I have been writing for most of my life, something that had defined who I was from adolescence. Now, fifty years later, I am, as my long-time friend Robert Heyward notes, it “seems (to me at least) that you are becoming your true voice.” And, in hearing Robert’s voice, I now realise that I have, indeed entered into a certain level of peace, almost satisfaction with my writing. The anxieties seem to have fallen to the wayside. I am writing for myself, rather than for others. I don’t pretend that my writing is needed by the world or that I will find fame and fortune as a writer anymore. It is enough that I write and share the words with others rather than horde the words in secretly hidden caverns. I write because my voice demands this of me.
And so, I have listened. I write, and I share what I have written. It is important for me, as a Buddhist and as a human, to share, to give back to the world. My projects of writing now include creating eBook versions which are given to the world for free. I don’t worry about what some publisher or writer’s guild says in terms of trying to control the shape, form and often even the very existence of my writing in the outer world.
I now have two books available as eBooks as well as in print versions, the latest being the book of poetry called Naked Poetry: By the Sea and On the Prairies. The book includes images which are meant to add to the experiences of the words. I find it hard to separate words and images and have learned to accept that this is just the way it is for me as a writer. Now, with the poetry book published, I am returning to the fourth volume in the Through a Jungian Lens series, called Discovering The Hero Within. This book, originally written in 2009 was never published. The task now becomes one of reviving and editing that earlier work so that I can give it as a gift to my children and anyone else who might find it of worth for themselves. Life in retirement has become busy indeed, very busy. And, in becoming my true voice, life has taken on significant meaning.
On The Broken Road: A Journey to the Magical Other
Healing the Soul, Skyclad – Volume 1
This is the first in a series of stories that takes the idea of being clothed by the sky, being au naturel, as a means of healing trauma. The main character of this story is introduced is a scene where he is nude. His nudity is an unconscious response to trauma, a response that is healing on different levels. I use the term skyclad intentionally because it has a spiritual connotation that goes back to the beginnings of humanity’s response and relationship to itself and to its creator.
Our creation story begins with humans in a state of perfection and holiness, unclothed in the Garden of Eden. A traumatic act caused this state of holiness to be broken. Feeling the shame of this trauma, and all victims of trauma feel shame, humans hid. We are told that we can return to the Garden of Eden, to heaven by doing the work to regain our innate holiness that remains within us. The real journey we all take is about healing the soul and regaining the purity in which we were created. Our creator knew us as perfect and good when there was nothing to hide and nothing to hide behind. Heaven isn’t clothing optional, nor was the Garden of Eden. You have something to hide? You can’t get in.
Trauma takes many forms: physical trauma, relationship trauma, psychological trauma, emotional trauma, and identity trauma. Trauma is real and it marks one for life. One can’t wish it away, or drown it with alcohol, or wipe it out with drugs, or erase it with therapy, or ignore it by filling life to the brim with things and activity. Rather than ignore trauma, we learn to see it as it is. Only then can we make choices to learn from the trauma and heal.
I will posting links that will allow you to download an e-book version for free, as well as for the purchase of a print version. Print versions will be available at a price that includes cost of production along with shipping.
As the title of this post announces, I have finished writing the novel that was begun on November 1st. The challenge was to write 50,000 words in thirty days by midnight, November 30th. At the thirteenth day mark, I had written the first draft reaching the objective with a couple of hundred words to spare. Then began the rewrite process. As I navigated through the mess of the first draft, I cut and slashed those parts which were outside of my comfort zone. I made demands upon myself to have the story fit with who I am as a person. Vulgar language was tossed along with the mess.
Ten days later, I have finished this rewrite and find myself wondering how, with all the slash and burn, I have managed to end up with more than 62,000 words. But even more surprising is that with the last words, I knew that I had just written the beginning words of a larger story. So now, what do I do with this story? I don’t even have a decent title for my novel. What began as a challenge issued by the NaNoWriMo group has morphed into something else. My tale found its own raison d’être. I am loathe to let it now lie fallow and get buried beneath layers of time like the ground outside is buried under layers of snow.
