MASTERING METAMORPHOSIS

By Elizabeth Clark-Stern

Franz Kafka’s 1915 novella begins, “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”  Never, in Stanley Corngold’s vibrant translation of Metamorphosis do we encounter the word “cockroach,” yet we know : “His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes.”

Gregor’s  family  responds with horror: “(His mother) all at once jumped up, her arms stretched wide, her fingers crying, ‘Help, for God’s sake, help!’ and did not seem to notice at all that near her the big coffee pot had bee knocked over and coffee was pouring in a steady stream onto the rug.” Kafka walks the edge of tragedy and comedy, for we cannot help but laugh, as Gregor responds: “at the sight of the spilling coffee he could not resist snapping his jaws several times in the air. At this his mother screamed once more, fled from the table, and fell into the arms of his father.”

This is a farce. We howl, but behind this Monty Python-worthy absurdity, throbs a brutal truth.

The story unfolds in searing detail: Gregor feels shock, horror, the family above all awash in shame. What are they to do when the son they so depended on as the high-achiever of the family, the hero, the provider, the bearer of the family dignity, turns into a hissing monster?

From a psychological perspective, this could be the story of what happens when a family member falls from grace, unwittingly, and all his most repugnant traits are exposed.  It is also a tale of what we call in this century “codependency.”  The family behaves as if Gregor’s transformation has revealed a terrible family truth that they must shut away from the eyes of a judging world.  Paradoxically, if each family member had a secure identity, they could see his misery as his alone, and relate to it without the baggage of their own shame.

We need our heroes to stay heroes, and when they return from war emotionally altered by trauma, we are horrified. “Where is my son?” we cry. “Where is the warrior, the breadwinner, the dignity-bearer? How can he cry out and weep in the night like a girl?”

It goes across cultures, developmental stages, the life span. How many parents look at their teenagers and see a cockroach?

I have two beloved Aunts, one in her 80’s, one in her 90’s. They are not sisters. They grew up in the twenties and thirties in Tupelo, Mississippi, seeing each other across the church pews on a sweltering Sunday morning, or in the park of an evening, catching fireflies.  When my parents married, the local paper extolled, “this marriage unites two of the oldest families in Northern Mississippi.”

These gloriously capable women have morphed into people none of us knows.  They have no teeth. They cuss, refuse to eat, refuse to move out of their homes, scream with irascible aggression, and when confronted, dissolve in tears, whispering, “How did I become an invalid so fast? . . . Oh, my God, I have lost my mind.”

My Aunts spent their lives striving for mastery. They both earned Master’s Degrees in an era when most Southern women earned a ribbon for the best fried chicken. In World War II, one was an army nurse, the other de-coded spy messages from the Japanese. They both went on to marry men with PhD’s, raise children, speak out against prejudice, often with dire consequences. In the 1930’s, my older Aunt was hauled in front of the dean at Ole Miss for writing an article on integrating the university. One managed a hospital nursing program, the other managed a college library. Both wrote books. Now, at last, they have come up against something they cannot master.

I find all of this frightening new territory. Our family of doer’s, helpers, and problem-solvers have explored every tactic, exhausted every resource. Nothing alters the reality of transformation of our Aunts. Nothing can make them better, less irrational, less tragic, less absurd. We are called upon to accept our own helplessness, our own weakness, our own inadequacy, our own vermin-nature. To nurture a new capacity in ourselves, to be with the monster.

What if Gregor’s family had responded in a different way? Instead of shrieking and slamming the door, what if they had been fascinated: ”What a transformation—our son, overnight, a bug! How did this happen? What a wonder of nature! How do we spread the news of this miracle? How do we learn, from this giant cockroach, who was once only a human boy—our son?”

This seems a fairy tale, for we human beings respond as Gregor’s parents did, with grief, horror, fear, shame. And yet, if we can build capacity to be with this, even this, we can transform our families, our world,

 

Copyright January, 2012 by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

THE BEAUTY OF BARE BRANCHES IN WINTER

In October, I was attending a women’s retreat at a beautiful venue on an island near Seattle. A friend and I were looking out at a tree, happily dropping its leaves.

I sighed, “Oh, here we go. Soon all the color will be on the ground, dried to a crispy brown.”

