In this story a humble marigold brings an alchemical transformation, a flowering of consciousness, emotional healing, and a return to love (with a little help from a couple of small animal companions, that is).
Dream: A woman leaves her little daughter outside while she goes into her local bar to drink. I hear her tell someone about a young man who lives on the ground floor of her apartment building. He has a small shelf by his street door, and on this shelf he’s growing a marigold with very large buds that are about to open. She says that he somehow transforms everything into that marigold, his neighbors’ trash, garbage, insults. At that point I watch this process happen. It’s as if everything is potentially made of substances transmutable by the mind, as if trash and insults, material and non-material, are somewhere in their mind-structure the same as marigold. All is food for the marigold! It seems that at first the neighbors just dump their trash near the man’s door. Then they begin doing it on purpose, because they don’t like him, because he’s not like them; he doesn’t react. Then they do it out of curiosity, because they notice something is happening. Finally, they figure it out and are affected spiritually. They are themselves transformed.
This is one of those rare “big” dreams, those dreams that we can spend the rest of our lives working on, being nourished by, and trying our best to understand. Dreaming this some thirty years ago began for me a life-long interest in the process of transformation as an ongoing, personal experience of psycho-spiritual growth towards the divine and in all the small lines that we cross every day, moving from the profane toward the sacred by acts of remembering and by acts of choice.
I am interested in the decisions we make each moment to stay in ordinary mind or to allow transformation into larger, what might be called, sacred mind. This is a paradox: How do we invite, stimulate, or relax into such transformation by choice, while the experience itself often comes, if it comes at all, not through any action of ours, but by grace. Transformation is a metaphoric process of movement from inertia to motivation, from being stuck in the limited thinking-mind to having access to the wisdom of the collective unconscious, from the habitual perspective of the ego to that of the larger Self.
Openness to conscious transformation as an ongoing daily process is based on a trust that we are evolving beings on an evolving world in an evolving universe and that our growth is effected by watching and listening for clues, for guidance. Guidance is Spirit speaking through our expansive “higher” Self to our more limited, “lower” ego selves. Each of us has to discover the forms of attention through which guidance speaks most clearly to us. For me nature is often the presenting agent of transformation. Here is a story about how we invite, nature presents, and we respond:
For a year or so I had been deeply involved in a question: what does it mean when the fairy tales and children’s stories of various cultures say that animals speak to people? As a result of intensely asking this question and being alert for clues, I had been having many experiences of animal communications. One day my then ten-year-old son and his friend were playing in our moss garden and had carelessly trampled all the wildflowers. My husband discovered this just as we were about to get in the car to go out to dinner nearby with the friend’s family. Driving to meet them, everyone in the car was silent. I was still annoyed and frustrated and unable to get out of my bad mood. I wanted very much to shift this state of mind, but I had no idea how.
All of a sudden we had to stop the car, because there, in the middle of the road, was a turtle. My son got out to put the turtle over on the side of the road that it was facing, as instructed. “But Mom,” he said, “I can’t. It’s walking straight down the road.” So he brought the turtle into the car. We saw that it was not an ordinary box turtle, as we expected, but a mud turtle, which none of us had ever seen before. Instantly the entire mood changed. We were drawn together in our mutual interest in and concern for the turtle. Emotional stuckness was transformed into compassion as we shared our love for nature. Was this a meaningless coincidence? No, it was a synchronous event: two unrelated lines of causality converging in a meaningful pattern. I had invited an emotional shift, the turtle had presented itself, and we had responded. This was a form of animal communication. To many Native Americans Turtle represents Mother Earth and signifies compassion. Yes, the turtle brought the motherly kindness I sorely needed in order to heal my relationship to the children.
When we got back home we released the turtle near the creek in the woods behind our house. A month later, as we were getting ready to leave for school, my daughter, out of the blue, asked, “Mom, what do you mean when you say animals are our teachers?” I said, “Well, you remember when the mud turtle appeared, and we learned how to be loving again?” We got in the car and there, right in the street in front of us, was the mud turtle again, as if to confirm in case we had any doubts!
Invitation, Presentation, Response
We invite, nature presents, we respond. Invitation can be direct or indirect. Direct invitation would be what shamans do in drumming to access their power, singing songs to call their animal allies. Indirectly, we can maintain an alert expectancy while we hold an inner question and act as if the outer world is intimately related to us in mutuality.
Synchronicity, dreams, and creative breakthroughs come on moving energy. We can practice keeping our mental, emotional, and physical energies moving. We can keep breath moving freely through inner space and body energy moving via yoga, dance, or other energetic activity. We can keep our feelings moving by noticing, acknowledging, and sharing them. We can practice being drawn out of our acknowledged pain toward what we love, what we are interested in, and what our souls need. We can practice giving care, attention and compassion to nature in order to keep that relational energy flowing. An ongoing personal practice, besides providing the actual energy movement, is grounding, cumulative, and affirms the continuity of the ongoing process of transformation. Re-choosing every day to detect and align with moving energy, within and around us, is a form of indirect invitation.
