… embracing the messy soul …

I hesitated posting this, since a deep sadness resurfaced and took hold of me while pondering Soul and Spirit. What’s the point, why exist, to what end? I asked this as a child, having been shown horrendous images in the wake of the Second World War, meant as shock treatment in my German primary school during the 1950’s. A poem I wrote about this experience I still don’t feel confident to share. I turned iconoclast, explored philosophies, religions, myths, literature, searched for exceptional minds, and resisted prescribed beliefs in favour of direct experience.

In my twenties I turned to images and their symbolic power, until a numinous event in Israel reunited me with language, literature, poetry, and science. I studied too many subjects to bore you with, at my own expense, none for economic advantage. I did meet exceptional people, including mystics, yet my question, like a spell, kept birthing more questions.

Disheartened, yet fascinated by our manic mechanistic Zeitgeist, I adopted a transpersonal view, letting things unfold until decisions fell into place. With each intuitive choice, energy for action met me half way and helped me succeed with many projects. This included workshops on dreams and myth, and the wonderful Parent Link programme I helped get on the road, all about reflective listening and the language we use. Unfortunately this parent and school-supported project received no support from the Government. Still, at times I felt I was making beneficial contributions to society.  Of late, no new question has arrived to kick off a renaissance in my poetic imagination, or shed light on the collective mood of futility, which seems to confirm the scientific view that reality is determined by numbers.

Battered, but not beaten, I honour my core resolves: that everything physical is en-souled and resonates with everything else in the universe. And that consciousness, with the potential for symbolic awareness in humans, creates innumerable realities we co-create in ever new forms.

Arthur Rackman – Twilight

Soul and Spirit have become terms relegated to poetry. Some traditions hold them to be interchangeable and interdependent, akin to the Eastern concept of Yin and Yang. In this sense the feminine and masculine principles (mentioned below) reside in women and men alike, that is, their receptive and active and qualities work in each of us. Certain myths simplified and distorted this truth, which now asserts itself with fresh understandings regarding the psychological identification with gender.

“When I say the feminine, I don’t mean gender. I mean the feminine principle that is living—or suppressed—in both men and women.”  Marion Woodman

Observing the political debates around the globe, I notice a similar narrow power dictum in entrenched wars for control, which conjure up the quarrel of parents that drive children to hide in the broom cupboard.

I understand SOUL (Psyche) as pure consciousness, self-sufficient. Yet once identified with impressions of the physical world –  soul becomes the vessel. We talk of soul shining through eyes, through nature, or as immanent presence pervading matter. Consider body, mother, growth, loss, suffering, receptivity, attachment, memory, meaning, imagination, mystery, intuition, aesthetics, melancholy, yearning, endurance, constrictions, chaos, bliss … One may associate Soul with Eros, energy, the cosmos, planets, moon, beauty, stars, history, identity, myths, time, space, past, darkness, the unconscious, unpredictability, and the female principle (Anima) inviting spirit for input and direction.

SPIRIT, to me, is like a wind of light carrying seeds of information to recipient vessels, conscious or unconscious, singular or universal. Humans interpret this information, wisely or not. We talk of actions as spirited, fiery, determined, energetic, contradictory, passionate, always moving and changing. We talk of people driven by principles, for good or bad, or, frankly, being possessed. Spirit aligns with order and ideals, again, for good or bad. Add the relentless drive for perfection which aims, in some traditions, for transcendence, seeking the divine not in the messy psyche, but only in abstract spheres beyond matter. We associate Spirit with logos, will, action, speed, the sun, innovation, reason, light, the male principle (Animus,) and future visions … welcomed by the soul.

