Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘alchemy’

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885Publishing a novel? Well, it’s easy. Anyone can publish a novel these days. You write it, then you put it on the Internet. You do it yourself through a blog, serving it out of a Dropbox account, or use the likes of Smashwords, Wattpad, FreeEbooks, Amazon, and sundry others I’ve yet to make the acquaintance of, who serve it out for you. Your work gets published for free and people will read it. Guaranteed. Simple. Amazon and Smashwords even let you set a fee, so you can actually make money at it. The downside? Unless you go viral, don’t expect to make more than pocket-money, and your chances of going viral are about the same as coming up on the lottery. People come up on the lottery all the time, but the chances are it won’t be you, so don’t bank on it. Most likely you’ll make nothing at all.

I can feel your disappointment right there, because money’s the thing, isn’t it? What you really want to know is how to make serious money at it, or maybe even just enough to quit the day job and write full time. So, let’s go there. You write your novel and, if you don’t fancy online self-publishing, or it just doesn’t seem real to you, then send it to a traditional publisher or a literary agent. But this route is even more like a lottery. Someone always wins, but the chances are you won’t. In fact, the odds are so stacked against you doing it this way, it makes more sense not to bother, and only a fool would waste years filling out their ticket anyway.

There are exceptions, not to be cynical, but you need an edge. Your name needs to be widely known for some other reason, either by fair means or foul, because publishing’s about selling and names sell. Or you need an influential contact in the industry, someone who can sing your praises to a commissioning editor. Or you can enter your novel for a prestigious literary prize, but that’s an even bigger lottery. Either way, without your invite to the party, you’re not getting in, and that’s just the way it is. Always has been.

Persistence pays? Yes, I’ve heard that too, mostly from published literary types selling tips to writers who can’t get published, and maybe it’s true, worth a dabble perhaps, but don’t waste your life trying . Don’t spend decades hawking that novel, constantly raking back over old ground with rewrites, moving commas this way and that and coming up with yet one more killer submission, then beating yourself up when it’s rejected. Again. Don’t lie awake at night grinding your teeth, wondering what’s wrong with you, wondering why no one wants to publish your story. Chances are you’ll never know. So let it go, it’s done. Now write another.

What is a writer for? Do they create purely in order to give pleasure to others? Or do they do it for the money? Do they crave critical acclaim? Or is it more simply to satisfy a need in themselves? Why does anyone create anything that serves no practical purpose? I mean, come on, it’s just a story after all.

In my own writing I explore things, ideas that interest me. I enjoy painting and drawing too, but it’s the writing that gets me down to the nitty gritty, writing that is the true melting pot of thought, the alchemists alembic through which I attempt a kind of self-sublimation, a transformation from older, less skilful ways of thinking, and through which I try to make sense of a largely unintelligible world. The finished product, the novel, the story, the poem or whatever, is almost incidental, but until it’s finished the conundrum, the puzzle I’ve set myself isn’t complete. Completion is the last piece of the jigsaw, the moment of “Aha!” – or more often a wordless understanding that signifies a shift in consciousness, hopefully one in the right direction.

I know this isn’t what writing’s about for others. But most likely those others are a good deal younger than I am, and not as well acquainted with the realities of hawking the written word in exchange for a living. I’ve been writing for fifty years, never made a bean, haven’t even tried since ’98.  This is just the way it’s evolved for me, but don’t let that put you off. You do what you want. You may get lucky, or die trying.

How to get a novel published? Other than giving it away online, who knows? It’s always been a mystery to me, but in one sense persistence does indeed pay, in that it eventually yields a little known secret about getting yourself published, and I’ll share it with you now: when it comes to the art of writing, getting yourself published isn’t really the most important thing.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

George and the Dragon  - Rosa Corder D G RossettiWe have seen how the material path in a man’s life is ultimately self defeating, and its rewards potentially poisonous to the quest for contentment and meaning. The other path, the quest of a man in search of his soul, is no less exhausting, but those men bound upon it can at least sit down for a minute in order to gather their nerves and catch their breath, without fear of being swept away by Ego’s ever pressing timetable.

The quest for Soul is something open to all men but it is a lifetime’s journey, no matter what stage of life a man embarks upon it. And we must be careful of our expectations too, for Soul is not another thing to be acquired and ticked off on the list of life’s little necessities. Indeed a man cannot “acquire” a soul at all, because he already possesses one. It is more the degree to which he is intimate with it that is the important thing, or failing that it is the degree to which he even knows it’s there. The soul is a man’s secret and most perfect lover. Pay her sufficient devotion and she will transform you; indeed she will at times blow your mind. Neglect her though, and she’ll make you wish you were dead.

For every man, images of Soul are projected out into the world in many forms, but the most recognisable is in the shape of the human female. It can come as a shock to many men that women are not as perfect and divine as our early infatuations with them would have us believe. I’m sorry girls but you can be as stupid, vapid, shallow, mean and vain as any man. You also snore and make the same bathroom noises. Women are, in short, human, but a man’s attraction to them, once piqued, can take on the proportions of a holy devotion. For a fervent seeker of Soul, in the guise of womankind, this can turn out to be,… disappointing.

