As it assumes possession rather than obeys the mind,
Ignoring the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand
It wilfully forges ahead, cutting sharp into stone.
Nor does it ever slow down enough for us to win distance,
Yet oiled by itself remains in the silent halls of fact.
It circles in living and claims to know best about living,
And with equal resolve creates, destroys, indifferent to all.
Yet our being remains spun in the mysteries of birthing,
Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers,
To behold only with eyes closed, and in adoration.
Words still softly dissolve before the unspeakable state,
While the most resonant stones give form to ever new sounds,
Gathering music into the divine unmade.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Ashen Venema
A friend called earlier, lovingly concerned, wondering why I hadn’t posted anything this month. I don’t plan posts ahead, but asking myself – what lingers in my mind – this poem by R M Rilke asked for attention. I used it to upfront a film degree dissertation (as a mature student) during the mid-90s … ‘Body Electric,’ An Exploration of Human Identity in the Digital Age. Once I discover how to transfer Mac Claris Work from floppy discs into a Word doc. or PDF, I’ll share the dissertation and other articles with my readers.
I like translating poems from German into English, poems by R M Rilke, W Goethe, H Hesse. It’s an adventure to find the right word and phrase. Maybe I should share such translations more often. The title of this post … without sleep and dreams we’d go mad … relates to the above Rilke’s poem, since the internet with its avalanche of information can assume a machine-like relentlessness, and yet, we can’t do without it, which makes me grateful for being able to sleep, so my psyche can assimilate new information during dreams.
As an example, not a general theory, a parent who habitually keeps everything organised, clean and in place, may feel displeasure when their child does not follow this model. Sensing displeasure, the child may feel restrained and controlled, and possibly develop a reaction via contrary behaviour. Of course, reactions to initial conditions are way more complex. But both, excessive order and excessive chaos in the early environment set a tone.
My early impressions were in the middle, yet plenty of condensed experiences pull me into repetitive behaviour. But people for whom, let’s say, the organised model felt intolerable, meeting an adult partner who likes order, even in a mild way, easily hooks into their initial reaction. The desire for order is stability, beauty, keeping the wild and unpredictable at bay, and also serves as a buffer against anxiety. But someone who felt restricted by order may easily feel controlled. In this two-way process, any projection also frames the projector, and various complex relationships are such defined, with children, partners, work colleagues, mentors, groups, and even political parties. The irony is that instead of choosing a partner or group where this conflict does not arise, we often unconsciously attract an early model we disliked, maybe because of its familiarity, maybe because of the implied challenge. I assume it’s a psychological trick allowing for lessons in tolerance and, hopefully in time, a reframing of one’s life story.
While periods of stability are necessary, it is from chaos that creativity is born and new forms emerge, which is why some artists embrace chaos, allowing for the spontaneous discovery of new patterns and hidden harmonies.
To voluntary endure the dissonance between order and chaos is a spiritual quest towards an attitude of transcendence.
In this sense, and with the emphasis on becoming, my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, who was also a musician and poet, used to orchestrate chaos in workshops for his students to great effect. He trained us well for the turbulent cultural changes that are now upon us, a global rite of passage we best consciously engage with. Faith in the unknown tends to signal our guiding spirit to open unsuspected doors towards a deeper resonance with the collective psyche.
“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.’ — Fyodor Dostoevsky
‘The Gods envy the perfection of man, because perfection has no need of the Gods. But since no one is perfect, we need the Gods.’ … Carl Jung, Liber Novus, page 244
‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan
Ever since I came upon James Gleick’s book ‘Chaos,’ the William Heinemann Ltd 1988 edition, I was fascinated by the concept which has radically changed scientific enquiries, as well as giving new meaning to my practice of transpersonal therapy.
James Gleick’s book also contains the amazing Mandelbrot set. Here a short introduction …
Stories inform, entertain, inspire. They make us think, dream, identify, or divert us from reflecting about what is going on inside us or in our present situation. Images and story lines reinforce each other. If we can’t detect the symbols images hold for us, be they evoked in paintings, literature, in the frame by frame images in cinema, or in the media, a story may grip with sensational elements, but remain otherwise flat. Feedback can vary, to use comic extremes, from, ‘What a thrilling yarn’ to, ‘What the hell was that all about?’ Stories that hang in the middle might satisfy both contemplatives and the sensationalist, and occasionally become best sellers.
