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.
The High Reaches of Pure Imagination
Let the youthful soul look back on life with the question: what have you truly loved up to now, what has elevated your soul, what has mastered it and at the same time delighted it?…see how one complements, expands, surpasses, transfigures another, how they form a stepladder upon which you have climbed up to yourself as you are now – Nietzsche
Nietzsche helps us understand the youthful soul is in spirited ascent to the high reaches of pure imagination. In the image of hope and potential, we find our why for recovery and change. Nietzsche understood that these ladder rungs upward are the life infusing potencies of the soul. The top of the mountain, the holy grail, and the divine encounter often resemble the longing for recovery, the bliss of a lover and the ideal image of a transformed new life. For our second week on The Lady and the Unicorn, we turn our attention toward the virginal soul. Virginity represents much more than sexual purity. Consider the Mother Mary and her significance in the Christian mythos. Her purity becomes the rightful womb for new life and the child of transformation. We need not look at virginity in the sexual and literal sense of the word here, but the psychological.
An Honest-to-One’s-Self Expression
Lets briefly look at the virgin archetype. When we consider virginity in terms of the psyche, we see the uninhabited potentiality for spiritual insemination. Virginity means pure – uninhabited or untainted, a potency of something or someone without pollination. Virgin in this perspective helps us to attend to what is our own. This is the rightful starting place for a soul in ascent. In Greek mythology, the virgin goddesses personify a complete “does-what-she-does” quality. A virgin goddess is not susceptible to penetration psychologically; rather, she seeks nothing and embodies, in action and being, an honest-to-one’s-self-expression. Consider the Greek goddess, Artemis. Artemis wears a short skirt so she can run through the woods and hunt, fires true, golden arrows at whatever she is after without miss, and prefers the company of her nymphs in the privacy of the wild. Virginity personified in the image of Artemis captures independence, strength, play, and solitude.
The Winds of the Spirit
The youthful soul, firstly calm and quaint grows curious and full of life. As the virginal soul consciousness inflates and the winds of the spirit fill our banners, life takes on a rich and passionate quality. What stirs us with fantasies of heaven? The role of virginity can be seen as the uninhabited, the new potential and inspiration. The Virginal Soul resembles possibility and a generative expression in the world. On the one hand, supporting our clients to “reach for the stars” and live into our passions can fund a sense of self and meaning. On the other hand, our hot-air-filled lift can take us off the ground and away from the things of this world. The virginal soul is not the place to bed consciousness, but it is an important place to attend. Can we support the rising fantasies without dropping lead in the proverbial basket?
Recall from last week, the youthful soul is calm and attentive to her string of flowers. The lion and unicorn wear shields of protection over the soul and the handmaiden (ego) simply offers flowers to the souls creation. By contrast, the virginal soul image is filled with life. The image lifts and engages. Note the capes and banners filled with wind. The birds and other animals appear active. The monkey, once sniffing bread in the background, has now taken center stage. Curious and engaged, the virginal soul feeds a fluttering bird on her finger. A magpie and hawk fence on the winds above. She wears her golden dress uncovered with hair alive on the wind. The tremendous movement and presence of full potential are apparent. Next week we will look at the process of descent where virginity moves us into maturation.
The Soul in Innocence
This week, we will be looking at the soul in stages of transformation personified in the 14th-century French tapestries titled, The Lady and The Unicorn, starting with the first of the images: the Soul in Innocence. James Hillman (2004) identified “the addiction to innocence, to not knowing life’s darkness and not wanting to know, either.” Indeed, his diagnosis sheds light on the oppression and suffering that breathe in the shadow of American idealism. That Hillman equates it with an addiction bears mentioning. It is interesting to consider this perspective when treating our clients with addiction issues. Innocence can be an escape from responsibility, confrontation, neurosis and more. Often we encounter a psychological pattern of sublimation – moving from one addiction to another in an effort to remain hidden and unconscious. Additionally, innocence is a protector, a surrogate womb where refuge from confrontation with the Self can be found.