In psychological terms, though he may not be aware of it, a man projects the soul he already possesses onto the form of another human being. He looks at the woman, but does not see the actual person before him. What he sees is an image of his own soul. If he’s lucky the woman will do the same with him and there is created the potential for a happy-ever-after story, provided the process of actually getting to know one another doesn’t upset the fantasy. But it doesn’t end there. Just because a man pairs up with a life mate, does not mean he is now intimate enough with his own soul to have finished with the quest. No. The quest is just beginning.

A man can be happily married, then discover to his surprise a deep attraction for another woman, or perhaps several other women. It’s important at this point he realises his soul is still at work, shape-shifting, drawing his attention to other aspects of himself, and to which he has yet to awaken. But these aspects are not to be explored by literally engaging with the object of his projection, more by withdrawing those projections and releasing the energy back inside of himself.

To be sure, this is a dangerous stage for a man. It can bring him down, ruin him on a string of affairs, or he can rise above it, withdraw his projections from the material world and give strength to the soul growing within him. Make no mistake, let loose into the material world, a man’s soul might easily destroy him, but recognised instead as a valued psychical partner, along with a man’s ego, she can transform him. In the alchemy of medieval Europe, this marriage of the King and Queen (Ego and Soul) gives birth to queer offspring and much else that is mysterious, even terrifying, but no one said this quest was going to be easy.

Withdrawing one’s projections from the world is a tricky business, and requires first of all the taming of one’s ego. Ego is an analytical genius, and will act on the evidence of its findings. Once it realises women are simply human, it can play ahead to the end scenario of divorce and acrimony, and hopefully step back from the brink before blood is spilt. Age helps too, also the realisation that there are certain things in life worth more than yet another failed relationship: a comfy sofa, a glass of red wine, a good book, a fine cigar. Yes, material things are sometimes to be appreciated, but a wise ego treats them also with circumspection.

Mythical quests in storybooks often involve the hero doing battle with a fearsome creature, say a dragon, in order to rescue a beautiful, flaxen haired, gym honed, damsel in distress. (George and the dragon nfor example) For dragon think Ego, for damsel think Soul. But a slayed ego is neither use nor ornament to a man, for in dealing with a freed soul a man needs his wits about him. In the alchemy of the East, if the female yin is allowed to dominate, the result will be a disaster. More properly the female receives the male yang, softens him, applies her wisdom and directs him in useful ways, but she is careful never to dominate the dance, or the direction of the whole will be subverted to an unfortunate end. An ego dancing entirely to Soul’s tune is not a pretty sight; it takes a man out of the world, makes him doubtful of his place in it, and narrows his horizons to no further than the rim of his spectacles.

Returning again to the Eastern alchemists of the Dao, man is seen as inhabiting a universe that is as much inside of him as out. He is seen as straddling the worlds of Heaven and Earth. Each informs the other, and a wise man pays heed to the dynamics of both. Too much of the material world and a man loses himself in the forms of the earth, finds himself trapped without a starship to blast him back home when the time is right. Too much soul and She reaches up from the dark lake to drown him in his own thoughts, overwhelm him with his own tortured imaginings. He dies to the world, before it has taught him all it can – for such, say the Daoist sages, is the only merit in living a long life.

A safer place for abstractions of Soul is away from women-folk altogether. Wise men have found it in the retreat afforded by the natural world, in the beauty of nature, the quiet of the forest, in the shapely mountain peak. All these things bear the likeness of Soul and she will call to any man who is sensitive to her presence. She will make him yearn for a thing he knows he does not yet possess, yet infuriatingly it is a thing he cannot see or touch or even adequately define. When I was younger I responded to such things with an eye for conquest, but conquest, like all ego-driven acts, leaves one hungry for more. Nowadays I see it more in stillness, and can rest more easily in the knowledge it is not a thing to be grasped by the intellect, nor through physical effort. It is an opening, both in and to nature. And through it, through this guidance of Soul, we realise the glimmerings we see in the mind’s eye are glimmerings of our own deeper identity, that the infinite beauty of nature is a reflection of our own God-given nature, one of infinite complexity, depth, and potential.

In choosing our way through life no matter which path a man takes, life is going to kill him in the end. But one path brings with it the essential knowledge of his immortality, while the other denies it entirely. The mythical quest is a journey whose outcome is far from certain, and most of us who attempt it keep getting eaten by the dragon. But to fail in one’s search for Soul, is not really to fail – indeed, it is to be expected, for how else are we to learn and grow? To fail on this path, is more to stumble by the wayside, but we find a faith in Soul is sufficient armour for the Dragon’s worst excesses, and no man who has at least once chosen Soul over gold, is going to be down on his knees for long.

She simply won’t allow it.

