How The Romantics Made The New Age
Any one of us who ever went to a beach or for a walk in the forest to get some space, or who climbed a mountain for a sense of perspective or sought solace in a sunset, he or she follows the same call as the Romantics.
Romanticism emerged in response to two great revolutions – the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution – both of which dynamically uprooted the status quo of settled belief in authority (church, aristocracy, feudal law) and opened up a new and previously unseen scale of commerce and trade. These events also unleashed an inward turn, a direct questioning of ideas such as liberty, the meaning of life, the relationship to history, nature and time and above all, to the placement of feeling over thinking, felt experience over any abstract rationalising.
In Britain two generations of poets flowered, addressing their art explicitly to these momentous forces – Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge in the first wave, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Clare following on. In Germany and France too, artists and writers turned towards the new torrent of flux and began to remake the world in their own image.
At the dawn of the industrial age, the Romantics peered into the same challenges that we are so familiar with today – advancing alienation from Self, the intensity of yearning for a prior state, an acute sense of the loss of the natural world, a concern with the rhythms of eternity and a profound dissatisfaction with the emerging mechanistic world of urban/industrial living. Any of us who has ever turned within to contemplate their emotional experience, or pursued their creativity through an expressive art owe a moment’s reflection upon those who pioneered these ways of being. So thoroughgoing is the influence of the Romantic period on our modern sensibility that even the much-maligned contemporary obsession with celebrity has its original forms specifically within the Romantic era, condensed and forced into criticality in the thermonuclear personhood of the poet George Gordon. Better known as Lord Byron, his life outreached his art, and became the very archetype of a new kind of fame.
The passing of two centuries has deepened and confirmed the essential insights of Romanticism. Since the 1800s, Western culture has continued outwardly to pursue the technological and rational course. On a global scale, we have embraced a reality predicated upon the heroic controlling of our selves and nature. Yet, the pathology of our age reveals a tragic cost. In our mass anxieties and despair, our externalising of Terror, our alienation from each other and Self, not to mention the vast and shocking awareness that the Earth as we have known it sickens from our extractive excess, our commitment to profit over life, we have come to define ourselves through doing. But we are being forced to encounter an excluded, essential truth. The truth of our human being. Who am I? Who are you? What are we?
This summer I’ve been putting together a workshop looking at the influence of the Romantic movement of the late Eighteenth/early Nineteenth century, especially the English and German artists and writers of that period. As human beings we have stood here and peered into these themes before, have stared at the abyss within, sensed the sublime as well as the terrible, and found cohesive means to live beyond surfaces, at depth, to be more fully alive and aware.
The Rainbow Re-made, borrowing an image from the poet John Keats, seeks to trace out an arc of influence from those who see rainbows as truth and beauty made light in the play of appearances; to consider the woundings of the human obsession with measurement, that cold impulse that would ‘unweave a rainbow’ and render its mystery, its beauty, as nothing but abstract numbering and contortions of measure. We’ll explore poetry against scientism, the potential of the human soul against the dead hand of unconstrained commerce, the measuring force of Newton’s sleep, blind even to rainbows freely given.
As examples we’ll contrast Keats and Coleridge with Dawkins and Darwin, Wordsworth and Shelley to Shell and Monsanto, William Blake, JMW Turner and Caspar David Friedrich against the dark Satanic mills of our own confused minds.
In addition, and for those with an eye on astrology, it is worth noting that in all of this, now as then, we are inevitably investigating the contact boundary between Saturn and Uranus – the old order, the ancien règime, and the radical challenge of that which emerges from beyond the known. Our dates, roughly focused between 1781 and 1846, also happen to mark the discoveries of Uranus and, intriguingly, Neptune.
As the pre-eminent, senior English Romantic, William Wordsworth, put it “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”
The Rainbow Re-made is a two-hour online class scheduled for 7-9 pm (British Summer Time) on Saturday 30th August 2014 via GoToMeeting. Tickets can be reserved through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-rainbow-re-made-how-the-romantics-made-the-new-age-tickets-12533691609
See you there.
