Dec

5

Tina Turner, that gravel-voiced, Ike-battered, comeback kid said this: ‘I didn’t have anybody, no foundation in life…so I had to discover my mission in life.’

It’s a plain enough statement: without support she had to cut out on her own, uncover her path, focus hard to push through the neglect that birthed her talent. It speaks to the victimised child in us all, galvanising the hero to action.

Yet it also says something else, something other and reveals a truth that sprang straight from the author’s unconscious without either her awareness or her consent. If you listen to people carefully, with what I call an eye for initiation, often something quite different is going on.

If you ask the right questions more is revealed. Continued…

May

21

‘There is no force in the world but love.’

Rilke

At the core of all longing, striving and struggle languishes the bloodied, tender heart, with all movement either taking us further into the heart wound and the possibility of wholeness or into contraction: the recoil that cuts us off from life and love. The heart is either opening or closing.

In the first flush of romance the heart blossoms like a spring flower but, drawn to rekindle the wounds of childhood, the heart’s eye knows just the right partner to select: those who will frustrate and deny fulfilment just as mum or dad did way back when. Is this some cruel trick of fate that renders love powerless, or is it instead precisely this lighting of love’s flame in this particular person that offers an opportunity to transcend all that is loveless and unloving and return us to the most profound healing?

Relationship as spiritual path has a hard time of it nowadays and it is easy to give up on human love, but for some the journey of learning to love another and allowing oneself to be loved offers the ultimate redemption. Does it not make sense that if a man is wounded by mother and a woman by father then in loving and forgiving and being loved and forgiven by the beloved a person can experience a sense of homecoming like no other?

But why do so few find the healing balm they seek, instead foundering on the rocks that lay in the treacherous waters just outside the honeymoon isle? How can redemption be found when thrashing around for power? As Nietzche said, where there is the will to power then love is absent.

The key battle for most couples centres around the two-year-old self’s struggle for both attachment and autonomy. If you have not had sufficient attachment needs met at that and later developmental stages the psyche will keep seeking closeness and merging. If you’ve not been given sufficient autonomy and independence then the movement is away from relationship to satisfy that particular need.

Few of us had our early need for both attachment and autonomy handled well, setting up the later push-pull of adult connection. We want love, we fear being smothered. We could call this the love addict and the avoidant or the fuser and the isolater.

In truth, both poles are usually operating in both people, although one partner will invariably tend toward one position, polarizing the other partner. Yet the truth is both people have exactly the same need, to love and be loved, with both operating their individual set of defences to protect the wound of the heart.

What compounds the problem to the power of ten is the shame of not just having needs but of having those needs exposed. If someone disdainfully calls you needy you can bet your life they are needy and ashamed of that need.

The childhood need for love and affection is so powerful that when it is denied we contract against our own need like a circuit breaker. Some move so far away from that need they no longer know it is even there. Such people are truly lost and often cannot be reached. Throw in abuse and brutality and you get the Hitlers and Stalins of the world.

One of the most helpful things we can do is make friends with our own needs and neediness and do the same with our partners. It is probably wise to move away from those who act tough and needless and refuse to change and the current crop of seekers who are doing a spiritual bypass and residing in a need-free nirvana, having made a sudden evolutionary leap into A Course In Miracles.

But unfinished business does not just come from childhood, it comes from past-life connections with our partner too. I believe that most, if not all, of our more serious relationships are with those we know from other incarnations.

We are drawn towards those on our path on many different levels and will rehash the same old battles until we learn to love one another. I find current theory on relationships limited and primitive in one way or another and certainly using addiction models to treat relationship issues is a mixed blessing, healing some and reinforcing early experience of shaming and harshness in others.

The most complete and hopeful work comes from the pioneering psychiatrist Harville Hendrix who seems to have put all the component parts of relationship together and made sense of them.

In a nutshell: we are drawn to people who share positive and negative traits of our parents to win an old childhood struggle for love; to change brings up our fear of wholeness, which was not allowed as children; we are so fearful of our own wholeness we fear we are going to die if we change – hence most relationships fail during the power struggle; we have to confront and contain the life force (eros) within us that has been trapped since childhood; in finding a container for our feelings and needs with the help of our partners we begin to feel safe enough to heal and, most wonderfully; in dedicating ourselves to meeting our partner’s needs we restore ourselves to wholeness.

The last part is paradoxical but true. If the partner our heart’s eye selected contains all the qualities that we have repressed in ourselves, which we are first drawn to and later detest, then in loving them we are really loving parts of ourselves.
When partners become allies and not enemies dedicated to healing the childhood wounds in each other, with loving turning outward towards the beloved in reciprocity, a circle of love is formed which is deeply satisfying to both parties.

Love, always cleverer than the self-serving ego, only finds itself through acts of unconditional generosity and giving.

Finally, restored to wholeness not just through their partner’s love but critically through the act of loving itself, a couple can bring love and healing balm to all those around them.

