Under the Influence

Culture

In the not too distant past, people everywhere were still insulated from much awareness of the world beyond one’s local family and tribe. We might now take for granted how much technology has expanded our reach beyond the immediate time and place we find ourselves in. Mobility through technology allows very different peoples and cultures to mingle and merge, as it also expands our reach.

We moderns seek an explanation for everything, and now we can find it ‘online.’ We look to, reference and then quote the experts – or share a meme that claims a truth through an emotionally appealing story – for winning our ideological and psychological battles that the subjective, private self feels obliged to acknowledge in order to be validated and heard. The risk is to hand over our personal agency to collective forces, becoming enslaved by ideologues or by anyone who has our ear. Even if it lies unacknowledged, in the shadow of every ideology there lies an end game.

Every generation fights a new bogey man: whatever public institution, once deemed and revered as expert, eventually falls from grace. This is how it must be. All will eventually fall, as long as the categories themselves of ‘public and private’ remain in a dynamic tension in which one negates the other, rather than serving as that which shows us a third way which places agency back into one’s experience where we can then turn to – that place where all struggles ultimately find their residence.

Hurry Up!

After thousands of years of toil and disease, in which millions of human lives lived were fraught with pain and suffering, technology began to serve us well. But somewhere we have moved beyond a level of relative comfort to a place we’ve never been before. Unlike the self-reliant nature of walking, the speed of a car, while increasing our freedom to move, at the same time increases our expectation of ever greater speeds. Our desires seem insatiable with the idea that technology will increasingly bring more freedom, comfort and one day perhaps the Promised Land itself.

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La Fileuse (Maryo File la Laine). – The Spinner. Zincograph with hand-coloring Indianapolis Museum of Art. PublicDomain

With desires and expectations far removed from human nature we’re twice as vulnerable in an era when technology and social media become the primary source of opinions, stories, images and ideas that are ‘shared,’ ‘liked’ and distributed in their most base form. Memes, quickly consumed as simple explanations, offer platitudes and solutions in an increasingly complex and shared world. We fill our need for ever deeper, more personal reflection with collective opinions distributed just as other goods are bought, sold, and often time, borrowed on credit. Faster food, faster cars, faster weapons, faster information foster unreflected opinions that define reality and tempt us into drawing conclusions about what is broken and how things should be. How to fix what technology driven by a desire for ever-increasing speed breaks? Speed kills, but more than that, while giving an illusion of connecting long distances, cheats us out of deeper bonds to each other and the world that the slowness of essential daily tasks once provided.

Our desperation to make the world better shares this hurried frenzy. We risk the loss of skills for mediating between a multitude of competing ideas, where a deeper understanding of the nature of social and individual problems might counter the overbearing collective influence.

Perhaps our hurry serves to move us past the unbearable pain of increased awareness of the plight of others whom we are often powerless to help, and into the pleasure of believing in a solution that fits our cultural frame of reference. With the solution in mind, rather than the problem, all that’s left is to blame those that don’t share our vision, who we then scapegoat as either unenlightened, brainwashed, or simply “haters.” (Perhaps our exasperation is an important clue that our understanding is not yet complete and still wants something from us.)

Technology in the Driver’s Seat

Although technology extends our awareness, it can breed emotions for things and events far beyond our reach, and still carry with it an expectation that our influence and responsibility might increase too, giving the impression that together, we can solve the world’s problems. Alone with one’s computer, the bigger-than-ever world is now at my fingertips. Perhaps this is why frustration, depression and pathology more readily find us offline, as we never quite find our unique voice that can skillfully mediate and express ideas that we’re attracted to. We remain dispossessed; both afraid and unaware of the reach and limits of our own agency. With all of the speed of technology, the experts we seek for validation still own us.

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Influence

The increased reach of our psyche is far out of proportion to our individual influence on the world’s troubles. The more power, influence and responsibility I think I’m suppose to have, the more I suffer when things beyond my control break my heart. I feel this deeply.

Power and influence, and the question of who has it and who doesn’t, are breeding a new pathology. Never before have we had a spotlight big enough to expose so much to so many. The power of one small cellphone to globally broadcast any event to anyone anywhere is unprecedented. The changes brought to our psyche and to every culture are perhaps unstoppable and seemingly chaotic, contributing as much to the solutions of our problems as to the pathological states that bring harm to so many of us.

No matter one’s beliefs or culture, common archetypal themes grip and haunt us all. In a world saturated by apocalyptic visions and imagery, it is to our teleological views that we might now turn to, not to believe in them more, but to see through them and the power that belief infuses into crumbling cultures. Regardless of their veracity, it is our very belief in them that divides us into opposing forces of believers and heretics, penetrating our awareness and identity with a desire to convert the unfaithful over and above anything else. Falling into belief (defined here as a mistaking of the desire for something ultimately unknowable to be true) is itself pathological, ever in need of validation, reassurance and defense that is beyond the human condition to obtain.