The German Romantic poet Rainer Maria Rilke, perhaps, said it most fully. In his Book of Hours, written between 1899-1903 (following an experience of ‘inner dictation’ in a Russian monastery) he writes
“All becoming has needed me
My looking ripens things
And they come toward me, to meet and be met”
This is a theme worthy of our deepest attention, as therapists and practitioners engaged, beyond reductionism, in looking into the ‘more than’ of our experiences and those of our fellows creatures. In this brief piece, I would like to explore the frayed edge of this thread, as it is woven into the wider cloth of contemporary life, tracing it back and catching ‘the thread of all sorrows’ as Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye names it.
Could it be, as psychiatrist Ede Frecska suggests, that we are living in a time marked by a profound crisis, manifesting not only in the material world, but in meta-symptoms such as Scientism “the negative schema of a depressed culture”? Decades before Frecska formulated his diagnosis a similar trajectory had been mapped for us in the vibrant but neglected work of Owen Barfield (among his many life roles we find those of scholar, Inkling-companion of Tolkein and CS Lewis, lawyer and Anthroposophist).
In works such as Poetic Diction (1928) and Saving the Appearances (1957) Barfield unpacks the relationship between language, meaning and consciousness with the insight of a depth psychologist (no accident he was a major underground river in the thought of James Hillman) and the deftness of a poet. He openly breaks into psychology with his critique of Freud (the plumber) and even Jung (‘laden heavily with R.U.P (residue of unresolved positivism)’), but his most telling insights concern our words – simultaneously the lifeblood of our talking cure, and the ‘prison-house of language’ (Wittgenstein). Barfield believed in the evolution of consciousness through time, of a basic threefold pattern moving from Original Participation through the Objective Idealism born of Descartes, Comte and others, and towards a future state of Conscious Participation, reunification of imagination with world, polarities married beyond the ‘subjective emptiness’ of contemporary experience.
This basic triple map bears echoes of other tripartite lenses from the revelation of the Christian Trinity through to the psychological technology of, say, Ken Wilber’s ‘pre/trans fallacy’. However, in Barfield the synthesising imperative is always explicitly serving beauty, as in ‘that metanoia, or turning about of the mind, for which the heart’s name is repentance’ (Saving the Appearances, p180). Such a direct and robust, yet open and beautiful, form reminds us also of other metaphors for our time, such as that of the great Twentieth Century Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, who spoke of his teachings as ‘thorns used to remove other thorns’. Is that not an image to make any therapist’s heart surge?
Returning to my thread, I would like to propose that, as the non-dual teacher Adyashanti puts it
‘Awakening to Reality is no longer a possibility; it is an imperative. We have sailed the ship of delusion as far as she can carry us. We have run her ashore and find ourselves shipwrecked on an increasingly desolate land. Our options have imploded. “Wake up or perish” is the spiritual call of our times. Did we ever need more motivation than this?’
Evidence for this state of affairs is everywhere, from the increasingly disastrous seizures of our ailing biosphere to the centrifugal abstractions of political and economic systems; the ‘myth of endless progress’ (as applied in medicine, space travel, limitless free energy or any other thought horizon) is pulled over on the hard shoulder of its particular linear motorway, and the long expected emergency services aren’t answering the phone. In the consulting room the twin orbits of anxiety and depression weave their dual misery in larger and larger gyres, lit up with the brightening tails of self-harm, addiction, meaninglessness, and the thousand displaced horrors of the alienated self. We risk Heidegger’s insight ‘what mortal can fathom the abyss of his confusion?’ (Early Greek Thinking, p57)
And yet, the sheer and existential surface of the abyss walls is not the insurmountable end. As Nietzsche told us, if you stare at the abyss the abyss stares right back; it is our part to blink first, to redeem the implacable stand-off inherent in our species-pride and to move in new, forgotten ways. Barfield left us a clue in paragraphs like this:
“modern psychologists claim to give us an unmetaphorical account of the soul, but their technical terms such as ‘complexes, repressions, censors, engrams, and the like’ are metaphorical in origin, so that they are speaking of ‘tying-up, shoving back, Roman magistrates and scratchings’ “
As we give words to experience-in-the-world, so we, with Rilke, ‘ripen things’ that then come forward ‘to meet and be met’. Heidegger says somewhere that ‘everyday language’ is just a forgotten and ‘used-up’ poem, neglected and despised, carelessly falling from the collective tongue, an atrophied neural pathway or dying tangle of synaptic plaques. Before we act well upon the outer, we need an established inner sense, a verticality corresponding and intersecting with our horizontal life motion. The apparent abyss is our own; its meaning is ours alone, if we can bear it.
