Light for the Dark Path

I’ve been listening to The Art, Practice, and Philosophy of Psychotherapy, a James Hillman DVD from Depth Video.  Around the middle of this three-day seminar held at Pacifica Institute, Hillman asks the participants what constitutes depth, what builds depth in a person.

The audience full of psychotherapists, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and social workers answers paying attention, reflection, suffering, attending to dreams, art, relationship, absorption. Hillman says that one of his favorite ways of building depth is slowness, the surmounting of time, or when one stops being a victim of time.

Hillman asks, “What about intensity?” The audience ponders.

Intensity?

Hillman prompts, “What do you look for when you go to therapy?”

A participant answers, “Passion.”

“Passion is one aspect of intensity,” Hillman counters. “But that’s not it. Sometimes people go to therapy because their intensity needs an affirmation, or maybe a focus or an intensification. If therapy is imagined as a problem-solver, as a fixer (this is its business in the medical model), then we’re missing the intensity; we’re missing something that the soul wants.”

“Who you are is not your degrees, your case history, your accomplishments,” Hillman explains, “it is what you’re longing for. The poet Rumi talks about the ‘holy longing,’-what is it you long for?”

What does the soul want?

Tell me what you long for, and I will tell you who you are.

Don’t let your throat tighten
with fear. Take sips of breath
all day and night. Before death
closes your mouth.

There’s no love in me without your being,
no breath without that. I once thought
I could give up this longing, then thought again,
But I couldn’t continue being human.

~ Rumi

To work with oneself is to be a spelunker of the psyche, going down into the damp, cold, and fearsome darkness and continuing to go on faith and determination. I do not believe that hope is a worthy companion, because hope has expectations of safe, constrained, and defined outcomes. The expectant hope says, “I will go here, and do this, and buy that, and all will be well.”

Saint James remonstrates with such blow fishes, writing

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the  right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:13-17)

To carry expectations is to be sure; as Hillman says, “To be sure is to be unconscious.” Or, as Buddhists ask, “Are you sure?” We can rarely answer, “Yes, I’m sure.”

Saint James addresses more than just the failures of pride and arrogance. He is saying, “You don’t even know if you will be alive tomorrow; so live today. This moment is all you have.” If the Divine within me gives life to my project, to my action or work, then it is alive now, today. Otherwise, it is dead, like a cadaver. The animating spirit is gone.

Jesus speaks in mysteries, too, “Greater things than I have done, you will do because I go to the Father.” What does he mean? Will I raise the dead? Heal the blind? Cause the lame to leap with joy? Will Lazarus come forth from the tomb at my command? Perhaps. I don’t disavow miracles. There’s room for astonishment.

But the everyday miracle is what Jesus actually did, which was to demonstrate that the Divine can inhabit the human body, making it accessible to all people. The person can transcend materiality. It’s that simple. “This is the way, walk in it” is what he said and did, demonstrating what God-Man looks like. He could say, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; before the worlds existed I AM.”

That’s the strength of that isness; it’s timeless.

Timelessness and slowness of experience bring us back to depth. We cannot plumb the psyche with psychology or textbooks, talk therapy or methodologies. No system can help the individual decipher the hieroglyphics and scribblings she finds in her personal catacombs. Hillman said in his seminar that one finds his way through the psyche exactly as one finds his way through a dark wood or through a swamp; he uses the environment and what is at hand, and he goes where he feels he ought to.

In other words, there is no map.

All one can do in service to his own cartography is to deepen his ability to perceive, sticking with the symbols and images that are the language of the unconscious. Looking to textbooks or other people is the wrong place to look.  We need art and music, poetry, literature and film, all that evokes the beauty, terror, dread, doubt and ecstasy of descent. They are light for the dark path.