A story well told acts like a seed in the psyche, is subtle and opens cracks in the unconscious with contradictions to ponder upon. A story well told is often mysterious, far from obvious at first impression. A story well told takes deep questions into our dreams. Then, out of the blue, we’re struck by an insight, and a door to the imagination opens.
I’ve been wondering about the Trump story. How many of you have had an inner voice saying, ‘You can’t make this up. It can’t be, how does he get away with it?’ even while chapter after chapter the public across the world was spun into a nightmarish trance. The surreal and sensational element the Trump protagonist brought to the world stage has wrought continuous fascination and cravings for the next cliff-hanger. ‘Wow, he says it like it is … a kind of superman who gives a fuck about good manners or political correctness.’
No Aha moment, no insight, no transformation, just point by point affirmations for the disenchanted, the frustrated, to let it all hang out, a continuous clowning spectacle, embodying, well, possessed by the archetype of the sulking child whose gratification is denied, the Id with its breath-taking rages. No contradiction here. No subtle narrative, more like an attention-demanding prologue. The meanwhile addicted public won’t take kindly to the sobering. Where does it go from here?
For this prologue to develop from a catalytic incident into a worthwhile story begs the questions, and not just from ungratified Americans, but from ungratified people all over the world … and though I could dare answers, they’d only resonate with a few psychologically aware, the already converted. So I include myself as curious as to where those vital questions will find ground to grow:
Over time, shifting seasons leave strata in matter that can be studied like pages of a book, be it in air, water, ice, earth, rock, stones, fossils, bones, or in more short-lived material. Take the rings of a tree, spiralling upwards, normally hidden, but clearly readable when the trunk is cut. Even a single hair tells a story of the duration of its growth, likely composed of fluctuating water and nutrients intake, but nevertheless showing an overall pattern of fairly consistent data within a slice of set time, like a snapshot of nature’s heirloom, whose treasures our runaway culture seems hell bent to recklessly damage.
When it comes to psychic codes, we must enter a different sphere and use a different language. Let’s say being cognizant of our changing thought patterns gives us our mythical code? What image might depict the Spirit of a generation, developed by a mania for progress, but also formed through individual and collective archetypal demands, via symbols and dormant dreams that pop up, shifting outlook and direction?
I’m spinning here a few thoughts into nowhere, or maybe the kind of noo-sphere, a term used by Vladimir Vernadsky & Theilhard de Chardin, which was later seen as an early vision of the internet. The concept resonates with the ancient concept of Akasha. Jean Raffa on her blog https://jeanbenedictraffa.com/blog/ recently reminded me of Lynne McTaggart’s book, The Field, collating more recent scientific discoveries, again affirming how our minds are influenced, and vice versa, by an interactive field spanning the cosmos, from where we connect up and process thoughts and feelings through our body and brain (call it our radio stations.) Frequently, the purpose of anything is established in hindsight. So one could say events happen for reasons we don’t know of, and we assign meaning only at a later point in time, stretched to hours, decades, centuries or aeons.
A medley of my inner crowd, the seeker, philosopher, writer, artist and poet, all receive and transmit through slightly different wavelengths, following their interests, but affected by the media, the weather, moon phases, astrological constellations, vaguely remembered dreams, company, and my body’s metabolism. In that process I jostle for meaning that could gain purchase towards a cohesive point of view. Alas, cohesive points of view can be tricky. While keen to learn and unlearn, when I encounter a fixed point of view I sense a false solidity, while my truth seeker floats, suspended, like the protagonist in my novel, ‘Course of Mirrors.’ https://twitter.com/mushkilgusha
C G Jung suggested the mind has been developing over a very long time, and keeps developing from as yet hidden seeds that rest in the unconscious, holding ideas that will slowly grow and unfold, which implies the seeds already exist, waiting for fair conditions to be recovered.
