… story – art – quest for the cypher – symbol …

As painters or sculptors do, I frequently step back from my writing projects, searching for the core, a half imagined essence to shine through and re-animate the creative flow. Skills alone don’t do it, techniques alone don’t do it, nor style. As long as the essence of what I try to express floats in the unconscious, my efforts will baffle and tease me.

Having listened to thousand and one stories during my 30 years of working as a transpersonal psychotherapist, I conclude that when we tell our story to ourselves, or others who watch and listen, we trace a rhythm, a sound, the distant bubbling of a spring – a theme. While sourcing and shaping words we ideally become aware of how we translate experiences, string up memories and weave a pattern that gives meaning, purpose and direction to our story. We may re-weave the past and change how we perceive life. Even a single image, too evanescent to fit ordinary reality, can assume significance. An ideal may sharpen – and with it a vision of what not yet exists, revealed by the imagination.

Sensual impression, dreams, primary images and the love/hate of relationships, present a puzzle we try to arrange in some kind of order, waiting for a theme to become intelligible, and therefore transmittable. Finding a structure to express our experiences through words, images, movements, sounds, music, or numbers is insufficient. We must play with the fragments – take out bits, or add bits, until a satisfying narrative suggests itself.

World objects from my sand tray

Fairy tales, heroes and villains of myth, historical figures, cartoon characters or pop stars may do the magic by evoking a psychic resonance and providing a metaphor, or a precious symbol to ease the pressure of the archetypal demand lurking in the unconscious.

Not only those we call artists, but all creative people respond to what holds sensual and cognitive fascination for them. I include trades, crafts, makers, men and women with affinities to certain elements, who explore the quality and beauty of materials, like weavers, potters, wood workers, printers, plumbers, electricians … I include technicians, engineers, inventors, scientists and mystics. Curiosity and passion for a subject deepen knowledge and intuition as to how things connect outside, and, vitally, how they connect inside us.

Ashen – directing a film in the woods.

My fascination with creating stories was revived while doing a film degree (as career brake) during the late 1990s. I’m curious about consciousness, relative perception of time, and the interplay of characters for which I invent pasts and futures, where ideals are the means to a goal, while as soon as the goal is reached, a new ideal looms over the horizon. If this were not so, evolution, our whole story would stop. Ursula Le Guin once wrote –

‘In eternity there is nothing novel, and there are no novels.’

My ongoing writing project, a trilogy of stories, involves three soul sisters, Ana, Cara and Mesa. The first (already published) book of the trilogy, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ (see book page) narrates the quest of Ana, which is really the myth of the story teller, Cara, whose theme is seeking a balance for the enigma of clashing feminine and masculine principles. The sequel, ‘Shapers,’ (not yet published) introduces Cara in the twentieth century as she follows the characters of Ana’s myth into a far future society where emotional expressions are outlawed until the experiment breaks down under its duplicity.

In a third book, ‘Mesa,’ a work in progress, same characters move to a realm where time has slowed down to such extend that ‘novelty’ has to be rescued for life to continue. This story calls for a deep dive into the heart of my imagination.

I’m once more held in the cocoon stage. Given the ideological power games around the globe, I feel foolish about these musings, since I’ve been sharing the ups and downs of my quest here for the last seven years.

Do you, my reader, recognise the pressure to bring something into existence? How do you search for the cypher (the wild uniqueness in the soul) that informs your creative process?

*    *    *

A definition of Symbol … from ‘The Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi’ by Henry Corbin, transl. by Ralph Manheim, Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton University

The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is a ‘cipher’ of a mystery, the only means of expressing something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never ‘explained’ once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls for ever new execution.


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12 responses to “… story – art – quest for the cypher – symbol …

  1. Thankyou Ashen, a wonderful post.
    You have highlighted the peripheral world in which we all need to sometimes escape from.
    Creativity appears to be a natural state within us.Whether it be through obviously artistic statements or the more subtle thoughts experienced.
    For me, poetry is my go to base. Not necessarily the reading nor the publishing of same but the simple task of writing it. The sense of being a mere seedling and constantly growing to be a giant tree.
    Growing and retreating, growing and retreating; understanding the simplicity of our world and once more venturing out to play.
    We are entering summer here, the growth season. You are heading into winter and the natural retreat. Enjoy the break.B

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you my poet friend. I have phases of Haiku nudges, sparked by an image or a fleeting moment. Waiting for the word shape to fall into place can take days, the nudge follows me like a hungry puppy.

      Winter retreating mood here, yes. Dry freeze and snow I tolerate well, less so the cold moisture, changing winds, and the constant temperature jumps we’re having now. Would rather be in your summer. Where is it again, Queensland?


      • Victoria Ashen. Queensland remains a dream and a winter paradise for us “Southerners”. Fortunately we visit a couple of times each year, just when winter is
        about to consume our very souls. Thanks again B

        Liked by 1 person

        • My son and his wife visited Melbourne, and Sidney earlier this year and will visit again next year, for a family event. His wife has relatives in all corners of Australia. I’ve been to Darwin and surrounds four yrs. ago.
          Nearing lunchtime here. Late evening with you – sleep well, sweet dreams.


  2. As always Ashen you seem to be able to say in words, what others glimpse, feel or are unconscious of.
    “While sourcing and shaping words we ideally become aware of how we translate experiences, string up memories and weave a pattern that gives meaning, purpose and direction to our story. We may re-weave the past and change how we perceive life. Even a single image, too evanescent to fit ordinary reality, can assume significance. An ideal may sharpen – and with it a vision of what not yet exists, revealed by the imagination.”
    For me sometimes it feels like a need and yearning in the soul, that I have to fulfil and just lately that has been through my artistic endeavors and my need to understand something or someone. Or even connection to the past, Memories of the past that over the years have somehow re-shaped themselves as I move forward. Some have been in an effort to understand or comfort me. Some have been a way to separate myself, to see myself.
    Thank you for reminding me of the complexity of life but also the wonder of who we are and what we experience individually.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Gillian. It amazes me no end that our perception changes from day to day, which, though it does not always feel comfortable, is a never ending mystery to behold.
      It’s lovely that you found an artistic outlet for this deep yearning to bring something into the light. Best joy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful post. The strings of story, themes and all–we don’t often see them until we take enough steps back to find the wall on which the tapestry of life is hung.
    A blessed Thanksgiving to you! Let us see what stories grow with the kiddos today… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jean, did I tell you how much I admire your self-promoting spirit? And yes, I’m jealous, because I’m complete rubbish at promoting myself, due to a deeply ingrained script that whatever I do is not good enough. Pathetic, I know. Seems that a lifetime of empowering others has not healed me of this disability. So I keep waiting among the weeds to be discovered 🙂
      Blessed Thanksgiving time to you and yours.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a fascinating post. Yes, I’m always searching, and wonder if the secret is that what I’m trying to find remains elusive – like the end of a rainbow, sort of in sight, but not fully realised. Some themes I’m aware of, but I love the idea that some of them gather on the page without my conscious awareness.

    I love the sculpture at the top of your post, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

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