Personification

“Ideas that we do not know we have, have us. Psychology’s job, it seems to me, is to see the subjective, archetypal factor in our sight, before or while looking at facts and events. Other sciences have to pretend to being objective, to be describing things as they are; psychology fortunately is always bound by its psychic limitations and can be spared the pretense of objectivity. In place of the obligation to be objectively factual, it obliges to be subjectively aware, which becomes possible only if we are willing to have an exhaustive go at the assumptions in our primary notions.” James Hillman

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Hillman begins a discussion on the relationship of anima to personification by bringing in its pathological opposite, he calls depersonalization. Clinically speaking, a state in which one loses a previous normative sense of themselves in which ‘I am not I’, and perhaps not even a person at all. It is a detached feeling characterized by a loss of subjective interiority in which oneself, others, and the world around us seem unreal, distant or undifferentiated.

“We each may have experienced depersonalization and derealization in less extreme degree. I refer to those states of apathy, monotony, dryness, and weary resignation, the sense of not caring and of not believing in one’s value, that nothing is important or all is voided, outside and inside.” James Hillman

Hillman uses this pathological state as a way to understand the relationship between personification and anima. For Jung it is akin to a loss of soul understood here as anima.

“… permanent loss of the anima means… resignation, weariness, sloppiness, irresponsibility.” CW 9, i, 147

“According to Jung, it is the anima who provides the relationship between man and the world as well as between man and his interior subjectivity. She is in fact the personification of that interiority and subjectivity, the very sense of personality.” James Hillman

“Man derives his human personality…his consciousness of himself as a personality… primarily from the influence of quasi-personal archetypes.” CW 5, 388

Evariste-Vital_Luminais_-_PsychéAnima then is the ongoing source of life, the very breath of life that is generative, not only of the body, but also of what makes us human, giving us identity, personality and character, thereby shaping the way we perceive, understand and make sense of the world. The ancients understood soul as the carrier of one’s genius or daimon. This invisible otherness is an animating force connecting us to the ancestors and to the gods themselves. Personifying is then understood as the way in which we experience all relatedness. Ideas, myths, dreams, stories come through us dressed in the form of others. ‘I’ am an ongoing, living expression of soul’s relationship to all that has gone before me and all that is.

Without a recognition of personification in ourselves and the world around us, there is a loss of a mediator, the animating factor, between archetypal reality and everyday life, leaving one with both the felt experience and behavior stemming from a sense that only ‘I’ exist. All experience then becomes mine and the capacity to truly distinguish oneself from others is diminished. The depths of soul become a void, and while still felt deeply, when stripped of our capacity to truly know and differentiate the other, they are experienced only as what they mean to me, or through my reactivity towards them. For better or worse, to never see oneself as a being personified by archetypal influence, ‘I’ now takes on an identity, regardless of the source, with everything that comes through my experience.

“This loss is not merely a psychiatric condition; it is also a cosmology. We all live to a larger extent then we realize in the state of depersonalization. Hence the work with anima – including my writing and your reading – because it is at the same time a work on the moribund anima mundi, is a noble task.” James Hillman

Noble, because without bridging the gaps between oneself, others and the world around us, the world and others remain depersonified, suffering our neglect of their aliveness and reality. Speaking for myself, this condition seems a contagion, which when sensed at all, seems to be accepted as the human condition, leaving us powerless to do much of anything other than suffer the trail of destruction left in its wake. We may, and do, seek refuge in activism – whether religious, spiritual, political or otherwise. I include myself here, only my preferred form of activism is for soul and for the soul of the world.

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“A self-knowledge that rests within a cosmology which declares the mineral, vegetable and animal world beyond the human person to be impersonal and inanimate is not only inadequate. It is also delusional. No matter how well we may know ourselves, we remain walking, talking ghosts, cosmologically set apart from the other beings of our milieu.” James Hillman

Jung’s solution, which is sometimes forgotten or ignored in some modern Jungian thought, is what he called active imagination. Through active imagination, we turn our awareness to fantasy, not by indulging in the realm of their content, but by attending to everyday thought and emotion, and coming to understand the fantasy inherent within the mundane as it reaches us through everyday personifications, voicings, all of which are particular expressions of archetypal, or universal realities we are all subject to.

