I’ve been trying to define more clearly this idea of an inner voice or, what in more traditional religious parlance, might be called a guiding spirit. The evidence suggests these entities do not serve only the religiously inclined, that you can be entirely secular in your outlook and the inner voice will still speak to you. It’s simply a question of knowing it’s there, respecting that presence, and having the courage to talk to it.
It’s just a pity that talking to yourself is something that’s not encouraged in adults. Even children who claim kinship with an imaginary “friend” are likely to have that relationship beaten out of them by parents keen to raise perfectly sane and normal offspring. After all, hearing voices in your head is a clear sign of mental illness, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no.
Certainly the schizophrenic sometimes hear voices. They’re usually negative and critical of the sufferer, and those voices will seem quite real. But to the non schizophrenic, the voices are not taken as being literally real; they always belong to the imagination, to the mysterious unconscious realms and do not break through into reality as auditory hallucinations. The non schizophrenic does not believe in their literal existence, but rather he accepts their non-literal reality. And the conversations always take place in the imaginal hinterland of some form of controlled fantasy. It is in the safe middle ground, the rich liminal zones of such imagined realities, that we meet our daemons.
Of course, it helps if you’ve gone off the mental rails at some point: suffered from depression, or dodged the symptoms of anxiety for the best years of your life. If you have, then you’ll more easily appreciate how readily the mind can have a physical effect upon your body, manifesting dramatic symptoms than can convince you you’re about to have a heart attack, collapse in a fainting fit because you can’t draw breath, or they’ll pump the sweat out of you and have you dripping wet and embarrassed to be in the company of other people.
The question is why? Why does the mind do this? Is it purely pathological, or is it something else?
Is the mind trying to tell us something?
Depression and anxiety tend to go hand in hand with a negative self-image. We also tend to see the world in negative terms. Life is shit and then you die. But life doesn’t need to be like that, indeed the only world that’s coloured dark with such negative hues is the one you’ve invented for yourself. It’s tricky territory; your unconscious mind is apparently attacking you, trying to overwhelm you, but if you could only see your way towards engaging with this seemingly mad beast, then things can suddenly get a lot better.
But how do you develop this relationship?
The nature of the unconscious is hidden from us. We don’t know what it is, nor even for sure where it is, and in order to get any sort of handle on it, we have to start personifying the various bits of it that we encounter. On the downside this has the effect of oversimplifying it, while at the same time running the risk of our over-literalising it, and imagining little fairies running about all over the place, but we have to start somewhere.
For a man, the most frequent and reliably identifiable emissary from the unconscious is the soul image, or the anima. We see her in dreams as an unknown woman. Of course the actual nature of our soul, the shape of it, the size of it, most probably doesn’t look anything like a woman, if it looks like anything at all. More likely it’s an abstract nothingness, a twist of psychical energy rising like a solar flare from the the ground of being, but in order to make sense of it we imagine it as a woman.
When I first began to get a handle on these ideas, around the turn of the millennium, I was doing it out of necessity, trying to burst the bubble of existential angst I’d been living in, and to salve the rat-bites of my last major blow-out. I was doing this mainly by reading Jung. Inspired by what I read, and amongst other things, equally strange, I began writing letters to my soul. I gave her a name that sounded right, invented a look borrowed from dreams, but one that was allowed to morph over time, and I placed her in another time, made her a Victorian lady who wrote and spoke with a peculiarly Victorian vocabulary.
We kept up our correspondence for several years.
I’d write to her about my anxieties and I’d sound her out on my half baked theories of the nature of consciousness. The really spooky part is that she would reply. All right – I know it was me actually penning her reply, that in playing her part, I was writing from inside the head of a fictional character. But the thing about my fictional characters is I never think about what they’re going to say. They just say it, and I’m often surprised by what they tell me.
