The Green Man

Having just returned from attending a four day Dream Retreat, I want to share a little about the experience I had there. Out of respect for the tribe that gathered, and the impossibility of ever fully articulating the essence of what transpired between us, I’ll share an experience that relates to what I have been writing and sharing here with you, my WP tribe.

We were given the image of the Green Man, a figure who I have recently become quite fascinated with, for one of the active imagination sessions. I suspect he might have had a voice in a recent post of mine, Wild Child. The Green Man is an archetypal expression calling attention to our relationship to the natural habitat of the woods as a necessary source of life and creativity.

Osiris, ruler of the underworld and of rebirth and regeneration, was typically shown with a green face. (Tomb of Nefertari), 1295-1253 BC

The Green Man has made appearances in stories around the globe through both pagan and Abrahamic religious imagination, leaving behind a trail of art and symbolism in Europe and the Near-East.

I first heard (and have even written) about him a few months ago through Tom Cheetham’s book, GREEN MAN, EARTH ANGEL, The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World, in which Tom writes about Khidr, the Verdant One, how he is known in Sufism.

In Sufism, Khidr, a contemporary of Moses, is known as the righteous servant of God.


“Who is Khidr? There is a hint of the answer in his name: Khidr is the “Verdant One.” He is the Green Man. He is the Angel of the Face and the Angel of the Earth as hermeneut: the Verus Propheta revealed to each soul in the form in which each is able to receive it. It is to this hermeneutics that we now turn.”

Cheetham sees the Green Man as mediator between the world of matter and spirit with a power to heal the schism between the two worlds.

“Matter need no longer be confused with the demonic. Indeed, everything becomes material. What had been conceived as spiritual reality becomes the realm of subtle bodies, and there is a continuum from the dense to the subtle that corresponds to an intensification of being. It is possible for any of the beings belonging to the world of Light to become more real, more themselves, more individual and intense in their very being.”

Along with spiritual hunger, the idea of matter as demonic, can be seen in our civilization that’s seemingly going mad. We speak of being too materialistic, outwardly focused, shallow in our relationships, wasteful and destructive in our use of precious resources. But at the same time, a heightened sense of the material world seems to be calling us “back to nature.” The call of the wild, the desire for closeness to nature, greater awareness of diet and the environment are all perhaps expressions of a need to redeem matter and reflect on our distinctions between matter and spirit.

“Like can only be known by like: this means that thought and being are inseparable, that ethics and perception are complementary. The form of the soul is the form of your world. This fundamental unity of the faculties of human cognition and the world to which they give access is that eternal pagan substrate of all religion.”

Cheetham sees here a need to reconsider these distinctions between matter and spirit, doing a sort of flip-flop around our ideas of them.

“It is a stance toward reality that gives weight to the display of the image, denying the schism between the inner and the outer, the subjective and the objective.”

Giving weight to both images and our subjective world, and in turn, imaging the weightiness, or to all that is real and objective may soften the boundaries between spirit and matter and perhaps see that, arising together, they are mutually inclusive.

Green man over a church window in Fountains Abbey

So, what about the Green Man and my experience with him during active imagination? Before I describe what I saw and heard, I must add that although I have practiced active imagination quite a few times, this was the first time that I felt truly engaged with, as Jung would have called it, an autonomous figure. Perhaps, I was misunderstanding how to approach this activity, making it more complicated than it actually is. 🙂

File:Greenman mask with eyes.jpg
mask by lauren raine

I close my eyes and immediately see a bright-green, leaf-covered figure of a man running in the woods away from me. I follow after him, trying to keep up. He stops at a large tree and enters into a hollow at the tree’s base disappearing from view. I enter into the hollow and begin to move downward.

At first I see around me many tree roots. The world down there seems alive with bugs, worms and slimy things. The smell becomes prominent and not too pleasant. I also see small bone chips scattered everywhere, presumably human and animal in origin. I also feel a heavy psychic presence.

We go down deeper and it becomes very dark. I can no longer see, but only smell, touch and hear. The Green Man begins speaking to me saying:

“This is the life, the abundance that feeds you. All life will come to be part of this place. You only see the fruit, the sweetness and suffer from neglecting us. We want to be recognized, seen; our sufferings, all the things left unsaid, for they both frighten and sustain you in your life. One day you too will feed the world from this place.

You’re a part of us, we feed and nourish you. Stop acting like you don’t know. Remember us and what’s gone before.

You suffer from forgetting our suffering. You’re fear of us has you running away.

