Personification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Chapter

To practice the living of one’s life as “storied,” it may first be necessary to experience the idea as a meaningful one. The beauty of stories, their telling and living is an art coming from more than the deciphering of meanings, moral lessons, endings, or truth – as influential as those things may be. As I hope to show, they’re not the whole story. All stories, and especially the story we tell ourselves, need a willing participation, an immersion into deeply lived characters, especially to see our life in story form.

Stories speak to the heart and soul through the primary language of symbol and image, and what Hillman, Jung and others referred to as personifications, meaning the voicing of archetypal qualities speaking through and around us.

Whether we see or believe in it or not, personifying goes on in and all around us. It is human nature to experience the world through the animating vehicles of voice and sound and through the physical senses of hearing, touching, tasting, smelling and seeing. But we moderns are not all comfortable with the notion that something other than “me” speaks through me. Sounds too much like possession which we associate with evil powers. We counter that fear by believing that we are the god; the sole voice and agent of our being. We’re carrying a lot of weight around with that belief. Perhaps that is why we seem desperate at times for ideas about, and ways to move beyond, this world. We are perhaps uninitiated, yet to be born.

Guatamalan masks

Persona to the Greeks referred to the voicings that came through the masks used in drama. These voices were known as the powers that be, the gods that transcend us, or speak through animals and natural powers like the wind and the sea. They enter us through sacred feasting of sacrifice and communion, where they then speak through us, giving us a bit of their power. For us moderns, especially those who believe we come into this world as a blank sheet of paper, an open book waiting to be written on, this idea may seem archaic, animistic, distasteful, unscientific, ridiculous, or just unnecessary. We tend towards notions of purity and innocence, blank slates, especially in our young and the vulnerable we care for.

Although we fear going backwards in time to a world we moderns view as less “enlightened,” favoring the idea that we need to progress, I believe the fear is unwarranted. Our hostility towards the idea of animistic and superstitious thinking has thoroughly landed us in yet another fantasy we refer to as “reality,” which does us a disservice by dividing all our experience of the world into either the real or unreal (imaginary) – categories that more often than not shrink our view of the world while burdening us with the hubris of believing we know more than we do. If ever we were to regain a sense of the world as being alive, it would not come about by a fall backwards in time, which is impossible, but through regaining an acute sensitivity and embodiment of human experience in this world through a deeper, more expansive imagination.

The Little Lame Prince and His Traveling Cloak

If some affinity with the natural world is not regained, our modern conviction that we now live in “reality,” freed from superstitions of an animistic past, renders the soul meaningless, if not incomprehensible, cutting us off from experiencing the aliveness of the world, oneself and others. The consciousness that imagines itself to live in “reality” is slowly imprisoning itself, alienated to a dead hostile world that we have either lost, killed, or must fix, or transcend altogether. Nature, as other – cute, innocent and cuddly, is outside of us, especially our human nature. The jungle once outside, has shifted to inside of us and we live forever taming something we can’t quite rein in without a continuum of sensory overload, medication, busyness, hope, purpose, work, shopping, meditation or worship of one kind or another. The bear in the woods is now our friend, the one in our dream, if we dream at all, wants to kill us.

It is common, especially in the west, to think of babies and children as innocent and untouched by the harshness of life. It is this idea that Hillman says leads us to placing undue blame and focus on family and society for who we are. Perhaps as an inverse reaction to the Christian notion of Original Sin, we go full circle in rebellion against its claim of an indebtedness we no longer feel or acknowledge. The burden of history as solid and real facts is just too great. Guilt is a sin.

But not all cultures imagine our entrance into this world in the same way. For other cultures, in other times and place, we come into this world from another world beyond us – a world that includes the ancestors, angels and other powers who already know us. Our birth then, is a “sleep and forgetting,” as Norman O. Brown puts it. Our initiation marks the beginning of a remembrence of who we are.

Persons, or personifying are very primary ways to experience the world and make sense of it all. We do this naturally, through the telling of stories within the family circle, watching movies and television, fantasy, imaginary friends, or enjoying a good book. We look to the characters to re-member ourselves, finding our unique character through attraction and repulsion to them. But in making hard and fast distinctions between the story we tell ourselves as the one and only real story, to stories we deem as fiction, we obligate ourselves to think of truth as something fully comprehensible by us. Here is where we may lose the beauty of story by failing to understand its ability to move us through many levels and layers through which we receive the gift of a multi-dimensional experience.

File:Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 01.djvuAt another level, what is personified in us, is an expression of ideas and feelings, bits and parts that speak and live through us, that in varying degrees we are aware of as not entirely ours. Some, if not most of these parts, as Jung pointed out, are very collective in nature; ideas and feelings shared in the culture, or our cultural past, but whose source goes far beyond that. I take Jung’s idea of Individuation to mean coming to over time, an acceptance and appreciation of the fathomless dimensions of the possibilities of what he called the Self. I believe we are each a unique expression of that totality without being the totality ourselves.

If we accept and expect that our thinking and feeling comes through imagination then the way we tell and hear stories also matters. Do we fear the loss of what we keep calling reality? Don’t the many revisions of your life show the shedding of your snake’s skin, and yet, not bring you any closer to total comprehension of truth of the nature of world? Perhaps through awareness of the many revisions we have already made in our reimagining of the world, we allow ourselves to live each vision more fully immersed and alive in acceptance of our very human nature, which begins with a fantasy, a dream, an idea, a story.

Then we may ask, what is it that makes our sense of reality ring true? If we listen to ourselves and others with an ear for story, rich and layered, we may bend ourselves, inclined to listen to the voices of the powers that be.

Addendum:
If you’ve made it this far, I apologize for the lengthiness. The last several years I have been giving much thought to how it is we perceive and define the nature of the world, ourselves and others through image, story and language. If many of the ideas here seem repetitive, perhaps there is something at root trying to take shape. Repetition is not only compulsive habit, but may allow us to see the same things in a new way. I want to state clearly that all I am ever capable of saying or knowing, comes through my own limitations and expansions. I say this perhaps to ward off the notion that I am somehow above the ideas I am writing about. Much credit goes to many who touch me, that I am most grateful to and hope to honor here. The ideas then, although I take responsibility for, are both from and for them, including the ancestors, angels and all the invisibles who have graced me with their presence, some of whom I hope have enjoyed these glimpses at the shared and vibrant mystery of our existence. DK

The Story So Far

Case history: our public, outer life, a collection of facts, figures, biography and stats.

Soul history: the private interiority of identity, memory, feeling, reflections, dreams and beliefs.

In his book, Healing Fiction, James Hillman says:

“We can regard history from the viewpoint of soul. By carefully collating what happened, history digests events, moving them from case material to subtle matter. Hidden in this fantasy is a tenet of my faith: soul slows the parade of history; digestion tames appetite; experience coagulates events. I believe that had we more experiencing there would be need for fewer events and the quick passage of time would find a stop. And then I believe that what we do not digest is laid out somewhere else, into others, the political world, the dreams, the body’s symptoms, becoming literal and outer (and called historical) because it is too hard for us, too opaque, to break open and to insight.”

But neither case nor soul history ever provides a final and complete truth, much as we may imagine particular goals. It’s not that truth does not exist, or that it’s relative to other truths, but that any perspective is a limitation, including only what the lens can see and the heart is open to.

Identity, an accumulative sense through time of being myself and not another, also defines others through distinctions and likenesses, distinguishing us externally as a self among other selves.

Time marks us with habits, memories and limitations through which a distinct version of a story is imagined as fact and takes up residence in our hearts. Although the whole truth of our selves and others can never be wholly seen, we weave a continuous story through the assemblage of historical facts. Digital bits plucked out of an analog background, although never to be grasped fully, can be intuited.

Often disguised and lived through us as fact, story begins in imagination and fantasy, and presupposes an ending, a conclusion already present and working in us. Character continually forming and aiming us at our particular fate.

The stories premise is the conclusion seeking to resolve the tension inherent in living through its characters and plot.

“Therapy requires the fiction of literal realities as the primary material to work on. It must have the raw in order to cook. So we begin with a classical anamnesis. But this move is not in order to be grounded in facts, but because these factual stories are the primal matter in which the psyche of the patient is stuck.

Here is the apparently soulless abyss, the unformed, unpsychological material full of sibling data, economic figures, passage through welfare centers, aches and pains and needs, not yet “worked up” into a plot: it’s all prior to fermentation.”

Through framing our and other’s identity the story bumps against the indiscernable analog field, gathering suspense and building plot through the motion of time. Our story tells us how we got from there to here, where we are, and where we’re going. It’s the past arriving but also the present speculating on where we are going.

