Consensus

Imagining offers freedom from the magic of certitude, by recognizing that beliefs begin in images and are always images too, images that have lost their wings and fallen into truths. The angelic aspect of human being is the unbounded imagination.

When consensus within a culture is driven by a desire for certitude, the safety and comfort of offering our agreement with prevailing opinions of a political or social nature, beliefs more easily become confused with truth*, truth then becomes static and personal, rather than an array of personified images or angelic messages.

The concreteness of modern cosmology, where only measured, quantifiable “facts” make up a monolithic reality, assures a never-ending opposition of disagreement, drawing the battle lines between competing visions, not only of what is true and false, but of a very black and white fabric that weaves the story we believe we’re in.

The idea that a truth exists is different from the idea that a truth can be known. For the Greeks, it was the particular burden, emphasis of power, along with place and lineage that gave each god its essence of being. Necessary, as expressions of an invisible world, these gods remained above or below the human world, and our awareness of that setting apart, from our world to theirs, was a humbling factor that informs of one’s place and time as an in-between place; limited, liminal, finite, not to be possessed, but to the contrary, that which possesses us. But this possession is also an embrace, a surround that pulls us away from our human-only world, uniting us not only with life on planet earth, but with all the possibilities that an invisible dimension holds that we can only come to know through reflection upon the images as we experience them.

But in this human-only world, if something can’t be seen, measured or quantified, it either doesn’t exist, can’t be trusted, and most importantly, can’t be exhorted into the safety of consensus. If the gods, and the images they present through our expression, account for the powers that influence us, it hardly matters whether or not they really exist in some tangible way that can be proven. The gods, all that has been written about them, at the very least, express through us something eternal about our condition. Therefore, it matters not whether we believe in them, but that they believe in us.

What Jung called a complex, (Ezra) Pound called an image. For Pound, an image is “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” “The Image is more than an Idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.”

In our secular post-modern world, could it be that the absence of any powers beyond us heightens our thirst for belief, confusing it with truth because we experience the world entirely from a human-only perspective? Could both cultural and personal suicide along with fantasies of Armageddon be an expression of a loss of the experience of those powers beyond humanity that twist human subjects into just one more object devoid of worth? In a world in which we believe ourselves to be the sole carriers of consciousness, does this existential aloneness lead us to question the reality of our experience of being?

1024px-The_remains_of_a_star_gone_supernova

Sun-like star in the final stages of its life.

And what of death, the dead? Is their absence, the finality of human existence through death, calling into question our very aliveness? For what a strange world it is if everything around us is truly dead except for us. No wonder the need then, to search for physical life beyond our tiny place in the cosmos. With the intrusion of a lack of belief in the invisible realm beyond the physical, we must now find other physical beings to give us back the reality and validation of our own existence.

By A.JEHANNE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By A.JEHANNE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0

Perhaps Western culture now finds itself in the most frightening episode of its brief existence. The psychic burden of living such short physical lives has us in a frenzy to now become the very powers once attributed to the gods. Powers that simultaneously create and destroy with an unprecedented fury. Whether it’s the idea that we alone can save ourselves from the wreckage of our own doing, or the idea that we must progress by any means necessary, our lack of felt experience as one creature among many, with an eye for beauty and empathy, has completely escaped us as the narrowing of our world has destroyed the experience and recognition of all except the material, human world of the here and now.

The past, once valued for connecting us to the ancestors, is now filled with familial and cultural ghosts of the sins of the father, that only bring us pain and shame for the wounds we experience as deeply personal, victimizing us with every thought and memory we are stuck with. In a material world, where nothing matters but the physical, there’s no way to see, let alone experience the multidimensional layers of an eternal, archetypal background that binds both our wounds, and the possibility of their healing, to those very ancestors we now spurn.  To escape the haunting, we must kill the past with our profane business, drugs, political battles, and forward thinking, where hope tells us that someday, somehow, we will usher in a pain-free existence, a unity of peace, love and well-being for all.

*Curiously, we have more recently chosen to refer to truth as fact, and oppose it to “fake” as in the idea of fake news. But fake’s opposite would more accurately be called “real,” which asserts a dimension of unreality rather than falsity to our current condition.

