Tag Archives: psychology

… families appear throughout life …

To fill in the distorted or simply incomplete gestalt gathered from early caregivers, we find ourselves during our lifetime in families of various constellations … in groupings of friends, educational settings, teams working towards a project, callings, interest groups, animal care, subcultures, political, vocational and spiritual clusters. In these groups we slot into roles we project, or are projected onto us with qualities others are drawn to engage with, for whatever reason, often to explore a hidden part inside, mother, father, sister, brother, child, lover, hidden in the light or hidden in the dark. Much of this search now happens virtually, through screens, though it can’t replace the actual physical resonance a gestalt needs.

Family can also mean a collection of symbolically meaningful objects, toys, letters, books, art, tools, stones. I collect stones and endow them with memories. My ex-husband extended his loving father role to string instruments. (I wrote about his loss in my previous post.)

In the 1969 movie Alice’s Restaurant … with Arlo Guthrie, Pat Quinn & James Broderick, you can do anything you want. Alice tries to satisfy the motherly expectations of an eccentric hippie group, a powerful dream, which ends when she marries. The last image in the film shows her standing alone in front of the old church her husband plans on selling, to create a more ideal community in the countryside, though Alice’s hippie children have grown and left.  In the poignant last image of the film Alice stands alone, waking from a dream, debts paid and debts made. Psychotherapy can accelerate this archetypal demand for clarity and cohesion of one’s myth, but soul-making must continue for consciousness to expand.

At stages in our life we fit, or are fitted, into a network of psychological potential. These are intense phases. Yet irrespective of time gone since people parted ways,  families dispersed, places were lost … when a former close friend dies, insight descends, rises, arrives from the past, from the future and from spheres unknown. Memories will shift their meaning. Slowly our sense of self is re-aligned. We capture a condensation of what was symbolically exchanged, essence is revealed.

In this gentle way we unravel the knots of entangled bonds. I’m wary of this advice … let it go!  Grieving for a loss needs to ripen. While unripe apples fall from trees all the time, it is a sad waste to rip them from branches, we deprive our selves of what a ripe apple is for, to be eaten and digested for nourishment.

My lover, mourner and philosopher could have pulled this theme in ten different directions. I kept it short and leave associations to you.

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… Trump – a prologue asking for the proper story …

       The seed -painting by Silvia Pastore

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:

What is denied, and by whom?

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… turning a stone – compelled to look deeper …

The year before the millennium, a then dear old friend of mine, Sitara Brutnell (I wrote about her in another post) found a stone on West Wittering beach during one of the little outings we did together. We both loved stones. I sometimes invest my finds with magic power. Those who have read my novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ will know a black shiny stone becomes a vital talisman to my protagonist.

As we wandered close to the purling waves brought in by the tide, mesmerised by the sound of pebbles tumbling over each other, we were open for treasures to signal us. I had already discovered a few smooth stones, white, marbled, pink and black, for my collection.

selfie that day, with Nikon suspended exposure

The one stone Sitara picked was uneven, jagged, with the odd spot of glassy flint shining through. Folding her palm around the slimmer end, it could have served as a tool to spark a flame with. She stood a long while contemplating the contours and varied colourings of the stone, turning it over and over.

I became intrigued with Sitara’s jagged stone, which seemed to me a metaphor of her concern for others, their troubles, their sharp edges. An exceptional friend in my life, her special grace was the capacity to forgive, always seeing a person’s character from many sides. The urge for genuine forgiveness shaped her personality, was her path.

Feeling prompted to explore her stone; I was given it on loan, to attempt a few drawings. The recent comment by a Swiss friend, regarding stones, made me dig up my sketches of Sitara’s stone, which explored its charming irregularities.

An ancient story came to mind, probably of Asian origin:

The two Pots

A water bearer in China had two large pots on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered the full portion of water.

At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. This went on daily, with the bearer only bringing home one-and-a-half pots of water.

The perfect pot was proud of his accomplishment. But the cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection, and miserable about accomplishing only half of what it had been made for.