19 responses

  1. Eve,

    I don’t know what to make of myself so you’re in good company. My story, at least thematically, is in part Parzival, Tristan (predominantly in terms of Robert A. Johnson’s “We”), the myth of Chiron, maybe a little Orestes thrown in for good measure, and Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Ceremony” which is essentially another version of Parzival…with a little Hunter S. Thompson just to keep things interesting. I have come to believe that all journeys, eventually, are to directly experience the DIVINE in whatever form you are predisposed to, that the urge/desire is just built into us. Joseph Campbell says somewhere in A Hero w/a 1000 Faces that with apotheosis, the hero eventually realizes that he is what he is looking for. I’ve read that so many times but finally, really understand it. I would say now, at the risk of being labeled a heretic, that the two are the same thing.

    Chapters 1-6 are explained, if only briefly in chapter 6.5 and were written back in my college days. I’ve known ever since then that they, collectively “Twenty2 the Hard Way” were incomplete but I never knew where to go from there with it. The last two years have seen me pick up the “Hero’s Journey” from where I dropped it when I joined the Navy— it’s debatable whether the Navy was my Jonah moment or just the next logical step— and it has largely been my full-time job. I set out simply to become a better, more effective neurotic; treat the symptoms and all that but it seems that my psyche has had other ends in mind and I have been in a spot where I could really honor them, if only naively at the outset. It has been the most terrifying two years of my life and I’ve seen some interesting places. The Library in Purgatory is simply a larger version of the prologue/intro to 22THW, an artifice of loosely holding together a seemingly unrelated collection or works.

    I understand what you’re saying about “knowing”. Actually found myself writing something along those lines earlier this year but shan’t bore you with it here. It will make its way into a chapter eventually anyway. The paradox of knowing more and knowing less is one that becomes increasingly funnier to me. Someone definitely has a sense of humor, or at least irony.

    Comments on my blog. You’re absolutely correct. I’m thinking about it. The story itself is in part a journey and I’m not sure how I feel about clarifying things as it goes, whether or not that adds or detracts from the experience. I may be making meaningless distinctions though. There is a solution here somewhere and I am certain that it will present itself.

  2. New Librarian Friend, I confess I don’t know what to make of you. I read more on your blog and was dumbfounded. You can really write, man! Yet sometimes you seem downright crazy; flights of fancy, flights of thought, flights into Egypt, flights in B-52 bombers. Yours is one of the most fascinating blogs I’ve found.

    You asked what do you do when you realize you don’t know who you are. You throw a birthday party for yourself, for you’ve entered real adulthood! Ha ha!

    Seriously, I’ve read several times recently, in different authors, that we can hardly know ourselves, much less another person. I think this is closer to the truth than the pop psychology that says we can know ourselves fully. I don’t know how we could, when part of who I am contains the whole universe, including what is (or may be) unknowable. So I’m content to know some or many things about myself, and to have some things still surprise me. Maybe content isn’t the word; but it’s close.

    What you wrote about surfing (and everything attached to that) was interesting even though I’ve never surfed. I ride horses, and riding a horse and becoming one with the horse is much like you describe riding a wave. I imagine that many absorbing physical activities are the same; they’re ways of experiencing oneness and expanding ourselves to, as Campbell wrote, “relax to whatever may come to pass.” Even if what is passing is a wave, or a horse’s leap over a fence.

    Well. I want to comment on your blog. Am I going to have to start a whole new section called “Library of Purgatory” so that I can comment about what you write on your blog? I suppose I will, if I must. But that’s kind of like going to your house for coffee and then having to run all the way back to mine and holler out my window to speak with you. Just so you know: it’s making me sweat.

  3. Eve,

    Yes, unless otherwise attributed, it’s all mine. And thank you, I’ve been basking in your compliment all day.

    No comments? Yeah. I really fell into this, wasn’t planned at all. I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I am writing a book when people ask me what I’m doing and you wouldn’t believe how many that is; apparently people actually writing on paper is a bit of an anachronism. On days when I am inclined to worry about something and can’t find anything better to worry about I wonder how the hell this thing is going to end, after dragging a few readers all this way. On a more personal level, it’s, “when the hell is this going to end because I don’t know how much more of this I can take?”