All quotes from: Hillman, James. Philosophical Intimations (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 8). Spring Publications.

Crazy

“Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough.” —Psychologist R. D. Laing.

crazy (adj.)Look up crazy at Dictionary.com1570s, “diseased, sickly,” from craze + -y (2). Meaning “full of cracks or flaws” is from 1580s; that of “unsound mind,” or behaving so, is from 1610s.

If by defining someone as crazy, we mean they’re cracked, the cracks might well be openings to an awareness of things most of us can’t see or hear. But does our Western culture’s inability to value the mysteriously ineffable prove the experiences are a form of madness? Whatever “crazy” is, it’s relative to the culture’s expectation of normal, primarily based on a measure of one’s functionality within the marketplace.

Most paranoid schizophrenia is diagnosed in late teens or 20’s, as breakdowns result in noticeable dysfunction. They are so defined against a set of cultural expectations of functionality required to get along.

Why though do breakdowns appear at the time of blossoming into an adult? Perhaps we’re less likely to notice a child’s delusional behavior because we expect and appreciate both imagination and dependence in children.

“Jung, in one of his more extensive explorations of psychosis, described the compensatory role of delusions in attempting to rescue the personality from a pathological one-sidedness; also he saw in delusions the attempt of the pathological complex to destroy itself.” —John Weir Perry, The Far Side of Madness 2

Franklin Russell is the son of author and environmental journalist, Dick Russell. Dick was a friend of James Hillman and authored The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume I: The Making of a Psychologist. Hillman and Russell became friends around four years after Franklin had experienced his first breakdown. Dick’s recently published book, My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism, is the story of his son Franklin, his illness and the long journey of rebuilding their relationship. After James gets to know more of Dick’s struggles with his son, he offers some advice:

“Well, again, you probably have to re-constellate the relationship. Not in terms of where you’re trying to help him. 

You let go of his being a ‘sick man.’ Then you may find he tells you things that he doesn’t talk about otherwise. You don’t know what is going to come out, but it’s almost as if you’ve abandoned being the responsible father.”

It’s important then, to focus less on looking for normality, and more on meeting Franklin wherever he happens to be at the moment. Go with it. Join him in his world. Sage advice, I think, for all of us. Quantifying the illness with a check list of acceptable or unacceptable behaviors misses the qualitative aspects, and creates an antagonistic tug of war placing the normal person in a position of power. Perhaps the more one measures another’s behavior for its craziness, the more necessary it becomes for the other to retreat into unseen realms.

The book recalls in detail the long journey between father and son where both are transformed through deepening trust and acceptance of each other. They travel to Africa, experiencing animal migration in the Serengeti, consult with African shaman Malidoma Some, and travel to New Mexico to work with ex-football star and author, Pat Toomay. The book recounts in detail how each step changes Dick and Franklin through encounters with the ancestors, beings in other dimensions, revealing the depths of Franklin’s ability to move between worlds and beings whose existence he takes for granted and some might call “unreal.”

“How could you simply explain a life. Laughing and carrying on. That is too simple. Working and sleeping. Far too surface. Satisfying and full. That would be a dream. Dreary and worrisome . That is more like it. Then you need to add in the quality of time. That is what it really amounts to. Time and energy. It is all up to an individual how to spend their time. How to use their mind. How to mix and mingle. How to stand alone.” —Franklin’s Journal

Dick quotes often from Franklin’s vast supply of writing, which I find remarkably coherent. Frank is bi-racial, something that he frequently struggles with.

“What is it like to be black? What is it like to be half black and half white? No matter how much we don’t want it to matter it does matter. It is like one half of you is dancing to the drums of mother Africa, and the other singing in the choirs of classical European music. That’s a lot of rhythm in one person. What is it like to live in a tribe? All of the people share common ancestry, and common skin color. Wouldn’t there be less competition.”

During the trip to Africa, much healing takes place. Franklin feels great kinship to the animals. Perhaps they are easier in a way to understand than humans, for they are not guarded, but readily display their nature, for better or worse. 🙂

Dick readily admits that the journey of his son’s healing necessarily includes his own breakthrough.