On the one hand, innocence represents a time without care, where, in reference to the soul, life is lived without reflection and opinion (neurosis.) In many instances, we like to remind clients to remember their weirdness as children. Think of the things we say and do in childhood without regard or expectation. Our “weird” expresses our soul-nature. Perhaps we loved to wiggle our bodies or mastermind an army of toys. Perhaps we enjoyed lining up our stuffed animals in categories or by size and color, playing school, hiding in closets, or making up songs. Innocence grants us the experience of fluid, free, un-reflected expression. Innocence is ease of mind, of imagination and the body.
Freedom, Growth, and Maturation
In Memories Dreams Reflections, C.G. Jung suggests that through adaptation a second self emerges to better interact with environment and needs. We become more survivalists – creating a self better suited for needs and approval. How can the persona we show the world tell us about what we value and what we keep hidden? In time the soul may lose expression and, in neglect, sleep behind the second self. Conversely, a soul-centered psychology aims to awaken and attend to the soul in maturation. By regression into the innocent, we avoid our growth. Consider how innocence-idealized may very well be a hiding place and also a threshold into the imagination. Against the backdrop of archetypal innocence, how do we experience freedom, growth, and maturation? Can innocence put into perspective our lost self? Finally, how can we bring that freedom back out into our waking life?
Innocence As Defense Mechanism
On the one hand, the idealization of innocence can concurrently serve a different function in the individual psyche. Perhaps, rather than grow into and mature through our entangled issues, we may instead regress to a helpless and unknowing, irresponsible archetypal possession. The world is chaos and big, responsibility is pressure and overwhelming and, rather than work through and step into a soul in maturation, we might unconsciously find refuge in the complete abandon of “helplessness.” Innocence as a defense mechanism may show up in an attitude of naiveté. “You can’t blame me I don’t know any better,” for example. Does this behavior sound familiar? How can innocence become a hiding place and a regressive move away from maturation? Furthermore, how can innocence draw us toward what was left behind? Is it possible to move into the essence of soul remembered in innocence without abandoning a conscious and integrative process?
Take a look at the image above. We recognize that the central figure is larger than her handmaiden, cloaked in gold, symbolic of divinity, and the blue and red of the imagination and life. This central figure attends quaintly to the task of stringing flowers. The unicorn of the imagination and the lion of the animal nature are attending and raising banners to the central image, the soul in innocence. The soul is attended by a smaller aspect, holding the flowers for the soul’s creation. The focus here is inward and calm. The feeling is intimate and uncomplicated. Can we have these kinds of experiences in our adult life? This week, try to listen and observe with an ear for innocence both in its idealization as an escape from reality and as a way into the imagination, toward the authenticity of the individual soul.
A Future of Hope and Improvement
A lady looks into the mirror seeing her reflection smiling back. A man sits by the fire and reflects on the years that have passed and cannot be relived. The still lake holds the reflection of the moon on her surface. The idea of reflection is multilayered. Thinking about things that have happened in the past (reflecting on their deeds) and the bouncing off of light/heat from a surface (a reflection in the mirror) are to name just a few. As we move into another new year, we say goodbye to the past and welcome a future of hope and improvement.
The Path of Renewal and Recovery
Reflecting back on the choices we have made in the past year, we gain a more rounded view of the time and the effects our choices have brought. Making better choices is important while walking this path of renewal and recovery. Our actions should be a reflection of our thoughts and our thoughts should reflect our actions. But we must reflect on these past outcomes before we can alter our future choices.
Taking Inventory of the Past
The most common celebrations of ancient times involved reflection and revolved around the harvest festivals of autumn. Perhaps it was out of fear and reverence. After all, the days grew darker and shorter, and the natural world began to die away. It was an important time because what was done in earnest during this time laid the seeds for the spring to come in the future. This is the meaning of reflection: take inventory of the past to reinvigorate the seeds of the future.
Improving Our World and Ourselves
The Chinese offer us another image of reflection encapsulated in the teachings of the I Ching. In China, a large platform elevated into the sky was used as a lookout, glimpsing both ahead and behind. As we know, if you are high up, you can see far. However, there is a cost to being able to see behind and ahead. The cost is that everyone can see you better as well. Thus, the only way that we can improve our world is to improve ourselves. The only way to lead others in a positive way is to reflect deeply on our own lives and make an impact there. Obtain a better view and look within.
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