Read Full Post »

boxingThe life of every man is an heroic quest. Not all take up the challenge, not consciously anyway and those who do can still go badly astray. But the challenge is there, and how a man deals with it will determine the extent of his happiness and success in life.

By success, I’m not speaking in material terms of course, such as how much money in the bank he has, how big a house, how expensive his car, nor how beautiful the women he attracts. One’s success in the acquisition of such things is determined by external factors, and personal characteristics that are not always helpful, nor indeed constructive towards the greater good. And whilst compelling at first sight, even a cursory analysis will reveal the way of the material world naturally results in the nefarious duality of “me” and “everyone else” and a widening gap that separates human society into those who have and those who have not.

The lure of the material path is the first test faced by all alchemists: whether it be the glitter of a literal gold, or the promise of the purer gold of the soul, and life’s meaning, that drives one’s ambition. And in life, we are all alchemists, transforming the base substance of the conscious selves we are born with into something that can help us stay the course, while hopefully making sense of things and doing as little harm as possible along the way.

In the philosophical sense then, success in life is measured by the degree of a man’s emotional and spiritual maturity, which in turn yields such treasures as contentment, compassion for others and a lack of fear at the approach of old age and death. Such things are not acquired through competition with other males; they are more elusive; they require a man to back up a little and take stock.

Competitive masculinity is driven by egoic thinking. Ego is the layer of the psyche that measures and compares our status to that of others. Ego is that which attaches itself to the material stuff of the world, and the myriad machinations by which that stuff can be acquired. It attaches itself also to the mask of who we think we are and is the source of our fear, that we might at any point in our life lose our imagined status.

Some men are more driven than others in these respects, and such jostling and jousting with others does appear at first sight to have its rewards; their Mars-like attributes, their sporting prowess, and the sheer smell of their testosterone (a mix of stale cigarettes and beer, apparently) makes them naturally more attractive to the opposite sex. Flaxen haired girls with gym honed bodies, beach tans and perfect teeth find them irresistible. They swoon at their feet, and queue up to have their babies – or so I’m told.

As a materially successful man ages though, he faces a number of challenges, any one of which might defeat him, for it is his own mortality in every case that will let him down. Fear is foremost – fear of the loss those material things he has already acquired, so instead of slowing down as he matures, he is driven to acquire yet more self enhancing stuff – be it material wealth, goods, or power over others. Old age is another fear, with its loss of hair, teeth, and physical prowess. A man in the middle of his life might even look at his mate, who’s no longer looking so good, and decide to trade her in for a newer model, after patching up his own appearance as best he can. To a strictly material kind of man, women have no attributes greater or deeper than their material forms. Equally a material kind of woman has no interest in material men who can no longer deliver the goods. The poles become mutually repulsive. You can see where this is going.

In short then, a life such as this might leave a man feeing empty, because the man is so enamoured of his material things he has neglected his soul.

There is of course another way.

But is that any easier?

Read Full Post »

the alchymist = jospeh wright 1795

In Paulo Coelho’s best-selling story, the Alchemist – as near as I can remember it – a humble shepherd boy falls asleep under a tree on a Spanish hillside and dreams of a pot of gold buried in Egypt. (Spoiler alert) The dream has such a numinous feel to it, the boy is compelled to set out on a life-changing quest to find the gold. The story recounts the boy’s adventures, describes the characters he meets and what each encounter teaches him. After many hardships, he reaches his goal and starts to dig, but finds nothing. In despair he relates his story to a stranger. The stranger laughs at the boy’s foolishness and tells of a dream he had about a similar treasure lying buried under a tree on a Spanish hillside, and compliments himself on not being stupid enough to waste his entire life in setting out to look for it. Enlightened, the boy returns home.

You can take many things from this story – and for such a short book, as with all of Coelho’s work there’s a lot in it. But for me the gold is not the point – or rather recognising the gold for what it truly is – that is the point. The story tells of our compulsion to make a quest out of life. We are seeking something – satisfaction, happiness, self-justification – but seeking it always in material terms. In our consumer society this materiality all too often boils down to money – a literal gold – in the belief that the more material goods we can buy, the happier we will be. We all know this is wrong, yet altering our misguided perceptions is very difficult, since we seem preprogrammed into accepting the former view as the more sensible one. No matter how hard our higher will struggles to elevate us from the mud of the material mire, there is a default condition in which we prefer to wallow in it.

In the material world, having no money is a cause of great deprivation, unnecessary suffering and unhappiness, but having a fortune is no guarantee of happiness either. Money (gold) might buy us a more comfortable life, one free from hunger and curable disease, but it cannot make us a better human being. In the mediaeval alchemists’ quest, the esoteric texts relate the seemingly foolish attempt to transform worthless base metals into gold. But the Master Alchemist, Hermes the Thrice Great, source of all Hermetic wisdom, warns that this is a dangerous path, one that leads only to madness, because it’s not that kind of gold we should be thinking of. I look at the world today and imagine Hermes shaking his head in dismay.

