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Posts Tagged ‘anima’

dreamingIn my story, the admittedly somewhat awkwardly titled Enigma that was Carla Sinclair, I tell of a man obsessed from the outset of the personal-computing revolution with creating a virtual world as home for his imaginary muse, Carla. He begins with the Sinclair computers of the late seventies, continues through the later IBM and Microsoft Pentium machines, and beyond to roughly the present day. Each advance in technology allows the construction of a bigger, more detailed and more complex virtual world, as well as a more realistic and artificially articulate manifestation of the muse Carla. His window on this world is his computer screen through which he peers voyeuristically at the autonomous antics of this virtual female companion. And through a queer mix of coding and philosophy he sees Carla grow from a crude 2D cartoon into a 3D virtual phenomenon, a phenomenon to which he devotes his entire life.

To save you the bother of reading the story, **spoiler alert** the conclusion is that the virtual nature of the world he creates, although fascinating, is ultimately unimportant, that in exploring it he is in fact exploring a part of himself, that he and Carla are different sides of the same coin, and you don’t need a computer to work that out. My own minor revelation regarding virtual worlds is that, whilst much hyped, they are of interest only at a trivial level. Contrary to their early promise they actually offer nothing of any practical, philosophical or psychological value. Worse, they can be a wasteful distraction, even harmful if we invest in them the hope of eventually gaining more from them than they are capable of delivering.

carlacoverLike our hero, I have for a long time been surfing a fascination with virtual worlds, but my attempts to create my very own Carla experiment have all failed. This is due to a combination of the limitations of even the most powerful of our machines, but mainly to my own incompetence with modern coding languages. I can use software tools to create the doll-like model on which I paint an image of the Carla’s skin. I can also generate rudimentary movement across a landscape by creating a walking animation and poking her about with the arrow keys, but to code some form of artificial and interactive “intelligence” is quite beyond my ability. And anyway, I can see it would be rather like playing oneself at chess: even were I to succeed, there could be no illusion of reality, no meaningful suspension of disbelief, since you always know for any given input what move is coming next – because you’ve programmed it.

An alternative to the pseudo-autonomous Carla is to opt for one of the ready made virtual worlds on offer, like Linden Labs’ Second Life. I have waxed lyrical about this place in the past, but nowadays find the experience of it rather dull and sterile. Here, the behaviour of our mannequins is not scripted. Instead, we push them around like dollies, as proxies of ourselves. They are not archetypes then but Avatars. For me this immediately led to some confusion in that my instinct, after the Carla experiments, was to create for myself a Carla-like avatar, in other words a female. But for in-world exploration, this means I find myself “living” as that female, and this is perplexing when it comes to my relations with others in the virtual space, since the males I meet all want to see me undressed, and the women all want to take me dancing and clothes shopping. And of course I do not want to be Carla, but recognise that in a more complex way, it is Carla who wants to be me.

So, for practical purposes Carla morphs into the safer and less confusing shape of a generic male avatar, yet one, unfortunately, through whose eyes I see the virtual world in a less than philosophical light. It looks unreal, this world, because it is unreal. The landscape is a crude illusion, at times grotesque. The crudely realised trees sway by way of algorithm, and if I want to turn the shadows on in order to enhance the illusion of reality, my computer grinds to a halt. There is also the disorienting phenomenon of familiarising oneself with a particular region of the world, only to return the next day to find it has been deleted.

snapshot_001Imaginative play is something better left to children. As children we speak through our toys, our dolls, our teddy bears. We invent scenarios for them to enact, worlds for them to inhabit. It is a developmental stage, testing, helpful in bringing into consciousness what would otherwise lie undeveloped – something about the resolution of conflict in relations, and the working towards the more tranquil human goals of a Platonic love for others, and thereby a universal harmony – something like that anyway. But as adults, impaled by now on the spike of our fully formed egos, we are all too ready to pervert our potential, our games tending more instead towards the banal acquisition of power, status, and sex.

As a last resort, I created for myself an off-line Second-Life like world where Carla could live alone. And, like with the Lake Isle of Innisfree, I built myself a cabin there, thinking to find at last the virtual peace for which I have for so long been searching. But again, it’s not very realistic, and I realise it’s also lonely knowing no one else can ever discover us – me and Carla, in our hiding place. There is a thing in humans that gauges the existence of our selves partly in relationship to others, and to deny it is in part to deny life. Indeed under these circumstances, the virtual becomes more of a prison, when what Carla wants is to escape and mingle freely in conscious reality, but without having to submit to the power, or the tyranny of others.

