…and in the end

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

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

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

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

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

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

Por los caminos de Málaga – Flickr: Endrino

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

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

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

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

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

Hillman is speaking here of a patient in therapeutic engagement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Keeping the Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jung says in the Red Book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archetypal Psychology – a Brief Account, Part II

In part II of this exploration of James Hillman’s book, Archetypal Psychology, a Brief Account, I want to write more specifically about the nature of images within the context of Archetypal Psychology. You can read Part I of the series here.

“Archetypal psychology axiomatically assumes imagistic universals, com- parable to the universali fantastici of Vico (Scienza Nuova, par. 381), that is, mythical figures that provide the poetic characteristics of human thought, feeling, and action, as well as the physiognomic intelligibility of the qualitative worlds of natural phenomena.”

When I first began to study Hillman’s ideas I admit that I did not understand much of anything of what I was reading, and  I was perhaps looking for a way to understand myself, others and the world. My fear of being misunderstood, I have come to see, is related to my fear and reluctance to understand others.  Although I would never claim that I know what anyone is really saying, or what they really mean, I have come to appreciate that any understanding garnered comes from practice and is an art, a creative act like many other seemingly mundane things in our day-to-day can be.

Everyday things, from cooking to washing dishes, when experienced contemplatively, can bring unexpected insight and joy. The same is true in the practice and contemplation of ideas, language, and especially in understanding ourselves and other people.

There is an art to understanding, or there can be, either by naturally feeling drawn to, and nurturing the depths of what life shows and offers you, or if, and this is more my story, you feel so lost and incapable of understanding yourself, others and the world, that you are compelled to seek ways to live with yourself out of necessity.

“An arche-typal image is psychologically “universal,” because its effect amplifies and depersonalizes. Even if the notion of image regards each image as an individualized, unique event, as “that image there and no other,” such an image is universal because it resonates with collective, trans-empirical importance.

And, the universals problem for psychology is not whether they exist, where, and how they participate in particulars, but rather whether a personal individual event can be recognized as bearing essential and collective importance.”

File:Wiccan Syzygy.pngBecause Hillman speaks of archetypal images and frequently writes about the Greek gods, it took me awhile to understand that he was not claiming that the gods were literally true, or the only means by which we experience archetypal forces or images, but that the mythology of the Greeks shows us archetypality in abundance and the archetypal nature of the soul, and that these images and myths, as all images and myths do, still speak to us because of the universals that we recognize in their distinct natures through the stories of their adventures, misfortunes and relationships.

But if image is primary as Hillman says, then we are in psyche, all of us subject to universal currents or personas that live through us. Not that we need to be free of their influence, as if we could, but perhaps grant that we are subject to them as much as we are subject to our home planet earth, and the vulnerability and universality of our mortal existence.

So…what does this do for us?…you might ask. For one, it helps us to acknowledge a multiplicity of perspectives, and by accepting the universal nature of archetypes we may depersonlize our ideas, and can then perhaps understand what any idea does for us or others. This understanding may provide an opening up of ourselves, freeing us to explore the nature of the human experience and the world we all share with less fear and a sense of separation.

“Archetypal psychology has pressed beyond the collection of objective data and the correlation of images as verbal or visual symbols. If archetypal images are the fundamentals of fantasy, they are the means by which the world is imagined, and therefore they are the models by which all knowledge, all experiences whatsoever become possible: “Every psychic process is an image and an ‘imagining,’ otherwise no consciousness could exist …” (CW 11: 889). An archetypal image operates like the original meaning of idea (from Greek eidos and eidolon): not only “that which” one sees but also that “by means of which” one sees.” 

File:Psyche-Waterhouse.jpg…by archetypal psychology we mean a psychology of value. And our appellative move is aimed to restore psychology to its widest, richest, and deepest volume so that it would resonate with soul in its descriptions as unfathomable, multiple, prior, generative, and necessary. As all images can gain this archetypal sense, so all psychology can be archetypal … ‘Archetypal’ here refers to a move one makes rather than to a thing that is” (Hillman 1977 b). Here, archetypal psychology “sees through” itself as strictly a psychology of archetypes, a mere analysis of structures of being (gods in their myths), and, by emphasizing the valuative function of the adjective archetypal, restores to images their primordial place as that which gives psychic value to the world. Any image termed archetypal is immediately valued as universal, trans-historical, basically profound, generative, highly intentional, and necessary.”

