The Art of Tending the Fire March 26, 2013
An ancient theorem of enlightenment is As within, so without. Essentially, this means that we humans project the themes and processes of our souls outward into the physical world, which then functions like a giant movie screen. If we will look at this screen through the eyes of Sophia—by which I mean with right-hemisphere mythos—we will see our inner dramas enacted everywhere and this seeing will enhance our self-awareness.
For example, the following themes of the ego’s heroic journey into consciousness are found not only in ancient rituals, scriptures, and myths, but in current books, films, songs, paintings, sculptures, and other creative works:
Separation (leaving the safety and comfort of the maternal matrix to find your identity),
Achievement (strengthening your ego by finding and proving your individuality),
Sacrifice (changing your ego’s attitude toward power),
Suffering (entering the dark abyss of the unconscious),
Surrender, Death, Descent (losing the safety and comfort of familiar assumptions and conventional formulas; submitting to an authority greater than the world’s opinions),
Receiving help from unexpected sources (befriending your shadow and feminine side),
Rebirth (acquiring self-knowledge and more consciousness; being released from the prisons of rigid belief systems; becoming empowered to make original choices),
Return (re-entering the community on your own terms as a maturing, authentic individual),
Reunion (being reunited with feminine feeling and participating in the sacred marriage in which your inner opposites are united), and
Blessing (bringing healing new consciousness to your community).
These archetypal themes are developed in such literary works as Somerset Maughm’s The Razor’s Edge, Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, John Fowles’ The Magus, and even the humorous Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins. Films include Alan Ball’s American Beauty, M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Village and Lady in the Water, and George Lucas’sStar Wars series. The songs of Kris Kristofferson and other musicians likewise address many of these issues. Ultimately, the symbols and motifs of every work of art are imaginative manifestations of the artist’s need to understand and express him/herself, evolve into greater consciousness, and share what s/he has learned with others. Some artists know this; others don’t have a clue.
Imaginatively tracking the underlying threads of psychological and spiritual meaning that we find in myth, literature, film, art, our dreams and even the everyday events of our waking lives, is soul-making work. As Jungian analyst Monika Wikman says, “The symbolizing function alive in the imagination unites the opposites of spirit and body and brings us into experience with the third, the intermediary, realm, which is both corporeal and spiritual and also more than the sum of the parts. The star in humankind—the living imagination and its connection to the divine—mediates psyche/body dimensions and misalignments…” Using our imagination to find personal meaning in the themes and images that speak to us heals divides that prevent us from becoming our true selves.
The alchemists understood the transforming value of imagination. They addressed it with their symbolism of tending the fire and cooking earthly elements until they were distilled into their purest essences. The essences were lifted into the heavens to mingle with and be fertilized by what Jung called the “seeds of the stars,” their celestial, archetypal source. Thus renewed, they returned to purify and renew the earth. This was a metaphor for transforming the baser, earthier elements of our psyches in ways that bring us spiritual awareness, emotional warmth and the light of consciousness.
Our transformation does not happen quickly or easily. It is, as Wikman notes, a never-ending process of cultivating “inner attentiveness to the life of the soul, and learning how to live and work with this flame that burns within in ways that are life enhancing, rather than destructive.” This leads us “into growing awareness and participation in new transmutations between heaven and earth, between human and divine…[wherein]…we and the guiding spirit of wisdom grow in relationship to one another.”
If wisdom is the goal we seek, tending our inner fire is the art that will take us there.