It is as if psychology, the ‘butterfly speech-thought’ of the human mind, is ripening once again to break through the crust of arid objectification and to put forth new shoots from her rhizomatic depths. Her mode of utterance will not be contained in rigid methodology, nor will she mindlessly obey the tired laws of the Newtonian paradigm; rather, she will come out of the sterile glare of diagnostic abstraction, a flaming DSM in her left hand, a diamond-flash in each heart, and whatever she chooses to whisper, it will flow on four levels, as the Kashmir Shaivists document; she will remain in her absolute undifferentiated wave (Para-Vak, in Sanskrit – the voice gone beyond, silence) even as she melts into a quiver of formless desire (Pashyanti, – the causal body glimpsing the sound of eternity); the quiver she now is descends into a middle mind-realm (Madhyama – the thoughts and dialogues of our human mind) before she emerges in our throats and keyboards (as Vaikhari, the form-world of speech). As sages of this tradition have long witnessed (for example, in the synthesis of Yoga and Psychology given through Sri Aurobindo and his work with the Mother) thinking in words is Vaikhari, with ideas is Madhyama, thinking with direct experience is Pashyanti, while Para remains transcendent of mental activity, beyond mind. The wave function collapses (decoheres, in the sci-babble of quantum physics) along its probability curve, drawn by its own nature and the attention of an observer – contracting into the specifics of a given form, as an individuation inside a single mind, where the particular life is lived through. Never is the particle other than a wave, nor the wave reducible to the aspect of a particle – its experience is simultaneously one with the continuity of flow, marked by non-local dynamic field (perhaps, in our analogy, a good-enough metaphor for the perceptible edge of psyche herself, as she quivers toward form).
Apart from the ‘fearful symmetry’ of quantum mechanics with ancient Vedic wisdom teaching, we might also observe that here are expressed two modes of knowing experience – the first as a grid map, abstracting, mathematical, geared for efficient understanding and action; the second as a story map, inclusive of elemental possibilities, a cartography of the self in felt tones and sensuous precision. Thus is the landscape of soul apprehended, rather as we may approach outer landscapes, the natural world all about us:
“Landscape was here long before we were even dreamed. It watched us arrive” (Robert Macfarlane, p59 The Wild Places)
It is time, in Macfarlane’s phrase, that we give up our ‘heresy of aloofness’ and turn our hearts once more in the direction of anima mundi, of psyche, of the natural world. Nowhere is this need more pressing than in psychotherapy and counselling, it is time to depend upon the ‘moisture of compassion’, as the Tibetan tradition terms it, coming dew-like upon the burned out hearts and minds of practitioners and patients alike, and upon the systems and edifices we have everywhere thrown up. We could (and we must) speak of innovations in integrative practice, of the high line within the best of Mindfulness work or Ecopsychology, in bodywork and systemic fields. We could speak about re-weaving the rainbow that Keats saw dismembered by the scientific ‘philosophy’ of his time, returning mystery to the core of our experience of ourselves. We could speak, as Stephen Jenkinson speaks, of soil, not as a matrix of decayed mineral forms, but as ‘everything that failed to live forever’. Everything that failed to live forever is fundamentally what we all depend upon for our very life, for all our food and form, and in this way even death serves life, gifting itself, soil to root, to enable the cycle to turn. This is the simple ground from which a rainbow bridge arises to span the abyss we met earlier – not by denying the gap, nor by wish-fulfilment, but by depending anew upon the spectrum of imagination (Barfield). Turned around we might say with James Hillman that the cardinal mistake of our age is the ‘Sin of Literalism’.
So I will finish with a plea for the refreshment of metaphor, the purging away of irrelevancies, of the consciousness of lack inherent in the denial of imagination, the progressive realisation that matter is “the occasion of spirit, or at all events, the occasion of spirit’s awareness of itself as spirit” (Rediscovery of Meaning, p 148). Romanticism, come of age, is a symbolic form, a transpersonal link between the high-tide line of Western individualism and the non-dual East. As Ezra Pound said, the best Romantic writers were the ‘antennae of the race’.
I leave us back in the agreeable company of Rainer Maria Rilke, more eloquent than I
How surely gravity’s law,
Strong as an ocean current,
hold of even the smallest thing
pulls it toward the heart of the world.
