Thursday, February 24, 2011

Course Note #96: Black Swan & Dr. Jekyll

Hi There, 
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the movie Black Swan since I saw it two days ago.  I had heard that it was a movie about an anorexic ballerina who descends into madness.  I had also heard that it was "disturbing", "demonic", and "psychologically challenging" --  Wow, spare me that! So I wasn’t really interested in visualizing all of that, nevertheless, I remained intrigued and so finally I went to see it.
            It is an incredible movie on every level.  After my son saw it in December, he said that it contained everything he likes in a movie, and I feel the same way about it, in fact, as I write this I am yearning to see it again. 

This contains SPOILERS, so if you have not seen the movie and don’t want to know anything about it, stop reading now.

            As the movie begins, the ballet company director, Thomas, describes his vision to the dancers:
            “We open our season with Swan Lake. Done to death I know, but not like this. We strip it down, make it visceral and real. A new production needs a new Swan Queen. A fresh face to present to the world. But which of you can embody both swans? The white and the black?
“We all know the story.  Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan.  She desires freedom, but only true love can break the spell.  Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince.  But before he can declare his love, her lustful twin, the Black Swan, tricks and seduces him.  Devastated, the White Swan leaps off a cliff, killing herself, and in death, finds freedom.”

Natalie Portman brilliantly plays Nina Sayers who is a ballerina obsessed with perfection.  She has lived a sheltered life with a controlling and manipulative mother, and is the epitome of the virginal white swan.
While Nina desires the role of Swan Queen, Thomas does not feel that she can capture the role of the Black Swan:

Nina Sayers: I came to ask for the part.
Thomas Leroy: Well, the truth is, when I look at you, all I see is the White Swan. Yes, you're beautiful, fearful, fragile. Ideal casting. But the Black Swan, it's a hard job to dance both.
Nina Sayers: I can dance the Black Swan too.
Thomas Leroy: Really? In four years, every time you dance, I see you obsess, getting each and every move perfectly right. But I never see you lose yourself. Ever.
Nina Sayers: [quietly] I just want to be perfect.
Thomas Leroy: Perfection is not just about control. It's also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence.

            I very much related to this conversation.  For most of my life I did not think of myself as “creative” at all.  It seemed that the more inner work I did, I came to find out that I had talents I never knew I had.  What I have observed, however, is that they come forth most powerfully when I lose sight of “me” and let go to allow my true Self to extend through me.  In a sense, this is what Thomas urges Nina to do throughout the movie.
The movie is filled with archetypal symbolism especially in regard to the shadow.  I found it fascinating in its depiction of the shadow side of human nature, and how exploration of it can take one into a sort of madness, as it literally did in Nina’s case. 
Along the way on my spiritual journey, quite a few years ago I was urged from within to explore the shadow.  In my book, “Oh My God. It’s Me!” I wrote a chapter on the shadow and how we can begin to integrate it so that we may know true perfection, which is really wholeness. 

The “shadow” has been thought of as the dark self, the repressed self or the “other” self, but really, it isn’t a self at all.  It isn’t even our darkness; rather, it hides from view that which we don’t want to see.  It shades aspects of both the dark and the light within that we have disowned.
The shadow is friend to the true Self because, as we bring awareness to the suppressed or denied aspects of ourselves, we can then accept and own them and thus experience wholeness.  For the same reason, the shadow is an enemy to the false self, which has no interest in becoming whole, but merely yearns to fit in, or as in Nina’s case, to be perfect.
The shadow unrecognized will somehow emerge, and usually unexpectedly.  It may erupt in illness, sexual dysfunction, mental and emotional disorders or in the conflicts one may have each day. 
In Nina’s case, we see it emerge in neurosis.  In her exploration of the role of the Black Swan, she begins to suffer hallucinations and a distorted sense of self.  There were many scenes where she appears to be harming herself in one way or another, although this is mostly going on in her mind. 

Beth, the dancer Nina replaces, was in a tragic accident where she walked in front of a car.  Thomas relays to Nina that he thinks she did it on purpose “because everything Beth does comes from within, from some dark impulse. I guess that's what makes her so thrilling to watch. So dangerous. Even perfect at times. But also so damned destructive.”

