The Myth of Negativity

A theme I have encountered regularly in nearly 30 years of practice as a psychotherapist is the request to help people ‘deal with negativity’. What consistently emerges is that the person concerned is at war with themselves.

And not just ‘in conflict’ as such..

but more of a campaign….

…a series of military strategies to counter that which fails to fit an ideal,  as though..

…on a crusade to exorcise the Devil himself.

Invariably, the ‘negativity’ was some shadow quality urgently needed by the personality to bring wholeness. The problem was not the ‘negativity’ itself but the refusal to give it time, credibility or discern its meaning.

Its a worrying trend. There are swathes of books out there to help you ‘deal’ with this demon, whole websites, FB pages, entire spiritual disciplines dedicated to the cause of suppressing, countering, warding off….. these vital shards of the Self.

The scary thing is that this is done in the name of spirituality.

A Zen student came to Bankei and complained: “Master, I have an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?”

“You have something very strange,” replied Bankei. “Let me see it.”

“Just now I cannot show it to you,” replied the other.

“When can you show it to me?” asked Bankei.

“It arises unexpectedly,” replied the student.

“Then,” concluded Bankei, “it must not be your own true nature. If it were, you could show it to me at any time. Think that over.”

The master is pointing out that the student’s anger and his desire to be rid of its discomfort are not spiritual matters. They are matters of pride and the wish for an easier life, let alone the failure to enquire into the meaning of his temper.

So, we shoot ourselves in the foot with all this high fallutin’ efforts to get rid of Negativity. The motivation to do so invariably comes from an idealised vision that compells us to devalue the rest of our lives.

”so that any time I’m not experiencing love, or not being joyful, [it feels like] I’m not being who I really am, and so I become only conditionally alive.” D Whitmore.

What we consider to be negative often actually…

”contains valuable, vital forces, they ought to be assimilated into actual experience and not repressed. It is up to the ego to give up its pride and priggishness…’ML von Franz.
When we label something inside us as negative we are in fact falling into an unconscious piece of prejudice, often derived from collective morality which is set against us carving our own unique path through the forest.

The negative thought or feeling is an aspect of personality that has been sacrificed to help us ‘fit in’, but without which there can now be no real self knowledge. It is up to us to be humble enough to find the context for such thoughts or feelings and give them the credibility that they are there in our psyche for some good reason.

For example, a young man thinks of himself as unattractive. In fact he’s disgusting. No-one could possibly want him. He counters these ‘negative thoughts’ with affirmations, telling himself over and over that he is handsome and desirable. But what we resist persists and so despite his endless efforts all he succeeds in doing is exhausting himself.

Moreover, the internal clash of opinions gives his ‘confidence’ a comical, wooden performance that no-one believes and winds up just reinforcing his deeper conviction.

A series of dreams begins to tease out the condemnation his mother had of anything to do with his body. Memories follow, being punished for using cologne, being mocked for combing his hair a new way, derision and sarcasm for thinking he could get a date to the prom.

In the absence of any support he identified with her neurotic attitude. Gradually he allowed the feelings of being so belittled to surface. His pain and anger were in fact the index of his own self-esteem. And as he gave an honourable place in his psyche to his grief and rage he began to feel better about how he looked.

“Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for.” J Campbell.

When it comes to one another, judgements of ‘negativity’ are really shorthand for refusing to enter that person’s world or walk a mile in their shoes. Its actually lack of compassion and the unwillingness to stretch the comfort zones of our own self-constructs. In doing so we unwittingly keep ourselves small and pass up the opportunity for personal growth.

”The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” Krishnamurti.

To judge another’s attitude as negative demeans you both. The other is reduced to the cut of your own cloth so that a true sense of I and Thou is lost. The resolution of purpose required to undertake great things is eroded.

”Moral courage has it’s source in identification, through one’s own sensitivity, with the suffering of one’s fellow human beings.” Rollo May.

Moreover, getting caught up in the ego’s preoccupation with conventional morality and what it means to be good can rob us of spontaneity and trustworthiness.

We confuse being positive with being authentic.

Another Zen story refers to this..

Two Zen teachers, Daigu and Gudo, were invited to visit a lord. Upon arriving, Gudo said to the lord: “You are wise by nature and have an inborn ability to learn Zen.”

“Nonsense,” said Daigu. “Why do you flatter this blockhead? He may be a lord, but he doesn’t know anything of Zen.”

So, instead of building a temple for Gudo, the lord built it for Daigu and studied Zen with him.

If we are to be whole, grounded and fully in our bodies we need to debunk the Myth of Negativity. We must take all the thoughts and feelings that arise within us as equally valid, if perplexing, and to be so thoroughly aquainted with it all that it no longer impedes the goal of life, realisation of the Self.

The Shadow of Empathy.

I once found myself in a relationship..

”what, just like that? You found yourself…., like some amnesiac that suddenly slid out of a coma?”

ok, I wound up in a..

”what, as a result of an accident or… like falling down a hole?”

ok, I was once in a relationship..

”grrr…”

It was terrible. She was the Narcissistic Control Freak from Hell. It was so bad I went back into therapy to get support and perspective..

I dreamed that I was riding her like a witch on a broomstick. My analyst had a gift for describing without interpreting overly, ‘well Andy, you’re riding her and there is something witchy in what you are about..’

not to mention adrenalin and white knuckles…

The dream was telling me I was not some innocent party. I had a hand in what was happening. More than that, I was on some kind of dark mission.

What I found was that hanging out with hard core Narcissism reproduced a very particular set of experiences for me; isolation, feeling unvalued, desperation to be seen and acknowledged, stuff that was so deep in my psyche I could scarcely find the words for it.

All shmeered over with being the riteous grown-up  in the equation, ever ready to wag a finger at bad behaviour.

”There is nothing so dangerous as a mild man.” CG Jung.

Why? Because his shadow is free ranging the corridors of the unconscious.