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F-15 and F-16 flying over a burning oil field in Kuwait in 1991. US Air Force. Public Domain

While it once seemed that the old institutions of church, social mores, government and superstition were to blame for our oppression and lack of freedom, as these structures begin to crumble, we might increasingly recognize a kind of personal free agency, unincorporated, to the extent that we don’t, out of fear and desperation, seek out ideologies and authorities to replace those fallen idols.

The desire to win an outcome stemming from any collective ideology, empowers the experts, who in the cultural free fall, solicit our dependence – increasing their influence over us while limiting the pool of ideas of what is possible. Corruption can be more readily justified through strength of belief. The antidote to belief is to stop worshiping at its altar, not the altar of any one specific belief, but the altar of belief itself. Ultimately, at root, what any of us always has – and which remains the very ground of our existence, is experience.

The Edge of the Universe

“Western reality has no prerogative or supremacy over other brands. It may be the present operating system for modernity on Earth, but its roots are no more rooted, its arising no more fundamental or absolute. No one species’s or planet’s deposition has primogeniture or is endorsed by the universe. The same claims are made implicitly by the spider and the mouse.”

In Richard Grossinger’s book, Dark Pool of Light, Volume One, he offers the above statement as a generous invitation to consider the broader nature of what we call reality. What seems increasingly important to me is to encourage and facilitate the awareness of just how provisional, and yet, universal are some aspects of our human experience. We live in amazing times. The shape of the world, its cultures and people, seems not nearly so distant anymore. We are at the threshold, perhaps, of realizing a global community.

Therefore, all cultural views and distinctions are being questioned, continually ripped apart by people who were once their very advocates and true believers. For some, this is truly devastating, threatening deeply held beliefs and traditions. We want to belong and we need meaning, even if it comes down to a fatalistic acceptance of meaninglessness or stricter adherence to fundamental religions. For others, a vision of unity brings hope that the human race may one day live cooperatively in peace and harmony between themselves and all that inhabits planet earth. I think we live in mystery, an outcome, or teleology only tempts us to leave the mystery.

The myths we live by might, and do, change. Every prior culture has eventually lost favor with succeeding generations. In the bigger picture of time, our culture in the west, post-modern, Judeo-Christian, like older paradigms, will unfold into something else. The push towards change has its own momentum, bigger than any culture or individual. Even in abundance, the drive to explore and reinvent ourselves remains. Yes, some individuals settle into comfortable beliefs that makes sense to them. But in the bigger picture of time, all cultures and paradigms drop out of favor, unfolding into something else. This doesn’t nullify particular aspects of cultures past and present, but incorporates them to more accurately reflect what was previously hidden.

Myths are not adopted necessarily because we prefer one version of the story over another. Myths that influence us at all, cannot reach us as myth, but as truth. When something resonates strongly with us, its irresistible pull helps us understand ourselves and the world we find ourselves in. Convinced of the certainty of what we believe, either by a historical perspective, teleology, or a charmed feeling of the experience it provides for us, we become storied, immersed as characters, even as our story conflicts with the stories of others. As they do for us, we become characters in a plot sometimes known only to ourselves.

So, does recognition and understanding of how myth works in us change anything? Can we see the implications of the story we find ourselves in and opt out? Yes, I think so, but can we ever be without myth? Is there a hard and objective reality, that when intellectually accepted as truth, replaces myth? What about science?

The structure of part of a DNA double helix

Science, perhaps more than ever, is an expression of a modern myth that seeks moving beyond and living without myth. It may be true that we are reaching a place we’ve never been before and that our rejection of myth in favor of reality may want something from us. But if so, can we ever leave behind the subjective states restricting us from objective experience? The next unfolding may not be about dispelling the mythological way of apprehending the world, but seeing how myth itself is an unfolding of the universe. Carefully, of course.

“The moment you let go of your habit addiction, you explode in all directions.”

Addiction to habit, yes, bringing us both the blessing of familiarity for survival and social skill, along with the curse of self-destructive beliefs that bring us pain and confusion, both which lock us into a mytheme that has long outlived its purpose. We see this on both the personal and collective level.

And so it may be the case that by placing faith in science and technology, we fail to recognize its curse of personal and environmental destruction because of how blessed we are through the benefits received. Perhaps the force of the myth itself satisfies, promising, and to some extent delivering us both health and wealth, along with relief from superstition and the bullying nature of the old guard of patriarchal structures.

I like to imagine that we live at the edge of the universe, unfolding a little more each day, both personally and collectively. The tension between the individual and the collective may be the springboard of revolution. We can look back on thousands of years of wounding through collective agreements, conventions and authority, and hunger for individual expression. But as the fullness of my individuality is experienced, I feel a desire to extend the boundaries of myself outward into the tribe.