My friend smiled, “Haven’t you ever noticed how beautiful bare branches are? In the coldest, darkest time of winter, they reach their limbs to the sky.”

I smiled, and thanked her. I imagined the tree before me, bereft of its color, reaching up to the moon on a dark night. Its beauty seemed not unlike the arms of a person, pared down to her essence, reaching out into the unknown.

I am reminded of this image, as we enter January. The lights of the holidays are down, all the leaves have sailed forth from the trees, and we are left in darkness.

I am living through in a time in my life when many people around me have lost loved ones. Loss seems to go in cycles, like waves against the shore. This winter I know many people who are grieving. Some lost an elderly parent who was ailing, some lost a beloved family member who died quite suddenly, or they are still grieving a loss from long ago. We think we can prepare for the onslaught of emotion that comes with even a much-anticipated death. In my experience, even when we know what is coming, it is a terribly traumatic shock.

As human beings it is simply difficult to wrap our minds around the absolute finality of death. I lost my father to cancer in the prophetic year, 1984. I knew he was dying, but something in me held on, somehow not believing it would ever happen. I was young. I had never lost someone so close to me. For twenty years after that, every time I phoned my stepmother, I expected my Dad to answer the phone, crooning, “Happy New Year!” I only gave up this expectation when she passed, and at long last, I grieved the loss of my childhood phone number.

How do we bear this inevitable, dreaded, reality? Many religions ascribe metaphysical meaning to it, seeing death as a transition, or that chariot to heaven. Does this help, when we are in the throes of fresh, raw, grief?

For me, I now realize that the death of my father was a necessary rite of passage for me to open a whole new door in my own consciousness. I was gifted with many dreams with my father in them. In one I was carrying his emaciated, body through Fifth Avenue in Manhattan at rush hour, weeping and calling out, “Stop! Will someone stop? I need to take my father to the hospital!” No one stopped.

I now see this scene as a love letter from my Dad, from wherever he is beyond the grave. He was telling me to stop, to really look at my frantic, hectic life. To take my soul to the hospital, for it was unhealthy, and needed attention.

I still miss my father. I will until the day I die, but I am grateful for the spiritual opportunity his death offered me.

I invite all those who are grieving, who have lost loved ones, or who, like many of us, grieve the state of our world, the environment, the genocide of innocent people. Beneath the grieving is a brave new world of your own soul and human spirit, learning new perspectives, embracing new causes, reaching out to heal the world, as you heal yourself.

I realize that until I experienced the death of my father, my capacity for empathy was impaired. I thought of myself as a good person, but my activities and thoughts were too ego-bound, too full of trivial pursuits, too unaware.

I am not saying give up silliness and fun. Far from it. Paradoxically, we can discover more joy and humor, the more we embark on a journey to become aware of the great blessing of this life, every moment, every day. We learn not to waste time worrying about how awful things are.

We can bask in the beauty of the bare branches of winter, ever grateful for the seasons and our intimate relationship with all things.

Epilogue: This is dedicated to all those who have lost dear ones, to the lovely friend who showed me the beauty of winter branches, and to my wonderful father.

Copyright 2012 by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

Happy New Year, Spirit of the Depths

I woke this morning with a feeling of urgency. Some of this was inspired by an interview I saw last night on the news, with Zainab Salbi, the CEO of Women for Women International. As leader and creator of this organization, Ms. Salbi has spent years opening up opportunities for women in the most war-ravaged countries on the globe. Since my own trip to Africa in 2007, I joined her organization, and monthly send the most modest of checks to my “sister” in the Congo. To listen to Zainab speak is to feel inspired. She cited the three women who won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, all activists in countries where the status of women has historically been as beast of burden. She spoke with optimism that women across the world can have a stronger and stronger voice in the peace process in the coming years.

Is it time for the archetypal Feminine to come out of hiding and make her mark on the world stage? Zainab Salbi would say a resounding “Yes!”

What does this mean for women and men on the ground, in our own communities, in our own embedded lives? I ask this to counter my own zeal to drop my “ordinary life” and take off for Africa, Nicaragua, or Egypt. This morning, I had to look at this eager-beaver part of myself with tolerance and good humor. I know I have worked hard to build a practice, family, a dear community of friends. And there is gentle inflation at work, in the notion that the people of these countries need someone of my age and culture, to “rescue” them.