May

3

Lips‘Without an appreciation of the soul’s radical desires, psychotherapy can interfere with psychological and spiritual maturation and promote a non-imaginative normality that merely supports people to be better-adapted cogs in a toxic industrial culture’

Bill Plotkin

There is a marvellous moment in Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships by the pioneering Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood when a client finally hits the ground of infinite possibility. The truth is, she says, that right now I am a completely fucked up human being and cannot be otherwise. This revelation was no doubt preceded – as it is for many of us – by years of therapy and workshops, potions and pills. From that moment of crystalline authenticity doors began to open as she sank into the richness of her own being without judgment or concept.

One of the cavernous blind spots that snag the seeker lies in the poisoned nature of the ground in which she seeks healing. Without the soul as companion too many therapies are simply confounded by what is presented. How can that which is devised within the confines of ‘toxic industrial culture’ – that which fails to incorporate blessings and curses, ancestral hand-me-down wounds and individual karma – bring cure to what ails?

Again and again I have seen clients struggling under the weight of a geis, or what I call conditions on the soul, failed, inevitably, by systems that don’t get them, don’t want them and finally throw up their hands in confused failure offering another diagnosis by way of compensation and to save professional face.

Soul sickness does not respond to that which is soulless. It does not seek a fix, although the personality which accompanies it will. It cannot be touched by much in this world. For what has taken root in a human being, what has found a home there, is both incurable and a reflection of what is not right in contemporary culture. This sickness comes from being separated from the beauty that has been lost and which the soul now desires as a matter of urgency. The individual holds both the illness and the answer for that which lies outside the Self.

It is almost that after the soul’s journey over many lifetimes the pressure builds to a point where only death or breakthrough matter. It has to be one or the other. Nothing else will do. I am either going to find the beauty within or I will return to it in the Otherworld, the realm of the ancestors. The mood is pressing and the initiatory circumstances both more terrifying and exciting.

In Zen, it is said that the nature of dilemma is like having a red-hot coal stuck in the throat. It can neither go down nor out. You can neither cough it up nor swallow it. This stuckness or impasse is common in both individuals and society, and as Jung said it represents a preparatory period before significant breakthrough, even an evolutionary leap.

We are too quick to want to get out of this wasteland. In these days of sound bites, quick fixes and instant communication the thought that the soul might have its own agenda and desires is abhorrent. That it might want you to grow sicker and sicker until you are beyond human aid is unpalatable. This is where insight into the mythological level of life is critical. Without understanding and accepting the soul’s need for slowness and to sink into its own depths it is too easy to think a life is no longer worth living.

But the soul is calling you down, deeper than you would go on your own, farther than seems necessary to the conscious mind that only wants to ‘get on’. It takes a long time and much flailing about looking for ways out of our dilemma before accepting, like the client above, that perhaps there is no cure, at least none that we can see. If you study mythological tales, this image of the fall from grace, the wasteland, and the kingdom once abundant now in ruins is everywhere. And it is a necessary part of being alive.

For the sickness pulls us down into territories of great learning, a brush with death, and strips us of all we have known thus far until all that is left is the vision with which we were born and which has been forgotten. ‘The only way to treat the condition,’ says mythologist Michael Meade is to get everything out of the way and allow the sickness to speak for itself. It can only be heard when all the possible cures have been eliminated and its incurability has been admitted. The soul sickness needs permission to be the strange story that it declares itself to be.’

The only way at such times is to understand we have ingested soul sickness, that it is purposeful and contains great gifts, and to go further into it. In other words we have to follow where the sickness leads and where it leads is often to a threshold we don’t even want to see let alone cross.

In modern times, I see this happen most often in relationships. Everywhere I turn I hear people stuck on the horns of dilemma: should I stay or should I go?; I love him but I’m not in love with him; I just don’t feel anything any more. As soul, that feelings of passionate aliveness, most often enters us in western culture through our romances, small wonder that is where we will feel its absence.

People stay miserable within these dilemmas for years, for the sake of the children or a myriad of other sensible reasons. Yet soul is not interested in common sense or material security. It just keeps pressing in on you until you give it its due and it won’t let up until you do, ever. That does not mean the solution is to break with relationship. That may or may not be the case. It does mean you have to find a way to attend to your deeper life or get sicker.

In a sense, the more soul sickness you’ve imbibed the better equipped you are to heal what is within and without. In turning towards what is dark within the Self and the culture we increase the possibility of bringing some of the beauty trapped in the Otherworld back over the threshold. It is as if we have to risk death to step over and beyond ourselves, but what we bring back can alone illuminate that which has fallen into forgetful chaos.

Apr

25

MemoryI have always been drawn to depth psychology and instinctively understood the Jungian concepts and principles that draw on something happening deep within the structures of the psyche. It is my belief that without this deeper understanding therapists often misunderstand what is happening with the patient or are confined to the necessarily limited perspective of the narrow confines of their own training. Like doctors, we are blinkered by our training no matter how ‘good’ it may be. In fact, the better a training is the harder it is for us ‘to see outside the box’.

What I have found again and again is that I attract clients of two basic types: those, like myself, who experienced severe intra-uterine or childhood trauma and cannot seem to find a way out of their suffering through conventional therapy; and those who cannot find reason or explanation for their symptoms in anything that has happened in this life. Both groups, I believe, are suffering from wounds to the soul that have happened in other lifetimes: research would indicate the clients who experience trauma in early life are in a sense starting where they left off in another life and quickly find themselves entangled once more in the same old drama. The second group are more unconscious and have fewer clues to help them from the life they are actually in.