If highly intentional and necessary, the archetypal nature of images and perspectives have us in mind. They can guide and help if we attend to their presence in our lives, through dreams, fantasies, religious or spiritual urges, our callings and even our pathology.

“As intentional force and person, such an image presents a claim – moral, erotic, intellectual, aesthetic – and demands a response. It is an “affecting presence” (Armstrong 1971) offering an affective relationship. It seems to bear prior knowledge (coded information) and an instinctive direction for a destiny, as if prophetic, prognostic. Images in “dreams mean well for us, back us up and urge us on, understand us more deeply than we understand ourselves, expand our sensuousness and spirit, continually make up new things to give us – and this feeling of being loved by the images … call it imaginal love” (Hillman 1979 a). This message-bearing experience of the image – and the feeling of blessing that an image can bring – recalls the Neoplatonic sense of images as daimones and angels (message bearers). “Perhaps – who knows ? – these eternal images are what men mean by fate” (CW 7: 183).”

All quotes taken from: Hillman, James (2013-09-18). Archetypal Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) (Kindle Locations 224-230). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

Art courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Leaving the Temple

“Most, if not all of modern scientific data—and the interpretation thereof—is provisional in nature, only revealing a small part of the bigger picture.  In this respect, the interpretation of this research is, regrettably, false.   Here, I mean false in as bold and far-reaching as possible: not according to truth or fact; erroneous; incorrect; designed to deceive; illusory.” Erik Andrulis

In a recent post entitled Why Most Published Research is False, Erik Andrulis, scientist and theoretician by profession, challenges the notion that the field of science is capable of providing and condensing whole truths through data and research. My own sense is that science, because constrained as much as all human endeavor is by the nature of our senses, has a limited ability to translate and interpret research and data wholly and accurately into language and practice.

I see that the persistent but often ignored inability to separate the Knower from Knowing impedes our ability to tell the whole story. I love and respect that as a Scientist, Erik not only accepts, but can articulate for a lay audience the limitations of Science, which has become one of the most influential voices in the culture.

Now days, it’s risky for anyone, but especially a professional in the science community, to be critical of Science because acceptance or rejection of accepted dogmas is often used to identify individuals as either believers or heretics, much like Christianity was used in ages past. Okay, so heretics are not likely to suffer the physical torture as in ages past, but cultural shunning is still alive and well and has created an atmosphere in which there is very little tolerance for questioning the conclusions of science and related fields, and especially those that use or cite scientific evidence to support a conclusion or the promotion of an idea or a product.

File:God the Geometer.jpgMay I suggest that science itself has fallen into the grip of a myth, and one of the most persistent and unexamined myths of the western mind; that of the Hero, the same myth that underlies Christianity.

Both address the problem of evil and of human suffering and offer a form of salvation as the solution, even though the problem gets restated by science as having material roots rather than spiritual, with the philanthropic goal of peace through prosperity by creating and using technology for the elimination of pain and suffering, and where paradise on earth means elimination of hardships of the past to feed, clothe and protect ourselves from the elements.

Worthy goals, but without reflection and clarity, the myth of the hero, with his emphasis on action and acting (salvation and saving) risks losing sight of the goal caught up in the thrill of the conquest and battle, either seeking power over demons or power over the elements inside the laboratory.

A Science that is gripped by the power of the hero myth and its fantasy of salvation has faith in a goal that lacks clarity and vision and trusts in its ability to understand the human condition, and to be on the side of goodness which empowers its position in the culture, reaching levels of intoxication similar to those of the Christian zealots it once claimed to be freeing us from. The hero’s good intentions replace the necessity for reflection and justify its every deed, from splitting the atom to modifying genes, because the ends are trusted to justify the means.