What then can I do? What can all of us do, to promote the collaboration, peacemaking, and psychological wholeness needed to make a shift in the deeply entrenched “enemy-making” patterns that have caused war, violence, and oppression throughout the ages?

In searching for an answer, I reflected on last night’s dream, an image of a mythological spirit of the deep forest, emerging into sunlight, flanked by a banner of red and blue.

This figure was both masculine and feminine, and seemed to represent a fulfilled and complete soul. Alongside was a young woman in her forties, who stood by the banner, and was like a young warrior woman, dispelling any fear about the emergence of this whole soul. I felt that this was the Spirit of the Depths, so poetically articulated by Carl Jung in The Red Book. It is time for this archetypal spirit to come forth, to stand up to the Spirit of the Times.This will look different for each of us, as will its expression in the world. For some it could be a call to greater activism, as written of in Andrew Samuels’ The Political Psyche. For many, it could involve a conscious awareness of the barriers we unconsciously construct to avoid compassion. Being mindful whenever we feel too full of ourselves, too superior, or simply too busy to extend our love and help to those right under our noses: an aging Aunt, a neighbor, a coworker. Just asking ourselves (myself) – How can I bring peace, love, and reconciliation into every minute of my life? –

And, make friends with the spirit of the depths – the Archetypal Mother; the Amazon, who fights for justice in all things. She is with us, in all her manifestations, feminine and masculine, anima and animus, young and old.

Happy New Year, Spirit of the Depths. May we all befriend you, and let your wisdom and love shine forth, in 2012, and beyond.

Copyright January 1, 2012 by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

Welcome to the Sleigh Bells and Ink Wells Blog Hop! See links at the bottom of this posting to hop on to the chain of blogs for 12 wonderful writers!

 IN CELEBRATION OF THE CHILD

The images are everywhere during the holidays: Clara in The Nutcracker, eyes filled with wonder; the orphaned boy, Hugo, so curious and fierce in spite of the tragic loss of his father, and the Christ child himself, a babe in a manger on a cold winter’s night.

Stories abound in all cultures of the virgin birth of a god, born in the dead of winter, heralding new life that comes with the Spring. It must be a virgin, because psychologically, the birth of this new, sacred energy comes not from physical human intercourse, but from the person’s “impregnated” relationship with the divine within. The beauty of story and metaphor is that its symbols cover all definitions of the divine, from the Higher Power, to psychological wholeness, to the spirit guide, to God or Goddess of all faiths.

In the world of literature and fairy tales, the path of the soul has often been told with a child protagonist. He or she is quickly orphaned, or, as with Huckleberry Finn, the child is on the run from an abusive parent or wicked step parent. Success requires courage, loving friends, and, magical guide who embodies the divine.

Each of us begins life as an infant. We become a child, conscious of the world, and our own feelings. We encounter loss, obstacles, and struggle to find our way home. In this life-long journey, we can return again and again to the archetypal child within. We can view loss, and tragedy with fresh eyes, finding new dimensions of curiosity, compassion, generosity, and resilience.

In my own childhood, I experienced considerable trauma and loss in my family. I survived by surrounding myself with creative play, friends, and children’s literature. I didn’t realize it then, but I was developing a relationship with the divine.

In The Secret Garden, a robin red breast shows the orphaned Mary Lennox where to dig up the key to an abandoned, locked garden. In The Wind in the Willows, my favorite chapter was The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. A baby otter is lost. Mole and Rat search all night, and at dawn, discover the Piper, half man, half goat, playing his protective tune to the sleeping baby otter. Every time I was sad about my family, I read this chapter, and felt the power of a great love, embedded in Nature Herself.

Now I have created my own literature. Soul Stories is a collection of two novels: Safari to Mara, and Aria of the Horned Toad, for older children, and for the child in all of us.

In Safari, ten year old Mara is born to a loving family in Kenya’s Masai Mara. She enters an apprenticeship with her safari guide father, and is thrilled to be so close to the animals  of the African wilderness. Tragedy comes when fever takes the life of her beloved mother. Mara must fight her way out of grief and despair. She prays to the Masai goddess, Engai, in the face of the moon. Mara rescues an orphaned baby zebra, and finds the long way back to her true self.

