything wrong with that?
But somehow, so help me God, I fell right through my own life. I fell out of my house of assurance, plummeting down into the jagged past, splashing and submerging in that deep, black well where the body becomes a fish for a while, ignoring everything but instinct. When I wanted a simple cure, I got complicated dreams instead. When I wanted reassurance, I got shards of enlightenment — and what am I supposed to do with that? When I wanted so badly to return to that simple, wonderful life I had before — when it was just my spotless ego against the whole vicious, random world — well, then I look around and see this beautiful, delicate girl, to my eyes the virginal type, who sweetly tells me that we are in trouble together. Oh, my God! Didn’t my father try to warn me about her kind? How can I possibly afford a pregnancy now? How can I explain my own distended belly, this embarrassing inflation? And who will help me through he labor to come?
January 18. Following Dream.
I am conscious as my own anima — a feminine spirit — and I am following my body around. I realize that I can make myself known with the use of some diagram or picture drawn on newsprint, but I cannot act in the physical world; so I am stalking myself like a wraith, to see what I will do. I follow my body to an office where young, fashionably dressed women are doing graphic design, and watch myself get out a sheet of newsprint with a growing sense of anticipation. I am waiting for my bodily self to realize that I am not the only spirit around; I think, “Soon your grandmother and all kinds of women will be dropping out of the sky.” As a feminine spirit, this gives me a sense of elation and superior knowledge.
I have seen Your face in the feminine, Lord, and followed it everywhere. Possessed by womanly walk and rhythm, I have gone out of my way and put aside my plans — not really to meet, but to follow a little longer. I have prolonged the mystery by indirect pursuit, then turned aside that the mystery be protected. I have angrily imagined myself the most desperate of men, dreaming rape, less an act of bodily power than the attempted theft of tenderness. A woman makes a man feel a raw wound of loss, but she seems the only cure. Her seduction is like a medicine, the promise that something given up before memory will be restored.
But when a woman proves real and limited — when she will not maintain the divinity which You and I have conspired to paint upon her — then her voice scratches like a rake across the tender, healing scar. Men search again and again for the unworldly phantasms which fade in their very grasp. If they trade their hope for futility, they shrink into bitterness. When men are separated from their ease, they will veil their grace with violence, and find enemies in every direction.
And yet, the tender hope we are chasing follows us, unbodied, a wraith with secret gifts to bestow upon those who look back. We must be willing to surrender only desperation, and admit in quiet moments that the opposite of the world is also real, that everything we know is wrong that both the clock and our pride are figments of the imagination. We must renounce vengeance, and rejoice that no sacrifice has been asked of us. We have struggled so hard and painfully to claim the many women we see before us — can we relax enough to recognize the One who follows?
February 9. Reconciliation Dream.
Four or five women are gathered at my house for the second time; we are working on something together, a common purpose. I sit with a tall, thin, blonde woman, embracing lightly. She is much friendlier than in a previous visit. Then I turn and talk to another woman, and soon we are kissing and embracing. She smiles and says, “The first time we met I didn’t like you too much. But now. . . .” We talk about some things she is afraid of; she has read a disturbing news report. I try to reassure her, saying that journalism is often very distorted, not something she can believe in. “But God is locked up tight inside my head,” she says. I reply, “Just let the God loose in you.” She smiles but says she’s not sure she can do that.
Isn’t it true, dear God, that facts without truth are as instructive as the campfire tales which set the loose bones of terror rattling just beyond a child’s uncertain circle of light? The brain has discovered electricity, and delights in plugging in all parts of the world together, so the atmosphere fairly fizzes with information from everywhere at once. Now with dinner we can consume the body count televised from yet another nation whose name we did not know yesterday. But the sports reports are eerily repetitious; death and betrayal are always running neck and neck. The winner will soon face the new contender: too many births. The paper turns sentimental at Christmas but other times does its duty, every day posting a new, sardonic variant of the only headline there is: THIS IS HELL. THIS IS HELL. THIS IS HELL.