Is this an illusion? “From Old French illusion, from Latin illūsiō, from illūdere, from in- (“at, upon”), + lūdere (“to play, mock, trick”)” Who is the narrator and who does the story, the characters and plot serve? Is it for the sake of the end, or is it for the sake of the display of characters? What if the play, the story of our lives enacted, carries the goal within itself? A play for the sake of play, ecstasy and love.

In dreams, the dreamer’s world divides into characters to tell another story. The characters, plots and settings show us a shadow world not always congruent with our dayworld story. Here, we who would be one, divide and multiply into shadow characters and sub plots, sometimes hardly recognizable to our waking self.

Perhaps the play becomes play, ecstatic with desire and love through knowing, a) there is a story, b) someone is telling it, and c) there are characters, plots, beginnings and endings shaping your character and your fate. Through the practice of precise imaginings and retelling, you may then see how a particular premise is directing the stories conclusion. You are the author, the characters and the plot of the story of your life. But not the you sitting on the outside in the directors chair, not the digital you, but the analog you coming through you from deep within the source of the scenes.

“Healing begins when we move out of the audience and onto the stage of the psyche, become characters in a fiction (even the godlike voice of Truth, a fiction), and as the drama intensifies, the catharsis occurs; we are purged from attachments to literal destinies, find freedom in playing parts, partial, dismembered, Dionysian, never being whole but participating in the whole that is a play, remembered by it as actor of it. And the task set by the play and its god is to play a part with craft, sensitively.”

What if every aspect, each conflict, plot and sub plot were understood less as the me I think I am and more as an unseen force of character living through me? Unseen force meaning, the characters and personifications inherent in a universe much bigger than anything we can imagine, that seeks a living voice through the unique particularity and peculiarity of your circumstances.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Youth of Bacchus (1884)Public Domain

Hillman uses the Greek god Dionysius, whose motif was that of display and drama, to help us see our lives as a participation in story, dramatic figures on a world stage, not as an illusion, but as necessary parts in the display of the greatest show there is:

“If the structure of Dionysian logic is drama, the particular embodiment of Dionysian logic is the actor; Dionysian logos is the enactment of fiction, oneself an as-if being whose reality comes wholly from imagination and the belief it imposes. The actor is and is not, a person and a persona, divided and undivided – as Dionysus was called. The self divided is precisely where the self is authentically located – contrary to Laing. Authenticity is the perpetual dismemberment of being and not-being a self, a being that is always in many parts, like a dream with a full cast. We all have identity crises because a single identity is a delusion of the monotheistic mind that ”would defeat Dionysus at all costs.”

And finally:

“We have been long led to believe that logos can be defined only by Olympian structures, by children of Zeus and Athene, or by Apollo or Hermes or Saturn – logos as form, as law, as system or mathematics. But Heraclitus said it was a flow like fire; and Jesus that it was like love. Each god has its logos, which has no single definition but is basically the insighting power of mind to create a cosmos and give sense to it. It is an old word for our worst word, consciousness. Dionysian consciousness understands the conflicts in our stories through dramatic tensions and not through conceptual opposites; we are composed of agonies not polarities. Dionysian consciousness is the mode of making sense of our lives and worlds through awareness of mimesis, recognizing that our entire case history is an enactment, “either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-pastoral,”  and that to be “psychological” means to see myself in the masks of this particular fiction that is my fate to enact.”

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

 

 

When Science Dreams

“I’VE ALWAYS WONDERED WHY my brain doesn’t simply rest at night, as my body does, but instead sets to work creating an artificial world that seems as real as waking life.”

The use of the phrase, “my brain,” in Andrea Rock’s book, The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream, beautifully displays the problem of language, where body parts become separate entities, and dream states are artificial in comparison to waking states.

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“Landscape with the Dream of Jacob”

Rock’s book collects an amazing amount of research on brain function and dream states, including a look at the cause of dream content, sleep disorders, lucid dreaming and dream states of non-human animals.

For science though, causality, function and purpose are valued, while quality, meaning and subjective states are deemed unreliable. Scientists tend to over-value measurement, as acceptable verification of objective fact. What we dream takes a back seat to how and why we dream:

“The current revolution in thought about how and why we dream debunks some elements of the theories proposed by both Freud and Jung. But as you’ll see, there are significant pieces of each of their theories that are now supported by scientific evidence.”

The book dabbles in the fascinating but contentious debate over the source of consciousness.

