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.
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.
Once upon a time Khidr, the Teacher of Moses, called upon mankind with a warning. At a certain date, he said, all the water in the world which had not been specially hoarded 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 an entirely 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 realized 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 his fellows began to look upon him as a madman who had miraculously been restored to sanity.
From ‘Tales of the Dervishes’ by Idris Shah
(This version of the story is attributed to Sayed Sabir Ali-Shah, a saint of the Chisti Order, who died in 1818)
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.
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.
The woman used to sit in the deckchair with her sleek black friend on her lap, eyes closed, breathing in unison. She calls it meditation. I was jealous, what else.
I’m old and grumpy, a familiar sight. Small chance she wonders where I hang out when not visiting. Today she spotted me – a fluffy ginger ball dozing on a brick wall sheltered by ivy – not my regular spot. I prefer having my daily nap on a bench at the top. From that royal view downhill I keep half an eye on creature traffic, neighbour cats that shamelessly kill fledglings or lame birds, the stray dog or sly fox that slips through the hedge, reckless rodents … but it’s been drizzling all night and my favourite bench is soaking wet this morning.
I get no food here. However, she daily cleans and refills the ceramic bowl near the house with fresh water, just for me to slurp. In such moments we exchange glances, and she nods. What she doesn’t like is when I get too close to her little stone Buddha. Then she shakes her head or steps from the backdoor to clap her hands. I’ve seen her turn the water hose on cats with bad manners. She should know better, I’m not one of them, I have principles.
I bet she misses her companion, glossy and black as a moonless sky. She was gentle and tolerant of me, which is why I used to protect her from a nasty tom. Some years ago the woman dug a deep hole for her friend, near the compost heap. Not the most romantic spot to have one’s bones rest, but due ceremony was observed, which must count for love.
I wouldn’t impose myself. I wonder what attracts me to this human and her world. I’d love being invited in her house, as companion. Nowadays she often sits near the window, staring at some rectangular device like it’s the most fascinating sight in the world, the opening to a mystery, like a warren.
She keeps her distance, wary of attachments. I get it, of course; she doesn’t want her freedom restricted by caring for another cat. Her neighbours used to look after her pet during her absences. Now their health is fragile and can’t be relied upon. She objects to Kennels, rightly. I was put in one, long ago, confined in a cage, horrible.
I doubt she cares where I camp at night. Doesn’t know I endure the stoned torpor of Mr X, lost in a dark place. It’s not a home, the vibes upset me. But each morning I vocally rouse X from his hangovers to alert him to my dry meal. This must be my purpose – my insistence on my existence is how he tracks time, like noticing a new day. Alas, the filthy water bowl is only rarely topped, which is why I’m thankful that the woman got the message … I’m always thirsty.
The image keeps returning, of her sitting in the garden with her black friend on her lap, eyes closed, breathing in unison. My thirst lives on. It may be complex and beyond measure, or awesomely simple, I don’t know, but company in breath seems the one simple thing of beauty most worth dreaming of.
Last week a friend visited, and I took her to a local Sculpture Park set within ten acres of heath and woodland, a place where meandering pathways lead you into a deep dream-scape of rare plants, springs, streams and ponds, and where artworks face you at every turn.
The evening before, over a meal in my garden, we shared stories – about ageing and loosing people, about war-damaged fathers, about writing workshops in prisons. Our discussions often home in on the suppressed feminine in both men and women. So it’s not surprising that while we wandered through the park our two pairs of eyes were resting longer on artworks expressing aspects of the feminine, and our observations mingled.
I thought I share a few photos of sculptures that caught our attention.
This bronze figure of an earth mother and warrior combined in one impressed. Her solid stance, yet also her surrender to something other. I took a picture and looked again, moved to touch her rough coat. There were her feet, standing firmly on the ground, a tool or weapon hanging from her belt, the little fists, speaking of determination, and there was her smooth, yielding face turned upwards in ecstasy towards a transcending spirit.
The endearing foursome forming a protective square made us linger.
My friend reached out to add her hand to the interlocking hands.
And we loved the little feet …
I felt a natural affinity with this bird woman, again taking a closer frame, to highlight her relationship to the bird.
It’s talons rest gently in her outstretched hand, bringing a greeting, and maybe a message.
