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.

 

 

Let There Be Dark

As more and more of us, in an increasingly sleep-deprived world lose touch with our dreams, I continue to wonder what it is we are losing. Dr. Rubin Naiman sees our difficulties with sleep and dreaming, driven by “unrelenting motion”:

“We live in a world of unrelenting motion, a world that discourages slowing and stopping, a world that has lost its sense of rhythm and regard for rest. All life is by nature animated or in motion. But in the natural world, all motion is rhythmic, that is, it is tempered by rest. Things come and they go, they expand and contract, they are active and then they rest.” Rubin Naiman, Huffington Post.

But what is it that is lost from a lack of sleep and attention to dreams? In Naiman’s book, Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening, he reminds us:

“Night is the shadow of the Earth. It is as nature intended, dark. And unsettling. Since darkness deprives us of vision, our primary means of orienting to and managing the outer world, it dissolves essential aspects of our social, extraverted selves. Most of us are probably less afraid of the dark per se, but more frightened of what darkness might reveal.”

What might the darkness reveal, what do dark, empty spaces provide for us, why should we attend to them, let alone welcome them?

The endless drive towards daylight keeps us active long after the days’ work is over. Even if you do live in a very remote place, it’s no stretch to see that our drive toward activity has huge implications for all life forms, the physical states of our bodies, souls and the planet itself. Our red-hot activity is a global warming.

The dark might not only reveal to us the restlessness of our minds and pains of our bodies, it may also make room for that which we don’t know, but very much need to. Through a willingness to greet the dark though sleep and dreams, we may gain a new perspective from the encounter with images in dreamstates. The lack of our dayworld orientation and control in dream states is what may further our openness to all experiences of otherness. From Robert Bosnak’s book, Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel:

“What we perceive while dreaming is that we are in a place which is not of our making. We didn’t invent it. It is a spontaneous presentation, an independently alive manifestation. Apparently physical worlds come to life in a flash and disappear without a trace. We stand at the dawn of creation.”

In dreams there is a clear sense that those we meet are not us. It’s an odd circumstance of encountering an objective reflection of our subjective interior. But more than that, dream images, the specific ways in which they appear, engage us in a night world state much differently than our waking selves might.

To gain a better sense of embodied images, Robbie, along with some fellow soul spelunkers, spent time together on retreat in a primitive cave, where over the course of a week or so, they engage the images, their dreams and each other:

Cave of Altamira, near Santander, Spain.

“Along the wall I see, shimmying on his belly along the cave barely two feet high, our ancestor on his way to be initiated into the world of the great spirits, the massive mammoth. He crawls on to the great hall, half a meter high, where, lying on his back, he draws the great spirits among whom he lives, the alien beings, greater, swifter and stronger than he on the ceiling in order to capture and venerate their spirit and become initiate to their powers. Unable to take distance he draws the ceiling animals life size, in perfect proportion, as if by entering their body he can feel along their contours as he draws. Lit by a tiny grease lamp, spooking the cave around him, I see him in a face-off with dark fears, and his awe of the Great Ones. Encounter, meeting, face-off, opposing directions, the Great Ones show the way.”

Can we imagine seeking out such places for their darkness, in which we open ourselves to the power and wisdom from creatures who, although we must fear, must also cooperate with for survival? Does not our technology, with its ability to destroy the night, insulate us from feeling, instinct, intuition and what Robbie calls, embodiment?

Without advocating an impossible return to the past, there is yet something the darkness offers us, especially the more insulated and artificial our environments have become.

In embodied dreamwork, Robbie uses waking imaginative states to move the dreamer’s subjective identity into the figures of the dream. By embodying the images, they come to life, moving in a way that embodies us in their felt experience. Perhaps it is the movement itself that we fear. If so, how can we hope to move that which needs moving in us?

“It is as though through a medium of Paleolithic wall painters the animals have charged into the wall, waiting in static polychrome for a next observer to embody, who again will feel their energetic charge, and change them back from stasis to ec-stasis (out-of-stasis).”

Gua Tewet, the tree of life, Borneo, Indonesia.

Although Westerners, and perhaps others, are not accustomed to giving weight to images, Robbie, in the tradition of Henry Corbin and others, sees images as having their own substance. Substantive images weigh on us and live through us, even when we ignore their reality.

“This book is a passionate attempt to contribute to the restoration of an awareness of alien intelligences perceived by creative imagination—embodied images with a mind of their own—while comparing it to our current, what I consider to be impoverished, perspective which views intelligence as singular. If I succeed in sensitizing you to the existence of an inbetween reality—neither physical body nor mental allegory—of alien embodied intelligences, without expecting you to believe in flying saucers, you will catch a glimpse, as did I in my conversations with Corbin, of a place outside the body-mind conundrum.”