Here we find that science and religion do share a likeness in their mythological perspective of playing the part of a powerful hero which requires a weaker victim in need of saving. I see a cultural shift from the salvation of personal sin through spiritual means from the grace of God and King to the salvation of science and technology through material grace and the promise of an end to suffering.

Mythologically speaking, we have traded in our gods of religion for the gods of science and technology.

Science is supported with facts and figures, and offers us the security of the concreteness of stuff that works – all else is deemed anecdotal, meaning unreliable, not to be trusted and often used to discount all claims of a metaphysical nature such as Near Death Experiences, the power of prayer, dreams or any other spiritual practices.

There’s cultural history here in which We, being swept away by the myth of the Hero, under the guise of finally leaving religion behind and getting it right through science, are seduced by the acceptance and power that comes from the fight against the former powers of the old King, the Christian God, and even Superstition, all of which in moderns times have been placed into the shadowy darkness whose defeat as a cultural paradigm is viewed as essential for Progress.

With this criticism I am not promoting a return to the past , but that by looking at the demands of the Hero archetype through its images we might locate ourselves within the myth, and see how it drives and influences the culture through political, religious and scientific beliefs. If we want to save something, what is it and what are we saving it from, and more importantly, what are we saving it for?

“If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high,
you’d laugh and say nothing’s that simple.
But you’ve been told many times before,
Messiah’s pointed to the door.
No one had the guts to leave the Temple.” Pete Townshend

Lament of the Dead

The mystery of life begins in death, for if death did not exist, think of all of the things that we would not struggle with and all of the questions we would not have much reason to ask. Imagine too the security and peace we might know without sickness, murder, pain and suffering that comes from both disease and the knowledge of our own death. What would be the reason for curiosity, for love, for needing each other if life was so easy that we could not err or cause harm?

It may well be that an existence that excluded death would be better, more peaceful and ideal. But that is not the world we live in. Perhaps the reason for things to be as they are is because the dayworld of the living that we know is necessary to create something greater than can be seen here. Maybe our purpose here is to use the seemingly separate and mortal lives we each live to bridge a gap between the dayworld of mortality and a world of eternity that we also belong to. Admittedly this is all very speculative.

But doesn’t death need to be wondered about? Isn’t it the primary and essential problem of life? Does not death cause us to err, to struggle and live in fear? Doesn’t it also serve as the weapon of power for those that can garner the most security through technology, political and religious structures, serving as an insulation for an elite group of people who no longer share our common fears? Do not some people use death to threaten weaker beings?

And if that is not convincing enough and you are still reading this, how do we reconcile the angst and guilt we share and witness in the killing necessary for life to sustain itself? But don’t we also sense that there is more to life than what we know and perhaps the mystery of our existence can somehow be reconciled, and so every culture has carried on the search for that reconciliation.

These are some of the thoughts I have about death, along with the question not only of is there life after, or beyond death, but what would the nature of that afterlife be like, how does it relate to this life? Does the reconciliation between birth and death come from knowing that the nature of life is eternal, but through birth we, as Greek, Hindu and other mythologies tell us, forget about the eternal world?

Although we moderns don’t seem to easily discuss the nature of death, I believe its inevitability shades our life – remaining a constant unseen companion we fear if we do not acknowledge that we walk on our own graves. Even though the dead may depart from our dayworld they continue to haunt us when their questions, their sufferings go unacknowledged as belonging to all of us throughout history, our shared past. We live in the shadow of their unanswered questions when they’re connection to us is forgotten.

Many cultures have had a practice of ancestor worship, a way to keep a thread of continuity from those who came before us to those who will carry on after us.

In Lament of the Dead, Psychology after Jung’s Red Book, James Hillman teams up with Sonu Shamdasani, editor of C.G. Jung’s Red Book, for a series of conversations about the book in which Jung chronicles a psychotic period of his life from 1913-17. During that time he experienced visions and a flood of images that became the foundation for most of the ideas he is known for; archetypes, active imagination, typology, theories of the unconscious, individuation and wholeness.