I was offloading my own early traumas, my inner vulnerability and chaos left, right and centre. But I was doing it so unconsciously that all the impotence and emotional deprivation I was so keen to export just kept blowing up in my face.

”That which cannot come in through the door will sneak in by the window.’ African Proverb.

So, if you have a pattern of going out with people who prove to be exceptionally self centred and controlling, you are the common denominator in the equation.

What’s your mission?

It must be important if you’re putting yourself through Hell to acheive it.

It seems like the Empath is more evolved than the Narcissist. You might say that they/we at least have a sense of centre, a connection to self and others. But sometimes the caring has a carnivorous quality to it, or perhaps the sense that it is part of an undeclared campaign.

The work of psychoanlyst Karen Horney is useful in leveling the playing field between the seemingly eternal attraction of Narcissist and Empath, necessary for attending the unconscious factors involved. She suggests that children deal with the basic anxiety of being insufficiently nurtured in one of three strategic ways. They either move Towards, Against or Away from the world.

These strategies need not be mutually exclusive, but for the precarious child of parents..

”too wrapped up in their neuroses to love the child or consider him as an individual…’ K. Horney.

..these strategies then become extreme and sedimented. For the child whose inclination is ‘Towards’, affection can become clinging, compliance can become appeasement,  unselfishness can become sacrificial saintliness…

The empathic Towards and the narcissistic Against are likely to find one another more easily than Away. They are at least both headed in the same direction and neither depressed nor resigned like Away.

Sylvia Brinton Perera takes this all a step further. She demonstrates the unconscious martyrdom that lurks in empathic Towards’  experience of being victimised by the narcissistic Against.

Towards, by her compliant nature, makes a devil of aggression and ‘negative emotions’, all of which threaten the basis of primary bonds rooted in the self effacing solution. She has..

”no experience to distinguish between power as an ego necessity and its misuse in crushing punitive destructiveness.” S. B. Perera.

But being a Redeemer permits at least some expression of her vital self…

”rationalised with riteous indignation…. ” ibid

and shores up an unrealistic persona of noble innocence and virtue.

Whilst defending against the anxiety of an independable world she becomes indispensible to it, a mistress of defusing ‘negativity’ she elects/is elected to serve transpersonal atonement for the family by allowing herself to be laden down with the ills of others like the sin-eaters of Old…

As such, she is also a ‘Chosen One’, whose self-sacrifice to collective ideals..

”finds expression in loyalty and service to the family that has rejected her..” ibid

repeated later in life through loyalty and service to the narcissistic Against who happily loads her down with shadow projections.

Towards, whilst attracted to healing and therapy finds it difficult to sustain ( I had eleven analysts, nine of which I ate for breakfast) because of the paradoxical agony inherant in being both pure victim and designated sin carrier to be cast out into the wilderness. The pharmacon, as both ill and cure, is potentially torn apart by the contradiction of their position, unfairly loaded down one moment and yet drawn like a moth to the flame the next when needed as a repository by their narcissistic partner/boss/colleague.

Its difficult to address because of the insinuation that Towards is just a masochist..

” Don’t make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change it or accept it. All else is madness.” Eckhart Tolle

No, all else is Unconscious.

which might drive you crazy…

What gets forgotten is the deeply held belief, instilled from birth and reinforced throughout life, that value and atonement are to be had in being of service to the Collective to the point of abdicating one’s own destiny.

The redemption provided to others, the sense of being chosen, and the  virtue of a profoundly personal dedication to the Collective cause will go some way to off-setting the  isolation, inhumanity and degradation of this unholy…. arrangement.

but not much.

”Such perverted affirmation – being needed because one is [considered] inferior or hateful and loathsome is deeply felt by many who have carried the collective shadow of heroic western consciousness..’ ibid.

an ideal best embodied by the immaculate, careless, disdaining Against.

My narcissistic father had such a flair for enactment that his scapegoating of me took on literal proportions. I was sent to fight and die in a war that had nothing to do with me, in a unit that was renowned for its losses in combat…

the real horror was that I went so willingly, happy to fight and die, to sacrifice myself on the altar of Against’s cause. What else was I worth…? How else would I be loved?

Those that avoid the fires of self immolation reserved for the hard core ‘Towards’ become healers of one sort or another in due course. But only by realising the careless, precarious, conditional basis upon which we entered the world and the dark underbelly that is the legacy of Empathy.

 

Wound, Dream and Divinity.

Edited Repost.

Some research was done in the 70’s in America to determine what brand of psychotherapy was effective and why. What they discovered was that it was down to the therapist involved and whether the client felt loved or not.

People are healed by love and not by theories.

Having said that, you can work with your inner child all you like without touching upon the terrible fracture in our collective psyche that is created by One System systems. And it’s not just about social intolerance and shadow projection onto your neighbour…

but de deep split waaaay down in yo’ own selve’..

startin with alla trouble between Yahweh and his missus Sophia/Hokmah.

back inna day

The Subjugation of the Divine Feminine has left Civilisation trying to build it’s house on a foundation which has not only cracked all the way across, but one half has actually slid into a sink hole and opened up a crevasse deep enough to swallow a carpenter’s lunch pail and maybe a small child.

This wound of the lost goddess is so basic to Western Civilisation we’ve built it into our theoretical frameworks as existential ‘givens’. Balint calls it ‘the basic fault’. A sense of fundamental lack. We forget that other cultures do not necessarily experience this.

Their Gods get on, more or less.

We also forget that the experience of being ‘hollow men’ is precisely because we have, indeed, had something scooped out of us at birth.

In acrimonious divorces and otherwise narcissistically preoccupied parents, being made to feel ‘special’ is the classic substitution for withered affection.

Not gifts as such…

just being let off a scolding…

because its too much trouble..

an’ now you owe me…

an’ preten’ how good you are for not doing the hard work of giving them hell when they need it.

But it never quite fills the ‘scooped out’ experience.

Lucky for us the rift can be mended..

but not without being rather overwhelmed in the experience.

