Rigidity and fracture – be a willow tree…

When structures harden, and crash in to other hard structures, they fracture, fragment, and break. Rocks,  tectonic-plated continents, religious systems, political ideas, and of course, hearts. The hardening of our ideological positions holds the danger of rendering us brittle, subject to cracking up down the fault line of our weakness. What might once have been a powerful, beautiful, coherent whole runs the risk of shattering in to meaningless parts. Being too hard, too intolerant of ambivalence and otherness, makes us vulnerable. It does not make us stronger.

There is always doubt in faith (whether that is spiritual and religious faith, or faith in a more secular ideal). Doubt is what makes faith real, it is that which removes it from the realm of fantasy in to the realm of choice. By knowing doubt, and where you stand in relation to it (willing to have it behind you), you can have an honest, flexible, vulnerable and surrendered faith. The fault line of our faith is our gold.ecotherapy ecopsychology transpersonal psychotherapy katy baldock

Fanaticism is a failure of flexibility. It is a denial of otherness, a pathological incapacity to know the world may look different through the eyes of the other. The incapacity is in all likelihood born of fear, a fear of what the other may do if they are not controlled. It operates within the psyche as well – in oppression of inconvenient longings, fears, thoughts – in the denial of our doubt.

Opinions, including very strongly held opinions, are a life-giving pillar of our inner and outer life. We orientate ourselves around our opinions and values, create systems for living out of them. But when we become hardened, rigid, monolithic, then we risk crashing in to the opinions of others and breaking up. In an earthquake zone, architects take care to build flexibility in to their structures, so that when the earth shakes the building can move with it. A willow tree bends with the breeze, flexibility allows it to stay strong and standing when met with great force. The heart – and our faith –  needs to be the same – strong, stable, but not hard. Clear, but not fanatical. Open, not closed.

 

 

 

 

The Bright Field. A poem for late summer.

In August there can be more time to stop the rush and tumble of our lives, and to bathe in the richness of what is here. Every second taken away from awareness of the eternal present is a second lost. Most of us lose most of our seconds, most of the time. Screwed up in to tight little balls of anxiety, regret, striving, good intention and well laid plans we miss our life as it flows on by – the river of being always on its inexorable way, same river, always different. Finding the discipline to be present changes everything. Or actually it changes nothing, but it opens a window on to the eternal treasure waiting for us to stop by and say hello.

Here is RS Thomas’ poem, ‘The Bright Field’ which says all this with such beauty.

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was

the pearl of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realise now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

 

on to a receding future, nor hankering after an

imagined past. It is the turning aside

like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to the brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

 

RS Thomas.

Dignity, the antidote to terror.

Dignity, endurance, calm, peacefulness, establishment and maintenance of strong boundaries. Commitment to order, sustaining and preserving balance, exercise of compassion, mercy and care in our dealings with one another. Defence of values of tolerance, defence of the rule of law, defence of the freedom of your heart to flourish and express your knowing fully and however you want to – within the boundaries of love, care, and compassion.

Remaining dignified is a heart practice. It is not the same as drawing yourself up on to the moral high ground, and it is not the same as putting up with bad behaviour. It is the refusal to allow your fineness of being, your essential goodness, the rhythmic beat of your heart,  to be hijacked by the attention seeking tantrum of another.

There are a lot of different energies which we know about as human beings. There is the passionate, impulsive, bright fire of intensity – the hot blaze of which can consume, destroy, purify, transform. There is the persistent, connecting flow of relating, love and empathy, which reflects, soothes, dissolves pain and division, makes everything in to a new spring. The energy of dignity is the enduring, strong, protecting and preserving force, the force that gathers, persists, grows wise and contains all the rest – creates and maintains the conditions for life to flourish.

None of the energies are better or worse than one another, but for everything there is a time. Here, from the wisdom texts, is a way of understanding this:

 

 

transpersonal psychotherapy ecotherapy Katy Baldock
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3 (1-8)(KJV)

 

Each of us has to contemplate our rhythm, what the time is for us. What is required at this point? But the thing about this text is that the responsibility for finding the proper response to circumstance is with the responder. Do not be provoked away from your wisdom in to an untimely and inappropriate course of action, arising out of your fear, your terror. Do not do that. It is not necessary. Terrorism seeks to pull society, and each one of us, out of our wisdom. It seeks to hijack the agenda – hijack the ‘time’ – and unbalance and wrong foot the response.

