These are very challenging times. We know that in the midst of all that is unfolding in the outer world, and how our inner world is responding, the work in our program can feel like a lot right now. However, as one of our faculty colleagues has shared, we could look at our program as a source of strength rather than demand. Above all, stepping into the world of an idea (another’s experience, a new practice, an unknown, a book) is giving our minds something to chew on and consider, and this is helping us feel more grounded.
The Once and Future King
As Merlyn said to the young Arthur in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. Indeed, that is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. Ultimately, there is only one thing for it then—to learn. Indeed, learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or mistrust.” (183)
A Soulful and Curious Stewardship
Merlyn is echoing one of Jung’s deep insights, that suffering and consciousness walk hand in hand. This week our program simply wants to encourage a soulful and curious stewardship of these unfoldings. Attend lovingly to your own restlessness. Furthermore, listen intently to the heart. Finally, endeavor to lean into this tension knowing that we cannot solve but only share in the unfolding. On our break from the hero theme, I’ll say briefly that it is my belief that our clients don’t need us to “have it together,” no shielded, armored, sword-striking interpretations and behavioral prescriptions. Instead, we are a bridge to the humanity that links us all to one another. In fact, a global crisis brings a global cause and in this, we may forge heartfelt community. May we endure with open hand the unfolding and show up in this work with all humanity and all humility.
I’d also like to share a poem:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
– Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
So here we are. In conclusion, let’s lean into the ideas, lean into the learning as a community. Good luck these next few days, trust where you are and where we are going!
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.
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
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 Process of Decline and Renewal
The idea of rebirth is ancient. Indeed, throughout time immemorial, myths and legends speak of man’s process of birth, death, and rebirth into a new life. But why is this process of appearance, decline, and renewal so firmly etched on our conscious and unconscious thoughts? The list of gods and demi-gods who have traveled the path of rebirth are as countless as the stars. To name a few: the Phoenix, Osiris, Baldr, Adonis, Dionysus, Attis, Vayu, Quetzalcoatl, Tammuz, Shiva, Persephone, Izanami, Ishtar, and on and on.
An Opportunity for Personal Growth
It is vital to view this concept of rebirth through the lens of non-literal interpretation. In fact, reading these death/rebirth stories and myths as literal events can be dangerous and vexing. However, we can choose to view them with the same sensibilities as Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell. When we do, a whole world of personal growth, psychoanalysis, and psychology opens up. It is like voices from long ago sharing secrets that have endured centuries yet teeter on the precipice of forgotten knowledge.
Embracing the Present Moment
All of us experience death and rebirth. Letting go of addiction is a small death yet carving out a new life free from bondage is a grand rebirth. Experiencing trauma feels like something has died. However, leaving these traumas on the altars of the past (where they belong) is an embrace of the present moment. Relationships die, only to be replaced by new experiences of connection and love.
A Breath of Fresh Air
These cycles are something we all deal with on a daily basis. However, by drawing up these old stories from this inexhaustible well, we can reach new levels of understanding ourselves, thereby quenching our enduring thirst. The cycles of birth and death are all around us. This becomes all the more poignant for someone in early recovery who is in the process of reinventing themselves, starting over, and putting their pasts behind them. Indeed, they are breathing fresh air into an old pattern of suffocation and stagnation.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. At our holistic facility in Orange County, our Barn Life staff, within an idyllic setting, encourage tried and true healing practices. For example, we offer Tai Chi, synthetic-free psychology, relapse prevention, martial arts, meditation, and more. It’s all at our Orange County intensive outpatient program and day program. If someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, give us a call today. Start to love life again!
Who Is This Self?
Self-improvement seems like a good idea, at first blush. Who doesn’t want to improve? However, have we stopped to think about who or what this “self” is that desires improvement? This self you call you. Are you the sum total of remembered events or a narrative story in which you are the star? Are you the voices in your head? This week I really want us to look closer at what we mean by self-improvement.
A Left-Brain Construct
How can we improve upon a self that is really just a construct of our left brain. Look it up. The left brain is notorious for cooking up all kinds of stories about who we are and what we should be. Scientists have referred to the left brain as the Interpreter. Tests have concluded that it is the left brain’s function to create order, meaning and a linear storyline of who we are. What we forgot to mention to everyone is that YOU are not your left brain. In fact, you are not even the voices in your head at all. Ancient mystics and now modern science agree, the essential YOU is the space or venue in which these thoughts and ideas come to play. Look up studies by Dr. Michael Gazzaniga regarding the left brain. Explore the writings of Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass and Alan Watts. The idea of self is a fascinating topic that we only rarely scratch beyond the surface.
Letting Go of the Obsession
What we want to show our students is that self-improvement is ungraspable until you let go. Stopping addictions are impossible to do by trying not to do something: do not drink, do not overeat, do not smoke, do not seek out dysfunctional relationships. There is no quicker way to do something than to promise yourself you will never do it again. It is only by letting go of the obsession that we find freedom.
Doing That Which You Enjoy
Ironically, that which eludes us will curl up by our feet and surrender if only we would stop chasing our own tails. Instead of self-improvement, seek stillness and silence. Self-improvement is a byproduct of doing that which you enjoy. It happens spontaneously. It never happens by design or because you try desperately to make it so. Go try to fall in love or try to find contentment. Go searching for peace of mind. None will be found because you cannot find what you always had from the start.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. At our holistic facility in Orange County, our Barn Life staff, within an idyllic setting, encourage tried and true healing practices vis-a-vis Tai Chi, synthetic-free psychology, relapse prevention, martial arts, and meditation through our Orange County intensive outpatient program and day program. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, give us a call today and start to love life again!