Two years it endured its bitter failure, until one day it spoke to the water bearer by the stream. ‘I’m ashamed of myself, because the crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.

The bearer said to the pot, ‘Did you notice that flowers grow only on your side of the path? That’s because I’ve always known your flaw and I planted seeds there, and every day while we walked back you watered them. So I’ve been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.

So, all dear crackpots, myself included, we have functions we know nothing about.

Enjoy the full moon. And if your sky is clouded, enjoy at least the special energy.

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… the value of inner conflict …

Democracy starts inside us. One way to explore our inner crowd is through allowing the different aspects of our personality to have a voice, including ones we dislike or suppress, like parts burdened with shame, self-loathing and self-hate. Together with their inner persecutors and defenders, they tend to pop up involuntarily with strong emotional force during stress, or an experience that all too often had its first traumatic installment way back in childhood.

During a 1980s training with the Psychosynthesis Institute in London, we gave names to what we called our sub-personalities. The concept encapsulated what I had sensed for a long while, that I host various distinct entities inside me that can spring to live with their unique voices, interests, sensitivities and defenses in response to circumstances.

Take a dwelling that houses a family of all ages. From day to day there are debates, intimidation, fights, making up, tenderness, fun, humour, but always reoccurring conflicts, like an angered sibling can easily spark a massive row. Then ask who is in charge? A family with conflicting needs lives inside each of us.

As baby, toddler, teen, young adult and so on, we succeed or fail in overcoming obstructions. We learn, or unlearn. Ideally we mature and the understanding of ourselves deepens. Some memories we cherish, others we bury. Yet each time a traumatic condensed experience re-occurs, dormant anxieties may explode and cause us to overreact to situations out of all proportions.

The needy child seeking attention is easily recognised. Where early hope for safety and acknowledgement was frustrated, the inner child in the adult draws on an arsenal of acquired strategies, be it nagging, crying, pleading, pleasing, withdrawal, or, equally, rage. Stonewalling and sarcasm can serve as defense. The little person in us may have been confused by contradictory demands, manipulated by a toxic parent or severely damaged through abuse, yet still struggles for acceptance and love.

Another well-worn sub-personality opts for control, a no nonsense character, who detests, let’s say, hesitation and vulnerability. So when a firm response to a present situation is required, this despot may simply order the child to pipe down and shut up. End of story. You get the drift.

Internal conflicts can be harsh. Without awareness of the warring cast in us, we tend to blame others for our upsets. Alternatively we punish ourselves. Identifying and befriending judgmental players is vital before we can reach the vulnerable and fearful part that has become numb and possibly unconscious, or discover the creative dreamer that was ridiculed. Or, indeed, lift a dis-empowered warrior, who must learn to say ‘No!’

Without a mentor, this awareness journey is a daunting task.

Unable to afford Jungian analysis, my spiritual search become an escape from what I saw as our revengeful, destructive and corrupt world.

Meeting a remarkable, brilliantly creative Sufi teacher, who embraced psychology as a basis for the spiritual quest, was my turning point in the mid 1970s.  Grounding and digging started with a workshop called ‘Earthing.’

I had had a wild life up to then, a path I don’t regret. My empathy and patient listening lacked skill, but attracted interesting and eccentric people into my life. However, I needed to accept my limits, and better understand myself, others, and the absurd world we are born into, with the inherited traumas from our parents’ and generation before them.

World objects from my sand tray

A welcome to my inner journey was imaginative play, giving voice to the different parts of myself through monologues, imagery, objects, drama, art, sculpting, painting and writing, etc., all effective in daring to acknowledge conflicting needs. Due to choices enforced by my early environment, I host a philosopher and poet at odds with each other, as well as a cynic and a romantic. Their conflicts are as creative as they are intimidating.

In the digital realm people have come to make up aliases based on their ambivalent shadow aspects, like appearing in different disguises on Twitter, sometimes for the sole fun of contradicting each other. As a writer one might contemplate publishing trash genre that sells well, under pseudonyms, though it seems crass, like a soloist hijacking the performance of a symphony.