This process is the theme of a brilliant epic, ‘Involution,’ published by Philippa Rees.
We know that when gifted individuals dare to go public with an insight that rocks or contradicts the Zeitgeist, they get vilified. The list of such intuitive people, historically and up to this present time, is long. We owe a great debt to their insights and efforts, bringing us understanding from the unconscious. New decoding is looked at with suspicion and hardly ever welcome, though small sections of society receive and embrace new ideas and nurture their meaning until collective acceptance happens. There are also those who clearly understand a message but fear the implications. They will try to shoot messengers that threaten their profits or their hard won reputation.
Myth & stories, the most reliable cultural codes, are treated with moderate tolerance by players attached to short term gains, who may lack the imagination to grok the symbolic significance of fresh and life-enhancing interpretations.
Returning to my interest in changing thought patterns, I checked the archive of my website, going back to 2011. It shows that for more than nine years I’ve been jumping about a lot, which makes the content of my postings consistently random. But do my posts have an underlying code that relates to this past decade? Some vague answers bubble up. I’m waiting
C G Jung wrote in ‘Men and his Symbols’ … ‘We have obviously been so busy with the question of what we think that we entirely forgot to ask what the unconscious psyche thinks about us. …
Placing this writer here into the third person … considering the time slice of a decade, and given the random themes of the posts, do Ashen’s readers depict a pattern, a code? Anything like a famous elevator pitch authors should have up their sleeve, and which she seem incapable of formulating. She knows it’s cheeky to ask, but sees it as a reality test.
she must keep alive
the rare glimpse and utter awe
that consigned her fate
a timeless moment
of totality that won’t
only a fresh one will do
Inspired by a dark moon thought, this is a new moon post.
This image should have been on top. I admit to be totally lost in regard to the new editing format wordpress has installed. Lost as how to place images, how to do elegant links, or how to escape back to the classical editor, since I can’t open the plug-in zip. I hope to figure it out somehow. Tips are welcome.
By bending towards light all life unfolds and is shaped by obstructions – and the dark, compressed sphere behind the crack that allows growth to emerge.
It’s the same for all plants and creatures, and humans, who, once visible and mirrored in other eyes and minds are drawn into a labyrinth of self-reflection that informs the self-image.
Beyond eyes, we perceive each other via dreams, intuitions, catching glimpses of transient truths and falsehoods beneath the visible. How many mirrors acknowledge, ignore or denigrate us? Our families reflects us, our social environments, school, college, university, churches, travel companions, sport clubs and interest groups in general. For some the mirrors branch out to success and fame for a talent. For others the mirrors narrow to a work environment, or peter out once the job comes to an end.
In come informal internet platforms, where simple ‘like’ and ‘love’ buttons are often pressed almost by chance. It’s easy to assume that friends who ignore our posts don’t care about us, though they may have missed it. In any case, we know there’s a limit to responsiveness. Even at private parties we only engage with a few people in any significant way.
Multiverses – Mindfunda
Is it a buried memory of the evasive calm center of life’s storm that animates our journey? Will we come to the sobering conclusion that all we are not is a facets of us, of the one being? This psychic tapestry of the dominant attitudes and repeating thoughts we have of ourselves and others work their invisible threads. Whether we’re aware of this process or not, these thoughts weave the state of our collective psyche.
And off we are into the multiverse – what is real?
In the village where I grew up (near Munich) there was a small group that discussed the ideas of Carl Gustav Jung. His ideas settled in me and have influenced my thinking ever since. I hope one day it is understood that the psyche is not confined to space and time and this insight will be acknowledged and utilised. I always rejoice when Jung gets a mention, like at Maria Popova’s wonderful website: Brainpickings … which in this link features a memorable interview with Jung. She never lets us forget about the people who inspire and keep in balance this world we live in.
Another sustaining influence for me was Ibn’ Arabi, the Sufi mystic, first encountered through Henry Corbin’s translation of the ‘Creative Imagination.’ Get a taste of the quest for what is ‘behind the many’ in this wonderful poem ‘Alone with the Alone.’