It has been snowing and the temperature has been dropping. I captured this photo from the doorway looking into my backyard. I was captured by the designs, the contrast of darkness and light and thought that it would make for a good image to bring here if it had turned out – which it did – to my satisfaction. I know that I have posted perhaps too many of such photos here, and taken hundreds more, perhaps of even the same location and time of day over the years. There is something about darkness in contrast with light that stirs something deep within me. It’s something that I now recognise as being cyclical like the seasons of the year and the flow of day into night into day.
I learn from this. I learn that even at noon, when night is banished from the heavens, the darkness is still there, waiting for its turn. There is a parallel with inner darkness and the light of consciousness. Awake, each of us is conscious of the world in which we find ourselves and claim that world as a world of fact, of truth, a place where we carve our own identity living in the moment, being present.
Yet, we all fall asleep and that waking world reality is supplanted by figures and realities that emerge out of the darkness of the unconscious. Things we have banished into the darkness of forgetting and denying still hold a place and a power that refuses to be banished and denied. This is where we park our traumatic episodes and our memories of them.
Last night I was listening to Michael Conforti via a teleseminar called Memories, Trauma and Healing. In the introduction to the series of four presentations, Dr. Conforti notes:
“Traumatic memory carries a power all its own. It has the force to sweep us across the threshold of tangible reality into a field where the trauma lives on and continues to toss us on a turbulent sea of volatile emotional, physical and psychological upheaval. We know so little about the workings and deeper meaning of memory, trauma and healing, three forces which perhaps shape individual and collective life more than any others. “
As many of you have survived trauma, and there is no need to rank the trauma to determine who has suffered the most; and because I have also survived trauma, it is important to realise that the traumatic impact on the psyche has determined much of our journey to the present. Many mistakenly believe that with enough therapy or drugs or life-style changes, that the dark container within ourselves which holds the memories will somehow be wiped out leaving us free to move through the rest of our lives without having those memories reappear and once again shape our lives. Fortunately or unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
As we become aware of the presence of this darkness that was born out of trauma, we learn how to cautiously navigate our lives knowing that it is there, hovering ready to disrupt whether it be via an unconscious response in the outer world, or through a dream, or through a descent into a dark mood. We learn that we are on shaky ground, not on firm foundations, as we go through life. And somehow, we learn to live in spite of the trauma and the darkness that was born with that trauma.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to next Monday’s teleseminar presentation.
I found this image through doing a web search using the word solitude, as I wanted something to fit with the quotation which is another one of those priceless gems that came out of Jung’s work. I was also looking for an image that would signal a universal rather than a personal reality, an image that was not bound by time. This image of man and nature, both in their purest forms seemed to fit. Who took the photo? I don’t have an answer. I am thankful that it was taken and then set free to wander in cyberspace.
As I get older, in spite of the fact that I am surrounded by family, friends and community, I am experiencing a sense of solitude that is powerful and nourishing. At one point in my life, I ran from solitude to hide myself in a crowd of others. I kept my head, heart and soul looking outward and living outward. I didn’t like what was within, perhaps even afraid of what would be found if I dared to sit still with myself. Now, I can sit in comfort whether in the light or the darkness, whether alone or with an other.I have slowly learned to be independent.
That isn’t as easy or as simple as it sounds. Like most people, I was, and to a certain extent still remain, dependent on others. I deferred to the beliefs of others. I depended on my children to be children who needed me. I depended on their loving me. I depended on my wife for organizing, planning and managing the world around me. I depended on her loving me. I depended on others in my career to give me worth. and perhaps even love me. All of that dependency.
Thankfully, I fell flat and my face and woke up to the fact that I had to grow up and abandon all that dependency. Yes, I could stand on my own two feet without clinging desperately. It’s something we all need to do at some point, but unfortunately too many never let go of dependency.
We show our dependencies in so many ways. We gather material and cling to these treasures as if they define us. We gather people around us unconsciously filling our empty spaces with them, using them as proofs that we exist. We blindly cling to belief systems that gives us all the answers. It seems that anything is better than to stand naked and alone and accountable to ourselves.
