Archive for December 29th, 2020

The theater of the mind comes most fully alive in stories. The myths of all cultures are magnificently rich deposits of the many-layered projections of mind. Much as great art has the voice of the artists deeply embedded within it, so too do the repetitive storylines that we tell ourselves and each other with endless creative variation.

Myth is a phenomenon of passionate fascination for the analytically-inclined psychologist. Whether examining our dreams, or listening intently to the stories we tell over and over with idiosyncratic flourish, the evolving currents of consciousness can only truly be understood at the points where essential threads converge.

Psychic complexes have long been named after the dysfunctional machinations of the Greek pantheon. Freud personified psychic complexes with allusion to Greek myths such as Elektra, Oedipus, Adonis and Cassandra. Jung further codified the archetypes as patterning forces of the soul that shape our sense of meaning.

Jungian analyst and scholar, Marie Louis Von Franz, following Jung’s example, made a comprehensive study of the psychic roots of fairytales, number and even the place of matter in the world of psyche. The dynamics of consciousness give shape to our lives through emergent stories. They shed light on our perpetual quest to make sense of it all.

The science of psychology struggles to explain the rationale for human behaviors and our complex, conflicted, and paradoxical ways of being. While our experimental and neuroscience brothers and sisters offer interesting perspectives, it is only in entering deeply into the full theater of the soul that life can be understood. It is for this reason that fiction is crucial. The stories created out of our imaginations contain the essential tensions that seek resolution.

A return to the stories of Greek Myth can shed light once again on what we are living through as a country.

2020 has been a year of living on a razor’s edge, defined by an out of control pandemic, on the one hand, and an unhinged, megalomaniacal executive on the other. Making matters exponentially more horrible, we have been trapped in a cultural cult of Trumpian madness: a derangement we might well refer to as an Eris Complex.

Eris ( or the Roman equivalent, “ Discordia”), was the goddess of chaos, and strife. According to the myth, as told by Homer and Hesiod, Eris was the only one not invited to the Olympian wedding feast for Peleus and Thetis. She was excluded from the festivities owing to her reputation as the ultimate drama queen.

In an act of vengeful rage, she showed up anyway to toss a golden apple into the crowd. It might as well have been a hand grenade. Inscribed on it were the words “ to the fairest”. In spotting it, the other female Gods, (Aphrodite, Athena and Hera) began fighting over who deserved the Apple.

This gave rise to the famed “ Judgment of Paris” who was asked to adjudicate among them. He awarded it to Aphrodite. The Trojan War is said to have thus been set in motion. [ This is of course the archetypal inspiration for the story of “ Snow White” with evil personified by the poisoned apple given to her by the evil witch. ]

Trump (and those who have come under his toxic spell) is the all time grandmaster of tossing apples of discord into crowds to divide and foment war. Many of our fellow citizens took the fatal bite and are now seemingly locked in a state of perpetual and inconsolable quarrelsomeness.

There is no practical cure from this distemper save the need for the full throated arrival of Harmonia, Eris’s opposite. This is the spirit that clearly sets Biden’s promise apart. We need the counter-balance for all things Trump/ Eris recognizing that these oppositional forces will forever be engaged in a misery-producing tug of war.

The psychic milieu of Donald J. Trump replicates that of Eris. Trump’s only solace on losing the election is relentless rage. The only effective salve for his wounded ego lies in successfully hurting anyone and everyone he can that doesn’t enable the delusion that he won ( and by a landslide).

The most important question to ponder is whose voice inspires us ( the cries of Eris or the encouragements of Harmonia)?

Absent a true eradication of the dis-ease, we must rely on our daily spiritual practice to throw light on our own story and examine the dynamic forces at work in shaping it.

We need to watch out for the seeping poisons of pride and enmity that taint Trump’s endless supply of noxious apples. Even having these apples anywhere nearby is a problem. We have to choose wisely in deciding with whom we should spend time. If they have an apple and, like Gollum in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, they start referring to it as “ my precious,” run as fast as you can!

The best way to defeat the chaotic and discordant spirit of Eris is to not take her bait. This isn’t easy because the apples are just so shiny and inviting. Let us recall the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

When presented with a golden Apple designed to inspire pride and divisiveness, our prime directive must be to simply walk away.

Who is the fairest of them all?

We are when we celebrate our community together and embrace one another; when, to quote a favorite holiday movie of ours ( Love Actually) we see that “ love really is all around”.

A blessed and harmonious New Year to us all.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or duplications of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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… the student appears.

