Tag Archives: story

… 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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… when the waters were changed …

Water

Once upon a time Khidr, the Teacher of Moses, called upon mankind with a warning. At a certain date, he said, all water in the world which had not been specially horded, would disappear. It would then be renewed, with different water, which would drive men mad.

Only one man listened to the meaning of this advice. He collected water and went to a secure place where he stored it, and waited for the water to change its character.

On the appointed date the streams stopped running, the wells went dry, and the man who had listened, seeing this happening, went to his retreat and drank his preserved water.

When he saw, from his security, the waterfalls again beginning to flow, this man descended among the other sons of men. He found that they were thinking and talking in a different way from before; yet they had no memory of what had happened, nor of having been warned. When he tried to talk to them, he realised that they thought that he was mad, and they showed hostility or compassion, not understanding.

At first he drank none of the new water, but went back to his concealment, to draw on his supplies, every day. Finally, however, he took the decision to drink the new water because he could not bear the loneliness of living, behaving and thinking in a different way from everyone else. He drank the new water, and became like the rest. Then he forgot all about his own store of special water, and his fellows began to look upon him as a madman who had miraculously been restored to sanity.

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A Sufi story is from ‘Tales of Dervishes’ by Idries Shah. First published in 1967 by Jonathan Cape Ltd.

The above version is from a 1973 edition published by Panther Books Ltd and is attributed to Sayed Sabir Ali-Shah, a saint of the Chisti Order, who died in 1818 …  though like most Sufi stories, it is much older.

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… a ginger cat dreams of company in breath …

The woman used to sit in the deckchair with her sleek black friend on her lap, eyes closed, breathing in unison. She calls it meditation. I was jealous, what else.

I’m old and grumpy, a familiar sight. Small chance she wonders where I hang out when not visiting. Today she spotted me – a fluffy ginger ball dozing on a brick wall sheltered by ivy – not my regular spot. I prefer having my daily nap on a bench at the top. From that royal view downhill I keep half an eye on creature traffic, neighbour cats that shamelessly kill fledglings or lame birds, the stray dog or sly fox that slips through the hedge, reckless rodents … but it’s been drizzling all night and my favourite bench is soaking wet this morning.

I get no food here. However, she daily cleans and refills the ceramic bowl near the house with fresh water, just for me to slurp. In such moments we exchange glances, and she nods. What she doesn’t like is when I get too close to her little stone Buddha. Then she shakes her head or steps from the backdoor to clap her hands. I’ve seen her turn the water hose on cats with bad manners. She should know better, I’m not one of them, I have principles.

I bet she misses her companion, glossy and black as a moonless sky. She was gentle and tolerant of me, which is why I used to protect her from a nasty tom. Some years ago the woman dug a deep hole for her friend, near the compost heap. Not the most romantic spot to have one’s bones rest, but due ceremony was observed, which must count for love.

I wouldn’t impose myself. I wonder what attracts me to this human and her world. I’d love being invited in her house, as companion. Nowadays she often sits near the window, staring at some rectangular device like it’s the most fascinating sight in the world, the opening to a mystery, like a warren.

She keeps her distance, wary of attachments. I get it, of course; she doesn’t want her freedom restricted by caring for another cat. Her neighbours used to look after her pet during her absences. Now their health is fragile and can’t be relied upon. She objects to Kennels, rightly. I was put in one, long ago, confined in a cage, horrible.

I doubt she cares where I camp at night. Doesn’t know I endure the stoned torpor of Mr X, lost in a dark place. It’s not a home, the vibes upset me. But each morning I vocally rouse X from his hangovers to alert him to my dry meal. This must be my purpose – my insistence on my existence is how he tracks time, like noticing a new day. Alas, the filthy water bowl is only rarely topped, which is why I’m thankful that the woman got the message …  I’m always thirsty.

The image keeps returning, of her sitting in the garden with her black friend on her lap, eyes closed, breathing in unison. My thirst lives on. It may be complex and beyond measure, or awesomely simple, I don’t know, but company in breath seems the one simple thing of beauty most worth dreaming of.

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… framing our impressions …

Last week a friend visited, and I took her to a local Sculpture Park set within ten acres of heath and woodland, a place where meandering pathways lead you into a deep dream-scape of rare plants, springs, streams and ponds, and where artworks face you at every turn.

The evening before, over a meal in my garden, we shared stories – about ageing and loosing people, about war-damaged fathers, about writing workshops in prisons. Our discussions often home in on the suppressed feminine in both men and women. So it’s not surprising that while we wandered through the park our two pairs of eyes were resting longer on artworks expressing aspects of the feminine, and our observations mingled.

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I thought I share a few photos of sculptures that caught our attention.