This, as our hero, and creator of the titular Carla Sinclair discovers, is alchemy. But the true alembic is not the man-spun glass, nor the coded virtual world, but the authentic “inner ” world of the psyche envisioned through the lens of the imagination. Only through our exploration of the infinite nuances of this authentic space do we stand a chance of making way in real life. It’s not without its dangers, but anything else leads to incarceration in an intricately coded labyrinth of our own creation, one we might spend a lifetime exploring, but in which everything we see is inevitably a shadow of what it’s actually supposed be.

At another level “real” life is like this too, but that’s another story.

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jungI’ve had a few pieces lined up for the blog recently, all smoothed and polished and ready to go, but something held me back, a little voice asking if that’s who I really was, that person, saying those things. And the answer, on reflection, was no, so I deleted them.

As bloggers, online writers, independent authors, whatever we want to call ourselves, our voices are often vanishingly small but we still have a responsibility to be true to ourselves, to say what we think we mean and to avoid saying that which is only a reaction born of personal prejudice, which is itself a reaction to the prejudice of others.

Sniping and grumpy, I had fallen foul of what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain body, the entity within that awakens when we are out of sorts, low on energy, or just lost in that nameless malaise that comes out of the shadier places of the collective unconscious. His name is Grouch.

I have a sketchbook in which I keep drawings of personal meaning – inspired by dreams, and journeys into guided imagination. They form threads of fertile thought, little half trails leading through the forest of the unknown. In the quest for wholeness, for the truth of us, the mythic trails lead first to a confrontation with our only real nemesis, the shadow, the grouch. Neutralising the grouch (if we are a guy grouch) releases us into the care of the unknown woman who, if we can avoid corrupting her into a sexual fantasy, or just as uselessly projecting her onto real women, will lead us to the wise old man, to the Senex. These are ancient trails concerned with the transformation of psychic energy. They are little understood, also quickly overgrown if we neglect them.

My drawings petered out some time ago, the trail lost, ending with a curious, unfinished portrait of Carl Jung, a man whose writings on depth psychology introduced me to these arcane concepts, and prevented me from becoming rigidified in an unexamined and entirely unconscious life. To what extent I’ve been successful in exposing my shadows, I don’t know except to say there are many fragments left and I suppose my challenge is always to recognise them for what they are before I do or say something stupid.

It’s a start at least.

i ching

I remember during one of our earliest encounters, Jung said: “Take three coins,…”

So I took the coins,…

There have been coincidences too – trivial things, but each of them pregnant with a personal meaning. Jung called them syncronicities, valuable for their ability to release trapped energy, to open up a path in the personal psyche, to open up the trails again, if we can only discern their traces after long neglect.

That which changes remains true, he said, and conversely that which does not change cannot be true – or something like that. And of course the pain body never changes, is always bitter, always sniping, always disapproving of some thing or another, or some one or another, always shouting warnings of the Apocalypse if we give but an inch to the shadow forces that have put our pipe out. You’ll see him in his various guises on the news tonight, or in the headlines of the tabloid press tomorrow – whatever article or snippet gets your blood up.

Do not blog when drunk. Do not blog within 24 hours of an emotionally upsetting incident – two valuable maxims, to which I would add another: be careful of your shadow, and ask: for whom do I write? The shadow or the light? The grouch, or my self?

I finished that drawing off, added some depth to it, then deleted the stuff I’ve been writing, writing that poked a shallow kind of fun at things that ran up against my pain body, and which in turn I was looking to run up against someone else’s. Left to his own devices, the grouch resorts to a vitriolic rhetoric that only reinforces the negativity the grouch apparently derides. It adds to the black cloud, to the gathering zeitgeist of doom that would enfold us all in its shadowy wings. The grouch resists change, but that which cannot change is not true.

Speaking for myself I think I write best when it’s with a smile, or more often with the pursed lips of a sweet longing for something that perhaps never was, but one day might yet be.

Zeitgeist. Mood. These things are important, and as writers we must decide which side we’re on, because we are not only subject to the zeitgeist, we are also the shapers of it – not as individuals of course – we are, individually, too small for that – but collectively we each add a little power. Shadow or light – we take our choice.

So I began afresh. Began to write what I’m writing now. And I’m listening to Joni Mitchell as I write, to Shadows and Light, an album I enjoy, but haven’t listened to for a long time. I’m waiting for one track in particular, in my opinion the best rendition of “Amelia” in all of Joni Mitchel’s recordings. And in it there’s this one line. She sings:

It was the Hexagram of the Heavens, the strings of this guitar,..

The Hexagram of the Heavens is a reference to the Yjing, the ancient Chinese oracle, popular in western counterculture around the time of this song’s writing, popular still among spiritual wanderers and psychological depth workers. That’s why Jung gave me the three coins, to get me going; it’s how you consult it, after first suspending disbelief and being at least willing to dissolve your own prejudice.

