Wherein lies the power of writing? Of story? When does a story become a meaningful experience? Prose become poetry? Writing become art?
Is good writing simply the ability to string words together in a logical way that always makes sense? Or is it something less horizontal and linear? Something deep and dense, high and elevating? Complex and personal? The answer to these questions has less to do with your left-brained cognitive abilities — skills typically studied on IQ tests — than you might imagine. It’s more about your right brain’s preference for images and emotions.
Plato said art is mimetic by nature — an imitation of life — whereas ideas are the ultimate reality. For him, philosophy was superior to poetry. But his student, Aristotle, preferred poetry for the very reason that it mimics nature. He believed life is the ultimate reality, and that poetry reflects it.
Good writing, whether prose or poetry, resonates in your psyche because it is grounded in life. You might admire a writer’s intellectual cleverness with ideas and words, you might even try to imitate it. But a story or piece of writing will not become meaningful and memorable unless it stirs up images, memories, moods, and emotions in the same way dreams and myths do: by mirroring the archetypal truths of your soul in ways that move you. Interior experiences like this are embodied expressions of your nature in its essence, human nature, both physical and archetypal.
Meme-Noir (a play on the word ‘memoir’), is a remarkable new book by Toronto-based author, poet, artist, and teacher Steven McCabe that illustrates this connection perfectly. All of McCabe’s work — now including eight books, a blog called Poemimage, paintings, poems, drawings, videos, murals, and multi-media works — tell stories with a powerful psychological impact.
Imagine you are standing alone under a black-domed sky splashed with a panoply of starry constellations. Each has its own myths, cluster of personal associations, and visual and emotional nuances. This is how McCabe describes his inspiration for Meme-Noir:
“I emailed myself stories and anecdotes
Over an eight year period.
During discussions with the publisher (then),
For now the company has been sold,
I experienced a moment of revelation.
Luciano Iacobelli looked over my first ten pages
‘No, no, no, no, no.’
‘No theme, no thesis,
Just give me the puzzle pieces.’
He gestured with his hands and said,
I was left to interpret ‘constellations’ as I wished.
I came up with the idea of vignettes comprising constellations.
Each vignette in a constellation
Has one key word in common.
Each series of vignettes
Covers various time periods,
Within a constellation.
So, it’s a non-linear timeline.”
This excerpt is from his beautifully illustrated post about Meme-Noir on his blog. Following is a sampling of three vignettes from the book. Each is a unique star in a particular constellation of his psyche centered around the key word “float.” As you read, notice the images and emotions the words elicit from you.
“Around dusk I saw a ball of light float slowly past. It was bigger than a basketball but soft as a dandelion puff. Later I saw another one outside the window, in the pitch-black countryside. The couple visiting from Toronto said, “We saw them all the way here.” I stayed overnight at their place when they were students. In the morning I did a shoulder stand and above me a tiny star exploded as soon as it appeared. Light shot everywhere.” p.12
“My brother asked older ladies in the department store for directions – while forming a saliva bubble on his tongue – and floating it out his mouth. “Are you alright, son?” When George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, ran for President in the Democratic Primaries he gave a press conference downtown. We leaned against the wall. Wallace walked towards the exit with men on either side. My brother stomped one leg like a pony. Wallace froze, with a startled expression. My brother leaned forward, at the hips, and floated a bubble into the air. Wallace stared for two seconds and continued walking. My brothers and I laughed, all the way home, down Canal Avenue.” p.13
“I substitute their names when I read art history books aloud as they paint: Myra developed Cubism, with George Braque, in the early 20 th Century – Omar painted a melting pocket watch, defining Surrealism – Janine introduced Pointillism, dabbing thousands of dots. I personalize the text, so it floats – without dragging – after their long week of data coming at them like a flash flood.” p. 13
This is not just art for public consumption. It’s an example of how a man is alchemically transforming the raw elements of his life into a work of art. What floated through your mind as you read?
Meme-Noir is a fresh, original, page-turning tour de force of a psychological memoir. McCabe as storyteller is an enormously likable lover of life who survives daunting challenges with forthrightness, intelligence, compassion and wit, sustained by his ability to lose and then find himself again in art.
The style is unlike anything you’ve read before. Described as a “journey of addictive linguistic charm” (from a blurb by Pierre L’Abbe), it twists and turns through the subterranean rabbit warren of McCabe’s artistic sensibility to trace the transformational odyssey of a wounded soul trying to make its way home.