I had a customer who dreamed he had been thrown from a great height by his mother. He fell and fell, down into the sea. He sank down and down until he reached the bottom and found himself surrounded by….. things, but didn’t know what the things were.

‘They were shields and armour..’

I told him.

‘How the hell did you know that?’

memory jogged.

‘Well, because I know the myth of Hephaestus..’

says I.

Who was cast from Heaven by angry Hera,

because he wasn’t perfect.

…fell to earth and learned the craft of smithing, making weaponry and armour.

So now he had a story..

one that came to him from the Blue..

to re-introduce him to himself..

Mostly in the West we treat the Unconscious as something to be brought to heel. Or reduced to  interpretation. We’re easily seduced with the notion of self mastery and there are many teachers who gain great followings on that promise…

rather than the humility of realising that not only are you not master of your house you are in fact the tenant.

And so we can’t be fed..

or feel connected.

The dream weaving Goddess gets experienced in her negative form instead, and rather than us approaching Her dream with the awe of visitation, She comes to us as Need and Addiction and Consumption.

So, I came across something that knocked one of my great heroes down more than a few notches..

ah me… but then I dreamt that my Alsation had a big rubber band stretched over his head and across his eyes. He was crazy with distress and I had to tackle him to the ground and grab the band off his face. He was so relieved and grateful.

I woke and thought, ok, you may be disillusioned but your instictive self feels a lot better.

and can see properly..

Imagine if the whole world woke up one morning having had the same dream. We would all be amazed. It would be the greatest event of all time. People would dance in the streets from New York to Ouagadougo for a month and the world would never be the same again. It would unite faiths and end wars.

And yet….

this is what happens all the time..

Not in the content maybe..

but in the fact of being tended by an unseen, unknowable something…

with the power to slip poetic Summaries into our sleep

and gift glimpses of Beyond.

 

 

How to be Interesting.

When I went to see my analyst Chuck for the first time it was on the understanding that he’d work with me or not based on that session. He was getting on and not particularly looking for new customers.

I was nervous and gabbled a lot. One of the things I mentioned, almost in passing, was a dream I’d had the night before of being on a narrow path in a dark and tangly wood. An old lady had lost her chickens and asked me to help her find them. They were all nesting in the undergrowth and it was quite a process to get them out.

When we got to the end of the hour he said he’d take me on. I asked what made up his mind.

‘you helped the old lady. I don’t work with people unless they are interesting’.

‘How do you know from that dream that I am interesting?’

pushing..

‘Interesting people are those who are interested in others, those who are involved in more than their own small world.”

I had never thought of it like that. On the way home I reflected on people I knew and it seemed to be universally true that whether they were interesting or not had to do, not with their attributes, but with a certain quality of being.

that was interested in others.

Perhaps who you’ve met, how smart you are, where you’ve been, and the clever musing is all garnish. I once new a man who was an adventurer and made documentaries for telly. He was terribly clever, a master of technology and machinery, brave, committed…

but not interesting.

Why?

Because his adventure was all on the outside and so he was not interested in any one else’s adventure because they were mostly happening on the inside..

He was oblivious.

He already knew it all.

Despite his fabulous travels all over the globe and  the fact he’d just bought you a pint you’d soon be hatching an escape plan, or perhaps just seen a long lost friend at the far end of the bar, or felt in might be the perfect moment for a fire drill.

We seem to have forgotten what one another are for.

Describing the Xavante log races in the Amazon rainforest, anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis comes up against his own unconscious western prejudice that the point of the race is to win.

Whole communities crashing through the jungle, loudly urging on the runners, leaping in to give moments of assistance…

you really could be forgiven for thinking it was a competition..

One day he’s watching and notices that one of the logs is way bigger than the other but no-one seems to care…

and in fact some of the runners with the ‘winning’ log peel off to help the stragglers..

and… in fact… it is not a race at all but a ceremony..

”linking the realm of nature with the realm of culture and to stress that these antitheses need not tear the world apart.” D Maybury-Lewis.

The ideal was for the teams to arrive together and the loud after race speeches praised those who ran , not fastest, but most beautifully.

North American Indians played Lacrosse in this spirit, the game ending when a tie was reached, sometimes stretching the match over several days. This spirit of co-operation reaches even into warfare in tribes that Linnaeus’ very scientific Systema Naturae of 1735 describes as ‘Homo Monstrous’.

Traditional Trobriand Islanders in the Pacific had no war. They would all meet on a certain prescribed day of the year and have a ritual punch-up. If anyone was unfortunate enough to get killed the battle would stop immediatly, aplogies made and everyone would eat and go home.

Many North American tribes made war armed only with ‘coup sticks’, it being sufficient to touch your enemy with the stick to be victorious over him.

How we veiw others and what we consider people to be for is crucial to the question of whether those others are going to find us interesting. My adventuring friend’s escapades and their long recounting were actually defences against intimacy. It was all a competition.

Chuck was a wise old guy. He once told me that the secret of transformation was to do what you always did, deliberatly. Its too much to just change yourself all at once. Even a narrow stream benefits from a stepping stone.

So we have to become aware of that streak in ourselves that likes to take a hold of conversation…

”We infallibly run into things that thwart us, first, the thing you have no wish to be, the shadow. Second the thing you are not, the individual reality of ‘You’, and third the Collective Unconscious.” CG Jung

We experience all these three in pretty much the same place, each other.

which is why,

”Hell is other people.” JP Sartre.

Those for whom we might be intesting are going to be in receipt of all our assumptions, projections, prejudices and unresolved issues.

you can go off a person.

So the trick is not that you mustn’t do it. That’s just more conflict.

The trick is to be slightly embarrassed about it.

”Only a humble person can be kind, because, not playing any game of one-upmanship, she is able to enjoy a relationship in which no one triumphs, and therefor all win.” P Ferrucci.

For this we need internal dialogue, I talking to me, let alone to one another.

So there was this granmother trying to take a photo of all the family and there’s a lot of discussion and shifting and instruction till eventually she mutters under her breath, ‘oh, just take the picture, Edna.’ You immediatly warm to her, want to know.