Each stone, blossom, child-
Is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
Push out beyond what we each belong to
For some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
To earth’s intelligence
We could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
In knots of our own making
And struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
To learn from the things,
Because they are in God’s heart;
They have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
Patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
Before he can fly.
Adyashanti, The Way of Liberation: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Open Gate Sangha, San Jose California, 2012
Barfield, Owen Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, Barfield Press UK, 2010
Barfield, Owen The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays, Barfield Press UK, 2013
Barfield, Owen Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, Wesleyan University Press, 1988
Barrows, a & Macy, J. Rilke’s Book of Hours – Love Poems to God; Riverhead Teade, 2005
Frecska, Ede How Can Shaman’s Talk With Plants and Animals? The Topological Roots of Plant Consciousness & Interspecies Communication, In: Strassman, Rick Inner Paths to Outer Space, Park Street Press, 2008
Heidegger, Martin Early Greek Thinking: The Dawn of Western Philosophy, HarperCollins, London, 1985
Macfarlane, Robert The Wild Places, Granta, London, 2008
White, Kenneth The Wanderer & His Charts, Polygon, 2004
A quick heads-up to confirm that Canadian teacher and author Stephen Jenkinson, known for his work with death and dying, and especially from the documentary film ‘Griefwalker’ will be in Wales this November for a series of film screenings and workshops. Further details will appear here, and via Holy Hiatus (www.holyhiatus.co.uk) in the near future, but initial dates are Friday 21st November – Sunday 23rd November in or around Newport, venue tbc; then Friday 28th-Sunday 30th November in Fishguard. If you’d like to be added to a specific event mail-list please email me your details and I’ll be happy to include you. Meanwhile, for more information about Stephen’s work, check www.orphanwisdom.com and see the recent short film The Making of Humans
“In the middle of the journey of life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
Where the straight road had been lost”
(Dante, Inferno, Canto 1, transl. Seamus Heaney)
Today’s title comes from a line in the opening Canto of Dante’s Inferno, “Allor fu la paura un poco queta”, ‘then was the fear a little quieted’.
The poem, as Heaney’s translation shows, begins with Dante’s mid-life distress, lost, astray, in the dark and foreboding wood, off the path, ‘la diritta via’, the ‘right way’ or ‘true path’. In short order, ‘like a sleepwalker’ in this ominous dreamlike landscape, Dante encounters not only the dark forest but the ‘hill of difficulty’, the panther, the lion, the wolf, and finally, his guide-to-be, Virgil. In a stroke Dante conjured an epic poem that spoke to the medieval mind as it does to the Renaissance imagination, and indeed to the conditions of modernity. His language and imagery penetrate the core archetype of existential human being, the journey of life, the fear of mortality, the metaphysical urgency of repentance (metanoia), however understood. His influence, through this work above all others, extends through the world of culture, art, religion, politics, psychology, even into the pop-culture forms of our time, yielding an influence of enduring, global reach. Dante’s mid-life crisis, mediated by his radical poetic capacity and immense imaginative genius, split the atom of individuated artistic expression, releasing the blast waves of inspiration that we still sense in reading him today.
It is fascinating that the crisis envelops Dante, and in some way each of us since, in the dark wood – the go-to scenario for all things terrifying, wild, untamed and fatal in the Western psyche. The primal forest, by Dante’s time already much denuded, was either hunting preserve of the aristocracy (with strictly enforced access to the game and extremely harsh punishments for transgressors), or wilderness, home to none but vagrants, outlaws and those beyond the pale of organised society. The Inferno continues to refer to forest metaphors, notably in the ‘Wood of Suicides’ later encountered, and everywhere the gloomy view of forest-space prevails.
Further north, in the Teutonic, Germanic and Norse traditions, forests are less negatively imagined, though nevertheless curtained off as ‘otherworldly’. Many Grail tales and Arthurian stories involve arduous forest adventures, encounters with impossible magical castles, memories of lost Roman legions decimated in the Teutoberger, or of supernatural presences, from unicorns to elves, treefolk, to Baba Yaga. Again and again the forest is the repository of the repressed, the densely canopied screen upon which projections of damnation and death, wildness and terror, sublime realization and release, are thrown semi-consciously and also well below the level of cultural awareness. Remnants persist in the Dinseyfied ‘fairy tales’ of our time and telling, Sleeping Beauty (Odin pricking the errant Valkyrie Brunhilde with a thorn of sleep?), Hansel & Gretel, Rapunzel. The old stories, refusing to die.