I highly recommend Meme-Noir. You can order it here, and here. Never More Together, McCabe’s visual, wordless poem about the harsh treatment of truth in a society ruled by fear, can be found here. To watch the poet speak about Never More Together, check out this Youtube video.
Image credits: All images created by Steven McCabe. Reproduced here with permission.
Holiday Greetings to all. It’s a week before Christmas, so there’s still time to order books for the readers on your list. In case you’re looking for ideas, here are some of my recent favorites. They’re all wonderful. Enjoy.
Regina Aguilar, Alchemy of the Heart: The Sacred Marriage of Dionysos and Ariadne. Chiron Publications. November 7, 2017.
Manipulated by mythologies which legitimate the authority of those who use them for economic and political advantage, we are increasingly estranged from our Source, our environment, one another and ourselves. We need stories that describe the soul’s healing, bring reverence for life, and connect us to an inner authority based on experiential knowing. Alchemy of the Heart—an in-depth Jungian analysis of the myth of Dionysos and Ariadne—is such a story. Dionysos exemplifies the destruction and restoration of wild, virile, passionate masculinity in deep rapport with the earth and femininity. Ariadne symbolizes innocent, trusting, devoted, but deeply wounded femininity in patriarchy. When a woman’s romantic illusions are shattered by masculine betrayal, the experience of feeling her supportive inner masculine brings renewed vitality and a mystical sense of oneness with life. The story and eventual union between the masculine Lover and feminine Beloved in the alchemical sacred marriage described in this myth is a metaphor for the inner path of integration and individuation available to you.
HeatherAsh Amara, The Warrior Goddess Way: Claiming the Woman You Are Destined to Be, Hierophant Publishing, October 24, 2016.
Written for women, The Warrior Goddess Way is filled with wise principles and insights from which anyone seeking greater power, passion, and freedom can benefit. Amara describes a pathway of presence, baby steps, and practice—a road to reclaim all of you, including your darkest fears and most precious gifts. It asks you to recognize how you have been trained to think and behave, to witness your mind instead of believing everything it tells you, and to embrace yourself in your entirety. Most of all it asks you to stop resisting things beyond your control and learn to love it all. To say Yes! to every situation in your life and ultimately, Yes! to death. Befriending death frees you to be more fully engaged with life. Examples and activities demonstrate the value of such qualities as presence, forgiveness, apology, authenticity, respect, listening, stillness, and awareness.
Lewis Howes, The Mask of Masculinity, Rodale, October 31, 2017.
“Regardless of gender, the key to success in life is creating meaningful relationships.” With this line, the reader is ushered into a bold new territory where successful men care more about connecting and being real than wearing macho masks. In today’s world, authenticity and other qualities this two-sport All-American athlete now associates with greatness—like empathy, insight, honesty, vulnerability, compassion, acting for the good of others, and the ability to heal from one’s own wounds—are traditionally associated with femininity. Howes hopes to change this one-sided and outdated stereotype by describing nine toxic masks men wear which, when discarded, enable them to accept their vulnerability and evolve into a modern-day masculine archetype of benevolent and compassionate power, courage, inner peace and happiness.
Ira Israel, How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening, New World Library, November 7, 2017.
Western culture’s beliefs in capitalism, science, and religion taught you to value the wrong things like productivity, consumerism, and romantic love. Your futile struggles to find happiness and unconditional love via these beliefs created resentments and judgments about the past. As an adult you still dwell on these beliefs and ignore your present pain to stave off future pain. In How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult, psychotherapist Ira Israel deconstructs common dysfunctional mindsets and encourages you to accept and own the reality of your life. Suggestions to raise and reorient your consciousness include seeking a new definition of authenticity—encompassing the psychological principles of attachment, atonement, attunement, presence, and congruence—and practicing Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Three Jewels. Your practices will alleviate suffering, promote loving relationships, and help you live with authenticity and love.
Winifred M. Reilly, It Takes One to Tango: How I Rescued My Marriage with (Almost) No Help from My Spouse—and How You Can, Too, Touchstone, April 4, 2017.
Written by marriage and family therapist Winifred M. Reilly, this wise and practical book addresses unrealistic expectations and dysfunctional interactions which damage love relationships. With examples from clients and her own marriage, Reilly takes the reader through five developmental stages of partnerships. She concludes the key for positive change is for one partner to name the basic issues that create conflicts, accept personal responsibility for their role in them, learn how to manage their anxiety, and take risks to respond in new ways. This weakens habitual patterns and transforms the relationship into a more forgiving and loving partnership.