Sadly, our societies are just as dependent collectively as we are as individuals. And with the insecurity that comes with being dependent, our societies reject, mostly out of fear, anything that challenges the structures of dependency that have been built to keep fear of being abandoned and alone at bay as though those challenges were terrorists, the agents of darkness. As individuals we risk almost everything, perhaps everything, in abandoning dependency. There are no guarantees that re-approaching life as an independent being will be well received by all those who surround us as individuals. Yet, we can’t allow the fear of possible losses keep us immature. We need to dare, to risk and even trust.
It’s day fourteen of thirty days for the Novel Writing Challenge. I have finished the first draft of a 51,000 word novel, the easiest part of the challenge for me. Now, I have begun to read what I have written, agonize over the messes, fill in the holes, and toss out the garbage. I managed to hold to the process letting the words come out without letting an inner critic have his say. As the words came out, it was as if I was living the story being told. I felt the frustrations of the main character, his fears, his hopes and his adventures. At times I laughed, other times I shook my head at the absurd situations that the main character found himself at times, and I cried with him over losses and failures. There was no room for the inner critic in the telling of a story, or should I say, while the story told itself through my fingers on the keyboard.
But now? Well, now it becomes work. The magic that came with the telling of the tale has retreated for now. I am somehow to make something of this mass of words, taming it somehow so that others can hopefully one day, read it. This work has begun this morning. I have re-written one tiny scene just to get the feel of this process. But, no sooner had I re-written the scene when I found myself leaving the keyboard to go into the kitchen to put a half-cup of cold coffee into the microwave to warm up. While it was warming up, I was back at the keyboard checking out what was new on Twitter which then led me to browsing a few new-to-me websites. I didn’t hear the buzzer on the microwave telling me the coffee was warm.
As I looked up from the keyboard, I saw the sun peeking out from behind a sky mostly covered with clouds. I got up and looked at the wet pavement, then checked the thermometer to see the temperature – yes, it was just above freezing. I wandered back into the kitchen thinking I should have some coffee but couldn’t find my cup. Just as I was to take another cup out of the cupboard, I remembered about the coffee in the microwave which had turned cold. I put it back in for another shot of microwaves standing there until the buzzer went off, determined that this time I would get the coffee while it was hot. Then it was back to Twitter to check out the #NaNoWriMo hashtag to see what others were doing. It was there that I found the image for today’s post. I chuckled seeing it, thankful that I didn’t have these issues when it came to the novel-in-progress.
Since the pressure was off now that I had written the required number of words, I thought I might as well re-connect here and bring the image here to share with you. So here it is, three hours since my last words were written in the process of cleaning up the messes in the novel. Somehow, I have to get my act together and get back to that task and face the inner critic that has a few choice words for me.
The nights are getting longer on the Canadian prairies. Lately as I sit on the sofa with my wife, enjoying her quiet presence and a cup of fresh morning coffee, we look out our window at the darkness. It isn’t that we are getting up earlier than normal, but rather the sun has taken to rising later and later. This retreat of light will deepen for another month here on the prairies north of the 49th parallel that separates Canada from the United States of America.
And it isn’t simply longer nights, it is a descent into cold that is deadly if not respected. It was minus sixteen Celsius when we woke up. For my American readers, that’s three degrees Fahrenheit, and that doesn’t take into consideration wind chill.
The circumambulation around the sun that divides day from night as well as dividing the year into seasons talks to me about hope. I can see forward to a renewal of life force with the coming of spring, knowing that there is a pathway out of the darkness of winter. That hope allows me to be present in the darkness of winter and appreciate the gifts that come from winter’s darkness. Of course, the physical flow of seasons matches the psychological flow within each of us.
“It is in the swamplands where soul is fashioned and forged, where we encounter not only the gravitas of life, but its purpose, its dignity and its deepest meaning.” [Hollis, Swamplands of the Soul, p. 9]
Thinking about what Hollis tells me, tells us, I get to understand that there is value in darkness, in the shifting of seasons that forces us to grow, to adapt to the changing faces of our lives. Imagine a life without challenges. What would it truly be like to have every day as a sunny and warm day without challenges to our strengths and weaknesses? How would we ever discover our limits and our depths? We would remain shallow and superficial people. Personally, it has been the hard times, the dark times that have taught me who I am beneath the superficial persona, beneath the layer of myself that is my ego.