Here my latest Haiku:
an angel wings by
leaving a fluffy feather
that will dip no scale
And I can’t resist mentioning my novel, ‘Course of Mirrors.’ – Some comments about it are on my book page. The book yearns for readers. Check it out on my bookpage.
Whatever dream is dreaming through me brings stimulation, challenge, insight, learning, or, during dark times, unlearning. The latter, with its accompanying disillusionment, has tested me for a while now. I’m not alone. The whole planet seems to be going through a dark moon phase.
I like to think beyond every effort, every hill and every sea are new horizons, outer or inner, where adventure beckons, treasures might be found.
But I tend to forget that the most relevant information is gifted by the body, and the planet. It is unsettling to accept the physical signs and their metaphors, because nature’s truth is scary. It holds a mirror of knowledge surrendered over time, with glimmers that engaged the human imagination and has given us the tools of science. As living organism and self-correcting system, nature deserves deep gratitude and respect.
The mind (psyche,) a finer and faster kind of matter, with the ability to emulate nature, plants and re-plant itself in any field of interest … outraces wisdom, seeks drama, familiar patterns, fertilises, grows, invents, designs, builds ideal dwellings, ideal systems, ideal worlds … be they citadels of power suppressing the underdog, utopias of love and liberty, or creative realms, where artists embrace and make the ordinary luminous and sacred. The mind loves myth-making, explores symbols, plays with forms and random connections, re-interprets reality and generate new meaning.
Continuously rejuvenated, mind pursues all imaginable universes across time, seeking eternity, since, even if unawares, it envisions the wholeness of its original home, where it will never be lost, but forever be enfolded by unlimited potential.
Yet when it comes to the daily business on this planet, the mind fares best when listening to the body, the living matter, the feminine principle (irrespective of gender,) and appreciates its cosmic interconnections, since all secrets arise from nature’s dark chambers. A severance from these intricate physical and mythical roots of our being can result in a devastating sense of futility, where the question, ‘What’s the point?’ brings up no action worth considering, no ideal worth following. Somber and futile looms a future that wants to fix waves into particles.
The thought brought on a Haiku last week …
if I were this calm
river without internal
discord – I would miss
how the waves urge particles
in random beauty
While unsettling at times, I must attend and listen to my body – learn and unlearn, flow with change, light and darkness, of dust, the chorus of wind and birds.
From an exhibition in Amsterdam, Dec 2014
And, hopefully, I’ll catch ever now and then a spark of ‘Duende,’ the poetic escape. Goethe called it the spirit of the earth – a mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosophy has explained.
Follow the ‘Duende’ link above for Lorca’s talk.
Below, a related post from 2017 – Both links open new pages without losing the page of this post.
Imagine a circle of people, 20 to 40, adding their voices to the drone and tune of a reed organ, repeatedly singing a phrase for an hour, or longer, with short intervals when the organ’s tune breaks into musical improvisations, only to return to the melody and phrase. In the end the sound slows and fades, leaving the echo of your voice as an indispensable part of all voices.
Then imagine a deep silence.
One of many musical tunings my spiritual Sufi friend created went with these words:
There is a place of beauty –
There is a place of peace –
There is a place of harmony –
Before you grunt at the sheer illusion of such place, consider the evocation of beauty, peace and harmony as an ideal, a means – not a goal – a means towards the hub of the mill, where the grain is ground to flour in a process of transformation.
Musical tunings are regular events among Sufi friends. Their rhythmic repeating, with or without words, produces a trance-like state in participants – not aiming at escape, but at a homecoming. Fazal Inayat-Khan’s teachings broke rules, exceeded conventions. While honouring the value of traditional methods, he introduced contemporary phrases, like the one above, and responded to his audience with spirited musical improvisations.
The purpose of such events is remembrance of the Self, or the One. In traditional Zikr it would be Allah, God, though in strict Islamic circles music is not allowed.
I occasionally play and sing the above tune on my reed organ, especially when distressing incidents happen around the world and I have a need to tune mind and body. The place of beauty, peace and harmony only exists in the imagination, as a timeless inner realm, a state where duality co-exists, a state of unknowing, where the spirit of eternal potential lingers.