He has succeeded in sensitizing me, towards seeing embodied imagination as one more way to practice living the unity that exists between body, mind, soul, spirit – angels and ancestors, and to recognize the unity between all living beings, especially those encountered in non-ordinary states.

All quotes as noted from, Bosnak, Robert (2007-09-12). Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel (p. 11). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

All quotes as noted from, Rubin R. Naiman. Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening (p. 21). Kindle Edition.

 

 

Oh Noah, where art thou?

” “It’s in Genesis,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Tuesday. “Noah is saving the animals; he’s not out there saving innocent babies, he’s saving the animals, he’s saving creation.” 

“It was very clear to us that there was an environmental message. To pull that message out of it, we think, would have been more of an editing job than just sort of representing what’s there.” ”  CNN blog

What do you get when you cross four verses of a biblical story found in Genesis with modern-day film maker, Darren Aronofsky’s depiction of that story as an environmental tale of caution and message for our times? In this case it’s an epic movie called Noah, named for the character in Genesis who as the story goes, is instructed by God to build an ark and save two of every living kind from the flood he is sending to wipe all living creatures from the face of the planet.

The truth about Noah and the event of a flood, like all historical accounts, serves its believers by supplying a predictive value. In a culture where linear thinking and literal historical fact takes the place of relationality that come from appreciation of myth, poetry and story, we no longer need a belief in Christianity to sustain an interest in apocalyptic visions. As we still serve the monotheistic god of historical, cause and effect narrative, to know something means the same in the secular square as it does in Judeo-Christianity; what is true is restricted to historical, material, real public events. One god has come to mean one reality, and one reality equals one truth.

The Christian apocalypse comes from the promise of separation of sinful humanity from the saved, Aronofsky’s apocalypse comes from the human destruction of the planet through disregard for animals and other lifeforms.

Noah2014Poster.jpg

Noah was a great movie for me and perhaps for anyone who enjoys movies that reflect back the current cultural mythology. I can’t take issue with any of the liberties Aronofsky is accused of taking, because I don’t have a need to defend any particular historical narrative re-presented, whether in a book, a movie or a first-hand account. Going one step further, the preference for the historical view as the truer account of what is now referred to as reality is, to my mind, an impoverished, soulless, beauty-deficient way to look at or experience life’s most precious gifts of love and the splendor of being alive and aware in the mysteries.

The movie is not without some obvious flaws; the barren scenery wouldn’t feed one person let alone the population of people and animals shown living there. But they were minor distractions for me. The barren setting was fitting for the apocalyptic feel to the story. Noah is shown as a man who has dreams of the flood and whose desire for justice for the animals creates a conflict over the ultimate value of humankind that culminates in a very tense ending in which Noah chooses whether or not humanity will be allowed to reproduce after the flood. My reflections on the movie come primarily from the idea of the effects of historical time on our modern mythology and especially our notion of “reality.”

In what ways does historical thinking shape our awareness and does it create imagined boundaries and divisions by partitioning us off, one from another, group from group? The Protestant reformation, while not the only example, gives us a picture of endless divisions over smaller and smaller issues. Once the Church splits off into division, splitting never ceases as the thousands of ways to understand and define a theological point or idea serve only those seeking power to control the narrative. The historical narrative in which time begins in paradise, followed by a fall, offers us the promise of restoration and for some, a trip back to paradise.

These divisions have created an atmosphere of defense and offense in every social aspect of modern culture. Partly perhaps, because as humans become more aware of each other through the advance of technology and mobility, who is “self” and who is “other” keeps getting redefined. But the result seems to be an inclination to pit all contenders of the one and only truth through comparison to the notion of “what really happened,” rather than “what does it mean.” What “really happened” demands that we strip away superfluous information, to get to the facts and to the point, slicing reality into as many pieces as it takes to defend a truth we expect to find. But reality slips out of reach as its ungraspable nature can never be completely objectified by our limited subjective perspectives.

“A lot of people are going to be like “What? Noah, drunk and naked? How dare you?!” It’s in the Bible. People are going to say, “Giants walking the earth? Fallen angels? How dare you?!” But it’s in there.” Darren Aronofsky

The attempt, if one must, to depict a story, or even a myth, as a literal account, as Aronofsky by his own admission falls prey to, is a tough one for us moderns to do without. We are still, especially in our public exchanges, caught up in seeing the historical perspective as the truer one. This insight might explain why the parallel universe story is so appealing. In the interview linked to above, Aronofsky tells us that the controversy over the film not being a literal account of the biblical Noah does not concern him because he doesn’t take the Bible literally. But he doesn’t escape from his own literalism as he goes on to defend the details of the film as a more realistic (historical) approach.

No surprise here because the blind spot created by historical thinking permeates our modern mythology. That we don’t see beyond history to the mythologizing in our depiction of reality, or can only see mythology in someone else’s worldview happens as we mistake the content of a worldview for the archetypal forms it shows up in.