The quest for gold leads us on, always looking for the next thing, imagining our treasure to be out there somewhere, hidden from view yet ultimately discoverable if we can only apply ourselves in the right way. But in fact, as in Coelho’s story of the shepherd boy , we already possess the thing we’re seeking, though it can take us a long time on the dusty trail of life before we wise up. In alchemy, the process is one of sublimation. We take the base metal and we apply heat, we melt the base, loosen its impurities and let them rise. We tend the fire for years and years, and we watch as the base metal undergoes a cyclical process of purification and transformation. But the substance glowing in the alchemists alembic, has to be seen as a metaphor. What the alchemists were talking about was in fact the human spirit. We are the base metal. What we are seeking is the transformation of ourselves. Alchemy was, and still, is a spiritual quest.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I write, and wondering as I do from time to time, why I write and for whom, and what it is I’m seeking from doing it. Sometimes I forget, you see, that I’m not actually doing it for anybody, or for anything, that I’m just doing it. I know the treasure lies inside myself, yet there are times – such as now – when I refuse to see it and wind up stretched out, face down in the mud. I’ve read books on Zen, studied Daoism and Buddhism, also the various alchemical traditions as well as European Romanticism. I’ve felt the glow of an inner peace, courtesy of the practice of meditation, Qigong and Tai Chi. And such things have each at times opened the door on a very special and self contained room, within myself, and what I’ve glimpsed in there I’ve tried to describe in my writings. But like the alchemists’ quest, it’s a circular path, not a linear one; there’s a rhythm to the openings and closings of that door. When it closes on me, the practice has already fallen into disarray. The fire has gone out. I become twitchy, irritable, plagued by aches and pains, jumping at shadows, doubting everything I thought I once knew and held to be true.

It takes a while to pull myself together, rekindle the flames, strip myself bare of all the false trappings of the material world, clothe myself once more in the homespun cloth of that purer sense of being. But without that first spark of an autonomous inner will, all else is useless. Attempts at firming up a routine of meditation, qigong, or even high minded reading, fall apart at the first hurdle. The fire splutters and is extinguished by the most trivial of occurrences – a blocked drain, the washing machine making a funny noise, a toilet cistern that won’t stop filling up, a car that fails its MOT. At such times life’s little snags take on the proportions of epic disasters, disruptive of our lives and insulting to the very core of our being. Indeed, once we enter this frame of mind, this mentality of siege, the universe obliges by providing one assault after the other.

It surfaces in my writing too, especially the blogging, when I find myself checking the stats, counting the likes and the visits after each entry, to see what effect I’m having on the world. But this is pointless. The effect I have, or rather the lack of it, is irrelevant. I took the decision, long ago, that I wrote simply because I write, and that to self-publish online is merely the completion of a contract with the inner daemon who would have me write in the first place. I have also told myself that whoever reads my writings thereafter, simply reads them and takes from them what they will. I write then, primarily, for myself, to stir and sift my way through the soup of what it is I think I think. Beyond that there is no purpose, no goal, and to find the place where I can take pleasure in that alone, is finally to come home to myself.

In material terms, we are none of us anybody, and we are none of us going anywhere. That the universe appears infinite can only be accommodated by the assumption that it is also nothing, that the reason it seems to occupy so much space, is that it occupies no space whatsoever. As human beings I think we begin from that position of nothingness, but we are born with an innate fear of it, not realising that only through its acceptance do we finally sublimate the spiritual gold of the alchemist in our hearts, through which our true, infinite worth might be glimpsed, at least in so far as any mortal being is capable, locked in the illusion of time and space, as we all are.

In the quest to find our own alchemical gold, we should each start out with the insight that, like Paulo’s shepherd boy, we’re probably already sitting on it. Whether we recognise it or not is down purely to the way we view the world, and sometimes it takes a long journey to alter our focus sufficiently to realise the power within us, and to return home. Nobody else can do this for us. It is the supreme paradox, that we are each of us nothing, but also everything at the same time.

Read Full Post »

I’m labouring under a bit of a cloud again – in fact I can’t seem to find any open water at all this year. I’m conscious of the fact of course that once you let the darkness in it colours your emotions, so you can’t look anywhere without feeling unsettled, like you’re waiting for something awful to happen all the time. I don’t like feeling this way. It’s unfamiliar, and usually I can see life from the sunnier side,  but sometimes one’s optimism becomes  weighted down by events and, like an overloaded lifeboat, becomes sluggish, difficult to steer, and in danger of capsizing, in danger of tipping you into the black depths of despair.

The passing of my mother in the spring is an event I’m still adjusting to. It’s a fact of middle aged life – this passing on of our forebears. We all have it to face and deal with, each in our own way. When you’re in the thick of such events though, there are so many practical demands placed upon you, you can’t always digest the emotional issues as well as you’d like. You have to put them on the back burner, deal with them in slower time, and I think that’s what’s been happening progressively this year. The darkness leaked in early on, and I’m still searching for a way back into the light. My eldest son leaving for university has also punched a hole in things, and that’s something else I’ll be a while getting used to.