“But the breakthrough occurred when my code cracked. It was not about being protected, but allowing myself to be cracked. My son needed entry into me . . . needed to know, too, that I felt him. The snake was the archetype, winding, finding our way to the root of one another.”

Scholar and shaman, Malidoma Some figures greatly in the story.

Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man (Blackfoot/Siksika)

“If your psyche is disordered or deficient or overcharged, blocks are created in you that prevent comprehension and remembering. To open up the channels in you so that whatever energy you need can flow freely is not the task of the teacher; it is the task of the shaman.” —Malidoma Patrice Somé, The Healing Wisdom of Africa.

The book is so rich, sensitive, disturbing and satisfying to me. Reading about Franklin has me reconsidering my own definition of crazy, suggesting to me that the way we treat each other often reveals a serious lack of sensitivity for the wide spectrum of human experience. We leave a trail of tragic lives behind us the more we lose touch with ancient wisdom, and the more harm we do to some of our most beautiful and sensitive souls.

“My love is like an eagle’s bones set to dry in the sun. Once flying high trying to reach the sky something happened and the eagle died. The flesh disappeared revealing the magnificent skeleton. Large and standing still, the vultures assumed positions staking claims on the flesh. The spirit left the bones. Now it flies high and free amongst the transient clouds that mark the emotions.” —Franklin’s Journal

If this is crazy, I say, bring it on.

“When you were a young child, you dreamed of climbing. Experiences of euphoria you couldn’t explain. Events unfolded in your life. Things hurt you and things held you back. Moments brought you to the epitome of emotions. What was it that made you evacuate from your soul, anyway there is a direction home. Do not be shocked when I say it isn’t necessarily death. It is work. I once heard that if you can’t find something to live for, find something to die for. And some days you’ll feel like a pin cushion filled with sorrow. Or a voodoo victim. Pick it up. Maybe try a dinner invitation. —Franklin’s Journal,

All quotes from: Russell, Dick (2014-11-18). My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism. Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.

After Life

“It’s almost as if you have to spend your whole life disengaging from your life, disengaging from the supposed reality of your living. I think that’s what Spinoza and Socrates meant about life is the study of dying, that you leave these convictions of certitude about the whole business. I certainly feel lots of that now, whereas my friend Higuchi says he’s living in the afterlife. Beautiful idea. Meaning his life is over, he’s living after life, but it’s also the afterlife.” James Hillman

In a conversation with my mother today, I hear her saying the most remarkable things. Yes, she twists age-old adages so the saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side,” is now, “the grass is always greener outside.” Ironically, there’s a truth in her rephrasing. Although some would say it’s dementia speaking, I say, let it speak. Why see it as only a loss?

“Now, our finding our own dead in the United States involves so much history, close history, one hundred and fifty years of history, slavery, civil war, brutalities of all sorts, Chinese oppression, it’s just so huge, all the deaths of the Indians, and animals, that we’re blocked in a strange way by personal guilt. We enter the realm of the dead overloaded to begin with, with Protestantism and guilt, so I don’t know if we get to what you call ancestors. I don’t know if we have a sensitivity to whatever that means.”

My Mom (kneeling on the floor) with her sisters, mother and step-dad.

My Mom (kneeling on the floor) with her sisters, mother and step-dad. Ca. 1945

I asked her what she’s been up to, and after a bit of silence she informed me that she’s been talking to her mother. Her mother, my grandmother, born somewhere around 1906, who has been dead for many years. My mother has never mentioned talking to the dead, ever. Her southern Baptist beliefs would prohibit that. When I asked her what Grammy had to say, she told me that they were going to Holland to see the ancestors. To clarify what she meant, I asked her if she was traveling by boat. She laughed and said no, she wouldn’t need one. Aha!

Great,Great Grandmother Wilhemina Lindenberg who left Holland and her husband behind to come to America with her four daughters.

My great, great grandmother Wilhemina Lindenberg, who left her native Holland and her husband behind to come to America with her five daughters.

Whether one believes that the ancestors are calling her to them or if she is seeking them out, either way, in finding an opening to the dead, she paves a path that someday I will follow. My mother has no clue about my devotion to the ancestors. She hasn’t read the writings of C.G. Jung or James Hillman, and if asked, would tell you she is a devout born again Christian. So where does her sudden reach towards the ancestors come from?