 

I have not read the Red Book yet, but from reading Hillman and Shamdasani’s dialogue now feel compelled to. The dialogue revolves around Jung’s experience of encountering figures through active imagination and grappling with their questions.

Sonu says:

“What Jung hits upon is a stream of images and he encounters collective memory and fantasy. It’s not personal memory. There is a mnemonic dimension there, but he finds that what is animated, what is critical there, is collective memory. He finds himself having to address debates such as that between the Christian and the pagan and to see then how that reframes his own life. It’s not that his life is subtracted out of it, but the realia, the personalia of his life, isn’t the fundament. It’s the images that frame him.”

Jung came to believe that the figures he engaged in active imagination were not just inside him, but part of the ongoing dialogue taking place in the history of humankind. Sonu suggests:

“A shift occurs immediately when you stop thinking of Jung’s work in terms of the imperative to come to terms with the collective unconscious. If you shift from that language to the confrontation with the dead, accepting the lament of the dead, one’s understanding changes dramatically in that one enters a world and the problems one takes up and is confronted with are not one’s own.

And the issue then is how one adapts oneself, how one situates oneself, to these challenges. One is not dealing simply with an abstraction, the collective unconscious. One is dealing quite specifically with the dead of human history.”

The conversation moves on to the need for cosmology in our lives. Hillman is speaking here:

“Psychology may give you modes of understanding and you think you’re understanding yourself and others. But if you want to understand the world, you have to have a cosmology, you have to have a sense that things fit, that they belong, that there’s a need, a place to be given to it, and that there’s more and more to grasp. It’s the cosmos, and the Greek cosmos was an ordered and aesthetic realm.”

Cosmology moves us beyond our personal lives, although it also includes them, and it also includes the ancestors, their cares and concerns acknowledging the work they did carrying forward our understanding of life and the world we share. It invites us all to share in the continuance and importance of that quest.

When we can find a satisfying way to reconcile the mystery of our living with our dying; a cosmology that gives us enough meaning and sense that perhaps gives us a willingness to endure suffering, by knowing the true nature of ourselves, we may find a way to live in peace with a feeling that we belong here.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Hillman, who laments as I do, the problem we moderns have:

“We’re a very strange culture, our modern, secular Western culture, in which our conversation, yours and mine, is set. We don’t have any ancestor worship, we don’t have any true cult of the dead. Different pieces of the culture do pieces of things, but even the use of the phrase “the dead” is hounded with frightening things— it belongs on the other side. There’s a radical separation in our modern culture between the living and the dead. All the medical work is life against death, to hold off death and prolong life, and at the expense of death, I would say.

So when we talk about the lament of the dead, or anything to do with the dead, we have to realize where we are situated, with its deep, historical prejudices against what has been and what is buried, and what we have done to create a realm of the dead, because it’s not merely those who went before us and died. It’s all the depository of the accumulation of human psychic history, the history of the soul. Somehow, since Jung talks about a lament of the dead, they must feel or have felt abused or neglected or something. The first step would be listening to them, which he did in the Seven Sermons of 1916, this sort of inspired religious document. But what is their lament?”

Hillman, James; Shamdasani, Sonu (2013-08-26). Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book (Kindle Locations 2237-2238). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Alchemical Psychology – Part VI, Red

In the last three chapters of James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, we turn our attention to the last stages of alchemy imagined as the reddening, or rubido: a) images of the goal, b) changes that led to the collapse of alchemy, and finally c) alchemical caelum, or the “aesthetic condition of mind.” There’s a lot left to this book so in this post we’ll look at images of the goal.

Hillman begins by offering a bit of hope for humankind, something he does not often do in his writings.

“…that the intellect of the human animal bears witness to the cosmos, and that the good of society requires both the courage of disciplined imagination and the courage of the imaginative disruption of discipline.”

Again, Hillman reminds us to take care of how we think of the goal. It’s no surprise that the goal is always imagined as something of lasting value; gold, pearls, elixers, and healing stones, but Hillman stresses that it is because these images of the goal are of lasting value that they compel us to stay the course.