For me these group events were profoundly renewing. The body, my temporary home, became a tuning fork brought into resonance with the ground and the marrow of my bones. Suffused with consciousness, any mind-chatter merged with the yearning sounds, and my atoms realigned in new constellations.
A darker cover for my novel I wish I had used.
Intention does not bring us to this uncharted and unmeasured inner place. And even glimpsing a truth flashing from there may shock the angels in us. Catching such truth can happen equally through other means … nature, art, dance, literature, drugs, breath work, praying, guided imagery, computer programming, psalm singing, sport, silence, fasting, dreams, etc., but resonance is needed, and a deep desire for truth must lurk in the heart.
While practices towards this ungraspable inner realm may have repetitive elements, the place is never repeated but ever fresh. It is where the breath of life pulses, just not at our timescale.
Returning from the inner realm to the contemporary flow of time, we get on with life. Yet such deep memories remains and will respond to a sincere recall, where we detect once more how matter is revealed in its essence and shine. For the psyche this is gold. This inner place shows that while we embody birth and death, light and darkness, good and bad, past and future, in true essence we are pure consciousness.
To remain grounded and prevent the fate of Icarus, I tolerate the company of my little devils.
My angels like it so, agreeing that while the obscure company I keep makes living complex, painful, a challenge, it also makes existence more interesting for that, and aids the psyche’s expansion of consciousness.
I hesitated posting this, since a deep sadness resurfaced and took hold of me while pondering Soul and Spirit. What’s the point, why exist, to what end? I asked this as a child, having been shown horrendous images in the wake of the Second World War, meant as shock treatment in my German primary school during the 1950’s. A poem I wrote about this experience I still don’t feel confident to share. I turned iconoclast, explored philosophies, religions, myths, literature, searched for exceptional minds, and resisted prescribed beliefs in favour of direct experience.
In my twenties I turned to images and their symbolic power, until a numinous event in Israel reunited me with language, literature, poetry, and science. I studied too many subjects to bore you with, at my own expense, none for economic advantage. I did meet exceptional people, including mystics, yet my question, like a spell, kept birthing more questions.
Disheartened, yet fascinated by our manic mechanistic Zeitgeist, I adopted a transpersonal view, letting things unfold until decisions fell into place. With each intuitive choice, energy for action met me half way and helped me succeed with many projects. This included workshops on dreams and myth, and the wonderful Parent Link programme I helped get on the road, all about reflective listening and the language we use. Unfortunately this parent and school-supported project received no support from the Government. Still, at times I felt I was making beneficial contributions to society. Of late, no new question has arrived to kick off a renaissance in my poetic imagination, or shed light on the collective mood of futility, which seems to confirm the scientific view that reality is determined by numbers.
Battered, but not beaten, I honour my core resolves: that everything physical is en-souled and resonates with everything else in the universe. And that consciousness, with the potential for symbolic awareness in humans, creates innumerable realities we co-create in ever new forms.
Arthur Rackman – Twilight
Soul and Spirit have become terms relegated to poetry. Some traditions hold them to be interchangeable and interdependent, akin to the Eastern concept of Yin and Yang. In this sense the feminine and masculine principles (mentioned below) reside in women and men alike, that is, their receptive and active and qualities work in each of us. Certain myths simplified and distorted this truth, which now asserts itself with fresh understandings regarding the psychological identification with gender.
“When I say the feminine, I don’t mean gender. I mean the feminine principle that is living—or suppressed—in both men and women.” Marion Woodman
Observing the political debates around the globe, I notice a similar narrow power dictum in entrenched wars for control, which conjure up the quarrel of parents that drive children to hide in the broom cupboard.
