Cultivating Paradise

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. Joni Mitchell

Deep in our psyche there is a memory of a paradise. This is universal and even appears in religious/spiritual stories about our first home - the garden of Eden and Avalon being two examples. This archetypal theme includes a “fall” from this paradisiacal experience. It seems we were thrown from peace and harmony into a world of pain and division. But the story doesn’t end there because the rest of it involves our longing and our attempts to return to our original blissful state.

Many of us spend much of our lives striving to create or find paradise again, and we participate in ‘the pursuit of happiness’ so we can live “happily ever after,” each in our own way. These “happiness projects,” as Thomas Keating calls them, are bound to disappoint, however. The ego, or what he calls the “false self” believes it knows what will meet our needs. It decides what will make us happy again and we naively participate in wild goose chases, pursuing various goals which we believe will finally get us “back to the garden” and find rest for our weary souls.

The psychological theorist, Alfred Adler’s concept of “fictional finalism” is related to this. He describes how we all have some belief that when we arrive at a particular destination we will feel (you fill in the word.) What is it that the perfect mate, losing twenty pounds, buying a new car, reaching a level of wealth, retiring, building the dream home, etc., will bring you? What is the experience you imagine? Peace? Contentment? Rest? Happiness? Ease? Basking in the sun forever more? Since our “happiness projects” bring only temporary positive feelings and are doomed to provide any deep and lasting satisfaction, then is our longing for a rich and satisfying life doomed also?

There is an ancient way, to which various traditions refer, and which Carl Jung wrote about in great depth. It doesn’t promise constant joy, as dark times and periods of significant discomfort are essential aspects of it. But it does meet the needs of the soul much more than our ego’s naive attempts at happiness. It involves engagement with what I have been referring to by various names including Fate, but which I am here going to call Nature. You might prefer terms like God, Goddess, Great Mother, Christ, higher self, or Intentional field, but don’t omit the Nature part.

Though I am referring to the force behind and within the outer domain of nature, we can learn a lot about it by observing outer nature, and recognizing that we, too, belong with it. Though global warming is causing extremes in weather patterns, among other things, we can trust that the seasons will change, the sun will rise and set and there will be night and day. We, too, have seasons and cycles.

We can trust and attune to Nature within us so we know best how to live according to who we are. We do this by grounding ourselves in our body, our own earth, and attuning ourselves to our felt sense, our intuition, our deep imagination, and dreams, etc., in other words, by listening, which I have written about in previous posts. Rather than acting on every impulse, a process of discernment is necessary, which I will be writing about in future . I like to think of this process as collaboration with Nature, and as cultivating our lives.

Cultivating a life is just what it sounds like. Caring for, attending, studying, sensing, trusting, nurturing... When we cultivate our souls, we pay attention to the weather (various moods and feelings) we are experiencing and we do our best to provide what is needed. We figure out the required nutrients and we pull a few weeds, though as one wise gardener once told me, “weeds are a matter of opinion.” In other words, just because somebody (including you) doesn’t like something about you, it doesn’t mean you should get rid of it. Sometimes we do have to prune (let go of what is not needed) in order to grow more fully. We plant seeds (our intentions) which may or not sprout in the spring. We compost (allow parts of us to die and become the soil for new life) To prevent our life from becoming dry and arid (or treating it if it does), we bring the waters of life to it, which is symbolic of the unconscious and our feelings, through tapping into the springs and well waters of dreams, the imagination, and creative processes. Sometimes we discover surprises – volunteers – as we call the various vegetables and flowers growing from seeds that birds dropped or the wind blew our way.

What if we became gardeners of our lives rather than purchasers of packaged ones? What if we picked the fruits of our own cultivating, and spent time in gratitude and wonderment at the miracle and beauty of our own Nature?

Being Centred

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

The ego – self axis that I described in the last post is a construct. That is, it is an attempt by depth psychologists to convey the psychological dynamics and relationship between the ego and self. Neither the ego nor the self are physical - they are not things that we can physically observe and manipulate, etc.. Yet we do use language which makes it sound like there is a real axis of some kind. We refer to our “centre” and feeling “centred” or “uncentred”. We speak of feeling “in alignment” or “out of alignment” with ourselves, and “together” (or not), “balanced” or “unbalanced”, etc., which does suggest that there is some reality to there being some kind of central self core. (Another expression we use is feeling something “at our core.”) We seem to have the ability of consciously “pulling ourselves together” when we feel “scattered” and when we are pulled in many directions, trying to please others, thinking or worrying too much, having too many distractions, or otherwise becoming disconnected.