Not to say there aren’t in some ways an objective aspect to reality, but to see reality in its totality directly contradicts the approach of slicing and dicing events into facts, parts and divisions. You can’t get there from here…

The fall into history may be necessary to recover the vision of unity, but not the unity of undifferentiated nothingness, but one where the pieces fit or at least belong, bridged by love, meaning and acceptance of the nature of existence. And through a vision of unity of many, many pieces, history can then take its place as one mode of perception among many others.

And where we might agree with storyteller Michael Meade that, “the fact of the matter is a story.”

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

Class Notes – Session Two

If you missed it and are interested, you’ll find my notes on Session One here.

After the second class on James Hillman’s, Alchemical Psychology, I find myself at odds. Something seems to be missing. The hosts, Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak, engaged in a wonderful discussion about the nature of the vessel and the use of heat in alchemical work.

However, I think we may be at risk of losing Hillman’s ideas about language presented in the introduction of his book. Beginning the work with more of an emphasis on the problem of language, we might invite Hillman’s work and voice into the classroom.

File:Arcimboldo Fire.jpgHillman’s book starts by asserting that it is our speech that needs therapy, to release us from “this massive curse of Western consciousness.” The tendency to literalize language is to miss its function as a referent. To “literalize” is to constrict words to a “singleness of meaning,” compared to metaphorical language, where the imagination naturally perceives multiple and layered meanings.

“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.”

It is because alchemical language is so foreign to us that it does present an opportunity to see through our “massive curse.”

“Alchemy gives us a language of substance which cannot be taken substantively, concrete expressions which are not literal. This is its therapeutic effect: it forces metaphor upon us. We are carried by the language into an as-if, into both the materialization of the psyche and the psychization of matter as we utter our words.”

Especially in our psychological and therapeutic language we hear jargon particular to each school of thought,  some of which has found its way into the culture. When we cannot hear the metaphors and fantasies in the language we use, we fail to recognize that our imagination is the primary mode of perception and we get stuck in a myth called Reality. It’s possible to forget, or not be aware that language’s task of referring to something beyond itself, works by filtering and delimiting the fluid motion of the reality we can never completely perceive.

“Conceptual language, however, is not self-evidently metaphor. It is too contemporary to be transparent; we are living right in its midst. Its myth is going on all about us, so it does not have a metaphorical sense built in it. I do now know, cannot see, that I am really not composed of an ego and self, a feeling function and a power drive, castration anxiety and depressive positions. These seem literally real to me, despite the experience that even as I use these terms, there is a haunting worthlessness about them.”

The genius of Hillman is that he saw the poetic basis of mind and insisted that image is primary, therefore all language and speech is of the imagination. As he so often said, we are in psyche, not the other way around.

“But our psychological language has become literally real to us, despite nominalism, because the psyche needs to demonize and personify, which in language becomes the need to substantiate. The psyche animates the material world it inhabits. Language is part of this animating activity (e.g., onomatopoeic speech with which language is supposed to have “begun”). Unless my language meets the need to substantiate, then the psyche substantiates anyway, unawares, hardening my concepts into physical or metaphysical things.”

So conceptual words become imageless things. As soon as we lose the sense of metaphor, trading images for concepts, we risk being stuck in a container of concepts we are unable to get out of. Images can never be fully contained for every picture is worth a thousand words.

“I said that the one-sidedness of neurosis perpetuates in our psychological language, its conceptual rationalism. One-sidedness – that general definition of neurosis – now becomes more precise. It can now be seen to refer to the grasping nature of our grasping tools, our concepts, which organize the psyche according to their shape. Our concepts extend their grasp over the concretely vivid images by abstracting (literally, “drawing away”) their matter. We no longer see the clay funeral urn or the iron pot-bellied stove, but “the Great Mother”; no longer the sea just beyond the harbor, the sewer blocked with muck, or a dark pathless forest, but “the Unconscious.” “

To understand the value of an alchemical psychology, before we speak of the vessel and the heat, we need to be wary of the inclination to harden our insights into something “real,” and also to understand that imagination isn’t something we need to work on, create or get more of, but something already going on, hard to see, and more so when we call what we see reality.

“According to Jung, neurosis is splitting, and therapy is joining. If our conceptual language splits by abstracting matter from image and speaking only from one side, then the as-if of metaphor is itself psychotherapy because it keeps two or more levels distinct – whether words and things, events and meanings, connotations and denotations – joining them together in the word itself. As the coniunctio is an imaged metaphor, so metaphors are the spoken coniunctio.

Especially, our one-sided language splits immaterial psyche from soulless matter. Our concepts have so defined these words that we forget that matter is a concept “in the mind,” a psychic fantasy, and that soul is our living experience amid things and bodies “in the world.” “

Hillman’s claim that we are “neurotic in speech,” in need of a “therapy of ideas,” are essential insights for an initiation into a more skillful dive into the depths of an Alchemical Psychology.

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

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.