I found this fascinating as well, that Beth in her quest for perfection also became self-destructive. 
There is one scene where Nina visits Beth in the hospital to return a few items that she had taken from Beth’s dressing room.  When Beth asks her why she took them, Nina replies, “I wanted to be perfect, like you.”
Beth picks up the nail file and says, “I’m not perfect. I’m nothing, nothing, nothing…” as she stabs herself in the face with the nail file.  Her face then morphs into Nina’s face, seemingly symbolic of how Nina feels about herself.  Like so much in the movie, the viewer is not sure if this actually occurred. 

Sexual exploration is one of the ways that Thomas urges Nina to find the inner Black Swan.  Lily, another dancer who appears to embody the Black Swan, becomes a threat to Nina, and ultimately the one who Nina projects her darkness and sexual repression onto.
It doesn’t appear that Nina really wants the role of Swan Queen for adulation or glory, but more to prove her worthiness.  Throughout the movie she expresses her desire to be perfect, and for her, “perfect” means to embody the role of the Black Swan perfectly.  This takes her into madness as, ultimately, she morphs into the Black Swan. 

As she enters the stage to dance the part of the Black Swan, in her mind, she has actually become the Black Swan and dances to perfection.  Moments before the dance she left behind in her dressing room, Lily, whom she has just killed because, it is her turn to shine. 
Later, when Lily comes to her room to congratulate her on her terrific performance as the Black Swan, through Nina’s reaction we learn that she really did believe that she had killed Lily, when in fact, she had sought to kill off a part of herself.  I’m not really sure what occurred at the end of this movie, but it seems that she had literally stabbed herself. 
She dances her last act as the White Swan, again perfectly, and as she is to fall from a cliff to her death, she does indeed fall to her death.  Her last words:

Nina Sayers: [weakly] I felt it.
Thomas Leroy: What?
Nina Sayers: Perfect. I was perfect.

            As was foreshadowed in Thomas’s retelling of the story of Swan Lake, Nina finally found freedom, through death.

            This movie reminded me of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I’ll give you the nutshell version: Dr. Jekyll, being a chemist, devised a potion that would separate his dark self from his light filled self.  In the story, My Hyde began to overtake Dr. Jekyll, it was as if the dark side was enveloping the light.
            One night as Mr. Hyde, he murders a man of high esteem, after which he was filled with despair and at wits end wondering what he was going to do.  Ultimately he too, found freedom through death.

            Both stories, Dr. Jekyll’s and Nina’s Black Swan, are very interesting in that they reveal the consequences of attempting to separate off parts of ourselves.  Dr. Jekyll was unable to look at aspects within that did not fit with his ideal of a good and moral person.  In his attempt to separate these aspects of himself, he destroyed himself in the process.
            The Gospel of Thomas says that if you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. 

            Carl Jung observed that the shadow is 90% pure gold, and that it is the seat of creativity.  As we begin to look at our projections, both positive and negative, we mine our gold.  It is the true Self that desires to extend itself creatively, abundantly, and with love, so we must bring awareness to all the ways we deny this Self-extension.

            Shadow work is a lot about looking at our projections, and it is not something we can really do alone without going mad (!), as do Nina and Dr. Jekyll.  We have guidance within at all times.  Spirit Within is our Comforter, Healer, Guide, Strengthener, Friend, and in my opinion, the Ultimate Therapist!   
            We glimpse enlightenment as we recognize that we are all perfect, and we are all imperfect.  The paradox of human life is that we must come to accept and even honor the imperfection within the perfection.

            As we go about our lives, may we become willing to embrace the light and the dark, the saint and sinner, the good citizen and the criminal within our own heart.  Thus, you come to know yourself, accept yourself, and yes, even love yourself.

Update: Black Swan: Part Deux:
            Since I originally wrote this post, I've thought about how the actual movie is a retelling of Swan Lake.  Nina wants freedom from her mother, her childhood, her self...  The black swan, so long repressed begins to emerge as it seduces and tricks Nina, finally she finds freedom through death.