    What do you do when you wake up one day, or it hits you in the shower, or driving somewhere and you realize inescapably that you don’t know who you are, that in fact you have never known who you are (“I am he who is not, the great no-thing…”)?

    The last year and a half my analogy for everything I couldn’t put into words, my longing was to be able to surf on bad days. To me, so many people are only interested in participating when life is clean, neat, happy; the up half of the wave but never the bottom. I figured that I’d only ever have bad days, besides any jackass can surf on a good day; it’s like hitting the ball from the fairway, too easy. But to be alive, to be present in the midst of the storm, the chop, the blinding, stinging rain, surrounded by fear, doubt and uncertainty and to still feel the thrill, the rush of the energy beneath you, married to you in the manifestation of the wave, to be centered in the uncenteredness and know that you ARE alive; that is living…not a second wasted, no regrets, seeing beyond the seeming polarity of opposites to the unifying life/love behind the good and the bad.

    I have spent the majority of my life trying to paddle out on good days along with everyone else or just sitting on the beach and wishing I was out there surfing, living. Surfing on bad days is where it’s at because when you know you are truly alive on bad days, there’s no such things as bad days anymore, only different days: yesterday was such and such and today was such and thus and we don’t even care about tomorrow as we plan on heading to the bar straightaway as soon as we get up and drinking all day, telling stories, listening to loud music and dancing with all the girls like heathen savages. It sounds masochistic but it’s not, it is a place that is beyond distinctions, at once joyful motion and sublime stillness
    At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
    Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
    But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
    Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
    Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
    There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
    I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
    And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

    T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton, Four Quartets

    The wave/surfer pair is at once the pairs of life and the individual as well as the feminine and the masculine.

    The wave without a rider is energy spent to no end; the limitless potential of the All accomplishing nothing; beauty, space, time, grandeur unrecognized, undifferentiated, and unfathomed.

    The surfer without a wave is useless— vision, form, boundaries unexpressed and stagnating, motionless, lifeless.

    Each is most fully defined and expressed by the other. Alone they are lost and incomplete, meaningless— a sentence without a subject or a verb. Together though, they represent, not only something greater than the parts, but the potential of the limitless All.

    The wave, its energy differentiated and bounded by the surfer— his vision, style, and capabilities— brings the limitless, the ineffable, the unknowable into existence in a manner and style that reduces it to the perceivable and knowable and excites and promotes life; transforms Kali (destructive or devouring) energy into Shakti (life-giving) energy and brings forth all life, all possibilities, accomplishing, touching, nourishing, supporting, carrying all with no effort.

    One can spend lifetimes trying to master the 10,000 things and never get close to achieving it. Yet, if one masters oneself, the internal, they will have mastered all the 10,000 as well. When one has mastered themselves they can go anywhere and do anything (within reason, pa-lease!). I can’t explain it any better than that. Instead of trying to master the things themselves, master the thing that interacts/interfaces with them and then you can relate/interface appropriately to/with anything. The way is simple, the path as hard as it has to be and when you have completed it, sublime success is guaranteed.

    The master surfer, he doesn’t surf the wave, the wave surfs/flows through him. There is no surfer or wave, only the two-as-One joined in perfect harmony, unity. The wave is transparent to the master surfer and the master surfer is transparent to the wave. They both inform each other and point to, become something greater than the sum of their parts. This is true whether the wave is the energy of your job or the feminine power of your beloved. The master is a master because he is visible but he is not there or because he is there but he is not visible…however you like it.

    “His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity.” ( Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 236-7)

    Ah, but the comments. Again, it wasn’t planned for, and I didn’t know that I would have the time/energy to interact on the level I would feel was required. On top of that, I still haven’t reconciled myself to this much openness, and not just from a personal perspective. The story is essentially a sixteen-year roadtrip. It is an auto-trip-ography and what is important is the Path, the journey, with its successes and failures. The Path is the true subject of all this, only you can’t tell the story of a Path without having someone on it and to that ends my story could, and is in some ways, everyman’s (in spite of all my ego’s desires that I be special and the only one).