In Horned Toad, ten year old Beatrice is growing up in a Texas family filled with love and strife. Her mama, it seems, loves gin cocktails more than her own daughter. Beatrice enlists the help of two neighbor kids on a journey to the dream country. Surely, if they can find the Dreammaker, he will weave the perfect dream to cure Mama of her drinking. The tragedy of addiction throbs at the heart of this story, and the children must wrestle many demons, real and imagined, to claim their own value, and inspire hope and change for their families.

If you would like to enter the world of my Soul Stories, you can read excerpts, and articles on my website http://www.soulstories.net Books may be ordered from Amazon. Direct link is http://amazon.com/SoulStories-Safari-Mara-Horned/dp/1926975006

AND, I invite you to hop onto the links below, to learn about the wonderful writers participating in the Blog Hop of Sleigh Bells and Ink Wells!

BLOG HOP PARTICIPANTS NAME … BLOG NAME, and BLOG URL

Smoky Zeidel, Smoky Talks, http://SmokyZeidel.wordpress.com

Patricia Damery, Patricia Damery, http://www.patriciadamery.com/

Debra Brenegan, Debra Brenegan, author, http://debrabrenegan.blogspot.com/

Malcolm R. Campbell, Malcolm’s Round Table,
http://KnightOfSwords.wordpress.com

T.K. Thorne, T. K.’s Tales, http://tkthorne.wordpress.com/

Anne K. Albert, Anne K. Albert, http://Anne-K-Albert.blogspot.com

Elizabeth Clark-Stern, Elizabeth Clark Stern’s Blog, http://elizabethclarkstern.com/wordpress/

Collin Kelley, Modern Confessional, http://collinkelley.blogspot.com/

Sharon Heath, Sharon Heath, http://www.sharonheath.com/

Melinda Clayton, Melinda Clayton, Author http://AuthorMelindaClayton.xanga.com

Ramey Channell, Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge,        http://SweetMusicOnMoonlightRidge.blogspot.com/

Leah Shelleda, After the Jug was Broken, http://www.leahshelleda.com/

IN HONOR OF THE SEASON

Copyright November 28, 2011 by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

As we enter the holiday season, I have penned a very short story, in the spirit of the times.

THE GIFT

Georgia sees the cardboard sign peering out from behind the bundle of Christmas trees: HOMELESS PLEASE HELP. Beside it sits a large woman in a red plastic mobile chair, her eyes a blur of brown, like watercolor bleeding into the landscape. Doesn’t look like a druggy, but you never know, Georgia thinks, passing her as she enters the blast of warmth inside the super market. Georgia pauses before the cascading display of honey crisp apples. Maybe I’ll give her something on my way out.

Fred doesn’t see the sign until he is right beside the woman in the chair. HOMELESS PLEASE HELP, the letters in jagged print. He is startled by her face, a woman with no expectations, yet here she is.  I’ve got no cash, he thinks. I could get some in the store. He enters the market, grateful for the warmth, the bright light, the canned rendition of Silver Bells. He thinks of the bump in his health care premium, his daughter’s tuition, all those attorney fees following the divorce. His mind erases the woman in the chair. He makes a note to exit by the opposite door on the way out.

Dorothy sees the sign from her car. Odd. Not often you see a woman, she thinks, but these are extraordinary times. She takes a five-dollar bill from her purse and presses it firmly into the woman’s hand.

“Bless you, honey,” she whispers.

“Thank you,” says the woman in the chair, her eyes blinking.

Dorothy smiles, and goes into the store.

Candy and her girlfriend are starving. The car wash raised tons for the marching band, but what a lot of work! What’s this? HOMELESS PLEASE HELP?

“What happened?” she asks the woman in the chair, “Do you have kids?”

The woman shakes her head, no, her eyes dropping to her lap.

“Bummer,” says Candy, fishing three dollars from her pocket.

A girlfriend chimes in, “Hey, that’s for the band–”

“Chill, “ says Candy, dropping the dollars into the woman’s lap.