Though it is perhaps best not to tell yourself off out loud overly much….

an’ put the pegs back on the line.

 

 

Love’s Hazardous Quest.

There is a story from Asia of a kasturi-mriga, or musk deer, that describes the dangers and trials of self-realisation. One day, whilst roaming about the forest, the kasturi-mriga was suddenly aware of an exquisitely beautiful scent, unlike anything he had ever known. The scent stirred the deer so profoundly that he became determined to find it’s source.

He looked under the Rhododendron bushes and in the bamboo groves. He searched the rice fields and the open steppe. He wandered the cliff tops, sought out the hidden valleys of the forest and combed the cultivated gardens right up to the edges of the feared man dwellings.

So keen was his longing that the deer didn’t notice either the severity of cold or the intensity of scorching heat. Day and night the deer carried on his ardent search for the source of the intoxicating scent.

Finally the determined deer finds himself up high on a treacherous mountain path, the stones are loose, he slips from exhaustion…

and falls to his death.

As he lies broken at the base of the cliff, breathing his last, he tucks his nose under his belly….

…and finds that the scent that had ravished his heart and inspired all these efforts came from his own navel.

”The true source of happiness, which is joy, does not lie outside of us in any one thing, object or person. No-one can give us happiness, because it is a state of consciousness that exists within us.” S. Sturgess.

Many great teachers concur..

but there are a couple of problems with this question of what lies ‘within’ and how to find it…

The first is the judgement most of us have about how foolish the deer is to cast himself about to such an extent, dissipating himself so fruitlessly. We forget that ‘giving our power away’ or projecting our inner worth onto outer things and people is a necessary part of the individuation process.

Self realisation requires this chaotic process of endless casting about, dead ends and blind alleys. Like Parsifal we start out foolish and ignorant, heading off we know not where, a journey as much a fleeing from, as it is a search for the Self.

{ fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him.

Across the margent of the world I fled,

And troubled the gold gateway of the stars,

Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars…” F. Thompson.

Part of him doesn’t want to find the source of the scent at all….

”following your own star means isolation, not knowing where to go, having to find a new way for yourself and that’s why there has always been a tendency to project the uniqueness and greatness of the Self”. ML von Franz.

Its tempting to follow the path of least resistance and simply remain a slavish follower of some other realised person and yet it is an integral part of the hero’s journey that contents arising from the Unconscious are, to begin with and by their very nature, bound to be projected into the outer world.

Such projections may even be useful…

”If one projects the Self onto a truly wise person you can learn a lot. That is even the secret of miraculous cures. People project the Self onto a healer personality and from such faith they are cured of all sorts of illnesses.” ibid

One’s individuality can actually be promoted and an as yet self-actualising ego preserved from the impact and potentially fragmenting effect of too premature an awakening.

The thing with ‘looking within’, is that what one is searching for is the psychic non-ego which is, to all intents and purposes is still ‘outside’ the personality. Hence the despair and incomprehension of so many who look within and find..

nothing.

And should the objective psyche be stumbled over…

on some precipitous cliff…

its not necessarily very pretty…

or much fun…

”The integration of contents that were always unconscious and projected involves a serious lesion of the ego.” CG Jung.

And so it is not just a question of, ‘seek and ye shall find’, but, as in the original gnostic rendering…

”He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds and when he finds he will be troubled and when he is troubled he will be amazed.” Gospel of Thomas

Our story tells us that finding the treasure hard to attain involves a death. This is both literal and metaphorical. The seeker is confronted by their own mortality which squeezes itself into awareness from all the peripheral events of life that once contained it.

But why add unnecessarily to all the bitter trials of the Quest? Is it not difficult enough already? And yet this paying attention to death is the proper name for much of life’s angst.

Taken deep enough most of our daily pressures are precisely this unwanted reminder of death. The washing machine broke down, you’re late to the office and incured your boss’s wrath. There are unexpected bills on the mat, the weather is closing in, the mirror hates you and the kids act like you don’t exist.

Ordinary anxiety tends to disappear when death is caught in the corner of your eye because ordinary anxiety is where death lives.

The metaphorical death is no less easy.

”The collapse of existing ego structures is closely analagous to the schizophrenic state…and should be taken very seriously. Becoming aware of the psychic non-ego… involves a loss of soul…” CG Jung

hence the warning of the alchemists…

”not a few have perished in our work.” Rosarium Philosophorum.

The broken body of the poor deer..

”is the residue of the past and represents s/he who is no more, ” CG Jung.

The search for ‘the treasure hard to attain’ is not simply the difficulty of the path but that we die to ourselves en route.

When…

”the seeker and the sought become One, both are wounded and die.”ibid.

Lover and beloved conquer each other by their devotion. The source, the essence, the fullest manifestation of love’s conquering power is the love of the soul for the supreme soul, or God. The sages who authored the sacred texts of all time found that the most astonishing of all God’s wonders was this willingness, this eagerness, not only to be touched by our love, but to be conquered by it.

The etymology of the word ‘religion’ comes from the latin ‘religare’, which means to bind, reconnect or re-tie. It has the same meaning as the eastern word ‘yoga’. The purpose of the quest is one of re-connection and a re-membering of the soul with it’s divine source.

And so we find that the sacred encounter is not strictly ‘within’ but ‘between’, between I and thou, between self and ego, between the individual soul and the lap of the Divine Mother.

Our story shows that this discovery of the source, after great effort, is accidental. The important thing is not so much the attainment of anything per se but that we risk all out of love in the process.

There is a tale of Hakuin, the Zen master, who as a young man entered monastic life. He was gruffly told by the Abbot, ‘you do realise that it will probably take you several life times to gain enlightenment…’

‘I don’t care how long it takes,’ replied Hakuin, and with that he entered the gates of Nirvana.

Spiritual Awakening and Depression.

