Rowe: We’re really excited to present your “Luminous Woman Weekend,” offering women a chance to explore their inner selves. How did you become interested in the ways that a woman’s inner cast of characters can impede or foster her personal growth? Did you have your own experience of this?
Chelsea: Yes. When I was 23 years old I felt like a failure. I had set milestones for my life and hadn’t accomplished any of them. Feeling discouraged, I sat in a workshop called “Redecision Therapy” where the facilitators, Bob and Mary Goulding, talked about the “inner selves” that each of us harbor. They asked for a volunteer. I raised my hand. And that’s when my life began to change.
Rowe: That sounds very powerful. What was the process, exactly?
Chelsea: As I described my youthful feelings of failure, Bob smiled — he was in his sixties then. As we explored my distress, Bob asked questions and together we began to identify an inner voice that was berating me for falling short of my goals. I named this voice “The Accountant.” Bob asked me to move into an empty chair and speak from the perspective of the Accountant, whose voice was decidedly male, very critical, stern, and without compassion. The Accountant recited detailed expectations that no human being at 23 years of age could hope to achieve. Bob asked me, “Would you like to fire this overbearing Accountant? Would you like to release yourself from the relentless pressure that he’s putting you under?” I did. In firing the Accountant, I felt an immediate release of internal pressure.
Bob then asked me if I would like to replace this mean old Accountant with a support figure. I thought for a moment. I began to picture a woman. She was older, with long gray hair and a warm smile. She felt wise and creative, relaxed and earthy. We invited this Wise Woman to be an inner support figure for me, someone who would gently encourage me. I did not yet trust the unfolding of my life. I needed this inner Wise Woman to reassure me that I didn’t have to be in such a hurry, that all things of importance would come to fruition in their perfect time
Rowe: What effect did this insight have on your life?
Chelsea: Looking back, 33 years later, I realize the precarious situation of young women who have never learned about the Deep Feminine. That day in the Gouldings’ workshop when I began my relationship with my inner Wise Woman, it was a tentative relationship at first, as I still struggled with responding to pressures from outside. But I also began to trust my intuition. I began to observe how life unfolds when you don’t “push the river.”
Rowe: Have you had other experiences of working with your inner selves?
Chelsea: Absolutely. When I became a mother, I began to grapple with a new set of competing agendas. Aspects of “me” were fading into the past, crowded out by new responsibilities. I loved my new life, but I missed my old one. Who was I now? How was I going to reconcile my ambitious Professional Self with this newly born Nurturing Mother who wanted to devote her life to raising a child? What about my Free-Spirited Artist who wanted uninterrupted time to create? My husband and I began to settle in and become more domestic. I could hear my inner Wild Child grumbling that she had been judged and banished. My cast of inner selves was definitely in conflict.
Rowe: That seems challenging. Was there a way for you to resolve the conflict?
Chelsea: I pictured them as characters on my inner stage, playing specific roles during various acts in my life, carrying different aspects of my personality. I came up with a group of “main players” and began to recognize them as they stirred in my psyche. One day, I decided to gather them around an inner round table to communicate and resolve conflicts. The Reclusive Mystic resented the Devoted Mother. The Wild Child grappled with the Good Wife. My adult Professional Self began to talk about graduate school, reminding me that I still had important work to do out in the world. As I began to develop my Inner Moderator, they negotiated.
Rowe: What do you mean exactly when you say that they negotiated?
Chelsea: They presented their histories, what they each wanted, their concerns, and how they were trying to help me. There was an opening of space inside and the growing experience of an Observing Self. Creative solutions emerged. I felt an increasing sense of inner peace. I added new characters to the list as I continued to define myself. Over time, this Inner Committee became a resource of wisdom in my life rather than an annoying cacophony of voices that did little more than create anxiety.
When I entered graduate school, I was introduced to the work of Carl Jung for the first time. His work stirred me. I began to study Jungian psychology in earnest and entered Jungian analysis. I discovered that the inner dialogue process I had been engaging in for years resembled what Jung himself practiced. It was called Active Imagination.
Rowe: You’ll help women use a similar process in your “Luminous Woman Weekend.” What’s your definition of a luminous woman?
Chelsea: A woman becomes luminous when she begins to live by her own inner light. This light grows as she establishes a taproot into the creative power of her archetypal depths. This gives her a quiet dynamism that emanates from the core of her being. She becomes aware of her own passions and discovers her gifts and strengths. We’ll also talk about the particular quagmires that a woman can get stuck in, archetypes that capture them, and how to break free.
Rowe: What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned in your personal journey toward becoming such a luminous woman yourself?
Chelsea: Any woman can become a luminous woman. We begin by getting to know what lives in us, our inner cast of characters, and to learn about their origins, needs, and agendas, and to learn to direct our inner cast in creative and constructive ways. It’s possible to embrace all of who we are, shadow and light. Our darkest inner characters hold important gifts for us, as well as those wondrous aspects of self that are waiting for the chance to show their luminosity. I’ve come a long way from being that distressed 23-year-old who thought herself a failure. Life truly does unfold and we can trust the mystery. I’m grateful for all of it.
Chelsea Wakefield, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is a Jungian oriented psychotherapist, seasoned retreat leader, and faculty member of the Haden Institute, where she teaches about dreamwork and personal archetypes. She wrote Negotiating the Inner Peace Treaty®: Becoming the Person You Were Born to Be, and is the creator of the Luminous Woman® Weekend. Her next book, due in 2014, explores women’s sexuality from an archetypal perspective.
Chelsea Wakefield will present “The Luminous Woman® Weekend” on February 21-23, 2014 at Rowe Center in Massachusetts. Rowe is beautiful in the winter and the roads are plowed.