Archive for the ‘katabasis’ tag
I chose this photo by accident when I wasn’t even looking for a photo. I think I have to explain. I have a set of photos from Vietnam that serves as my screen saver when I am not active on the computer. I was distracted after writing the first two paragraphs of this post and as a result my laptop went into screen saver mode. When I finally returned my attention to the computer, this image flashed and I knew I had the image for this post. In Asia, white is the colour of mourning and death, the complete opposite of the colour we use in the western world, black. This post is heading into a territory of mourning for that is what we do when someone dies. And as I am coming to understand it, the Robert that I know is changing. With each change comes a small death of the old Robert. That is good in spite of how bad that might sound, for that allows a more authentic Robert to emerge from his hiding place under layer after layer of unconsciousness.
As I read a book called The Maiden King, by Robert Bly and Marion Woodman, I came upon a timely line that talks about katabasis, which basically translates into a descent. I checked my archives and found that I had mentioned this word twice in the past, on December 29th, 2010 and a few days later on January 1st, 2011. I checked because I didn’t want to end up saying the same thing as I had before. I wanted to make sure I was adding something of value, something to show me that I had somehow learned a little more. After looking over what I had written I knew that this time around I was is a completely different place, one that somehow had left a surface world and is roaming around a completely different universe, one that is somehow mythological as well as as personal as it is possible to be.
I have been talking about the descent I am risking, a descent with the intention of uncovering the truth of who I am beneath the history of childhood, beneath the complexes, beneath the personae that I have embraced and nourished in order to feel that I belong somehow in this world. I have spoke a lot of words but to be honest, I didn’t really understand what the hell I had done in setting out on this journey.
As I sit here at the keyboard, alone in my apartment, I wonder what is coming next. I have just learned enough to see that I have just passed the first set of tests in the descent to the underworld. I feel like some sort of Danté condemned to experience every chamber of a personal hell before I am allowed to return to the outer world; or like a modern day Odysseus who will face earthquakes, tsunamis, many-faced monsters and horrors as yet without a name before I am allowed to return home. I know that the prize in this descent, this katabasis, is the recovery of self, the recovery of soul. And that, should be enough.
The descent means I need to change almost before each progressive dive, or if not before, I must change as I dive. I have to let go of micro-managing everything around me, trying to control and fix the world, trying to heal all near me. I see their fear, their pain, their tears and my heart is torn. Should I abandon this terrible journey and rush to them with comforting words? But as soon as I even think this, I realise that I am deluding myself for I can’t fix another person. I know that each must fix themselves. I am not some magical being who can wave a wand to heal others – I am as broken as all of us. All I can do is to risk this katabasis so that I can self-heal and show all those I love the path to healing and acknowledge that the rest is up to them.
And so, the journey to hell and back continues. I am worth it, and the gift that it will give my children and my grandchildren and any who listen, is worth it. Enough for now. It is time to meditate and focus so that I don’t lose my way or lose my courage.
I was lucky to get this shot of a magpie which had perched up high on an electrical tower here in Changzhou. I see these nests of twigs every so often, but have never seen a bird near them before. Perhaps I am too focused on things closer to the ground. That is often the problem that I share with so many, having my attention not look up. I know that the balance of the psyche and soul demands that there be an up as well as a down.
Somehow, it is so much easier to follow the journey that descends into darkness, and once there, just give up at the immensity of the task before us of continuing the journey’s cycle that would take us upward into light. For so many, the eyes refuse to look up and acknowledge the next stage. Rather, one gets stuck and feels that this is exactly what one deserves for all the pain and darkness one has given to the world. One can’t see anymore the other gifts one has also given, the light and the hope and the moments of unconditional love and acceptance of others, and toward others. One accepts katabasis, the movement downward. The movement downward is one that just happens to most, not a movement consciously chosen. For these people, one is not a hero, one is a victim.
The descent may of course end in stasis, in dissolution and defeat. The cycle demands an ascent, a going up in order to bring the gift into consciousness. Even those dreams or life experiences which pull us under have gifts, although we may not recognize them at the time. We may even reject their message when they become conscious.” (Hollis, Mythologems, pp 75-76)
Anabasis, the journey upward bearing gifts for the conscious self, and probably more importantly, for the collective with which we interact.
I am often asked what we can do as a collective to affect positive change in the collective. The only words I can give in response are those that say “be fully your self.” These appear to be dark times for the human collective. But, the darkness isn’t all that is possible. As I engage in anabasis and as others do their work, the collective engages in an ascent. There is no other way that I can perceive.
At this time of year, the moment where the year descends into its darkness, into its death, we all have learned to celebrate a rebirth, a resurrection with the birth of a New Year. My hope is that you can take this image with you as a way of finding a way to look upward and embrace that aspect of your self.
I originally took this photo as part of a collection detailing the YanCheng area which is a site that recreates part of Changzhou’s history that goes back at least 2,500 years. The tower is representative of something that normally would have been found in the Ching and Ming dynasties. However, when I took this photo from a high point, it leaves me feeling that I am looking at a portal that leads down into the earth.
The only gift I remember getting from my maternal grandmother was really not a gift, but a book I got from my maternal grandfather upon my grandmother’s death, was a book called The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. I was a teenager at the time and the book filled my “Catholic” head with images that rivaled those from my dreams. If anything, the images highlighted the inner images that came from within me. It wasn’t long after getting and reading this book that a complete stranger, an adult male that I had never seen before, stopped me on a street in downtown Ottawa and told me that I had to read Thus Spake Zarathustra by F.W. Nietzsche.
My mythic dreams, these two books, a depression and a loneliness that came from moving too many times in the first 17 years of my life and attending too many schools in different provinces and cities had marked me, had prepared me as though I were some alchemical stew, for a rebirth. There was no way for my upward into a new life until I had plumbed the depths where the old would be transformed as though in a cauldron over a huge fire.
“If energy shows up in a dream image, then it already exists in the psyche of the dreamer. The invisible has been rendered visible. The task of consciousness is to begin to consider this energy, to weigh its presence and to incorporate it into the conduct of daily life. The dream has brought gifts which are continuing to this moment. Before one can deepen as a person, one must visit the depths within. We cannot ascend without first descending. (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 74)
There were so many “Ah-ha!” moments in the reading of these two books and the inner images from my dreams that found a voice in my music and my drawings at that time, that I risked all. The most telling moment for me in that time of my life was the moment when I stood on a bridge over the Ottawa River and debated my journey with my Self. I chose to continue this journey, but with one proviso, I would be a different person. Standing on the bridge in the early hours of the morning I stared long into the dark waters. With the decision made, I threw all that I had on me, into the dark waters as though these “things” would serve as a sacrifice of my old life so that I could ascend into a new life.