Tag Archives: Ibn Arabi

… story – art – quest for the cypher – symbol …

As painters or sculptors do, I frequently step back from my writing projects, searching for the core, a half imagined essence to shine through and re-animate the creative flow. Skills alone don’t do it, techniques alone don’t do it, nor style. As long as the essence of what I try to express floats in the unconscious, my efforts will baffle and tease me.

Having listened to thousand and one stories during my 30 years of working as a transpersonal psychotherapist, I conclude that when we tell our story to ourselves, or others who watch and listen, we trace a rhythm, a sound, the distant bubbling of a spring – a theme. While sourcing and shaping words we ideally become aware of how we translate experiences, string up memories and weave a pattern that gives meaning, purpose and direction to our story. We may re-weave the past and change how we perceive life. Even a single image, too evanescent to fit ordinary reality, can assume significance. An ideal may sharpen – and with it a vision of what not yet exists, revealed by the imagination.

Sensual impression, dreams, primary images and the love/hate of relationships, present a puzzle we try to arrange in some kind of order, waiting for a theme to become intelligible, and therefore transmittable. Finding a structure to express our experiences through words, images, movements, sounds, music, or numbers is insufficient. We must play with the fragments – take out bits, or add bits, until a satisfying narrative suggests itself.

World objects from my sand tray

Fairy tales, heroes and villains of myth, historical figures, cartoon characters or pop stars may do the magic by evoking a psychic resonance and providing a metaphor, or a precious symbol to ease the pressure of the archetypal demand lurking in the unconscious.

Not only those we call artists, but all creative people respond to what holds sensual and cognitive fascination for them. I include trades, crafts, makers, men and women with affinities to certain elements, who explore the quality and beauty of materials, like weavers, potters, wood workers, printers, plumbers, electricians … I include technicians, engineers, inventors, scientists and mystics. Curiosity and passion for a subject deepen knowledge and intuition as to how things connect outside, and, vitally, how they connect inside us.

Ashen – directing a film in the woods.

My fascination with creating stories was revived while doing a film degree (as career brake) during the late 1990s. I’m curious about consciousness, relative perception of time, and the interplay of characters for which I invent pasts and futures, where ideals are the means to a goal, while as soon as the goal is reached, a new ideal looms over the horizon. If this were not so, evolution, our whole story would stop. Ursula Le Guin once wrote –

‘In eternity there is nothing novel, and there are no novels.’

My ongoing writing project, a trilogy of stories, involves three soul sisters, Ana, Cara and Mesa. The first (already published) book of the trilogy, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ (see book page) narrates the quest of Ana, which is really the myth of the story teller, Cara, whose theme is seeking a balance for the enigma of clashing feminine and masculine principles. The sequel, ‘Shapers,’ (not yet published) introduces Cara in the twentieth century as she follows the characters of Ana’s myth into a far future society where emotional expressions are outlawed until the experiment breaks down under its duplicity.

In a third book, ‘Mesa,’ a work in progress, same characters move to a realm where time has slowed down to such extend that ‘novelty’ has to be rescued for life to continue. This story calls for a deep dive into the heart of my imagination.

I’m once more held in the cocoon stage. Given the ideological power games around the globe, I feel foolish about these musings, since I’ve been sharing the ups and downs of my quest here for the last seven years.

Do you, my reader, recognise the pressure to bring something into existence? How do you search for the cypher (the wild uniqueness in the soul) that informs your creative process?

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A definition of Symbol … from ‘The Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi’ by Henry Corbin, transl. by Ralph Manheim, Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton University

The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is a ‘cipher’ of a mystery, the only means of expressing something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never ‘explained’ once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls for ever new execution.

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… imagination …

From its fountain, the psyche pours compositions of light and darkness, images shaping the natural elements that engender our sensual experiences. Countless composite images trickle through our mind. Do we pause to ponder which to let pass, like dry leaves floating down the river, and which to absorb deeply into our heart – and give life to?  

The images we energise are re-envisioned and re-told through our perception. Nature spirits, archetypes, monsters and fairies, heroes and villains, deities, gods, devils and angels, the dark unknown – mankind’s entire mythical landscapes are encapsulated by the imagination and affect our everyday life.

Through this phenomenological process we discovered language, numbers and geometry, tools that potentially enable us to re-create nature. Some scientists maintain that matter constitutes the real and all phenomena derived from nature’s building blocks is not real. But deep inside we know … our search for the world we intimately desire attracts to us enlightened scripts. Through trial and error we learn to apply these scripts, and, for better or worse, we make our worlds real. Worlds within worlds are born from the imagination.

The young in heart have a natural curiosity to play and explore what lies beyond the horizon, literally and metaphorically, with a keen drive to discover facets of their soul reflected in all matter, experiencing matter not as dead, but as vibrantly alive and animated.

Consider the present demand for SF or its playful sister, fantasy, or magic realism. These genres overlap, they deal with the human condition, the desire for a home, in the widest sense – be it for another planet, an island, a heaven, a yesterday, a tomorrow, or the grail of now. To achieve the latent desire for the ineffable, a writer, any artist, becomes a deep-sea-diver of the psyche, and, on coming up for air, re-arranges the booty found there. Some of my favourite writers are R Heinlein, C S Lewis, R Bradbury, I Asimov, M Atwood, Garcia Marquez. Jorge Luis Borges, Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin …

It’s time to re-discover the bridge between the two hemispheres of our brains and balance the outlook of our material societies, value reverie, art and fresh perspectives, engage in play, song, dance and storytelling.

Time to embrace unstructured activities, which sidestep reason’s often pre-conceived observations, the epistemological obstacle, as Gaston Bachelard calls it, the grid of unconscious mental patterns that block seeing through our deeply personal and grounded experience, through the heart.