“Ultimately, dream research may also help answer what many consider to be the most intriguing question of all: what is the source of the peculiar brand of self-reflective consciousness that appears to separate humans from other creatures—that nebulous quality that allows us to make intricate plans, fantasize, string memories together to create a personal history, or use abstractions such as language and art to represent our own mental processes?

At the end of the book, consciousness is said to be, “a con job beautifully carried out by neural circuitry of astonishing complexity.”

“Thanks to those who are in the forefront of the quest to comprehend those larger questions about how brain becomes mind, we are now seeing that even when we are interacting with the “real” world in waking hours, our experience actually occurs not “out there” but within the brain itself, just as it does in dreams.”

1345672If only the measurable is real, the source of consciousness will be sought only within the material brain itself. At its worse, there are more than a few scientists who are quite certain that free will itself is an illusion, because so much behavior corresponds to measurable brain physiology. One has to wonder though, has all of nature evolved only to realize that we are machines programmed to realize we are programmed?

Measuring electrical circuitry and chemical reactions does not address what drives fluctuations. Passivity and lack of agent is assumed. Can the human quality of our awareness, as it changes over a life time, affect measurable brain function? If so, I await the day that science seeks to measure our willful attempts at change over a larger span of life.

The author discusses J. Allen Hobson’s theories that all dream imagery is dependent on externals absorbed from waking states. The stranger in your dream is an amalgamation of people you have seen, that’s it. But, can you measure an unknown or prove the image is a blend of people you’ve seen? This assumes that all of our states of awareness come from internal sources.

Anytime I hear the word random being used, I am troubled. For example:

File:Museo del Prado - Goya - Caprichos - No. 43 - El sueño de la razon produce monstruos.jpg
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

“In this altered state, Hobson says, the brain does its best to spin a dream plot to match brainstem signals that may randomly stimulate an intense feeling of fear one minute or a sensation of freefalling the next. Hobson and McCarley’s landmark study maintained that since the signals that initiated the creation of dream imagery came from the primitive brainstem and the more highly evolved cognitive areas of the forebrain were just passively responding to them, the dream process had “no primary ideational, volitional, or emotional content.” The resulting dream was the product of the forebrain “making the best of a bad job in producing even partially coherent dream imagery” in response to chaotic signals from the brainstem.”

Does measuring neurochemical activity in the brainstem prove involuntary stimulation, or that dream states have no correspondence to anything outside the physiology of the brain? Perhaps the seeming randomness of brain activity in sleep states is driven by something not yet understood. Can it be proven that the signals from the brainstem are “chaotic?” Here is where I think dream content itself could be studied for patterns corresponding to an individual’s dayworld experience. Correspondence between waking and dreaming states might be found to have conscious, volitional correspondence. It would be interesting to monitor the dreams of people who are in therapy or doing dream work to discern meaningful physiological brain patterns.

Below, Rock refers again to Hobson’s work on the physiology of dreaming:

“In his view, the settings and characters our brain dredges up from our personal memories or imagination as it scrambles to form a plot to respond to this chaotic electrochemical state may reflect our emotional preoccupations, and reflecting on those preoccupations can provide insight.”

The choice of the words “dredges,” and “scramble,” reveal the difficulty in accounting for the images in the dream. If not dredging and scrambling, what else might we discover to be going on in the formation of specific dream content? Perhaps there is a bridge between physiological process and symbol formation, even if locating it in matter is not possible.

Hobson concludes that many dreams in which we are trying to move, but can’t, have a physiological basis:

“Those circuits in turn are issuing orders for your body to run, but since the brainstem is preventing those signals from reaching your leg muscles, the perception carried through into the dream is that you’re trying to run but you’re stuck, so you weave that into the dream’s plot.”

What is not accounted for are the dreams in which we are moving. Having had many such dreams of walking, running, drumming, singing and even riding a bicycle, Hobson’s idea is not convincing.

Some cultural prejudices are apparent below  that I would question:

“As Jonathan Winson argued, dreams were never intended to be remembered in the first place, so when we do recall them, we’re just getting an unintended glimpse of our brain at work in its off-line mode. “It is a matter of chance, not related to their function, that we are aware of dreams at all,” says Winson.”

“Intended” by who, you might ask? “Function” for Winson, must be physiological only, which makes it “a matter of chance.” How one determines that dreams were never intended to be remembered is beyond me. Many cultures outside of western europe see dream states and images as meaningful initiatory experiences vital to their relationships with each other and the world.