    But I’ve taken up too much space. Thanks again for your compliment and for your posts, some of which have reminded me at auspicious times of things I had known and forgotten.

    Just surf already dammit!

  4. Sometimes I think I need to set aside a specific time in which to read your posts and then ponder them and then, and only then, formulate my responses. Because what I do now is that I see a new Eve post in my reader, and I bring it up, and then I read all my other reader entries to get them out of the way, so that I can devote myself to your deep, meaningful writing and my own responses.

    What this means is that I’m forever reading your posts at some late hour when my brain is half dead. Not the best method, methinks.

    My first thought when I read about your perception of yourself (or your younger self) as being so intense was, “I’m the opposite: I don’t allow myself to be intense or passionate. I’m too phlegmatic for that. My energy goes into anxiety, Virgoan fussing, and the like. But no great obsessions or passions. It’s all very neat and tidy.”

    Then I thought, what the hell is that about? Where did I get those little pigeonholes? That’s always a trap for me: finding some analytical structure (for a while it was astrology, more recently anthroposophical ideas like temperament) that will allow me to settle into a preconceived self-definition like a comfy, overstuffed chair that’s just a bit too large to easily get out of. Much easier to just wallow in those big pillows of “I just don’t focus well, I’m a bit sanguine,” or “Someday I’ll find something to be intense about, but for now I’ll just enjoy all these little crafts and things to putter with.”

    Then the problem is the suffering. What can I do about any of the pain I feel by perceiving myself as a kapha Virgo ISTJ phlegmatic? Sure, that stuff all might help me see why I do certain things, but why really? Why? Really? None of that seems to help get into that damp, cold cave, that dark wood, that swampy morass and bring some light.

    Then I think about the wise words of people like Saint James or Buddha, who seem to be saying that we don’t really need to be worrying about past or future, but just living in the now. So don’t worry about all those caves and swamps, after all. But then, that darkness is still there, even if I pretend it’s not by ignoring it. (And I’m being a little facile; really doing Buddhist meditation practice would bring up all the swampy bits if I really devoted myself to it. But then again, I don’t really devote myself passionately to anything, so I’ll just placate myself by maintaining a very intellectual understanding of Buddhism without really doing the work. Surface is what it’s all about in me-land, evidently.)

    But then, that’s the point of this post, right? No system, no method, no map. Sigh. You want me to work at it? Where’s that comfy chair….

  5. Librarian, thank you. The Eliot poem is almost perfect; he catches me with the last four lines, though, “You must go through the way in which you are not / And what you do not know is the only thing you know / And what you own is what you do not own / And where you are is where you are not.”

    “Where you are is where you are not.” That one. But it’s all strangely comforting.

    I’ve been reading your blog this morning; it’s amazing. It’s amazing if that’s your writing, that is; it’s hard for me to tell. There’s so much there. You blog exactly as you say you will in your sidebar.

    There’s no place for comments on your blog. Why is that? It puts the reader in purgatory with you. Is that it?

    I’m intrigued.

  6. I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing….
    In order to arrive there,
    To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
    In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
    In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
    In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
    And what you do not know is the only thing you know
    And what you own is what you do not own
    And where you are is where you are not.

    — T.S. Eliot
    East Coker, The Four Quartets

  7. Alida, you paint a pretty domestic picture of part of a regular day in your life. I smiled because I was there with you. “Take your time,” remember that phrase? That’s what your comment reminded me of.

    I don’t think I’d be bored if I could live slow all the time. But this is, I think, because if a person wants, needs, or is called to do creative work, then he or she needs to impose a life of what Joseph Campbell calls “willed introversion,” which “drives the psychic energies into depth and activates the lost continent of unconscious infantile and archetypal images” (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Princeton University Press, 1973. p. 64).

  8. David, yes, I’ve been an INXJ forever. I go from J to F back to J and being right on the line; I also sometimes end up INXX; but I’m always leaning on the introverted and intuitive side (quite unbalanced in the intuitive function, sometimes unfortunately). Thanks for reminding me that this is about my personal brand of wonkiness. I need those reminders!