When the need to distinguish self from other is fulfilled, alienation and annihilation ceases to have a hold on us. Then perhaps we’ll be able to experience ourselves anew as “beings” in relation at all times, to everyone and everything, and without the fear or threat of losing ourselves to authoritarian figures or “foreigners.”

“Our identity crisis— a crisis of possession —has progressed in the last hundred years into a crisis of meaning and a moral and spiritual crisis as well. We do not know who we are or if in fact we are. We cannot escape the Voudoun “who” has turned us into animated corpses. Every day we fear that we could be supplanted unaware by automatons because we experience how the global capitalist imperative has already turned us into something like automatons: desire machines without souls—workaholic, funaholic slaves.”

It’s not desire that destroys soul, but desire missing its aim of seeking to know others; to distinguish self from other in relationship by risking vulnerability and acknowledging a need for the other. Our attraction to machines, automation and technology bypasses the need for relationship. What we don’t get from each other we can get from automated devices, which increasingly invites us to treat ourselves and others as automatons.

Grossinger, Richard (2012-08-21). Dark Pool of Light, Volume One: The Neuroscience, Evolution, and Ontology of Consciousness: 1 (Reality and Consciousness). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

Primordial Necessity

My impatient fate
Approaches me,
Stepping zealously
On the air.
It approaches me quietly,
Without noise,
It comes from
The remote area.
And I feel
That in no time,
It’ll open
With its burning fingers
The sacred, the whitest
Door of mine. Tsira Gogeshvili

“Original Sin is accounted for by the sin in the Originals. Humans are made in the images of the gods, and our abnormalities image the original abnormalities of the gods which come before ours, making possible ours. We can only do in time what gods do in eternity. Our infirmities will therefore have to have their ground in primordial infirmity, and their infirmities are enacted in our psychopathologies.” James Hillman

For James Hillman, revisiting our pre-Judeo-Christian past, returns us to a polytheistic world in which the gods were both many and varied. Taking us back in time, prior to the modern scientific view, where reason now denigrates ancient cosmologies as anthropomorphic fantasies with little or no value, Hillman recalls for us what is lost in limiting divinity to the one God.

The Abrahamic God, psychologically speaking, condenses all divine power into one transcendent power, with admission left for only one Adversary down below; the Devil. This condensing forces an entire pantheon of ideas underground – for the gods personify archetypal ideas, images and powers – absorbing them into Abrahamic religions as either friend of the Devil, or friend of God. An entire pantheon reduced to two primordial powers forever at war with each other, battling over ownership and fate of us mere mortals.

My purpose here is not so much to bring more conflict to the competition of beliefs or ideas, but to turn to the Greeks, ironically because we do not share their beliefs, for an understanding that imagining through myth and story are primary; before belief. Seen through the lens of fantasy, Greek mythology, as the Neo-Platonist writers of the not too distant past understood, displays affliction and suffering as belonging, necessary and creative in ways we moderns may have lost sight of.

For the Greeks and other pre-Judeo-Christian polytheistic worldviews, each god personified a distinct nature or image, and through story displayed their characteristics and interactions with each other in a world alive, moving and fierce, and yet, divine, universal, unchanging.

But what does a polytheistic view do for us that a monotheistic one does not? For Hillman, polytheism offers us an articulated view of our nature through images and stories, and especially pathologies, or where we suffer. Sin then is not only, as some Christian theology understands it, an absence of the presence of the divine, but through necessity, a compelling or exaggerated influence of one of many gods, shaping the style, character and fate that befalls us. Evil here can then be attributed to a compulsion, habit or addiction to one aspect of any one of the gods, not only to that of the Evil One. It’s as if the early Judeo-Christian consciousness rounded up all the gods, split them into opposing forces, leaving us with the opposition of Good vs. Evil, an unbearable tension in need of its own redemption, for nothing is purely good or evil.

Perhaps the absorption of polytheism by monotheism, when imagined as a shift in consciousness rather than a deliberate man-made manipulation, can itself be seen as an aspect of the goddess Ananke, a necessary shift. The monotheistic shift in consciousness has brought us the gift of rationalism, and objectivism, both of which have led us to the ideas and discoveries of science and technology. Although we can and do argue the merits of different styles of consciousness, that argument is itself a display of the objectivity of a monotheistic style of consciousness. We cannot, I believe, undo a style of consciousness through an awareness of it only, but we might gain an understanding of the nature and value of imagination inherent in the mythologizing that remains present in us, regardless of belief.

Polytheistic consciousness is perhaps a more deeply immersed and subjective experience of a world animated and alive. The shift away from that state allows us to amplify the sense of ourselves as separate from the environment, and to imagine the world into things unto themselves, with being and function independent of us and each other. The nuance of each god that gets lost in the monotheistic experience can be regained when we look to the images of the gods, recognizing in them primary, or archetypal influence; the source of all bounty and affliction, ever bringing us gifts through the limitations we are bound by through the infirmities we suffer.