                I have listened to a couple of interviews with Natalie Portman and the director and both spoke of the film being about a child becoming a woman, and that the child had to die for the woman to be born.
              I didn't get this message from it at all, for all the reasons I shared in the original post. Even the director says that it is a sort of ballet horror story.  I've read several different interpretations of the movie and have found each sort of fascinating and interesting. 
           Carolyn Myss weighed in on it talking about a "black swan experience", as in a life-changing event.  This didn't really ring for me either, as the film seems to be much more about an explanation of the psyche.  Anyhoo! fun! 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Course Note #95: Why We Do the Things We Do

Hi there,
Usually I write blogs on the audios I post here, however, this audio contains so much great material from NTI 2 Corinthians that it would be much better to actually listen to it.

I feel privileged to be able to not only have access to this material, but to be able to share it with you as well.

This audio covers NTI 2 Corinthians, chapters 1-5 and amplifies how the material relates to teachings in A Course in Miracles.

Rich material on:
                                *Giving everything in our lives the purpose of healing
                                * I am not a victim of the world I see
                                * Why you think the way you do, and why you experience that which you 
                                * And much more...

Enjoy it here: 


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Monday, February 14, 2011

Course Note #94: Love Has Freed Me...

I have learned so much from God
that I can no longer call myself
a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew…

The Truth has shared so much of Itself with me
that I can no longer call myself
a man, a woman, an angel, or even a pure soul.
Love has…freed me
of every concept and image my mind has ever known.
                     14th-century Persian Sufi poet Hafiz

I can so relate to the words in this poem as I too, have learned so very much from God.  In the stillness, God reminds me, and you, of our true identity as creations of a Source of light, laughter and love.

I especially love the line, Love has…freed me.  Yes, awareness of Divine Love as the guiding force in my life, has freed me in so many ways.  I am free to choose love over fear, peace over anger, and happiness over despair.  Every day I ask Spirit to help me be not just a “clanging cymbal” or a loud noise, but an expression of Love.

Through our willingness to serve in love, we are transformed.  We return to the remembrance of our perfection as Love perfects us through service to our fellow humans.  I’ve discovered that God changes us while we are being used. We don’t have to wait to get it all together, all we have to do is be willing to let Love set us free.  Love sets us free to look upon one another beyond classifications of religion, race, sexuality or gender.  Love sets us free of seeing one another through the lens of fear and hate. And Love works in and through us in service to one another.

If you feel that you have not been given enough love, decide today to be a giver of Love. It sounds simple to decide to be a loving person, but of course, we know that it is not.  You don’t have to love everyone today; instead, each day; decide to love one more human being.  Hold a door open for someone, smile at another, a “thank you” to someone else.  Love need not be complicated.

The ultimate goal of humanity is to love one another.  Your consistent willingness to choose love is the pinnacle of spiritual maturity.  It’s the mountaintop, it’s what you are here to learn.  You won’t learn to love over night, you’re not supposed to.  Learning to love is the task of a lifetime.

God is not looking for perfect people to do his work.  If so, let’s face it, he’d have a very small work force. Every one of us is needed.  The love of God can only be extended on this earth through people who become willing to extend it.  Take this idea seriously and you will come to know that Love truly is power – and, it will set you free.

And so as you go about your life this week, recognize that the time to love is now.  If not you, who?  If not now, when?  Each day become willing to ask and heed the question, “How can I love today?” 

Love will begin to permeate and embrace your life.  Practice love on purpose as if your life depended on it, it does.

Happy Valentine's day! Much Love to you! 

This Audio was recorded on 3/1/07 and is 44 min.
Love has Freed me

Send me someone to love
MP3 File

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Course Note #93: Listen, Learn & Do

In the fortieth miracle principle in the Urtext of  A Course in Miracles we find the “miracle prayer”:

If you will tell me what to do,
Only that I will to do.

            “This prayer is the door that leads out of the desert forever.”