    If you know anything about astrology at all, and I tell you I have a Capricorn moon, you’ll know that the Capricorn goat is an achiever and climber; she will go up, up, up determinedly, and so I do. With Saturn (the father) as her natural ruler, she can be quite the chilly moon. This, too, accounts for some of that compulsion to move on. I forget to breathe and stay stuck if I must be stuck; I want to leap over the fences.

    What you wrote about the fear of going forward in your most recent comment reminded me of Joseph Campbell’s “Refusal of the Call” chapter in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s a few paragraphs long, but I want to quote him here anyway, because this has been helpful to me more than once.

    Campbell has been writing, in chapter one, of the call of the Hero (Quest mythology); but what happens when the call comes, and the Hero refuses (becoming an Anti-Hero)? He writes:

    “Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless–even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire of renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his Minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.”

    “‘Because I have called, and ye refused… I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.’ (Proverbs 1:24-27). ‘For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.’ (Proverbs 1:32).”

    Time Jesum transeuntem et non revertentem: “Dread the passing of Jesus, for he does not return.”

    The myths and folk tales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest. [. . .] One is harasssed, both day and night, by the divine being that is the image of the living self within the locked labyrinth of one’s own disoriented psyche. The ways to the gates have all been lost: there is no exit. One can only cling, like Satan, furiously, to oneself and be in hell; or else break, and be annihilate at last, in God.”

    (1973, Princeton University Press, pp. 59-60).

  9. Deb, what you wrote has stayed with me for the past day and more. I hadn’t thought about the connection between aging and childhood, and fear of foolishness as a function of age. But it is, of course. It is the old senex-puer conflict–old man versus youth. Balance requires integration of both, attention to the energies of both. If fear of foolishness holds me back, then I endanger myself and the result is the agonizing dryness and stuckness I have regularly felt in my late middle age.

    Thank you for your comment; it was like a key that unlocked something.

  10. The funny thing about consciously slowing down is that time seems to linger. Last week I needed to return something at the mall. I really don’t like malls and avoid them at all cost. Usually this sets me rush mode. Let’s go, let’s get done, let’s get the hell out. However, it was the day after Luke had made the comment about being in a hurry, so I decided not to rush. We had breakfast, we dressed. The kids wanted me to read a story so I sat in their room and read three. (This is how it goes and many times I’ll say no to a story if something else is going on, because I know they’ll want another and then another.) This day it was O.k. By now it was lunch time and we hadn’t left yet. I reminded myself the mall is 15 minutes away. We had lunch, wash up and were on our way. At the mall, we walked around, browsed, I returned the item and then we sat in the food court and enjoyed an ice cream. We walked slowly back to the car and drove home. We had only been gone a couple of hours, probably the same amount of time as if we’d rushed. It seemed however, that I had had a long leisurely afternoon enjoying my kiddies company.

    When I’m not rushing I’m reading or reading to the kids. Time both flies and lasts forever when I’m gardening. Strange, but it does feel that way.
    Sometimes when I’m not rushed and am alone (rarely) I just sit and think about nothing in particular. It’s a beautiful thing.

    If I had too much time and did this all the time, I’d be bored, but because it’s so rare, it’s precious.

  11. The problem is the unknown part. When I get there, then what? I have anticipatory dread

    Yes, that is a very familiar feeling to me. I have it, on a much smaller scale, when writing fiction … I know what happens up to a certain point, and then it’s groping in the dark, jumping with no safety net, taking a breath and opening my mouth and trusting that some part of me knows how to let something else speak through me, because I know I don’t have the words. I know, viscerally, that creating my life is the same process, but it’s a lot more frightening when it’s my whole life and not “just” a story I’m writing, although of course if I stop to think about what stories actually are and where they come from, writing is more like living than living usually is. But at any rate, my point is that even with a clear and present example of what might happen when I come to the place of not knowing what will happen, I remain hesitant to go down that path. Lately it’s occurred to me, in an odd ironic kind of consolation, that if I don’t know what to do, I can stop and be stuck just as I am now. I’ll just be stuck further down the path. I think I have an idea that once I start, I can’t ever stop, and if I don’t know what comes next, I’ll be struck by lightning or something equally destructive. But I would venture to guess that nothing will happen other than my stopping and standing there for a while, as I’m doing now. The scenery will probably be bigger, and the consequences of going on will be greater, or better, or bigger, or maybe just more intense.