The Norse god Thor and his friends Loki and Pjalfi had been travelling for days in the land of Giants.

Eventually they came to a massive stronghold.

The giant king, Útgaroa, greeted them. “Am I mistaken in thinking that this little fellow is Thor the Charioteer? Maybe you’re stronger than you look. In what skill do you excel? We never allow anyone to stay unless he is a master of some craft or pastime.”

Loki stepped forward. “No one can eat faster than I. “Útgaroa called for the giant Logi to step forward to meet the challenge. Servants brought in a trencher and loaded it with meat. Logi sat down at one end and Loki at the other. At a signal from the king, they both began eating, meeting in the middle. While Loki had eaten all the meat, Logi had eaten the meat, the bones, and the trencher. He was declared the winner.

utgard foot raceÚtgaroa asked Pjálfi what he could do. Pjálfi volunteered to run a race against anyone in the hall. Three times, the giant Hugi ran against Pjálfi. Three times, Hugi beat Pjálfi by wide margins.

Útgaroa turned to Thór and asked him which of his skills he would demonstrate. Thór said that he could drink more than anyone in the hall. Immediately, a huge drinking horn was placed in Thór’s hands. The giant king said that a good drinker could drain it in one swallow. Some might take two, but no one was so feeble that he couldn’t finish it in three.

utgard drinking challenge

 

Thor took three enormous swallows, each larger than the last. Each time, the level in the horn dropped, but never did the horn empty.

The giant king said, “It’s clear your might is not as great as we thought. Would you like to try your hand at another contest? Young giants perform the feat of lifting my cat off the ground. I wouldn’t have suggested it unless I had seen that you’re a much less impressive person than I thought.”

A cat jumped out from under the giant king’s chair and planted itself on the floor. Thór put his arm under the cat’s belly and lifted. The cat simply arched its back such that its four feet stayed on the floor. The giants laughed at the way the cat’s effortless movements frustrated Thór. At last, Thór was able to lift the cat so high that one of its paws left the floor.

utgard cat Útgaroa remarks, “Thór is short and small in comparison to the mighty men here in this hall.”

Thór, beside himself with his failures and the taunts and abuse, spoke. “Small as you say I am, just let someone come out and fight me. Now, I am angry.”

Útgaroa, looking around the room, replied, “I doubt anyone would wrestle you; they’d feel it’s beneath them.” Then, continuing, the giant king exclaimed, “Find Elli, my old wet-nurse. Thór can wrestle her if he likes.”

 

Thor wrestles with ElliThe giants laughed as a horrible old crone entered the hall. She agreed to wrestle Thór. He threw himself at the woman, but she was stronger than she seemed. She stood firm and unshaken. Then she tried a hold or two on Thór. Catching him off-balance, she forced him to one knee.

“Enough”, cried Útgaroa to Thór. “You’ve shown your true strength. There is no point in Thór’s challenging any one else in the hall.”

Places were found for the travelers. They were given food and drink and bedding for the night.

The next morning, Útgaroa asked, “Well, how do you feel things turned out?”

Thór replied, ” You’ve put me to shame. I have never suffered greater loss of face. It irks me to know that you will say to all that I am a person of little accord.”

The giant king said, “I’ll tell the truth.  Had I known how strong you were, I’d have never let you inside in the first place. You were nearly the end of us all.

Thor's hammer blows“I have deceived you,” he went on…

“Loki ate fast, but Logi was Wildfire itself. He burned up the trencher and the meat. When Pjálfi ran against Hugi, he ran against Thought. Nothing can keep up with the speed of Thought.

“When you, Thór, drank from the horn, you thought you were found wanting. But the other end of that horn connected to the sea. When you get back to the ocean, you’ll see how much it has ebbed from your efforts.

“And the cat was not what it appeared; it was Jörmangandr, the Midgard serpent. You raised it up off the sea bed so high that its back grazed the sky.

“And it’s a marvel that you withstood Elli for so long. Elli is Old Age. No one can withstand Old Age in the end.

We may often feel that our efforts and contribution are of little account. In fact, an encounter with the Self can be so deflating that we assume our personal gifts and skills are irrelevant to the point of despair and dejection.

Spirtual awakening, though it may be experienced as a joyful rush of aliveness, of meaning and purpose, does not last for ever. Moreover, it may well seem that our new perspective throws the relative smallness of the personality into an entirely desultory light…

”characterised by an acute sense of unworthiness, a systematic self-depreciation, and self accusation.” R Assagioli.

These sentiments are echoed in ‘the Dark Night of the Soul’,

”When the rays of divine light shine upon the soul, it perceives itself as so unclean and miserable that it seems as if God had set himself against it.” St John of the Cross.

Of course a negative inflation may well be a cover up for a superiority complex…

”Inferiority is really ambition. One wants to be more than one is. One wants to be a great person and knows one isn’t and therefore feels like the last worm on earth.” ML von Franz.

I once had a client with a very low opinion of himself who came to our first session armed with a sealed ‘to-whom-it-may-concern’ letter from his psychiatrist warning me of his covert superiority. I couldn’t see it at all as he began to systematically demean himself. Not until he asserted that he was the very worst person in the world to which, fore-armed, I was able to reply, ‘that is a very exclusive club.’

So its true that this feeling of being worthless and having no power can be a kind of compensation for hidden arrogance. Its also true that we project our potential onto others as a way of avoiding responsibility. The great leader or personality will do it all for us while we remain dependent and infantile.

Yet it is also true that spiritual awakening can produce a feeling of insignificance which may even border on..

”the impression of going through hell, the delusion that one is irretrievably damned.” R Assagioli

It is impossible to experience the vastness of the Universe, the depth of the Unconscious or the fragility of life without a somewhat crushing sense of one’s own smallness..

”The experience of the Self is always a blow to the ego.” CG Jung.

…which is why it is necessary to remind ourselves of the truly heroic nature of treading upon the path of individuation and to re-frame what we might consider to be our insufficient contribution to Life.