“Thank you,” says the woman, raising her eyes slowly.
Candy’s smile fades as she looks into those eyes: a depth of sadness she has never seen before on a human face. Did this lady have a daughter once? Where is she now?

“You’re welcome, Mam,” she whispers, and followers her girlfriends into the market.

Leonard passes the sign without a pause. Inside he complains to the manager about the riff raff out by the Christmas trees.

Jacob stops in a heartbeat, carefully pulling a twenty from his wallet and pressing it into the woman’s hands. He feels a quiet anger. At what? The system? The indifference of her family? The injustice of a God I stopped believing in long ago?

“Thank you,” she says, with a hint of surprise.

“Wish I could do more,” he says, glancing at the other twenties in his wallet. How much do I owe her?… How much do I owe myself?

He looks in her eyes. He looks away. What brought her to this place? Where did she come from? Did she have a job? A family? Did she love someone? Was she loved?

An elderly woman walks in front of him, and presses something into the woman’s hand. “I don’t have money, but here’s a bus pass–”

“Thank you.”

Jacob shifts his weight from one foot to the other.

“I’m so sorry,” he says, I could give more…”

The woman feels her spine grow tall, an expansive breath coming into her lungs. It is a rare feeling, and she is glad for it. She holds up the twenty. “Go on now, sir. This is enough.”

“Thank you,” he whispers through tears, and moves on.

Epilogue
This story is dedicated to my cousin, David Gooden, whose simple phrase, “You never know,” taught me never to see every human being in a different light.

THE HEALING GRACE OF GRATITUDE

Copyright Nov. 2011 by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

In America, we are preparing for the feast of Thanksgiving, a celebration that carries plenty of shadow from our history of receiving many gifts of the new world from the Native Americans, even as we ultimately conquered, colonized, and displaced them. This reality is so typically brushed aside in the flurry of shopping and meal preparation. And yet, it surfaces, as shadow always does. Satirist Stan Freeberg penned the lyrics, “Take an Indian to lunch, pretend we’re a regular bunch.”

If we can drop the pretense, perhaps we can see the wisdom in inviting our shadow to share our Thanksgiving meal. Even as we order the turkey and boil the cranberries, we can consider a descent into the archetypal roots of gratitude, by definition an inner measurement of light and dark. We are grateful for good fortune, aware that there are others who do not have it. As we shop for our feast, the clerk asks if we want to donate to the local food bank, and we pause, aware of the less fortunate.

To be grateful is to hold consciousness of the opposites: success/ failure; peace/ turmoil; a loving family/loneliness. If we are grateful for love, arguably most of us have known what it is to not have it.

Gratitude is an opportunity to honor wholeness. We are grateful at a moment in time, knowing darkness returns, as the night follows the day. And if we are to the world soul, we can partner our gratitude with a commitment to stay conscious, and to transform our gratitude into action.

What could this look like? Something as simple as giving to the local food bank, inviting a friend to dinner who represents qualities you like to repress in yourself. I had an Aunt was always preaching at me, a sweet but insufferable soul. I wish she were still here, so I could invite her to Thanksgiving, a way of acknowledging the part of myself that can get on her high horse. Sitting down together would be a way of forgiving both of us, and loving each other anyway.

Another way of honoring wholeness could be to spend time in quiet reflection. Being with your inner soul story, opens you to connect to the souls of others. The tending of your own soul, is inseparable from tending the world soul. For many of us, this involves remembering to take the time to touch our own soul-awareness, and touch the world soul. How do we build a practice into our daily lives, that makes time and space, for this to occur?

In his lovely book, A Pebble for Your Pocket, Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote of an ancient Buddhist practice to touch the earth. Imagine it: each morning, before breakfast, coffee, or firing up the computer, simply go outside, rain or shine, and place you hand upon the earth.

The cynic in me rears her head: of what use is this? — Like the Earth knows you are touching her, thanking Her for sustaining life? What a pointless exercise!

The Wise Old Woman in me will not hear of it.

“Try it,” she tells me, and so I do.