I understand SOUL (Psyche) as pure consciousness, self-sufficient. Yet once identified with impressions of the physical world – soul becomes the vessel. We talk of soul shining through eyes, through nature, or as immanent presence pervading matter. Consider body, mother, growth, loss, suffering, receptivity, attachment, memory, meaning, imagination, mystery, intuition, aesthetics, melancholy, yearning, endurance, constrictions, chaos, bliss … One may associate Soul with Eros, energy, the cosmos, planets, moon, beauty, stars, history, identity, myths, time, space, past, darkness, the unconscious, unpredictability, and the female principle (Anima) inviting spirit for input and direction.
SPIRIT, to me, is like a wind of light carrying seeds of information to recipient vessels, conscious or unconscious, singular or universal. Humans interpret this information, wisely or not. We talk of actions as spirited, fiery, determined, energetic, contradictory, passionate, always moving and changing. We talk of people driven by principles, for good or bad, or, frankly, being possessed. Spirit aligns with order and ideals, again, for good or bad. Add the relentless drive for perfection which aims, in some traditions, for transcendence, seeking the divine not in the messy psyche, but only in abstract spheres beyond matter. We associate Spirit with logos, will, action, speed, the sun, innovation, reason, light, the male principle (Animus,) and future visions … welcomed by the soul.
Mothers – Käthe Kollwitz
Torn between spiritual heights and visions, and the dark depth of the collective psyche, my initial therapy training with Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis impressed me with an undeniable necessity: The higher we rise the deeper we’re called to descend into the murky shadow of ourselves and our collective inheritance. Gripped then, once again, by the deep sadness I felt as a child in the face of human suffering, I cried for days. The work began, with my own unconscious, with individuals and groups. But nearly 35 years on, I feel yet again despair that the knowledge gained about the psyche is not wider applied. The abuse of people, especially women and children, and the planet itself, continues in the name of the power principle and progress, as does the resistance to acknowledge and heal personal and collective grief. It’s so much more convenient to blame an enemy.
I had the privilege to meet a remarkable Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, and the community of his students during the mid 1970’s. As the grandson of the saintly Hazrat Inayat Khan, Fazal developed his grandfather’s message in passionate, spontaneous and radical modern ways. One of his sayings: ‘Answers are dead, questions are alive,’ gave perspective to my existential query. For him, fragile egos behind the mask of their persona needed strengthening before the Self could become conscious. He orchestrated intense workshops during which the shadow aspects of our personalities were exposed. Each event was followed by a tender and humorous process of debriefing. He taught me to forgive myself, to be kind to myself. He died much too young in 1990. The copyright to hundreds of Fazal’s pioneering talks is held by the present Sufi Way, so his deep mystical insights must wait for another day. While I was co-editing ‘Heart of a Sufi,’ reminiscences gathered from his students, we were limited to a few quotes and one inspired poem, Qalandar, which I hope to share some time.
Explanations aim to reassure, but knowing the limits of reason, I search for metaphors, symbols, poetry in words and images to make my fleeting insights graspable, as lonely as they stand, and as totally irrelevant as they may be to others. Still, it’s a lovely surprise when readers explore the archives here, or read my quest novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ which defies genres.
Turbulent times call for intuitive introspection, though sifting through the avalanche of information available is probably the great task we must master in this present decade. When lame slogans and bitter opinions are shouted with animosity across the media, our conscience is severely tested.
What we call good and bad coexists in the psyche. If you’ve read Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea Saga, you may recall the poignant moment when the protagonist realises that he and his shadow opponent share a secret name. For that instant their identities merge as one.
Among great thinkers of recent decades who influenced my thoughts, I often return to Stanislav Grof, Gregory Bateson, C. G. Jung, and the people who honoured and expanded Jung’s brilliant insights, among them Esther Harding, Marie-Louise v. Franz, Marion Woodman, James Hillman, Anthony Stevens and many others who further explored the Psyche in relation to the inner work of individuation, that is – learning to hold the tension of opposites towards realising the balance of a universal underlying wholeness. Archetypal forces inspire, overpower, or dull us to sleepwalk into tragedies. We, with our humble egos can take on our small responsibility; each individual serves as a bridge, and an interface.
‘Matrignosis’ is a rich site by Jean Raffa, who explores Jung’s ideas with helpful guidance.