Such are my thoughts on this dark and cold prairie morning.
I have a day of grace, a day with no projects in hand while waiting for the late afternoon when I will begin handing out treats to the young and young at heart. It’s Hallowe’en in North America and like most, our house and family participate in the ritual of handing out treats. Earlier in the afternoon I will likely cut up some wood which I had gathered from an old building in the countryside which had been abandoned decades ago and was now on the verge of collapsing. I will preparing birdhouse kits for three of my grandsons with that wood. I had thought of buying some new wood for these kits, but when the idea of bringing life back to the wood which would otherwise disappear, rejected and abandoned, I knew that the spirit of the wood would welcome another opportunity to be valued and useful.
That said, I have time this morning to do something I have been thinking of for some time – revisiting James Hollis’ book, Swamplands of the Soul. There was a time seventeen years ago when this book came out, that it served a vital purpose of illuminating a path through my own swamplands of soul. As I revisit the book, I find many passages marked with yellow highlight, reminders of those words that touched me deeply, the words that served as stepping stones upon which I would then walk carefully to avoid sinking into the swamplands of misery. Now, I am able to see other words that I need to attend to with thought and resonances.
With the years between then and now, I have invested more of myself in Buddhism and much, much more study of Jungian psychology, finding that there are more things in common with both than I would have otherwise believed. The first example I can think of is that of is suffering.
In Buddhism, the first of four noble truths is focused solely on suffering: The truth of dukkha - with dukkha translated as suffering, anxiety, unease, a lack of satisfaction that is manifested in both body and mind. Suffering in Buddhism includes a “ basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance.” Turning to Hollis’ book, I found these words which echo the notion of suffering as central to the fact that we exist as humans:
“Jungian psychology [is] based on the assumption that the goal of life is not happiness but meaning. . . . Jungian psychology . . . avers that it is the swamplands of the soul, the savannas of suffering, that provide the context for the stimulation and the attainment of meaning . . Without the suffering . . . one would remain unconscious, infantile and dependent.”
I know that I had read these words in the past for passages before and after these words were highlighted in yellow. As I think back in time, I reaslise that I wouldn’t have ventured out of the comfort zone of my outer life if circumstances hadn’t basically forced me to do so, inner world circumstances that erupted into my outer life. And now, I find myself thankful that my ego collapsed, that I had been turned inside out. Yes, I suffered. I was cooked in fires that if physical would have consumed my skin and bones, cooked to such an extent that I had little choice – arise like a Phoenix, transformed, or disappear into the swamplands and the darkness. Reject the suffering, deny the suffering and one stays in darkness. Allow the suffering to do its work and one does discover and rediscover the light.
I found this image somewhere on the Internet, probably in facebook or twitter as I scrolled through my threads at both places. I immediately loved the image in spite of the words that were written there. It’s not that the words don’t speak the truth, they do. But, the words seem to imply that it is the whole truth. Perhaps it is just me being a bit ornery, but regardless, it is how I respond to the image’s words. The image on the other hand evokes a sense of alchemy, the stated of nigredo and rubedo. And at another level, it almost feels as though it is a personal avatar. I have ancestral heritage that is that of the red man, and of course, like all men, my shadow is black.
So why did this image catch my attention today? I’m not sure. However, I might hazard a guess that it has to do with my writing. This morning I brought to a close the practice novel which did exceed 50,000 words in thirty days. With that novel now set aside for further work in the future, I turned to preparing for the NaNoWriMo event which begins on All Saints’ Day, November 1st.
All Saints’ Day is part of an older festival of harvest called Samhain which begins at sunset on October 31st and ends at sunset on November 1st. Halloween only accounts for the first half of the festival, the night half which has fire (red) and night (black) as the dominant colours. Ah, now I see the connection. I have just reached a transition point in my writing, a transition that will take me into a time of fire and darkness – a darkness of soul and the fire of promised light. Like my ancestral heritage which blends the Celtic roots in Brittany with the Mohawk roots in eastern Canada, my story will tell the story of a Phoenix rising from the ashes of what used to be to a new life in a new land.
I will say more about this story in the future. For now, it is time to sit back with a glass of red wine and watch night arrive.