The Hexagram of Heavens is also translated as “the Creative”. It describes inspiration, the urge to write, to express oneself, to achieve something. It is positive, it is lightness, it is spring, and summer. It is life.

Nobody else I know likes Joni Mitchell, but I connected with her music as a boy, and she’s always been there; she touches chords, some of nostalgic longing, others of an eternal capacity for love and for life, singing always sweetly through the rain and the pain of her own life. And listening to her now I feel something stirring.

I did Tai Chi, today, after a long break, born of the grouch’s resistance. The knees were creaking for want of practice, but the heart eventually attained the soft current that subdues the pain body, and then one is left looking at the world afresh: ruby leaves of Japanese maple, freshly unfurled over green lawn, all washed to deeper shades by dusk and spring rains. It vibrates, it dissolves the vitriol, it lives and lets live the freed soul. I must do it again, soon.

Small indeed is the individual voice, typing things into the metaverse. We will not change the world on our own, but like all lone voices writing out into the inky dark of night, we need to know which side we’re on at least, and what kind of dawn we want to usher in. I prefer my skies red at night, that they will bear the promise of future delight, rather than the blood red warnings of the morning.

Come out of the shadows then, dear writer, and write for the light.

Goodnight all.

Sunset, Lancashire, England September, 24 2009

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They say travel broadens the mind. It can also expand it into other dimensions if you’re not afraid to look at things and read more into them than is perhaps literally apparent or socially acceptable. For example, take a look at these two giant bronze lovers:

Are they embracing before separation, or in reunion? Paul Day’s massive sculpture at London’s Saint Pancras station certainly arrested my attention as I was en route for Paris the other week. As with many symbols we encounter in the course of our travels, they can take on a significance that has nothing to do with their original intention. They speak to us intimately,  if we let them. For myself, this sculpture spoke of a passionate farewell. But more symbolically and personally, it spoke of a leaving behind of hearth and home, a breaking from Anima’s siren voice, and a stepping out into the world beyond my comfortable horizons. Will they ever see each other again? And if they do, will time and distance have changed them?

It was 07:15 am, the vast space of St Pancras was hushed and glowing dimly in the dawn light. Ahead of me was a two and a quarter hour train journey. By mid-morning, I’d be in Paris. All of this was business and I wasn’t expecting much by way of personal revelation, but images stick, and travel, be it spiritual or physical, is all about making the right connections. Paul Day’s sculpture certainly changed things for me on this trip.

My first memorable connection, after taking leave of these St Pancras lovers, was in Paris, Gare Du Nord. It was a poorly dressed Algerian woman, middle aged, palms upturned and an enquiring “Monsieur?” She looked wretched and she broke my heart.

“Je m’excuse Madame, je n’ai pas d’argent Francais.”

It was an encounter my French teacher had not prepared me for. The poor woman looked at me as if I were a blathering idiot, offering such a polite rebuff to a street beggar. He could only be “un dumb Angalis”, she was thinking. But I wasn’t lying – I had no French money, other than plastic, and hey, everyone deserves respect even those who don’t expect it.

Her face remained with me, like something from a dream, briefly glimpsed, and not really understood in the symbolic sense. Was the muse haunting me? Was she already so impoverished by my neglect of her? Come on, love, it’s only been a few hours, give me a break!

I was heading for an industrial suburb, to the south of Paris, and made my way by combination of SNCF and bus. Usually my main concern when travelling like this is that my dozy head will fall behind and, by missing something, cast me into the bowels of some impenetrable maze from which there is no hope of either progress or safe return. Numbers become critical, in a literal sense of course: departure and arrival times, bus numbers, train numbers, but when you find those numbers chiming with other parts of your life you begin to sense a different kind of connection is being made. And numbers are also archetypes. 125 is one of mine, the numerological sum of which is 8, also 1881, the numerological sum of which is 9. 8 and 9, the former representing the attainment of materialistic goals by a process of quiet perseverance, the latter presaging the dawn of a new understanding. And familiar numbers catch your eye. They have you dropping out of defensive mode because it’s like the Universe winking at you, reminding you it’s intentions are never hostile, that if you can open yourself to it, then it will always lend you its protection, and teach you some interesting stuff along the way.

Home for the night was a little hotel, heavy on applejack green – a little garish for my taste, but not uncomfortable. Its neighbours were a motorcycle dealership and a Sushi restauraunt. They were laying tramlines outside until four in the morning, but they didn’t disturb me. They could have been testing rockets as well for all I know. I was so tired and curiously relaxed, even after a twelve hour day, I let the Paris night close over me and drag me down to unknown depths of dreamless sleep, from which my friendly Android struggled to rescue me.