Aion or Chronos, bound by Necessity

“Man is as much in the image of the gods and goddesses when he is ludicrous, enraged, or tortured, as when he smiles. Since the gods themselves show infirmitas, one path of the imitatio dei is through infirmity. Furthermore, it is this infirmitas of the archetype that can be nurse to our wounds and extremities, providing a style, a justification, and a sense of significance for ours.”

Ananke

In one version of the Greek myth of creation, the two primordial gods, Kronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity), were entwined together, and “circled the primal world egg in their coils and split it apart to form the ordered universe of earth, sea and sky.” Wiki

The first movement, or cause within the cosmos is this embrace of time and necessity. Hillman sees these archetypal figures with their influence on us as that which engage us through the archetypal structures, or gods, themselves. Hence they are Necessity Herself, primary to all we are and become:

“Necessity in Greek mythical thought is spoken of and experienced in pathologized modes.”

What is meant by the word Necessity, who is Ananke? Hillman provides a list of semitic roots from the works of Heinz Schreckenberg: narrowing, throat, surrounding, embracing, strangling, to wind tightly around the neck as the neck-band of a slave, a necklace or yoke.

In a variation of the myth, The Moirai were described as ugly old women, sometimes lame. They were severe, inflexible and stern. Clotho carries a spindle or a roll (the book of fate), Lachesis a staff with which she points to the horoscope on a globe, and Atropos (Aisa) a scroll, a wax tablet, a sundial, a pair of scales, or a cutting instrument. At other times the three were shown with staffs or sceptres, the symbols of dominion, and sometimes even with crowns. At the birth of each man they appeared spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of life. Shown here in a Flemish tapestry, Triumph over Death, ca 1520, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Ananke is that unseen binding or limit through her entanglement with Kronos, or time, that creates the world: the Heavens, Ge, the earth, all the gods, mortals, plants and animals. Necessity then, is experienced in our environment, the place of our being, and in the relations of family, community, obligations, servitude, all of which, as Hillman says, “governs our being.”

She also has associations to the Underworld, operating as an invisible psychic force. She herself is imageless, which Hillman suggests accounts for her compelling force upon us that leads to our afflicted states. She is blind necessity underlying all images that capture and compel us into mythological states experienced as reality.

“To use the word “reality” implies an ontological condition that cannot be otherwise. Therefore there must be something unalterably necessary about images so that psychic reality, which first of all consists in images, cannot be mere afterimages of sense impressions. Images are primordial, archetypal, in themselves ultimate reals, the only direct reality that the psyche experiences. As such they are the shaped presences of necessity.”

Ananke’s constraints that lead to our afflictions are the theme of Hillman’s essay titled, Athene, Ananke, and the Necessity of Abnormal Psychology that move from a general discussion of Ananke, into a deeper discussion on the relationship between necessity and affliction. Taking his cue from Plato, Freud and Jung, Hillman sees the constrictions of necessity as a first cause, that which then calls for Nous, or reason through persuasion for the presence of “creating principles.” Hopefully, more reflections to come in a later post. Here’s a quote in closing:

“You may have noticed that I continue to call pathologizing a creating activity. Plato presents ananke in a similar manner. He assumes it to be an arche, a first principle not derivative of anything else. It is also a creating principle entering into the formation of the universe. And it is necessarily always there, not gradually overcome through the extension of the rule of reason. As the demiurge never wholly reduces chaos to order, so reason never wholly persuades necessity. Both are present as creating principles, always. “In the whole and in every part, Nous and Ananke cooperate; the world is a mixture resulting from this combination.” 

Except as noted, all quotes from Hillman, James (2012-11-24). Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

…and in the end

“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” Lennon/McCartney

These thoughts touch upon my belief about beliefs; the nature of belief, and aim at peering into what, rather than how, or why, we have and hold them, near and dear to our hearts, as endings are sometimes necessary ideas along the way.

Along with the plot, characters and theme, stories too are snapshots; they begin, and at some point end. Endings invite reflections; of mortality, the nature of limits imposed upon us by time and other constraints, and also to openings through the movement of the story. We may ask, what happened, what did the story mean, did I like the story, who wrote it, did it end well?

But we might also ask, who am I in the story, and who am I not?

Stories tell us something and we in turn, tell them back, to each other and to ourselves. In many ways we live storied lives, in which we may sense an overarching theme, a calling, purpose or meta-pattern of our life.

We can also find the underpinnings, the ground of our life, as it presents itself in the minutia and detail of each day, each moment. We hear it in the question, “what happened?” We answer in story form, no matter how far or close our answer is to the truth. Truth, always slightly out of reach, no matter how much we desire, eludes us in spite of the hints of its existence we glimpse along the way. We experience A-ha moments, symbols, intuition, beauty, love, hate – and we may say, as I often do, “Oh truth, I know you’re out there. How I long for you, reveal to me your mysteries.”

