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durleston wood cover smallIn the dreams of men, encounters with an unknown woman are significant in that she represents a meeting with the image of the man’s soul, and sets out the state of development of his psyche, also the state of his relations with, and his knowledge of women. A sickly soul-image in dreams is an obvious sign something is wrong, similarly if she is wearing chains, or in some other way restrained or imprisoned.

We see it depicted in art as St George, come to release the maiden from where she has been chained to a tree and is harassed by the phallic dragon. George kills the dragon, more metaphorically the Ego, which releases the maiden, the soul, into a more constructive relationship. Without undergoing this fundamental mythical journey every man is going to struggle with aspects of himself later on, and not just in his relations with women.

The chained and sickly soul-image is a symbol. It does not mean she is lacking energy, quite the opposite in fact. But the energy is misdirected by a man’s lack of understanding of himself. It is a powerful force erupting from the unconscious and being projected out into the world, affecting the way he sees things, the way he sees women.

He notices a female, is attracted, besotted, obsessed, unaware what he’s seeing is a manifestation of something inside of him. This is partly how attraction between sexes works. But say we hit things off with the object of our desire, make love, get married, come to know her as a mortal woman, you might think we had then slain the dragon, that is until the soul projects herself onto someone else. Time and time again. If we have by now settled on our life mate, such serial infatuations can be troublesome, even dangerous. But rather than acting on them and potentially ruining our lives, the soul is inviting us to withdraw the projections, to dissolve them, and in doing so restore the power inwardly, allowing her the means of manifesting herself more in consciousness, thus aiding us in seeing the world more clearly and with a little more wisdom.

All of this sounds a bit odd. But there are precedents in stories, in myth, and in practice.

In Durleston Wood, the protagonist, Richard, has returned to his home village after a failed marriage, and takes up a teaching post at his old school where he finds himself in love with his headmistress. For a time he recognises this infatuation for what it is and does not act. Instead he basks in the sweet melancholy of its futility while taking long, lonely walks through the titular Durleston Wood. But in the wood is an old house, part ruined and overgrown, and living in it, kept prisoner there, possibly, is a woman he’s seen wearing the cuffs and chains of BDSM role-play. She’s apparently the sex slave of another man, and she invites our hero to rescue her, to take ownership of her,…

Houses are significant in Jungian psychology. They are the place of abode, both physically, and psychologically. In Jung’s own dreams, the rooms of the house represent aspects of the self. If your abode is dilapidated, as it is in Durleston Wood, it suggests a psyche in distress through neglect. Work on restoring such an abode is likewise suggestive of work upon the psyche, a process of healing. Thus Richard moves into the house in Durleston Wood, performs his restorations and releases the chained woman. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Work on the psychological aspects of the self do not in themselves guarantee the correctness of one’s direction thereafter. Indeed it can be a bit of a roller coaster. For certainty in navigation, you need wisdom as well, but it certainly gets things moving.

In Durleston Wood, free to your e-reader, sometimes sold in mangled form by pirates on Amazon – oo-arrr!

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watchwordThe Watchword technique is method of self analysis. Its origins are obscure, but find themselves formalised in this 1990’s title by Michael Daniels, senior lecturer in what was then Liverpool Polytechnic’s Department of Psychology. The book has a very Jungian grounding, and aims to give the reader a clear picture of the forces at play in the currents of the psyche – where we’re going, what’s holding us back, what are the dominant forces driving us, what areas we need to work on, to let go of and so on.

If you’re of a New Agey, self analysis, Jung-fan bent, you probably already have a number of methods for getting inside your head. Tarot cards are popular, as are Runes. For a long time I favoured the I Ching but, like all oracular devices it can be misunderstood and, like the Tarot and Runes, is somewhat tainted by an occultish aura which does not appeal to everyone.

Oracles do not foretell tell the future. It’s a common misconception. Instead, they read the psychical landscape and make projections from it. They grant us a look inside our heads, revealing what might otherwise be hidden. All methods have their attractions and drawbacks and we should feel free to take them up and set them aside as and when the mood takes us, never adhering to them too slavishly, but rather listening to our own instincts for what’s right at the time. In this way the Watchword technique can be looked upon as another thing to try, perhaps when answers are failing you elsewhere. The method is direct, and carries none of the occult baggage associated with other methods, though this is not to say its intuitions are both startling and mysterious.

The technique involves writing down sixteen words – whatever comes into one’s head – then pairing them off and looking for an association with the linked words, then pairing these off. Reminiscent of a Jungian word association test, and dream amplification, what we end up with is a grid of highly charged words which, like dream symbols, represent the archetypal forces, or a kind of psychical weather forecast. As a method I find it very powerful, though as Daniels cautions in the book, it is not something to be read too literally or follow too slavishly.