Stepping aside from internal conflict, invites my unbiased mediator. My quick route to self-remembrance is saying ‘hello’ to my body, whose every cell holds a record of old wounds. The body (the earth by implication) has endured horrendous exploitation, and to call it into awareness, with all its scars, is a huge challenge for some people.

‘You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves … ‘
from Wild Geese by Marie Oliver  

In the present global turmoil, my inner child craves empathy and compassion to endure the pain of the world, including pain I feel observing how some public figures ignorantly out-ward their inner stress through creating enemies – divide and conquer – a steely defense, and a betrayal of the heart. Then again, truth to  the face rarely convinces, it lacks depth, and blunts out the whispers from the dark.

Many brilliant books facilitate psychological understanding, but when it comes to moving through a dark tunnel (also called the Night Sea Journey) it is best to seek a skilled companion as guide. In my therapy practice I came upon heart-breaking stories of abuse, especially sexual abuse. The last few decades have shown the full horror of such deeply intrusive and traumatising incidents, and how widespread they are, across all social settings.

‘You’re not alone’ … is the message by Tim Ferris, in a recent very moving and powerful podcast he conducted with Debbie Millman.

PRESS HERE for his Healing Journey after Childhood Abuse (including an extensive resource list)

He ends with a beautiful re-framing of suffering … The obstacles are the path.

This attitude brings meaning to our mysterious existence, to our individual and collective journeys. Obstacles force us to question rules, habits and behaviour. Suffering through adversity, hardship, ignorance, injustice and violence teaches us empathy for each other, and expands consciousness towards our interdependence and essential wholeness.

I could add a list of books here, but if the above concepts speak to you, click on the Tim Ferris link, even if you choose not to listen to his podcast, scroll down his page and find a list of books and resources.

To end this post, despite all grounding over the years, I’m still at heart a space cadet, exploring time travelling in ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors.’

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… embracing the messy soul …

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.

Related: Cartography of the Psyche, with a link to Stanislav Grof’s talk on the psychology of the future.

And my cheeky post about the ego – give the poor ego a break.

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.

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… my memory of the moon landing …

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 spacePennies 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.

Click here for the whole text with notation, and translation …

What do you do there, moon, in the sky? Tell me what you do, silent moon … Giacomo Leopardi

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Mystical experiences & J. B Priestley’s Dream

Numerous children, if not all, bring along an openness that allows them a peek through the chinks in the veils that cover ordinary reality. Sudden insights, call them special, spiritual, paranormal, transpersonal, mystical, timeless, ecstasy of oneness … dreams … experiences that make no sense to a rational adult and may evoke fear of the unconscious. Sooner or later children may learn that a vivid imagination, as it is often called, brings no rewards and is of no solid use in a world geared to material respectability and control.

To have one’s experience belittled is humiliating. A child may react with rebellion, remain silent, or learn to deal with contradiction. At worst, the door will be shut against random revelations and curiosity about anything unfamiliar. This is a great pity, since a whole range of dimensions remain untranslated. Fortunately there are those who refuse to have their imagination squashed, who find a medium to hold and share encounters that do not fit prevailing assumptions, concepts of reality or theories of time.

They are truth-seekers – artists, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, physicists, biologists, astronomers, mathematicians, inventors, mystics … people with a passion to re-discover realities beyond appearances from multiple perspectives, including deeply personal ones. In short, anyone adventurous enough to explore the jungle of diverse interests, the way inner and outer truths mysteriously mirror each other and spark mystical consciousness. But since the boundaries between light and darkness are porous, one is always well advised to hold one’s balance, like a skilled martial art practitioner.

Having listened over decades to thousands of client stories, I haven’t yet met anyone who hasn’t shared (often for the first time) a near-forgotten mystical experience. Such experiences are the best kept secret nobody dares to talk about. For fear of ridicule, we let the poets speak for us.

‘To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.– William Blake

Take heart, it is possible to find words, like J B Priestley, to convey the indescribable …

Drawing by Douglas Fenton

I dreamt I was standing at the top of a very high tower, alone, looking down upon the myriads of birds flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds.