Por los caminos de Málaga – Flickr: Endrino

But perhaps it’s the mixing of the particulars of what we do know, with a desire for a more unifying view of all that is, that begets our fall into a mythology of Endings, both of our personal existence and the story of the world. The plot of our life story drives us to our beliefs, our cosmology and affinity for the myths we live by. Perhaps we fall into belief too by design and the intentionality of the gods great scheming, which like gravity, maintain their hold on us, insisting that we too, have a part in the play.

Embedded in our telling though, is more than truth in the sense of some all-encompassing knowing. Embedded in our telling is revelation of the particular way we have of making sense of the world. By that I am suggesting that we each carry with us a certain intentionality that we are more or less aware of. The lovely Hawthorn tree in my front yard, from its seedling birth, to now, intends to be a Hawthorn, not an Oak, Maple, or Prairie Fire. We are, like them, limited by nature, historical and geographical circumstances, and yet contain a certain intentionality, ever sculpting and refining as we move toward our unique character and fate. Caught in the middle of absolutes we call predestination and free will, we float between these two absolutes, perhaps tempted to take sides.

The end of a story told then, might move us deeper into our own story. The unique and particular story living through each of us, with its own plots, characters, place and time, where we can sense intentionality wanting something from us. This wanting is, as James Hillman reflects in Healing Fiction, the play between desire, love, and soul. Soul as mediatrix,* an enlivening of events into experience for soulmaking, as Hillman sees in the dynamic of the story of Eros and Psyche.

“Does not this want of the soul reflect the essential nature of Eros whose mother was Penia (poverty, neediness, want)? And is it not this want which is present each time we are in love, whether in the transference of therapy or in the love that develops while engaged with a piece of imaginative work, a poem or novel?”

The endless desires of Eros is for Psyche, or soul. Eros leads to Psyche.

Hillman is speaking here of a patient in therapeutic engagement:

“Our example shows that he did not first love soul and then move his love to the world as a moral  duty: to do unto others. Nor was it that soul first loved him so that he could return this love to the world. The love itself changed its nature, as in the myth of Eros and Psyche. Now it was no longer his loving the soul or caring for it in Sorge, as an Ich vis-a-vis a Du. Now Psyche and Eros had come together indistinguishably: when he was with psyche, there was love that included him as one of its images and expanded “out” of its own accord into fellow feeling. Through feeling the importance of his psychic persons, he felt loved by them. There was no longer some one, a subject, loving some one else, an object.”

Hillman later quotes a dialogue of a patient using active imagination:

“It is not a question of giving space to others, or feeling their space, your patients, but of perceiving the exact place where they each are at, where they move within, what part of the house is theirs, accurately and small. Place qualifies space. The canvas is made of small soft brush strokes, the sculpture of chipping, the symphony of tiny notes. Molecules, each at an exact place. Each image is a placing. You can’t move small enough.”

As E.F. Schumacher says, “small is beautiful.” We live both in and out of the particulars of our circumstances, feet on the ground, and with every step a movement into an engagement with the images and particulars, the details that make up each moment. Love them and you may come to love others and the things in the world and see with soul, a mediation that brings love and engagement to all we encounter.

Orazio Gentileschi exposed the erotic vulnerability of the male figure in his Cupid and Psyche (1628–30)

“The soul wants many things – to be loved, to be heard, to be named and seen, to be taught, to be let out, out in the street, out of the prisons of psychological systems, out of the fiction of interiority which forces it to project itself to gain outer recognition. We know too it has a vital interest in the life and behavior of its keeper on whom it depends; but this interest is not in the life and behavior as such, to help it or cure it. Rather it seems to be an interest in life for soul’s sake. It seems to ask that our sense of first importance shift from life to soul, that life be given value in terms of soul and in preference to a soul valued in terms of life. Thus, it does not brook neglect in life – this above all; and so it is like the ancient gods who considered impiety to consist in one great sin, neglect.”

He is suggesting, and I would agree, that one way in which the world as a whole, and we as individuals, suffer, is through neglect of the small, the minutia of each moment. To live in want with an acceptance of what he refers to as the soul’s inferiority, may help us to recognize the spiritual drive away from soul towards perfection, insisting rather, that we either fix an idealized vision of the world into perfection, or have no world at all. That is very much a current running through our cultural mythology: apocalyptic, dire, either-or, nuclear-powered, climate-changing destruction which is hard not to believe in. It fuels both hope and hopelessness, moving our sights away from soul, replaced by a vision of the future shaped by our idealized beliefs.

