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

Apr

25

Face‘Myth is the foundation of life: it is the timeless pattern, the religious formula to which life shapes itself…Whereas in the life of mankind the mythical represents an early and primitive stage, in the life of an individual it represents a late and mature one.’

Thomas Mann

The twin themes of exile and longing, one the shadow of the other, are archetypal energies, which sit uncomfortably within each human being. In modern society the sense of being at home in the world is often absent and too often people step right out of the womb into initiatory experiences that set them spinning before they have the chance to touch ground: separation, abandonment, betrayal, parental addictions and depressions. There is neither chance nor time to incorporate love and self-esteem into the psyche before it is ripped apart and the Self thrown away. These early experiences almost always signify an expectation of barrenness due to an actual experience of bleak no-thingness from previous incarnations. The pressure to resolve has built over lifetimes and is immediately re-stimulated at the onset of the current life.

But resolution is problematical. People in denial about how wounded they actually feel and suffering from the internalisation of early injunctions to ‘pull themselves together’ by parents or caregivers equally cut off from their own emptiness are the norm, the spiritual deadwood that clogs, and finally strangles, the culture. Most of us have done such a good job of hiding our pain from ourselves – often behind a veneer of success or competence – that it seems there is either no way back to the Self or no need. This is mirrored in our disconnection from the earth.

As the late, great John O’Donohue writes: ‘We need to remain in rhythm with our inner clay voice and longing. Yet this voice is no longer audible in the modern world. We are not even aware of our loss, consequently, the pain of our spiritual exile is more intense in being largely unintelligible.’ The truth is most don’t know they are in exile and it often takes life to seriously derail to bring them face to face with reality. A divorce, a major loss, an accident, failure, addiction. All of these are sudden initiations which can deepen a person, pulling their soul towards meaning, purpose and new beginnings, which might otherwise remain out of reach. Crisis and opportunity are natural bedfellows.

In older, wiser times initiations were prolonged and planned encounters that acknowledged the need to mark, honour and ground the movements of the soul. The most well-known, still practised in earth-based societies, are the rituals and markings that transfigured boys into men providing a brush with death that may or may not be survived. Such initiations took place only after initiates had been held and contained within the bosom of family, culture and community and had incorporated the Paradise Garden within the Self. This making and unmaking of personhood is a sacred craft that honours all involved.

How different to the sudden shocks modern westerners encounter, sometimes as soon as they hit shore. But if the culture is lost and cannot provide what is needed consciously, pressure will gather within the psyche to provide what the soul needs to experience to turn back towards a sense of wholeness. ‘The organism,’ as Jung said ‘is self-regulating.’ Without the necessary container of family (and I don’t include families that demand convention and conformity in the child and quash individuality) and community the soul finds itself in exile, often without knowing it.

This sense of exile lies somewhere within each human being whether it is felt and accepted or not. Such alienation was experienced in earlier times as a physical banishment, exile to France for instance. It was understood that separating a person from all they had known and loved, stripping them of all possible comfort and sending them to foreign lands was a fate worse than death. The sense of exile is carried within us all – even in an abundant life it waits quietly in the shadows – but so too is the inner king who will one day return to centre stage, though perhaps in another lifetime.

For the brush with death is real. Without the right nutrients and soil during early life things are hard enough. With abandonments and abuses the child is too raw to risk moving out into the world. Adulthood cannot be adequately faced, as there is simply not enough ground beneath a person and not enough nourishment within. Whichever way the head turns things look bleak. The wilderness is all around and the wolves are everywhere. If you arrive at a crossroads either road looks bleak. The first involves bringing out the survival bag and again toughing life out from within the limits the mask of competence provides. That way involves living from a false self where no authentic healing is possible. The second involves drowning in the sea of sorrows and turning towards escapes, addictions and fixes. Or you may do a combination of both.

Yet the truth remains hiding in the rubble. The poet Emily Dickinson understood it: ‘There is a pain..so utter..it swallows substance up…Then covers the Abyss with Trance…So Memory can step around..across..upon it.’ No-one is heading in the right direction, which is towards the wound. Almost everyone is scrambling like fury away from the abyss. But those drowning in the sea of sorrows are infinitely more able to grab the life raft than those trapped by their self-sufficiency and pride. For the waters of emotion and feeling are flowing and can carry the floundering soul to safe harbour or new adventure – the next initiatory experience.

The sea of sorrows has another vital function: it acquaints us with longing. Out of the wound of exile come many gifts, perhaps the chief of which is the experience of longing. The soul calls for home and somewhere in this world and the Otherworld the call is heard and messengers, unseen and otherwise, come to our aid. Earthly exile mirrors our longing for our divine origins and draws us back to our beginnings, before the world turned. As the Sufi master Rumi says, your longing itself is the return message. Crying out for help becomes both call and answer.

My own calling is to help bring balm, healing, understanding and re-orientation to those who are adrift at sea and those whose heart long ago dammed the tide of feeling in order to survive and protect what was left of them. For I have known both experiences and have lived at both poles. I have a particular interest, compassion and sympathy for those sensitive souls who have been packed off to school at a young age and drilled in a system that replaces essence with conformity. They are those eccentric individuals who did not belong in any camp and have not really found a home in the world where they belong since. Something inside is nagging that all is not well or things are already wildly out of control.

There are many ways to bring the soul home. This is one. It is well-suited to those who find groups difficult or experience them as traumatic. When home can be found within through a reparative experience within a true relationship then the individual is ready to respond to the siren song of adventure and turn back once more toward life, this time with an eye for initiation and a glimmer of hope and faith once lost.

Apr

23

FaceWhat has struck me over the years with increasing urgency is the necessity of and importance of blessing in each life.

I have noticed it particularly through its absence, both in my own life and that of the clients and staff I have worked with as addictions therapist in different rehabs these past 14 years. By blessing, I mean the profound and unsurpassable gift one human being bestows on his brother in that moment of shared presence, of really seeing another’s unique beauty, not with the eyes but in and through the heart.

The effects of such an occurrence can be nothing short of miraculous. But such moments are rare and often missed. The grandness and intent of the soul, its need to be seen and honoured, are most often unmet when behaviour is readily labelled ‘narcissistic’ or ‘disordered’ and patients too easily condemned for ‘acting out’. Modern rehab too often fails those it seeks to serve by neglecting and misunderstanding behaviour within the narrow confines of theories that bypass the notion of soul altogether.

Again and again I have seen clients failed through lack of understanding, their essence and beauty missed just as it was in childhood by quasi-parents not in touch with their own soul and again only offering the same old carrot and stick. Finally, they are snidely put down for thinking they are ‘special and different’ as if it is some new disease rather than the soul calling for the blessing it never received way back when. What I wanted then was to find ways of working that focused on honouring the individual’s intuition of a grander destiny rather than beating him or her into an enforced humility, as is so often the case.

Drawing on the wisdom of soul-based theory, including karmic astrology, Jungian Roger Woolger’s Deep Memory Process (a form of past-life regression), mythology, re-birthing techniques and some ritual as well as meditation I have found that conventional theory, psychodynamics for instance, finds its proper place. Clients are no longer simply pathologised and judged for failing the theory’s demands, tyrannised by an imposed structure, but understood and accepted in a much wider context.