Like many of us, her wounds are deep, sometimes voiced as regret and guilt over events far in the past that continue to haunt her. As her child, I suckled on her wounds. As I grew, and my wounds manifested as a withdrawal from life, she saw my behavior as outward proof of her own wrong doing. When I began to understand my part in her story, and began to remove myself from a role she needed me to play to prove her guilt, my life began to become my own.

Beyond physically inherited traits, lies the unfinished ancestral business. We’re in a much bigger story than our personal experience allows us to easily see, especially when we’re young. Haunted we are, with the ancestors calling us to attend to these wounds, first on a personal level and eventually one that will lead us back to ponder their circumstances which often become ours.

Moms BookIn her retirement, my mom wrote an autobiography recalling in great detail family stories of struggle and hardship that show her amazing resiliency throughout much of her childhood. There were hard times in which my grandmother struggled to support six daughters and two bad marriages. The suicide of my mother’s step-dad, who probably had no idea what he was marrying into, are all told with insight, compassion, feeling and love. I needed this book.

In hindsight, reading the stories of my ancestors gave me a way to see myself within the context of a bigger story, offering me deeper insights into the choices, limitations and opportunities in my life.

My mother’s stories also offer insights into my familial and cultural past, loaded with images of struggle, loss and love in 20th century America. As all of us do, I entered the world in a story already taking place. A world felt to be not of my making; messy, in which the more I look, the more pain and suffering I see. Given our limitations as to where we enter, and the story we find ourselves in, I think the need for forgiveness and compassion cannot be overstated.

My mom’s dementia is not only a physical disintegration. I see her engagement with her mother and the ancestors over in Holland as somehow necessary for something essential to her eventual death and mine. In the last few years she seems softer, much more light-hearted, with an honest portion of sadness and regret. Her dementia has me seeking new ways to reach her, and myself, not to bring her back to who she once was, but to invite her to share with me the world she’s slipping into.

Cora'sGirls

My mom, 2nd from the left, with her mother and sisters.

It will not be easy to lose her when the time comes, and I suppose the fear of that loss finds me very willing to meet her where she’s at and to stay connected somehow.

She may not know it, but she gave me an unexpected gift that I will cherish forever. To share with her this movement toward our ancestors makes life a little less lonely for me and affirms my need to remember the dead. When Higuchi says he is living in the after life, I recognize that feeling a little more each day. It’s not morbidity, but the recognition that living my life in the stream of the ancestors, brings insight to the complexity of human experience.

All quotes: Hillman, James; Shamdasani, Sonu (2013-08-26). Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book. W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Dreaming With Lemurs

Dreams mean different things to people according to culture, time and place. For tribal cultures, dreams were often revered by being incorporated into the life of its members through rites of passage, or taken as prophetic messages. These practices have mostly faded away in cultures where individuality is highly esteemed. As technology enables individuals to sustain themselves seemingly independent of a tribe, there is less need to rely on the messages that dreams bring.

When thought of at all, we moderns tend to think of dreams as personal messages referring to one’s individual psychology. Even psychological practices discourage us from sharing dreams for fear of contamination or the loss of a temenos. I share this concern.

But, I am challenging myself here by sharing with you two dreams to see if there may very well be a shared constellation between dreamers, even in an online environment.

Why not expand our understanding of dreams as meaningful to both the dreamer and the tribe? A tribe can be any group of individuals where connection somehow constellates. Familiarity with tribe members is not necessary for dream meanings to constellate. We have much more in common than our differences may keep us from realizing, yes?

Recently, I was given two dreams which prominently featured a similar animal. The first dream, dated October 18, 2014, included an astounding sense of lucidity and went something like this:

As I wake up, I am actually beginning a lucid dream. I’m standing in the street and realize that if I move I can float upwards above the street. As I move upward, I see a small animal. I move cautiously towards him. It might be a bat, but I don’t see wings. I look into his face and eyes and hold out my hand to him. He then sits in my hand and we look deeply into each others eyes. I let him go and then wake up.

But, I am not awake, but am lifting off the ground into a vivid night sky. There are multiple moons and planets visible everywhere. I am aware of the ability to float around at will. The beauty is so stunning I wake up.

