Writing Through to the Other Side
By far and away, my absolute favorite poet is Rainer Maria Rilke, whose life’s work is a dedication to the voice of the soul. His laborious, sometimes tormented progression through maturation mirrors The Lady and the Unicorn perfectly. We look to him this week to better understand our 5th image, “The Soul in Reflection.” Rilke begins with wondrous praise to the images of the Christian God, relics of power, an outside source and image of the divine spark. He turns his soulful writing toward love and landscape, new adventures, and the potent possibilities. Love, lust, and suffering become the god-image for a time in his life. He then, through heartbreak and failures, begins to write in despair, seeing the darkness as the truest thing. He writes through his dark night of the soul until, after much turmoil, Rilke finds his way through to the other side.
Seeing Without Agenda
I want to suggest as a reminder that it is important to see these stages not simply as a single, linear progression. We like to see clients set goals and meet them, standing on their commitments and progressing beyond the sunset to new territories of life and fulfillment. Sometimes, however, these linear directions are not an adequate reflection of the wholeness of a person nor the wholeness of the psyche’s revelation. We may never fully understand the movement of the soul. Are we to abandon the unconscious in the name of deadlines? What if the “plan” is not the “plan” after all? Tangible goals are always grounding stones in the basket of the hot air balloon. We need them to remain closer to the earth. But we can do more than this. We can learn to see without agenda. Learn to love without condition, learn to unfold without so much expectation.
No Ideas but in Things
Let’s turn once more to Rilke. Here, after his despair and the arrival at a kind of stillness with nowhere to go and nothing new to say. At this important time in his life, he finds himself under the mentorship of a famous sculptor. The artist has the space for the mystery unfolding in Rilke. Rilke asks of the sculptor, “What is left? Is there nothing more to write of? Why doesn’t the voice of inspiration come through me as it once did? The skills are there, the experiences exhausted, now what?” The sculptor knew this place. He smiled and offered to Rilke nothing more than the opportunity to imagine. The sculptor tasked Rilke with spending time with objects and writing of what within them were most alive to his imagination, most personal, closest to the gods within his soul (see “The Panther” at the end of this blog.)
Holding Up the Mirror
James Hillman, founder of Archetypal Psychology reminds us that it is not the psyche that is in me, but me that is in the psyche. To be in the reflective soul is to hold a mirror up to the spirit that lives in what is. We can, through the creative deepening of our hearts, learn to see the beauty and horror in all things. Parts of us sometimes appear as the innocent, the virginal, on the threshold of maturity and so on, while other parts may have moved altogether through to new phases. In “The Soul in Reflection,” we can see that the Lady (soul) sits tenderly as a mother with the Unicorn (spirit). She holds a mirror to the unicorn to witness itself. Can we practice the space, the reflection with interest and a willingness to look to the object of another both to see what my soul can see and to support them to find the voice within themselves.
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
Rainer Maria Rilke
The Fourth Stage of Maturation
Welcome to the fourth installment of The Lady and the Unicorn, a personified look at the maturation of the soul. It is my sincerest hope that these weekly themes will continue to provide us with new and meaningful ways to participate in this dedication to healing at Barn Life. As I mentioned in previous weeks, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries offer us, through images, a way of understanding aspects of life and experiences in a soulful way. Each of these tapestries personifies a psychological image for something that the soul is experiencing. Through a depth psychological perspective, we can perceive and ask different questions of our clients. These stages together comprise all of consciousness. If, for example, we recognize a tendency to resist insight or, as Rilke might say “Live our questions now”, we may be encountering the soul in innocence.
The Unfolding of the Inner Craftsman
Last week, we spent time in the third phase of maturation – the soul as a threshold of maturation. I say that it is a common experience to begin to face the inner more intricate work of the soul only to, in fear, regress ourselves back into innocence and the virgin attitudes. Here in our fourth stage, we turn our attention to the unfolding of the inner craftsman. Its exemplified in the fourth tapestry, we observe the soul in practice. Notice, when looking at this image, this once useful vibrancy with a gaze towards simple pleasures, birds of the air, and the unburdening of golden jewels. It now sits with eyes and fingers upon the discipline of her instrument.