The air is crisp this morning in Seattle, a light wind bringing down big leaf maple leaves the size of dinner plates. Gratitude is ebullient in my heart, for the abundance of color: deep reds, brilliant gold, rusty orange, maroon, and, most splendidly, the soft chartreuse of the ginko leaf. I survey the trees up and down the street, with reverence and wonder. In this frame of mind, I place a hand upon the cold, moist earth. I shift my weight impatiently. The cynic snickers, “Are you waiting for something to happen? Like the Earth is going to say, ‘thanks for noticing me’?”

“Stay awhile, “ whispers the Wise Old Woman. She knows well my habit of leaping from task to task, never quite touching all the bases. I recall the famous quote from Babe Ruth, immortalized on the Good Earth tea bags: “I have only one superstition. I touch all the bases when I hit a home run.”

I take a deeper breath and touch the earth, with both hands, feeling the dark wet grit of the soil, smelling the musty green all around me.

An image opens in my mind: the Earth Herself, home to all seven billion of us, rotating on her axis, even as she makes her journey around the sun.

I breathe deeper still, aware of my gratitude that I exist in this moment, on this celestial sphere. As I stay with this, something unusual happens. The anticipated anxieties of the day float away. What weight do these trivial worries have beside the connection I feel, in this moment, with something both deeply personal, and as large as life itself?

No wonder ancient people made a goddess of the Earth. She is Mother of us all, and gratitude in her presence is about the bounty we ourselves experience. She is not a vain goddess, and does not need us, to know Her value. Our Earth simply is, and following the wise counsel of Thich Nhat Hanh, we touch Her, and take our own moment to just be.

I feel the warm smile of the Wise Old Woman. I am always humbled when I follow her guidance. She confronts the side of me that wants to judge and partition, to walk past my soul, on the pretext that there is something else more important to do.

As James Hillman reminded us, in his call to go to the archetypal source of the repression of the world soul, nothing is more important.

On this Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me in sitting at the table with the totality of light and shadow. Be grateful for the bounty, and honor the reality of want. Make the time to be with your soul, and to nourish the anima mundi, the world soul.

And touch the Earth.

TENDING THE SOUL: THE LEGACY OF JAMES HILLMAN

Copyright © Elizabeth Clark-Stern, November, 2011

I was deeply moved by the recent passing of James Hillman, author, Jungian analyst, and an icon in the Depth Psychology movement. Oddly strange to think of a world in which he no longer walks, taking with him the power of his epic imagination,
and his ability to hold the larger reality of our psyches and our world.

But, of course, he did not take it with him. It is still here. He would undoubtedly
point out that his gift was in observing and expressing what is here right
under our noses, if we can only learn to see deeply into ourselves and the
world.

Of all the quotes that have circulated in the wake of his death, I keep returning to this one: “Ecology movements, futurism, feminism, urbanism, protest and disarmament, personal individuation cannot alone save the world from the catastrophe inherent in our
very idea of the world. They require a cosmological vision that saves the phenomenon
‘world’ itself, a move in soul that goes beyond measures of expediency to the
archetypal source of our world’s continuing peril: the fateful neglect, the
repression, of the anima mundi.”

I read this as a call, from him, to those of us left in this fragile, bold, temporal world,
to wrestle with the challenge. What is the “anima mundi”, the world soul, and how do we redeem her from the depths of repression and neglect? How do we achieve a mending of the split implied in Hillman’s conception of “the catastrophe inherent in our very idea of the world.”? As long as we cling to the concept of power, as a separate reality
from the world of human compassion, war and genocide will reoccur, tragically,
predictably, maddeningly.

James Hillman is not here to be interviewed on the subject, but if he were, my suspicion is that he would say the anima mundi includes all the archetypal forces, all the conflicts,
projections, and human characteristics, but is larger still, incorporating the fabric of the mystical cosmos that is both Creator and Created.

The latter concept resonates in the Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbalah. Every
thought, action, word and deed performed by man or woman kind creates the
divine, a fluid dynamic reality that is always in the process of being born,
dying, and being recreated. It witnesses us, and vice-versa.

Even for those who would view this metaphysical view as “supernatural”, what it really
comes down to is Tolstoy’s lament when he walked among the slums of Moscow:
“What then must we do?” –for it is the human soul that is at risk, in each
individual, and by multiplication, the 7 billion of us on this once and future
planet.