“No psychological act can fully satisfy, no interpretation truly click like a key in a lock, no relationship of souls complete the lack and failure that reflects the essence of psyche. Imperfection is in its essence, and we are complete only by being in want. There will always be a mistake which is precisely what gives value to psychotherapeutic courage.”

Yes, the courage to live in the mess of our lives, the wounds that never quite heal, the others we can’t always help, the horrors taking place daily on the world stage, and to live with the intentionality of our unique character and calling.

All quotes from Hillman, James (2012-02-14). Healing Fiction. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

*My term, not Hillman’s, used here specifically for its feminine, but not necessarily religious connotation.

The Unveiling

Perhaps we moderns no longer see ourselves as living under the influence of myths or belief systems. Whatever their source, they no longer serve us because any belief we subscribe to does not necessarily come to us through the culture of our familiars. More than any other period in history, we have become fractionalized as our awareness of the big menu of ideas, belief systems and cultures increases. Even the beliefs we first experience through the childhood lens of family and small communities of fellow believers are contaminated, if not corrupted, as we venture forth into adulthood where we discover a bigger world of competing beliefs.

Perhaps the act of choosing our beliefs rather than adopting what is handed down to us causes some of us to lose the inclination to sign up for any structured system of beliefs, especially as it has become increasingly evident that all communities are susceptible to the failings of their all-too-human members. Modern communication tells all and every belief system is at risk now of being de-mythologized. Even in looking for something to believe in, we find the only way to sustain our true-believer status comes at the price of excluding other beliefs, even of people who we love and respect as rational beings like ourselves.

File:The Caxton Celebration - William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen.jpgOr, maybe we can no longer “believe,” because our exposure to competing beliefs leaves us with the belief (ironically) that any belief system is man-made, constructed, and so we come to acknowledge the fantastical nature of all sets of ideas which drives us to conclude that the only viable search for truth left for us moderns is one we have come to call reality. Secular, if not down right atheist, we will not be fooled again, or so we believe.

In pondering this idea of reality, I have wondered why we moderns seem to be so much under its spell. What do we mean when we make reference to reality, declaring something to be real (or not), and how is it that this modern usage came into being? What new shift in our experience does it reflect?

Reality as a belief, perhaps brings us to the ultimate supposition that there is one true background to all that exists, and paradoxically seems to show us that we live amid a multiplicity of perspectives, but at the same time insist, either that one of them is true, or perhaps something grander, that an as yet to be known truth does in fact exist. This now makes sense to me – to see our notion of reality as that which refers to the Whole, a sense that there is an undivided nature of all that was, is and will be.

File:Motorway (7858495690).jpgHow did we get here, to this point where we now experience ourselves as separated parts that make up a whole? We might agree that what has changed is our ability to both relocate and communicate at the speed of light and to any geographical distance, either physically or virtually, through the technology of travel and telecommunications. We no longer live in small localized communities that stay together generation upon generation, because we are not as confined and limited as were previous generations. We now have the means to move, in varying degrees, through both physical travel and the use of the internet to anywhere around the globe. As both the speed and frequency in which we move increases, perhaps so does our sense of separation from others and from the past. Especially in Western cultures, our independence reinforces the notion that we are separate, forging our own paths and no longer bound to a collective set of beliefs or the past.

Recently, I have been entertaining that notion that in order to restore the feeling of belonging and caring more for each other and for earth our home, we need a new myth. Some of us can see that it is a common mythology that holds a culture together. Only in our modern, historical, non-mythological culture could we think it possible that if we could just find the right myth all will be well – returning us to a paradise we imagine was once there.  Our de-mythologized state may be what allows us to entertain a notion like that but as well curses us with a mythology that says there is no myth, only reality! That is our myth, that there is a reality, even if we don’t feel ourselves to belong to it. Totally unreal! 🙂

File:Ottheinrich Folio296r Rev13.jpgWhat is it then that we need? Perhaps the historical perspective needs its grand finale, transforming us out of its myth of progress, and at last freeing us from the sins of the fathers.

I would guess, that the more we try to power our way out of the current global storm, the stormier it will get. If something must die, and it’s not a literal dying, what is it?

Maybe all that is left is to see is that there will never be an escape from myth. We are myth makers, and whether we call it reality, fantasy, science or religion, we are bound and contained, limited ultimately by our sense of who we are. The more we try to and need to define ourselves, the more caught we’ll be. If we are not who we think we are, then who are we?

Alchemical Psychology – the Introduction

In my previous posts on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, I wrote briefly about the relationship between the colors of the alchemy and their correlation through the stages of the soul’s journey as one begins a work of a psychological nature. The links to those posts can be found on the Index page of this blog.

File:The Ordinall of Alchemy England Folio20.jpegAfter rereading Hillman’s book in preparation for an online class sponsored by the Jung Platform, I was sorry I had not included quotes from the introduction where he presents parallels between the work of the alchemists of old and the modern therapeutic journey as it has developed from the work of C.G. Jung.