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This bronze figure of an earth mother and warrior combined in one impressed. Her solid stance, yet also her surrender to something other. I took a picture and looked again, moved to touch her rough coat. There were her feet, standing firmly on the ground, a tool or weapon hanging from her belt, the little fists, speaking of determination, and there was her smooth, yielding face turned upwards in ecstasy towards a transcending spirit.

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The endearing foursome forming a protective square made us linger.

My friend reached out to add her hand to the interlocking hands.

P1060117 lowresAnd we loved the little feet …

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I felt a natural affinity with this bird woman, again taking a closer frame, to highlight her relationship to the bird.

It’s talons rest gently in her outstretched hand, bringing a greeting, and maybe a message.

The woman keeps a respectful space between her and the bird, a space filled with wonder, in which to savour the special meeting with her core nature.

 

A most haunting sculpture was this shell of a person. My friend reached into the dark emptiness. I called ‘Hello’ into the hollow and the sound was swallowed up without returning an affirming resonance.

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Later, with the help of Photoshop, I turned the image into a negative, and there you have it – the essence of what we are, light, often hidden.

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Day in day out we absorb a continuous hyper stream of phenomena. What makes us stop and observe more closely and choose a meaningful frame to digest our experience?

Is it an emotion, a sound, a movement, a desire to touch, an association, a memory, a pattern recognition, an inner seeing, the intuition of an essence, a context that resonates with our lives, an interesting angle, a certain light …?

For creatively inclined minds, these processes fuse and culminate in an urge to compose and share the impression of an experience by placing a frame round an image … a story.

A symbolic understanding arrives and signals once more  into the unknown, framed anew.

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LINKS:  http://thesculpturepark.com/

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/sculpture-park/ post from a former visit

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/the-inner-silence-of-henri-cartier-bresson/  master framer

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/what-makes-a-photograph-arresting/ a knack for composition

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/inspiration/ young people observing and being creative

 

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… story of an animation …

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You can find the inspiring story of an animation here …

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/story-of-an-animation/

PandaHorseStudio-7

 

 

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… why spin tales? …

Die Nachtigall-02 Why spin tales, why listen to them, enact them on stage, dance them, ritualise them, read them, write them, re-write them?    We tell stories to ourselves and each other, to entertain, inspire, amplify events, or in search for meaning.

When it comes to stories, fact-finders tend to miss the point. Too many sequential facts can befuddle a truth that lingers in the higher or deeper layers of consciousness, from where vital symbolic insights shine through a narrative.

We owe much to Joseph Campbell, who with life-long passion explored the origins of myths and their functions throughout human history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell

And check out these fantastic documentaries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Power_of_Myth

A myth is a public dream – a dream is a private myth. – Joseph Campbell

 

In my psychotherapy practice, clients present their story in unique ways that occasionally include lucid dreams of past lives. I deeply respect the power of the imagination. In neutral mode, I listen. So it happens that a trauma set in thirteenth century Languedoc, when Cathars were branded as heretics and massacred by the Catholic Church, can deeply trouble a person’s psyche with visceral images. I travel along, and as the story is released, I may bridge the emotional resonance of a pattern to the present life of a client. In this process profound cognitions can soften a psychological complex.

Lasting examples of deeper truths are mirrored in Fairy-tales and myths, where basic patterns of our collective unconscious psyche are brought into relief. That is, if we can grasp the metaphors under the primary meaning of words. Fictional settings for heroic or anti-heroic characters are particularly suited to convey powerful emotional themes infused with archetypal elements.

… the spirit of an age is more essentially mirrored in its fairy-tales than in the most painstaking chronicle of a contemporary diarist … Raymond Chandler – Realism and Fairy-land

Some religions persist in the literal truths of their sacred texts. Scientists, too, get stuck in dogma, but I emphasize more with the frustration of the latter, since, with the courage of doubt, scientists have pushed the horizon of knowledge outwards by painstakingly reading the book of nature through the language of data, evidencing processes poets and mystics before them intuited, but physical eyes cannot perceive – like radiations other than light. I’m trying to overcome the conflict of the scientist and poet in me. They interpret the world in different but equally significant ways. There is a need to read nature in both languages, so greater understanding and tolerance can develop.

‘With faith one attains and realises peace and harmony. With doubt one destroys and gains freedom to move ontowards.’    – Fazal Inayat-Khan

Memory, objectively true, or false, affects our lives every day. Stories lodged in the heart endure in a timeless dimension of the imagination. We can however alter their interpretation by exploring our perspective, be it from a pit of fatalism, a sense of insecurity, a belief in magic, faith in divine guidance, or the certitude of natural laws. Even the simple acceptance of life’s continuous dynamic change can shift the meaning of our stories, and, of course, it helps to overcome literal mindedness and make an effort to decipher the metaphors.