Tosha Silver, Outrageous Openness: Letting the Divine Take the Lead, Atria (Reprint Edition), July 12, 2016.
Doctrinaire religions can leave you spiritually alienated because they focus on external observances instead of internal realities. Tosha Silver suggests you align with the Divine by asking for what it wishes for you instead of insisting on your ego’s preferred outcomes. When you offer your problems to the Divine and invite it to take the lead, then symbols and synchronicities tell you when to act. Your openness and trust in a divine order of love and abundance frees you from worry and allows the perfect solution to any problem to arrive at the right time. Silver shares a fascinating and entertaining collection of brief stories which illustrate these principles at work in her life and the lives of others.
Sara Avant Stover, The Book of She: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power, New World Library, October 13, 2015.
Building on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1973) and Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey (1990), yoga and meditation instructor Sara Avant Stover’s The Book of She describes how women can reclaim their feminine power. Combining personal stories, examples from wisdom traditions, and advice from noted psychological and spiritual teachers, Stover highlights 13 stages of the feminine journey. These are organized into five parts: Preparing for the Journey, The Descent, The Initiation, The Ascent, and The Homecoming. Readers are encouraged to explore and heal their inner and outer lives with numerous activities, rituals and guided meditations within a framework of guiding principles—cultivating an ongoing practice, welcoming silence and prayer, clarifying your priorities, taking responsibility for your life, exploring dualities, and facing your shadow.
Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Whitaker House, October 4, 2016.
“Bad theology is like pornography—the imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one.” This sums up the theme of The Divine Dance—a repudiation of Empire and a celebration of Relationship. Central to this celebration is your willingness to actively change what you let into your heart and consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved. Trinity is a foundational principle of perennial philosophy—the core beliefs common to every religion. Some call it the Third Force. It is also a living reality—a circular flow of love in you and the universe that mirrors the orderly spinning dance of subatomic particles which birth and sustain life. The 67 essays in this book depict God as absolute relatedness. They affirm that your participation in the dance can transform your illusion of separation into a spiritual experience of radical relatedness with yourself, your life, and the Divine.
I think of you often as I work on my next book and will stay in touch in the New Year. I wish you the happiest of holidays. As the nights grow longer and darker, may your inner light grow stronger and brighter.
“Spirit and matter may well be forms of one and the same transcendental thing.” ~Carl Jung. CW 9i; par. 392.
This week between Christmas 2016 and the New Year of 2017 is the first in almost seven years that I didn’t schedule a Tuesday post on Matrignosis. I’m still trying to figure out why, but one factor is undoubtedly that I’m struggling with physical, emotional, and spiritual burnout from the presidential election and holiday preparations. As a result, I’m recovering from my second nasty bout with bronchitis in two months.
Determined to get the rest I obviously need this week, I had no conscious plans to write a post until after the new year. But this morning I awoke from a dream:
A new government has taken over. It is banning free speech and singling out intellectuals and other ‘undesirables’ on trumped up charges. I’m feeling worried and frightened. Our only hope is in one extraordinary man who secretly leads a resistance group. I see his slogan, “We Will Survive” written in large bold letters on a large surface in a public place and take great hope from it.
I have to tell Fred. He’s been distracted by work and doesn’t know this has happened. I find him and tell him with tears welling up in my eyes, “I have terrible news about the government!” I consciously add the words ‘about the government’ because I want to prepare him to hear something alarming but don’t want him to think the news is about any kind of immediate threat to our loved ones. I fear for our world.
So this is it. The core issue beneath everything I’ve been thinking and doing and trying not to think about or do in recent weeks. My intuition and feelings are in a high state of alert and as an introvert I’ve been trying to keep them under cover, both for my own protection and others. But the Self won’t allow me to ignore this any longer and sent me a dream to make me face it.
How am I going to respond to a situation that feels like a terrible threat to our country and world? How can I be sure that what I say or do will be helpful and not harmful?
If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Pages 132-133.
After recording my dream I reread recent posts, looking for threads that might suggest my next step, my next post.
From The Invisible Cord: “Awakening from a long sleep during which our egos have been unconscious of our inner truths, and moving into a more mature way of living and loving is what Christmas is really about.”
From The Two Sides of Surrender: “Positive surrender frees you to live to the fullest with all the life energy you have at your disposal without wasting it on denial, escapism or self-hatred.”