With this back-story in mind, if I analyse the tormentors foremost in my consciousness at the moment, they boil down to an upcoming overseas business trip, and another aged, much loved, relative in a hospital far away, which makes visiting as much as I’d like very difficult. Oh, and my sense of smell – which had begun to return only a week ago, has disappeared again.

The business trip is a pain in the arse to be frank, and I just can’t see beyond it at the moment. If I told you I was going to Paris, you’d wonder what I was complaining about, with all that ooh la la and the Tour Eiffel and the Moulin Rouge, n’est ce pas? But business trips are business trips; all you see are the internal details of the transport systems that deliver you from one grey concrete and glass building to another, always at the expense of a great deal of fatigue and personal time, your only respite being an hotel room probably next to a dual carriage way, and a pillow you can’t sleep on. Other than that, you could be anywhere in the world.

I’ll feel differently when it’s over, and the weekend will put a different slant on things for sure, but for now it’s a hurdle to be crossed, a trial to be endured and understood. As for my aged relative, well, I’d rather be spending time with her than swanning off for three days on a trip I’m viewing as nothing but a monumental waste of my personal time – but hey, I know I’m lucky to have a day-job, and I’d be as well to just quit whining and get on with it. As for my sense of smell, it’s a short term relapse, and I know I’ll get over it.

But where’s all this going?

Well, I’m conscious of late of having been drifting, philosophically, my personal writings having thus far led me along the well worn path of alchemy and Romanticism, only to run into sterile territory where the intellectual pickings have been slim, yet where there’s also many a beguiling fool similarly run aground and spouting nonsense, and I fear I’m in danger of becoming one of them.

The wordcount is rising with two novels on the go – one of them tritely erotic, the other intellectually pretentious – but I’m making no progress on the inner, psycho-spiritual level at all, which is really the whole point of things for me. The wordcount is neither here nor there, and when I’m done with those novels, squeezed them dry for all they’re worth, I’ll just give them away like all the rest.

At such times as these, times of doubt, you have to let go of course, you have to sit back and subject yourself to the tides of the world while looking for signs, and thinking symbolically. And for me the arbiter of my fates, the dealer of the cards, is always a woman, and the most powerful of these women is never a real one.

Yes, sorry dear reader, but she’s still haunting me. I’m talking about the goddess again.

In male psychology, she comes to us in dreams as an unknown woman. In part, she’s the female half of our bi-sexual nature, the part we swallow down when our physical gender crystallizes in the womb, so we can never really escape her, any more than a man can ever escape himself. I’m not blessed with a mature approach to my goddess. I see her everywhere. I over-literalise her, and I allow her the upper hand too often, so she tips easily from being a truly inspirational creature, to the infamous belle dame sans merci, tormentor-muse of the more tortured of our poets.

As a younger man, she had me falling in love with one stranger after another, a relentlessly rocky trail littered with the wreckage of many an unrequited pining. I’m safely through that phase now, but she manifests in other ways, equally beguiling, and is no less obsessive in her possession of me. What other daemon could make me so reluctant to voyage from hearth and home but the goddess manifesting as an “anima obsession” – or in other words a woeful reluctance to leave the tit and simply go find myself out there?

I was thinking about all of this yesterday while sitting in the beer-garden of my local pub, my good lady and I enjoying the autumn sunshine while sharing a quiet drink, and watching the crowds go by. We live at a time when casual or even grungy fashion is de rigueur – a very relaxed era to be sure, so it’s rare on Sundays to see anyone in their Sunday best – it’s a thing that’s passed into the history books, along with those times when the whole of England would attend church, before sitting down to a roast dinner.

So I spotted her a mile off, this woman in the green dress, flitting in and out of the crowds, teasing my imagination. The dress was tailored and it fit this woman to perfection, accentuating her form and her movement – the turn of her hip, the elegant poise of her body. The world was in its rags and she, the catwalk model, in her finery. I never saw her face, but I recognised her at once, and with a faint grimace, as the goddess teasing me with her impenetrable language, pretty much like she does in dreams, always challenging me to make sense of her.

For some men, the challenge is simply to wake up to the fact of this woman’s inner presence, then she’ll reward them with a greater sense of peace than they’ve ever known. But it’s a difficult transition for a testosterone-pumped, macho kind of guy, and it generally only comes with age and the waning of one’s hormones, if it comes at all. But if you’re not that kind of guy to begin with, if like me, you’re not macho, if indeed you’re a girly kind of guy, she can take over your life and make you believe there’s nothing, psychically, beyond her at all that’s worth a damn. She will hold you snug to her bosom, hold you tightly there and in perfect rapture as a willing captive from the world, instead of setting you free, so you can live like a man.