Dignity, endurance, calm, peacefulness, and the establishment and maintenance of strong boundaries. And love, compassion, and mercy. Lets not be terrorised out of that. ecotherapy ecopsychology transpersonal psychotherapy katy baldock

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)

 

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 Brexit Challenge – take one dragon…

How do we detoxify our anger, purify our passion so that it becomes medicine not poison? The fire element powers our anger, but it is also the bringer of light. The current Brexit situation (the 48/52 split and all its social and political ramifications) has awoken the dragon of anger on all sides. The dynamism of this fire can be harnessed as truth and clarity, but only if we take a stand against our self indulgent dragon-greed and do our work. This does not make us lose our precious energy – it harnesses it, enhances it, magnifies it, cleans it up, so that we can become powerful agents of the changes we want to see.

So how might a person work with their fire to transform it in to light? You become its friend. You don’t evacuate it, avoid it, deny it or mitigate it. You sit with it (or dance with it). No screaming it out, no pretending it is not there, no rationalising it away, no distracting yourself from it. Just stay with it, fully, until it changes into something infinitely more powerful, useful and radiant. This is alchemy, and it is hard work. People who are reading this page probably already know this. But what I find is that it is hard to engage with, hard to do and most of all very hard not to backslide. Maybe the value is partly in the struggle.

The salamander in the picture is sitting in the fire. The stars down his back show that the light is becoming present in him. It is interesting that the salamander is chosen for this image – a dragon figure. Dragons  are often found in the works of alchemists. Dragons represent unevolved energy, early reptilian dinosaur type of energy. Dragons are greedy, treasure hoarders, fire breathers (they live on unpurified fire). But dragons can transform. In fairy tales we know that if we kiss a toad (a cold blooded dragon like creature) we might well get a prince – the story is telling you that if you love (physically love…) the dragon energy and don’t reject it you stand a chance of majesty, of sovereignty. The gold of the king and the lead of the dragon are one, but at different stages of the process.

But I am getting away from myself and getting excited by dragons. Back to the salamander. The salamander teaches us that to find light, the light of clarity and truth, we must sit in the fire. I would add to this, contain the fire, make it hot and bright. imageIf it is too much for you, you may need to temper this process with some other work – release a little of your fire (but you lose a little of your fuel if you do that – it’s a trade off….), or balance it with a little water of compassion or sadness (but you lose a little of your power if you do this – again, your choice….). Try not to think about it (air and fire make explosions, which is not what we are after here). Use your body, which can contain and hold, and not your airy mind for this process. This is a physical process. A physical, embodied transformational process, not an idea.

So when we find ourselves angry we have been visited by our personal dragon, and we have an amazing energetic resource. To maximise the effectiveness of that power, contain the fire, do not repress it, extinguish it, or diminish it. Don’t evacuate it, don’t be afraid of it. The world is going to need your fire (and mine). But it will be more useful if it is evolved somewhat from its base, rageful dragon form.

In a future post I will explore using the water element more in the process, because that is needed as well,  but today is about fire. And dragons. IMG_3605

 

 

 

Transpersonal Co-creation

Therapeutic work, especially transpersonal therapeutic work can be usefully thought of as participating in three levels of co-creation:- the inner, the between, and the beyond. More specifically, I propose that we can think of transpersonal therapy as finding ways to help the client (and ourselves) explore life in three broad spheres of engagement.

  1. The inner, the intra-psychic level.  We draw on all facets of being human in the work – the mind, the creative imagination, the body, the emotions. Therapy which excludes one or more of these spheres denies the client the chance to ‘co-create’ their reality and experience in the therapy. This is an inner co-creation, where our different capacities need to be balanced and find ways to work in harmony within our wholeness. We help clients to bring a kind of ‘full capacity’ approach to their difficulties – the Jungians name this in terms of the functions – sensation, feeling, intuition and thinking. Other therapists prefer to explore this in terms of elements, earth, water, fire, and air.
  2. The between, the relationship level. Co-creation of therapy between therapist and client, where we bring an authentic and empathic awareness to the therapy encounter.
  3. The beyond. This is the co-creation with the mystery of life itself, a way of thinking about participation in the evolution of humanity, the cosmos, the divine. From this level the Hadith ‘I was a Hidden Treasure and I so longed to be known that I created the universe’ can be understood. I have written about this here.

 

This conception of transpersonal psychotherapy draws on the recent participatory turn in transpersonal psychology, articulated by Jorge Ferrer and others. Participation encourages transpersonal knowing which is based in relationship, embodiment, challenging narcissism, and action based personal positioning, that is a sense of being embedded in an ecology, being a part of a bigger whole which our spiritual lives are also a part of. Whilst there are many forms of spiritual knowing which are less relational, less embodied, less concerned with the collective and manifest, in therapy it is most often the case that our clients are seeking ways to be in the world, to find ways to make their lives meaningful, rich, loving and productive. The concepts of the three levels of co-creation fit this aim, and remain true to the transpersonal endeavour.