“We are thus obliged to inquire into the goal idea before we look at goal images, asking why the psyche invents these goals. What is the function of goal-thinking, goal-fantasying? What do goals do for the soul? Why does the psyche need them? The goal propels us into the work. …the urging impetus, without ever being exteriorised into an objective literal aim.”

For myself, I am a bit suspect of goals, especially ill defined ones. It seems to me that some goals, those we define with conceptualized ideas (whole, healthy, happy, enlightened, free, etc), rather than imagistic ones (musician, writer, lover, dancer, linguist, priest, student, parent, runner, nurse), act as a dangling carrot, perpetually out of reach, the unobtanium “other” – unreachable because things like wholeness, health and enlightenment are static concepts. Immersing ourselves in the work, ironically allows the goal to be in the work (do you wash the dishes to clean them, or to be done with it?), changing the substance through the dynamics of living.

Next the discussion moves to specific images of the goal and the value they hold in their display. In our culture, especially in spiritual work, this may seem at first a huge disappointment. If it’s all about display, why not just razzle and dazzle ’em with fine clothes and fancy speech? But display here is not mere pretence, but something of genuine, lasting value displayed for the sake of the world; anima mundi, unveiling, revelation. Shine on you crazy diamond!

“Despite the endless warnings in alchemy against the vulgar, and alchemy’s deliberately arcane mystifications, the goal, evidently, is display, and this gives another sense to the psychology of alchemy. Rather than emphasis upon the closed vessel as the modus for self-knowledge, we are to ”freely give.” Revelation. If the goal is an idea that motivates the opus all along the way, then ideas of display and exposure must lead the mind.”

“What is the use of concealed diamonds … to the world?” To the world,” that little phrase, suggests a wholly social, political, ecological, communal aspect to the entire opus, an unnamed goal named” world.”

What follows is a lengthy discussion of the specific nature of each image of the goal – pearls, gold, elixers, etc. Hillman writes in detail about the symbology of each, drawing from mythology and wisdom of many ages and cultures that help reveal a deeper more complex nature in each.

He makes the distinction between spiritual only goals and physical only goals noting that through images of the goal we see that the physical and spiritual happen together, so “the pain is not prior to the goal.” What a relief, I say, for no longer do we have to try not to suffer, but to recognise that the “pearl is also always the grit.”

“Instead, I prefer to read alchemy, and its goals, as images of psychic conditions always available. Then the pathologized aspects of the grit and the pearl, the lead and the diamond, the hammer and the gold are inseparable. The pain is not prior to the goal, like crucifixion before resurrection, but pain and gold are coterminous, codependent, corelative. The pearl is also always grit, an irritation as well as a luster, the gilding also a poisoning. This accords with life, for we are strangely disconsolate even in a moment of radiance; we suffer an inmost irritation simultaneous with exhibition, for display harbours as well the feelings of shame and awkwardness. The superiority of clear-sighted surety – when we truly see and know, brilliant as a diamond, as an eagle – always carries with it, unredeemed, the loneliness of distance and the insensitivity of certitude.”

He goes on to discuss the nature of each of the operations in alchemy; separation, mortification, putrefaction, and how their functioning continually serves psyche, for the goal is better served by not envisioning it as a moment in time in which we are perfected, but rather, moving cyclically, repeating and refining, as is necessary, all that we do throughout our lives.

“Remember: it is the nature of each bit of psyche to want to persist as it is. What succeeds wants to continue as it is. The drive to persist and resist alteration is the very nature of substance, according to Spinoza. Thus there will always be a profound and natural resistance to the psyche’s own innate movement. That alchemy imagines movement in soul by means of the repulsive rot of putrefactions and the killing torture of mortification shows how obdurate and compacted, shall we say stone-like, is the stuff of the psyche and how hard indeed it is to bring about change.” 

“And since these goals – diamond and pearl, rubedo and lapis, elixir of immortality – are imaginal and mythical, they are beyond time, dissolving the literalism of the laboratory and its measures of time into images, rather than temporal steps, images of drying and moistening, distilling and condensing, therewith moving the method of alchemy itself into myth.”