Woman within, I have got you trapped in a doll house. You are all curled up, miserably claustrophobic, in a tiny cheap construction surrounded by a full-size moat churning with alligators, my snapping fears. And God is locked up tight inside your head. No wonder we haven’t been getting along! All these years I have waited for you to announce your own release, to come purring through the voice of a perfect woman who wants to save my life, but you have instead awaited my suggestion. The warden and the prisoner must collaborate; breakouts are temporary, but together we can dissolve the prison. And when God uncurls in you again, and you unlimber within me, then even hell may break loose from its moorings, and we will go about exploding definitions, piercing the usual concepts, dumbfounding the newscasters. The women freed within men will call forth the men fidgeting in women and, lo and behold, we may altogether lift the cruel, mundane world into a moment of delicious, shivery effervescence. We are liking each other better now. We are flirting with the notion of surrendering to union. Is that God who whispers Now so suggestively?
October 15. Awakening Dream.
I have a woman’s face, with real skin, mounted on a styrofoam wig dummy in my room. I have had it for some time; it is like an art mask except that I know it really used to be someone’s face. The eyes are closed. I wake up early and look at it and, surprisingly, the eyes open. I begin to play with facial expressions, opening and closing my eyes, smiling, and slowly the face begins to imitate me, her lips curling up at the ends in a first smile. Soon she is making expressions on her own, and we begin talking; I am fascinated by all the history she must have. She is a little shy but wants to talk, and tells me she had two children and two lovers (or husbands), “but they left.” I feel very sad for her, realizing this must have had something to do with her death. I ask her name and she says she really has three, and the first one is funny; I laugh out loud when she says the name is “Box Office.” She is going into a long, confusing explanation of this when we hear D. getting up to go to work; the maskwoman doesn’t want to be seen, so she hides somehow behind the wall. But we are both giggling and D. can hear us on his way to the bathroom. He looks in and I gesture to the face and say, “Guess what? She can talk now!” I’m aware that D. will think I am highly irrational to believe the mask can talk. But she and I both laugh out loud so he has to see I am not imagining it. He shakes his head disdainfully and says merely, “I’m going to work.” The maskwoman begins to tell me about her mother.
So much tenderness within! How long have you been with me, mute and unseeing? How long have I assumed you were the plastic artifact of a distant life eclipsed in mystery? How long have I possessed you, usurping your possibility, and have you been moaning inaudibly beneath my awareness?
God gives us this morning of awakening together. I have not done anything special. We are always walking through scattered showers of grace, grumbling and popping out our umbrellas, pissed off if we were misled by the forecast — why should today be any different? Sometimes we just happen to listen when God, dialing ceaselessly throughout the universe, breathes heavily into the phone and murmurs, “I will try again.”
Move closer and tell me your names. I am a little shocked but greatly amused by your lewd wordplay. Your sense of mischief offends my decency but invites my love of adventure. Our laughter together, so delicate and wealthy, matches any intimacy I have known in waking life, and makes me wonder which world is the source of the other. I used to think that I dreamed of love because I had known women; is it rather that men and women dream each other up in the service and exploration of love?
You will be a lot of trouble, but you are here already. To turn away from your resurrection would be an amputation, perhaps the murder of myself. There will always be the temptation to “return to work,” restore order, resist the unscheduled suggestions arising from the new playfulness you are breathing into my awareness. You are nowhere to grasp but everywhere to feel, not a part of my past but my newly regained future. I take a shine to you: the splendid lens drawing my sight to the vast, lucid world awaiting our return to undifferentiated light. You were about to recount your history — pray tell me what I forgot when I chose this life as a man.
Patrick invites comment on “Meeting the Woman Within.” To receive advance notification of the publication of his book, write Presumptions Press, 1442A Walnut Street, #58, Berkeley, CA 94709.