We sense this inner pole intuitively, and in fact, numerous spiritual traditions speak of a central column within us. Some even have visual representations of it – the shushumna in the Yogic tradition, the Middle Pillar in the Qabala, and even the cross as a symbol represents this central channel which aligns and stabilizes us, and keeps us connected to our selves. Scholar, theologian, and author, Cynthia Bourgeault writes that the wisdom tradition refers to “a vertical axis”, the invisible spiritual continuum that joins the realms together.”

This vertical axis is often referred to as a “tree”. We are like trees, which have roots reaching deep into the earth and connecting with other trees and other beings, and they have branches reaching toward the stars. We, too, are connected to the realms of both earth and “heavens”.

We can become more aware of our centredness as well as our discombobulation (refers to being discomposed), by checking in with ourselves and becoming accustomed to the various feelings and degrees of centredness or its opposite. We can also become more aware of how we are thrown off-centre and/or pulled out of our selves.

Though there are any number of things that can throw us out of alignment, what often de-centres us is our concerns about the opinions others have of us, sometimes even to the point where we have no sense of self at all. To any degree this concern can keep us from living our own lives, and for some, it isn’t until the proverbial mid-life crisis that they start to question whose life they have been living. Others never have such an “appointment with themselves” and never ask the question at all.

I have written about this in a previous post, but letting go of concerns of others’ judgments is different from not caring about our impact on others. When we are centred, we take responsibility for ourselves and refrain from blaming or criticizing others. We are empathic and compassionate to others and do our best to not cause harm, (but sometimes our actions will still not be liked.) Blaming and criticizing can not only cause harm to others, it pulls us out of ourselves, which is harmful to us. It is impossible anyway, to know what others think of us and truly, it is none of our business. Still, even with the best intentions, we can be pulled into viewing ourselves from what we believe is the perspective of others, thus losing our centre.

Years ago, I made a commitment to myself to be as authentic as possible and not allow judgments of others to throw me off. This was in a workshop I attended, at which we each performed a personal ritual at the end. A personal ritual marks outwardly an inner experience and/or intention, bringing to it extra awareness and power, especially when there are witnesses. For part of my ritual, I handed other group members a piece of paper, each with a judgment, opinion or observation (positive negative, and neutral) I believed others might have of me. I then sat in the centre of the circle as people read out loud the various “opinions”. I allowed different feelings to emerge, while still trying to maintain connection to my core. This ritual has stayed with me. It doesn’t mean I never care what other people think, I still do occasionally, but I know I can make a choice to return to my central axis which connects me to a deeper and more essential reality.

Ego - Self Relationship

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

I have been writing about the ego and the self as different phenomena, which may cause some confusion. Since these terms are often considered interchangeable, I thought I should clarify my use of them, since a differentiation and conscious relationship between them can make all the difference in our lives in regards to living an authentic and meaningful life. Please bear with me as I do my best to describe their dynamics without being overly technical.

The ego, as I am using the term here, is the part of us that we usually think of as ourselves, in other words how we identify ourselves. For instance, if I asked you about yourself you might tell me what you do for a living, where you live, and whether you are married or single and whether or not you have children – and/or pets. You might mention what you like and don’t like, your political leanings, goals in life, etc. These would all be associated with the ego.

Before I go further let me say that we need this part of ourselves which we call an ego. We sometimes hear that the ego is something we should dismantle or reject, as is believed in some Eastern traditions, and that is not the perspective I am coming from. It is important to note that the Buddhist definition of ego is quite different from a western one and even the Dalai Llama insists we need the ego as it is defined in the west.

