MapQuest

People like to know where they’re going before they go somewhere. We use our cell phones, the GPS in the car, or an on-line mapping program for even the simplest excursions. There’s something comforting about knowing where you’re going, isn’t there?

We expend much time and effort planning for so many life events—holidays, celebrations, milestones; weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, vacations. People spend months, even years, planning their weddings and baby nurseries and dream homes, but much less time planning a household budget or planning for retirement. People are likely to spend more time and effort seeking a new key employee than they will finding good friends, or even a good spouse. It’s the unusual person who actively seeks the ways and means of personal development. We’ll work out four times a week for an hour or more at the gym before we’ll spend a few hours a week considering what we’re doing and where we’re going as mortal creatures. We have every sort of map for going on vacation or celebrating life’s milestones, but we regularly seem to resist planning for the most profound eventualities. Aren’t we odd ducks?

Alchemy as a Map

In The Slime of the Small World I wrote about alchemy as a psychological road map. Depth psychologists are particularly fond of alchemy because of its metaphorical value. The late psychoanalyst James Hillman believed that the language of alchemy is itself therapeutic. For this reason, alchemical symbolism is part of the required subject matter in all Jungian training programs.

Alchemy provides just one of numerous possible allegories for telling the tale of how people grow. In the alchemical tale, the seven most-cited processes and correspondences in other disciplines can be seen in the Chart of Correspondences.

Charts and diagrams are types of maps, aren’t they? I like them for that reason. By drawing upon dream images and colors, how I am feeling, what symbols keep coming up, and so on, I can say, “Ah, I’m feeling so rotten (sulfur, rotten eggs), and things seem so difficult, as if everything is hard (iron),” and hypothesize a separation stage in an area of my life. I’m comforted knowing that there are times in life when I must be sifted, when parts of my life must be cut away. There are right times for separation from houses, jobs, thought patterns, habits, or people.

At other times, I feel very quick and smart. Things click. Everything is going my way, I’m on top of the world! Some hard-earned wisdom has been distilled through experience. Patience, diligence, and suffering have paid off. This is the time of Mercurius, of promotions and celebration, of rainbow colors and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s a time of white freshness, accompanied by the joy one has upon awakening to the first big snow of the season. It is a time for magic and perfection.

Where are You?

We seem to have a compulsion to acknowledge where we are and where we have been, and to leave something for those who will come after us. Since prehistoric times, people have erected cairns,  man-made markers of stacked stones, to show the way through a wilderness. In many parts of the world, these markers have anthropomorphic names, such as steinmann (German), steenman (Dutch), ometto (Italian), or inunguak (Inuit), meaning stone man, small man, imitation of a person. The time-worn faces of these stone men speak to us across the miles and centuries, saying, “I was here, and I know these stones will out-live me,” and “You are here today, walking and breathing; remember your brothers and sisters who came before you.”

Wherever I am in life, there’s a marker for it. There is a stone man, mutely speaking to our shared human experience. A fellow traveler has left his mark there, carved into a tree trunk, gouged into a nearby boulder. She has placed a rock onto the ancient pile and paused, catching her breath, squinting into the distance.

Where are you? What is your place in this world? What house have you left behind, and what place do you seek? If you wander, where do you seek rest? Who and where are your people? What is your compass, what map do you keep folded in your pocket? And, when you pause to catch your breath and squint into the distance, what do you see?

12 responses

  1. Wasn’t Tristan – from the Irish myth – out there adrift without an oar? I wish I had one wish to remove everyone’s suffering everywhere. Here, there, everywhere.

    Today is the feast of St. Francis, a great saint, called the second Jesus and God’s fool. My my little poem be a tiny prayer for everyone today.

    Ode to St. Francis of Assisi by MJ Oct. 4th 2012

    St. Francis’ birds, his flowers, his bees
    The simple folk harvesting on humble bended knees

    The wine, the wolf, Sister Moon, and the bloom
    Brother Sun’s holy canticle chases away the doom

    The mercy, the faith, the bread and the wait
    Creative folks praying and trusting their fate

    Brilliant stars and the treasure, the clover and the pleasure
    The wise folk capture their dreams without measure

    • It would be nice to relieve suffering everywhere. Isn’t that paradise?

      The wine, the wolf… and the bloom. Gorgeous.

      “Wise folk” indeed.

  2. As for me i have no direction and as Barbara wrote cannot find a signal.

    When a soul is crushed perhaps some people can move on and find passion and purpose in other areas but, up until now, i cannot. Without “passion” any purpose my imagination can conjure up gives me a feeling of drudgery, boredom and just going through the motions. A way to use up time until my physical death.

    Without “passion” i am doomed to fail any endeavor i may happen upon. It would just be a poor substitute for that which truly matters to me. Just picking a purpose and acting on it would quickly become a chore or obligation that i must give myself a million reasons every morning to fulfill regardless of how noble the cause may be.

    I would be living a lie.

    When through…i don’t know…bad luck?..karma?….a god’s punishment?…chance?…whatever the reason….when one is cast into a life of imminent and inevitable failure and that which seems to come so easily to others with little or no effort…(almost as a human right)… is denied over and over and over again and not from lack of trying or lack of passion (in fact i tried long after i should have given up) i can’t just substitute it for a purpose or cause i have no interest in and quite frankly i don’t have the spiritual energy to even begin.