And all the while, as centuries of repressed and projected images and objects accumulated upon the forest-space within the Western psyche, the outer old growth forest of deciduous ash and beech, oak and hazel, chestnut and alder was steadily, rapaciously felled. Ancient woodland succumbed to axe and saw, for shipbuilding, land reclamation, fuel and construction materials – we steadily mined our unconscious for an easy profit and a sense of control. And when we’d clear-cut Europe we found a New World to export our greediness unto. So even as our collective unconscious swelled though the years with the dreamscapes of forest-fear, our outer experience of forests and ancient woodlands shrank back into pockets, managed and tamed, edited into a pattern of settlement, industry and agro-business or economic ‘forestry investment’ usage. An apt metaphor, were it not so bleak, for the processes of sin and redemption that the Catholic universe of Dante wrested into psychological modernity – as we do unto nature, we do unto ourselves.
It is well worth noting, for the sake of global balance and wider awareness, that this European (and later North American) disposition to view forest-space as ominous, dark, threatening and, at best, a resource to exploit, is by no means universal. In many Asian settings forests are exalted, for example Kanda (Book) 3 of the Ramayana the Araṇya Kắṇḍa, or ‘Book of the Forest’, is set in the Panchavati forest (the ‘Garden of Five Banyan Trees’) and here Rama (the seventh Avatar of Vishnu) and Sita (an Avatar of Lakshmi) live in grace along with Lakshmana (a Naga), Rama’s brother, during their exile from Ayodhya. Many Eastern ascetics, yogis and saints are drawn to forest life from China to Japan, Sri Lanka to the Northern fringe of India, retreated from the city and the market, into a simpler more contemplative environment supportive of insight and inquiry into the mysteries of being, as we see most clearly in the story of Siddartha and his awakening as the Buddha under a Bodhi tree. In this way one may conclude that to a long established and deeply rooted part of the human psyche, forest-space represents peace, silence, the sublime, transcendent of the artefacts of the human made world – antithetical to the fearful forest of Dante’s fate, proximate to death, the forest of the East mostly represents life.
How fortunate then, to be in the wood, here in the middle of life, aware, as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche put it, that
“Mind and its projections are innocent. They are very ordinary, very natural, very simple. Red is not evil, and white is not divine; blue is not evil, and green is not divine. Sky is sky; rock is rock; earth is earth; mountains are mountains. I am what I am, and you are what you are. Therefore, there are no particular obstacles to experiencing our world properly, and nothing is regarded as problematic”
(Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, ‘Ground Mahamudra’, ‘The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Volume Three: The Tantric Path of Indestructible Wakefulness’, 2013)
Moving on in our own journey, off the straight path and into the undergrowth, wilfully losing the tyranny of the known, let’s hear the counsel of New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman a moment, by way of insight to our present economic order (that which sees not trees around us, but profit margins – a world where dead things are worth more than living). He whispers
“All economic data are best viewed as a peculiarly boring genre of science fiction”
That will suffice. What else might we know as we wander? I’m reminded of words spoken by Rick Tarnas in memory of the late James Hillman who was “always improvising, overthrowing the literalist dogma of the old monarchy, vigorously asserting the common life of soul – the ambiguous many over the one”. He goes on, and it serves us to hear it,
“He recognised essences without ever succumbing to essentialism.He had an allegiance to the fallen world, yet he risked a large vision.He was a poet of psyche, a psychologist of the polis. Above all, James championed the imagination in its high rightful place at the centre of human reality, with perhaps greater force than anyone since William Blake”
Interestingly, musing on Hillman under these trees, we might remember some gleeful words of his own:
‘You cannot draw a diagram of a single thing I’ve written’
I’d like to think that’s because Hillman’s writing is a reflection of what is living, and to systematize it in this manner, to re-present the living tissue of inter-connective filaments within the corpus, would be to kill it (in order to save it, presumably – or better to ‘understand’ it, which is much the same thing). Reading Hillman is a series of confounding revelations always just out of mental frame, elusive as a Green Man, Al-Khidr (or, in Hillman’s pun-embracing wit, perhaps we’d better say ‘Kidder’, since he was certainly playing with us), being prophetic from the shadows, lobbing intellectual grenades from the treeline, mounting Robin Hood rescue-missions on behalf of Maid Marion’s Psyche, from deep in his guerrilla Utopia under Sherwood green. Thieving as he was, he had no desire to die for his crimes – indeed, true to the highwayman in every genius, he had an epithet for that too – stand and deliver:
“Give me the pearls but not the string – it’s a noose”
There’s something else here worthy of a closer look, like a spying a clutch of Elfin Saddles (Helvella Iacunosa Afzel) in the leaf-litter about our feet; we need to get down on our hands and knees to see it better. It has to do with forest-space, inner and outer, as a vessel for containing the repressed feminine. It has the potential, as Tarnas states it, to be a threshold ‘demanding a courageous act of faith’ in order for the Western mind to ‘open itself to a reality the nature of which could shatter its most established beliefs about itself and the world’. He continues,
“this is the great challenge of our time, the evolutionary imperative for the masculine to see through and overcome its hubris and one-sidedness, to own its unconscious shadow, to choose to enter into a fundamentally new relationship of mutuality with the feminine in all its forms”
In turn the feminine becomes
“fully acknowledged, respected, and responded to for itself. It is recognised, not the objectified ‘other’, but rather source, goal, and immanent presence… Perhaps the end of “man” himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome – and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine”
(Rick Tarnas, from the Epilogue, ‘The Passion of the Western Mind’, 1989)
How might such a process be fulfilled? Is it even conceivable, locked into a temporal phase with the exponential material crises of our age, that such a revolution in psyche, culture, life, can outrun civilization’s collapse, or the looming of extinction? There are no comfortable answers to such an open question, nor will rhetoric shield us from the reckoning – and yet we must ask.
Taking a pocket knife, let’s carve a remembering, a woodland graffito on this fallen bough:
“You can never get enough of what you don’t really want” (Eric Hoffer, quoted by Jerry Mander)
What we feel we lost we feel we lost outside ourselves, yet looking outside ourselves for a way to fill the hole has no effect but to further our felt-sense of separateness. Time to look within, to walk the forest-space in the heart, the anima, the one that has been clear-cut closer than a shave, where our slash and burn tactics have yielded their most gruesome prize – a denuded, eroded and broken heart. Welcome to the Theory of Holes, Almaas’ outpicturing of the means by which our early psychodynamic wounding gives rise to the betrayal of our experience of our multifaceted essence, and in turn brings about the creation of our personality structures, as backfilled rubble covering over the original loss. Our holes are infilled with mimics of the essence we feel we have lost, our attentions are directed outward at ‘getting what we need out there’, and the splitting off from the essence we never really lost is complete, the suffering assured. Hideously apposite and scalpel-like as this piece of insight is, (rather like the moments after ingesting a psychedelic or entheogenic substance when the body-mind suddenly, overwhelmingly, smacks into its own taboo – the ‘oh shit moment’, by which time it is already much too late, and the only counsel is one of surrender) it comes with a redemptive kicker. For according to Almaas and the Theory of Holes, the hole is the guide and teacher, the essential state is present at all times, beneath the level of the whole… the praxis then, counter-intuitively, is to keep digging, having come to the threshold do not stop at the welcome mat, having dug back to the ‘original wounding’ of conventional psychotherapies, do not miss the point entirely and ‘have the experience but miss the meaning’, rather, drink in the essence that underlies the mimic of itself:
“a consistent characteristic of the Essential states is the feeling that you have known it before, you have been here before, you are recalling a somehow more fundamental reality which in the process of living your life you have forgotten”
(A H Almaas, ‘The Theory of Holes’, Diamond Heart, Book 1).
So if a wound is born out of, say, the reaction to a distant father, and the personality builds itself a fake strength and protective distancing, and at some later point there is a breakdown of this defence say, when a partner leaves us, or our father dies – and in response to that unfolding narrative we enter therapy, project power and strength onto our therapist, experience our own shame and unworthiness or the abject limitations of our reaction-formation around father figures, and we break further and melt down into the original wound… for gods’ sake do not stop there! Dig and sink further, until the essential strength we always felt Father withheld from us is directly experienced as something that was ours all along – it never was external, it never was missing – the hole was a dream we dreamt in step with the failures of our holding environment, but it never touched anything that is real in us or the world. ‘I don’t need to be forgiven’, we might say, this particular metanoia is more like Ho’oponopono or kriya tantra purification, than it is original sin. This is the work of the individual, but it holds for the collective we call civilization too – indeed civilization may very well be a cloak of many holes, a sort of negatively inverted Indra’s net, preocuppied with its own dazzling jewel-gleam, but secretly terrified of the moth-eaten cloth.