           This principle goes on to give us what I like to call, a recipe for miracles, which is actually instruction on living the miracle prayer. According to Webster, a recipe is: “a set of directions for preparing something.”  We’re all familiar with the term in regard to preparing a meal, yet who would’ve thought that we have a set of directions that prepare us to be miracle workers?
For optimum results a recipe requires all the ingredients, and we have three in the recipe for miracles.  They are: Listen, learn and do.  We must be ready to listen, willing to learn, and able to do.
 So now that we have the ingredients, let’s delve into this very delicious recipe!

First Ingredient: Ready to Listen

A Course in Miracles teaches us to discern between two voices: Ego speaks for fear, attack and limitation, and Holy Spirit speaks for love, union, and miracles.  We’re told that we have a choice between fear and love, but it’s more like having only one choice because fear is almost always on automatic pilot!
One of the things I love about the Course is that it doesn’t teach that we should listen to the voice for Love; instead it reveals that we do listen to the voice for separation – constantly! The ego chats incessantly about literally everything we see, hear and do.  Have you noticed? 
Miracle-mindedness is a state of consciousness that requires vigilance.  Being “ready to listen” means that we are to be increasingly aware of the ego’s voice, and then vigilant to choose again, vigilant to choose to listen to the Voice of Truth.

Second Ingredient:  Willing to Learn

A prerequisite for being willing to learn would have to be the acknowledgment that, I do not know.  
“Those who remember always that they know nothing, and who have become willing to learn everything, will learn it.  But whenever they trust themselves, they will not learn.” (T-14.XI.12:1)

An aspect of my life that the inner teacher has used to teach me many lessons is running a business.  Twenty-five years worth of lessons around money and trust, letting go of doubt and fear, and learning to get myself out of the way as I interact with the people who come into my office.  I have learned that healing comes through recognition that I am most helpful when I remember that I do not have the answers.

I will be healed as I let Love teach me to heal.

Nevertheless, once in awhile doubt, fear and thoughts of unworthiness pop up again, serving to lead me deeper into the lessons of Truth.  Fear is a sure sign that I’ve gone back to trusting myself, instead of the Truth that I Am as God created me. 
Miracle-mindedness denies any thought of lack or limitation, and affirms the Truth that each one of us is a creation of an abundant Source of all good.  Through listening to the voice of fear and separation, we have taught ourselves that we are limited, lacking and just not good enough.  In order to be miracle-ready, we must be willing to learn from another teacher.  The Course tells us that our part is very simple: Ask to be taught
Is anything going on in your life that brings up feelings of doubt and fear?  You can choose fear or a miracle, but you cannot choose both.  Are you ready to choose again?  If so, take a moment to think of God’s presence within you and silently pray:

In this moment,
I acknowledge that I do not know what I want,
I do not know what I need.
The Voice for God leads me
and knows the way, which I know not.
I trust that It will never keep from me
What It would have me learn.

“By this refusal to attempt to teach yourself what you do not know, the Guide Whom God has given you will speak to you.”  (T-14.XI.6)

The reason we have the same problems occurring over and over again in different form, the reason tomorrow will look so much like yesterday, is because in the present, we don’t stop and acknowledge that we truly don’t know what we will need or want tomorrow.  The miracle undoes the past by revealing to me what I Am now.  What I Am now is not a being of lack and limitation.
When I am alert to thoughts of fear lurking in my mind, I need only remember that my part is to acknowledge that I do not know, and return my mind to the One who does know.  Miracle principle eleven tells us that prayer is the medium of miracles. It is the means of communication of the created with the Creator.  Through prayer love is received, and through miracles love is expressed.
Frequently, I have been receiving the inner prompting, “Sheryl, use your mind to pray.”  This reminds me that I can leave the desert by clearing my mind so that I may hear the Voice I truly want to listen to.

Third Ingredient:  Able to Do
At face value one might think: “Oh yeah, I’m going to listen, and I am going to learn, and then, I’ll do something in the world.”
That’s not how it works.  This last ingredient is involuntary, which means: I don’t do it.  It’s done through me.  I need do nothing. My responsibility is to be ready to listen, willing to learn, and then to let Holy Spirit “do” through me. 
There is such a sense of freedom in the realization that I don’t have to try to change the world, you, or myself; I only have to be willing to let go.  “Able to do” is to let go and Let God. 
Through readiness to listen and willingness to learn, my mind becomes a fertile ground for miracles. The Voice for Love whispers to me now:

Are you ready to listen
to My voice?
Are you willing dear child of Love,
to learn that you do not know?
When you are ready to listen to My voice,
when you are willing to learn that you do not know
 what  is best for you,
then, the Love that I Am
will extend through the Love that
You Are,
and the world
will be lit by miracles.