Rock, however, is reporting the research without necessarily taking a stand on what she presents. I do though, sense her desire to show that dream states primarily have a physiological function. Although she acknowledges that psychological meaning is useful, she does not address its possible effect on brain function. Can we conclude that physiological brain function never corresponds to willful, active insights of meaning and symbolism that are a part of every person’s life? While correspondence may be difficult to measure, a less reductive approach to neuroscience may be useful to the field of mental health.

For many modern scientists, it seems taboo to speak of qualitative meaning as having a physiological basis or correspondence. Perhaps from a fear of losing objectivity, science believes that measuring and repeatability are the only means of validation. For those who have done dream work leading to meaningful, life-changing experience, it may be awhile before the results are recorded in the annals of science.

For a look at a more technical description of dreaming, I do highly recommend Andrea Rock’s book.

All quotes: Rock, Andrea (2009-03-25). The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream – Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

JANUARY CHALLENGE… My Awakening Experience And Moving Forward

Here is my contribution to Barbara Franken‘s January Challenge series.

This is a story in which the right kind of trouble unexpectedly brings a gift.

From an early age, I struggled to feel a sense of belonging and identity. As a child I loved play-acting and imagining what it might be like to be a bear, a dog, a fox, or an orphan, a prisoner or conductor. My attempts at belonging were easily expressed by play-acting where I could put on a mask and give myself over to fantasy. But when not play-acting, I felt lost, convinced that I was missing something that others must have.

According to my parents Merriam-Webster dictionary, identity was defined as the quality of being a particular thing and not some other thing. Yes, I thought, my problem has something to do with a lack of being someone in particular. As I grew older, anytime I felt that others were defining me, even when they were being complimentary, I felt alienated. How could they know something about me when I had no clue? I was a fake, and I knew it.

Years later when in my early 30’s I moved to Oregon from Long Island, New York. After a few stormy years of relationships that failed, and feeling the need for solitude to just let myself be me, I started to practice meditation.

Some months later though I started to feel strong, uncontrollable emotions and I could no longer make it through a single day without crying. This was not the kind of crying where a few tears run down your cheeks, but gut-wrenching crying that would last until I finally fell asleep exhausted.

A year later, I was ready to seek out a guide. Having a love and familiarity with the writings of C.G. Jung and James Hillman, I entered into analysis. In the course of a three-year long therapy, traveling to the depths of hell and back, I experienced a most amazing and unexpected healing.

Not that I went from 0 to 250 in an instant. There was plenty of work to be done. Exploring my dreams, memories and relationships led me to see that I was filtering my experience through a very cloudy lens. There was a series of recognitions that came from therapy that both broadened my view and opened me up to not be afraid of an ongoing increase in that opening.

Many insights began to come into view, including a painful recognition that how I understood myself, others and the events of my life needed a revisioning. But with that came a recognition that nothing could happen without seeing how tightly I held on to a view of the past and present which bled into the future. Even if there are objective facts about my life that get to tell the story their way, what I needed was a story that made room for all the longings I ever knew and how to live with and through their power over me. That meant looking fear right in the face and learning how to talk back, and most importantly, learning to talk at all.

Seeing a deficiency in my use of language was a huge part of the work and it still is today. A love of words and language allows for an ongoing stream of ideas leading to new ways to experience and understand all that life has to offer. And for me, learning to open up to deeper levels of myself and others eventually led to the following life-changing experience.

One morning, much later in the therapy, upon waking from an emotional dream, I felt an intense burning and buzzing at the base of my spine. I sat up in bed, and felt what can only be described as an electric shock shooting up my spine into my head. I thought I might die it was so intense, but it only lasted a few seconds. I knew that something very big had happened. Over the course of the next few years, I began to feel different, physically, emotionally and intellectually. I felt tremendous healing as I slowly began to live closer and truer to matters of the heart.

It is as if now I am now more like a hollow reed where before I was a lead stick. It’s difficult to describe, but I continue to feel a sense of opening, enfolding, better able to love and be loved. And especially to belong – in my body, in my family, and in the entirety of this big, beautiful and crazy world.

There’s not freedom from suffering but to suffer as love does when it lives on in spite of the relentless longings. Feelings flow, moving through me without resistance. If I could bottle the experience, I gladly would and give it away. I am most grateful for feeling a sense of renewal.

Surprisingly, the one thing I thought I was missing; having an identity, I now know I never needed.

Next up in the series is one of my wonderful sisters in blogging, Linda – http://lindalitebeing.wordpress.com

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.