Anima was at the reception desk next morning, nicely dressed and looking much more self-assured. She was wanting to know the word that meant “to join papers, like this?” she made a hand gesture which confused me until she clarified matters by producing her stapler. She was lovely and charming. I gave her the word “to staple”, and could hear her quietly repeating it, so as not to forget, while I finished my coffee and shouldered my bag. I noted wrily, as I stepped out into another chill autumn dawn that it was probably going to be my only tangible contribution to Anglo-French relations. But the I Ching had counselled me to keep an open mind, to fit in, to go with the flow, and I was trying.

I’d set out without expectation, but already I could feel things were different this time, at least internally. I was possibly unhinged for a start, but I seemed whole lot calmer for it, and was travelling thoughtfully at least. Nor had I left my self at home, pining for my eventual return. I had my self with me, and he was proving to be good company. And my self liked the French people he had met, liked speaking with them in his broken French, and they had seemed to like him. Even the waiter in the restaurant the night before – the place decked out like a tart’s boudoir – had failed to arouse anything but my humour when, plonking a bottle of wine at my elbow, had declared solemnly that “if I did not like, it it was not his fault”.

And in spite of his mysterious pessimism, I had liked it very much.

Whatever had he meant by that? In the literal sense, I’d no idea of course. Maybe the poor guy had been at my elbow all night asking me to taste the damned stuff and I’d been too busy explaining to my companion the wonders of the English Lake District. But metaphorically? Well, there’s a lifetime of over-analysis there, and I’m still thinking about it. Perhaps my reply should have been: “If I do not like it, I will be too polite to complain, and shall finish it anyway, as if were the elixir of the gods”?

Regrettably, I saw very little of Paris – the Paris of romance, of the Tour Eiffel, of the Moulin Rouge. But this was not unexpected. A hair-raising taxi ride across town was about my lot. It afforded me glimpses of a vibrant city bathed in autumn sunshine, a golden light permeating the air, teasing me sufficiently to make me hope I’d one day return, but on my own terms next time, and to make a more leasurely sojourn. Then I was boarding the Eurostar and being shot homeward, like an arrow from Diana’s bow.

I was looking forward to a reunion with the Lovers at St Pancras, a sort of metaphorical full circling of my journey, but the arrivals’ elevator took me away from an easy return to Anima, as I had once known her. Instead I found myself ejected into the cold, and the rain, and the dark of the busy Euston road. Then it was a slit eyed walk to meet my evening train back up north, where I found myself seated opposite the most unassuming of Gods. This was to be the man who bore the closing message of at least the metaphorical, imaginal, dimension of my journey.

The ancient Greeks believed the gods went among us in disguise, so you should always be respectful in your encounters with strangers lest you inadvertently offend one of the gods – and you really don’t want to do that. It’s a custom that fell out of use thousands of years ago of course, but in light of our current understanding of psychical parallels between Greek mythology and the Archetypal reality, it’s a custom worth familiarising yourself with, especially if you intend making much way inside your head.

It’s not often strangers converse on trains, at least not in my experience. We look askance, we bury our heads in our newspapers or our tech, even over hundreds of miles, and I’m not the greatest conversationalist, especially not five hours into a seven hour homeward journey. I don’t know what the spark was, but before that Virgin train had reached Wigan Wallgate this guy was the best friend I’d never had, and what’s curious is we found we shared a name from the past – an old colleague, alas one that had not meant anything to me, other than as a milestone deep in the early history of my manhood.

I could not reciprocate the amazing tales of his latter day exploits with tales of my own because in truth I’d all but forgotten him. Rather the literal significance here for me was the staggering coincidence that I could share an awareness of this person with a stranger on a train. As for the metaphorical,… well,..

I left him at Wigan Wallgate and sailed on into the night, me ever thoughtful and tired. It was after ten thirty now. Preston wasn’t too far away, and then there was a half hour taxi ride home, but already I was returning with a greater awareness of who I was and, crucially, who I was not.

That stranger on the northbound Virgin service had reminded me of a self I’d thought was still a part of me, and made me realise how little kinship I still kept with that formative past. In fact I’d buried it long ago. This is magical thinking of course and very much out of fashion, but wonderfully instructive if you can persuade yourself to indulge in it.

I’ve written very little since I returned – this being by way of an icebreaking piece. Instead I’ve been reading, another journey in itself. I’ve not seen Anima either. So far as I know she’s still waiting for me at St Pancras. She’ll catch up eventually, of course – she always does – and boy is she going to be cross! Are we the same lovers who took our leave that morning? No, something’s changed for sure. I know when I look her in the eyes again, I’ll be hoping to see a little deeper into things than I did before.

I trust she can respect that.

 

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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.

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