All enquiring men (and women) are ultimately searching for the wisdom of the ages. In male psychology, this manifests itself, symbolically, in dreams, as the wise old man, the Gandalf, or the Merlin of literature. Yet, beyond an elusive awareness of this archetype, I feel I have no connection with it, either in my dreams, my imaginal ramblings, or my writings. But this is the guy I should be seeking out; he’s the Daoist hermit holed up in the caves on Wudang Mountain; my Lao Tzu; my inscrutable Kung Fu master; or – in real life – even a wise, living father figure. It’s the role of the goddess to introduce me to him, to subordinate herself to his greater influence, but in my case either she’s a bossy britches, or I’m just not ready yet.

Meanwhile the woman in the green dress flits through the dappled sunlight of imagination, teasing me with promises of the spiritual delights of union, if only I could catch up with her – while making me dread the wrench of parting from hearth and home, that I should be robbed of her warmth and certainty even for a moment.

But I’m also reminded the spiritual path is not a straight line, more a spiral centred upon the core of the Self. If we are tenacious in our quest, we orbit slowly, seemingly making the same mistakes, rediscovering the same old ground time and time again, as if by the turning of the same seasons, but each time with a little more clarity, a little more genuine understanding.

Come to think of it, I did meet him once, that wise old man. It was in the gate-house to a fine old city he was quitting in despair. He gave me a copy of the Book of Changes, before riding off into the sunset on the back of a mighty water-buffalo, in the company of a dancing girl.

I turn to the Book of Changes now, blow the dust off it, and ask what this upcoming trip might mean for me – not so much what might literally be in store, because that’s anyone’s guess – more psychically – how I should align myself, how I should be thinking in order to make the best of it and meet the future in the most advantageous and optimistic way.

And it says:

Hexagram 57, otherwise known as Gradual Influences, or Adapting to One’s Environment. Rather a predictable response to be honest. The keywords here are adapting, fitting in, going with the the flow, or subjecting oneself to the experience, all with a view to the longer term. The message is to go with an open mind, and an open heart, and just fit in as best I can, all of which makes perfect sense to me. But that’s it with The Book of Changes – eventually it creeps inside of you, and you no longer need to consult it as slavishly as you once did, because you already know what it’s going to say.

So, Paris here I come.

A bien tot.

Read Full Post »

Cultivating your dreams can be a deeply therapeutic process. Mostly I’ve found the effects to be subtle, your outlook changing gradually over time as more of your unconscious knots are straightened out and the threads drawn up into consciousness, but every now and then a single dream can usher in a dramtic change of outlook.

For about a year now I’ve found myself in the apparent midst of a storm of anxieties that’s had my mood plummeting in a seemingly irrecoverable nose-dive. It’s been a combination of things – a series of terrible world events, the slow motion train wreck of the western economy, and the erasing of any sense of a secure financial future for myself and those I love. It seems relentless, with the media gleefully swinging one meaty cosh after the other at us, as if to reinforce on a daily basis how truly awful things are.

Am I being overly pessimistic? Of course I am, but that’s it when the dark clouds settle in; they amplify the slightest thing to apocalyptic proportions and you suddenly find yourself embattled, taking cover and bracing yourself against things that might never happen.

The darkness seemed to deepen over a long, bitter winter and steadfastly defied the loveliest of springs, even as the blossom came out and the first mow released the heady perfume of fresh-cut grass. There seemed to be no escape, but then at the beginning of April I made a trip to the Lake District and while I was there I spent a meditative hour by a waterfall. I think this single act granted me a bit of a breathing space and ushered in a subtle change of direction.

 On my return from the Lakes, I began idly leafing through my dream journals from 2002 and 2003. I had no particular aim in mind – at least none I was consciously aware of. What struck me though was the richness, the detail and the frequency with which I had once dreamed. By contrast, in more recent years, I’ve fallen out of the habit, recording only a few dreams over the course of a year, when once I’d dreamed most nights and applied myself dilligently to the Jungian interpretation of the symbols that arose.

I don’t know why I stopped cultivating my dreams like this. I suppose it came down to necessity and I’d apparently felt more of a need in those days, while recent years have been marked, I’d perhaps pompously assumed, by a philosophical resilience, and an outlook that had seemed to require little by way of bolstering from the denizens of my inner world. And if you don’t court your dreams, they vanish on waking.

Inspired anew by these old dreams, I began cultivating them again recently. Cultivating one’s dreams is no more complicated than lying down of a night and simply asking yourself to try to remember them. Things didn’t happen straight away – I think it took a few nights before I was permitted leave to recall my nocturnal wanderings again, and it was yet a few more nights after that before I was rewarded with a series of dreams that were highly detailed, visually startling and emotionally charged.

The last of these dreams occurred on the night of April 18th, the night of the full moon, which in imagination at least I’ve always associated with a peak in imaginative energy. In the dream I encountered an unknown woman – the classic symbol of the soul, or in drier, Jungian terminology, the Anima archetype. She was once a familiar visitor, chosing a different disguise each time – sometime evasive, sometimes challenging, sometimes downright lascivious. But whoever or whatever she was, on this occasion she restored in me a sense of the most profoundly transcendent love. In the dream she seduced me into thinking the love I felt was for her, but on waking the feel of that love remained like a warm glow in my guts, and I recognised it as a connection with something old and fundamental.

