Can the Ego Put Itself to Death?

I mix and mingle with some pretty amazing men and women all affiliated with the Dayaalu Healing Center on Bainbridge Island, WA.  At a holiday potluck, I met Kimberly Rafferty who describes herself as a scholar and philosopher of subjects related to Yoga Sutras and Sanskrit. I loved the fact that she declared herself a philosopher. In the last three years I have recognized that as an identifier for myself and have even added that title to some of my business cards. Artist, Eco-Psychologist and Philosopher.

So, when I discovered a post I’d written in June 2013 when I was participating in Cuppa Joe – a four week online course in all things Joseph Campbell, I decided it was worth repurposing since it’s relevant to my current musings. ( By the by, local folks can join Jeff Leinaweaver and me for a monthly Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable Group held in the classroom at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art – )

Can the Ego Put Itself to Death? Campbell poses that question on page 89 in my copy of The Hero’s Journey.

I hope not!

Seems our modern ego conjures a wide array of reactions, especially in those who seek enlightenment. Is the ego really needing to be slain or could there be another option?

Every time I remember that psychology is a brand new set of concepts on this planet – less than a nano second of linear time when you think of the evolution of our species, I realize  I may have contributions to make to that field of thought. Because of my years of experience visiting altered states of consciousness – spontaneous excursions when I was young, many years of analytic dream work, active imagination, spiritually responding to the land, learning from traditional Native Americans in Montana, creating, creating, creating and now more than twenty years of regular practice with Ecstatic Wisdom Postures – I’ve concluded that we need the ego.

My definition of and relationship to ego may be quite different from how Jung and Campbell imagined it. What if the ego is a semi-permeable membrane between this ordinary world of consciousness and the numinous world of non-ordinary experience? What if the ego is our help mate, our witness, our side-by for the soul’s work of spirit? What if the ego midwifes the birth of embodied spiritual wisdom?

How can science and spirit tango without the ego dancing the steps?

singing down moon

When we go on a vision quest, a s/hero’s journey, how can we bring back the boon to our community, if we don’t have an ego to do the work?

I’m fascinated by the differences between Jung and Campbell in their assessment of the timing of the s/hero’s journey. Standing in my shoes, the journey happens many times in one lifetime. The gifts of return are different each time. Developmentally, each crossing of another threshold closes the door to former patterns, a door that will be remembered but not reopened.

Jung says the journey takes place in the first half of life and includes the conscious psyche emerging victorious over the unconscious. (Italics mine.)   That word “victorious” suggests that the unconscious is an enemy, something that needs to be controlled, something to fear. Jung’s perspective reflects his era. We’ve arrived at new possibilities for defining both the ego AND the unconscious. I see the latter as a fathomless well of mystery that plunges deep within and soars to the boundless void without. The unconsciousness is the mysterium tremendum and a realm I want to embrace, not conquer. My more fluid, courageous ego allows that and my bodymind is the bridge between.

Beyond words

We are, after all, beholden to the unconscious for our human abilities to create, to mythologize, to imagine, to intuit, to string ideas together as I am doing here, etc.

Campbell suggests the journey is mostly in the latter half of life and that “mystical realization dissolves the ego.” (Italics mine.) Again, I don’t want my ego to dissolve because my ego allows me to stay grounded in the material world simultaneously co-existing with awareness of the oneness, the non-ordinary realities, the mystery guiding my responses to living my daily life on earth. Ego is my witness to all that is.

I like to think I am one of the imaginal cells for the evolution of humanity,( 1.) whole brained and with an animated bodymind. There’s the beginning of a new mythic storyline more congruent with the knowledge of our era.

just this

  1. If you’re interested in knowing more about my POV, you can watch a YouTube webinar I made describing how ecstatic experience has helped my ego reframe itself. Click on Ecstatic Wisdom Postures in the header above right here on my blog.
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Shades of Light

This time of year all around our globe, two legged mammals called humans are celebrating the light. Right now, in the northern hemisphere we’re jumping for joy knowing that the longer days of light are returning. In the southern hemisphere they’re jumping for joy because they’re experiencing the longest day and the abundant play of summer – some people even dread turning toward the dark again.

