Thursday, 16 March 2017

Conforming to Non-Conformity

Through my life I have gained a reputation among some as being non-conformist. More often than not I don’t intend to be unconventional, but I have at times felt rebellious towards tradition. My drive to break free from mainstream modes of thought has largely been motivated by existential questions, but I have wondered if I am just making things difficult for myself.

Image by André Koekemoer
At times I have looked for connection among the marginal, hoping to find some freedom to express myself there. What I have discovered is that there are expectations even among the peripheral. In very liberal company I have felt hesitant to admit my thoughts and feelings as much as in conservative company. If one has to conform to a new set of rules within a given paradigm, one does not escape the restrictions of social order, no matter how non-conformist it may be.

My search has led me to the insight that structure is valuable. Even when I don’t always like the notions on which it is built, there is a price to pay for leaving it behind. All traditions have their pros and cons, much like all kinds of freedom have benefits and disadvantages. In fighting paradigms that are perceived as a hindrance to freedom, a new kind of expectation can arise of conforming to non-conformity.

The best way for me to reconcile myself with tradition is to recognise the humanity in it. The rigidity I feel subversive towards comes from a need for security which I also share. I comply with many standards even though it might not stand out as much as the ways in which I don’t conform. Likewise, people with a more traditional mind-set certainly have many ways in which they don’t follow the rules. We all have things to learn from one another.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Self-love is not Always Convenient

The matter of self-love comes up time and again. Being on any kind of healing journey requires patience and kindness towards the self. I believe that this forms the basis of a balanced relationship with others. But what does it really mean to love the self? I think it requires more than thinking positive thoughts.

The parts of ourselves that we reject are those aspects we see as weak and a hindrance. Trying to remedy it by thinking positive thoughts is merely another way of suppressing it. In this way we separate our thoughts from emotions. Dividing the self into desirable and undesirable or strong and weak does not facilitate wholeness.

It is easy to love the self when life is flowing. It is a lot trickier when one is in conflict with the world. I have asked myself if loving myself means sticking to my way when I truly think it is best even though it might be wiser to be open to feedback. My fear of lacking self-awareness is a mask for fear of isolation. Here begins inner conflict, and this is where the matter of self-love becomes complicated. Standing up for one’s convictions is one thing, but at the expense of the need to be loved it can cause more fragmentation.

Love is not always convenient. It sometimes asks us to make sacrifices or go through darkness. The same goes for self-love. It would be nice if self-love were always straightforward and asked us to favour one way above another. But in the midst of confusion there is no such clear remedy.

Self-love requires presence to all aspects of one’s being even amidst turmoil. That is the best I can come up with.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Spider Symbolism: Resistance

Recently when I was feeling very stuck I had some imagery coming to me and I turned it into a poem (loose definition). I then made a drawing to accompany it. The spider and her web were apt symbols because of the association with danger and bondage but also creativity.

I am reminded of the classical myth of Arachne, a female personification of the spider. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses there is a weaving contest between a mortal woman, Arachne, and the goddess of crafts and wisdom, Athena. Not only was Arachne extremely skilful, but she also exposed the crimes of the gods through her weaving. The infuriated goddess turned her into a spider as punishment. As a remnant of her human gift, the spider still spins her web.

Shelob & Me
The mortal and the divine are both present in the story. I would contend that Arachne and Minerva are mirror images of one another. Suppressed creativity can turn into darkness, as symbolised by the lonesome spider. The feeling of oppression, although inconvenient, often would not leave us alone until we claim our creative gifts. My poem is called “The Resistance”.

The Resistance
Like a shadow of the night she comes
Enfolded in darkness
In her hand is a scythe
Gleaming in the moonlight
The door is closed, but she comes in uninvited
Takes a seat on my bed.
I pretend not to be afraid, but my throat constricts.
I ignore her, waiting for the sun to come up.
But time stands still. She is not going anywhere.
She makes me cry.
Why are you holding me back? I hear myself moan.
Why are you making me weak?
The room fades out as her presence turns into a nightmare
A spider she is, and I the moth stuck in her web
The sticky strands clamp wilfully around my wrists.
I try to scream, but my throat is tight
Blue fangs, red eyes
Coming in for the attack
She wants to prey on me, paralyse me
Turn me into an empty shell
Poison moves closer, the end is nigh
Her foul mouth leans in for the kiss
The red eyes connect with mine, become larger
They show me gaunt figures
Lifetimes of suffering
The unloved ones know not how un-alone they truly are
Despairing, they look as trapped as I feel
So many gifts going to waste.
I sympathise with the spider, and surrender
She bites, and my mind is lulled into a soporific sleep
A goddess is holding me, takes me up into the night sky
I sit on the moon and look down on a beautiful creation
A woven tapestry
Magical story created from the self-same strands that held me
This is why I won’t leave you alone, she whispers,
Know yourself.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

An Interpretation of a Dream of Success

I pay careful attention to dreams and often find that they give me valuable information. As an example, I have received a warning of a forthcoming injury, which I sadly ignored and had to pay the price. My dreams also give me information on unresolved issues and how they play out in my life and relationships. After several years of diligent dream journaling, I am disappointed on those rare nights when I don’t remember my dreams. I shall also confess that some of my dream material still seems like mumbo jumbo.

