Tag Archives: symbol

… 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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… rose is a rose is a rose …

 

The rose-phrase is the enduring refrain of Gertrude Stein. In her surreal 1939 children book, ‘The World is Round,’ for example, rows of three words appear throughout. A girl called Rose carves her name round a tree in an endless loop to affirm her existence .

Rose is a rose is a rose – rolls from the tongue much like the prayer beads of a rosary roll through nimble fingers.

You want to stay with the rose, let it take root in your psyche, and from there let roses after roses grow.

By comparison – BrexitisBrexitisBrexit – sounds like the rusty hinges of a rotten door, or the croaking of a parrot with a sore throat. I try to resist the word’s grating in my skull, but it’s difficult to avoid its ugly edges from day to day, in bizarre discord with the rousing refrain of Britannia rules the waves.

There’s repetition and repetition. Applied with intention in literature, music, dance and the visual arts, repetition can strip the familiar to its essence. The arts, at best, alert us to nature’s spellbinding repetitive rhythms. Shield your ears and hear the blood-river rushing through your veins – touch your wrist and sense your heart pump the river round and round. Spirit is seduced into this trance-dance, or it would never get trapped in forms. Repetitive behaviour settles us into mollifying routines and gives us a sense of stability, as well as addictive habits. Beneficial as they can be, customary routines also have a tendency to dumb us down.

In this time of rapid changes, words and images topple over each other’s associations. Type ‘apple’ into a search engine and up pop pages listing Apple Inc., the multinational technology company that has seized the apple, bitten off a chunk of knowledge, like Eve, and deployed it as a metaphor for its corporation – brilliant, and disconcerting. It had trouble finding a title for my novel, where ‘mirror’ was not already owned as a label by tabloids or rock bands.

Most young folk today move along the electric cultural highway in fast gear. Facebook’s Zuckerberg famously said ‘Move fast and break things.’ Maybe he’s a speed-hatched modern-day mystic. I’m reminded of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s profound quote regarding the journey of life – ‘The ideal the means, its breaking is the goal.’

I suffer a long view. My first experience of TV was Queen Elisabeth’s coronation. What unnerves me is the speed of spear-heading elites, leaving ordinary people no breath to digest events, especially as history and the arts are being replaced by computer science in education. With automation the rage, the journey happens in a blur, as do thinking processes. Keywords have become mechanical codes, and shareholders bow to the omnipotent algorithms’ patterns of, let’s say, how existential fears relate to consumer behaviour. We hardly notice our choices being manipulated. How to catch snap assumptions that keep consciousness caged, or one’s imagination buried under debris of glib answers? With traditions and ideologies on trial, how to develop a filter of authenticity to stem the flood of information? Reflective minds are turning cynical. I have that tendency.  Doubt is the new lodestar.

Like never before, we perceive phenomena through multiple eyes, tap into the states of other beings – their joy, their ignorance and excess, their poverty, suffering and distress. We may blank out what upsets, but can’t escape the increasing experience of contradiction, the very function of reality. Greater awareness deeply conflicts us, as much as it inspires creativity. There’s hope. Seeing does not require physical eyes. Collective consciousness will expand, be it through chaos. The least we can do is to still our own mind, which is why I return to the rose.

The genus Rosa, according to fossil evidence, is 35 million years old and begun to be cultivated circa 5000 years ago. Due to its tessellated structure, dome-like shape and its delightful perfume, the rose has become a symbol of the heart, of wholeness, love, beauty and perfection the world over, frequently with mystical connotation, and often highly stylised, as in Islamic art.

When held, thought or spoken of, the rose lingers on and generates a mood. It may appear in different stages of opening or beautiful decay, in a particular colour, light. The name alone conjures up memories of scents, places, relationships, delight or melancholy. What ‘rose’ evokes derives from a time-wrought cypher that evokes all roses that were, are and will be.  Rose is a rose is a rose – depicts a rose, no more, and yet, it kindles all the experiences and ideas humans formed around roses.

While fear of loss and abandonment engenders life, it also draws us towards the mystery of infinite consciousness, the one being with countless names. Various practices, derived from spiritual traditions, can calm a turbulent mind enough for a glimpse of harmony beyond divisions. For a while, at least, we sense the larger presence, the effortless zone, the flow – and given patience, come to realise that consciousness is what we are.

I invite you again to This guided rose journey I shared here three years ago, requires only your imagination.

It is a short imagery, easy to memorise. Enter with eyes closed, and it may work for you as a bridge to the recurring presence of rose – a reminder of continuous becoming and expanding consciousness.

 

 

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… the ones who walk away …

Ursula Le Guin’s short metafiction, ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas,’ first published in 1973, had its 40th anniversary last year. My first reading, when Google and book review sites were non-existent, left a deep impression. This week’s re-reading, once, twice, three times – the story deserves it – made me curious as to what other readers might have made of it. Obsessing in a web-crawl I came upon predominantly moral interpretations, which I distinctly remember resisting, though these associations are understandable. The way our systems deal with the unadjusted tends to appease the troubled conscience for the rest of us normal citizens.

For me, there were deeper complexities in this brilliant piece of writing. I decided to share my thoughts and tempt those of you who don’t know the story to read it and derive their own insights. I’ll use spoilers, so if you want to read the story first, here is a link: http://genius.com/Ursula-k-le-guin-the-ones-who-walk-away-from-omelas-annotated

… With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city of Omelas, bright-towered by the sea …  

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

We are shown a charming city where order and harmony reign, a city well-protected in a bay, resembling a womb. Reality is suspended. There’s a sense of timelessness. It is a civilised place, decorous, joyful, without hierarchy. No king, no swords, no slaves … no power games. Utopia comes to mind, the idea of eternal life – the eternal innocent child.