To conclude, a rare excerpt of thoughts on metaphysics from Hazrat Inayat Khan, shared with his students between 1915- 1920:
Maya Deren – Meshes of the Afternoon
The Experience of the Soul through the Spirit …
The soul has two different sides and two different experiences. One side is the experience with the mind and the body, the other side is the experience of the spirit. The former is called the outer experience, the latter the inner experience. The nature of the soul is like glass, transparent, and when one side of the glass is covered it becomes a mirror. So the soul becomes a mirror in which the outer experiences are reflected when the other side is covered. That is why, however greatly blessed a person may be with the outer knowledge, he is not necessarily gifted with the inner knowledge. Therefore, in order to attain to the inner knowledge the Sufi covers the other side of the soul, that its mirror part may face the spirit instead of the outer world. As soon as is able to accomplish this he receives inspirations and revelations.
There are people who are by nature intuitive, or who are called psychic or clairvoyant by nature. It is accounted for by the other side of their soul naturally facing the spirit within. One may call them extraordinary, or exceptional, but not mystical, for the mystic does not desire that position. He, by concentration and meditation, gains such mastery that he can cover the soul from without to take the reflection within, and that he can cover the soul from within when he requires the reflection from the outer world to its full extent. Balance is desirable, and mastery is the goal to be attained.
We mostly think through conventional forms and givens, for practical reasons, while another way of thinking embraces invisible and unknown dynamics via intuition – like the seeming particle/wave paradox in quantum mechanics, where a local particle also exists as a non-local wave. The two perceptions can potentially mingle creatively, but, notably in times of social uncertainty, they clash, and fewer people maintain the ability to tolerate negative capability.
The way autocratic opinions over divisive issues are sensationalised by some tabloids, sends my thoughts flitting through the mutable and nuanced zones of shadow lands. I write the glut of absurdities off my chest, only to delete the drafts, not having the talent or guts for the iconoclastic fun Marina Hyde pours into her articles for the Guardian.
The tit for tat race of opposing interest groups that blame, attack and counter attack each other eludes any balanced comprehension of events. Opportunists, generously funded, like to whip up the chaos for their own benefit. Fertile ground for tyrants. This will go on until the churning oceans calm and offer deeper reflections.
My early education was unremarkable, but I fondly recall a few teachers who made space for ambivalence, encouraging us to question everything and value respectful, if inconclusive, debates. Glib opinions and self-righteousness were mocked and laughed at.
In the early seventies, doing a short apprenticeship with a small Dutch advertising firm in London, we had weekly meetings, where ideas, no matter how crazy, were explored. Every person working in the building was asked to the table, including caterers and cleaners. This inspirational seedbed sparked successful projects and maintained a motivated team.
Decades later, during a part time stretch at Social Services, policy makers introduced a new computer programme for tick-box client assessments, a software developed without involving the people who were meant to use it – us. Sparing you the specifics of this nonsensical scheme, the nightmare in its wake resulted in multiple nervous breakdowns by employees. Since I had a private psychotherapy practice I escaped the hell and resigned.
A relentless trend towards greater efficiency continued despite loud social backlash. Over and over I listened to the stories of my stressed clients suffering from the overbearing changes in public institutions and private companies. The forced procedures insulted the intelligence of workers, who felt the stupidity and pain of it all in their guts, as did I. The harmful effect on mental health, family life, education, small traders and community venues … is ongoing.
Recently I re-read a 1970s lecture by my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat Khan – Old Thinking, New Thinking – also used as title of a small collection of his controversial talks, published in 1979 by Harper & Row. Some of Fazal’s students insisted on this publication. He reluctantly agreed. I’ll share here a few notions that struck me form the lecture, Old Thinking, New Thinking:
The end of real is false, while the greatest false is real.
The real is about form, the false (non-evidenced) is about essence. Fazal addressed two qualitative different ways of thinking, both beneficial if used in the right time and context. Those supporting form and tradition set out to protect stability, whereas those who seek essence knock over the stable towards the freedom of the unknown. Imaginative people, including scientists and artists, tend to overshoot crumbling realities.
