Thursday, April 26, 2012

Invisible Counselors

"In a dark time the eye begins to see."  

This is the opening line of the poem by Theodore Roethke.  But how does it happen in life?

In a dark time, when battling paralyzing fear (the fear of poverty, of criticism, of loss of love), I wrote down those words of the poet.  I had no idea how I would find my way out of the underground passage I found myself in, especially as there were no mentors or guides.

The idea that I could turn misfortune (which I began to write about in the form of a book that I would call The Red Coat) into a blessing was the thought that changed my life.

In his inspirational classic, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill says that people end up where they are because of their dominating thoughts and desires.  Everything created in the world begins in the form of a thought inside your head.
"All thought has a tendency to clothe itself in its physical equivalent."
If you are a worrier, you get things to worry about.  If you fear criticism, you find yourself inundated by it. 

To address his own shortcomings, Hill conducted a thought experiment.  He called an imaginary council of historical figures whom he admired and who he thought would have a positive influence on him, such that he might in time and through interaction with them rebuild his own character.  Hill appointed himself the head of that assembly and addressed the figures one by one, requesting their assistance in his endeavors.  Soon, these "Invisible Counselors" began to communicate to him through the "receiving set" of his subconscious mind, granting him throughout his day the extraordinary ideas, plans and hunches that flashed before his mind. 

Here is my cabinet (with seating chart) and call to order.  Who's in yours?


NAPOLEON HILL (sitting at my right hand which is the strong hand of my will), I ask that you pass on to me the habit of directing my thoughts toward success, being ever mindful that thoughts are things, and powerful things when mixed with definiteness of purpose, persistence and a burning desire for their translation into wealth.  

SHIKO MUNAKATA (self-taught Artist born to a blacksmith), I ask that you teach me to see what is already there and to work with marvelous speed in getting it down on paper.

From you, DIONYSUS (God of Theater and Wine), I wish to acquire the freedom of Nobody and the gift of the Poets through whom speak the daemons of your house.

From you, INGMAR BERGMAN (Master of the Magic Lantern), I wish to learn how to express through word and image those chasms, heavens, eternities that we bear within us.

You, ERESHKIGAL (Queen of the Great Below whose dark forces when unobserved are felt as depression), I wish to keep in my circle so that you do not destroy me.

From you, POLAR BEAR (sitting opposite me), I ask that you let me put on your coat and be who I am.

From you, INANNA (Queen of Heaven and Earth), I wish to acquire all of the virtues: the virtue of war, of incantation, of truth, of dagger and sword, of fear, of lovemaking, of the happy song, of the lamentation, of treachery, of straightforwardness, of kindness, of deceit, and so on, so that I am a whole and sovereign being.

From you, ARISTOPHANES (Comic Poet of the Ancient World), I wish to acquire the audacity and skill to erase the world that is and create another.

From you, ARTEMIS (Mistress of the Wilderness), I wish to acquire the ability to talk to the animals and to hear the wisdom of the natural world.

From you, C.G. JUNG, I wish to acquire the ability and courage to overcome those strange resistances that hold me back, to let go of suffering and open myself to the possibility of all that I am, giving battle to the nursery demons at the gate and entering the causal zone of my psyche where I clarify and name the Eternal Ones who hold the keys to my life.

From you, JOAN OF ARC (sitting to my left, the little left hand of me), I desire to acquire the Movement of Faith, the resolute action that is needed to put in motion the extraordinary ideas that come to me in sparks of divinity. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Call to Adventure

When a pretty and kind-hearted girl is eight years old, her mother dies.  Her father remarries and the new mother is jealous and mean, foisting all of the housework on the lovely young girl while favoring her own lazy and spiteful daughters.  Toiling under this unbearable situation, the girl eventually loses sight of her charms.  Her journey then, as a young woman, is to rediscover the beauty that she lost. 

This is the story of Cinderella, one of the oldest and best-loved fairy tales in the world. 

According to Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, the journey begins with a crisis and a call to adventure, which is set in motion by the merest chance – a maiden loses her slipper, or a ball rolls into a pond, or there is a knock at the door, or someone loses his way in the woods – and the individual is drawn into an unfamiliar and terrifying world.

The figure that first appears to announce the adventure – be it a repulsive toad who offers advice or a benevolent fairy godmother who turns a pumpkin and field mice into a coach drawn by six gray horses – belongs to the realm where the hero must go.  To answer the call, the hero must turn away from familiar things and enter the dark forest or the underground way to grapple with the hidden and irrational forces of a place where one cannot see “to the bottom of things.”

The crisis has come about because the old ideals, thoughts and behaviors are no longer appropriate. 

In The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Marie Louise Von Franz suggests that, for a woman, the call may be to live more boldly and in line with one’s nature, as in the case of Cinderella who has been hiding in the shadow of her domineering step-mother and sisters – or it may be to get over hurt feelings as in the case of Snow White whose response to the deadly opinion about her is to sleep for a hundred years.  Or perhaps, Von Franz suggests, it is necessary to connect with officially rejected thoughts or feelings, as in the case of the sister in The Six Swans who must work for many years in the deepest introversion sewing shirts for her brothers who had been turned into swans by their unhappy mother. 

Failure to answer the call means the loss of “the power of significant affirmative action” and reduces the subject to a victim to be saved.  But answering the call, Campbell says, sends up all kinds of supernatural aid.

As in fairytale, so in real life.  Answering the call and following courageously as the path unfolds, we find all of the forces of the unconscious at our side.  

In moments of crisis, the unconscious sends up "living beings" that are concealed in the emotions but which sometimes appear to us in dreams.  According to psychologist C.G. Jung, these aspects of instinctive impulse have the power to destroy as long as they remain hidden or submerged in the unconscious.  Answering the call, then, on some level, is to listen to what is being asked of us in our dreams – that is, to embrace the quest for a new synthesis of personality that involves taking into account those parts of the whole that have been neglected.

 The way Jung himself responded to the call – and what he urged his patients to do – was to translate these instinctive impulses into images.  He urged his patients to draw and paint their fantasies, finding that this technique both helped them to rediscover hidden parts of themselves and also to portray the psychological journey upon which they were embarked.

What is being asked of you?