So, our sixteen seed words are boiled down by a process of association into a square matrix which we then interpret using a form of directional symbolism. In short, the up and down directions indicate progressive and regressive tendencies, the left and the right involve the more subtle interpretation of inner (left) and outer (right) psychological urges. The overall balance of the square therefore comes to represent a map of the forces within us and the complex dynamical churn between them. A further pattern of three words emerges in the centre of the matrix, the middle one of these being taken as the ultimate direction implied from the interplay of all the other forces in the mix.

While this may sound dubious to anyone not versed in symbolic or archetypal thinking, I find the method has an uncanny way of homing in on the key dynamics. The answers arise from our own thought processes, it’s just that some of them are normally hidden from view and the method tries to tease them out. At its most basic level the Watchword technique can be treated as a word game, as a bit of fun, and when beginning with it, it’s perhaps best to treat it as such. But at its deepest level it can aid us in coming up with some profound insights into our own strengths and failings.

A more individual analysis of the words we’ve chosen can also reveal our Myers Briggs type, and the book goes into this in some depth, but I’ve found the technique less reliable in that respect, probably due to my own failings in grasping the symbolic significance of the words we use, better to use the Myers Briggs method itself, but in all other respects this is a valuable tool for anyone on the path towards self discovery.

 

 

 

 

 

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The_ScreamIn observing the political and economic turmoil of the world, I feel I should be writing about it more, since if I’m not writing my life feels a bit like a rudderless vessel. And, politics, world affairs, these things are, after all, interesting subjects, subjects that determine the fate of nations, but I find it difficult to get at the facts of them, and without the facts one cannot help but be partisan.

The reason I struggle for the facts is I have laboured all my life under the misconception of a simplistic world view, a simplicity that’s comforting because the truth is more complex than most of us can make sense of. Indeed partisanship seems a necessary condition if we are to function at all, without the infinite ambiguity of the world rendering us permanently frozen in a state of catatonic schizophrenia. To be partisan, after all, halves the problem, since we can then dismiss the other person’s point of view and rest more comfortably in our own.

Of course, the advent of the world wide web has blown up a storm of imagery, revealing a world far more complex than we once thought, but this does not help because now the available information overloads us so we self-censor, pick the images that suit our narrow view, and block the ones that don’t. Yes, I can try to be non-partisan, but I’m working against myself, and I can be a devious fellow, but here goes.

Approaching now the end of our lost decade, we find American and Western European democracies polarising into entrenched positions to the left and right while the middle ground has fallen away. Unfortunately, the middle ground is where most people stand, and they’re finding no one represents their aspirations any more.

The economic system that has supported us since the Second World War – free market capitalism – is now impotent. It still generates wealth in sickly spurts, but fails to distribute it evenly. It is caught in a pathological malfunction that vastly enriches its captains while laying waste to the rest, both environmentally, and in terms of the life prospects of the majority of planet earth’s inhabitants. A mutiny, by the natural world, and the disenfranchised is an entirely plausible consequence, and some might say long overdue.

Politically, even the most cursory analysis reveals the West is not governed by democracies as we are led to believe, but by plutocracies. These are systems in which the democratic machinery exists and is indeed much vaunted, but its goals are more of an aspiration, rendered largely irrelevant by, and subservient to powerful moneyed interests. And plutocracies are resistant to change when change is due, since the beneficiaries, cosseted in wealth, do not feel the pain of the poor who are subservient to them, nor are they particularly aware of their existence.

As a consequence the global plutocratic vessel fetched itself up on the rocks for the last time in 2008, with political and economic efforts since then being devoted entirely to its salvage, at floating it off on an incoming tide of oft-touted market resurgence. But its back is broken, its cargo spilled and plundered. Persistence in this direction promises not a lost decade but a lost generation, or two. Yet this is exactly the course on which we’re bound.

There is a revival of left leaning, anti plutocratic politics, giving voice to complaint. Socialism, a term not mentioned above a whisper since the 1980’s, is spoken again, on both sides of the Atlantic, and without irony, but it remains to be seen if this will have any effect at ushering in a more egalitarian paradigm, since the forces arrayed against it, barricaded behind vast wealth, remain formidable.

But when consumer goods, things that have rendered populations docile, are beyond purchase, when the domestic budget forces a choice between food and renewing the contract on the iPhone, populations will become restless, prone to irrational frenzy. Thoughts will turn from the Playstation to activism. This is, after all, what the consumer society was invented for in the 1920s, as an opiate for the masses, and it cannot be allowed to fall away entirely or, whether such frenzies of want are tickled by charismatic, media savvy individuals, or by the phases of the moon, the half century to come will be an eventful one.