But problems do arise if the ego remains weak or if we identify too much with it, and not with the self. This is why the ego is also sometimes referred to as the “false self.” If the ego is focused on getting approval, admiration, and/or glory, if our perceived value is based on how many stars we get on our life report cards, we are in trouble. The inflated ego takes full credit for gifts and accomplishments but it is alienated and adrift like a pretty flower blown about in the wind, cut off from its roots and foundation.

When the ego is alienated from the self it believes it is the whole person (flower). It is reliant on positive opinion, successes and achievements to feel good about itself and valuable, whether this involves looking attractive physically, being financially successful or through status, etc. If it receives no outer validation it feels as if it is nothing and judges itself as a failure.

Our self (sometimes spelled with a capital S to emphasize it is different from the ego) is something which is grounded in a greater matrix, and as some would say it is where we are connected with the divine. It is a wiser part of us which knows what we are really about and what we need to thrive. It is not static, however, and develops as we journey through life, through the dark days and the “fire”, those most challenging and painful times, and so on. The self transforms through life.

From a Jungian perspective, when we are born, the ego and the self are one, and we cannot differentiate ourselves. We have no sense of “I”. But as we become more aware, our ego begins to separate from the self. Over time, the ego becomes separate. I will try to describe it visually. Picture a circle with a smaller circle within it. That smaller circle is the ego within the self, and is the situation when we are born. See the smaller circle rise and see that for a while there is an area of overlap between the circles. Eventually the smaller circle separates completely and rests on top of the larger circle. Now see a dotted line from the centre of the smaller circle down through to the centre of the larger circle. This is the ego-self axis, which exists when the ego and the self are connected and in relationship. This axis is the vital connecting link between the ego and self.

When the ego is attuned to the self, and in relationship, this axis is strong. When the ego remains humble and interested in the self and its wisdom, and is in collaboration with the self, serving as its hands, so to speak, this axis is really strong. There is a relationship of trust and we feel grounded and confident (we are confiding in ourselves).

If we have a strong ego-self axis, we can weather failures and negative outer evaluation because we recognize this is not all of who we are. I am not my job, my looks, my financial status, or my popularity. I am something which is inherently valuable, or maybe the concept of value is just irrelevant.

We can develop this inner axis and relationship by taking an interest in our self and attuning to our inner voice and truth. Listen more to our body and felt sense, our intuition, and our heart helps strengthen it. Paying attention to our dreams and finding creative ways to express ourselves, including play, also make this link more solid.

One thing that is important to remember is that paradox is always present in regards to the self. It is not just one thing, it is also the opposite. The self is inclusive and whole. Also, though our self is our individuality and uniqueness, our weird and our fate (as in nature), it is also not separate from a larger whole. It is connected to the Univeral self and all the other selfs within it. We are part of a larger body, and a Great Work. And we need a relationship with our self to fully experience this.

If you are still with me, I thank you and I will summarize by saying that our ego is a necessary part of ourselves which gets us through life. It is out in the world and it has an important role. Its primary role is to attune to the self within and find ways of expressing that self in the world. Rather than being a slave to the self, though, it is a partner and collaborator. We are co-creators, with our selves, our nature, and with that which is wanting to happen.



Writing about Weird is Weird

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tel us…

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tel us…

As I explained in a previous post, etymologically, ‘weird’ means ‘fate’ and in the way I am speaking of it is also synonymous with the process of individuation; becoming one’s true and whole (unique) self. In this context, we might think of fate as a divine blueprint with which, to a certain extent, we can choose whether or not to align ourselves.

Sometimes I question this subject I have been circling around, writing about its threads and many facets. Sometimes I stand outside it in my mind and view it and myself with a critical eye. “This is weird”, I tell myself. “You are getting too out there. You are going to scare people off,” and so on.

“Yes,” I respond, “you are probably right.” I acknowledge that writing about weird in a positive way is counterculture. Even though I refer to its etymological meaning and try to explain why I think it is so important, it still sounds suspect. It doesn’t help that Weird’s meaning is fate. Fate itself is a frightening subject for many, particularly westerners.

But I am not taking this countercultural viewpoint merely to be rebellious or challenging. For whatever reason, this subject so dear to my heart, has been a fascination for me for at least my whole adult life. Maybe my relationship with it began even earlier, come to think of it, when I had a run-in with a train. After all, what do we mean by a ‘wakeup call’ if not Fate calling us back to its own track.