You, who have followed this blog for several years, know that I stand on my dimly lit soapbox every winter Solstice to yell: I love the dark. I beg you – no, I DARE you – to celebrate its return next summer here in the north.

Please understand this. I’m not advocating for the dark forces to take over the world. I’m simply saying that the dark is the womb of all creativity, including the universe. The dark inspires mystery and illuminates wisdom. For instance, in the dark we become aware of the galaxies above, that immense vastness that reminds us of the miracle of life on this tiny globe. The dark literally elicits awe, allowing us to marvel at the sheer wonder of being here. Lovers inextricably intertwined, the marriage of dark and light gives birth to the whole shebang. I mean that seriously, which leads me to the power of value.

What do I mean by value? Value is, in this case, shades of grey – how dark is the darkest dark and how light is the lightest light. In photographic terms, value is identified by the grey scale.

And shades of grey define everything. Value is valuable! With no shadow, we’re blinded by the light. Value embodies the full range of greys to reveal form, perspective, depth, texture, to give shape to all things.

living on the edge (551x800)

Recently I’ve stumbled on the glorious constraint of making Artist Trading Cards ( ATC ). Tiny images, 2.5” x 3.5”, I discovered that ATC packs even come in black. I have loved the luminous mandala technique taught by Judith Cornell and have learned from her books how to draw a complex design with white pencil on black paper before adding any color at all. I grabbed my white pencil and a black ATC and voila, a lifetime ago or maybe about ten days, my life changed. These wee images have revealed my devotion to shades of grey. I realize as I write to you, though, that my passion wants to be called: devotion to shades of light. I love that word play. Shades of light describe my truth. I cannot stand in the sun without casting a shadow, even if it’s only under my feet.

12. Tuning into the Moon (534x800)

The coupling of light and dark is inviolate, nature’s way of teaching us how life works. That truth compels me to stay open. Shades of light ground me, make me, make us, solid. Thinking white is right and black is wrong traps us in literalism, …over which wars are fought. Insisting that the light alone brings enlightenment may be modern man’s Achille’s heel.

May we choose to live more metaphorically.
13. Finding Each Other (523x800)

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I Am an Animal

Anesthetized by homogenized urbanity and an uppity sense of being separate from everything else, most modern people forget we humans are animals.

I’ve had my own royal battle acknowledging that truth.

As a young one in the mid 1940’s, rolling around on the recently mowed suburban backyard grass, I felt at home in this green bladed tickly stuff, the cut emerald perfume inhaling me deeply. Flitting quickly, honey bees buzzed among the few remaining upright clover stalks, and I rolled carefully onto my back not wanting to smash a bee nor get stung. I faced the startling blue of sky, not yet dulled by pollution, a word not known to me then. Cupping my hands to screen out everything but sky, I plunged into the blue at the same time my shoulder blades dove out the other side of earth arriving in the country of China that I’d been told lay opposite me.

I lay there wondering at it all, wondering about property lines and my backyard. Where did our property end? Did it go six inches down, six feet up? Where did I really belong? What could I call mine? Why was there a fence keeping me out of my beloved woodland? I felt at home there where mystery and discovery flourished. But I knew the wood belonged to someone else.

My mother’s voice ripped me from my musing: “Deb, stop rolling around like an animal.”

“I’m NOT rolling around like an animal.”

“Oh yes, you are! You really are.”

“But, Mom, I’m not an animal. I’m me.”

“I know, Deb, but actually, humans are animals.”

“We are NOT,” I shout in horror.

“But we are. We’re animals, really.”

“We are not,” Doubt makes me cling stubbornly to my belief, “I’m not an animal. I can’t be. I talk. Dogs don’t talk. They’re animals.”

“But, honey,” she softens a little now, getting into her teacherly mode, “The scientists have figured it out. Biologists know. There are all kinds of animals…birds, reptiles, fish, spiders, bees, horses, elephants, all kinds… The humans are the kind called mammals.”

“But I can’t be an animal,” I remember my panic rising again. “I can’t be. I walk on two legs.”

“So do birds,” she says.

