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Posts Tagged ‘direction’

i chingSo far as I can work out, finding the centre of one’s self is to attain a state of mind in which we are able to view our selves at the centre of a universe rich in personal meaning. We identify events in the external world as reflections of currents within our own psyche. We feel a detachment, virtue of a transcendent perspective, while also sensing our interconnectedness with the universe and everything in it.

We seek signs, symbols, messages of personal guidance, for clues to guide our way, and we receive them – or at the very least we are comfortable in suspending disbelief and acting upon irrational sixth-sensical notions. Everywhere, and everything becomes alive, numinous, our lives suddenly enriched with a sense of purpose and meaning. We feel calm, awed by the beauty and the mystery of both the inner and the outer worlds.

There are many labels for such a state of mind – pathological, perhaps, but more positively, we could call it living the religious life, or we might call it “Dao” or the “the way”, or in more contemporary terms we might call it living magically. Living the magical life we are armoured against calamity. This is not to say misfortune does not befall us, more that we are not harmed by it, psychologically, emotionally, in the same way. We are also less likely to create calamity for ourselves by unskillful ways of thinking and being.

But the journey to the centre is not a straight line. We circle inwards some way towards it, then back out again, gaining and then losing this cosmic perspective as the ego’s dominance over us waxes and wanes. But each time we circle in, we approach a little more towards the centre. Thus we progress in a spiralling, cyclical manner. Each cycle might take a year, or a decade – there is no way of knowing for sure, and no certain method for gaining progress or holding onto it. We move when we are ready. And when the cycle turns back to winter, there is nothing we can do but shield our flame in anticipation of the storms to come, while trusting in the more fruitful season’s eventual return.

I came upon my own guide to this phenomenon by chance in a book called the Yijing, or Book of Changes. It’s not the only guide. There have been many down the ages, and the one that’s right for each of us will show itself when we’re ready for it. The Yijing has a powerful mythic and symbolic underpinning, and through its use we learn the art of acting powerfully by not acting at all, other than by correctly interpreting and negotiating change. Through this art we come to understand our position within a pattern of existential dynamics, a flow of time – the times when we have influence but don’t realise it, and the times when we think we have it, but don’t. It requires a suspension of disbelief, a humble spirit and a faith in the generally benign nature of the universe – but these are not easy things to hold onto in a world as materialistic and cynical as ours.

It was a favourite of the hippy generation, but we can trace its origins back to China’s Neolithic period and the proto-writings of the Shang dynasty. It first came to the west in late Victorian times through the missionary James Legge, but was largely ignored. It came again in 1923 in a German translation, thanks to another missionary, the great sinologist, Richard Wilhelm, and was championed by Carl Jung who recognised its power as a psycho-analytical tool. A later English translation of the Wilhelm edition appeared in 1950 and is still in print. It’s this version you are still most likely to find in bookshops today.

Every generation has reinvented the Yijing somewhat, re-purposed it to its own times, its own myths and symbols. I collected as many versions of it I could find and boiled them down into my own interpretation, which I laboured over long and lovingly, and still use.

After a promising start though, and a significant change in direction as a result of the book’s counsel, I lost my way with it as a consequence of ego reasserting itself and demanding to know how the book worked. And then, as time, passed, ego began questioning my use of it on rational grounds, effectively calling me a new-age flake, and to get a grip.

To be sure, taking the lid off the Yijing is like opening Pandora’s box. You will never understand how it works, and greater minds than mine have been broken by it. To try is to fall into it and then its alchemical vortices will suck you down and tear you limb from limb. But ego tries, because it must, it abandons humility and loses the centre, is recoiled full circle, leaving us bruised and bleeding, the egoic, “poor me”, cast out once more into the demon plagued wilderness of the old life, the old way of thinking. And there we languish, vulnerable once more to the mortal woundings of every day calamity.

But then the season of the heart changes, and we pick it up again, blow the dust from it, somewhat chastised, and seek to remake the old connections. The book is hesitant, testing us for sincerity, but slowly lets us back in and we resume the journey.