Both feel stuck, desperate and hopeless, unaware the problems lie deep within the soul’s long experience and that they are endlessly incarnating into lives where their particular complex (samskaras to use the Hindu term) will intensify until they find resolution. Clients can be helped whether they believe in past lives or not. The unconscious and physical body stores the memory of trauma, which moves from lifetime to lifetime within the etheric body. Just like in conventional therapy the process of re-membering, recollection and reunion has to happen for a complete healing to occur.

Deep Memory Process, founded by the Jungian academic and therapist Dr Roger Woolger, synthesizes Jung’s active imagination, Reich’s bodywork, Moreno’s psychodrama and past life regression to focus on the timeless journey of the soul. It is the most comprehensive and multi-layered therapy I have ever encountered and reaches the parts that other therapies cannot reach, cannot comprehend or both. Only a remembered trauma can be let go of. If the trauma happened in another lifetime or has its roots there, which is always the case, then full healing is problematic if not impossible while doggedly looking in the wrong place. (Actually I exaggerate: we are not looking in the wrong place as each part contains the whole, the present holds the past and vice versa, only our vision is dimmed without consciousness of other ‘stories’.)

The therapist’s first task is to look at the patient’s history watching for the themes and breaks which will characterise that life – loss, abandonment, betrayal, suicide, addiction, the archetypal themes of human existence that resonate at our depths and shake us to the core. The ancient myths of the Greeks and Shakespeare’s plays point up the dilemmas and tragic nature of life and death where resolution is rare.

According to Dr Woolger, the most heard story of the soul is that of guilt. As Jung has it: ‘ A complex arises when we experience a defeat in life’. The client sabotages their current life because of deep and painful failures in other lives, most often failing to save family or loved ones in tribal battles or global wars. It seems that guilt, believing we are unworthy of either human or divine love, keeps us in a place of unforgiveness perpetuating our self-hatred lifetime after lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, most past lives are not spent as Cleopatra or Pharaoh, but as ordinary anonymous people caught up in often terrifying circumstances beyond their control.

It is a common view in spiritual circles that the soul needs to explore all facets of human life – victim, persecutor, rescuer – and in psychotherapy that we need own all aspects of the Self, letting go of our projections and facing the shadow, to use another Jungian term. DMP then is not a light or easy therapy but deeply soul-searching, often wrenching, but powerfully effective. It is, as suggested, deep work that aims at equanimity and balance but takes us through a painful journey as we act out the conflicting aspects of our own complicated nature.

F Scott Fitzgerald said it is the hallmark of genius to hold two totally opposite ideas in the mind and work with them. The ancient science of alchemy wrestles with the union of opposites, not least aiming to bring together those most fundamental of forces, the masculine and the feminine. DMP recognises this schism and the revolving nature of the Self, identifying with one aspect, then another, over and over until satiated. For it is another Jungian principle that a pattern has to be exhausted before it can be given up.

Where DMP differs even more radically from conventional therapy is that it works to achieve resolution in the after-death states, what the Tibetans call the Bardo realms, where powerful healing work can be achieved as the soul is freed from the limitations of bodily existence. Although clients are not hypnotised as with other regression therapies, he/she does embody the Past Life Character. The therapist encourages the client to suspend disbelief and follow the thread of the story that will come to the mind, or the charge in the body, often starting with a piece of artwork.

As the client finds himself in another world the therapist encourages the client to trust imagination and go with what arises. The therapist then becomes an attendant to the soul, following the client, bringing them face to face with painful experiences and through the story to its end, usually death, before moving to the bardo realms. Often the therapist uses props: a rope around the client’s neck; a prod with a wooden ‘spear’ etc to facilitate the story and the healing. There is often powerful somatic release, crying, shaking, screaming, trembling as the body lets go its hold on the old.

The tabla rasa theory then is discarded, utterly and completely in this practice: all the major complexes of our lives and the psychic structures that drive us to repeat, wretchedly, our past sins, are seen as laid down before birth. As Plato suggested millennia ago, the soul chooses both circumstances and tasks and we are doomed to repeat the task until we learn the lesson. Stubbornness, pride, the desire for vengeance, what AA calls our character defects ensure that in the main we don’t. Some of us are particularly stubborn about that.

Resolution and the relief of unhealed physical ailments are remarkable. Unfertile, hopeless women become pregnant, physical symptoms disappear, guilt evaporates when understood and success descends on a life after years of abject failure unhelped by conventional means. It is one of the great ironies that psychotherapy, which originally meant study of the soul, does not attend any more to the part of us that it names as needing healing. The soul is missing from modern therapy, which is why I despair when I hear about the perpetuation and popularity of the CBTs etc. We continue looking in the wrong place with a limited view and we fail through a lack of vision that is not our own but a culture’s that has ditched meaning for meaninglessness replacing soul with sound bites.

This article was first published in the Jan/Feb 2010 edition of Kindred Spirit magazine