    This is not a choice. I wish i could feel differently and long after i should have still believed i did find purpose in helping others until the undeniable truth knocked me to my knees.

    I hate the term “giving back”. In order to “give back” one must first receive. For years i “gave” that which i never received but gave of myself.

    I am now used up. I am that pile of bones in the desert (my soul dead from being denied even water) that the vultures have picked clean. I have nothing more to give. For a while the scavengers kept coming back to see if there was perhaps a small piece of meat they had missed and they dug furiously into every nick and cranny with their sharp, intruding beaks and still i could smell the stench of my death on them.

    They are finally gone…on to other prey. I plan on keeping them away by staying dead.

    • Mona, bone is beautiful. When you are reduced, there you are. Now you are real. Bone china is the finest, one is weary to the bone, chilled to the bone, bone tired; a man has a boner, I feel the truth deep in my bones. If you are “bone of my bone,” you and I are deeply related.

      In depth psychology, when one is “returned to the bones,” the persona has been radically dissolved. While appearing to be a reduction, this is a profound process of growth (as you will see when I continue this alchemy series).

      Bone is a symbolic seed; it represents the indestructible core of the person. You are in a better place than you think. As my priest said to me, “it’s not a happy place, but it’s a good place.” Now we’re able to get down to business, for “violence, loss, grief, catastrophe, privation, illness, despair, envy, fury, and ecstasy induce altered states that dismember by delinking the personality from its habitual moorings” (The Book of Symbols, 2010, p. 766).

      Remember, too, that there’s a link between the Greek skelos, from which we derive “skeleton” and thus bone, and the alchemical operation of calcination. I wrote about that in “The Slime of the Small World.” Maybe there’s a connection.

  3. I’m lost as well. Again. I seem to lose my way a lot, or maybe I need to wander. I keep trying to see what it is I need to learn this day, from the people in my life and so much of it is unpleasant and difficult. I’m not a fan of unpleasant.

    I’ve spent my whole life trying to fit what it is others want from me. It’s still not working. Just tired of this.

    • “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Kahlil Gibran.

      My son, who has suffered a lot in his young life, is having this tattooed on his shoulder in a few days. He’s thought about the stance he’s going to take toward his suffering for many years, and this is what finally came up to him as a marker he’s going to carry on his shoulder.

      This morning as we talked about his decision, I was struck again by our search for meaning as people. We want to learn something from our suffering, our loneliness, our lives. Everyone gets tired while they’re wandering; it’s probably one of the “why fors” of wandering, don’t you think?

      I’m sorry you’re suffering. I wonder if you also ask yourself what it is your self wants from you? Is there a new image or symbol that comes up? A new impulse, a little flickering light that suddenly sparks for you?

      I’m reminded that “all who wander are not lost.” I wish I lived nearby and you could wander in my door and we could have tea.

    • ===>”…….a man has a boner,….” lol…that made me laugh at first at myself because i thought i read it wrong (funny 😀 )

      Yes, i will continue to read the alchemy series as i find it fascinating.

      ===> “You are in a better place than you think. As my priest said to me, “it’s not a happy place, but it’s a good place.”

      Thank you for the reminder because as i read and learn i somehow get the feeling i (perhaps all of humanity) is destined for this. The cliches “wake up and smell the coffee” and “a rude awakening” come to mind.

      I think many, if not most people, can’t bear it so they either choose to remain unconscious or their life circumstances don’t demand an awakening. Sometimes i think…”lucky them”…other times i think…”poor them”….

      That is, however, an improvement from where i was and that being always envying their ignorance. “Ignorance is bliss”…..

  4. I am here in the breath, feeling the full presence of my heart.

    I am here in the dream.
    I am lost in the woods. A full moon suddenly appears dimly lighting my path. One careful step after another, I follow.

    I am here in the dream.
    A white dove flies down over my head. It drops a silver chain for me to catch. I follow as it leads me on a new path, destination unknown.

    I am here in the dream, watching with wonder.
    There is a celebration of balloons floating higher and higher. I am right at (on) Target. The big store sign catches my eye as I stare up at the celebration. I marvel and wonder, could it possibly be that there is rejoicing in heaven.

    I am here in the breath, feeling the full presence of my heart.

  5. Good message. You give words to what I’ve felt for several years… I’ve lost my compass, my north. My GPS is spinning and can’t find a signal.

    • Hello, Barbara. I also wrote about this briefly a few months ago, in “Hello Traveler.” I felt so lonely and scared when I first realized I was adrift. Now I’m getting used to being adrift and am more able to stop resisting and fearing it, and stop wishing for company, and just be. Today, it’s not so bad to be adrift. I smile, thinking of all the other times in my life when I’ve wished for just such a lull in life–I just never imagined the nefarious ways by which the lull would come.

      Life is funny and horrifying that way, isn’t it?

      So, how do you manage as you’re drifting on the waves? Or, how do you see your experience–what images come up for you? For me, it’s the boat without oars, compass, on a dark night so even the stars can’t help me navigate. What is it for you? How are you relating to your experience?

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