Hillman challenges us that the redemption of anima mundi will require more than demonstrations, writing our congress people, or even, the psychological process of what Jung called “individuation”. This is no less that the integration of all parts of
ourselves, conscious and unconscious, into conscious beings with integrity of
the soul. The root of the word integrity is “integer”, one, an indivisible,
united self. This does not imply perfection, far from it. Individuation
requires a spiritual marriage between one’s personal power (often extremely
hard-won), and loving compassion for all the imperfections in ourselves, and
others. Thus, an individuated soul has no need to judge or condemn others for
failings that exist so blatantly in herself.

Does this mean evil does not exist, or that we don’t have to fight it? No, it is a real
force, and must be reckoned with. But more often than not, the most grievous
demons are found in the lesser angels of our own hearts.

So, if individuation is such a daunting process, requiring at least a lifetime of most
of us to even begin to achieve, what is this “cosmological vision that saves
the phenomenon of ‘world’ itself?” How do we even begin to conceptualize this, when we are so engaged in wrestling with the force of the archetypal in our own lives, arguably as profound as the gravitational pull that keeps our bodies planted on the earth?

An example of an archetype of this gravity is found in the myths of every world culture.
The ancient Greeks portrayed the warring triangles of Oedipus, Electra,
Antigone, Odysseus.: mortals and gods caught in a struggle for power and love,
and acting out the split between the two, driven by powerful unconscious
forces. This takes many forms in our life on the ground. When a child does not
feel sufficiently loved, she can search for this love throughout life, often
choosing people who will reject her, even as she was rejected by her parents,
but in her conscious mind, she thinks each new love will be the man who finally
loves her best of all.

Yet, it would seem Hillman is asking us to go beyond the pull of the personal story?
How do we do that? What does it really mean?

I decided to go to my own Oracle of Delphi, a personification in my imagination of the
Wise Old Woman. At many crossroads in my life I have turned to her, and she
always surprises me with insight and judgment that eluded my conscious mind.

I come upon her, sitting on a porch, in an old white wooden swing, her eyes surveying the begonias as she moves gently back and forth. She is glad to see me.

“It has been awhile,” she says.

I blush. “Sorry. I’ve been busy.”

“No doubt.”

“I have a question.”

“Should I be offended that you only come to me when you want something,” she says,
looking at me over her Ben Franklin glasses.

“You should be mad with me,” I say, looking away at the begonias.

“Come. Sit next to me, “ she says, patting the worn wooden swing.

I sit. We swing together for awhile. I ask her what she thinks James Hillman meant by
this cosmological vision that goes to the archetypal source of the world’s
soul.

She keeps swinging, tapping one finger on her knee. I have learned that this means she is lost in thought.

At last she stops, planting her feet on the concrete porch. She takes off her sandals, and stands, barefoot, on the smooth surface. I take off my shoes and stand beside her, feeling the blunt impenetrable texture of the concrete.

“It feels so solid,” I say.

She smiles wryly. “That is the good news. Solid, substantial, yet, in order for us to get
down in there, to access this archetypal source, something must come along and
bust it up.”

“Well, if that’s good news, then it is surely happening, in our world. Everything seems
to be falling apart.”

“No,” she whispered, “I don’t mean on the surface of things, that is the ‘catastrophe
inherent in our very idea of world’. I mean something must break through our
rigid ideas about how things are, who we are, the very fabric and nature of our
world as we have dreamed her. That’s what Hillman saw, God rest his soul.”

I get dizzy. I tell her I can’t imagine how to achieve this psychological bulldozing.

She says, “Are you asking me, what then must you do?”

I nod, queasy, giddy, lost.

“For starters, come back more often!”

I look on her with gratitude, feeling every bit the hypocrite. Daily I counsel people to
access the higher self, to meditate, to work with and respect the wise person
within. A friend recently told me that she sees no separation between the world
soul and the personal soul. They are one. If I am to make any sense of James
Hillman’s call to the universe, I must stay here. My soul and I will wonder
about its meaning, and what to do about it, together.

I make a camp below the porch, in the black soil of the begonias. The earth feels moist,
fertile, possible.

I invite all of you, however you conceive of the wise inner person, the Higher
Power, the Kingdom of God within, to make camp, and feel the power of your
soul’s presence, and her love.