And, “Healthy surrender is not a victim’s descent into lethargy. It is a warrior’s ascent to compassionate action which causes the least possible harm to others. It requires…restraint until you acquire the wisdom to know what must be done.”
But when will I know what must be done? Until now, my actions have been guided by this thought:
“Your voice is too weak for those raging to be able to hear…Thus, do not speak and do not show the God, but sit in a solitary place and sing incantations in the ancient manner.” ~Carl Jung. The Red Book, p. 284.
Perhaps this is part of the reason I could find no words for a Tuesday post this week. But I am unusually mindful of these words from The Invisible Cord: “…all opposites, outer and inner, are bound to each other by an invisible cord which is as real and essential to us as our heartbeat.”
There is an absolute, eternal union between God and the soul of everything. The problem is that Western religion has not taught us this. Our ego over-emphasizes our individuality and separateness from God and others. ~Richard Rohr Meditation, Dec. 17, 2016.
Mystics like Francis and Clare lived from a place of conscious, chosen, and loving union with God. Such union was realized by surrendering to it, not by achieving it! ~Richard Rohr Meditation, Dec. 17, 2016.
After citing the above I wrote: “If you’re not a religious person, just replace the word “God” with any or all of these three: Life. Love. Reality. It’s all the same thing.”
Still looking for guidance, I picked up a new book I’ve been wanting to start and chose a page at random. There I read,
“We’re standing in the middle of an awesome mystery—life itself!—and the only appropriate response before this mystery is humility. If we’re resolved that this is where we want to go—into the mystery, not to hold God and reality but to let God and reality hold us—then I think religion is finally in its proper and appropriate place.” ~Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, p. 73.
‘We’re standing in the middle of an awesome mystery.’ ‘Western religion has not taught us this.’ ‘I think religion is finally in its proper and appropriate place.’
‘Show the God.’
I think you can expect more of this from me in the coming months.
“The time is ripe for the unconscious and conscious dominants to meet each other. The death of the old dominant is indicated by the fact that the king is about to die. This corresponds to the fact that the God-image, the collective dominant of the Western psyche, is moribund. In preparation for its death, it opens up an ancient tomb; in other words it opens up the unconscious. This activates the feminine principle, which had been dead and buried in the very same tomb, in the unconscious. As the tomb is opened, the unconscious is penetrated by consciousness . . . and a revitalization occurs.” ~ Edward Edinger
With this opening quote a beautiful new book, The Unseen Partner: Love & Longing in the Unconscious, prepares the reader for a unique experience of a universal story: the hero’s journey to individuation. Unique, because this personal account shared in a mythical, poetic voice is utterly original and will impact each reader differently. Universal, because beneath the art, poetry, and expertly-crafted prose is the mythic story of Everyman. Two decades in the making and released this Labor Day weekend, Diane Croft’s The Unseen Partner is a most refreshing and artful contribution to the literature on Jungian psychology. I absolutely loved it!
By midlife, Croft had taken a predictable path to a comfortable life and successful career. Educated at Wittenberg and Harvard Universities, she became a publisher at National Braille Press. And then an unknown force invaded her conscious psyche and set her on a new path. As her press release notes, this force pulled her “into an energy field—the sacred temple at the center of the psyche—” (called the “Self” by Jung), where she captured the poetic voice she heard by means of automatic writing.
“In the summer of 1996, I fell into an experience of automatic writing. I was seated at my computer getting ready to compose a budget narrative. Instead I wrote a few lines of verse that appeared without thinking or intention. ‘Born in a cataclysm of cosmic violence/the lunar birth of daughter moon.’ And then a second poetry fragment appeared . . . and so it continued for three years, at roughly the same time each morning, until there were more than seven hundred odd verses. People ask me if I heard voices. No, I say, I just took dictation. The fingers moved and the words were typed.”
The Unseen Partner is based on 55 of these verses. Each is accompanied by an artful image that symbolizes an aspect of the individuation process. Croft’s commentary on the meaning she gleaned from the poetry and imagery is the third factor that weaves everything together into a remarkable book which is itself a creative work of art.
Here’s an example. This poem titled “Holy Ghost” features the symbolism of “the third.” The accompanying image and commentary illustrate how these three factors work together.
Who is this three of thee and me
a holy ghost in daylight calling
stirring in my bed this night
cauldron for my troubled soul,
reminding me again and again
of the living power it holds
over my dominion.