This inversion of the customary cliche comes to mind on this fourth day of twelve-tide ( or the 12 days of Christmas).

An apocryphal meme has it that this day commemorates the gift of the gospels ascribed to the four Evangelists of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John ( the four “ Calling Birds” of the popular carol “ the 12 days of Christmas”). While factually untrue, it does provide a timely heuristic for reflection.

The actual authorship of the Gospels themselves is still a matter of scholarly debate. What is crystal clear is that their authors were passionate about weaving a compelling narrative that would faithfully embody the heart of the ministry and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

In their retellings, parable is the frequent device attributed to the Teacher. Allegory, analogy, and symbol are prayerfully hewn from relatable local agrarian and sociopolitical experiences. These were explanatory allusions to the ordinary everyday situations that punctuated peoples’ lives in the time of Jesus and his Apostles.

What particularly strikes me this evening is how often the twelve apostles ( the students) are portrayed as just not “ getting it”. They were, like us, not altogether ready to take in the full import and substance of lessons offered.

Many Gospel teachings struck them (as it does us) as counterintuitive or even in conflict (at least on the surface). Over the years, I have come to appreciate the teachings as more akin to Zen Koans intended to reach well beyond reasoned thought to intuitive or tacit knowledge.

Christianity is at its core an initiatic tradition. The teacher endeavors to arouse the knowledge of the Heart in the penitent seeker. While the teacher is an essential and great gift to the student ready to learn, s/he is as great a gift to the teacher ready to share his or her experience of the Sacred. The teachers understanding challenges the student whose questions help clarify the teacher’s narration.

A profound revelation has little meaning if it is left unspoken. Teaching is also the surest way to gain clarity oneself about what one is attempting to impart.

I recall complaining to a university undergraduate physics professor after a particularly abstract lecture that I understood very little, if anything, of his lecture. He responded: “ I understand. So, come next week ready to teach a 20 minute segment on it to the class”.

I honestly thought he was joking! Wishful thinking, I suppose.

My startled reaction made clear to him (and anyone within earshot) that I thought he completely misunderstood me. On the contrary, he suggested that preparation to teach it would be the surest way get me over the hurdle.

Well, I feverishly worked for days to put together a 20 minute lecture. When the day came, I nervously advanced to “ teach” the material. He added much to my explanations but, bottom-line, I was in a far better place and recall to this day what he added to make my explanations clearer and more complete.

Famed physicist, Richard Feynman, suggested that the best way to learn anything is to teach it to a child without jargon of any kind. So, indeed, when the teacher is truly ready then and only then will the students who can receive it fully appear.

Our society celebrates the contributions of great women and men who seem often to find their genius in their 30s ( if not younger). Regrettably, we see way fewer celebrations of experience and knowledge that finds its full voice much later in life ( after age 60). This of course says more about our cultural expectations than it does about wisdom.

Our elder saints have a treasure trove of accumulated life experiences and reflections to impart if only we work to tap it. In reaching out to our elder saints in the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, we have been calling on them ( many of them octogenarians) to tell their stories. The depth of the well of talents and insights has been awe-inspiring, and we are still skimming the surface.

Chronological age is an impoverished metric in itself. After all, one often tells a story many times in a lifetime before we get it just right. Each retelling raises the odds of revealing a nuance missed in an earlier rendition that makes all the difference. This is the power of the oral tradition.

It opens toward revelation resident lying many fathoms deeper than accessible on a first hearing. Consider the practice of reading scriptural passages many times over yet never exhausting their power as lenses on life experience.

When each teacher is truly ready, their stories sample from the swiftly moving currents of the river of life. It is a great blessing indeed for the teacher, uncovering some delicious epiphany, to find a student eager to embrace and ponder it.

Only by giving voice to a shift in one’s understanding can the sacred spark that flows among us be made truly alive. I recall Thomas Merton’s autobiographical Seven Story Mountain, a tale of a young man’s conversion. While compelling, Merton himself critiqued it years later for its obvious triumphalism and overly abundant certitudes.

These are the usual symptoms of youthful autobiographical writing . One can clearly see the deeper layering and nuance in Merton’s later writings (such as New Seeds of Contemplation).

Let us be telling and writing our stories often and allow them to ripen with time like fine wines. In this way, we can acquire the gifts awaiting us on the fifth day of Christmas: “five golden rings.”

Tradition has it that these represent the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or the Pentateuch. May we come to plumb their greater depths through the lens of the Four Gospels to better appreciate the sacred subplots running though our daily lives.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. and/or duplicationsd of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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