Hillman begins by noting that “Alchemical language is a mode of therapy; it is itself therapeutic” and that therapy provides an attempt to heal our modern neurosis which he sees stems from our one-sided conscious framework.

“I am neurotic because of what goes on here and now, as I stand and look and talk, rather than what went on once, or goes in society, or in my dreams, fantasies, emotions, memories, symptoms. My neurosis resides in my mental set and the way it constructs the world and behaves in it.

Thus language must be an essential component of my neurosis. If I am neurotic, I am neurotic in language. Consequently, the one-sidedness that characterizes all neuroses in general is also to be found specifically as a one-sidedness in language.”

Perhaps for some, this may seem either too simplistic, or too difficult a pill to swallow. It rings remarkably true for me and as the years pass I find myself more interested in language usage, increasingly surprised by how attentiveness to thought and language brings many unexpected gifts. Language is powerful and part of what frames our reality. Also, it  is phenomenal, displaying our assumptions and perspective of the world we live in. Our use of language tells on us. But, as Hillman sees it, our language has fallen into conceptualizations, devoid of images. We learn concepts, concretizing them and believing in their reality even though lacking an imagination for them:

“We speak in concepts: the ego and the unconscious; libido, energy, and drive; opposites, regression, feeling-function, compensation, transference … When working with these terms we curiously forget that they are concepts only, barely useful for grasping psychic events, which they inadequately describe.”

…compared to alchemical and dream language which are full of imagery keeping us close to fantasy and imagination, potent tools for therapy, as was Freud’s “talking cure,” or what Hillman called soulmaking:

“The basic stuffs of personality – salt, sulfur, mercury, and lead – are concrete materials; the description of soul, aqua pinguis or aqua ardens, as well as words for states of soul, such as albedo and nigredo, incorporate events that one can touch and see. The work of soulmaking requires corrosive acids, heavy earths, ascending birds; there are sweating kings, dogs and bitches, stenches, urine, and blood. How like the language of our dreams and unlike the language into which we interpret the dreams.”

Contrary to modern notions that matter doesn’t matter, or that a focus on matter equals materialism, Hillman is attempting to realign our awareness of language’s effects so that things, and especially their qualities do matter. Alchemy then, can be seen as a work of the soul through the “redemption of matter” that can deliteralize our language precisely because alchemical language uses images that are nearly foreign to the modern world:

File:James Gillray - alchemy.jpeg“This seems to me to follow Jung’s dictum of dreaming the myth along. To do this we must speak dreamingly, imagistically – and materially. I have introduced “materially” at this juncture because we are close to the crunch, and the crunch of alchemy is matter. It is the crunch of our practice too – to make soul matter to the patient, to transform his/her sense of what matters.

Our speech itself can redeem matter if, on the one hand, it de-literalizes (de-substantiates) our concepts, distinguishing between words and things, and if, on the other hand, it re-materializes our concepts, giving them body, sense, and weight. We already do this inadvertently when we speak of what the patient brings as “material,” look for the “grounds” of his/her complaint, and also by trying to make “sense” of it all.”

The goal of the work, the Philosopher’s stone, through fantasy, imagination and metaphor allows for a multi-faceted layered sense of meaning in our personal everyday awareness because language, how we understand, hear and speak, is a primary way in which we interpret experience and understand ourselves and the world. We moderns live in a time where to know what something means often amounts to coming to a narrow and settled conclusion; a literal singleness of meaning in which our words fix for us a hardened notion of reality. Fantasy is then relegated to an extra-curricular artistic hobby rather than seen as latent or hidden in all we do and say.

The age of science and rationalism has created a fundamentalism that continues to divide us into denominations of belief systems, whether within schools of science, politics, genders or (non)religions. Collectively, we have so much faith in the existence of a one true reality, that we’ve created a necessity for making up our minds and being factual, inviting a battle over competing cosmologies. We have become distrustful of our natural curiosity and wonder relegating it to the realm of fantasy, a mere plaything. Language, rather than being the driver of our creativity now leads us into neurosis.

Imagistic language and metaphor might enliven the world through coming to trust our immediate senses and experience of things. A world alive could then be a world we could love, for who loves dead things? Does an inclination towards violence come from a response to the world in which we interpret before experiencing, using our fixed beliefs to destroy rather than our imagination to create?

“Again: abstract concepts, psychological nomina, that do not matter and bear weight, willy-nilly accrete ever more hardening, leaden immobility and fixation, becoming objects or idols of faith rather than living carriers of it.”

Lastly, Hillman understands the goal in alchemical psychology not as a romantic move to the past, but a therapeutic moving of the myth forward:

“It is not the literal return to alchemy that is necessary but a restoration of the alchemical mode of imagining. For in that mode we restore matter to our speech – and that, after all, is our aim: the restoration of imaginative matter, not of literal alchemy.”

