Removing the Armor
We took the time last week to explore the role of the heroic archetype at work in the therapeutic process. In doing so, we named the hero as the champion of our endeavor to make changes and confront obstacles. We teased out some distinctions between the hero as identity (archetypal inflation) and the hero as an image by which we imagine the processes of change. And this is exactly what soul psychology is after. Rather than literalize all our efforts in measurable goals and clear rules, we instead enter the realm of how we imagine these things as they take place. More often than not the struggle is not between a heroic position and a villain at all. Rather, it is amongst our resistance to the outpouring of the emergent moment. Remember the importance of removing the armor or war paint and remembering our own name.
Space for the Unknown and Vulnerable
Think of the differences between an archetypal role and the human experience beneath them. It isn’t hard to imagine what happens when we carry our roles home with us. Remembering the space for the unknown and vulnerable person that we truly are engenders us with the room for the archetypes to belong to psyche and not our identities and self-worth. After all, from this perspective, it is inflation and loss of the human experience that ultimately estranges us from the soulful experience to begin with. Not only do we learn to enter new archetypal patterns that imbue our lives and efforts with new meaning, but also to remove ourselves from these structures. We learn to live the subtle animal within in whom we are most ourselves.
Everything We Need
Heroism can be best described as the youthful drive to move forward with maturation. Sure, we fantasize that we will arrive at a sort of bliss in the end. However, keep in mind that for there to be an end is for the hero to no longer be a hero. The work would be finished. As Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and C.G. Jung in Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious attest, myths are complete images. They do not have a beginning middle and end. We may extract places along a path that converge with our own lives. However, the completeness of the myth means all aspects can be happening simultaneously. Think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. She had the shoes all along! We mature not to something else but toward the realization that we have everything we need in this present moment.
The Person in the Basket
Robert Moore, a Jungian analyst and depth writer uses the image of the hot-air balloon to describe the problem with inflation. Moore says that when we fill the head with the hot air, we find ourselves stuck up and at the mercy of the flight of ideas. Here, our pride and rightness take us beyond this human experience. Instead, says Moore, we must attend to the person in the basket. What wild ride has our heroic ventures taken us on? What addiction, relationship, or expectation has us acting uptight? This week, our theme is about where the hero in us sees the dragon in others. In that maybe we can be on equal footing. With gratitude, we continue to learn and grow in this role. We are happy to work at remembering the basket below our flights of fantasy and remember to see ourselves in every one of you.
Heroism and the Psychological Life
At the start of this week, I want to break down the role of heroism in our psychological life. I suspect, we have all, to one degree or another, heard of the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell introduced it first in his famous book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In it, Campbell identifies the motif of the hero across mythologies and extracts the key ‘arche’ of the heroic archetype. Campbell captures a series of stages to the hero’s journey that characterize his or her story. This journey in a series of stages opens the terminus imaginalis for the intra-psychic journey of the ego-self. To put it another way, imagine heroism as the role the ego must take on in order to achieve redemption.
The Journey of the Soul
Campbell observed this pattern across cultures and religions and understood this to be of a primordial (instinctual) drive of the human soul. To Campbell, as well as C.G. Jung, the hero archetype was fundamental to the human psyche as the vessel of our transformation. Indeed, putting the lens of the hero archetype on as we conceive and engage in our own lives and the lives of our clients can help us to move toward the presenting obstacles to wholeness. Our psychological health, the journey of the soul, to individuate and stand en-souled as a personality and self is a heroes’ journey par excellence. While much can be said about the stages offered to us by Campbell, I want instead to look at the hero archetype in its light and shadow.
Affirm and Endure
From a heroic lens, we can say that to accept wholeness as foundational to mental health is to choose a journey through the dark and painful contents of the unconscious into the discovery of what Campbell refers to as the “field of bliss”. Both Jung and Campbell understood this tenant as true. If suffering is inherent to the human experience, the horrors and suffering of life are, in Campbell’s words, the “foreground to wonder”. Jung was less idealistic, suggesting that the best we can do is affirm the “yes” of life – the pleasure, happiness and, joy – and to “endure” the “no,” – the pain, suffering, and misery. As life is the interplay of opposites both a yes and a no are fundamental. To come into the subjective experience of the hero is to enter these confrontations willingly.
The Beautiful Revelation
This week I want to encourage everyone to consider removing the armor. Remember that we must find peace amidst the confrontations with the unconscious. Additionally, recognize outside the archetype in what ways the archetype is necessary and active. Jung was clear that we fight to conquer the ground of peace that is outside of our own psyches. The goal is to achieve a sense of self-acceptance and fullness. Heroism is a confrontation with what stands in the way of a resting peace. How can we tease out the role of the hero while identifying spaces where the armor can come off and the vulnerability of being can thrive? Remember to move gently through our change. Practicing self-compassion and deflating from heroism reminds us that we are a part of this here and now. Here is our restoration and the beautiful revelation that we are enough.
The Wisdom of Experience
This week, we wrap up our analysis of The Lady and the Unicorn with the sixth and final tapestry of this series. Some people might expect to see the lady now in heaven, but instead, she is turning earthwards rather than heavenwards. We see a proud and upright unicorn’s horn in her left hand as if to guide the unicorn. It was this gesture of touching the horn which gave the tapestry the title, “The Sense of Touch.” We can see that her face, when compared with previous tapestries, has aged considerably. She looks very much like a queen here, jeweled and standing firmly on the ground. To put it another way, the lady could now be in control of her destiny because she overcame the animal nature in herself. She is in harmony with and guiding the unicorn with the wisdom of experience.