I’ll never forget the visit during the 70s, instigated through a Sufi friend, to a small Trappist community in the vicinity of Washington DC. The handful of monks rotated duties in house and gardens, interspersed with reading time in their fabulous library. Each one of them also enjoyed an annual 40-days-silent-retreat in one of the huts sprinkled over the many-hectare-estate. My then partner and I were privileged to listen to some of the monks sharing their vastly different cosmologies, psychologies and spiritualities. What struck me was that each monk had a vastly different idea about God, including one admitting that he thought God was man-made and no less real for that. What a stimulating place to be, where you are respected for the envisioning of your world.

 ‘The imagination is not a state; it is human existence itself.’ – William Blake

‘In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.’  – C G  Jung, 1934 

‘If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.’ – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Relevant links:

Re: CS Lewis  http://users.etown.edu/d/DOWNINDC/dungeon.htm

Gaston Bachelard  http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gaston_Bachelard

The World Within, C G Jung video  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6MHRHKd4Ps&feature=related

See also https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/pattern-which-connects/

For those with a metaphysical interest in the imagination, here is an article of mine: https://courseofmirrors.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/science-of-the-heart.pdf

Excerpt … The mystic aims to raise sensory data to a higher level. This happens via the visionary imagination, the ‘presence of the heart’, and it happens precisely in that intermediate world where material beings take form and where material beings dissolve again to become subtle bodies. This intermediate world exists not at the other end of the universe, but right here with us, between each of our breaths. This is how the presence of the heart affects, how ideals, in whatever way we conceive of our Ideal, become realised. What we give being to in this intermediate sphere inevitably appears and becomes endowed with an outward reality. This is so, even when it is visible only to the inner eye, the eye of the heart, just beyond what can be perceived by the senses.

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The rose image: detail of ‘The virgin of the unfading rose,’ eighteen century.

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… symbolic understanding …

The star that guides us is not meant to be reached concretely, or, as Hazrat Inayat Khan expressed it:

‘The ideal is the means – its breaking is the goal.’

Aged twenty-seven it struck me that I was not my own person, but a clone of my first gods, my parents. I realised I was not special. I was like everyone else, a slave to habits formed in my early environment, which I then unconsciously ritualised. The shocking insight put an end to my pretending I was a foundling (my joke at the time.) For better or worse I had to reconcile myself to my given mould, accept my parents’ imperfections, and my own.

Having reached an impasse re: a series of romantic relationships that bruised my heart, I was disillusioned. My ideal of love had lost its meaning and I yearned for a new horizon.

Fortunately I met a mentor who re-framed conflict for me, because in my flight towards spirituality I had come to avoid conflict like a plague. The trouble with rejecting conflicting thoughts and feelings is that we create taboo boxes in our psyche, boxes where we hide stuff we don’t want to think and feel. The accumulated rejects trip us up and actually energise conflict around us. Childish feelings may pop up to embarrass us where they don’t fit circumstances. Best welcome them, unless you want to fuel the addiction to war.

Driven by unconscious refrains our lives unfold from crisis to impasse to transcendence – like a drama with all its obligatory heroes and villains. Ignoring our inner conflicts and projecting them onto others and the world at large serves a purpose – in that it (hopefully) makes us aware that the way we go about fulfilling our needs is not particularly elegant, and has a price. The price is awareness, which can be painful, but it brings choice. Feelings that ‘have us’ don’t ‘have to’ be acted out, they can be expressed symbolically – one way is through writing things off one’s chest and releasing the outpour to the elements. Tear up and bury your unsavoury confessions, drown them in a river, or burn them. Release all association, free and purify the energy.

What is hidden from consciousness nevertheless affects us deeply.  In an archetypal sense, for example, a person who identifies with the masculine principle (animus) will be drawn to a person who identifies with the feminine principle (anima.) I don’t use the terms man and woman because physical gender does not necessarily equal psychological identification.

Generally, the hidden gender is actualised by the way the opposite principles are experienced through a parent.  Behind the attraction towards opposites is a desire for wholeness, a need to integrate our unrealised nature. This growth happens through relationships.

Plato put it like this …

… the dry desires the moist, the cold the hot, the bitter the sweet, the sharp the blunt, the void the full, the full the void, and of all other things; for the opposite is the food of the opposite, whereas like receives nothing from like …

Plato also emphasised that wholeness does not equal goodness.

As an example: too much goodness in a parent can make a child fearful of negative emotions and constellate a demand for goodness impossible to live up to. If human frailty is lacking in a father or mother, that is, if they are too perfect – or absent – then the expectations father or mother figures are invested with throughout one’s life become inflated, difficult to achieve, and no actual person can satisfy such expectation.

I’m not a practicing Christian, but I appreciate the powerful symbolic significance of the cross. The story of Jesus shows us that in the process of becoming human we are stretched between earth and heaven, matter and spirit, crucified by the dichotomy. Conflict has meaning if we allow it into consciousness. The challenge is to endure opposing forces, identify with neither good nor bad, but instead suffer the deadlock of contradiction, be crucified, because – there are conflicts we cannot resolve.

Yet by accepting what is we invite grace. We ready ourselves to be initiated into a reconciling symbolic experience of transcendence that is personally meaningful to us. The reconciling symbol cannot be grasped. It will emerge from the unconscious in its own time, through an event, or through a dream – if we can be receptive and master humility and the patience.

Symbol, a definition …. Taken from ‘The Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi’ by Henry Corbin, translated by Ralph Manheim, Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton University

The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is a ‘cipher’ of a mystery, the only means of expressing something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never ‘explained’ once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls for ever new execution.

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