But now, in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and the time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek and then, in a flash, bled and shrivelled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, this hurried mating, this flight and surge, all this gigantic meaningless biological effort?

As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance, I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, if not one of us at all, had been born, if the struggle ceased forever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy.

But now the gear was changed again, and time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate, that the birds could not show any movement, but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But, along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; as soon as I saw it I knew that this white flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket-burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real but this quivering and hurrying lambency of beings.

Birds, people or creatures not yet shaped and coloured, all were of no account except so as this flame of life travelled through them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought of as tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never felt before such happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds, and I have not kept that happiness with me, as an inner atmosphere and a sanctuary for the heart, that is because I am a weak and foolish man who allows this mad world to come in destroying every green shoot of wisdom. Nevertheless, I have not been quite the same man since. A dream had come through a multitude of business. –  J.B. Priestley (Sept 1895 – Aug 1984)

In case you’ve not come across William James, read his ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience.’

And look up a recent sweeping epic that breaks all the rules by Philippa Rees, ‘Involution.’

And, of course, my novel 🙂

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… re-framing the seven deadly sins …

                 Pogo. Walt Kelly 1971

The timeless insight of mystics was frequently censured by prevailing orthodoxies and only available to a few scholars. But even though mystical writings have been made available over the last two centuries, readers form a minority. Meister Eckhart’s quote – “The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me,” – implies that we envision inherent archetypal ideals to then realise and embody them within.

In the projected mirror we may see love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness reflected, or, depending on our state of mind, or, we may equally see indifference, rejection and severe judgement. What if our goodness is not rewarded? What if love betrays and we turn anger inwards? What if we battle with resentment, find fault with everything and despise sanctimonious people? The same process applies; we absorb what is mirrored via our inherent imaginative power.

To direct the moral education of citizen, spiritual offences were formulated in Greek monastic circles and coined as The Seven Deadly Sins: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia (not to care), vainglory, and pride. Over time theologians made various changes – the sin of sadness became sloth, and then Pope Gregory reduced the list in descending order to: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. To counteract sins, virtues were advised as humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality and diligence, qualities not easy to live up to from day to day, while The deadly sins instilled fear and guilt … and left deep cultural marks, self-blame being the most destructive.

Self-blame makes for turbulent minds. Only scapegoats will ease the burden. Among all regulars a perfect scapegoat served Christianity well – Eve. The collective psyche contains not only unknown riches, but also stuff we disregard (much like the plastic that accumulates in oceans,) thoughts and deeds behind our facades we won’t acknowledge or take responsibility for, and instead conveniently place on the shoulders of suitable others.

 “Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”  Carl Jung

Balancing Freud’s focus on pathology, Abraham Maslow studied self-actualising people and outlined a hierarchy of basic human needs. His map suggests when an early need is not adequately fulfilled; narcissistic or psychosomatic symptoms may result, blocking growth. Little is up to us. Families rarely support this process, as they can be burdened by complexes and dysfunctional behaviour patterns from one generation to the next.

‘The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born.’  – William. R. Inge

No wonder many of us resort to blaming circumstances, parents, state, strangers, or appease all by adopting self-blame. Then again, some people rise from grim circumstances and become inspiring people. What’s their secret? It’s my guess that a strong desire for gratification, bestowed by a no personal archetypal calling, can empower us to transcend seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The idea of deadly sins put the fear of hell in people. Sinner you were not deemed worthy to enter paradise. But if we consider that human behaviours communicates intrinsic needs that seek fulfillment in the expanding spiral of evolution towards wholeness, the very idea of using sin as a threat is naïve, and more, counterproductive. Here a short look at the deadly sins …

PRIDE – an excessive belief in one’s abilities and ignorance of the grace of God. 

