A Slow Awakening

I share my experience in that there might be the possibility that even one individual might see that there is another way. Influenced by my own life struggles and many years serving as a social worker with children and youth in crisis my perception has come to be that so many of us are on a path towards waking up, often not knowing in our early years what this is about. For many years I didn’t know that I was in the early stages of a long struggle to free myself from various traps that my serial attachment to ideals and wishful thinking only served to mask and strengthen. I now know that I was looking for something that would free me from something that confined me. I didnt know what that was? In an unconscious way I searched in the most bizarre and contradictory places for a life energy that could assist me to emerge from something unrealized that was consuming me. For the longest time it was just about surviving from day to day. I almost didn’t, and others that I grew up with didnt make it. Being lost, I was consumed by doubt and related emotion and confusion.

Slowly I came to a realization regarding how much of my life had been spent inside various boxes, trying, mostly unconsciously, to get out. I had always been drawn to the reflection and evidence that others might have, of moments of vision and insight in which the deeper meaning of life is revealed. My heart was generally closed but increasingly non literal inspirational experiences would arise. Simone Weil wrote about this search and insight that is experienced in life, “To love truth means to endure the void and, as a result, to accept death. Truth is on the side of death.” Something dies every time there is change. I was learning that I had to be able to let go and make space for the true; that familiar well-worn habits must give way. I am recovering from a literalist vision that gave me a world where things and mind are separate and language is the creator of “meanings” connecting the two parts of reality. In those moments that I give up the notion of any literal reality I am free to feel the psychic nature of things and the thing-like-ness of thoughts, that mind and nature are not separate. It was becoming increasingly clear that the tiny spark that I tried so hard to protect and defend against the darkness isn’t a thing at all. In opening to that darkness there is a world more mysterious and wonderful than we can know in our literal way. Behind our collective attempts to conceptualize and control, manage, and civilize our worlds there is so much of life that we are missing. The universe is more unusual and more than we can know through the use of concrete abstractions.

Yes, I have a framework through which I see life which includes a set of categories that structure my experience, but I understand that this or any other framework is not universal and necessary. If mine becomes too stifling and damaging I can utilize another. In the end the simplicity and permanence of literal understanding is limited in comprehending the impermanence and complexity that is the nature of all that exists.

IMAGINAL LOVE The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman TOM CHEETHAM

A stunning book. This is one of my all time favourite books, one that I am sure I will reread numerous times. It is an astounding creative exploration and extension of the writings and life views of Henry Corbin and James Hillman, including brief synopsis of poets Robert Duncan, Wallace Stevens and others. He explores the literal process by which human kind has wandered into and the misguided abstract world that does not reflect concrete reality. He explores how energy of the archetype manifests in us and can be wrongly interpreted and discourages attachment to abstract nouns and literal understanding, encouraging a life view and living through “being” and a practice of reflecting in verbs and adverbs. He speaks of events rather than objects. He writes in a way that is inquisitive, that he has discovered something life changing and that he intuitively relates to in Henry Corbin and James Hillman. A genuine desire to find in humans what is authentic is obvious and in that, he has come to see the wonderful aspects of being human that we all have access to. He encourages another non literal perception of our very creative, expansive and compassionate human nature that easily becomes trapped in the narrowing of our human perceptions. He does not illustrate any of this as an idealistic pursuit or success or as something to be achieved but more out of an unraveling and letting go and a returning to what we inherently are.

The Magnus Opus

There is a tight complementarity between the emotions and the imagination. The imagination is a powerful solvent ‒ it keeps things fluid and prevents the world from freezing up. It breaks down walls. It refuses the literal and sees all things as metaphoric and symbolic. Imagination perceives correspondences. To do this it must flow. It is the essential element for any work with the crippled and uncontrolled emotions that dominate the literalist psyche. The emotions all have their own dynamic and style of imagination, but when they are dominant, monolithic, autonomous, and automatic it is as if the whole person has been caught in some vast eddy of energy, cut off from the broader stream and unable to escape. Jung had a name for these reflexive, habitual and semi-conscious emotions that so often dominate our lives. They are the feeling-toned complexes. The great challenge of psychic development is to become conscious of the complexes that dominate your life. It is the great work ‒ the magnum opus. And I think the one of the best ways to think about the process involved is by means of the metaphors of alchemy. The psychic and spiritual battlesthat alchemy describes are difficult and painful almost beyond description. The prima materia of the opus consists in a massa confusa of wild emotions ‒ a powerful chaos of pain, shame, rage, fear, anger, hatred, and anguish. All of it must be contained in the vas bene clausum ‒ a well-sealed vessel, and a veritable furnace. For the impossible rule of this work is “don’t repress; don’t act out” ‒ the only allowable action is to stay sealed in the furnace and Imagine. In the heat at the heart of the great work the cooking occurs by means of a series of operations repeated over and over again in a seemingly endless process of psychosomatic stresses and transformations. The goal is to get some distance between the soul in the oven and the dominating and impersonal emotions that engulf her. The struggle is to discover that the all-consuming passions, whatever they are, are not inevitable responses to features of some stable, objective world but states of the psyche ‒ and so, the world they arise in response to is not literal and objective, not permanent, not the Truth. This distancing is the difficult process of becoming conscious of a complex. It is the chief key to freedom from the passions. Only through this distancing, the dis-identification with the complex, can clarity be had in any emotional situation. And the one certain rule here, so very hard to keep front and center, is that any time there is strong affect, any time the passions rage, there is a complex at the center of the storm.