(and in a much louder voice he says:)

My retreat is your retreat.”

That’s it. Perhaps the most startling line, besides the emphatic last line, was when he said to stop acting like I don’t know. I am still puzzling over that and am not sure what he is referring to, but have a few ideas. Perhaps there’s more I need to ask him and also hear your thoughts too. One clear take away from the dream retreat for me was how much our dreams and imaginings carry shared meaning. In hearing other’s dreams, and sharing my own, there was quite often a profound and obvious synchronicity of theme and image shedding light on some aspect of my life and the lives of the other participants.

The retreat was a full-bodied feeling of experiencing others inside and through myself. A most amazing time I will not soon forget. Highly recommended to anyone interested who happens upon an opportunity to participate. There are no strangers, your tribe awaits!

Except as noted, all quotes from Tom Cheetham. Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World (S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Kindle Edition.

Dreaming with animals

I really enjoyed reading The First Gates blog post “Dreaming with Animals,” an insightful look at some primary differences between the works of C.G. Jung and James Hillman.

The First Gates

“What is the single greatest predictor of a hero’s success in folktales around the world?”

A professor who had studied the subject at length once posed that question in a psychology class. The answer, he said, was finding an animal helper. More than any other human or supernatural guide, an animal ally can lead the hero or heroine through trials and dangers to the end of their quest.

The professor was a friend and colleague of James Hillman (1926-2011) who loved animals and began collecting animal dreams in 1956.  Toward the end of his life, Hillman helped compile and update five decades of essays and lecture transcripts for a ten volume collection of his work.  Five volumes have been published to date, including Animal Presences, 2012, which I am currently reading.

After serving in the US Navy, Hillman studied at the Sorbonne, at Trinity College, Dublin, and in Zurich…

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Born at the Right Time

“By means of personifications my sense of person becomes more vivid for I carry with me at all times the protection of my daimones: the images of dead people who mattered to me, of ancestral figures of my stock, cultural and historical persons of renown and people of fable who provide exemplary images–a wealth of guardians. They guard my fate, guide it, probably are it. “Perhaps–who knows,” writes Jung, “these eternal images are what men mean by fate.” We need this help, for who can carry his fate alone?” – James Hillman

With gratitude I remember James Hillman and the many ways he influenced my life. It could take a lifetime for me to articulate with precision in what ways his ideas unstuck my thinking and understanding of life, language and human experience.
Twice, I was able to participate in his “work shops,” one up in Seattle in 1996, and again in San Francisco in 1997. These were intense, sometimes bordering on frightening engagements of conversation, poetry and music between Hillman, Robert Bly, and Michael Meade and all of us who attended as we came together to reflect on the shared experience of our place in time and the disintegration of our culture.
In the late 1980’s, shortly before moving out west, I came across one of Hillman’s books, while in the course of reading the works of C.G Jung. His writing immediately gripped me. He had a way of penetrating, seeing through, in his reflections on any and everything that he wrote  about. Here was someone who was not afraid of traveling in the dark, going deeper and deeper to be with the more unwelcome aspects of our human experience and particularly our sufferings.
In the mire of my own psychic confusion, I was attracted to Hillman’s insistence that we need to be in the dark, and stay with what presents itself to us in our suffering and ask what it wants from us, rather than the more common insistence that we make the pain go away, that we fix it, whether with drugs, or by refusing our emotions and the seeming helplessness of our situation.
The insistence that we shouldn’t be broken in our very broken world should in and of itself be an idea for us to challenge.
Hillman was both masterful and poetic with language and understood that we live by the metaphors that have us in their grip and that it is our language, habits, lack of reflection and a false dichotomy between reality and imagination that keep us stuck and cursed by the literalizing and concretizing of our ideas and notions of both ourselves and the world we inhabit.
His 1997 book, The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling, would become his biggest seller, and even landed him an interview on Oprah’s show. By far his easiest read, written for a wider audience while still capturing the essence of his ideas and reflections on where we go wrong with how we understand ourselves and our culture.
My life’s journey has moved me some distance from a crazier time in my life when it seemed I had to unravel a bit before a gradual reassembling. I still greatly admire Hillman even when I find myself in disagreement with some of what he says. I’ll leave those disagreements for another post, another day.
Here is a link to a more recent and rare interview between Hillman and Scott London:

Jump Start or Tow me Away

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” Carl Jung

Although the whole of my therapy experience was the start of a whole new psychic rearrangement for me, there was a particular dream event that reshuffled, and reignited my being. From this dream event onward I have carried with me the sense that my life will never be the same again. The sense of who I am, at the most basic ontological level forever changed and the sense of not belonging, either in the world or in my body, vaporized.