At age seventeen I was the passenger in a car that was hit broadside by a train, and I lived to tell the tale. An experience like that makes more than a temporary impact; its effects are usually long-lasting and bring up questions, at least they did for me, about why I am still here and what life has in store for me that I don’t know about.

My life at that time was difficult and I was very disconnected from myself. Fate stepped in or, rather, crashed in, and for that I am grateful. I guess I have since become a spokesperson for Fate. I believe Fate has had a bad rap and that, in fact, there is a substantial amount of gold to be filtered out of the dross, in particular from cultural biases and assumptions based on misunderstanding. I know I am not alone in my valuing of the phenomenon of fate, and I believe that as the feminine principle becomes more appreciated in the world, Fate’s gifts will be recognized more widely.

Writing about weird is undeniably my weird, my fate. I hope to inspire respect (etymologically ‘re-spect’ means ‘to look again’) by helping Fate’s golden threads, its profound support of us, its Wisdom and its brilliance become better understood and accessible. And to remind myself and others that it is not only O.K. to be weird, but a Necessity.

Trust

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you…

As I explained in a previous post, etymologically, ‘weird’ means ‘fate’ and in the way I am speaking of it is also synonymous with the process of individuation; becoming one’s true and whole (unique) self. In this context, we might think of fate as a divine blueprint with which, to a certain extent, we can choose whether or not to align ourselves.

Have I written about ‘trust’ yet? It is so related to everything I have written that I may not have made it the focus of a post. Well, even if I have, I think it is an important enough topic to warrant any number of discussions. And what and how to trust ourselves and Life is, in a way, what this whole topic of weird (as in fate and individuation – becoming our true and whole selves) is about.

We need a certain level of trust in ourselves and in Life to live from who we are and bring forward our unique gifts. We need to trust other people too, though we can’t always depend on them to like what we are saying or doing or expressing when we are being true to ourselves. But we can trust that they, too, have wisdom, resources, and a unique blueprint within themselves, which they can choose to attune to. In any case, it is crucial we trust and support ourselves even when others don’t recognize us or show encouragement.

‘What do I trust in life?’ is a really important question. Maybe you find it difficult to trust at all. Eric Erikson, developmental psychologist and stage theorist believed that trust is our first “challenge” and conflict to resolve. That is, from the very beginning all infants need a secure sense of being cared for physically and emotionally. Then they will be able to carry this trust forward while moving on to the next stages. He acknowledges that no infant is going to have all their needs met, but trust needs to develop enough to be stronger than mistrust. Otherwise, difficulties in relationship and life in general will persist, and we will have a hard time listening to and trusting ourselves, until this wound is healed.

Trust implies that we are able to relax and sink into ourselves, feeling rooted in this earth we live on and in our bodies. We can trust our instincts and other inner messages. Through trauma (such as not receiving solid care in infancy) we disconnect (dissociate is the clinical term) from our feelings and body messages, and therefore ourselves. If our environment feels unsafe and even dangerous, we will be unable to feel securely held by Life and will have little sense of a solid foundation. We will become disembodied, in a sense, and live in our heads where it feels safer.

Our developing ego will become anxious and feel a need to take control but it will be unable to find a centre to refer back to for guidance. It will plan and set agendas, and these may have nothing to do with our natural unfolding. We will look outward to society, the media, to trends, and other outer authority for how to live – or we reject everything and take on a me against the world approach. In either case we may believe ourselves to be the masters of our lives, yet we are so estranged from ourselves, we have no means of connection and can only crash at some point. Which might very well be the best thing for us, as we have a chance to re-root ourselves in solid ground.

Besides trusting ourselves we need to trust the process of life, allowing things to unfold, attuning to what comes forward, and co-creating with Life. We accept that life is an ongoing Mystery full of surprises and delights that are far beyond anything” we could have ask for or imagine.”

Trust doesn’t mean we won’t face challenge or hurt, but we can trust ourselves to withstand (stand with) and transform through it and discover that our self, our nature, has remained in support of us all along. Eventually we realize our self is connected to everything and that Life itself has been holding us and caring for us all along.