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The archetype of containment

Containers are an archetypal structure. They feature an inside, an outside, and something between the two. Material can be held within the container, and some containers are designed to be transformative for that substance (the womb, the stomach, the alchemical flask, the therapy relationship).

Leaky containers are useless. This is why we focus so much in therapy on boundaries, the boundaries are the ‘walls’ of the container, it is how the container is made.  We focus on sealing the container so that the work can proceed

IMG_6765But what about oppressive containers? A prison is a container, quite an effective one, but it only becomes a transformative space when the inmate, the prisoner, says ‘yes’ to it, and allows the limitations to teach something. This is an interesting observation – and it certainly appertains to therapy. Consent to be in the container is vital to the process of it becoming a transformative space. This raises interesting questions about how trainee psychotherapists (who are required to have extensive psychotherapy as part of their training) can best use the therapeutic space. Until the person who is obliged to be there really gets a ‘yes’ to being there, the therapy will probably be ineffective, regardless of any other factors. We have to say yes to it.

This is seen in the Christian story of the annunciation as well, in a slightly different form. In this story, Mary is visited by Gabriel, the angel of news, guidance, insight. He tells her that she will bare a child (one of of reading this is that she will transform, i.e. something (the divine) will be born in her…..) but note that in the story she has the choice. She says yes ‘Be it unto me according to Thy will’. She consents, and so she can become the container. This theme of consent to the archetype of the container is a rich vein of ore.

 

Part of the reason this theme of consent is so important for the archetype of the container is that  discomfort is so often part of the experience. In therapy we see this as the heat turns up, and our client begins to burn in their calcinatio process, or feels as if they are dissolving and falling apart in the solutio. Containers may be uncomfortable, and yet beneficial, like a sauna. In this image from Michael Maiers Atlanta Fugiens the King is sweating in the sweatbox – he is being purified. There is

imagesgreat value in sitting with something, when we do not know what the answer is. This is why the therapy and supervision containers are so important. We can be present to the material and allow it to reveal itself to us.

Challenging a boundary in therapy is very much a part of the therapeutic process, and we welcome it when it happens. It is a chance to make conscious the discomfort of sitting in side the closed box. The discomfort will help the person. It will be the very agony they are trying to avoid. But of course it is uncomfortable and can bring up fear, injustice, confinement. Going through a psycho-spiritual transformation is devastatingly hard work, and the therapist often has little to offer but their capacity to keep a lid on the pressure cooker, and observe the cooking with compassion, companionship, empathy and love. Like pregnancy, we have to trust the process, and wait.

Self Inquiry -avoiding the ‘me’ trap

‘The treasury of the heart is the library of God’ (Ibn Arabi – Kernel of the Kernel)

I have just uploaded my 2015 paper on Self Inquiry to the Papers section of this blog. In the paper I explore how self inquiry can be undertaken as a spiritual practice, as a joint enterprise in psychotherapy, and as a qualitative research method in disciplined inquiry.

‘When it is over I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world in to my arms’  (Mary Oliver)

The most important thing about self inquiry is to avoid sinking in to an egoic whirlpool of solipsism, narcissism and delusion. Obviously in therapy we all go through this at a phase of the therapy (it is to be welcomed and celebrated, and held gently and lovingly by the therapist) – but for a successful outcome for the therapy we have to overcome it.

In my paper I put it like this

  • In spiritual practice the injunction to keep going and not identify with what you have found in your self on the path – don’t be distracted by yourself, keep going out, or up (or down….) further, further, further…..
  • In psychotherapy the practice of relationship comes to the forefront of the work when the selfness is seen clearly, so that the heart is engaged. As therapists we open ourselves to what arises. We have set up strong ethical injunctions to keep our work adequately supervised and overseen so that we can do this well.
  • In disciplined inquiry we guard against narcissism by adopting rigorous procedures, and clear and conscious criteria for assessing the ‘validity’ of our work – its capacity to touch and to transform for example.

The paper particularly concerns the  qualitative research aspect of Self Inquiry, but spiritual practitioners and psychotherapists might like it as well.

 

(The image attached to this post is a collage made by my friend Viv Stacey, one of a series of contemporary icons based on the work of d’Osuna)

 

‘Many Beings in One Being – inside the wheat grain a thousand sheaf stacks – inside the needle’s eye, a turning night of stars……’ (Rumi as per Coleman Barks)

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