Those letters would be very embarrassing of course, if they ever fell into the wrong hands; and anyone reading them would see only a middle aged man going steadily off the rails, while in fact what they reveal to me now is a middle aged man changing track and getting himself properly in gear for the first time in his life, leaving his demons behind and making the acquaintance of his daemons. And daemons are a much nicer bunch to have inside your head, but they bring changes in your conscious outlook, and you have to be prepared for that. For a start, you might just end up making friends with yourself, and seeing the world as an altogether brighter place. Some of those letters also brought with them a very real presence, and a sense of inner comfort I’d never known before. I remember penning one by lantern glow while camping by the shores of Ullswater, and it felt as if I’d only to turn my head and she’d be sitting there, watching me, smiling her reassurance.
In my last blog piece I introduced you to Elizabeth Gibert, through her lecture on creativity, on You Tube. She spoke eloquently about the idea of a personal daemon, a muse, or a genius, being responsible for our creative output – a sentiment I agree with entirely. But these beings are not exclusive to artist types alone. If you’re comfortable with the idea of imaginative play, then these characters will come through to you, and they will help you.
You’ve only got to ask.
The reductionist human-behaviourists will scoff at all this psychobabble. They’ll point out my lack of relevant qualifications, and they’ll tell us our imaginations are nothing more than a biological mutation, one that gives us an evolutionary advantage over lesser creatures. In those dim, prehistory days, they’ll explain, we were able to plan our hunting expeditions in our minds. Our imagination therefore enabled us to place ourselves in a possible future, and to work through the “what ifs”, so preparing ourselves in advance for any eventuality. The creatures we were up against had no imaginations, reacted instinctively and in a largely predictable way. They became, literally, easy meat. My own rational training tells me I have to accept that this much is probably true. My personal experience of imagination however suggests it’s not the full story.
Okay, let’s get morbid for a moment: in the great scheme of things it makes little difference if I live or die. In all the pullulating turmoil of mankind’s petty presence here on earth, my own humble contribution to human endeavour is neither here nor there. Yet for all of my inability to influence human affairs, I do sense a possibly inappropriate importance to my presence, if not exactly to the world as it is, but at least to the world as I see and experience it. There is also a beguiling quality to the worlds I create inside my head.
My own interpretation of this apparent paradox, after over a decade of letters to my muse, is that I’m alive in two places at the same time: there is an inner and an outer world, and the inner world is the more abiding of the two. My daily existence is real enough, time-bound as it is, and filled with the nonsense of man’s making. My purpose in the world is to make my way as best I can in the circumstances I find myself, to discover a way of liking myself and seeing the world in a positive light – because only then can I manifest personal happiness and, through that, be capable of both giving and receiving love. It seems a tall order at times, because at times circumstances can be testing, but although I’m physically alone here, I am not without back-up. There are voices I can call upon. Their counsel is always wise – and not necessarily of a spiritual nature.
It can also be surprisingly prosaic.
Six months ago I developed a peculiar rash on the backs of my hands. It wasn’t painful, or itchy or anything, just a little unsightly. I took it to show the sawbones who had no idea what it was. He gave me some cream, which I tried for a month, but the rash continued to spread. Was it stress? Was it some kind of allergic reaction?
I remember turning to my inner self one day, to that imaginary daemon, and saying: Look, I’ve tried everything here and this rash is really bugging me. Is there anything you can suggest? And the following day, while my head was off chasing butterflies in some other place, the answer came; it wasn’t a voice exactly, more of an idea, a flash of inspiration: you’re eating too much tuna fish.
It was true. When I thought about it, I realised I was eating tuna-fish every weekday at lunchtimes, because I love tuna fish and it was easily the tastier of offerings on the work’s canteens rather limited sandwich selection. I’d started doing this at the beginning of the year, due to a change in work routines, which was roughly when the rash had begun. I’d simply got into the habit of it, without realising it. So, I stopped eating tuna fish and the rash had gone in a couple of weeks.
An inspired guess? Sure, but where does inspiration come from? I’m happy personifying it.
For me the daemonic are fast becoming a non literal reality.
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