The woman keeps a respectful space between her and the bird, a space filled with wonder, in which to savour the special meeting with her core nature.
A most haunting sculpture was this shell of a person. My friend reached into the dark emptiness. I called ‘Hello’ into the hollow and the sound was swallowed up without returning an affirming resonance.
Later, with the help of Photoshop, I turned the image into a negative, and there you have it – the essence of what we are, light, often hidden.
Day in day out we absorb a continuous hyper stream of phenomena. What makes us stop and observe more closely and choose a meaningful frame to digest our experience?
Is it an emotion, a sound, a movement, a desire to touch, an association, a memory, a pattern recognition, an inner seeing, the intuition of an essence, a context that resonates with our lives, an interesting angle, a certain light …?
For creatively inclined minds, these processes fuse and culminate in an urge to compose and share the impression of an experience by placing a frame round an image … a story.
A symbolic understanding arrives and signals once more into the unknown, framed anew.
Why spin tales, why listen to them, enact them on stage, dance them, ritualise them, read them, write them, re-write them? We tell stories to ourselves and each other, to entertain, inspire, amplify events, or in search for meaning.
When it comes to stories, fact-finders tend to miss the point. Too many sequential facts can befuddle a truth that lingers in the higher or deeper layers of consciousness, from where vital symbolic insights shine through a narrative.
A myth is a public dream – a dream is a private myth. – Joseph Campbell
In my psychotherapy practice, clients present their story in unique ways that occasionally include lucid dreams of past lives. I deeply respect the power of the imagination. In neutral mode, I listen. So it happens that a trauma set in thirteenth century Languedoc, when Cathars were branded as heretics and massacred by the Catholic Church, can deeply trouble a person’s psyche with visceral images. I travel along, and as the story is released, I may bridge the emotional resonance of a pattern to the present life of a client. In this process profound cognitions can soften a psychological complex.
Lasting examples of deeper truths are mirrored in Fairy-tales and myths, where basic patterns of our collective unconscious psyche are brought into relief. That is, if we can grasp the metaphors under the primary meaning of words. Fictional settings for heroic or anti-heroic characters are particularly suited to convey powerful emotional themes infused with archetypal elements.
… the spirit of an age is more essentially mirrored in its fairy-tales than in the most painstaking chronicle of a contemporary diarist … Raymond Chandler – Realism and Fairy-land
Some religions persist in the literal truths of their sacred texts. Scientists, too, get stuck in dogma, but I emphasize more with the frustration of the latter, since, with the courage of doubt, scientists have pushed the horizon of knowledge outwards by painstakingly reading the book of nature through the language of data, evidencing processes poets and mystics before them intuited, but physical eyes cannot perceive – like radiations other than light. I’m trying to overcome the conflict of the scientist and poet in me. They interpret the world in different but equally significant ways. There is a need to read nature in both languages, so greater understanding and tolerance can develop.
‘With faith one attains and realises peace and harmony. With doubt one destroys and gains freedom to move ontowards.’ – Fazal Inayat-Khan
Memory, objectively true, or false, affects our lives every day. Stories lodged in the heart endure in a timeless dimension of the imagination. We can however alter their interpretation by exploring our perspective, be it from a pit of fatalism, a sense of insecurity, a belief in magic, faith in divine guidance, or the certitude of natural laws. Even the simple acceptance of life’s continuous dynamic change can shift the meaning of our stories, and, of course, it helps to overcome literal mindedness and make an effort to decipher the metaphors.
‘The mystical warrior is trying to reduce the obstruction in the doorway, and the worshipper is attempting to reach the construction behind the doorway, almost out of sight. There is a gap between the two … the vague band between the known and the unknown. In that band rapture is possible.’ – Fazal Inayat-Khan
Stories are the sap of life nourishing the roots and branches of humanity.We spin stories because during the birth of this universe the symmetry between matter and antimatter was broken, kicked out of balance, which resulted in a slight predominance of matter, the stuff we bump into. It’s a poignant thought that this little quirk caused the dynamic asymmetry that evolved into the universe we live in. Without this asymmetry between matter and antimatter our world would be empty, there would be light only – sans elements, sans plants, sans animals, sans night, sans saints, fools, villains – sans consciousness – no story.