To this day, I try to recall the old sense of being that I had, but it is gone so much so that I can only look back in amazement and remember the struggle that used to be my life. I thank God everyday for the healing that took place then for it allows me to wake up every day happy to be alive. My inner life is rich in fantasy, imagination, conflict, vision, insight all of which carry me forward and sustain me. As well, my outer life slowly over the course of a few more changes and a few more years has become peaceful, rich and meaningful in ways that I could not imagine back then.

There was a big dream that precipitated the change and healing in my sense of being. The dream did not provide an intellectual insight, or show me something that needed to be seen or understood. The dream changed me in a way that I do not entirely understand and cannot completely explain. I can describe the dream image, and tell you what happened upon awakening but I cannot explain what this experience did to me psychically or physically though I know all aspects of my being were touched deeply by the dream event.

While still sleeping and in the dream I began to feel an intense feeling at the base of my spine. Suddenly I felt what can only be described as an electrical charge inside me that began to rapidly surge upwards through my spine towards my neck into my head. The sensation was so powerful that it woke me up. As I woke up I was completely shaken. I knew some big huge energy had surged through me and I knew something very big had happened.

Over the course of the days, weeks and years that followed, the freedom I began to feel led me into many different adventures. Everything seemed new and exciting as if I were alive for the first time. I traveled more, both inside and out. A strong desire to walk and experience the beautiful Pacific Northwest led me to find friends that enjoyed hiking and mountain climbing and how fortunate I was to see so much of the beauty that surrounds us here.

Cooper’s Spur on beautiful Mount Hood

After going through the years of sadness, I now found myself often times crying tears of joy, especially in moments like the one above.

Although I regret the many years in which I did not or could not live life to the fullest, I have come to understand the value that suffering added to my life. I cannot forget that I suffered so much and couldn’t get my life on track and will always feel a tremendous sense of compassion for others suffering and for all the  suffering that is the human condition. Suffering can bring meaning, it has to me, and that is not a way of accepting evil, or giving license to causing of another’s suffering, but it is an acceptance that suffering happens and I believe, asks something of us all and what that something is, is up to us to attend to.

“Hey Mr. Weatherman come on over, hook me up to the power lines of your love. Jump start or tow me away.” Ian Anderson

Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

“Picasso said, “I don’t develop; I am.” And the puzzle in therapy is not how did I get this way, but what does my angel want with me?” James Hillman

Although continuing to meditate, I stopped attending Ananda after a brief conversation with one of their ministers. I asked him how he would know when he had reached the coveted state of self-realization. There was no answer to this that satisfied me. I think the Ananda devotees enjoy a lifestyle with like-minded friends and family and I do not begrudge them that, but for myself, there was something calling me away from them. I wanted words for, and some place to be with, the all consuming swell of emotions, and I needed someone to guide me through the dark place I now found myself in.

After years of somewhat smugly and very much intellectually carousing with the  ideas of Jung and Hillman, I called an Analyst and started going to therapy. It was hard to trust enough to get myself to take this step. My past experiences with therapists was filled with disappointments ranging from a marriage counselor that brought my parents struggling marriage to its final collapse in a very cruel and deceptive way, to a therapist that I saw a few times in my teens that was more interested in watching me walk across his office than listening to anything I had to say.

As much as I wanted desperately to open up to someone, I did not easily trust that anyone could possibly be motivated to guide me by anything more than their own selfish motives, whatever they might be. I feared that their motives would take me off the path I felt called to stay on.

When I first talked with Jim, the therapist, I hoped he would give me a clear sense of how his version of therapy works, what our work together would be like, and most importantly, a sense that he will not waste my time.

Seems simple now, but it took months to get over the first few hurdles and to settle into a place of trust with Jim. Then came the dreams. Although I have always had easy access to my dreams, the more time I spent talking with Jim, recounting everything from the day to day of living, to bits and pieces of the past, my dreams kicked into high gear. So, without really knowing what would become of it, I started to keep a dream diary. Useful…

Therapy with Jim was nothing like I thought it would be. It was work to attend to the day to day and to bring it all into the place of therapy where we would sort, sift and weave together the pieces of my past that were bleeding into the present. Jim would question my assumptions and prod me to more clearly articulate what was happening in my relationships and how I psychically digested the world.