‘The mystical warrior is trying to reduce the obstruction in the doorway, and the worshipper is attempting to reach the construction behind the doorway, almost out of sight. There is a gap between the two … the vague band between the known and the unknown. In that band rapture is possible.’   – Fazal Inayat-Khan

Stories are the sap of life nourishing the roots and branches of humanity. We spin stories because during the birth of this universe the symmetry between matter and antimatter was broken, kicked out of balance, which resulted in a slight predominance of matter, the stuff we bump into. It’s a poignant thought that this little quirk caused the dynamic asymmetry that evolved into the universe we live in. Without this asymmetry between matter and antimatter our world would be empty, there would be light only – sans elements, sans plants, sans animals, sans night, sans saints, fools, villains – sans consciousness – no story.

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For those interested in nuclear physics:

http://www.slac.stanford.edu/pubs/beamline/26/1/26-1-sather.pdf

 

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… the mystery of character versus genre …

Flicker, flicker, speed, speed – time is flying – here is a genre – an inviting golden bowl – let’s drop a story into it. A well-defined genre promises the best route to financial success for many aspiring writers.

the golden bowl of genre Human traits that make up characters are unfathomable in their combination, which is why we traditionally veer to an index of types. The adage of the writing guru – don’t tell, show – suggests character is revealed through traits that imply qualities. Traits fascinate us, but if they are mechanical in their emotional and logical processes, they seldom surprise. In such case the page-turning tension must be provided by the plot.

During the nineteenth century’s advent of psychology and individuation many writers moved away from the Greek model of plot-driven stories. Curiosity shifted to the complex inner life of characters and their individual way of creating meaning was employed to unfold narratives.

The search for a unique self beyond the collectively orientated ego personality is relatively new, and while time-engraved archetypal energies hold us in their emotional grip, we have now psychological maps to help us become more conscious of their compelling powers, more conscious of our personality, which, for the writer, informs their fictional characters and opens new worlds and new choices. Irrespective of the rich psychological and scientific knowledge available to us, the process of character formation present us with the greatest mysteries of our time – as exciting as discovering new territory, new planets, new eyes on the universe.

Here I am making up a scene from scratch:

He stiffly dragged his feet along the polished marble floor of the shopping mall, his head forward as if pulled by a rope, though his eyes did not focus forward, nor up or down, they swivelled, left, right, left right, alert for what? Alert for anyone who might observe him? Nobody did – apart from one person who sat still on a seat moulded into the stone replica of a toy train. She raised her eyes from her book and looked straight at him …

Now as reader, and as the writer of this entry into a scene without blueprint for a story, I’m curious – where is he heading, where is this going? I search for a deeper layer, a narrative unfolding from the mysterious core of the character walking through the mall. I want a substance to chew on, to extract a flavour from his unique world.

The woman’s stare broke his set rhythm of surveillance. His face contorted in fear, his feet lost touch with the marble floor, sailed on air, while his arms flattered like duck wings failing to lift. All he could think of before his fell flat was – she knows, she knows I’m not present in this body. All he perceived were veins of light in a glittering darkness. He chose to vacate.

Are you hurt? While approaching the sprawled body of the man, the woman shot a stern glance at her boy who stood by guiltily. She had noticed him drop the sweet wrap. She had noticed the man stepping on the slippery cellophane. She had caught his eyes – and what she saw in that instant had made her shiver …  

I’m not going to follow up this scene. Anyone who reads this is welcome to do so. It would give me a thrill.

We all enjoy our stock characters and their antics, types set into situations and conflicts we can readily identify with, heroes we can like, villains we can despise. We enjoy themes that fall into definite genres that entertain us away from tedious daily concerns. I’m not knocking these stories. I enjoy them myself.

But hey you, all writers out there, why not take a risk and be drawn to the mystery of the unpredictable that challenges you to think in new ways, why not evoke characters who, even while using known containers, allow their (your) unconscious past and future to fill in the content, characters who explore their personal experience to a depth where it becomes universal, characters who play with time and space and are directed from their inner spirit, even when it requires a new container?

In my writing, I like the adventure of discovery, a nut to crack. I like to allow my character to walk ahead and unfold the story, and if it spills over the frame of a convenient genre, so be it.

P1100981And here my little gripes with how-to-does:

The advice-filled internet spheres turn and turn like gyres.

Answers sum up being and are full of promised abundance – yet they are dead.

Questions sum up becoming and are full of challenging limitations – yet they are alive.

 

 

‘One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.’

Andre Gide

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