    I think I read somewhere else on your blog that you are (or were) also an INTJ type, and I think one peculiarity of that wiring (at least in my experience of it) is a sense that things exist to be done, and once you know what it is you’re doing, you must Do It Entirely, and Know What It Is. This has been a hugely useful characteristic in many parts of my life, and hugely non-useful in the most real part of my life. Lately I’ve been trying to remind myself that it’s probably OK to stop after starting down that unknown road. The place I’m at now, for that matter, was unknown until I got here, and still I got here, and managed to stop here. So I bet I can do that again. There is no limit, I hope, to the number of times I can start, and stop, and be stuck for a while if I need to be.

    I agree that not all authentic lives change the world in a visible sense … but I think that all authentic lives raise the consciousness of the world, and as such, are equally history-altering.

    I also fear failure, because I fear being delusional. I’m afraid I won’t know what I’m really trying to do, and it will look like the right thing, but it will turn out to have been something else, something terribly wrong or even bad. Personally I fear that I will think I’m following my own light, and it will turn out to have been the retreating tail-light of a genocidal tank, or something equally horrifying.

  12. I grapple with fear of failure as well, but I’m learning to see my mistakes as part of who I am, part of what has shaped me and made me who I am. I am learning to love and accept myself and that means loving and accepting my mistakes as well.

    It’s okay to fail, to be mediocre, to be a fool. It’s all part of being human. As I age I find myself less reluctant to make a fool of myself. When I am foolish, I feel like a child again, open, free and alive. I like those feelings.

  13. David, your comment is perhaps one of the most honest and penetrating I have read. What I wrote somehow catalyzed you to go even farther beyond, for you’ve hit the nail on the head in every way here.

    First, of course, I don’t believe that all suffering is a distraction from longing, but I’ve found it so in my life as a possibility lately, especially. And using it that way, even unconsciously, does keep at arm’s length my response-ability to my longing.

    Why do I not want to respond to my longing? Because I know parts of my beginning way, sort of like when you see a trail going off into the woods and can see as far as the first turn; but your imagination can take you quite a ways into the woods before you are lost or arrive at what is unknown.

    The problem is the unknown part. When I get there, then what? I have anticipatory dread of my own–what? My fear of arrogance, my fear of (my own) greatness and divinity. This is why Christ is such a compelling figure: he “endured the cross for the joy set before him.” Or Saint Paul, “this one thing I do.” These people single-mindedly considered only their goal, their task, which was to answer their own particular callings.

    Now I use two great men as examples, but I see everyday examples in normal people. For instance, last week I read a blog post by my new friend Amy, an adopted adult. In this post, she wrote simply and beautifully about what she would show her birth mother, if she were to meet her birth mother and if her birth mother visited Amy where she and her family live, which is on a ranch. She described everything. It was (and is) glorious; who Amy really is shines in those paragraphs and it took my breath away.

    She may be blogging from her kitchen table; I don’t know. But Amy showing Amy was and is nothing short of miraculous. I’d guess that you probably know what I mean; you’re reading along and suddenly someone turns a phrase, writes the truth, shows an image, and you are overcome with awe. This is that other person being him- or herself as only he or she can be; they are doing their job to the utmost in that moment in time; we were able to see it.

    I don’t for a minute think that my going over to the scary light part (or scary dark part, for that matter) has to be world-changing, or of historic significance, save lives, raise the dead, part the seas, invent a whole new way of thinking. There are not that many original thinkers like Freud or Jung, Newton or Einstein. They’re born for their times; but they follow their light.

