[Although I never planned to take this long of a break from WordPress, I have been finding it difficult to make time for writing and reading here. I can’t, not that you are asking, offer any good reason for my prolonged absence. If I don’t find time to make the rounds, please know that you are all in my thoughts. I hope spring beauty finds you well!]
“Everything is what it is because of where it is ‒ its boundaries, its place between the clearing and the darkness. As we are always a clearing of consciousness on the edges of unconsciousness. We are always surrounded by darkness all around. This is what keeps us from freezing up. If we forget this, we die. We become idolators of ourselves.” Tom Cheetham
It’s as if we are the sand at the shore continually mingling with the dark waters. But we are also the dark waters crashing the shore, quickly absorbed through the cracks between the sand. In that place where the broken sand further dissolves through the repetition of ebb and surge of tidal waters, we are most alive.
Readers of Tom Cheetham’s previous works will delight in his latest book, Imaginal Love The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman, where he offers us a more personal glimpse of his journey of understanding, entertaining, reconciling and incorporating the disparity of ideas found in the writings of Henry Corbin and James Hillman. I admire his approach and sympathize with the need to enjoy the fruits of these great writers through what is revealed, not only through their similarities, but also where they differ.
There is a necessary tension between Corbin and Hillman that if allowed to work on us, reveals deeper and more nuanced layers of understanding. Over time, when seen as part of the work we are tending, this tension transforms into a source of resonance in much the same way that string tension on an instrument makes music.
Corbin in particular, focused on the necessity of there needing to be an other; an angel, or spiritual twin, which, in an ongoing relationship fostered through a practice, reveals to us the unknown, or unconscious, so necessary for keeping the soul alive and in motion. By an “other,” I take him to mean any sense of otherness in our lives, of either day world or dream world, which by their difference from us cause a triangulation that reveals another option, or a third dimension. Love often does this. It opens us up to each other in ways that reveal something new. But for Corbin, the angel is not human, but encountered in a contemplative state he referred to as active imagination.
“As an essential correlate of imaginal loving, this Angel also individuates. Meeting one’s angel corresponds to what Jung called individuation. But as Corbin tells us, and Hillman has repeatedly reaffirmed, it is not my individuation that is at stake but the individuation of the Angel.”
This slight revision of Jung’s idea of individuation places emphasis on the process as necessarily a relational one. It takes our care and love for the angel as “other,” something wholly different from ourselves, to open us up, thereby encountering and revealing what we can’t readily see through the singularity of our being. Here is where we can experience Ta’wil, or the lost speech. Cheetham, like Corbin, emphasizes the need for an anamnesis; Plato’s re-membering of what has been forgotten by, or lost to, the world. Through personification of an other the “not me” is revealed. The particular distinctions between oneself and an other serve as a medium of exchange, so necessary for encountering the new and the unknown. It is an essential antidote to counter the cynicism and apathy of one’s personal journey which is often loaded with the perceptual habits of whatever culture one belongs to.
Modern culture places great emphasis on finding love through the similarities between us. Here, Cheetham suggests that in denying the distinctions and differences their place in an ongoing engagement which allows them to work on us, love and feeling become abstracted into generalities which are liable to literalizations and static ideas of ourselves and others. The particularity of the distinctions between us, when revealed, rather than abstracting, ground our experience into storied places, events and persons. The difficulty lies in losing the static sense of oneself and others and in seeking and expecting the new and unknown to appear. The unknown, is after all, inexhaustible.
“The so-called inner world is continuous with the outer. Ideas are not in the head ‒ they are in the world. They change the thinker and they change the world. Emotions are not private ‒ they spill out all around us and manifest in our behavior and our relations with other people.”
We use descriptives like “inner” and “outer” perhaps because we see and experience boundaries between things, places and people. To a large extent our language creates boundaries; a digital paving on an analog world. But, also, so do our individual bodies and the mortality of our finite life span contribute to the sense of boundaries.
Using the poetry of Rilke, Whitman and others, Cheetham emphasizes the need to see through these artificial and conventional boundaries. When we do, the world’s aliveness opens up to us, as does our sense of identity. A necessary, but false construct called “me” and “you” are seen through. Our sense of ourselves and others can then expand and extend beyond ordinary boundaries to where one can sense and feel that we are the cosmos; an expression of the totality of the universe and whatever lies beyond.
The deep parts of my life pour onward,
as if the river shores were opening out.
It seems that things are more like me now,
that I can see farther into paintings.
I feel closer to what language can’t reach.
With my senses, as with birds,
I climb into the windy heaven, out of the oak,
and in the ponds broken off from the sky
my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.
From Rilke’s Book of Images, in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly (New York: Harper & Row, 1981)
Cheetham goes on to examine his own personal experience with the ideas of Corbin and Hillman, and how he discovers a symmetry between them. Their ideas, when juxtaposed, can give us a well-rounded view of ourselves, others and the world by giving imagination, myth, soul and spirituality a central place in our day-to-day lives. In summary he says:
“What they share however is profoundly important: a passionate belief in the utterly central place of imagination in the fabric of reality and a commitment to the importance of the freedom of the individual human soul.”
Cheetham, Tom (2015-03-24). Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman. Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.