Engaging Directly with the Creative Process
When we move with the soul through the experience of grief, loss, and focus attention upon the things closest to our deepest longings, we then begin the actual work of engaging directly with the creative process. This asks of us experimentation, discipline, consistency, and follow-through. It can be difficult to identify this phase because so often these skills are occupied with “necessary” things. It is not uncommon to see clients feeling burned out, trapped, and obligated to a job that is unfulfilling, a relationship that is not supporting their growth, or hiding behind a skill or an accomplishment. Of course, a “get well job” and other stability goals ask of our time, our energy, and our efforts; however, when on the look-out for the practicing soul we must look for matters of the heart.
Meaningful Focus and Inspired Efforts
The practicing soul engages in meaningful focus and inspired efforts. These skills come with discipline and a strong sense of conviction. In our image note also the role of the handmaiden. The ego-self serves the process of the soul’s expression. Here the handmaiden lifts and compresses with all her strength, the wind of the instrument of the soul. The practicing soul lives an intense focus and asks that we pump our thoughts, decisions, and attention into her instrument. In this stage of maturity, the soul begins to lead and the ego begins to serve. How can we encourage a living, conscious relationship with our unconscious motives? Perhaps there is more to play with, and engage with, in the hard work of practice than we realize?
The Lion King and the Myth of Horus
Have you ever seen the Lion King? It occurred to me this week that the story is based on the Egyptian myth of Horus. Simba must overcome the challenges his father faced and so also find within himself his one unique destiny. We see between the Virginal Soul and the Soul at the Threshold of Adulthood a certain turn well-characterized in this myth. Let’s look at Simba and his story more closely: his loss of father, exile, and confrontation with the shadow king. For our theme this week, we move our attention toward transition itself. Whereas the virgin soul experiences abundant life, the soul on the threshold of adulthood begins the work of initiation. In the psychology of the virginal soul, the spirit ascends. But what comes up must come down. To put it another way, the fantasy cannot sustain us.
Drawn Toward a Distinct Purpose
Remember in the Lion King when Simba adopts a lifestyle of self-indulgence when in exile? Simba along with his companions live in a nihilistic subjective world apart from any collective meaning or sense of belonging. “No worries” is the motto for those in a virginal state of the soul, living on the wings of spirit and freedom. Something happens, as we can see in Simba’s story, however. The psyche draws our attention toward more distinctive pursuits. This is an exciting time in the life of the soul. Memories re-emerge and existential questions arise. That which we avoid most cannot be ignored and the body feels the weight. Call it karma, the daimonic drive, fate, destiny, ancestors – what we know is that all cultures and all mythologies and religions contain strong evidence that the soul is drawn toward its distinct purposes.
From Selfish Fantasies to Divine Callings
From what began as self-indulgence with fantasies of fulfillment and abundance begins to move toward a deeper mystery. Think of the scene when Simba encounters the wise old monkey and hears the call of a return. Simba speaks with his father among the stars and hears the tug of purpose and meaning unique to his own life path. To put it another way, the soul rises and lives vibrantly in the imagination, but the imagination draws us beyond selfish fantasies toward the divine callings. We belong to something and that asks of us more than “no worries” can sustain. What was at first full with potential and satisfaction turns instead toward a bid for reconciliation. Something beyond our nature draws us in. Why would this happen? Why does the virginal soul life philosophy of “no worries” begin to feel so empty?
This week in our image of the Lady and the Unicorn, we see our figure turning. Now, the soul removes her jewelry and, with tied-back hair, she withdraws. Above the tent reads, “A Mon Seul Desir” (to my only desire). Scholars speculate that the blue tent with burning embers resembles the lost souls in Dante’s Divine Comedy, a prevalent work during the time of the tapestry’s creation. If this is correct, we can more fully understand what is taking place in our image. The soul has withdrawn from grandiosity. With less distraction, our depression makes room to listen intently and discover our rightful path. Most importantly, we can see that she willfully hands away her jewelry and enters the tent. The lady giving away her jewelry represents the turn of the soul from the splendid path to the ‘heavenly tent’.
Turning Toward Solitude
In my experience, the pattern is a regressive one, where this feeling of loss for the soul provokes avoidance rather than progression. Instead of turning toward the small dark spaces of solitude wherein the voice of the divine can be heard, some regress instead to the innocent soul, keeping it simple and pretending the world out there and the dreams unlived do not require our attention. The Youthful Soul state may replace the threshold experience in an effort to avoid the deepening maturation. Virginal Soul experiences feel good when often the deflation from them feels terrible. Could it be that the loss and longing is, in fact, the threshold of meaning? Without these deflations, we never quite get to the integration. As we will see next week, the tent experience will lead us to our craft, the soul will move into the hard yet rewarding work of utilization.