“Since I was baptized Lutheran, the image of the Holy Ghost was not foreign to me, though I understood nothing of its meaning. Since I now believe this collection is about the relationship between my conscious ego and the larger archetypal Self, then I can only say that that relationship involves a third. Who is this three of thee and me? In Mythology of the Soul, Baynes writes, ‘The number three is specifically associated with the creative process. . . . Every function of energy in nature has, indeed, the form of a pair of opposites, united by a third factor, their product.’ Jung identified “the third” as one of the stages of individuation: ‘The advance to the third stage means something like the recognition of the unconscious, if not actual subordination to it. . . .’ So, as I understand it, stage one equals the original state of wholeness (the pre-conscious totality), stage two represents separation and the emergence of opposites (ego consciousness), and stage three would be the union of the opposites through the agency of the Holy Ghost, now contained within the human vessel.”
This was particularly resonant to me. I don’t remember ever reading this quote by Jung before, but in Healing the Sacred Divide (2012), I used the symbolism of “the third” to illustrate the three epochs of the development of consciousness. Each of my epochs corresponds with Croft’s description of the stages of individuation. This synchronicity comes as no real surprise, for “the third,” like all the symbols treated in this marvelous book, represents an archetypal pattern residing in every psyche. Nonetheless, I had so many delicious “Aha” moments in reading it that the overall experience took on the flavor of meditating on, and with, a sacred unseen partner.
As Rumi warned, (and as Croft writes in the last line of her epilogue), “‘Don’t go back to sleep.’ Wake up and dip your cup into the living waters.” I could not recommend The Unseen Partner more highly, and I’ll be returning to it again and again, for in it I recognize a reliable companion and guide to the living waters within me.
Why does this newest book of mine, Healing the Sacred Divide, feel special? Well, my earlier books brought me great joy, but their writing and birthing were so effortless that it was almost too easy. It seemed to me then that I was mining the deepest core of my being, but in retrospect I see I was still just digging around on the surface. I was like a fledgling archeologist who has finally been let loose on a dig site and gets giddy over every artifact she unearths with no clue about the greater treasures awaiting below.
But when you carefully and single-mindedly tend a passion for 19 years, putting all your creative energy into it day after day with few rewards other than the satisfaction of persevering and knowing you’re doing your best, it feels very much like raising a beloved child. You do it because you must, and when it finally leaves the nest to enter the world on its own, it carries your heart and soul with it.
But more than that, to use the language of Jungian psychology, I see now that the other books came mostly from my personal unconscious, but with this one I feel I’ve tapped into the richer veins of the collective unconscious. It feels like this is not just my story, it’s everyone’s story. My other books were gifts to myself. Healing the Sacred Divide is my gift to the world.
In our time we are becoming increasingly polarized around divisive issues of faith, gender and politics. The blame for this state of affairs does not lie with any one group, but with our own dualistic thinking. As long as we persist in assigning labels of “good” and “bad” to every pair of opposites, whether male/female, I/you, human/divine, my religion/your religion, or our nation/their nation, we will perpetuate the problem.
The time has come to realize this way of thinking no longer serves humanity’s best interests. Fortunately, there is an alternative. It is typified by a committed effort to understand ourselves, forge authentic relationships with others, and try to live with compassion every moment of every day. This way of living is symbolized by the mandorla, the shape formed by the merging of two separate circles. This almond-shaped space represents the kind of integrated psychological thinking and spiritual living we’ve always associated with our wisest and most enlightened Spirit Persons.
I believe developing Mandorla Consciousness is the spiritual work of our time, a radical middle path to God. Healing the Sacred Divide is my contribution to our understanding of how to travel this path. Open to all regardless of religion, I believe it is our soul’s purpose on Earth.
If you’re interested in meeting my newest creative child, its official birth date is scheduled for July. However, Larson Publications will soon have advance copies in stock, and ordering directly from their website will be the quickest way to get one. Plus, you’ll get a reduced price. I suggest you go directly to my page at http://larsonpublications.com/book-details.php?id=105. In closing I’d like to share an amazing comment that will appear on the back cover:
“A compelling journey through the human psyche and soul, both deeply personal and universal. Jean has done a brilliant job of illuminating where we are, how we got here, and how we can transcend the polarization and loneliness of this time by reconnecting with the sacred in its fullest, richest expression.”
—Margaret J. Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science and Turning to One Another
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.