This is an uphill struggle for the western psyche, steeped as it is in the exclusive value placed upon outer acheivement and material success.

”Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.” A Einstein.

For this to happen there has to be something of a revolution within us. The yardstick by which we were raised wants whittling….

Raising a child, trying something new, holding your tounge, standing your ground, saying ‘no’; all these things may be tantamount to a re-inventing of oneself, a forging of one’s own path through the undergrowth that is not unlike facing death itself, requiring courage and resolve that may not be apparent to others but which we should not therefor lose sight of ourselves.

 

 

 

Healing the Narcissistic Wound.

Despite the prevelance of Narcissism in our culture, the literature offers little to help us understand how such things have come about.

We have to turn to more ancient, deeper sources of wisdom.

“Myths are a primordial language…  psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul…. healing the conflicts which threaten the child.” CG Jung

So we refer back to myths as a form of public dreaming in order to become reaquainted with our preverbal experience, that within our individuality that likewise seems lost in the mists of time.

”Myths are clues… that have to do with deep inner problems. They carry rich, live, vivifying information [so that] experience will have resonance to our own inmost being and reality.” J Campbell.

A myth that gives us some clues to the problem of Narcissism can be found in the story of Hercules. It describes not only the resolution to psychopathic behaviour but helps us to see how and why it manifests in the first instance.

We will turn to the well known  labours shortly but lets begin with the circumstances of Hercules early life in order to get a sense of the provisional life that besets Narcissism and why it is that creativity and relationships are so problematic.

Hercules problems start very young. He is the child of queen Alcmene of Tiryns and the God Zeus. Hera, Zeus’ wife, was none to happy about this. Even though he had been named after her as a gesture of appeasment she vowed revenge….

Alcmene, fearing Hera’s retribution, abandons the child Hercules in a field hoping the gods will take care of him.

The disenfranchisment of the divine feminine is sweeping across the known world. Everywhere the goddess is being unseated, cast out and humiliated. A wedge has been driven between women and their sacred counterpart so that mother/infant relations have become unbearably strained.

On the one hand Hercules is ‘special’, the son of Zeus. On the other he is deprived of nurture and care. Alcmene invests all her spiritual longing into her redeemer son. She needs him to fill the gaping hole in her psyche where once her sacred femininity was lodged and with which she is now hopelessly at odds.

Meantime Hercules struggles with being the contradiction of being the future lord of all Greece whilst being left forgotten in the dusty stubble.

By chance, Hera and Athene wander by and see the child. Hera, unaware of his identity, picks him up and suckles him, but he sucks so hard that she  throws him down in anger. Athene, more patiently, takes the child to Tiryns and gives him to Alcmene to be bought up as a foundling. Alcmene, overjoyed, hopes the three drops of milk that Hercules has managed to suck will preserve him from Hera’s ill-will.

Its not to be. Hera finds out what has happened. She’s furious and sends two pythons to kill the baby while he sleeps.

”One suspects that there is often a kernel of truth in paranoid delusion.”               S. Freud

The raging goddess, once the archetypal container of infancy, is now dead set against the child. Her devaluation by Zeus throws her into revolt and overwhelms the maternal instinct to care and protect.

Hercules becomes the proto-type of the deprived child.

As our story indicates, emotional deprivation is not simply the absence of nurture. The emotional vacuum is constued as an aggressive attack the best expression of which is paranoid fantasy. Something, somewhere is trying to get me.

”Maternal failures produce reactions which interrupt going-on-being and [constitute] a threat of annihilation.” D Winnicott.

The snakes symbolise the intrusive, cold-blooded, devouring quality of emotional deprivation lived out on a human scale by the curious detail that Alcmene now raises her son as if he were a foundling. She is a mother playing at being a mother which can only produce a child pretending to be himself.

This pretence is what RD Laing calls ‘elusion’. He quotes an example from Sarte of the waiter in a cafe who is not ‘in’ what he is doing. He is somehow not himself. Not that he is pretending to be someone else, which would be less confusing, but insofar as he is pretending to be himself. He is playing at being a waiter in a cafe and has that touch-me-not quality of Narcissus.

”He is never invested, never completely interested, never “all in”.  From fear and diffidence, he always keeps the essential part of himself out.” K. O’Brian.

I pretend I am not pretending to pretend….

Hera’s snakes are an envious double bind, an attack on both the  burdensome dependence and the dismissive autonomy of the child. Her devalued status makes her cling to him and try to live through the child whose own destiny and unique unfolding gets in the way. Whatever he does he cannot get it right.

In my family this took the form of the contradictory injunctions,

‘If you don’t ask, you don’t want.’

and

”I want doesn’t get.’

There is no way around such a double-bind. Like the twin snakes it can choke the life, or at least the aliveness out of you. Mother, in urgent need to elude ambivalence and pretend not to be pretending reads the ensuing ..

”extraordinary passivity and listlessness as satiation.” G Miller.

It gets worse. The child, faced with mother going through the motions of being herself must follow suit and tie himself up in the knots of pretending to be a small boy. Such pretense must exclude creative possibility since..

”any striving is construed as malign ingratitude..” ibid

I dreamt I was in a jail, like out of a spaghetti western with bars all down one side against which I was smashing a club screaming to be let out. Behind me, lying down on a bunk with his hat pulled over his eyes is, ‘the-man-with-no-name’. He says,

”door’s open you know”…

I throw down the club and cower in a corner… terrified at the thought that I could leave at any time..

The dream shocked me. I thought I was mature. I thought I was free and creative, despite my substance abuse at the time and the fact that I had no greater aspiration than to turn admiring heads at the traffic lights with my expensive motorcycle….

I thought I was living the bohemian life..

and so long as the life I was living was not my own I could coast along unchallenged..

secure in the knowledge that family and friends would eternally excuse my narcissistic life style and save me from the real world.

The fact was that all this being let off the hook was not the loving indulgence I took it for but rather the active witholding of Life’s Rule Book in order that I continue to accept the constrictions with which I had been raised.