The second dream, dated December 18, 2014, was recorded like this:

On a boat moving towards Liberty Island with Paul (my husband), we move past the island when we see another beautiful island beyond. On the island there are vertical rock formations which have small delicate, ornate tops.

We reach the shore and look around to see a herd of elk-like creatures scampering off the rocks onto the beach where we are. I touch the ornate rock formation and to my surprise, it breaks off. I feel bad about that. I turn around and can feel an animal biting my upper back. Paul says suddenly, “It’s a lemur.” The distinction of his words made me turn around and look. The lemur was now on the rocks and I see him with some cats who are his friends. I am no longer afraid and wake up.

Ring Tailed Lemur

Upon waking I felt very moved by the presence of the lemur, but wasn’t even sure what a lemur was. I thought they were part of the cat family! So, after reading up on lemurs I realize that the animal in the dream from October was also a lemur. It had bothered me that although it resembled a bat, it wasn’t. Upon seeing a photo of a lemur, I recognized that the bat was actually a lemur.

Lemur’s are from Madagascar, and sad to hear, critically endangered, but were very much revered by the native culture. A myth about the Indri, a kind of lemur, portray Indri brothers in story as enacting the original split between animals and humans:

“Most legends establish a closer relationship between the indri and humans. In some regions it is believed that there were two brothers who lived together in the forest until one of them decided to leave and cultivate the land. That brother became the first human, and the brother who stayed in the forest became the first indri. The indri cries in mourning for his brother who went astray.” Wiki

From Wiki: Serge Gomes da Silva – oeuvre personelle (own-work)

Also called babakoto, the Lemurs have a very distinct call and response style of singing. I found some YouTube’s of Lemur sounds and as I hit play, all five cats in my home went on immediate high alert. Honestly, I have never seen all of them react the way they did. I had to stop playing the beautiful haunting lament of the Lemur sounds. Time to get head phones!

“One explanation for the name babakoto, is that the calls made by the indri resemble a father calling for his lost son.[10]

Another legend tells of a man who went hunting in the forest and did not return. His absence worried his son, who went out looking for him. When the son also disappeared, the rest of the villagers ventured into the forest seeking the two but discovered only two large lemurs sitting in the trees: the first indri. The boy and his father had transformed. In some versions it is only the son who transforms, and the wailing of the babakoto is analogous to the father’s wailing for his lost son.”

But Roman and Christian cultures do not see the lemur as a friend of humankind, but as vengeful ghosts of the deceased haunting someone who has dissed the ancestor with an improper funeral or burial.

Lemurs were so-named by the 18th century zoologist, Linnaeus, because of the nocturnal activity and slow movements of the slender loris.” And In Goethe‘s Faust, a chorus of Lemurs who serve Mephistopheles dig Faustus’ grave.”

It’s striking to me how opposite in nature the views are between the Madagascar natives and modern Europeans in their association to Lemurs. Perhaps the dream speaks to a need to reconcile the opposition between these two views? On a personal level, that opposition is very much of a concern to me and upon hearing these associations, I was impressed by how strongly resonant the two cosmologies play in my current thinking.

In mythology, and perhaps because of their size, behavior and likeness to us, Indri are thought to have a common ancestry to humans. A lover of animals all of my life, I am honored that the lemur has come to me in my dreams. Going out on a limb, so to speak, I would love to hear of your associations to the dreams or the lovely lemurs.

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. 🙂

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.

Wild Child

“Among oral people’s, language functions not simply to dialogue with other humans, but also to converse with the more than human cosmos. Words do not speak about the world, they speak to the world, and it is our loss that we have become severed from the vaster life, and have forgotten the expressive depths of language provided by the whole of the sensuous world.” David Abrams

A post on the Depth Psychology Alliance group, Ecopsychology, discusses the topic of story, fairy-tales and language in relation to environmental education and this paper by Joanna Coleman. You can read the post and conversation here, but a free membership is required.

My heart goes out to this vital topic. Before one can enter into a conversation on using stories to heal the rift between ourselves and nature, might it first be necessary to consider both Nature herself and the nature of belief and story? Are stories still a vital way to see ourselves?