All quotes from Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Keeping the Change

Black Rock 10-2012 381While it’s accurate for me to say that I write for sanity and to clarify for myself ideas and experiences while engaging others who may have similar desires and needs, I can’t pretend to understand fully why particular ideas and perspectives fascinate me and repeatedly hold claim to my time and energy. I only know that repetition, even if imaged as a spiraling rather than a simple circling, seems inescapable. The form of life may be linear, while the content thankfully is not. I do occasionally tire from my own repetitions although I admit to not knowing of a cure from them.

As the sun seems to be crawling reluctantly across the sky in December darkness, everything, including my thoughts, seem to be dipping into the shadows. I can’t tell what is helpful and sometimes feel that there is always some part of me that I am forever looking for.

My dreams concur, repeatedly setting me in motion. Recent themes find me traveling, encountering people, places, houses, rooms, buildings, animals, occasionally with pauses for conversation, abrupt weather, fearful chases or erotic beauty.

Dayworld too brings with it the sense of movement; there’s nothing or no one to pin down, as Bob Dylan says, “People don’t live or die, people just float.” Perhaps more than any other time, change has become the status quo; we believe in it and expect it – even when it doesn’t bring us quite what we expected, we simply look to more change to rectify the unexpected. But in living with the constancy of change I wonder if we’re not inviting more and more the desire to become the unchanged? Are the changes outside of our control that come through technology, makeovers, relocation, vacation inviting an unchanging self?

Winter iceEarly in my life it seemed life’s floating was seamless, unquestioned, spontaneous. Perhaps that is how childhood with its abiding sense of innocence need be. The transition to adulthood brought with it a self-consciousness as the sense of separation between self and other, inside/outside seemed more and more apparent. That led to the unrelenting question of, “who am I and who are you, if we are not the same?”

There are many ways to answer and account for our differences, but I have always secretly felt that there is, even though dimly intuited, a common meeting place where our creativity springs forth from. A common wealth that when tapped into expands the ideas we have of ourselves and the world to include ideas found by others that we are looking for – not only from the famous or the experts, but in the everyday encounters we have with each other.

Perhaps we live with a diminished sense of self when fear, apathy, belief and knowledge shelter us from being touched by each other and keep us from realizing the potential we have when touched by others and being touched by them. By touch I mean a touch of the heart, a sharing of thought, feeling and vulnerability with another as if they had something you needed.

Jung says in the Red Book:

“You are hard, my soul, but you are right. How little we still commit ourselves to living. We should grow like a tree that likewise does not know its law. We tie ourselves up with intentions, not mindful of the fact that intention is the limitation, yes, the exclusion of life. We believe that we can illuminate the darkness with an intention, and in that way aim past the light. How can we presume to want to know in advance, from where the light will come to us?”

Jung, Carl (2013-08-30). The Red Book (Text Only Edition: No images or Scholarly Footnotes!) (Kindle Locations 376-379). . Kindle Edition.

The perspectives offered by myth, in which the invisibles are personified through stories of their adventures and relationships can be ways to practice hearing others. The heroes, villains, tricksters, creators and destroyers of mythology found in any culture articulate the multi-faceted nature of not just human nature but the primary experiences of the world. Of myth, Liz Greene says:

“The language of myth is still, as ever, the secret speech of the inarticulate human soul; and if one has learned to listen to this speech with the heart , then it is not surprising that Aeschylos and Plato and Heraclitus are eternal voices and not merely relics of a bygone and primitive era.”

Greene, Liz (1985-01-15). The Astrology of Fate (Kindle Locations 374-376). Red Wheel Weiser. Kindle Edition.

It could also be that for us moderns what removes from us the possibility of seeing mythologically the themes in our lives is a theme of believing in a unity of our personal identity. This is the dark side of unity that mistakes undifferentiated oneness for unity rather than unity as that which unites the many parts through the differentiation of their natures. Perhaps wholeness is the desire for differentiated unity, but can never quite be experienced in oneself without the sense that others are crossing the bridge with you.

“But our ruler is the spirit of this time, which rules and leads in us all. It is the general spirit in which we think and act today. He is of frightful power, since he has brought immeasurable good to this world and fascinated men with unbelievable pleasure. He is bejeweled with the most beautiful heroic virtue, and wants to drive men up to the brightest solar heights, in everlasting ascent.

No one should be astonished that men are so far removed from one another that they cannot understand one another, that they wage war and kill one another. One should be much more surprised that men believe they are close, understand one another and love one another. Two things are yet to be discovered. The first is the infinite gulf that separates us from one another. The second is the bridge that could connect us.”

Jung, Carl (2013-08-30). The Red Book (Text Only Edition: No images or Scholarly Footnotes!) (Kindle Locations 2597-2600). . Kindle Edition.