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slater bridgeA traveller in a strange land sits down to rest by the bank of a river. He’s unsure of the geography and has no map to guide his way. All he knows is he wants to cross the river to find out what’s on the other side, preferably before nightfall. He’s heard lots of stories about the land across the river, most of which he suspects are probably made up because they’re so contradictory, and everyone he speaks to on the subject has a different opinion, to say nothing of a variety of dogmatic beliefs, so he’d like to go there for himself and see what’s what. Strangely the far bank is shrouded in mist, so he can only make out the vague forms of rocks and trees. Listening carefully over the sound of the river, he can hear the calls of unknown creatures and, at times, more softly, something that sounds like voices and the laughter of a people at ease with themselves.

He’s anxious to make way, to cross over, but the traveller is a cautious man; for navigation, experience has taught him to trust only the evidence of his own eyes, that the natives hereabouts, although they speak his language, are notoriously unreliable when giving directions – sometimes helpful, sometimes deliberately misleading, and sometimes so self-deluded they might think they’re being helpful, when in fact they’re not.

All the traveller want to know is if there’s a bridge by which he can cross the river, if he can reach it before nightfall, and if he should go upstream or downstream to get there? What could be simpler?

A native comes along and the traveller asks him the question, to which the native confidently replies: go upstream, there’s a bridge just five minutes away and you can safely cross long before nightfall. But the native might be lying and the traveller is very tired – he doesn’t want to waste his energy with a wild goose chase, so he waits until another native comes along, then asks the same question. Go downstream, says the native; there’s a good bridge not five minutes away and you can easily cross, long before nightfall.

The traveller is confused. It would be more reliable to toss a coin or consult an oracle, than ask the natives. It’s not that the natives have ever been hostile to him, indeed they generally appear warm and friendly, but he suspects this is because travellers such as he always carry gold coins, and with a bit of guile, the more naïve travellers can easily be parted from them.

The third native who comes along says the same thing as the first, and the traveller wonders if he should go with the majority view and head upstream, until the fourth native agrees with the second. Then another native comes along and laughs, says there is no bridge in either direction, that all talk of bridges is the result of delusional thinking, and that anyway there can be nothing interesting worth visiting on the other side of the river, and why would the traveller want to bother himself with all that nonsense anyway? Instead he gives directions to a nearby village where he says a beautiful young woman, who he describes as his sister, will be very glad to entertain the traveller for a small fee. The traveller politely declines this offer and continues to wait on the riverbank for a solution to his dilemma.

But nightfall is approaching and, without shelter, the traveller is afraid of wolves, robbers and vampires, all of which the natives have assured him come out and prey upon the benighted. He knows the natives are not to be trusted in anything, but his own imagination will not allow him to ignore the possibility of something unpleasant befalling him after dark. Perhaps it would be wiser then to seek out that village after all and avail himself of its comforts, at least until morning.

But if he can find a bridge and cross over the river, he reasons, he might find a more comfortable resting place and a traveller’s inn that would have the good taste not to tempt him with dubious comforts, but instead offer a more honourable fayre. And from the contented murmur he can still hear coming from the other side, he suspects there are no wolves there, nor robbers, nor vampires, and that a man may sleep out in the open, under the stars without fear of being molested.

Another native happens along and the traveller wonders if this man can be persuaded to tell the truth in exchange for a gold coin. But there is nothing to stop the man from taking the traveller’s coin and still point him in the wrong direction (it wouldn’t be the first time). Similarly the natives are totally unreliable as hired guides, insisting on payment in advance, then like as not leading travellers into a trackless wilderness before spiriting themselves away just as night falls. Wisely, he lets the native go on his way.

Instead, the traveller cuts a branch from a tree, sharpens one end of it and drives it into the earth, to form a stout marker. Then, in bold letters, he carves into it the message:

Here I was, before I went wrong.

He tosses a coin for direction, and heads upstream.

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drreamIn the biological sciences, dreams don’t amount to much. Bizarre and useless, we’re advised there is no meaning to be extracted from them. We dream of a rabbit, look it up in a dream dictionary, and learn the rabbit means we’ll have good luck. Hmm – seems superficial at best.

But wait!