Sometimes I have special vivid dreams that I can clearly connect with a theme that is going on in my life at present. This was the case a few nights ago, when I dreamed about people and places of my past as well as someone I have never met.

A very central person in the dream was a successful author whose work I love. This person came to visit and owned a café in a town where I used to live. The café was supposed to be popular because of the association with the writer’s name, but somehow it was very quiet. I knew that I would meet the writer later and was excited about it. Before I relate the encounter with the famous man, there is another part of the dream I want to share first.

A person who used to be close to me was in the dream, and we were together in a group meditation. The person is still in my life, but very much on the periphery. In real life, the change in my relationship with this person was quite painful as I had to let go of the good times but knew we were outgrowing each other. In the dream this person denied having any association with me. In addition, I felt excluded due to the actions of the group leader, who I felt could sense that my heart was not in it. Even though I learned that my friend was going through a difficult time, I left the gathering, feeling rejected.

A river in Scotland, not quite as dangerous as the Zambezi.
Back to the main thread of the dream, and I find myself sitting in a small boat with the famous writer. We are about to go through rapids à la Zambezi River in Africa, but it is also in Scotland where I currently live. Only in dreams can you be in two places at the same time.

Famous author to me: “So you are also a writer. What is the name of your book?”
Me: “In Search of the Golden City.”
Famous author: “Ah. You’re deep.”
Me: “How do you know that?”
Famous author: “I can tell by the title of your book.”

I am somewhat flabbergasted, but I think to myself that of course he knows something about the symbolism of gold. He talks about his café, and says that actually it is not as successful as expected. He adds that there is tension in his business due to politics. I think to myself that it cannot possibly dim his prosperity, but it is a valuable reminder that nobody’s life is perfect, and nor should I expect mine to be.

Reflecting on the dream in the morning, I felt that it was telling me something about the changes I made in the last few years, with the result that some doors closed. The old friend in the dream represents the structures of my past and my relationship to it. There is a reason why some people and situations that used to be stable fell away. Some of it had to do with my own attitude, but the point is that I cannot retrieve what has gone lost.

I thought about the meaning of the Zambezi River and the rapids. As a child I was fortunate enough to go into remote places in Africa. Some of these trips were rather difficult, but until today I remember the animism I felt in nature. I didn’t understand it at the time, but those experiences stayed with me and became very meaningful.

Being in a boat in white water with a person whose work I admire and who engages with me refers to the uncertainty of following my dreams. I am in a risk zone with only the forces of nature to guide me. Yet I feel connection regardless of where I might end up. Considering the famous writer’s struggles, I felt that the dream told me that I have to let go of archaic ideas of success. According to the world’s definition, I will always fall short and it is risky anyway, even for those who make it work. The things I value have found me and will continue to do so. Whatever price I have to pay for not “fitting in” will be worth the satisfaction of following my heart.

A day or two after the dream I saw a real quote on social media by the author I dreamed of about closing doors on the past. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sacrifice

Sacrifice is not a pleasant word to many. It implies we need to give up some things we love for the sake of hopefully gaining something else we need or want. The everyday reality for most people contains a mixture of pleasure and pain. Nobody can do everything, and where we need to make choices there is often a sacrifice involved.

In modern spirituality I find a prevailing notion that we can have and be everything we want if we apply the spiritual “laws” of the universe. I don’t agree with this, because it denies so many aspects of the human experience. In this context sacrifice is shunned as something negative. Since sacrifice is a prominent theme in religion and mythology, I want to look at the deeper meaning of the concept and what it can teach us.

I grew up in the Christian religion, and one of the main tenets was the sacrifice of Christ, the son of God, for the sake of humanity. In the Old Testament we read about God demanding Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. The son and father are saved in the last minute due to the love of God and the faith of Abraham. The New and Old Testament examples of sacrifice both involve divine love and the threat of death. In both cases human death is not the final outcome as Christ is resurrected and Isaac is saved with a ram sacrificed in his place. In the New Testament story God sacrifices his son for the love of humanity, while in the Old Testament example human sacrifice is needed to please God. As a child I found the idea of sacrifice vindictive and I never understood why Christ had to suffer for the sins of others. A symbolic interpretation however may shed light on what the sacrifice means.