Mothers – Käthe Kollwitz

Torn between spiritual heights and visions, and the dark depth of the collective psyche, my initial therapy training with Roberto Assagioli’s Psychosynthesis impressed me with an undeniable necessity: The higher we rise the deeper we’re called to descend into the murky shadow of ourselves and our collective inheritance. Gripped then, once again, by the deep sadness I felt as a child in the face of human suffering, I cried for days. The work began, with my own unconscious, with individuals and groups. But nearly 35 years on, I feel yet again despair that the knowledge gained about the psyche is not wider applied. The abuse of people, especially women and children, and the planet itself, continues in the name of the power principle and progress, as does the resistance to acknowledge and heal personal and collective grief. It’s so much more convenient to blame an enemy.

I had the privilege to meet a remarkable Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, and the community of his students during the mid 1970’s. As the grandson of the saintly Hazrat Inayat Khan, Fazal developed his grandfather’s message in passionate, spontaneous and radical modern ways. One of his sayings: ‘Answers are dead, questions are alive,’ gave perspective to my existential query. For him, fragile egos behind the mask of their persona needed strengthening before the Self could become conscious. He orchestrated intense workshops during which the shadow aspects of our personalities were exposed. Each event was followed by a tender and humorous process of debriefing. He taught me to forgive myself, to be kind to myself. He died much too young in 1990. The copyright to hundreds of Fazal’s pioneering talks is held by the present Sufi Way, so his deep mystical insights must wait for another day. While I was co-editing Heart of a Sufi, reminiscences gathered from his students, we were limited to a few quotes and one inspired poem, Qalandar, which I hope to share some time.

Explanations aim to reassure, but knowing the limits of reason, I search for metaphors, symbols, poetry in words and images to make my fleeting insights graspable, as lonely as they stand, and as totally irrelevant as they may be to others. Still, it’s a lovely surprise when readers explore the archives here, or read my quest novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ which defies genres.

Turbulent times call for intuitive introspection, though sifting through the avalanche of information available is probably the great task we must master in this present decade. When lame slogans and bitter opinions are shouted with animosity across the media, our conscience is severely tested.

What we call good and bad coexists in the psyche. If you’ve read Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea Saga, you may recall the poignant moment when the protagonist realises that he and his shadow opponent share a secret name. For that instant their identities merge as one.

Among great thinkers of recent decades who influenced my thoughts, I often return to Stanislav Grof, Gregory Bateson, C. G. Jung, and the people who honoured and expanded Jung’s brilliant insights, among them Esther Harding, Marie-Louise v. Franz, Marion Woodman, James Hillman, Anthony Stevens and many others who further explored the Psyche in relation to the inner work of individuation, that is – learning to hold the tension of opposites towards realising the balance of a universal underlying wholeness. Archetypal forces inspire, overpower, or dull us to sleepwalk into tragedies. We, with our humble egos can take on our small responsibility; each individual serves as a bridge, and an interface.

‘Matrignosis’ is a rich site by Jean Raffa, who explores Jung’s ideas with helpful guidance.

Related: Cartography of the Psyche, with a link to Stanislav Grof’s talk on the psychology of the future.

And my cheeky post about the ego – give the poor ego a break.

To conclude, a rare excerpt of thoughts on metaphysics from Hazrat Inayat Khan, shared with his students between 1915- 1920:

Maya Deren – Meshes of the Afternoon

The Experience of the Soul through the Spirit …

The soul has two different sides and two different experiences. One side is the experience with the mind and the body, the other side is the experience of the spirit. The former is called the outer experience, the latter the inner experience. The nature of the soul is like glass, transparent, and when one side of the glass is covered it becomes a mirror. So the soul becomes a mirror in which the outer experiences are reflected when the other side is covered. That is why, however greatly blessed a person may be with the outer knowledge, he is not necessarily gifted with the inner knowledge. Therefore, in order to attain to the inner knowledge the Sufi covers the other side of the soul, that its mirror part may face the spirit instead of the outer world. As soon as is able to accomplish this he receives inspirations and revelations.