The sad logic of power driven politicians is to manipulate social anxieties by promising simple fixes to allay feelings of uncertainty. In such times people tends to grope towards old thinking, to what can be predicted and depended upon, thus moving away from the immeasurable independence of anything beyond facts.
Old thinking relies on valid knowledge; however, to apply this knowledge intelligently requires new thinking, so essence can find expression once more.
Old thinking will bring achievement, notwithstanding that without new thinking it will have achieved nothing. Traditions wedded to established forms exemplify old thinking. Yet for a tradition to remain sincere and dynamic new thinking is required.
In other words, only what changes stays functional. Much as we dislike it, life could not continue if it were not for the transient growth and death phases of nature. The same applies to cycles that call for the expansion of consciousness.
How is one to value both form and essence in complex times and stay sane? No way around it, we must suffer the anguish of holding the tension between static knowledge and intuition in our hearts. Not easy. Perhaps because I experienced the 1960s new thinking surge, any leaps of goodwill from young people still brings tears to my eyes. I’m interested in everything. I’m interested in bridging divides. I even occasionally delight being in the spirit zone, with the effortless flow of things. (A Zen concept)
Deep, maybe very deep down, every one of us knows the bliss of being in the zone.
… Old thinking is a sorting process – new thinking is a melting process …
… Old thinking is a claim – new thinking is an aim … Fazal Inayat Khan
News reminds me that today is the fifties anniversary of America’s moon landing.
I was in Prague. My then companion, for his birthday celebration, had organised a small group of friends to spend a weekend in this beautiful city, coinciding with the moon landing. We could afford a 5 star hotel, due to a bargain currency exchange rate in the wake of the short-lived Prague Spring … the invasion of Czechoslovakia by members of the Warsaw Pact, and then the country’s occupation. We found an eerie hush hush atmosphere, but once rapport was created, people were keen to treat us cash-spending visitors like royalty. Hotel staff attended to our every need, insisting on polishing our shoes overnight. Restaurants, beyond serving exquisite goulash, entertained us with stories and life music. Our luxury was tinged with sadness. These people had had a rough time. It would take many more years before the collapse of Communism.
Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon. Photograph: NASA
We watched the moon landing on a black & white TV in the lobby of our hotel, outnumbered by American tourists. The atmosphere was electric. All our eyes were glued to the small screen, witnessing the eagle’s landing, feet stepping down the ladder into the moon dust. And them Armstrong documenting Buzz Aldrin imprinting the dust with his heavy shoes. Given the lack of air-movement on the moon, these imprints may still be there, unless the later take-off erased them.
We took in the iconic exclamations … one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind…
Americans around us burst into high decibels and fell into each other’s arms for joy. So yes, it was a memorable moment, and, without doubt, a magnificent achievement for the visionaries, like J.F. Kennedy, who sadly missed the event, and the many thousands of technicians and supporting staff involved in the project.
Earthrise, Dec 1968
However, for me it amplified a more significant image from the year before, a photograph called ‘earthrise.’ I sincerely hoped that beholding the wonder of this beautiful planet floating in dark space would widen political perspectives and bring people’s consciousness around the world to the realisation that we are in this adventure of life together.
That weekend in Prague, I visited the old Jewish cemetery. Stirred by a brilliant slanting light, I took a series of b&w photos, only to destroy them later, incl. negatives. (The scene became incorporated in my novel ‘Course of Mirrors.’) I regret the loss. The photos were stunning.
Wars, atrocities and poverty continued, nothing changed. Technological progress only worsened injustices. Protesters during the moon landing proclaimed “Billions for space. Pennies for the hungry.”
I came to the conclusion that the exploration of deep space requires the balance of another exploration … a deep exploration of the human mind. A befriending of the unconscious, the objective psyche, which we can’t control. The latter study inspired my subsequent vocation.
I grew up with this lullaby, my favourite …
Der Mond ist aufgegangen
Die goldnen Sternlein prangen
Am Himmel hell und klar:
Der Wald steht schwarz und schweiget,
Und aus den Wiesen steiget
Der weiße Nebel wunderbar.