A Direct Relationship with the Spirit
So much of our work focuses on a journey: the unfolding process, how the phenomenon at present draws us into deeper truths about our life, beliefs, behaviors, wants, and needs. But there comes a time when the journey of the soul leads to the calm grounded sense of being. On the one hand, our western traditions support a heroic process through the material of our lives, asking of us a redemption story wherein we confront shadow and strive forward through the psyche. On the other, the eastern world, by in large, places emphasis on no mind at all – to learn to be. While each stream diverges in practice, the outcomes, or should I say the longing for Eden underlies the process in likeness. We want rest for the mind and soul, and a direct relationship with the spirit. We strive for nothing but to be at peace and harmony.
The Universal Ground of Consciousness
This work is impossible without that instinct. We each have a piece of wisdom, have known what more we live for, to experience more than survival. This week I want to encourage you to remember these truths forged through your hard work, dedication and suffering. What epiphany has befallen you that you cannot help but recognize as truth? What meaning lies in your journey and how do you give it away? We talk about this in many streams of tradition and myth. The many traditions of the world draw us to the same fundamental truth of harmony and the universal ground of consciousness. Oneness seems to be the beginning and the end of the journey itself.
The Liberation of the Mind
From new life, to death, to in breath and out breath, the experience of presence, liberation from a mind bound by agenda and threat is free to stand with the spirit and animal self, able to look outward to the world with confidence, not in an idea, but the fulfillment of experience itself. I studied yoga under the tutelage of Swami Satchidananda. His method was simple: rest the nervous system, open the communication in the body, and synchronize the breath. Yoga is a metaphor, an intention to connect and release. To find harmony. In the simple ground of being, what is complex begins to find rest. I leave this series with the sentiment that we GET to experience each moment. Through that endeavor, the will of the gods is made clearer. The soul is sensing the spirit and the will is driven onward in presence and peace.
“All the Yoga practices are just undoing, unwinding loosening up again, and relaxing. Until you unwind, you will be swinging like the pendulum from excited mind to depressed mind, back and forth again and again. Once you begin to loosen up again, the swinging becomes less and less. At a certain point you are totally unwound. Then you simply find your neutrality, your center of gravity, and rest.” – Sri Swami
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?
Bringing Sustained Change
Perseverance is crucial for long term change and necessary to overcome challenges using new methods. Many of our clients have fallen into patterns, as we all do. Unfortunately, their “normal” way of dealing with life stressors has been maladaptive. Often, clients have created methods to deal with negative, uncomfortable, or intense emotions. Some of these methods work for a time in that they successfully alter the reality of pain. However, maladaptive skills such as rage, disassociation, disconnection/cut-off, and substance use are not a panacea and thus eventually fail. The cost of these maladaptive skills creates a new set of problems at worst. At best, it supports and maintains dysfunctional behaviors.
Getting Out of the Rut
One significant challenge in learning and applying healthy adaptive skills is to get out of the rut of the “same ol’” that has been practiced through the many years. These trained neurological pathways and practiced responses never simply dissipate. Only hard and consistent work through perseverance can bring sustained change. It can be difficult to maintain focus and utilize new adaptive coping skills. It opposes the tendency to rely upon the familiar even if the familiar is the crux of pain. As humans develop and learn coping skills during the different stages of development, they find a sense of what works for them and then they stick to it, until they face the new challenges that further development brings. Herein lies the crossroads. do people learn new adaptive strategies to meet the new challenges or do they revert to known coping methods?
Transitional Regression and Maladaptive Coping Skills
When people are faced with new challenges and feel overwhelmed or overburdened with the reality that development brings, then people tend to revert into behaviors that worked for them in an earlier stage of development. Clinicians call this reversion “transitional regression”. Reverting to an earlier stage of coping initially brings a sense of empowerment. It also provides a sense of comfort due to the familiarity of these coping strategies. However, regressing often brings even more stress and even shame. Reverting to coping skills of earlier stages that do not meet the demands that new development requires creates higher levels of stress and perceived incompetency. Moreover, this reversion into maladaptive coping skills can exacerbate vicious and familiar cycles. So people get stuck and they stay stuck.
The Torment of Sisyphus
To initiate change feels to many like the pain and torment of Sisyphus. This exacerbates the feeling of being stuck and encourages the continuation of maladaptive coping strategies. This can occur even if the familiar prolongs pain or causes new pain and discomfort. It is familiar and many equate familiar with safety, which unfortunately is not the case with maladaptive coping skills. As clients start to develop new coping skills and when they are beset by old haunts, new challenges, and painful emotions that arise from facing underlying issues, there is a significant challenge in not regressing to old behaviors. This brings us to perseverance and the importance of staying the course of new change and practicing functional and adaptive coping skills with diligence.
This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are working to raise our clients’ awareness of transitional regression. We are working to build and sustain behaviors that are conducive to their treatment and life goals, including the benefits of perseverance. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please give Barn Life Recovery a call today. We are the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness at a community-based level. Contact us now a learn to love life again!