My abberant lifestyle was not ‘rebellion’ at all, but a profound yet hidden conformity that my own destiny was a taboo for which I was both under-resourced and had no permit.

May as well go and pilfer the drug store..

or start a fight.

There’s nothing else to do.

Hercules does not have to play by the rules. Its his compensation for having his soul hi-jacked. And because no-one will discipline him or be sufficiently involved to teach him the ropes he is effectively caged and feral despite being given ‘every advantage’. One day kills his music teacher Linus for daring to correct his playing and instead of having to face the consequences his family spirit him off to the countryside where he can continue to be symbiotically attached to mother by whom he is..

”worshipped like a god and denigrated like a demon.” D Mathers

Hercules is not allowed to grow up. His psychopathic behaviour increases. He goes mad and kills his children in a fit brought on by the hidden hand of Hera, determined that he should not have his own life or live in his own world.

Fortunately, Hercules now has to pay his dues. He becomes depressed and accepts being sent into the service of Eurystheus, his cousin, who makes him perform many labours, a metaphor for the hard work of the psychotherapeutic process.

He has to become aquainted with all his split off aggression symbolised by the Nemean lion, the Cretan bull, the Styphalian birds, his bullshit symbolised by the filthy stables of Augeus, the Hydra that hides in the swamps of his unlived potential.

He has also to realise his own spiritual gifts, all those aspects of his own soulfullness he’s had to put on one side in order to be a vessel for others. These are represented by his task to fetch the Golden Apples of the Hesperides whose whereabouts are hidden deep in the Unconscious that require a night sea journey in a great cauldron for a boat. The metaphor is one of being slowly cooked, being transformed and being able to be taken in.

But Hercules doesn’t quite make it. Despite his successful labours he is tricked by the centaur Nessus who gives his second wife Deianira a poison tunic to give him should his affections wane, which you could pretty much count on given his habitual lack of relatedness.

The tunic consumes him….

and he throws himself on a pyre begging for death.

Then, as now,  your clothes are statements of identity, embodiments of personae. The poison tunic is an identity not one’s own, that stifles soul and gives rise to self destruction.

”Unlived life does not sit idly on the shelf. It will turn around and bite you” ML von Franz.

The great tragedy for the narcissist is not just the poverty of his early years but that it renders him so hogtied when faced with the enormity of his own potential. The first words I ever said as a client in therapy were, ‘I have more energy than I know what to do with.”

”The possibility that a once great capacity for positive living and other potentialities may have played some part in the development of psychopathy.. is worthy of careful consideration…. in reverse they might deserve the estimate of genius.” H Cleckley.

So the narcissist is doubly burdened, firstly by all the split off rage, confusion and pain at being un-mothered and secondly by the creative tension in him that demands expression.

The bonus is that all the material he has to integrate is already his own authentic Self. The difficulty is that he is at one and the same time much smaller than his puffed up image of himself, yet much bigger inside than he could imagine.

If we can accept that our own labours are noble and redeeming, worth doing for their own sake, that our creativity will both unhinge and restore us, that there is meaning and aliveness in suffering, we might fare better than Hercules who at the very least gave us a template for our own experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gender Politics and the Ancient World.

The story of Helen of Troy is regarded as the last tale from the mythic age. In fact it seems to be as much about the Gods as it is about the affairs of Humanity. In either case the theme is the same, the relationship between the sexes and how they get confused.

The earliest records of history, already steeped in myth and legend, are as significant to us collectively as early personal memories are to us as individuals. They shape us and say what is to be. They are a kind of legacy and sometimes a kind of poisoned chalice, the more so for our not being able to name what we are dealing with.

Difficult to name the way-back…

Gilgamesh has defeated the Great Mother.

Yahweh has cast his Consort Hokmah/Wisdom into the sea.

Cain has slain Able and Jacob has cheated his brother Esau.

In Troy, baby prince Alexandros is prophesied by his sister, the seer Cassandra, to be the future death of them all and so he is cast onto the hillside to die. But the Fates take pity and the boy is saved by a shepherd who raises him as his own, Paris.

Twenty years later Cassandra recognises him in the gladiators ring as the now full grown Alexandros, with the prophecy still intact. Hector, prince regent, sends him to Sparta as an envoy in the hope that Mycaenaen kings Agamemnon and Menalaus will make short work of him.

Little did Hector realise that he had done the worst thing possible…..

because the backstory…

begins with the rejected Goddess. She is represented in our story as Eris the goddess of Wrath who is prevented from going to a wedding feast by Zeus who is busy mending fences with his wife Hera and doesn’t want Eris around.

Eris tosses her gift past the guards anyway, a golden apple with the words, ‘for the fairest’, and departs. The apple is claimed by Hera, Aphrodite and Athena who quarrel bitterly.

The Gods wisely stay out of it and suggest they ask the mortal, Paris, whose summary demise would be of less consequence. Paris gives the apple to Aphrodite who ‘rewards’ him with the match of Helen, daughter of Spartan King Tyndareus, the very court to which he has just been sent by Hector and where Helen is currently being married off to Menalaus whose big bruvva has the world’s largest standing army.

What was Aphrodite thinking?

And why would Paris fall into such a trap, knowing that he must earn the enmity of the two left unchosen who are bound to arm the Spartans to the teeth?

There are stories of some clever ones being able to wriggle out of such a pickle.

like brer rabbit an’….

This is not one of them.

….f’rinstance, the story of princess Pashmina

Pashmina?

yeah, from India..

..whose horrible suitor tried to trick her into marriage by suggesting he put a white and a black stone from the gravel on the path into a purse, that she choose one and let the gods decide. A black stone would mean they were ordained to be married….

So he puts two black stones into the purse….

but Pashmina sees what he has done…..

What to do….?

She picks one out…

but immediatley drops it..

silly me.

Never mind! The one that is left will show which one was picked….

clever me.

