The Emerald Tablet

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The earth reflects heaven and heaven reflects  earth, and there is no division between these realms.

Everything proceeds from the origin.

This knowing is, and is  engendered by Light and by loving reflection.

It became known through the body and understanding gently emerged there approached with wisdom and love.

It will be constant and it will be transformed:

Mystery will infuse presence and body with mystery itself

And thus shall holiness shine forth in all things, all space and all time.

So the world is created.

That is all.

 

Hermes Trismegistus (reimagined by Katy Baldock 2016)

 

Imagination and Psychotherapy – the neuroscience is friendly

The imaginal function is important to psychotherapists because it connects us directly to what is  not yet know. Psychotherapy is not about what is known. Any therapist who purports to be able to tell you what is ailing you and what you should do about it is one to run a mile from. No, psychotherapy is about the unknown, the mysterious, the unconscious.

Where does imagination come from? Traditional psychodynamic and psychoanalytic approaches tend to have a reductionist answer to this – the unconscious is viewed as the repository of repressed memory, and imagination (the kind of metaphors and parallels and narratives which are brought in to therapy) is viewed as nothing more than a rehashing of this repressed material. In such psychoanalytically biased therapy dreams are worked with as representations of mere associations of past memories, the transference is explored as a rehashing of early positioning in family relationships, the subtle movements of the felt sense are interpreted as pointers to early repressed material which is being re-enacted.

For sure this is part of the story – we do indeed carry memories which need to be explored. But it is only part of the story. Dreams are not just associations from the past, but pointers towards ways of being which are so much more than we can be at the moment.

In 2014 a team of scientists (Brock Kiwan, Stefania Ashby and Michelle Nash) published a paper in the Journal Cognitive Neuroscience, showing that memory and imagination are not the same thing. Although both memories of what is past, and imaginings of what is future both activate areas of the hippocampus, they activate different parts of it. The function of memory and imagination are different. This is very important for psychotherapy – we can say that our imagination, i.e. our dreams and symbols, our imaginal world, contain ‘unknowns’ which are not governed only by our past – which do not consist just in a rehashing of repressed memory. As psychotherapists, whilst some of our job is to help people untangle the aspects of imagination which ARE to do with repressed memory, we can now be clear that some of the ‘unknowns’ are from elsewhere. From imagination. The link to a report of the paper is here

So how do we understand imagination and its function? Mystics have not needed to wait for the neuroscientists to catch up. Imagination has been understood by Henry Corbin as a distinct realm, the mundus imaginalis, with its own clear role – to transform the person in to the thing imagined. In other words, the transformational process operates through images. The heart perceives forms in the mundus imaginalis – and by receiving those forms in to oneself at an embodied level, those forms can be brought through in to being.

In this way of understanding, spirit reveals itself in images in the world of the creative imagination – the mundus imaginalis. We can then encounter those symbols and be ‘carried back’ by them to their source that is, we can come to know what they mean, but such knowledge is not the discursive knowledge of the mind, but the subtle knowing of the heart. Images reveal themselves to us in secret. This process is called ta’wil. To work with symbols, images, and narratives in this way allows the revelation of what is not known.

Carl Jung’s work was founded on the practice of active imagination. In this practice the imaginer takes themselves in to their imaginative capacity and explores what is present, in the service of becoming more whole – the service of individuation.

Dorit Netzer has developed a way of working with imagination which she calls ‘imaginal resonance’. She draws on the work of Rupert Sheldrake, who has written on the notion of resonance – a resonance is when there is some form of attraction or sympathetic response to an already existing quality. It is an attraction to shared consciousness. Thus consciousness can be shared, from one person to another, or one state to another. Netzer has explored this in relation to the experience of reading mystical poetry. My own research explores this in relation to being present in a garden. Essentially, the imagination is allowed to resonate with the other – the poem, the garden, or it could be with another person, or with a situation, or importantly with inwardly felt sensations and knowings. The expanded consciousness which is possible with this allows the person access to creative possibility beyond the circumstance they were in.


So imagination is more than memory. It is more than the mere gathering of associations from a personal troubled past. It is a way of knowing more than you could ever conceive of alone.