What if we dream we’re naked among people we know – family, friends colleagues? Depending on which book we look this one up in, it can be interpreted as meaning we are afraid of showing others our true selves. In this case then, the dream appears symbolic of personal unconscious complexes, and that’s meaningful in that it reveals to us aspects of our selves in a potentially helpful way, prompting further questions like: what parts of myself do I not want others to see, and why not?

Maybe there’s more to dreams after all?

In fact dream interpretation has been an important part of psychoanalysis for over a century. Sadly though, for the layman, dreaming still languishes in the realm of simplistic dream dictionaries. Serious literature is more elusive,… but infinitely more enlightening.

We all dream, every night. It’s just remembering our dreams that’s the problem. But it’s actually not that difficult and consists merely of making a mental note as we lay down to sleep that we will try to remember our dreams. And in time, we remember them. And the more dreams we remember, the more richly we are rewarded with our dreams – the first foggy, disjointed fragments maturing into vivid dream canvasses resplendent in allegorical meaning and which leave us tingling all day in their numinous afterglow.

By interpreting my dreams I sought a new direction in life. The experience was wholly positive, but not in the way I expected. Most dreams remained inscrutable; life was unchanged; I did the same things, the same job, faced the same problems. However in retrospect, I realised the dreams had guided me towards the centre of a newly reconstructed self, one in which the same elements were present, but had been rearranged.

I had gained a different perspective.

Dreams, it seems, serve a potentially transformative function of the psyche, if we can only bring ourselves to take them seriously.

And now?

I admit I’m out of the habit of recalling dreams. My journal is rarely updated and what few dreams I spontaneously hold onto these days have lost their depth and their power. But I’ve been wondering if the time has come to make an effort to uncover my dreams again, or even to crank it up a bit,…

…and go flying in them!

In all my dreaming, I have simply let the dreams wash over me, so that like most dreamers, I do not know I am dreaming, when I dream. But dreaming can be taken further; we can train ourselves to dream lucidly.

In lucid dreams we are no longer passive observers of the dream, but self determining participants, capable of critical reasoning and intelligent engagement. We can shape our environment, talk to dream characters, and we can get about by flying. How cool is that?

Lucid dreaming requires a more advanced skillset, one I don’t possess, but one I’m led to believe can be acquired easily. The question is, should I make the effort?

The fictional characters in my current work-in-progress are adept at lucid dreaming. The dream space allows them a more flexible stage on which to explore the nature of their being, and I find the philosophical implications irresistible. But if one writes of Australia, how authentic can one be if one has never been there?

The tales of lucid dreamers have been like Siren voices for a while now urging me to make the push and become a lucid dreamer myself. But a wise old friend cautions me that to enter on this path is also to risk losing oneself inside one’s own head, becoming mired in a different kind of mud – one of self-generated and entirely hedonistic dream-content – none of which means anything.

Lucid dreamers talk of directly engaging with the unconscious, rather than being passively subjected to its whims, as in ordinary dreams. They talk of strange, paranormal things too, like precognitive dreams, healing in dreams, and even of meeting the dreaming selves of other people. But while such things fascinate and feed my hunger for interesting fictional scenarios, to actually bluster in and interrogate one’s own unconscious, seems an immodest thing to do. My wise old friend reminds me that when we travel the liminal zones bordering the Faery lands, we are always better going quietly, and on tiptoe.

I do need to move on from where I’m at. I sense a stagnation in my ways and in my thoughts. So, I have blown the dust from my dream journal, and made a few fresh entries, but the dreams I seek are strictly of the ordinary kind. I’m sure lucid dreaming can be a wild party, but I’m also thinking it’s better to wait for an invitation than to use one’s cleverness and egotistical wit to gatecrash a gathering where nobody’s quite sure what’s going on. Notwithstanding the extraordinary exploits of my fictional characters, to dream lucidly is perhaps to risk dragging the expectations of the real world into the realm of the Faery, to inform it, to shape it, and ultimately I fear, as with any other environment we seek to exploit for our own aims, to irreparably corrupt it.

So, while I may continue to appear, on occasion, naked and embarrassed in my dreams, my dreams at least are seeing me as I truly am, rather than how I would prefer myself to be seen. I think they prefer me that way.

And who am I to argue?

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