After some time I reached a critical point, both inside and out. I desperately needed to find a strong voice to stand up to someone I worked with and yet was very much afraid to. Eventually I was able to see that my fear of confrontation in relationships with others was of my choosing; a way to protect myself  which placed a wall between me and the world. I began to feel a strong sense of self-betrayal. The anger was sometimes useful, but could still drive me back to feelings of hopelessness and just wanting to crawl in hole and die.

The moment I was able to see that the one thing I thought was useful (not stirring the pot), was the very same thing that kept me from being close, or even being in relationship to others (and in some ways even to myself as much as outside mirrors inside), was the moment a newfound sense of daring seemed to come to me.

As I practiced speaking more from the heart instead of safely trying to mirror others, a breakthrough happened. I began to experience a very freeing meta-sense of identity. News to me, I didn’t have to figure everyone out, least of all myself.

Now I was able to see both myself and others as unfathomable beings of complexity. Always a work in progress, we have ideas and fantasies about each other, some of which may have more to do with the powers that be, archetypal realities that have no beginning or end but are there none the less.

No need to harden anyone’s identity into a safe, secure and predictable statue. The identity I thought I was missing, was the identity I didn’t really need or want. The freedom in being is not to be compelled to know yourself or others with any hard and fast definitions, but to be okay with fluidity. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose as far as identity is concerned.

Who we think people are is a mix of bits and pieces of perceptions, memories and influences that are not possible to be fully aware of and absolutely conclusive. The real you and me live in flux, and it might be convenient and yes, necessary to create and store files of information on ourselves and others, the files will always be subject to corruption and will remain terribly incomplete.

If we want our idea of who we are to equal who we are, we will suffer from a deficiency, a stagnation and failure of imagination, losing the ongoing flow of psychic existence or what Hillman calls our purpose in life; soul making.

Our imaginations create and sustain us, we are poetry in motion. We are meaning makers. That is not to say that there is no objective reality to who we are, but more that our access to that heavenly view is not for mortal consumption but perhaps for God and His angels only.

“If therapy imagines its task to be that of helping people cope (and not protest), to adapt (and not rebel), to normalize their oddity, and to accept themselves “and work within your situation; make it work for you” (rather than refuse the unacceptable), then therapy is collaborating with what the state wants: docile plebes. Coping simply equals compliance.” James Hillman

Sometimes I can’t help seeing all the way through

At the risk of jumping straight to the conclusion before beginning to talk about the next stop in the journey, I would like to offer here some insights from James Hillman that were key in breaking the spell of my disembodied self and continue to inspire reflection and renew my place in the world.

The following two excerpts are from Hillman’s A Blue Fire, Selected Writings by James Hillman, edited by Thomas Moore.

“The overwhelming difficulty of communicating soul in talk becomes crushingly real when two persons sit in two chairs, face to face and knee to knee as in an analysis with Jung. Then we realize what a miracle it is to find the right words, words that carry soul accurately, where thought, image, and feeling interweave. Then we realize that soul can be made on the spot simply through speech. Such talk is the most complex psychic endeavor imaginable-which says something about why Jung’s psychology was a cultural advance over Freud’s talking cure, free autistic associations on the couch.

All modern therapies which claim that action is more curative than words and which seek techniques other than talk (rather than in addition to it) are repressing the most human of all faculties-the telling of the tales of our souls. These therapies may be curative of the child in us who has not learned to speak or the animal who cannot, or a spirit daimon that is beyond words because it is beyond soul. But only continued attempts at accurate soul-speech can cure our speech of its chatter and restore it to its first function, the communication of soul.

Soul of bulk and substance can be evoked by words and expressed in words; for myth and poetry, so altogether verbal and “fleshless,” nonetheless resonate with the deepest intimacies of organic existence. A mark of imaginal man is the speech of his soul, and the range of his speech, its self-generative spontaneity, its precise subtlety and ambiguous suggestion, its capacity, as Hegel said, “to receive and reproduce every modification of our ideational faculty,” can be supplanted neither by the technology of communication media, by contemplative spiritual silence, nor by physical gestures and signs. The more we hold back from the risk of speaking because of semantic anxiety that keeps soul in secret incommunicado, private and personal, the greater grows the credibility gap between what we are and what we say, splitting psyche and logos.

The more we become tied by linguistic self-consciousness, the more we abdicate the ruling principle of pscyhological existence…Man is half-angel because he can speak. The more we distrust speech in therapy or the capacity of speech to be therapeutic, the closer we are to an absorption into the fantasy of the archetypal subhuman, and the sooner the archetypal barbarian strides into the communication ruins of a culture that refused eloquence as a mirror of its soul.”