But Paris was not as smart as Pashmina. Perhaps he didn’t even realise how much trouble he was in. His ‘reward’ is soaked in blood. Aphrodite has not done him any favours. In fact you can’t help but think that sending Paris to his death along with the entire city of Troy didn’t feel more like she bore him and his kind…

just a bit of a grudge…

And  if he’d picked Athena you can’t help feeling that she would have given him an army and a fleet big enough..

to take on the Spartans….

and if he’d picked Hera you can’t help feeling she would have given him the funds to build an army and a fleet big enough..

to take on the Spartans…

Whatever Paris does, conflict is coming..

mighty, grinding, Destruction.

in the wings, Eris cackles like a crone.

When the Great Mother is cast out, she drives Men mad.

Its a poetic affliction.

Internal co-hesion is eroded to the point where the hero’s main task is no longer Gilgamesh’s elixir, the treasure hard to attain, but the less evolved vanquishing of his Dark Brother who has to be projected into the world to the extent that he remains identified with the golden, omnipotent, settler of divine disputes.

Paris is a classic narcissist. He behaves as he pleases without reference to anyone and without concern for consequences. He’s not emotionaly connected despite the romantic overtones. It doesn’t occur to him to become a market trader in Ur. He can’t be ordinary without it meaning the end of love.

He’d rather be famous than grown up.

His shadow is Agamemnon, a blood thirsty, cruel tyrant who wants gain for its own sake and is just as happy to be notorious.

Neither story ends well.

Paris’ love for Helen, like Agamemnon’s hate, is not a personal thing. He is a simpleton being driven along by divine forces whilst Helen is treated like chattle and drawn lots over by the kings of Greece, more a slave than any in her father’s royal dungeons.

The kings take an oath, the ‘Oath of Tyndareus,’ to support whichever of them is unlucky enough to be her husband. As the author of so much trouble she seems almost to be a personification of Eris herself.

Helen is trouble because she is unwanted. Her mother, Leda, killed herself after being raped by Zeus. Her father, King Tyndareaus, knows she isn’t his and rejects her. More, he actively and publically shames her in front of the other kings pouring all his gall against the feminine into Helen who is just a fiesty kid who wants some love and respect.

”The real issue is that the child/woman is “offensive” to the father’s sense of omnipotence. Such a father projects badness onto the pure inspiration in others, and then punishes them for having dared to be filled with a palpable and holy force that the father does not understand, that is, la luz, the Divine light that throws sparks constantly, and which roams the world just looking for any darkened lamp filled with fragrant oil.” Clarisa Pinkola Estes.

The rumour that her father is actually Zeus may mean that this prototypical modern women has a father imago (and ultimately her ‘animus’, her masculine side) that is unlived because of Tyndareaus’ witholding. It remains impersonal, undifferentiated, archetypal, Zeus-like. It will be tough for any man to live up to Daddy even if she hates him.

But lets get some more of the backstory to really appreciate the unfolding blood bath.

Yahweh has broken the body of Hokmah his Consort, the ‘Whore of Babylon’ into the sea in three pieces (Rev 18;21). And here, just across the Aegean not a short time later, we have a trinity of divided, quarrelsome goddesses, binding and separating in their argument, behaving as though in shock, their value suddenly outside them, for mere mortals to decide.

Being split into three is an observable response to trauma. (F Ruppert 2013), who calls these parts, the ‘survival self’, the ‘traumatised self’ and the ‘healthy self’. The healthy self and the traumatised self have a dialogue going but..

”The survival self does not have the ability to reflect. It is reactive and when its raison d’etre is threatened it will control the rest of the personality.”FRuppert.

just like the three goddesses all squabbling to get the upper hand, disenfranchised, humiliated by the schoolyard drama and having to ingratiate themselves to a mortal, Paris, just as Helen, daughter of Zeus, is having to ingratiate herself before the kings of Greece. The creative feminine is being subjugated on all levels and so the goddesses ‘gift’ is the gift of Hell hath no Fury..

”It is dangerous, just because it is the deepest instinct, a power which is beyond conscious control, and because it creates the greatest value, it is most dangerous to interfere with it.”
C.G. Jung.

But interfer he does and before you know it Paris is being hotly pursued by the mightiest force of ships and spears ever seen being led by Agamemnon, a very pointy man who sacrificed his own child to Athena for a favourable wind..

just to have the edge in what was to follow..

its not going to end well is it?

And so the triumph over the Great Mother is actually a terrible disaster. Motherless children, Helen and Paris are separated. The last words we hear from Helen are to her peeved husband Menalaus, ‘I will follow.’  She, and all women, lose the right to choose.

“When a woman is exhorted to be compliant, cooperative, and quiet, to not make upset or go against the old guard, she is pressed into living a most unnatural life. The worldwide issue for women is that under such conditions they are not only silenced, but they are put to sleep. Their concerns, their viewpoints, their own truths are vaporized.” Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

And the men don’t get let off lightly either. The schism engendered in the divine feminine rebounds on masculinity. It weakens men’s feeling function, our capacity to belong or reach out to the world. Rather than a dialogue between I and Me, we have the male psyche split into the shadowy, dangerous Agamemnon which we project onto our enemies and the idealised, narcissistic Paris we still secretly  believe we are. On our side of the fence.

Both are trouble.

neither have belonging

”When we are cut off from the fulfillment of our basic needs we seek out substitutes to temporarily ease the longing. Bereft of connection to nature, connection to community, intimacy, meaningful self-expression, ensouled dwellings and built environment, spiritual connection, and the feeling of belonging, lots of us over-consume, overeat, over-shop, and over-accumulate.” Charles Eisenstein

Both are the mould of modernity.

I was looking for images of Eris and happened by chance to find that a tenth body has been discovered in an eliptical orbit round the sun, mostly beyond Pluto.

Its name is Eris.

What a relief, she has finally been invited to the party.

She has a moon..

called Dysnomia, which means, ‘the forgetting of names’, not being able to remember what things are called.

like Muslim or Christian or Jew.

we could use a little name forgetting..