“The light that gradually dawns on him [modern man] consists in his understanding that his fantasy is a real psychic process which is happening to him personally…. But if you recognize your own involvement you yourself must enter into the process with your personal reactions, just as if you were one of the fantasy figures, or rather, as if the drama being enacted before your eyes were real. It is a psychic fact that this fantasy is happening, and it is as real as you – as a psychic entity – are real. If this crucial operation is not carried out, all the changes are left to the flow of images, and you yourself remain unchanged.” CW 14, 753

For Jung, the anima is an initiator into ever greater distinctions between oneself and others, for the purpose of respecting the power and influence of the archetypes, and to increasingly become a mediator between ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ realities. While like Hillman, I question the notion of any complete integration, the necessity for a practice of mediation between what is within the purview of my awareness and the unfathomable depths of what is not, continues to make all the difference in my life by enriching the felt experience of a more expansive sense of myself, others and the world.

Admittedly, every increase of sensitivity also brings with it a greater recognition of the troubles of the world. This can be painful. What seems a lesson for me of late, is to keep in mind Jung’s admonition to stay in the tension and the suffering. And as Hillman suggested, don’t fall prey to the adoption of overarching beliefs, static goals, dogmas or conclusions about the troubles of the world. We are all still writing the story, as we in turn, continue to be written by it. By their very definition, endings always destroy something, and are perhaps where fantasy finds us most unaware.

Except where noted, all quotes from James Hillman, Anima, the Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Spring publications.

Imaginal Love

[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.

Moving Forward

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.

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.

al-Khidr

“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. 🙂

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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.

The Red Book – Library of Congress Symposium

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani’s book, Lament of the Dead, Psychology after Jung’s Red Book, I want to share a video I found on youtube of a symposium featuring several speakers and a panel discussion from 2010 that included Hillman, Shamdasani and other Jungians. It is very insightful for anyone interested in Jung’s Red Book  and particularly the disagreement that later arose between Hillman and the later Jungians.

Sonu is the first speaker and he recalls in detail his work as editor of Jung’s Red Book and the challenges he faced while working on the manuscripts. Sonu is followed by Hillman who offers his thoughts and insights on both the Red Book and a few personal stories about Jung, whom he knew dating back to the 50’s until Jung’s death in 1961.

The symposium took place in spring of 2010, roughly a year and a half before Hillman died. He is feisty and brilliant as ever arguing that the experiences Jung recorded in the Red Book are the heart and soul of the man as Hillman understood him. He believes that Jung’s experience was so raw that he would devote much of his work in psychology to developing a conceptual language that would enable others to enter into their own experience. An experience of being directly in touch with personified powers that Jung engaged while practicing what he called Active Imagination. But Hillman believes that the concepts took precedence over the raw experience they pointed to.

Perhaps Hillman felt vindicated by Jung’s descriptions of these encounters described in the Red Book. I have read elsewhere that Hillman had some fierce disagreements with many of the later Jungians who latched onto Jung’s concepts, leaving behind the importance of the rawness of Jung’s experience in favor of adhering to Jung’s concepts for use in therapy – concepts that often left the movement of the psyche or soul out of the consulting room.

Hillman believed that a reliance on the concepts of ego, shadow, types, individuation, etc., take one away from the face to face encounter with the personified powers one meets in active imagination. An engagement that move these powers away from the notion of being only inside our heads. For that is what Hillman believed Jung did; meet these personifications in their world, the soul of the world, or as Plato called it, Anima Mundi.

Anyway, it is a very engaging conversation that starts off with Sonu, then Hillman followed by the panel discussion. And, there is a Part II, but I have not listened to it yet…