I rose into a world unchanged in any tangible way. The news from Libya was dire, and the fiscal pundits on the radio were bleating as usual about our financial ruin, while the politicians traded insults, and the media sought with tiresome pedantry to find the cracks between them as if it mattered or we actually cared any more. But it was a world that no longer assailed me. I was a man in love with something, or rather I was a man who had been reminded he was in love, that he had somehow forgotten – but it was all right, his lover was constant and patient, and she had apparently forgiven him.

I drove to work, past the petrol station whose regularly ratcheting fuel prices have become a curious indicator of my rising anxieties – and though the price had jumped overnight to a record high, I was unable to muster much of a reaction.

Indeed it seemed trivial. I had regained a more balanced perspective and was able to let it go.

I only hope it lasts.

Read Full Post »

So, what are you reading at the moment? I don’t know about you but my reading comes in waves, or moods – usually when I’m unable to write. So then I surf the tides of literature instead and can devour a novel in a couple of days, like I’m tearing it apart for the answer to why it is I can’t write. I started out with an idea about reading the Romantics, really settling in to Wordsworth and Coleridge for a bit, but an odd tide fetched up on Patrick Harpur’s shores instead, and in the space of a few weeks I’ve read both his “Mercurius” and “The Philosopher’s Secret Fire”. These books have in turn had me re-reading Carl Jung, and generally blowing the dust off that mysterious trail through the Perennial Philosophy, a thing that’s denied with equal vigor by both religion and science but is probably closer to being a description of reality than either of those curmudgeonly old sages will admit.

If you don’t know Patrick Harpur, but you’re interested in how you can tie up mythology, the Romantics, alchemy, Jung’s psychology, anthropology and even a belief in the fairies, then he’s your man. I wouldn’t say his books are easy going, but I’ve found them utterly engrossing, insightful and enlightening. I’ve just ordered his “Complete guide to the Soul”, and I’m looking forward to devouring that one as well.

I’ve also been reading “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, and a bleaker story I can’t ever remember having read, except perhaps for Hardy’s “Jude the obscure”, though both for completely different reasons of course. Jude was a reaction to a hypocritical morality, a bubbling up of unspoken nastiness through to the surface of the Victorian psyche. The backlash nearly ruined Hardy’s career. It’s thirty years since I read it and its  unrelenting break-heart bleakness has stuck with me ever since. Masterful though it is, it’s one the few Hardy novels I could never bring myself to re-read – it would just finish me off. In a similar vein, I’m wondering if McCarthy’s The Road is a similar bubbling up of something powerfully indigestible. It’s not  a very long book – you’ll get through it in a couple of days. The prose is beautiful but all the more shocking for the horrors it describes – you do need a strong stomach for it. It’ s a post apocalyptic vision that is surely without equal, and the benchmark against which all others will be measured.  I can’t remember the ending of a book that made me weep before, but this one did – and though it seems a long way off the other stuff I’ve been reading, I’m sure it’s all connected, all a part of the same meltings in the crucible of my imagination.

But apart from all that, and yet also similarly related,…

It’s summer, and it’s the weekend, and I’ve been sitting here in the garden thinking I should write something, if only to get myself in the contemplative mood. But that’s not how it works, so I’ve wasted most of the day, even to the extent of nodding off for a couple of hours this afternoon. All of this is trivial and not exactly what you want to hear, but there’s nothing much to tell, and certainly my reading isn’t yielding much by way of answers – at least not directly. The answers come like shy cats, and you can’t make a fuss or even look at them directly or they will melt away. But I’ve a feeling an answer is coming, and it has to do with the imagination, with the Romantic  sense, and an acceptance of its validity, though not in a literal way, and it’s this non-literalness that I’m beginning to see, thanks to Patrick Harpur,  is the important thing, the thing that keeps us on the straight and narrow. This is both complex and yet, I suspect, also very simple,… but I need to think about it some more.

At the moment my literal reality consists of this summer house I built back in the spring, and in which I am now sitting. It also consists of  a patch of garden, and some trees beyond. The sky is grey. It’s about 20 degrees, getting on for 9:00 pm and I’ve got work in the morning. I’ve just lit a vanilla scented joss-stick, and my head’s a little thick from too much cheap wine. But in imagination, I’m a long way from here…

In my mind’s eye I can see a  lake in a bowl of mountains, and by the shore there stands a pavillion, terracotta coloured, its pillars reflected in the gently rippling waters of the lake. I’m in the Swiss Alps somewhere, though perhaps not literally. It’s just somewhere that reminds me a little of the Alps. Anyway, this pavillion,… it has a domed copper roof, whose centuries old verdigris is luminous in the early evening light and inside, unseen, in the pavillion,  a woman is waiting for me, seated on cushions. I’m making my way to her. It’s been a while in coming and though I’m not exactly reluctant to have finally made this connection, I can’t hide the fact that I’m anxious, that there’s a gravity here I’m not sure I grasp properly, and I have to allow my unconscious to guide my hand now or my ego’s going to ruin the moment. I’ve no idea what she’s going to say to me because I’ve not written that part yet. It may yet be that she’s fallen asleep waiting for me, and I’ll spend the night just watching over her.

