The Soul’s Journey- Equanimity

December 2, 2021

May we dwell in the great equanimity free, from passion, aggression and prejudice. Pema Chodren

Failed again – my equanimity had been shattered! I walked home disconsolately having been refused admission to the movie theatre because I offered a photo of my driver’s license as support for my vaccine passport. Both were on my phone however according to the strict letter of the law only the original driver’s license is acceptable of proof of identity. Most places have allowed me to use the photo including a cinema in the same chain but not this theatre. ‘The law is an ass”, I mumbled to myself while reluctantly accepting I had not maintained equanimity under the stress of not being admitted.

However by the time I got home which was a pleasant six-minute walk on an urban greenway in sunshine. my equanimity was restored. It gave me a chance to pick up my glasses that I had previously forgotten and I suspected all I would miss was the commercials.

Equanimity is one of what the Buddha called the Four Immeasurables. The others are loving-kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy. One of my daily intentions is to sustain these beautiful attributes and it has proved much more challenging than it sounds.

I was soon tested again as when I got back and presented my license as I was still refused entry. The attendant now wanted to scan my vaccine passport again pretending she had never seem me before. Frustration returned, it seemed more like the mad hatters tea party than real life. I think she wanted to show me who was boss as I had asked for the manager last time. Frustrated I pulled up my vaccine passport and grumbled “Bureaucracy! You missed your calling”. She was more graceful than I deserved and this actually made me feel worse.

I have learned that what destroys equanimity are complexes. This is the term C.G. Jung used to describe a structure generated by history that carries a quantum of energy. Under certain stimulus this energy rushes up like a subway train and possesses the present moment. There seems to be an inner script that creates a reaction to a given situation that is often illogical and unreasonable.

I already could see I had not acted with the grace I would have liked and clearly I had not lived up to my self-professed desire to stay in a state of equanimity no matter what life threw at me. But why had this episode triggered a complex? I noticed an energy flooding my body when she refused me admission.

In the moment I react at her despite knowing she is doing her job and following the instructions she has been given.  Why does this feel so much more? As I journal about this I see the connection to the past. It is like a time machine transporting me to another place. My father is telling me I can’t go to a movie because Sunday is the Sabbath and we must keep it holy. The same type of unreasonable restriction and this same energy bubbles forth in the lobby of a cinema.

So why the comment on bureaucracy that I see clearly was passive aggressive? Perhaps it represents a minor attempt to have a voice, perhaps even an attempt to confront the “powerful other.” My learned strategies as a child combined compliance, confrontation and escape. As an adult I could never be sure which coping mechanism would show up. Perhaps a combination of the three is to be passive aggressive.

Eminent Jungian analyst and author James Hollis suggests, “What is not conscious has a larger influence on us most of the time than that which is conscious. What is not rendered conscious will continue to control us and that which becomes conscious calls us to accountability.”

I guess next time I should take my drivers license with me!

Getting Beyond the Block

January 20, 2015

One of the joys of traveling is making new friends and my recent trip to Sayulita was no exception. Staying at the same hotel was a lovely British woman working on new business venture. When she heard about my background in marketing she asked me to provide some input on a project on which she was working. As she began to show me what she had done, I became incredibly impressed by the professionalism, the quality of the work and the depth of thinking. Nothing she showed me seemed in need of any input at all. In fact the opposite was true as my suggestions were clearly redundant. As the discussion continued she began to hesitate over her words then paused to say, “I’m not sure what I want your help with anyway. Basically I am stuck on finding the right images for my web site.”

I reflected back on what I had seen so far “You realize you have done all the difficult work here: the initial thinking, the concept, the positioning, the branding, the logo, the look and image. They are all finished, now you are now looking for some photos. Why do you think you are stuck on the easy bit?” She hesitated and looked a little embarrassed then went on to explain that she had been involved in a series of personal problems that had thrown her off centre. Although valid, they did not seem to explain her paralysis.

I observed that the images won’t make or break the proposition anyway because they are easily changed. I speculated that when this kind of block occurs there is normally some fear involved. Her response was instant and clear, “oh I’m scared it will be a failure and I will look bad.” Her wheel spinning has nothing to do with the issue; it was about anxiety and apprehension for the future. It reminded me of a common depth psychology truism, “it’s not about what it’s about.” Almost like a magician’s wand, her insight seemed to free her up so she could move ahead.