*****

That memory rivets me.

My family values, my era, my community taught me to deny my animal nature, and yet, I knew deeply that I was most at home with dirt, sky, wood, creek.

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I faced a huge crack in my world, a Catch-22 for my soul.

Childhood dependency exacerbated the issue. In my family, cleanliness was literally more important than godliness. Self-control, erudition, speaking perfect grammar with perfect pronunciation, those qualities ruled my days…starched and ironed dresses, white socks, combed hair, white gloves and purses on certain occasions – even at the age of 3.

proper deb

 

My era compounded the issue. The phrase “women’s lib” hadn’t yet been coined in the 1940’s and 50’s. Girls in school had only recently been given permission to play sports and we did it with gusto. Half court basketball was better than no basketball. BUT I ran, dribbled twice and threw the ball scared to death the whole time. My one-piece, buttoned to the neck, cinched waist with elastic holding the fabric tight at the thigh, royal blue “romper,” the standard physical education class uniform, had elbow length sleeves. Sweating armpits turned royal blue cloth to black and life as I knew it would end if anyone saw those tell tale signs. . . Girdled and stockinged, brassiered and high heeled, bleached highlights and bobby pins to tame my hair, nose matted with powder, cheeks blushed with rouge, I lost the home of my body – a dis-ease wildly prevalent today in different ways with different symptoms but still a viral phenomenon in youth and beauty oriented cultures.

not jst lady

Growing up in Pennsylvania didn’t help either. Propriety ruled. I got a hint of what I was missing when an Australian artist woman moved into our suburban neighborhood with her German physics professor husband. One day I took them to the public pool and she expressed her surprise that kids had to wear bathing suits in America. She told me that in both Europe and Australia, kids under the age of six swam nude. Her whole family routinely went skinny dipping in German hot springs.

Those differences in lifestyles and cultural values unhinged the doors caging my psyche.

At this time on our planet, we humans need to claim proudly our identity as mammals dependent on nature’s largesse. Whether urban born or not, we are indigenous by being born HERE, all of us everywhere. We are one of the animals forming the skin over the bones of our planet.

But we are unique in the animal kingdom: we kill and manipulate all the others, including members of our own species. For life’s sake, we need to change that behavior. We are technologically capable and scientifically adept humans who are also indigenous, wild two-legged animals. Recognizing that evolution has brought us to an era of wholebrained and mindbody wisdom offers the potential for moving beyond chaos, conflict and crisis to full compassionate participation in nourishing the web of life.

That notion elicits an audible WOW from my soul.

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The Frog Prince

Originally posted on Paradigm Shifting:

The wonderful Marie Louise von-Franz, heir to Jung and the most adept of dream interpreters, knew her way around a fairy tale.  Unlike the legion of literalists out there who blithely dismiss these stories as children’s fables, von Franz knew that fairy tales contained a secret code and that if you learned how to crack that code, your perception of reality would shatter.

The code-breakers are those who are not intimidated by symbol.  The great Jungian writer, Alice O. Howell, once pointed out that word “symbol” comes from the Greek word sym-bolos which means to bring together. Its opposite, dia-bolos means to separate or throw apart.  It is from dia-bolos that we get our word for the devil—something which may tell you more than a bit about how devil energy works in the world!  To separate a thing from it symbolic importance, then, is to do the devil’s work and…

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Living in a Wisdom World

Jeff Leinaweaver, PhD, is a renaissance man: professional storyteller, musician, global sustainability consultant, professor, radio talk show host, father, husband, mythologist …and friend. He invited me to help launch the Bainbridge Island Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable Group. ( That long name is mandated by the international organization to which we belong.)

I am so inspired by hosting our first session that here, now, three days later, my socks are still rolling up and down.

We listen to a two minute clip of Campbell himself talking about the four functions of mythology, the first of which is the Mystical. He says we have forgotten that the very ground of our being, the source of our consciousness, is mystery and that we come from and return to the darkness without answers and no precise definitions. Because we don’t acknowledge our mysterious origins, we have lost the capacity for awe, the very quality that makes us most compassionately human. This perspective sings in me because I live by the same melody.