Perhaps some resistance to seeing ourselves in a story, a living fiction, preferring instead to call it Reality, stems from a necessary agreement that we are not simply making the world up. We need agreement for those places where our lives intersect. The modern distinction between reality and fiction mistakes story as something untrue, rather than something that provides a metaphorical way to understand reality. Reality and story are not opposites. They belong to two entirely different modes of perceiving.

Storytelling, for us moderns, is enjoyed primarily because of its fictitious nature. Immersing ourselves in a story means suspending reality, perhaps releasing us from the tensions so many of us feel. Tensions caused perhaps by an increasing dependence on remote, uncontrollable sources for food, water and shelter. Technology, in some ways, returns us to infancy, only our mother is now the Sysco truck, the Real Estate agent and local Utility service provider.

File:2008-07-24 International truck docked at Duke Hospital South 2.jpgCan humans live for hundreds of thousands of years, relying primarily on hands-in-the-dirt participation with local resources for survival, to a place where we’ve forgotten most of the knowledge it takes to survive, trading it in for utter reliance on a network so vast, complex and distant that it’s become out of sight and out of mind? What does this change do to Psyche, let alone Nature?

Perhaps the change in us that’s hardest to see, although sensed, is also too primary to see. We live the life given to us through the structures already in place upon entering this world. They are natural. And if nature is now out there, in a zoo, a storybook, or a National Park, we’ve tamed it to the point that what little exchange we have with animals and trees barely touch us, except in a sentimental and safe way, or through efforts to manage her. From forest fires to so-called Parks, nature must submit to human demands – the more so, the more damage done.

But, do we remember the fear of the wild our ancestors lived with, or understand their drive to tame the wild west? Perhaps we have never come to terms with the conflict between a desire for safety and its result of devastating loss of wild life. Must the choice for safety always come at the expense of nature?

Culture:

Middle English (denoting a cultivated piece of land): the noun from French culture or directly from Latin cultura ‘growing, cultivation’; the verb from obsolete French culturer or medieval Latin culturare, both based on Latin colere ‘tend, cultivate’ (see cultivate). In late Middle English the sense was ‘cultivation of the soil’ and from this (early 16th century) arose ‘cultivation (of the mind, faculties, or manners)’; sense 1 of the noun dates from the early 19th century.

Ironically, culture relates to land, saying something about our relationship to nature, not nature as it is, but the one we till, grow and harvest. Culture than is the very thing that moved us from a people living with the inherent constraints and fierceness of nature, to a people resisting her wild unpredictable circumstances by settling down, forcing nature to comply through the use of our technology. From here it’s easy to see that nature becomes our thing, less something nourishing and containing us, and more something to be subdued, enslaved and dominated.

A Snow Leopard at the Toronto Zoo.

Not only must we see the horrific attitude that comes from dominating nature, but perhaps we must also see that blindly following the path of our ancestors has less to do with some inherent human evil and more to do with the harshness of nature herself. Can we remember what the pre-technological past was like and the harsh conditions of day-to-day life for primary sustenance? Could we moderns ever willingly give up even a drop of our technology; the safety, the abundance, the convenience and choices we have as a sacrifice for longterm stability?

Perhaps we need first to forgive the ancestors and ourselves, for choices made along the way that brought us the comfort we now seem unable to live with or without. Maybe then we can accept the sacrifices necessary to bring about a balance between our comfort and convenience and a sustainable world. Can we see though that our desire to plan and manage nature is what got us to where we are today? Does nature need us to tend to her ways?

I prefer to answer that question by remembering that I, too, am nature; part of the problem and the solution. Perhaps the thing most needed now is not only to see how blame, hope or turning away affects us, but to enter into a conversation that allows fear, anger, and sadness as necessary expressions that encourage attention to the complexity of our human nature and current predicament.

Maybe our fate has already been sealed and we’re free-falling our way to an unknown future – not alone though, for, abandon her, love her, fear or hate her, nature will be there too.