It seems appropriate to add a little background. This was not an inexperienced amateur, this was a consummate professional who had spent years successfully implementing far more complex projects for her clients. She knew her experience and skill set were more than up to this task yet she ground to a halt when faced by something that in her previous role she would have simply delegated.

So what happens? Notice there was no conscious knowledge of fear holding her back. Rationally she knew that she could do this and anyway she also knew that failure was part of business life. It was far better to move ahead and learn from failure than it was to quit. However this unconscious fear created inaction, paralysis and a sense of feeling stuck.

From a spiritual coaching perspective, the first thing is to ask yourself when you are blocked is a series of questions.

  • Does this behaviour represent a pattern in my life, has it shown up before and what did I do about it?
  • Are there familiar voices from the past behind the fear? Sometimes it is a parent or a teacher or other powerful other in our early life. This is what eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis refers to as a haunting in his book of the same name.
  • If yes what does this voice cause me to do or stop doing?

Our goal is to defuse and dissipate the power that old voices have over us. The first step is awareness, the second is for the adult to reassess their relationship with the old voice. At this juncture I engage in a discussion – this reaction has a reason for being, I acknowledge it then suggest it no longer serves me and it’s time has passed. It helps me if I can identify the primal anxiety that has been aroused.

It is not always an easy or comfortable exploration but it does help us understand ourselves better and to gradually bring change into the ways we reflexively respond to certain situations.

As James Hollis once said, “we all sleep in haunted houses and in history’s unmade bed.” We need to disarm the ghost and recover our personal authority.

What’s All This Soul Stuff Anyway?

November 17, 2014
“What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts,
it is the glorious sound of a Soul waking up 

Hafiz interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky

Late in his life Carl Jung wrote to a friend and said, “I have failed in my foremost task to open people’s eyes to the fact that man has a soul” The derivation of the word soul is from the Greek word psyche that in turn means breath.

In medical terms the psyche is the sum of who we are: body, mental faculties, emotions and … For some the definition stops there, for others it may include the nebulous concept of the unconscious while depth psychologists and Jungian analysts believe there is a Soul. Unfortunately we cannot identify the soul with a body part. It is an elusive concept

Thomas Moore the writer of many books on Soul suggests that Soul must be imagined rather than explained or understood. A tough concept for the logical and literal minded.

In my Spiritual Coaching practice, the Soul represents a guiding force that supports us on the journey of life and aspires to that which serves our highest good.

As the spiritual coach my first priority is to assess whether my client can accept this idea. It does not matter what name we ascribe to it: Psyche, Self, Soul, Higher Self, Inner Wisdom, I look for common language that we can share.

Why do I consider this of importance? First, I consider the inner guiding force is the most effective tool for helping us through the dark wood. Second, it has a language of its own that is not verbal. It speaks to us through the circumstances of our lives. This can be through our body, our dreams, the patterns of our life, through sign and synchronicity, through “the still small voice”. Third, once we accept the principle that the Soul desires to communicate then it behooves us to listen and pay attention.

Our growth frequently comes out of the ennui, confusion, sense of being stuck even depression that are the sign that something wants to change. I have noticed both in my own life and in those of my clients that ignoring the signs or ridding ourselves of the symptoms can often cause an exacerbation or deterioration until we wake up. I once heard this described as “the cosmic two by four”, a description that seems especially pertinent and a good reminder to stay attentive.

In his excellent book, What Matters Most, James Hollis reminds us that, “if the ego is living in harmony with the psyche there is no problem, there will be a sense of energy, purposefulness, the supporting function of feeling and a sense of well being. In those moments one is in right relationship.” I think that sums up Hafiz’s poem pretty well!

Spiritual Coaching helps to assess whether we are in right relationship with ourselves. It begins with a check-in to the current emotional, mental and physical circumstances of our life and an enquiry into what they could be trying to signify.

The wonderful Julia Cameron, author of many books including The Artists Way once wrote, “Today I listen with my deepest heart. I am alert to guidance in many forms and formats. As I open my attention to a broad range of cues, I find myself guided and guarded.” An excellent practice for honouring the Soul’s journey.