But what, we may well ask, is essence anyway?
“Essence is not alive; it is aliveness. It is not aware; it is awareness. It does not have the quality of existence; it is existence. It is not loving; it is love. It is not joyful; it is joy. It is not true; it is truth”
(A H Almaas, Essence, Ch.2)
And, for good measure
“Essence transcends life and death. After a while, when you start realizing what your essence is about, even if you are threatened with death, so what? Who cares? Die, live – what’s the difference?”
(A H Almaas, ‘Essence is the Life’, from Diamond Heart, Book 1)
Now we have wandered very deep into this forest, the straight and narrow path disappeared miles back. No telling where we might be. There’s someone else here I’d like us to meet, we’ll call him Alan Watts – and when he got to this place, years ago now, here where we now pause for breath, he said:
“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves’, the universe ‘peoples’. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is very rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated ‘egos’ inside bags of skin”
He also knew that these are extremely serious moments in the life of our species,indeed our Earth as we know her, for he knew that wonder is ‘not a disease’ but a distinction, and that to see beauty in the‘marvellous system of wiggles’of nature arising through her million forms, playful and beyond the control of crude Euclidean boxes, is to be opened to radical possibility, our last best hope of transformation:
“The world is in an extremely dangerous situation, and serious diseases often require the risk of a dangerous cure – like the Pasteur serum for Rabies”
(Alan Watts, ‘The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are’, 1966)
Alan Watts, A Conversation With Myself, 1971
We are all infected with a mutated rabies of the mind, or worse still, of the heart; and foaming at the glands we run, red-eyed, furious, hydrophobic to the point of desertifying our homes; we go howling, looking for a victim to bite back, to gnaw on the seeming injustice of our fate. The wood we could have run to, for safety or a place to die, is nothing but a desecrated slope of gnarled stumps and diseased, discarded limbs and no extra-terrestrial vet* is speeding to induce a coma in us so they can shoot us up according to the Milwaukee Protocol (*the Church of Scientology may have a differing opinion of the likelihood of this outcome, though many would argue that taking one’s chances with rabies may still be a better option). Doomed we are, and
Swa cwæð eardstapa,
So spoke the wanderer,
Mindful of hardships,
Of fierce slaughters,
And the downfall of kinsmen
These deliriums may be symptomatic, or just bad dreams of things yet-to-pass, or maybe they come from the holes and therefore the virus is itself an hallucination, a symptom of a much more profound sickness in our identity. However it is, let us wander in the forest within and the forest without whenever we can, and bend to these trees, agreeing with Roger Deakin that
“To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed”
(Roger Deakin, ‘Wildwood – A Journey Through Trees’, 2007)
And as we wander, transforming, rabidly alert to the possibilities for our demise or renaissance, in this place and time maybe we will notice another graffito – for chiselled into this ash, this ancient Yggdrasil at the still point of the whirling green immensity, someone (Snorri Sturluson, perhaps?) has paraphrased the essence of German Romanticism:
“Tell me what you long for, and I’ll tell you who you are”
Allor fu la paura un poco queta, indeed.
Stephen Jenkinson's Welsh tour November 2015
The Rainbow Re-made
A Rough Guide to Transpersonal Psychology
November dates for Stephen Jenkinson's visit to Wales
Coreda - Dramatherapy Workshop
Un Poco Queta
Une Thérapie Panique
A New Leaf
The Matter of Selfhood
Dramatherapy Day - September 8th 2012 - Cowbridge
Mindfulness Workshops - September 2012
The Compassionate Paradox
Merlin & The Root Of The Root Of The Self
Autumn 2011 - Mindfulness Course - Newport
Advance Notice - 'The Burning Feather' A Workshop in November
Daffy with Piety
The Inn At The End Of The Multiverse
The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower
The Eight Great Cemeteries
La Rançon Impossible
Guys & Dolls
Full of Hot Air
After the Whistle
Through The Mountain of Qaf
The Edge of the Edge
Dirty Deeds & Dungeons Deep
Destroying The World To Save It
A Tendency To Shine
Skies On Fire
Dancing The Twelve Steps of Soul