The Soul’s Journey Moving Healing from the Head to the Heart

June 16, 2022

 A son who showed up like a mirror reflecting all his worst fears.

A left hook, his son crumpled on the kitchen floor.

Tortured by clinging to a faith that betrayed him.

A restless angry God that he struggled to love.

And the fear! And the fear!

Haunting him.

An insidious thought he could never truly own.

“Perhaps I am wrong”

Part of my morning practice is to read a page or two from James Hollis’s remarkable book Hauntings. On this particular day he was suggesting that everyone’s life has a core complex, a subterranean, archaic reflex that can regularly impact our current reactions and behaviours. I have known for a while that my own core complex has been my relationship with my father. It could colour my reaction to many situations causing either fight or flight depending on the trigger – similar responses that my father had often triggered.

I have learned how to live with this conflict; the wound is always there but how I react to it can be managed. This was not always the case as I remember once getting fired because in the moment I yelled at my boss “you don’t have a constructive bone in your body” when I thought he was being unduly critical. This was  was actually a child’s response to his father rather than a reasoned adult to his superior. My past could haunt my present in a way that at the time I seemed unable to control.

Much time has passed since then and I have done an inordinate amount of exploration around my relationship with my dad and have over time learned to forgive him, believing that he had done the best he could under the circumstances. I felt curious about why I was revisiting this once again when I felt that I had completed my work around this issue.

Hollis was friends with the great poet Stephen Dunn who gave permission to share his story of his relationship with his father where a secret had permeated family life causing ongoing friction in the household and a complex to develop around secrecy. I sensed that much of Stephen’s healing came from writing about this. In a poem titled The Ghost, he writes, “An outgoing man, my father once held back a truth that would have rescued him from sadness. Now he roams my inheritance in every word I hear him speak. He vanishes, returns, no place for him in this entire world.”

Hollis suggests that only dialogue with such “stuff” provides release. I reflected on my journey and all the complexities derived from a father who could not accept his son the way he was. My disbelief in God at the age of 14 had become a wall as impenetrable as the ideological iron curtain that had developed between the west and the USSR after the war. Our relationship was forever strained as a result. He accused me as being “willful” as though it was a deliberate choice made to offend him.

As I mused about the past, I noticed words flowing up from somewhere deep within. Words, then phrases, then sentences that seemed to morph independent of the thinker into a poem. I stopped in wonder and surprise at what seemed a miracle. As I read the words I sensed I understood my father for the first time. Then I felt a piece of my personal puzzle slip into place reminding me of Dorriane Laux’s exquisite poem Break. “ we put the puzzle together piece by piece loving how each curved notch fits so sweetly with another.“

I realized that underneath this core complex I had unconsciously wanted to know why my father could not love me unconditionally. As I read the poem I could see how impossible I would be for him to express love to someone who mirrored all his worst fears. Suddenly I felt more at peace. It was as though the healing had shifted from my head to my heart.


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!


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.


Control and Anxiety

May 16, 2014

The influence of control in my life reminds me of an octopus. It lies unseen in dark places with its eight tentacles probing into my outer world. The first seven tentacles represent resistance, overwhelment, the need to be right, impatience, anger, planning, manipulation Despite my desire to stop at seven blogs on control this eighth tentacle representing anxiety has finally overcome my resistance.

Recently I had been reflecting on anxiety and realized that although not an anxious person on the surface, I frequently suffer from a low grade, unconscious anxiety that has a surprising capacity to impact my life. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to see the relationship of Control and anxiety.

Of course a natural question about unconscious anxiety is how have I become conscious of it? This emerged from my study of Jungian Analyst James Hollis’s teachings around the unconscious and anxiety. Hollis states that we cannot know what is in the unconscious directly but we may discern influences of which we are not conscious through examination of dreams, patterns and behaviours.

He also suggests that addictive patterns of behaviour are anxiety management systems. They can take many forms from the more draconian such a drug addiction or alcoholism to the less damaging such as TV or simple habits.

I became curious about a pattern of behavior that involved watching TV. It was not any TV; it was focused on a specific form of what I now describe as comfort viewing. It would frequently feature repeat performances of old British mystery programs that were familiar, I liked the characters, they were predictable, and nothing would scare me, disturb me or surprise me.

I realized it was a form of escape; it definitely had a pattern to it; it was somewhat mindless, and like a spider could entrap me in a lethargic snare. Reluctantly I concluded it had all the characteristics of a mild addiction.

Following Hollis’s logic if I am engaged in an addiction no matter how mild, there must be anxiety at the heart of it. I realize anxiety is a bit like a referred toothache, it may not be directly associated with the real centre of pain.

This began a quest to examine potential anxieties in my life. I began with the existential anxieties of life: death, health, age and aloneness. It felt healthy to own some of my fears. Hollis suggests that the best way to deal with anxiety is to turn into fear. Anxiety is a child state while our adult self can handle fear.

However I sensed there was more and perhaps something was going on in my life that was causing anxiety that I had not known so it had been repressed.

It was not difficult to identify. I am organizing a major event in Assisi for the Spiritual Community of which I am part. It has taken on a life of its own with 90 people already registered two years ahead of time.

I realized my anxiety had arisen because I was not on top of the organization required. I was telling myself I had lots of time but at some level there was a fear of being overwhelmed.

It had tucked itself away in my unconscious to show up in my pattern of TV viewing. I realized the best way to deal with it was to tackle the problem and within three hours I had everything under control. The effect was palpable, I could engage in my life in a different way. It was as though an invisible restraint had been released.

For some reason at first I did not see the relationship between this anxiety and control. It occurred to me later that as long as I keep things under control my anxiety is managed but when I lose control, the child state once again assets itself and begins to control the agenda of my life. Once again I am held hostage by the past.

This morning the catalyst to this blog came from observing a distinct shift in my feelings and sense of self after reading a relatively benign e-mail. At first I entered a state of denial but it was difficult ignore that I shifted from feeling good to feeling “blaah”.

What had happened? The e-mail was about a pilgrimage that is associated with the event I am planning but not part of it. There is significant anxiety in the community about getting on the pilgrimage because it is a much smaller event than the Gathering. To some degree I have become the focus of this anxiety and accepted responsibility for forwarding names to the organizer.

The e-mail took me off the hook as the organizer had now stepped forward but had triggered anxiety. Why?

This loss of control means I have to accept that all the people who contacted me are no longer my responsibility. The adult accepts this however the child grows concerned and worried that he missed someone.

I turned the anxiety into action and send an email to everyone advising them of the new development and that there is someone else on whom to project their anxiety. My job is complete.

Now I can leave for Europe with peace of mind. Back in five weeks.