Complexity in Seattle

September 16, 2013

I had just completed the final workshop in the series Archetypes of Spiritual Guidance; I decided to stay an extra day so I could visit a dear friend of mine in the Seattle area; little did I know it would present one more reason to dive into the murky world of unconscious complexes. It all started so innocently, we were discussing some angst she was feeling in her life and I found myself curious to explore what may be contributing to it. Her answers would lead to another question and before long I found myself in familiar territory; I was slipping into my role as a spiritual coach. I paused and observed that it was beginning to feel as though I was coaching her and asked if that was OK. Her response was immediate and clear, “No, it was not OK” and then she went on to say that she had been about to tell me she felt uncomfortable with my questions.

It was a bit like running into a brick wall. I noticed a flush of energy in my body, and a desire to leave immediately rather than wait for my six o’clock train. I took a deep breath, obviously a complex had engaged. In his amazing audio book Through The Dark Wood, James Hollis attributes the theory behind complexes to Carl Jung and describes them like this, “an energy laden core idea that when it is evoked can only repeat the world view, the value system and repetitive actions that are tied to its origin. They were generated in our history and bind us to it.” My friend could tell something had engaged and asked if I was all right. I responded honestly, “No I am not but this is not about you”. I took another deep breath and realized I needed some personal space. “I need some time on my own” I responded, “I’m going for a walk.”

Any one who has stayed in touch with my blogs knows that this is not the first complex I have explored. Since I began this process of unraveling my own psychology I have written extensively about my journey with different complexes. At times it seems endless; they seem like the interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that continually create a bigger picture. The same complex repeats but I go a little deeper. It always begins with an energetic reaction that once I have awareness of it requires me to pause and take space. This is accompanied by a sense of my feelings being hurt. The danger if I don’t take care of myself, I will engage in one of two main reactions. I will find a way to blame the person who activated my complex, or I will suppress it, which will cause it to emerge later often as a passive-aggressive reaction.

Once outside I began to recreate the experience. First there was the energy in my body followed by a variety of feelings. These included: feeling hurt that I had been shut down, losing my voice, feeling unappreciated, feeling disrespected, wanting to run away. Frequently we (especially men) discount the feelings with a response like, “Get a grip, get over it, she didn’t mean to hurt you.” However I have learned this simply leads to suppression. If a complex is not given room to breathe and be explored it will simply submerge like magma in a volcano, waiting for a future eruption. One of the compelling things about exploring a complex is how quickly we appreciate the child like nature of the reaction. It is not difficult to appreciate Jung’s belief that these reactions are of historic origin.

As I walked and began to appreciate the beauty of the ocean to my right and the gardens to my left, I contemplated when I might have felt like this before. Could I trace when the energy behind the complex developed its power? Suddenly an incident that occurred when I was fifteen flashed into my mind. It is one that I have previously worked with because I knew I had unconsciously replicated my rebellious relationship with my father with a teacher at school but this felt different

It concerned the sport of rugby. Despite having been brought up in a soccer world I had learned to enjoy the game and had become pretty good. I was engaged in trials for one of the school teams. I played centre and thought it suited my agility and skill set. I did not think I had the pure speed to be on the wing. So it was a crashing shock when the coach called me to his office and said he was switching me to wing. It felt like he was diminishing my chances of being chosen. I responded negatively (the father complex) and he reacted and said you can play wing or not at all. I chose not to play and in that moment permanently eliminated any chance I had to play for the school or even to play competitive rugby again. As I left his office I felt these same feelings, “hurt that I had been shut down, losing my voice, feeling unappreciated, feeling disrespected, wanting to run away.” When I had explored this previously I realized that I felt bad about not being heard or understood and that my actions had only hurt myself. Now I saw something else. This was yet another example of how badly I was served at this school. I suspect the master had slipped into his own complex around having his authority questioned without a thought for the fact that I was fifteen. Surely he should have felt some responsibility for offering me a second chance instead of condemning me to a purgatory of playing rugby in a competition when the moment I had the ball my opponents parted like the Red Sea in front of Moses.

One of the joys of doing this work is the clarity and freedom one feels, a sense that some of the energy binding me to the complex has been released.  It always reminds me of William Yeats lovely words, “I am content to follow to its source every event and action and in thought. For when such as I cast out remorse so great a sweetness flows into the breast that we must laugh and we must sing for we are blessed by everything. Everything we look upon is blest.