But something greater unfurls as I absorb one of Campbell’s favorite myths in preparation for telling it at the meeting. On the surface, we all know the story of the Frog Prince, when the power of a kiss transforms ugliness to beauty. But in this version, perhaps older and closer to the original, there is no kiss but a …

 

splat (568x800)Now that wakes me. I start probing the story with inquisitive antenna. Why are ostrich feathers, not peacock, eagle or robin, on the heads of the horses? Why a gold ball and not one of silver or with green and blue stripes? Why does the princess seem like a child on the first day of the story and on the second is ready for marriage? And what about those bands around Faithful Henry’s heart? I tell you, once I begin listening to this story with my “third ear”, an endless array of exhilarating paths show up to carry me ever more deeply into amazement.

The most astonishing is this. The pivotal event takes place under an “old Linden tree.” Why not an oak, or a fig, or a maple or even a sweet pine? But the story specifies a linden. Being a researcher at heart and a “bookaholic” in my core, I turn to my own library and find: The Meaning of Trees by Fred Hageneder. Happily, linden is listed in the index.

I just about take flight with what I read. Not only are these trees a nectar source for bees and thus often nicknamed the “bee tree,” ( Isn’t that propitious given the plight of bees on our planet?) they’re also known as the “soothing tree” whose tea is good for the heart, calms children, eases diarrhea, high blood pressure, sinus conditions and skin problems. But here’s the really fascinating bit: the linden was the traditional hub of village life and the gathering place for both feasts and courts of law. Considered a sacred tree, it is “revealing that the ancients gathered, discussed and judged underneath the ‘female’ linden which represents mercy, rather than the ‘male’ oak tree” associated with the god Thor.

My mouth gapes open as I get it!

Our ancestors recognized guidance and wisdom in every aspect of the world around them and specified specifics in every story because they knew their community understood the significance. We’ve lost all that meaning! We are no longer embedded in a “wisdom world” and have to turn to secondary sources, as I did, to grasp the depth of meaning in the details of a story. We dismiss a treasure trove of information and interconnectedness when we deprive the world of sentience and relevance. As industrial/technological/information age humans, we have lost our ability to receive direct wisdom and unprocessed knowledge.

WOW, just WOW again!

No wonder we feel alienated and ungrounded. No wonder stories of all kinds are so important to rediscover, share with each other and imagine more of our own…discovering a living mythology for our time that nourishes a living world to which we belong.

 

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Four Years Ago I Changed the Title of this Blog

I’m climbing out on that proverbial limb. I’m changing the title of this blog. Look above. See???

I want to wake you up.

Instead of being the canary in the coal mine, I am an alarm clock, one of a growing number, thankfully, in our still slumbering culture. May I jangle your ordinary thinking and spur you to make intuitive leaps, walk the ledges and be brave enough to sail off in your own direction without a map.

Wisdom manifesting…Ahh, so THAT’S what my belly thinks, THAT’S WHAT my body knows. I’ve got to act on THAT! Ahhhhhh.

I’m asking myself right now, who am I to have this intention of waking up my culture – just who do I think I am? Not the first time I’ve posed that question to myself. And in the past I have had a hard time responding with confidence so I’d shrink out of sight again. Has that ever happened to you?  You absolutely know something is true, but when challenged you can’t muster the facts quickly enough to sound reasonably intelligent, literally and rationally analytic, audible to the opposition.

I’ve gotten tired of standing in the shadows whispering.

I have spent my life time waiting to speak up until I knew enough – even though in the 1970’s I knew I could never know enough…every fact I gleaned, even about a subject as basic as what to eat, had an opposing fact also statistically, scientifically supported. To eat eggs or not to eat eggs. To eat only the whites or the yolk, too? Those were ponderous questions in the ‘70’s for which there is/was no clear answer.

And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but every issue is riddled with contradictions, paradoxes and ambiguity and even science can’t sort it out.

Every delicate, scented rose has thorns.

So here’s the deal. We might not know whether global warming is real or not, but in our bones we still know that our culture in particular, northern hemisphere cultures in general, ravage the world by over consumption.