And although priorities in the stages of the work will arise organically from the nature of the material to be worked on, the steps or stages of alchemy themselves are not necessarily ordered by linear succession.

“I regard each rung for itself and apart from the ladder, each step a necessary standing place offering understanding for where one is and what one is undergoing. And, therefore, I understand the operations of alchemy as topoi rather than as pieces of a system for achieving the utopic.”

The image of the stone brings more surprises. Why a stone? Isn’t that the very image of concreteness and stuckness that we started with in the nigredo? No, because the stone is that which comes forth from the work of blackening, blueing, whitening, and yellowing.

“The stone’s dryness bespeaks the psyche’s move from subject to object, the subjective person no longer stuck to identifications, the gluey, gooey moisture dried to ashen powder, desert sand. Personal life reflects the objective psyche, thatness rather than me-ness, or better said, a me-ness that is simply thatness. Spiritual disciplines might call this compassion “that thou art,” a kind of unity of feeling with any thing. Yet I believe the stone’s feeling is yet more strange. It feels, let us imagine: “there is just that,” “even I am just that.” All that other people are and the world is, from rivers and elephants to teacups and toasters is essentially what I call “me” as part of an ensouled anima mundi and yet utterly depersonalized as molecules dancing in dry air.”

2012-12-29_14-28-15_165The stone is the image of what the work creates in us. It frees us from defining our lives only by the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” so that we may experience a metaview of ourselves and others allowing us to meet in a shared realm of depersonalized experience where we can recognize each other in the archetypal realms we are all touched by.

“Metal” etymologically means “mine,” the verb “to mine,” from the Greek mettallao, means to search, inquire. The stone’s movement is not growth, development, or metamorphosis but rather intellectual curiosity. Pray and study, work and read, oratory and laboratory, one book opens another, explain the unknown by the more unknown – these were the maxims for the stone, or of the stone, the stone’s own teachings. Not grow, become healthier in mind and body, develop and transform but the seeking and searching of the awakened mind, the light of the intellectus agens, like a burning jewel in the stone. Learning is the key. Study. Experiment. Travel. Read. These are the processes that work the stone and follow from the idea of its metallic seeds. Dig. Mine. Quarry.”

And finally I will leave you with this:

“A stone-like love, a love utterly dehumanized, as if there is something about me that loves something about you, like the love of two stones. Cool, distant, apathetic? As if our planetary bodies were asteroids sharing a mythical affinity? Rather, I feel this notion of love is not so much cold as simply unconcerned with love, stone-focused rather than love-focused. It is indeed a fevered concupiscence, engaged in a coupling conjunction soul to soul as the alchemical images show – naked, sexual, crazy – yet having nothing to do with anybody anywhere. Let us imagine it as a love of two stones. Externally solitary, yet interiorly they are not distant from one another because they are not different. They are akin in their impersonal stony essence, descendents of a common body, Gaia, brothers and sisters, their love the incestuous passion of kinship libido, that calor inclusus which urges all things, including humans, to participate in the cosmos. We love the world unspeakably because of what burns within our silent, lapidary essence.”

Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) (Kindle Locations 5472-5474). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Thank you Wake Owl for such fine music like this song, appropriately titled, Gold.

I don’t feel like I’m falling,
I’m up against the sky,
I said I’d taken it all in to make the good life,
I don’t feel like I’m falling,
I’m up against the sky,
Let’s grab the heart of the world and turn into the light

Links to all posts in the series:

Colour My World , Alchemical Psychology, Part I – Black http://wp.me/pZ0y1-T7

Alchemical Psychology, Part II – Blue http://wp.me/pZ0y1-TA

Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver http://wp.me/pZ0y1-Um

Alchemical Psychology, Part IV – White http://wp.me/pZ0y1-UT

Alchemical Psychology, Part V – Yellow http://wp.me/pZ0y1-WV

Alchemical Psychology, Part VI – Red http://wp.me/pZ0y1-XT

Alchemical Psychology, Part VII – Air http://wp.me/pZ0y1-11b

Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum http://wp.me/Z0y1