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia by François Perrier.
From Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
In Greek mythology there is Iphigenia, daughter of the Greek king Agamemnon in the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Her sacrifice to the goddess Artemis was required for the king’s war pursuits to be successful. An animal was also involved as according to some sources the king offended Artemis by killing a deer, which was sacred to her as a goddess of hunting and wild animals. In some versions Iphigenia was saved and replaced by a deer. Iphigenia also appears as a priestess of Artemis. It is worth noting that Artemis is a virgin goddess, and the sacrifice was planned to take place on Iphigenia’s supposed wedding day. (Source: Wikipedia)

In The Undying Stars by David Mathisen, the theme of sacrifice in religion and mythology is discussed in detail. One of the theories presented in the book is that ancient myths, including those found in religious texts, point to the heavens and are an allegory for the movements of the stars and planets. The movement of the sun is used as a metaphor for the (recurring) journey of the human soul in corporeal existence. It is suggested that the theme of sacrifice is connected to the equinoxes and the animal symbolism is associated with the signs of the zodiac. In the case of Isaac, the ram is clearly Aries, the sign of the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere or autumn in the southern hemisphere. It is suggested that the deer in Iphigenia’s case represents the constellation Centaurus, which is near Virgo and the crossing of the celestial equator at the September equinox.

Because the equinoxes signify a turning point from longer days into longer nights or vice versa, they are a metaphor for the process of birth and death, or the journey into or out of the human body. The book provides a far more comprehensive explanation, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topic. For the purpose of this article the idea is meaningful as it demonstrates the cosmic significance of myths. In the case of sacrifice in particular it tells us something about the balance between the spiritual and material sides of our existence, as signified by the balance between day and night on the equinoxes.

Going deeper into the notion of traversing the boundary between spiritual and physical, I think sacrifice has to do with how we create ourselves. I have written before on the gift of limitation. To know the individual self it is necessary to leave behind the realm of infinite possibilities. We retain some creative potential which we can work with in a world constrained by matter. To return to infinite love, the body and ego must be left behind. Of course nobody really knows what happens after death, but some research, such as the work of Michael Newton, suggests our souls contain memories of lives on earth even after leaving our bodies. Connecting this with the movement of the sun as a metaphor for the journey of the soul, it is worth noting that there is day and night at all times of the year in most places on earth. Sometimes there is more of the day and sometimes more of the night, but the two polarities exist side by side.

In the story of Iphigenia the sacrifice to a virgin goddess is meaningful if we consider that her (possible) death happened on her wedding day. To me this says something about the sacrifice required in partnership. To be committed to someone else, a person inevitably gives up some of their freedom and independence, perhaps symbolised by virginity. If we go with the version of events where Iphigenia was saved and became a priestess of the goddess, this could indicate a different kind of devotion to an ideal. The benefits of partnership are forfeited by those who choose the path of chastity. If chastity signifies inner development, it could perhaps point to the solitude involved in embarking on a spiritual journey.

The word sacrifice comes from the Latin sacrificium, which is a contraction of sacer, which means sacred, and facere, which means make. To make the experience of giving something up sacred, we could perhaps adjust our understanding of sacrifice. Between the polarities of humanity and divinity where sacrifice usually takes place, there is a tension that cannot be resolved. I believe this points to the yin and yang in the universe, the sacred dance of opposites where new things are created. This is also illustrated through the sexual unity between man and woman resulting in the birth of an offspring.

Love is a theme in all these examples of sacrifice, although in the example of Iphigenia there is also conflict and self-interest that could lead to death. In each case the victim is saved through love, devotion and mercy. The wisdom of sacrifice could be that when we adopt the perspective of the soul in our human endeavours, suffering can be transcended. The need to choose what we dedicate ourselves to is highlighted. The journey in the human body with all its trials can be understood as a gift when considering the bigger picture of our spiritual origins.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Book Review: Hopatcong Vision Quest by Steve Lindahl

My rating: 5 stars.
Hopatcong Vision Quest is an interesting combination of psychology, spirituality and crime with the added bonus of a riveting plot line. The story takes the reader into two different eras through the lives lived by the same souls in different bodies.

Diane, a woman in the 21st century, wants to solve the riddle of her mother’s drowning in Lake Hopatcong. She believes it is connected to the death of another woman and approaches Ryan, the woman’s husband, for help. With her mother’s friend Martha, they consult a hypnotherapist, who takes them into memories of their past lives in the 17th century in the same location, where similar incidences occurred. Diane’s 17th century counterpart was a woman called Oota Dabun, who wanted to go on a vision quest even though the rite was reserved for boys in their journey into adulthood. The two women share the desire for understanding.