 

 

Time’s fool, or the ever fixed mark?

The link we make between love and eternity deserves some attention. We offer a ring as a symbol of our love in marriage, because it is eternal – the ring, in its circularity,  has no beginning or end. We promise to love ‘forever’ (although in the Christian marriage service the promise is only until death, interestingly). Intuitively we understand love as being a feature of eternity.

If love is eternal, is it entirely a feature of this world? Is it a created thing? Created things are perhaps not eternal. Created things have a beginning and an end. Love transcends this. Love transcends creation. The Quranic Abraham teaches about this, when he refuses to love the stars, sun and moon for themselves, saying ‘I love not those which set’, in other words, he is directing our attention to the eternal.

And yet love is that which allows us to know life most fully. The feeling we have for our lover, our child, our most precious moments are full of love. You don’t have to transcend life to know love -you have to embrace it. I find this interesting, the ubiquity of love. For me, this suggests that we should not be too fooled by the ephemeral, no matter how beautiful it is. But while not being fooled, we can be graced through loving, with knowing Love itself. 

 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

Oh no; it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken,

It is the star to every wandering barque

who’s worths unknown, though his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved

I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

 

William Shakespeare.

 

 

 

Work, leisure, pleasure, and service.

September comes with the ‘back to school’ feeling, the children have their new slightly too big school uniforms (grow in to it, very practical), the house is clean and clear from a summer of sorting, the preserving pan is out for jam, chutney, pickles, summer completion projects. A hive of industry, but it is the kind of work I love doing, at its best it feels like play. In meeting the requirement of the season, I find energy, joy, refreshment.

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Who, or what, are we in service to?

What do we take pleasure in? Do we have to consign pleasure to leisure? How can we love and be pleased by our work? Capitalism is not really a system based in the currency of pleasure through work, even to suggest it seems transgressive, a smidgen Baudelairean. I am not sure how much pleasure the bees get from their work – I was watching the bees on the flowers and in the hive today – there was no particular sign of pleasure as such, but they seem content (except when I try and steal their honey….). Bees, of course, serve their hive. Is service the key to the work/leisure/pleasure question? It might be. But perhaps the next question to ask is what or whom are we in service to?

In a discussion of his recent  book ‘Unforbidden Pleasures’  at the Freud Museum last autumn, the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips  suggested that a way of thinking about psychoanalysis as as a history of our obedience, an exploration of all the things which we consented to but did not necessarily agree with, particularly as children. This is a very arresting way of narrating life. He asks what kind of freedom would we encounter if we did not comply with the rules imposed on us concerning behaviour when young? Who would we be if we just did as we wanted, spoke as we wanted? Would we descend in to violent chaos? Possibly. Probably. But being conscious of where the ‘rules’ are is important – to whom or what do we act in compliance. To whom are what are we obedient? This is a vital question, full of life and passion. But the question does not go far enough. It does not open the field sufficiently.

Bringing consciousness to our compliance has the potential to liberate, but not just at a personal level.

The transpersonal perspective offers understanding on this. Doing what we have to do is a form of service.  Service, whilst it may look like being in service to another person, to the world, to a cause, is always and everywhere service to God, to Reality itself. All work is service to the One, and put like that, it offers us the chance to open to consciousness of our essential servanthood in the cosmic order, fulfilling the role of rendering the divine visible to itself ‘I was a Hidden Treasure and I so longed to be Known, that I created the world so that I could be Known’ (Hadith of the Prophet).

This offers the possibility of bringing our awareness to our capacity (and often our struggle) to come in to balance with what is presented to us, to serve that which is presented to us. I suspect that the easy sense of pleasure in seasonal jam making is derivative of this balance, it is easy to see how this is work (service) in alignment with what is necessary to the moment. More of our work can be experienced and known like this. It has the potential to be a delightfully subversive way of living.

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Transpersonal research.

Phillips, A. (2016). Unforbidden Pleasures. Farrer Strauss and Giroux. New York.

The beauty of the wound

Have you ever been struck by how the most beautiful part of a tree is the wounded part, where a limb has been torn off? Probably it was a difficult experience for the tree, limited its capacity to function efficiently for some time. But it healed. It survived. And it was left with a unique and interesting, and sometimes staggeringly beautiful scar.