    I heard recently that Newton and Einstein had this in common: they made room in their psyches for creation. When they had some problem they were mulling over, they mulled it well. They held it in a sort of sacred mental space (I think an inner temenos) until, up out of the unconscious, the answer came. They found that often the answer would be right in their minds as they woke up from sleep. They kept paper handy.

    I think that for me, carrying my suffering and attending to it like a nursing baby (a mother’s image) is necessary, or this baby will never grow. I have tried shoving it away for the past few years but it is still there; why do I treat her like an enemy?

    So. On to hope. The Greek word that Paul used in “real hope does not disappoint” (Romans 8:24), “we are saved by hope” also means “expectation or confidence.” It’s not a namby-pamby sort of hope that brightly chirps “have a nice day!” It has a solid expectation to it.

    I rarely have this, David.

    But what I have instead is more appropriate to the creature, and that is faith. Faith has that element of courage, as you pointed out; you know you can go forward, and must. It makes you press against your own fear.

    This is where I am. And I’ve heard somewhere else over the past few days (I’ve watched depth psychology DVDs for the past four days, so Lord only knows which one it was–James Hillman? Richard Tarnas? Marion Woodman? Robert A. Johnson?) that this horrible fear people have of arrogance or megolomania or insane inflation is both appropriate and deadly to the creative soul. We’re all fools, jesters, and inflated Henry VIII’s. And we’re all Buddhas and Christs on some level. Maybe we won’t know which way we’re going–pauper or prince–until we push through the fear. If we discipline ourselves for development of these skills we need for personhood…

    Your last paragraph is gripping because of its truth. That’s right: we’re estranged anyway.

    Wow.

    I ask, “so then why do you hesitate?” I know that the answer is a fear of my own light, and also a fear of failure. FEAR OF FAILURE. Fear of mediocrity. Fear that after all the time, effort and such that I invest in going down that trail in the forest, I will come out of the Quest and still be a big fool. Even worse, I’ll know it. I will be aware of it, and I’ll be miserable.

  14. I’ll be thinking about this post for days, weeks, possibly forever. But this is what’s on my mind about it right now …

    — The blow to my gut when I read your observation about suffering being a distraction to avoid longing. I know this is true in my own case, and have to ask myself why I think the torments of my own fragmented mind are less hurtful than the pain of wanting. How could that possibly be worse? And yet it seems that it would be, if only because the admission of longing has its built-in corollary: What are you going to do about it? The comfort of suffering is in its immobilization. I think it is the call to action that makes wanting so frightening and painful … the necessity to deal with the top layer of self-imposed suffering creates a safe distance.

    — The bell that went off in my brain when I read your observation that hope is not the right companion for the deepest work of the self. I agree that hope has a subtext of expected outcome, whether benevolent or not … whether I hope the sun comes out, or I hope that my enemy has a bad day, it’s still what I want to have happen. Courage, on the other hand, exists in the face of come what may. I wanted to thank you particularly for this thought, because I have been very worried that my own journey of therapy will be compromised by my persistent inability to even understand the concept of hope. But I do understand courage, and I know I have some of that, so maybe that’s enough to be going on with for now.

    — The bigger bell that went off in my brain at the idea that it is possible to limit the possibility/concept of the self due to fear of arrogance … or possibly the fear that the more one lives one’s capacity for greatness, the more one has to be aware of the shadow side of those shining deeds.

    Maybe that’s the most painful kind of longing … that longing to fully uncover the Divine in the Self. Because what, then, would happen? We don’t know. We know what happened to others who did it … miracles, and martyrdom, and madness … lives engraved in blood and gold and glory and inspiration across human experience. Was it worth it, to permit the concept of persona to be nothing more than a conduit, a vessel … to let the calyx of the “self” burst open for the flowering of something far greater? Because there’s no going back, once you do that. And as much as they live their glory, the people who blossom with the Divine remain estranged from ordinary life.