This relates to an evolutionary trend of our time, individuation – becoming who we can be – best attempted with the mediation of a healthy ego. This process happens mainly in the West and is frowned upon by fundamentalists whose ideals are fixed on heaven. Where tradition equates with identity, displeasing the expectations of family and state carries a risk of alienation. The challenge of freeing oneself emotionally, intellectually and spiritually then becomes heroic. It means sticking to one’s inner truth against all objections and raised eyebrows. It means regard for the potential that is emerging in oneself and others. I grok these words by my Sufi friend, from a lecture during the 1980’s …

‘The experience you have within yourself of your own separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by you, your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength. What you reflect immediately influences your environment, people close and far away.’ (Fazal I. Khan)

Those who break free from parental commands when their inner truth is compromised do not seek union in the womb, but aim to experience conscious union through embodying their ideals. Life brings along companions who recognise the authenticity and backbone it takes to walk this path, even if it seems foolish and brings no answers. Yes, pride may sneak in, but equally gratitude, humility, and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all life.

ENVY – desire for the status and abilities we see in others and want for ourselves. The need is to emulate, to find aspirations that resonate within. From early on we are looking for role models to reflect our potential. If such recognition is withheld or distorted, the need can take possession of us, with all the consequences of being rejected, belittled, abused, and feeling ill done by, until we realise our own resources. Ralph Waldo Emerson evokes in his essay on self-reliance a more helpful notion of envy:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is, which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

GLUTTONY – a craving to consume more than is required. In simple terms it is a hunger that knows not what is seeks. And yes, it is bound to become an indulgence – a chasing after stimulation, information, speculation. Until the hunger knows what it seeks it will not be satisfied. The search is intense. In spiritual terms this hunger can develop into devotion.

LUST – a craving for touch, warmth, pleasure of the body and sex. The need underlying lust is a longing for intimacy and ecstasy. It often fails to satisfy, but behind the shadow of excess is the ideal, to be consumed, like the moth by the flame.

ANGER – results from frustration and is all too human. Sadly, when our existence is denied, or we experience and witness injustice, yet lack opportunities to express anger creatively, this powerful energy will make us ill or explode in rage. That said, even conscious resistance is a creative act. We are endowed with natural aggression to even make it here. Each one of us results from the fastest sperm, the one that made it. Oppression and cold rationality feed anger. If repressed, anger takes us over.

GREED is also based on the desire for recognition. If the experience of being seen, heard and appreciated is missing, we must find opportunities to succeed in something.

SLOTH used to be called sadness – brought on by a sense of meaninglessness. Change wants to happen but one is helpless to act. These days depression is a collective phenomenon. On a personal level not acting could be seen as fear of failure, though often it is the necessary dark phase for a kind of alchemy in the psyche that leads to new wings.

What if we have satisfied our basic needs? The horizon is never reached. Beyond every horizon is another. This includes the horizons of our mind, beyond which we hope to find purpose. We go on journeys, outer, inner, to find out why we are here. But the search never ends. We take drugs to kill this yearning, this question of ‘why’, because we can’t face that maybe the only purpose is the search.

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan

And yet, the search liberates. The attachments we have to right and wrong, to good and evil, to our own importance, blocks our search for new meaning, prevents us from living with intensity. Our most precious and vital scripture is nature, life itself.

These thoughts were drafted eleven years ago. I would have liked to come up with a fuller gestalt to make my point, but presently I enjoy a holiday in psychic wilderness.

And today’s Haiku …

Devils besiege us

As do angelic spirits

Both hold their best truth

While we are mediators

In the psychic wilderness

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… ambiguity – living & writing the mystery …

‘The Magician,’ a painting by Silvia Pastore

Ambiguity is my name. I’m burdened or blessed with a self-reliant streak. Major decisions in my life were made intuitively, magically, spontaneously. I tend to escape the tedium of – must – have to – social coercion – small mindedness, and the like, via stretches of doubt, waiting for the sixth sense and moments of clarity to kick in.  You guess right, I dislike rigid structures, uniformity and over regulations that kill creativity. I juggle for authenticity. A glimpse into the psychology of this stance appears in this post from 2012 – the wild horse of the mind,  but possibly rebels are simply born with a disposition to serve social balance and individual autonomy.