No science has yet dispelled the vision of a haven without strive, where everyone is happy. In the wake of traumatising wars and unspeakable atrocities, there are always attempt to re-create places like Omelas, attempts to soften the reality of birth and death, the extremes of joy and pain, nature, the cosmos our life depends on and which we try to fathom. But since our spiritual lore cautions that life is an illusion – an ornament that covers ultimate truth we can’t perceive with our senses, we get anxious when life becomes too comfortable.

The narrating voice, anticipating our scepticism, invites us to fill in the sketches of this perfect democracy. We are told, ‘They were not simple folks, you see, though they were happy.’ After all, Omelas may strike some as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. ‘If so please add an orgy.’ More delightful pleasures are suggested – celebrating life, with one significant addition, ‘One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.’

In contrast, the voice notes the bad habit of a different place, where pedants and sophisticates consider happiness as something rather stupid. ‘Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting … the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.’ The voice insists that the citizens of Omelas were mature, intelligent, passionate people whose lives were not wretched.

The Festival of Summer has begun. ‘Do you believe?’ the narrator asks. ‘Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? NO? Then let me describe one more thing.’

And there it is, the secret lurking out of sight, a child, kept in the darkness of a tiny cellar room, with only a faint ray of hope based on a dull memory. The child is not driven out of the city, like the traditional scapegoat, but contained below ground; there to absorb everyone’s fear of reality and its cruel justice, embodying, maybe, submerged histories, rather like the depths of the iceberg below water keeps its peak afloat in the light.

… They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it; others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on the child’s abominable misery …

Terms are clear, should this child be freed, the beauty would wither and be destroyed. The pragmatic solution seems such: One punished and suffering child is meant to redeem the rest from coming to terms with their inherited sins and traumas.

To leave this comfortable enclave of Omelas means leaving security and loved ones behind. It requires crossing mountains, stepping into the unknown, with no charm against collective guilt.

Omelas’ citizens are free to look at the unacceptable child. While reactions, those of young ones mainly, vary from disgust to outrage, most accept the necessity of this child’s sacrifice, though some fall quiet and leave Omelas in the middle of night, alone.

For me the child is there to serve cohesion, symbolizing a lid on the unconscious, primitive, wild aspects of the psyche. Isn’t dis-ease a loss of order and rhythm? If you judge this pragmatism harshly, consider the purpose of trip-switches in an electricity-wired house. Or, consider how people under social or dictatorial pressure may choose to safeguard the lives of their loved ones at the cost of betraying their knowing heart.

Le Guin does not condone staying or leaving Omelas, she provides no answers. I am one of those who walked away, many times, always at a cost, because I preferred guilt to shame. C G Jung developed the concept of individuation, hoping for it to expand collective consciousness from the inside out, through the individual, sometimes involving a precarious personal journey, going through a process of separating psychologically from parents, state, authority, to become whole. Like in the Zen story where the seeker eventually returns, better able to serve the community. While a single brain does not survive its limited life-span, the collective memory of matter, and each human experience lives on and is transmitted to every new-born life.

Each one of us carries the traumas of our histories, though not everyone has the opportunity to redeem such wounds, contribute new ideas, or explore different states of being. What drives one to walk away from the familiar – is it inner conflict, allegiance to one’s heart, fear to upset the order, the need for a wider perspective, or simply a calling? We bond to the systems we grow up in, in cases we adjust our behaviour in order to emotionally survive, along with the implicit bargain to keep quiet about the shit, our shit, others’ shit, and how we deal with all the shit.

There are those who leave a comfortable place and those who stay. Maybe a balance between conservative forces that protect structures and revolutionary forces that seek change is necessary. Not everyone, for example, can face existential pain and futility without succumbing to psychosis. There is a case for Festivals of Summer, sport, drugs, ecstasy, trance …

Was the power of the imagination born from fear of mortality? Is this why we envisage dystopias or utopias, and, ultimately, scenarios that make us feel in control of our destiny?

What we hide from ourselves and from each other often relates to our most prominent outcast, the neglected inner child, so embarrassing to the adult world. This child in Omelas seems to embody the ongoing ritual of shame for walking from Eden into the dawn of creation, a reality burdened with consciousness, and free will that frequently misses the mark, but, heck, is the very process of becoming human.

My naïve hope is that we can learn to embrace our all too human failures, show patience with our children, stop seeking blame and end scapegoating, yet also acknowledge our individual and collective need for comfortable realities … protecting us … from what?

Here a quote from a former friend and teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan … taken from a lecture on Reality:

‘For the whole collective of the human mind – outside that self-created reality there is a storm. That storm – that wind – that pressure – that influence and space is for our existence and permanency completely annihilating and destructive … our assignment outward is because of a deep decay … Reality is a veil that is spun with the finest and thinnest and strongest silk. It weighs nothing – it covers a little darker area behind – and yet the moment when you reach out with your hand to draw the veil away it will skin your hand till blood is drawn.’ 

To fill this emptiness we assign our meaning outward. Call it the human project. Sorry to trouble you, my friends, but the function of reality is worth contemplating, and, in my view, Ursula Le Guin’s story does just that.

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