There are people who are by nature intuitive, or who are called psychic or clairvoyant by nature. It is accounted for by the other side of their soul naturally facing the spirit within. One may call them extraordinary, or exceptional, but not mystical, for the mystic does not desire that position. He, by concentration and meditation, gains such mastery that he can cover the soul from without to take the reflection within, and that he can cover the soul from within when he requires the reflection from the outer world to its full extent. Balance is desirable, and mastery is the goal to be attained.

25 Comments

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25 responses to “… embracing the messy soul …

  1. Rob

    Thankyou Ashen. Your piece inspires me to offer the following, which is two extracts from “The Sigh of the Oppressed” by the Afghan poet, Ustad Khalilullah Khalili.

    ” They killed humanity and called it Politics
    They laid the world waste and said that it was wise
    In the guise of goodness towards men
    They destroyed – this is real cleverness!

    My heart, in every state, is my support
    In this world of being it is my king
    When, from the deceit of reason I am weary
    I call God to witness – I am grateful to my heart!………………

    Alas! Life is but a breath and pain
    A heart, a torture, an eye filled with tears
    Either enduring, day by day, oppression
    Or oneself stamping the jackboot upon the rest.”

    I often think of the film, “One-eyed Jacks” that you, Yeshen and I once watched at my place….the main protagonists powerfully portrayed by Karl Malden and Marlon Brando. Things can sometimes look neat, tidy and comfortable on the outside, but oh what turmoil within. Soon enough the mayhem will burst forth to confront us in the outer world.
    I love that film!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Rob

    Thankyou Ashen. Your piece inspires me to quote two extracts from “The Sigh of the Oppressed” by Afghan poet, Ustad Khalilullah Khalili.

    ” They killed humanity and called it Politics
    They laid the world waste and said that it was wise
    In the guise of goodness towards men
    They destroyed – this is real cleverness!

    My heart, in every state, is my support
    In this world of being it is my king
    When, from the deceit of reason I am weary
    I call God to witness – I am grateful to my heart!………..

    Alas! Life is but a breath and pain
    A heart, a torture, an eye filled with tears
    Either enduring, day by day, oppression
    Or oneself stamping the jackboot upon the rest”

    I quite often recall the film which you, Yeshen and I watched together once. “One- Eyed Jacks”, in which the chief protagonists are powerfully portrayed by Karl Malden and Marlon Brando. All can look hunky-dory on the outside by oh! what mayhem within. And soon, inevitably, it bursts forth into the “real world”.
    I love that film!

    Like

  3. Rob

    Apols for taking up so much space Ashen! My first comment didn’t appear to register first time so I had to rewrite.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for offering this fascinating glimpse into your soul/psyche. I see we both seem to have been born with sensitive, philosophical inclinations. My father’s death when I was 11 similarly impressed the reality of pain, suffering, and death on me. After that I carried death around all the time and often thought…especially of people who were so busy wanting and acquiring things that they had little time left for enjoying the wonders of life or looking within…”What’s the point? They’re just going to die. What good will all this stuff, all that racing around, and aspiring to be something special be to them then?” I see now that some of that came from a deep, existential despair, as well as my naturally enquiring mind.

    Thank you for including a link to my site from yours. I shall do the same on mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s my pleasure. We share similar ideas, and concerns. I love your way of thinking and must spend more time exploring your site, follow it, and put a link on my blogroll.
      As a child I was told ‘You’re too sensitive.’ Can’t remember by who – could have been a teacher.
      Just thinking now, I have a recycle bag filled with resentment for some teachers which needs composting 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hahaha. Love your recycle bag filled with resentment which needs composting.
        In my experience, “You’re too sensitive,” is said by people who are insensitive of/to their inner lives. They think reason and logic are the only important ways to process data, and emotion is a waste of time. So they disown their emotions and project their sensitivities onto others. They can be very unreasonable when they’re being carried away by their emotions, but they’ll put the blame on others until they learn to recognize and claim their own emotional lives. We humans have so much to learn about ourselves. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Been thinking for some time about an apt ritual to let go of some misgivings that won’t dissolve.
          Following our little exchange I get the image of a designated patch in my garden, composting the earth with slim slips of paper naming or sketching the emotional hurts, and so-with nurture next season’s tulips 🙂