This book engaged me right from the start and a few pages in I did not want to put it down. The characters, both in the present and their past lives, are relatable, yet enigmatic enough to make the reader wonder about what drives them. Some of them were of different genders and races in former lives, inviting the characters themselves and the reader to consider their motivations. The philosophical question of what impacts the human psyche, and whether nature or nurture has the strongest effect on our actions, comes to the fore. Even the dark characters are not entirely undeserving of empathy.

Since this book is rich in spiritual lessons, it inspired contemplation on how I responded to the characters and the plot lines. True to my personality, I felt drawn to the traditions of the 17th century Lenape tribe, where nature had things to teach people. In the thread of the present, I felt most judgemental towards the character who abuses authority for personal gain.

The story looks at themes of anger, justice and love from the perspective of the soul. In line with the cross-generic nature of the novel, resolution happens in a manner different from merely cracking the clues. The insight gained by the characters invites the reader to reflect too.

I have highlighted two powerful quotes that captured my attention:

“The earth was a minuscule spot among the stars in the universe, yet there were more kinds of love in this tiny world than anyone could count.”
“I like to sit by the lake. I like the quiet days when the water appears solid, with only ripples raised by the wind. But sometimes people bring conflict, sometimes a powerboat breaks the surface, creating waves larger than the ones the wind made. When that happens, the wind seems to say, ‘Just wait. I can do better.’ And before too long, there’s a storm with even taller waves. So to me the water says, ‘I am you. And like you I can be love or hate, forgiveness or anger, peace or war.’ I choose love, forgiveness, and peace, then go on sitting by the water.”

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Looking for One’s Other Half

I have often felt like a misfit due to my views being different from the values of the culture I live in. One prominent example is my attitude towards romance. In my twenties especially, most people I knew were looking for the “right person” and many expected me to do the same. I remember many frustrating conversations where the topic came up and I was asked why I did not want to get married. My answer quite often provoked more questions, and despite my best efforts I usually felt that I could not get the person to understand that like there are some things they would not choose for themselves, I simply did not feel inclined. I don’t remember ever asking anyone why they did want to get married. It’s not because I wasn’t interested in their views, but because I thought the answer was personal, like a choice of career or hobby.

Marriage aside, the idea of an intimate relationship was not a non-issue for me. I felt that the concept of looking for another person as one’s other half was ingrained in the collective mind-set, but it did not work for me. When I looked for someone as a potential relationship partner, I felt lacking because I was not in a relationship. The biggest problem for me was knowing how much people revere the idea of the right person, and feeling that in my flawed human state I could never live up to someone’s expectations. An obvious challenge was the truth of my feelings about marriage when there seemed to be consensus among the people I knew that the point of any relationship was finding the right marriage partner. I could not be close to someone and cover up my truth.

A lot of people gave advice on finding the right person. Some of them were single or divorced, and although logically I knew that they did not have it all figured out, I was confused by the fact that everyone seemed to have answers even when they didn’t, and I had none. In theory I understood that another person could not fulfil me, and that I had to make myself happy first before I could think about being happy with another. Of course I was aware that if one tries to be happy for the sake of finding someone, one is missing the point. Still, I did not always recognise that inner work aimed at self-improvement was still putting pressure on myself to do better than just where I was. Striving to improve sounds admirable, but there is the danger of rejecting unwanted aspects of one’s person.

I only really stopped feeling powerless about relationships and my ineptitude when I went beyond rational thought and started dealing with my true feelings. Even though I reprimanded myself for it, there was the fear of the unknown if I never got into a serious romantic relationship. In my mind there was a social stigma around being an unmarried older woman. Worse than being unworthy of any man’s attention or failure at what nearly every person could do at some point or another, i.e. be intimate with someone, was my fear of falling through the cracks in society. I felt that I would be judged as abnormal if I didn’t live up to this expectation. The fear boiled down to being an outcast, but when I realised I was comfortable with my circumstances, I could have conviction in my own choices regardless of society’s standards.

Even though I am in a stable relationship now, I still think that the right person is a myth. When we look for our "other half" it is based on an illusion that the light in me needs the light in another to be whole and complete. Instead I think that the other half we are looking for is our own darkness. Our fears and weaknesses give us important information. When we own and acknowledge those unwanted aspects of our being, the light in us is more powerful. Finding a special connection and possibly sharing one’s life with another is a mystery I will not pretend to understand.