In presentation the sacred reveals itself in everyday life; the divine infuses our humanness and nature. While we are holding a question or concern, something appears, often from the natural world, and meets us, bringing a gift of the unexpected, an emotional surprise. I believe we will continue to lack the psychic energy to be motivated enough to honor the Earth and save our environment — the habitats of turtles — until we realize nature as sacred, revelatory, and intimately related to us in our mutual evolution; us caring about nature, nature, in turn, caring about us.
Response occurs when we allow ourselves to be moved. Rather than being objective and distant, we can take the world into us through heightened senses while allowing an emotional response, a bodily response, and an association of ideas (poetic thought) to meet it, receiving what the world presents to us and honoring it as a waking dream.
Transformation is evidenced when there is a felt shift, an expansive sense of life moving ahead with meaning, a freshness, a joy, a softening, a yes! For this process to flower and bear fruit, it is helpful to have a creative vehicle through which to express the transformation, celebrate it, actualize it, and invite it to continue to grow and blossom.
The marigold dream is a metaphor for the transformation or flowering of consciousness. At first the neighbors just dump their trash or hurl their insults unconsciously. Their beginning to do so on purpose, because they don’t like the young man, represents a shadow form of consciousness. When they do it out of curiosity, because they notice that something is happening, this represents the emerging of directed consciousness. Their figuring out what is happening, that their insults are becoming fertilizer for his flower, represents the realization of the transformative process. They see that through his consciousness the young man transforms ugliness to beauty and fear to love. He does this by going to the fluid, changing, imaginal field of consciousness where there are no fixed categories, no boundaries between levels of energy, the Unus Mundus, where material and spiritual are not yet separated, where past and future are present now. Under the Bodhi Tree, aligned with the axis of ego/Self/Cosmos, Buddha’s enlightened consciousness transformed Kama-Mara’s fiery, hurled objects into flowers.
Why did the dream Self choose marigold as the flower of transformation? Marigolds are often the flowers that clothe altars of transformation. Mexican ofrendas honor death and light the way for the return of souls to their families on the Day of the Dead. Altars strung with marigolds focus rituals celebrating Diwali, the Hindu New Year. Diwali honors the goddess Lakshmi who dispels misfortune and brings peace and prosperity to the family in the new year. Indian weddings have traditionally been decorated with marigolds.
Pot marigolds, Calendulas, native to Europe, are herbs brimming with much medicinal and transformative healing power. They lift mood and are symbolic of light and joy. French marigolds, Tagetes, native to the Americas, were sacred to the Aztecs. As companion plants in the garden they repel harmful insects and help vegetables to flourish. The alchemists sought to transform base metals into gold as symbolic of the psycho-spiritual transformation of consciousness.
Wanting to honor the marigold flower, the dream, and the grace that brought me healing within my family, I picked some marigold blossoms and began drawing them. When I had drawn all I could see of the golden petals and the green leaves, I looked through a magnifying lens to see the sexual parts of the flowers better. Peering close, I thought to myself, I wonder how these get pollinated? Suddenly a big stick jabbed at my eyeball. I blinked as my head jerked back. When my eye adjusted to the closeness of the object, I followed it down, down into the forest of leaves. There, hidden in the foliage was a daddy long-legs that had thrust one of its legs up at me when I’d come down too close.
It started to move. I said, “Oh don’t go, don’t leave. I want to draw you, too.” I watched as it waved each of its legs slowly in the air before moving it ahead millimeter by millimeter. Little by little it moved one leg, then another, until it ever so slowly worked its way up to the top of the flower, skimmed its belly across the pollen parts, and stopped in full view, one leg still held straight towards me, warning me to look but not touch. I drew him sitting there on the flower, but in those few moments my static idea to draw the flower had become a dynamic experience of crossing a boundary of separation and being drawn into intimate contact with another order of being. I was transformed from mere drawer to lover, experiencing once more the alchemical marigold of the dream. Like the mud turtle, this small insect also communicated with me in its own way. They both taught me how to love again.
An early version of this piece was written for a class on the Psychology of Religion at UNC with beloved professor Bill Peck to whom I remain grateful for his love of our spirited Earth. A later version was published in the Newsletter of the C.G. Jung Society of the Triangle, September, 2000. Two other stories in the Earth-Dreaming series are Earth-Dreaming: Liminal Waters and Earth-Dreaming: Heartscape
Text and drawing (c) 2019 Betty Lou Chaika
Photo of Diwali Altar from https://www.saffronmarigold.com/blog/diwali/
Photo of Day of the Dead Altar from http://www.mexconnect.com