Ambiguity moves (as in emotion) – is subtle – complex – questions facts – tolerates uncertainty – leaves doors open – is universal and timeless – playful and iconoclastic – tends to link dust motes to the cosmos and embraces multiple meanings.

I climbed into the plum tree and ate the grapes I found there. The owner of the garden called to me, ‘Why are you eating my walnuts?’    …  Yunus Emre

My son ordering my stone collection …

There is beauty in order and certainty.

 There is beauty in chaos and uncertainty.    

Ivan Aivazkovsky – Between the Waves

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life serves up both, be it in slow motion or in rapid succession. 

From the tension between order and chaos springs creativity.

To strike a balance is becoming difficult. Scientists, today’s explorers, provide useful facts that endlessly improve our lives, bless them, but unlike individuals and small businesses, they can indulge in mistakes, because science funding continuous even when facts prove wrong and change, because it aids the economy. To use a quaint example, one moment coffee is said to kill us, next it is lauded as beneficial. The list of contradictions is endless, and amusing. Statistics, as expedient as they are, skip the varied metabolisms of individuals, the whim and wisdom of the body. Some bad stuff, in moderation, actually maintains the body/mind equilibrium. And there are the cosmic and psychic weather changes we have no control over that affect individual moods and attitudes. In short, the tyranny of algorithms that dictate what is good for us can be counterproductive.

Since having taken the risk of making time for writing, with less duties and roles to consider, I’m tolerant of disorder. My personal erratic filing, analogue or digital, starts out well, but as data builds up, valuable notes, articles and images sit unattended and unconnected, until I vaguely remember an item that might fit a present concern. It takes a day or two day fretting over, but if I open the question as to the whereabouts of particular information in the Noosphere  my brain eventually makes the connection and goes ‘ping.’

I prefer this disorderly memory system. It liberates and enables me to switch off  ‘overwhelmed,’ providing a descent amount of inner peace.

John Keats (in 1817) coined the term negative capability for his preference of intuition and uncertainty above reason and knowledge. His definition chimes, though for me, ‘living the mystery’ sums it up better.

Writing from intuition resulted in my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors, continued with a sequel venturing into SF, and a third book. There was no plan, only an initial image. From there on the characters created their world. My personal myth added spice and deepened the narrative, making it universally relevant.

I write for the pleasure of sharing the diverse experiences of my personal myth. My gut feeling tells me we need more living and writing through mystery.

another relevant post  the magic of remembrance

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… when the waters were changed …

Water

Once upon a time Khidr, the Teacher of Moses, called upon mankind with a warning. At a certain date, he said, all water in the world which had not been specially horded, would disappear. It would then be renewed, with different water, which would drive men mad.

Only one man listened to the meaning of this advice. He collected water and went to a secure place where he stored it, and waited for the water to change its character.

On the appointed date the streams stopped running, the wells went dry, and the man who had listened, seeing this happening, went to his retreat and drank his preserved water.

When he saw, from his security, the waterfalls again beginning to flow, this man descended among the other sons of men. He found that they were thinking and talking in a different way from before; yet they had no memory of what had happened, nor of having been warned. When he tried to talk to them, he realised that they thought that he was mad, and they showed hostility or compassion, not understanding.

At first he drank none of the new water, but went back to his concealment, to draw on his supplies, every day. Finally, however, he took the decision to drink the new water because he could not bear the loneliness of living, behaving and thinking in a different way from everyone else. He drank the new water, and became like the rest. Then he forgot all about his own store of special water, and his fellows began to look upon him as a madman who had miraculously been restored to sanity.

*    *    *

A Sufi story is from ‘Tales of Dervishes’ by Idries Shah. First published in 1967 by Jonathan Cape Ltd.

The above version is from a 1973 edition published by Panther Books Ltd and is attributed to Sayed Sabir Ali-Shah, a saint of the Chisti Order, who died in 1818 …  though like most Sufi stories, it is much older.

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