Tom Cheetham

from his wonderful book IMAGINAL LOVE The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman TOM CHEETHAM SPRING PUBLICATIONS THOMPSON, CONN.

Conceptual Language

From IMAGINAL LOVE The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman TOM CHEETHAM SPRING PUBLICATIONS THOMPSON, CONN.

Conceptual language is the rhetorical style of this directed thinking ‒ as it is the rhetorical style of the ego, that master of direction and control. Hillman says conceptual language “is the chronic locus of our collective neurosis as it appears in language.” [37] The concept is the workhorse of rationalism. Rationalism accounts for the world in concept words rather than images or thing words or craft words. It is based on establishing identities ‒ what something is rather than what it is like. And to say what something is we have to treat it schematically, abstractly, since the real thing itself is far too complex, individual and immediate to be anything but itself. So we take this being away from it, and rather than describing it metaphorically, we categorize it with a concept and say what it is. So, Hillman says, we may claim that our hypotheses and conceptual statements are only heuristic, but in practice was substantiate everything because we are trapped in the literalism of our language. Of the rationalism of psychology he writes, We speak in concepts: the ego and the unconscious; libido, energy and drive; opposites, regression, feeling-function, compensation, transference… When working with these terms we curiously forget they are concepts only, barely useful for grasping psychic events which they inadequately describe. [38]

Tom Cheetham

Another Momentum

People have been curious as to why I am such a wanderer and why it is that I have not settled in one place, wondering what it is that I am searching for in my journeys. I haven’t always been sure what it is that has kept me moving and have at times wondered if there was not something pathological that prevents me from staying in one spot for long. I have always lived this way. A contradiction to the notion that I am not comfortable in sitting still is that I have participated in over twenty silent, meditation retreats over the years, many of them spanning a week or more in length.

These days I see what it is that influences me more clearly, that a consequence of everyday, repetitive, habitual activity in modern civilisation is that it builds a wall around the ordinary state of consciousness and makes it almost impossible to see beyond it. It encourages behaviour aimed at keeping one safe. In some ways, my way has become a way of stepping outside of that, (there are many ways), that allows me to have a deeper experience. James Hillman says that anytime you’re gonna grow, you’re gonna lose something. You’re losing what you’re hanging onto to keep safe. Colin Wilson talks about the contemporary norm being life within our ego consciousness, with a sense of complete self-sufficiency that denies the presence of spiritual worlds.

The way that I have come to live allows for awakening to an energy that has its own momentum, that is its own cause and effect, an energy that has no resistance and does not deteriorate. It involves a strong relationship to silence, allowing myself to be led by what I discover there. That silence heals fear, influencing how I perceive life; seeing that the world and others have a more holy quality, more than an emotional experience: something that I do not experience in a more ordinary state. Robert Sardello writes “Our ordinary consciousness cannot perceive in this way: it bifurcates our experience, and in our usual perceiving, things are either possessed by our consciousness or left “out there” alone, as independent, abstract objects. It is not the peace that Silence brings to us that makes us want to move toward it, but this aspect of holy anticipation within the very things of the world! An anticipation of what? By whom? The answers are not given within the experience of Silence itself. The sense of anticipation is simply present and opens us to experience the world as on the way, as unfinished, as still in the process of being created, of coming into being, and as moving toward some unknown completion.”

Inner Reservoir

A meditative way of life for me simply involves developing a deliberate awareness of vital life energies. In that way the concentration of these energies is most important in accessing a flood-tide of inner warmth and connectedness that is a more desirable state to live in as opposed to more conventional perception of realty which imposes a demand of sense impressions, thoughts, uncertainties and related emotions, (all man made concerns), that inevitably leach away vital powers. For too much of my life I have allowed myself to be exposed to the force of cold facts, mechanical perceptions and dry criticism.

In fostering an inner reservoir and associated features of inner warmth the expression of my life experience through painting writing and other forms has emerged as a passion. I have been painting for over thirty five years, my love of art emerging from a contemplative practice. In this I experience ongoing intimations that true creativity is something that arises from beyond and through the self out of that reservoir that I have nurtured. As May Sarton the poet implies; the painting is often more mature than the painter of it; always a messenger of growth. In painting and writing I open to this influence of something beyond my limited sense of self. I ultimately find myself in that.

Ultimately an inner reservoir is not an illusory refuge. It is something authentic of me that must be considered if I am to live in a way that is whole. My intimation is that it has always been a part of our human origins regardless of how much we have created another impression of life and reality. It is not a place where I do not succumb to denial ir avoidance of what is true but more of complete awareness of my human limitation and vulnerability and as my existence as a vital part of all creation. When awareness falls I find old habits and conditioned perceptions returning influencing a more sober, fractured reality until the return of a grace filled intimation illuminates for a way back.