    And the funny thing is that most of us who see the possibility of this passing out of the constrictions of identity … we’re estranged anyway, and always have been. So it is interesting that we fear and resist this ultimate risk, when we have tasted it all our lives long.

  15. Eve,

    I first learned of this poem in a religion class “Gender and Religion.” I think it was translated by Robert Bly. I think the title “The Holy Longing” belongs with what you are going through now. I don’t really understand your pain, but I do know it is “deep.” I love the word “deep.”

  16. Alida, wow, what good thoughts. Heni has me thinking about how formed children are, or are not. Today I heard a writer recommend Waldorf education and Rudolph Steiner (surprise, surprise) because of its attention to the true needs of children for timelessness. He said that television is so deadly for young children, not so much because of what it brings in through the walls, but because of what it sucks out.

    Brilliant.

    Relaxation at least carves out the space for depth. I lack so much of that opportunitiy lately.

    I have constant interruptions to my mental relaxation (also known as a husband, children, telephone, and doorbell).

    I remember that when my children were younger and not in school, that was a precious time of long, slow days. The end of those days is when I can mark a departure from a balance between vertical and horizontal living. I haven’t had that balance for awhile. Maybe if we hadn’t home schooled all these years, my own life would have been different. I don’t regret the home schooling, though; I just think I really, really need some space now. It’s one of those motherly struggles a person has; and also the function of having many children.

    But you have younger kids and still feel that pressure to hurry and rush, and get things done.

    What do you do when you aren’t doing the rushing? And do you find it pays off when you make a conscious decision to slow down? (What would a lot of being relaxed do for you, in other words?)

  17. Helen, you know, meeting you has been a very good thing for me. My poetry-reading side has long been dormant. And here you are, commenting poems. I clearly have not read enough Goethe, because this is electrifying:

    “I praise what is truly alive,
    what longs to be burned to death.”

    And “massman.” !!! MASSMAN. Who’d have thought of that? That’s great. I know it’s in translation, but still, one wants to cheer, “Go, translator! Perfect!”

    I am going to have to copy and print out this poem you’ve given me, and re-read it for awhile.

  18. You know sometimes I have to take a little time to mull your posts over before I comment. Now I’m really behind! I hope you don’t mind if I clump all my comments together here. I hope they make sense.

    I’ve given a lot of thought lately to children and whether they are “complete” at birth, meaning are they fully conscious. More and more I think they are. I think it’s through our expereinces that we lose consciousness, of course only to try to reclaim it when we traveled too far in the wrong direction.

    It leaves me a a quandry sometimes as I see myself projecting my own issues onto my kids, in an effort to raise them “right.” They are perfect to begin with…but then again we all know kids that we , what kind of parents did they have. There is a balance there that needs to be achieved.

    “Timelessness and slowness bring us back to depth.” Isn’t this itself part of childhood? Time just isn’t a factor. Something I’m constantly reminded of as I try to get out the door with my two little one. Often Luke will ask, “Why are we in a hurry, mom?” The honest answer would be , “There is no reason to be in a hurry.” Instead I list all the errands I need to get done, then all the chores etc.

    Lately however, my mantra has been, “There is enough time to get it done.” Every morning as I mentally go through my list, I say this after every item. It’s been so helpful. I’m not sure about depth, but certainly I’m more relaxed.

  19. The Holy Longing
    by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Tell a wise person, or else keep silent
    for the massman will mock it right away.
    I praise what is truly alive,
    what longs to be burned to death.

    In the calm waters of the love-nights
    where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
    a strange feeling comes over you
    when you see the silent candle burning.

    Now you are no longer caught
    in this obsession with darkness,
    and a desire for higher love-making
    sweeps you upward.

    Distance does not make you falter,
    now, arriving in magic, flying,
    and, finally, insane for the light,
    you are the butterfly and you are gone.

    And so long as you haven’t experienced
    this: to die and so to grow,
    you are only a troubled guest
    on the dark earth.

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