          Like

  5. David Selzer

    Brave stuff, Ashen – and eclectic, informed, reflective, and, above all, life affirming. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks Ashen, a lovely sensitive post which resonates greatly with me. I couldn’t agree more: Answers are dead, questions are alive. And, that the ego needs to be strong and healthy before it submits to the Self …

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pleased my thoughts resonate, Susan.
      Jung held that essential transformations take place in individuals, and the sum of this work is of more value than even great events in history. It’s encouraging to imagine that our transformative experiences will help expand consciousness and enrich the psyche.

      Like

  7. Dear Ashen – always provocative and ever thoughtfilled.
    Your restless soul has stimulated my own thinking and draws me towards the many questions we are facing today. Many of these questions have us seek out the reasons for such instability with our social cohesion.
    Too many kindling gatherers for too many lighters of fires. With the outcome not necessarily warming us yet providing raging fires under the cover of warmth.
    Like many, the question “Why are we really here and what is our purpose?”,comes to mind for me.
    Lately, much of my questioning revolves around “Why aren’t we not here?”
    It stands to reason there will always be a myriad of forces at play as society trundles along its rocky path. Our chances of being here at this time are extraordinarily low. We could have existed at the time of the ice age.
    Ashen your words have always been the most sensible, most balanced and have been a true shining light. Perhaps the question “Why aren’t we not here?” may re-ignite your wonderful passion.
    B

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, B.
      I’ve been thinking about the fires in Australia, and so many other places around the globe, scary – when elements humans are keen to tame escape their cages and unleash their power.
      Your upside-down question … Why aren’t we not here?… First I thought of it in terms of not’ really’ being here, regarding our culture’s alienation from the body, from the planet. Yet this kind of ‘not really’ being here’ undeniably impacts the balance of nature on our earth.
      And – To be or not to be? – doesn’t seem a choice our limited consciousness makes.
      I explore the function of humans in the sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors.’ Basically, life thrives on conflict and questions, or it would cease.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    “for every act of dawning consciousness is a creative act” C.G.Jung 💖🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jenny

    Thank you for your inspirated sharing dear Ashen , it needs courage, love of what comes up from within and a humorous tenderness To deal with it
    Or whatever seems so weary melts looked upon with loving heart

    Like

  10. Out of darkness comes a ray of light – a beautiful, thoughtful post. Such a lot to think about here, Ashen. I hear and recognise something of this feeling. Thank you for sharing your siftings, they were illuminating.

    Like

    • I’m pleased that sharing my sifting inspires thoughts for contemplation. Thank you Cath ☼

      Like

      • I hope your sadness has shifted into something more positive, Ashen.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Remember the scene in Alice, when the Caterpillar asks her:
          Who are YOU?
          I’d have had her same problem answering, since on some days I feel like a wave, subject to the winds and undercurrents. How to make peace with this force? An internet friend of mine, Joe Linker, wrote a wonderful book, ‘Penina’s Letters,’ which conveys his passion of surfing. The closest I came to this experience is while skying down slopes of powdery snow in the Alps, as a child – exhilarating – and a memory to draw upon.

          Like

  11. Ashen, an incredible, masterful and enlightening post. My mind is spinning with so many thoughts as I’ve read this, so much I would have liked to discuss, thoughts, emotions and reflections which would not fit in a commment. Just know, your words here, the quotations, have touched me deeply and I will come back to read again, picking up some of the suggestions of others to study. The one true gift of life is our ability to continually keep learning, seeking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Annika. Maybe that’s what our kind are, writers in particular – eternal students, who enjoy learning. Thank you for you kind comment. I warms my heart that you picked up ideas for reflection, and that you’ll be following up some links.

      Liked by 1 person

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