To what extent is this imaginative scenario a valid reality? Should one take any of it seriously? Where did the pavilion come from? I’ve never been there, but I know its shape, the feel of its pillars against my palm, the sound of the lake lapping at its base. I  did a watercolour of it yesterday just to explore it a little more deeply and if I were to see a photograph of it tomorrow I’d say: “Oh, yea: I know that place.”

It could be a subliminal suggestion of course, a pastiche of images, of experiences long forgotten. The thesis of  mentalist Darren Brown, for the degree to which we are suggestible is very convincing,.. and yet,…

Her name is Gabrielle. I don’t know where she came from, nor her sinister, gnome like parents who forbid me from having anything to do with her, nor the wily old hotelier, the white suited septegenarian, Herr Gruber, who seems bent on smoothing my way with her, if only I will take this thing seriously, he says. Indeed, he says I must, for all our sakes – his, mine and Gabrielle’s.

To be clear, I’m talking about a story I’m writing here – a story that may eventually be completed and stuck up on some free to download e-book emporium, or it may yet languish unfinished on my computer for years, like a puzzle unsolved until either time or carelessness results in its deletion. To some extent, the plot, the conflict, even the language,… these are literary devices that deliver up at the end of everything a story that someone else can read. It is a format for recording imaginary events, events that have no literal reality, no literal meaning,  but what about the abstract imaginative energy that created them? Where did that come from? And can it not mean something? That pavillion of my imagination – is it not a place someone else can travel to in their imagination, if I describe it well enough?

These are the themes that Patrick Harpur deals with – the daemonic reality, he calls it, and it’s the reason I’ve found his books so interesting. They are archetypal, and mythical, these themes – as all good stories are, and if I’d only studied the classical myths as a lad, instead of engineering, I might have a better idea of what my work is about instead of shunting myself into so many dead ends all the time. All right, if I’d clung to the writing at the expense of everything else, I would have starved to death by now, and I’m quite happy to be uncovering these kindergarten stories in my late middle age, thank you. You see, there are no new stories any more. They were all written down at the beginning of time, etched deeply into the bedrock of our mythology. Each generation of writers merely comes along and reinvents the myths in contemporary disguise and claims the stories as his own.

I think I’ve always  accepted the imagination is a window on a different kind of  reality, wherein dwell these mythical aspects of ourselves., these daemons – some of them close and personal, some of them much, much older, more fundamental, primeval, elemantary.  If we know how to balance our literal and non-literal realities, then I think we stand a chance of living as we should: we “think along the lines of nature”, as Jung said.

The trouble is modern man seems to have such an uneasy relationship with it. He can no longer think along the lines of  nature because two hundred years of Enlightement thinking has addled his brain. But we need to be careful in waking up from this delusion and jumping too far in the other direction. We can go too far in our acceptance of every little thing that comes out of the unconscious, not realising that it is the antithesis of logic, and that to analyse it in literal terms may be to tie ourselves in knots and waste decades of our lives until we can wise up and tell true insight from delusion. On the other hand it’s equally dangerous to deny the imagination any kind of voice at all  because it may end up coming back at us in ways we don’t like.

I’m almost convinced now of the ability of the collective imagination to manifest itself in some kind of  physical way. The thrust of  Dean Radin’s work on Conscious Entanglement is compelling, suggesting that human consciousness is capable of manipulating matter or events, that indeed conciousness itself may be the primary ground of being. It’s only a small leap therefore to speculate on what might happen when the collective unconscious becomes focused in literal reality.

People see things.

Only last summer a trio of tall angelic beings were spotted by a policeman near Silbury Hill in Wiltshire – part of the crop circle goings on that enliven that part of the world every year, and if that’s not a manifestation of a mythical reality, I don’t know what is! No amount of investigation ever yields a definitive explanation to these things. They are like smoke, and remain a mystery, fastened upon by the credulous and the needy and denied with equal fervour by the establishment as preposterous – yet people go on witnessing all manner of Forteana, all the time.

While we should be mindful of the reality of the imaginative dimension, and intuitively alert for any personal meaning coming out of it, it doesn’t do to spend too much time humoring its every whim. To be sure, the fairies are a beguiling crowd but we live in a literal reality while they do not. We are flip sides of the same coin so to speak, neither of us able to manage in isolation from the other, but equally neither of us are equipped to make way for long in the other’s realm, nor to make sense of it in any great detail. The literal reality is our domain, but it is perhaps the non literal that gives it, and our lives, its colour and its meaning.

Read Full Post »