You are like that.

Reassess your wounds. Perhaps they are what has made you so beautiful.

‘Not in entire forgetfulness….’

The forget-me-nots take over the garden in early spring, and even though they threaten to squash out some of the burgeoning young plants trying to push their way up, I don’t have the heart to weed them out. They are so profuse, so hopeful, so intricately simple, and so faithfully reliable. They are glorious. I was remembering the often quoted part of Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality today as I was looking at them ‘…..not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come….’

 

This sense of being clothed in glory is incredibly evocative, when set alongside the simplicity of a forget-me-not. The concept of glory often brings with it golden chariots, trumpets, all the bright lights of arch-angelic and magisterial heaven. I quite like that kind of glory too, and no doubt it won’t be long before I am reaching for the splendour of grandeur once again. But the glory of simplicity, of the innocent, the uncomplicated, the straightforward, joyful, carpet of a multitude of calls to remembrance.

 

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Has elsewhere had its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

 

(from Ode – Intimations of Immortality, William Wordsworth)IMG_2982

The spiritual bypass is what we call our unwillingness to explore the difficult aspects of our process. There can be a tendency for spiritually minded types (like me, and you if you are reading this blog…) to want to transcend. We love transcendence. The space! The freedom! The brush of angels wings! I am not being facetious. Well – maybe a bit, but opening the heart and freeing the wings of the soul to love and soar, and adore – yes, it is a good experience, one of the best human experiences possible.

But it is not the whole story. It is not, maybe, even half of the story. In the Islamic tradition there is a saying ‘I was a Hidden Treasure, and I so longed to be known…..so I created the world, that I could be known’. Lets open this up a bit. It is God speaking here, God is the ‘I’ in this saying (or instead of ‘God; you can say ‘the Cosmos’ or ‘Life’ or ‘the Universe’ or ‘Being’ or ‘the Source’  – whatever word is comfortable for you to express this particular inexpressible).

So….. the Source says ‘I was a Hidden Treasure’…. and then the words ‘and I so longed to be known’. Longed. Yearned. Loved. These words are so compelling….. the love. The world is created through love, this saying is showing us. I so longed/yearned/loved to be known.IMG_2298 ‘To be Known’…..what are we to make of that? It is relational. To be Known, means that there is one who knows, and one who is known – it is God coming out of One-ness in to multiplicity. In to relationship. ‘So I created the world’. And there is the meaning of existence. There is the meaning of life. The purpose. ‘So’  ‘Therefore’ ‘Accordingly’.

The world was created so that the Origin did not have to be lonely and unappreciated anymore. When I feel, or sit with a client who feels, lonely and unappreciated, at least there is the comfort here of being in very good company (and think of the implications of that…..).

So when we seek to ascend, transcend, go ‘up’ in search of our ‘spiritual’ life, we are going in the wrong direction really. Look down at your feet. Or if you are a bit less concrete thinking – look out at your life, this very life, right now, that you have because that is what IMG_6694is created for you right now. That is the face of ‘God’ to be known right now. That is a radical thing that I am saying here – behold your life, this circumstance, this freeze-framed moment in all its complexity, and there it is. The face of the Beloved. The face of Source. The face of God. Yes. Why did you think it was something else?IMG_2922

As psychotherapists we can see this in our work. People bring us a difficult situation that they are struggling with and one question we can ask is ‘what  face of God is being shown to this person in this situation? What do they have to know now? What is seeking to be Known through this?’. This is a way of working with circumstance as theophany. Ibn Arabi explored this at some length in his writings. Most mystics from most traditions had something to say about it (Julian of Norwich ‘All will be well ,and all will be well’ – she was noticing this).

The spiritual bypass happens when we forget all about the face of god being visible in the day to day. The spiritual bypass is when we try to run away from our life, and ourselves actually – our limited, cramped selves, in order to find the Hidden Treasure in the sky. It is not in the sky. It is to be found by staying with what is created, what is seen, and what is known through being thoroughly, messily, beautifully human.

‘I was a Hidden Treasure, and I so Longed to be Known, so I created the world, that I could be Known’.

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