In 1918 or so my uncle noticed the degradation of the Hudson River because of coal mining upstream. In 1953 or so, I witnessed my first clear cut – the wood contiguous with my own backyard – to make room for the first ticky-tacky neighborhood development in the suburbs of western Philadelphia. Multiply these personal observations by 3 billion people. ( I made that number up for shock value. I’ll give
you another.) Multiply those personal observations by a kazillion people and 100 years of rampaging progress and what do we have???  A planetary life support system on the brink of falling apart. We know this in our bones.

We humans have to wake up quickly and make some unprecedented choices. Many of us complain. “I’ve worked so hard all my life. I’ve earned my right to live as I do. Why should I sacrifice anything now?” As if to sacrifice is a bad thing. For me, sacrifice is the gift of making sacred, of choosing to curtail one thing in order to give to another which has even more value to me, to my world…such as wanting my grandchildren to live surrounded by beautiful, mysterious intact ecosystems which nourish both body and soul.

Here’s the real kicker! We need to change more than the practicalities of our lifestyles. We need to change our minds. Literally. The rest of unfolding history depends on human intelligence quickening NOW and that calls for the evolutionary human shift to developing and using a whole brain and an intact bodymind.

As Red Green says on that Canadian PBS show, which I think is hilarious now but which  had to grow on me “We’re ALL in this together”and “Keep your stick on the ice.”

Please use this blog as your stick on the ice, that third leg to support and inspire our teetering two. Tell me your stories of awakening to wisdom beyond knowing “the facts” and I’ll tell you more of mine. We ARE ALL, after all, in this together.

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What I Really Want to Say

In my last post I concluded with a paragraph that began with this sentence: “We who live today COULD BE THE IMAGINAL CELLS of the evolving human.”

I meant to write – as I did in the rough draft kept in my computer: We, who live today, ARE the imaginal cells of the evolving human.

How can we not be? Each of us has a choice to stay in bloated caterpillar rigidity or break open to this phenomenal transformational opportunity, ie: choose to be fed by the mystery that pulls us into the future, choose to engage with our souls, choose to encourage our species toward the next evolutionary breakthrough, choose to commit to lifestyle changes because it feels good to contribute to the well-being of our planetary family and it feels right to redefine happiness.

We need to ask ourselves deep questions: How do we experience love? How DO we love? How do we recognize and express joy?

What kind of interaction excites us through and through? How do we know ecstasy? How do we define juicy living?

Who are our kin?

Do we find the same satisfaction in a virtual world as we do when we physically participate in an adventure of one kind or another? I don’t think so.
unexpected

It doesn’t have to be clinging to the face of a cliff without a safety net to be exciting. Dancing with a partner can exhilarate. Successfully creating something from something else can fulfill.

babeBirthing a child naturally can blow the mind, quite literally. We can experience the universe surging through us when fully engaged sexually with a co-creative and loving partner.

bear faceCommuning with a wild thing in our own back yard can humble and make magic of an ordinary day. Opening the door to the knock of dreams can be the spark that lights the fire of our passionate purpose. Embracing fear today can expand our options for the rest of our lives.

Where is our north star when everything we thought we knew gets turned inside out? That’s what’s happening to us right now on this planet. All our modern assumptions about how life works turn out to be faulty. We need to reboot!

Beyond words

We here alive now – the full range of us – are responsible for the quality of life we want to bring to this planet home of ours. Fantasizing about escape – whether it be into the sterility of a bubble or the confines of outer space – seems like escapism to me. If we don’t learn how to cohabit creatively and with reverence for our family home, we take a lot of destructive habits with us as well as handicapped body/minds and truncated souls.

That has no appeal for me.

Instead, I want my muse to jump into action. Just beyond the sunlight, new storylines wait to be discovered. As if waking from a long sleep, I want to swim in deep water, lower my fishing line and wait for the tug, from what I do not know. I’ll reel it in suspecting, even hoping, that I may come face to face with the unexpected, a plot line I hadn’t imagined before. Inviting a relationship with that mystery will change the world, my world and yours.

I hope you’ll dive in with me, for as an imaginal cell, we are stronger with many cohorts.

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