With hunger at her heels,
Freedom in her eyes
She dances on her knees,
Pirate prince at her side
Stirrin’ into a hollow idols eyes
Wild child full of grace,
Savior of the human race – Jim Morrison

Character

“A man’s character is his fate.” Heraclitus (540 BC – 480 BC), On the Universe

“If the final purpose of aging is character, then character finishes life, polishes it into a more lasting image.” James Hillman

Anna Rebecca Smith

If I have felt compelled towards living life closer to the margins, seeking out what is obscure, liminal, or for understanding more deeply the nature of life, I might trace these loose threads back to childhood and the memory of my dear Great, Great Aunt Bunny. The family myth taking root early in my life often compared my oddness to hers. Maybe another child would not have taken the myth to heart and some may say a child should be left without a myth or vision handed down by an ancestor, but I remain grateful.

Although long since passed on, her presence fosters in me a love of life’s oddness. Through the legacy of family stories that tell of her adventurous nature, and a sustained presence through reading her letters, postcards and books, I find solace and appreciation for the courage and daring this passionate woman had. She lived a non-ordinary life, and if in some ways her image remains idealized, it has also been a healing fiction.

Aunt Bunny’s distinguishable traits are what James Hillman calls character. Her styling, from the occasional wearing of men’s clothes, living with a female companion, to her exotic collections, stands out with bold acuity in my memories. When I felt misunderstood and misfitted, it was this ancestral connection to Bunny’s oddity that kept me going, encouraging in me a lifelong curiosity to my troubled, youthful attraction to oddness.

So, what is character? How do we account for that which gives us our unique character?

medium[1]James Hillman, in his book titled, The Force of Character and the Lasting Life, suggests that character is a shaping form that is part of our being, not just the psyche but the whole of who we are. Of the word character he says:

“The very word derives from kharassein, Greek for “engrave,”“sketch,” or “inscribe”; kharakter, which is both one who makes sharp incisive marks and the marks made, such as letters in a writing system.”

Hillman refers back to a time when character was understood less as desirable traits and more as the force that forms, shapes and marks us throughout life, which become more striking as we age, evidenced in the lines of our face and in our personality. As we age we are actualising a unique image we’re born with, marked as much by the cosmology of the world at the time of our birth, as it is by inherited traits and afflictions of family and culture.

We can understand then how it is that astrologers envision the influence of the cosmos upon us. Our birth itself is an event compelled by all the prior events of the cosmos. Each birth an expression of the circumstances of both family and tribe and the far-reaching motion of the planets and stars. Modern science, psychology and theology narrows the understanding of birth influence to that of genetics, childhood or original sin, but those explanations can’t account for the full range of the person and our unique drive and expression.

Robert Fludd’s An Astrologer Casting a Horoscope 1617

Character is qualitative and keeps us a little off, never quite normal, or just a type or statistic. Just as the earth wobbles, imperfectly round, eccentrically circling the sun in a not quite 360 degree revolution, the force of character compels each of us, as perfectly imperfect.

Character’s inescapable force guarantees no particular moral outcome and is both a blessing and a curse. Hillman stresses the importance of seeing aesthetics before morality, not because morality does not matter, but because it’s not enough. To look only at morality catches us in a duality assigning values of right and wrong, tempting us to summarily dismiss what might more accurately be called ungraspable or misunderstood. An ethical evaluation of character leaves out the important truth that all of us have faulty, frail, vulnerable, flawed, shadowy aspects to our character. The compassion that leads to love comes to us primarily through our own inescapable vulnerabilities.

“Character forces me to encounter each event in my peculiar style. It forces me to differ. I walk through life oddly. No one else walks as I do, and this is my courage, my dignity, my integrity, my morality, and my ruin.”

Failings, sufferings, afflictions can then be seen as breakdowns that lead to loosening the armour of idealism and perfectionist tendencies we accumulate in youth. It is through aging that character begins to gather in us a lasting expression of our place and time. What lasts and finally moves us into the realm of ancestors is an accumulative complex image, layered with a lifetime of becoming that places us too in the realm of myth for all who would know us and for those who come after.

“The plots that entangle our souls and draw forth our characters are the great myths. That is why we need a sense of myth and knowledge of different myths to gain insight into our epic struggles , our misalliances, and our tragedies. Myths show the imaginative structures inside our messes, and our human characters can locate themselves against the background of the characters of myth.”

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller

All quotes except where noted, Hillman, James (2012-11-07). The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.