Note: Miracle principle 40 in the Urtext is number 47 in the "Original Edition".  It does not appear in the Fip edition.

Today’s audio on this topic is 39 min.


    MP3 File

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Course Note #92: Form a New Habit

Last year in January I received this inner guidance: "You cannot go where you want to go, and stay where you are now."   I was directed to this again this morning as I embark on another round of change.
Since early 2007 I have been in a period of spiritual growth that has entailed the letting go of thought and behavior habits that no longer serve me.  A teaching from the Bible that has been helpful to me in regard to the importance of relinquishing particular habit patterns, is the one about wineskins:
    "And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined."  (Luke 5:37)
              One morning as I was directed to that passage, I heard the Inner Voice say, "Sheryl, I cannot pour new power into you if you are unwilling to give up old habits, old attitudes and old thought patterns."  
            Aha! That's what the teaching means! I love it when Spirit uses my life experiences to teach me that the words in the spiritual books I read are not just words, but tools for transformation.  

As I began to study NTI (The Holy Spirit's Interpretation of the New Testament), I was surprised to find the same interpretation on these teachings as I had received. wasn't surprised to find that these Biblical passages were interpretative as being about habits.  
                         "Let go of old habits and old ways of thinking. They have not served you. To hold onto the old is to create a future like the past. That is not useful to you now. Listen to my word. Hear what I say. Practice it. Then you will know what to do."  (NTI Matthew 9:14-17)

              And from NTI Luke: "Old habits must be let go, for old habits will not usher in a new day. With old habits, all things remain the same. But with new habits, all things are possible. I have come to teach you new habits. You will learn these habits by practicing them as I ask. Remember Me, and practice. You will catch yourself practicing the old habits, for this has been your way until now. Slipping into old habits does not ruin the new ones. So when you find yourself doing this, forgive yourself..." 

            I have been directed to this guidance off and on and received greater insight on it. I'd like to point out how all great spiritual literature meets us where we are: When I was first directed to these passages I heard this: "When you find yourself slipping into old habits, forgive yourself." So for quite awhile I did practice forgiving myself for falling into my old thought and behavior habits.

            Later, I was evidently ready to hear this: "So when you find yourself doing this, forgive yourself your attraction to the old by stepping away from the old and stepping into the new. Each time you do this, you help yourself to unlearn the old and learn the new. Take no old habits with you into the new, for the old habits must be left completely if the new habits are to result in new." 

          Through experience, I was able to see how Spirit meets us where we are. First, I was urged to forgive myself for my departures into the old. Later I was directed to forgive myself "by" stepping away from the old and into the new. In other words, I forgive myself by practicing!

           This material has certainly spoken to me about behavioral habits, but on a deeper level, it speaks to letting go of the old habits of thinking that keep us stuck in behavior patterns that no longer serve us.  All behavior comes from thought.  Our practice involves bringing increasing awareness to our thoughts, especially in the life areas where we feel stuck or frustrated.  When I become aware of self-defeating thoughts of lack, limitation or unworthiness, I can give them to Holy Spirit for the purpose of healing my mind. 
Another practice that comes to mind in lieu of dietary and lifestyle changes, is the willingness to bring the Divine Presence in with you while you eat.  When we are willing to let Love dine with us, the purpose changes from one of fear, guilt, judgment and attack, to one of love. 

Spirit speaks:
Know that I am with you in all that you do.
Make Me the only purpose for all you do,
and you shall know Me in your life.
For I never turn away from you.
It is you have turned from Me.
I but rest with you in peace and confidence
awaiting your invitation, 
that I may feed you with my miracles 
until you are full, complete and healed.
                                                          (NTI Matthew 15:29-39)

This audio was recorded to an internet audience on 2/1/11 and is 55 min.
Form a New Habit

MP3 File