Where Two Opposites Can Grow
Healing the Sacred Divide that Resides Within Us All
By Frances Nevill
In her new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, Dr. Jean Benedict Raffa examines the mandorla space—the sacred space where two opposites can connect—as the catalyst for healing what might ail our society, culture, and interpersonal relationships. Dr. Raffa asserts that while the polarization of people is rampant in our times, merging toward a common ground not only keeps constructive dialogue alive amongst diverse cultures, but in fact affords the opportunity to know our own selves even more. WNC Woman magazine caught up with Dr. Raffa as she shared ideas about her new book, how healing can be as easy as meeting in the middle, and why she loves her time in western North Carolina.
Let’s talk about “sacred divides.” Are we talking about what divides us as people in relationships or as a society?
Both! I use the term “sacred divides” because we all see our lives in terms of pairs of opposites and fundamental dualities such as masculine/feminine, good/evil, experience/belief. We tend to see things in terms of “me and my family, my tribe, my religion” and “them and their families, their tribe, their religion.” Whatever we like about ourselves we tend to project onto our belief system, and what we don’t like about ourselves we often repress or project onto others and their belief system. We become separated from others by fear. When in fact, all of those things, the known parts of ourselves and the differences we perceive in others, it’s in fact all sacred. When we first begin to see our own shadow side — our dark sides, if you will — it makes us more compassionate and forgiving toward ourselves. Once we get over the embarrassment of realizing we’re flawed and we can be more forgiving to ourselves, we are freed of this great burden of having to be perfect, and we can finally be open to otherness.
Your book, Healing the Sacred Divide uses the visual of two circles colliding and how that is actually a very special thing. Can you share what that means?
In many cultures and religions, the image of the circle, often referred to as a mandala, is considered a sacred circle. When two circles, often opposites, collide, the overlap forms an almond shape. This almond shape in the middle is called the mandorla space. It’s a holy space. It’s a place of dialogue and compassion and a place where understanding can grow — between male and female, my masculine side and my feminine side, between logical and creative, between democrats and republicans. That almond shape is what we need to move toward.
Its sounds so easy, but how can we take two polar opposites and nudge each side toward that mandorla space?
I have an example of when I was recently seated next to a person who was of the opposite political party. He was open to many of the perspectives my party holds, and I was open to many of the perspectives his party holds. And he said, “why can’t people just talk about this stuff like you and I did. Why do people have to be so hostile and afraid?” And that is my point. It’s the fear that we have of even moving toward that mandorla that keeps us separated. So one way we can get together is just to be open to listening to otherness. Whether that is someone’s point of view or whether it’s a new question that arises within ourselves. To ignore those questions keeps those circles separated.
How does that help our own personal growth?
When we keep the opposites separated, we not only deny the chance for compassion and understanding between them, but we deny ourselves the opportunity for more wholeness in our inner lives.
For someone in a relationship (or who wants to be in one), what are some steps they can take toward that growth and that sacred place of understanding and wholeness?
Drawing from my own relationship with my husband, we started out being very different people. He’s leftbrained and logically oriented and I’m right-brained, imaginative and creative. So we had this divide. If we argued, we often made decisions out of emotional immaturity. But what happened over the years is that as we really listened to each other, we built a life better than either of us could have imagined. One practical thing we did was set aside time each week for what we called our “Saturday morning chats.” We had some parameters for discussion. The most important rule was to listen without interrupting. The second, to respond only out of care and compassion. And the third was always to tell the truth. Speak your truth, not in anger or retaliation, but in honesty in terms of “this is who I am and this is what I need.” But it all begins with that first step of listening.
What are some methods we can utilize toward personal growth which ultimately leads to healing those divides we have with each other?
Relationships are a huge mirror that enables us to see what is and what isn’t working in our lives. When something isn’t working, the choice to deal with it is major step toward inner growth. Aside from working with a therapist, people find that other practices, for example, body work, like yoga, can help open up their minds, and they become a little more creative and reflective. Another example is the practice of meditation which enables us to listen to our unconscious trying to speak to us. Journaling, especially journaling our dreams, I find to be essential when looking for pictures of our emotions. There are many paths toward personal growth; the key is to put those paths into practice.
You spend a great deal of time at your home in Highlands. What is it about western North Carolina that you love?
I grew up in Michigan on flatlands. And I live in Florida which is also flatlands and I spend time near the ocean. So all those places I love and I am familiar with. But the mountains give me a very different feeling. The symbolism of a mountain is that it’s a connector between the earthly and divine. A mountain resonates in us because we aspire to reach new heights as human beings. Our particular spot in the mountains is in a little valley between mountains. It’s almost like a sacred divide for me. You feel protected like you’re in a cozy womb! I know that sounds funny. But when I am in a place of unspoiled beauty, watching the animals that cross my yard, enjoying the forgiving summer weather, I find it fills me with a sense of wonder about the miracle of nature and it’s extremely restorative.
Do you write a lot when you are in western North Carolina?
I do. My home office overlooks trees and I can listen to the stream. I listen to the owls. I feel cool air and it’s like writing inside of a treehouse. I write blog posts from the mountains and I’m very inspired while I am there. I would suspect that the pieces from my books that have the most depth and the most sense of wonder were written while I was in the mountains.
Dr. Raffa’s previous books include The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul. You can find her blog, Matrignosis at www.jeanraffa.wordpress.com.
Frances Nevill is a freelance writer who writes about the people and places that make the southeast unique. A former staffer for an international nonprofit conservation organization, Frances is based in Florida and spends as much time as she can hiking the mountains of western North Carolina with her family. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.