Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trash to Treasure

A man holds a lantern before an open door and enters.  That is the subject of a painting by William Blake entitled “Jerusalem.”   I found it in a book called The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy & Mysticism.  It was one of the many books I read trying to teach myself how to write The Red Coat.

The alchemists were looking for a way to turn base metals – lead, tin, iron – into gold.  For me, the challenge was first put forth by Oscar the Grouch in a book I bought my boy at the grocery story: From Trash to Treasure!  The idea interested me.  I had a lot of trash, and more and more kept getting heaped on me all the time.  So after a while, I didn’t know what was mine or where I stood in all of it.

Now this wasn’t real trash, it was psychic trash, and yes some of it was circumstantial trash.  Trash that came along.  Trash inherited from my ancestors, from history, from my parents.  Even friends and employers contributed.  Collective trash.  But for some reason, I seemed to have more of it than others.  Maybe I was a trash magnet?  Or I created trash?  I felt like I had it written on my face.  It was getting me down.

What to do with all that trash?

At the lowest point, when the weight of trash was unbearable, I began to make something out of it.  In 1995, when my son was four years old, I started to write The Red Coat.  At first, it was merely entries in a journal, fragments, images, scenes into which I’d project myself in order to get to the bottom of my problem.

Where did I go?  What happened to me?    

A character appeared whom I would call Marla Piper.  Where did she come from?  I didn’t know but “she” allowed me to look at myself without the painful reminder that it was me.  Like an alchemist from a distant age, I would peer down into the murk of my soul and shine a light upon my “stuff” to try and deal with it.  I’d have to sift through a lot of junk to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of.

I found that some of the stuff had been projected onto me by other people as part of their own unwanted shadow (“you are worthless” was really how they felt about themselves).  Some of it belonged to the culture I lived in (“you are not beautiful”), and some of it was inherited from my folks (“you are doomed to fail”).  Those things I could try and jettison, whereas other things, things I myself had done or created (“you are judgmental” or “you are confused” or “you have abdicated power”) were facts about myself that I’d have to take responsibility for if I was ever going to succeed.

Bit by bit, I turned the pieces over in my mind's eye and still I could not find that mysterious, vital essence that instinctually I felt was my birthright but which had been taken from me or I had forgotten somewhere along the way and it was now lost, submerged like some priceless treasure thrown off a pirate ship and fallen to the bottom of the ocean.

Psychologist C.G. Jung saw the unconscious mind as an ocean and the ego (that part of the mind we usually think of as “me”) as a tiny boat bobbing in the midst.
Jung believed that the goal of psychic development is the integration of these two parts of the self, the unconscious and the conscious.  Shining a light on the shadow – those repressed shortcomings, emotions and instincts lurking inside us – is the way we come to ourselves.  The treasure is in the depths of things where insight prevails.  Paradoxically, when we are able to do this, to see and accept the awful, unspoken, hidden parts as well as the good, we lay claim to our divinity.

For Jung, and for the alchemists and the mystics, exploring the psyche (or soul) is a religious quest, and it is ignorance not sin that keeps us from God.  For the integrated personality, or “Self” as Jung called it, is the archetype of unity and totality, that immutable spark inside us that reflects the living God.

What is your treasure?  that immutable, rare, and desired part?  Where did it go? Is it hidden, sunken, buried, lost or stolen or is it like that lamp of old:
"No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl.  Instead, he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” - Luke 11:5

1 comment:

Cynthia Wylie said...

Red Coat Writer: I LOVE your blog posts. Unfortunately for me, I am well acquainted with my trash but I will have to think about my treasures. Thank you for reminding me to do that.