~James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, pp 29-30.

” Since psychological ideas, or insights as I have sometimes called them, reflect soul, the question of comprehending them turns on one’s relation with soul and how the soul learns. The answer to this has always been “by experience,” which is tantamount to turning the question back upon itself, since one of the main activities of soul as we defined them at the beginning oif this book is precisely that of changing “events into experiences.” Here we are specifying how events become experiences, saying that the act of seeing through events connects them to the soul and creates experiences. Simply to participate in events or to suffer them strongly, or to accumulate a variety of them, does not differentiate or deepen one’s psychic capacity into what is often called a wise or an old soul. Events are not essential to the soul’s experiencing. It does not need many dreams or many loves or city lights. We have records of great souls that have thrived in a monk’s cell, a prison, or a suburb. But there must be a vision of what is happening, deep ideas to create experience. Otherwise we have had the events without experiencing them, and the experience of what happened comes only later when we gain an idea of it-when it can be envisioned by an archetypal idea.”

~James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, pp 54.

Everything is Broken

There’s a great article in Pajamas Media about Mr. Zimmerman. The link is here:

How Bob Dylan checked out of the culture war.

I started listening to Dylan around the same time that I was reading Jung. Dylan’s lyrics are interesting in many ways, but surprisingly in light of Jungian thought. Bob’s earlier stuff is often times less personal, more collective. Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times They Are a Changin‘, A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, all touch upon cultural issues of their day. Yes, there are songs from his earlier writing that are more personal, but they aren’t nearly as personal as any of the songs that would come a few years later in the Blood On the Tracks period and thereafter.

One of the things I truly admire about Dylan’s writing is that when viewed chronologically you get a sense of the personal transformation that was and still is ongoing through the years of his life. Gradually his youthful protests that once so easily placed blame for the state of the world at authority figures (i.e., the mothers, fathers, senators and congressman he tells us about in The Times They Are a Changin’), who exemplify corruption and greed have been transformed into wrestling matches with personal deamons.

His later writing displays a much greater willingness to expose his own personal shortcomings and limitations that are a part of the human condition, and he gradually moves into a place where it is possible  to make one’s peace with the past as well as the human condition. Every Grain of Sand expresses very well the direction Bob is going by the late 1970’s.

I don’t know how true it is but I read that Bob underwent a Jungian analysis sometime after the breakup of his marriage. More to the point is that Bob, as many of us have, has gone through some sort of personal transformation, and happily for us has a wonderful gift for displaying his reflections through his songs.

The point of comparison to Jung is to acknowledge a big debt that I owe to his ideas. Jung’s differentiation between a collective unconscious and personal unconscious were very helpful to me for gaining insight into my inability to make clear distinctions between what was and was not within my power to choose, change or ignore; what was me and not me.

In his own words here is a definition of the terms:

“The collective unconscious is part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition. While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity.”

Whether or not it can be proven that the contents of the collective unconscious “owe their existence to heredity” in a literal genetic sense, the idea is most useful. The collective unconscious is made up of archetypal contents. Archetypes can be understood as impersonal aspects, from Wiki:

“innate universal psychic dispositions that form the substrate from which the basic symbols or representations of unconscious experience emerge.”

What I eventually came to realize is that ideas are bigger than me and not only inside but outside me as well. Not every thing that enters your thoughts and feelings and ideas about life is a personal creation. Many, if not most ideas and influences come to us from outside our personal existence. It is as if we are born with the ability to carry within us psychic content that influences us in not so conscious ways. Jung had names for what he thought of as primary archetypes: self, shadow, anima, animus, and these too are useful ideas. I think though that one does not have to study specific archetypes in order to appreciate that psychically we are influenced by archetypal shapes, or rather, that an aspect of our reality is archetypally shaped.

From any understanding of Jung’s ideas along with some time spent with a depth psychologist what I became aware of was a consistent and crippling failure on my part to be able to differentiate between what and who I perceived others to be from who I was, which kept me from developing personal authenticity, and a clear sense of self and other. It was as if I was constantly trying to be everyone else, in order to know them and as a result absorbed all of the fear and hostility that I so easily sensed in people and the world around me into my being.

My life had been so shaped for such a long time that I was utterly defenseless. Somewhere in my early 30’s the only thing left for me to do was hole up in my room where I did much reading and writing, trying to make my peace with being alone. This was not to last for too long though. After a three year old relationship ended, the bottom fell out.

So, I ventured back out into the big old world and did what I had always done, I joined another church.