The Middle East is aflame, of course. The Syrian civil war has been raging for six years. Iraq and Afghanistan, theatres of western intervention, have been bloodletting for over a decade. Western Africa is benighted by an economic ruin largely ignored in Western Media. These regions have haemorrhaged their youth, set them on the terrifying migration routes to the heart of Europe, where their arrival arouses compassion and racist resentment in equal measure.

I do not know where this is going, only that it is a crisis terribly underplayed, and perhaps it is for this reason we seem immune to it still, ambivalent, by turns perplexed and apathetic, but generally believing things will still turn out well in the safe shires of the West, because they always have before. But this time they may not.

The world is not a dream, but in many respects the imagery coming out of it resembles the imagery of dreams. There is still the beauty of aspiration – the eye of the beholder – reminding us the human spirit can be stilled into appreciative contemplation by the simplest of things. Yet there is also the grotesque, the violent, the terrifying – all the stuff of nightmares, suggestive of the power of the unconscious bearing a dark fruit, sown by the seeds of things we have long suppressed.

This harvest is not a wholesome one, we shudder to touch it, but it must be gathered in all the same, dried out to harmlessness under the sun, and examined, not left to rot and fester in the fields, season after season, as we have always done before.

And as with dreams it helps to take each image in its turn, to ask ourselves what it is within us that gives rise to this picture. The dream, like the world, cannot be controlled directly. It simply is. And what it is is a consequence of our thinking, our desires, our prejudice, our imperfections, our inner most selves. We can only therefore each look to our selves and temper our hardness, temper the Ego’s will to power.

It is a retrograde step, and sad to see, the usual media popularising our leaders trading infantile insults live on TV. We have no need for warriors. Time more for all the great houses of power to temper their tone, for the Ego, that when shown its failings in the dream, even then persists in its will to power and the fantasy of its own superiority, gives rise to the most monstrous nightmares, to the apocalyptic imagery of the archetypal gods, on whose anvil all things are eventually broken.

Viewed in these terms, the world begins to make more sense. We are in the midst of a cataclysmic collective psychosis. Sadly, this suggests that what lies ahead of us is not a lost decade, nor even a lost generation, but perhaps a lost century.  And it’s only 2016.

Better to stay away from politics and world affairs – its study can make you maudlin.

Sweet dreams.

 

 

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souls-codeDr James Hillman (1926-2011) was a renowned post-Jungian analyst, depth psychologist and latter day guru of the human development movement. His books offer ideas that draw on early Western (Greek) philosophy and mythology. If we want to understand, to accommodate and direct the forces of the psyche, says Hillman, then we do well to think on what the Greeks wrote about their gods.

I find him difficult, but if one perseveres bits of him stick. In the Soul’s Code he tells us about Plato’s myth of Er, part of his magnum opus, The Republic, in which we are acquainted with the idea of a personal Daemon, an internal, psychical companion who carries the map of our lives, according to a plan laid down before our birth.  Our future then, according to this myth, is not determined so much by the environment we are born into as by a kernel of potential, like an acorn, that will grow into what it was meant to be regardless of any adversity we face in life, or possibly even because of it.

Our task in life is to live out the potential of the acorn, to allow it to grow down from the fertile earth of the deep psyche into the blossom of material realisation through the physical entity that we are. But the Daemon also has the power to bend and shape events to suit the attainment of its ambition for us. So,… we miss the bus, the car gets a flat tyre, we miss the crucial meeting, we lose our job; seen from the Ego’s perspective as personal disasters, such upsets can now be re-interpreted as part of a grander plan, releasing us to pursue another path, one closer to what the Daemon has intended for us. It’s a catch-all – so even the bad hand we are dealt can be greeted with a philosophical acquiescence. It was simply meant to be.

But we can also resist the daemon, resist the call, run capriciously and contrary to the Daemon’s aim. When this happens though, we will at some point feel resistance, feel a gnawing dissatisfaction with our lives and our tireless wants. Persist long enough in a contrary direction and the Daemon will make us ill, or even kill us off altogether, write us off as a bad job, and start afresh.

To realise the Daemon’s plan is to live the life we were intended. The challenge though is divining what it is the Daemon wants for us, and knowing if we’re on the path or not. Personal happiness is not the key, for many who have lived Daemon haunted lives do not end their lives well. Their achievements may stand out, make history, save lives, bring comfort to millions, while their own lives end in apparent ruin and ignominy.

What I find confusing about The Soul’s Code is Hillman’s use of remarkable lives as illustrations of the Daemon at work. He does this, he says, to magnify the phenomenon, to render it visible to analysis but, though he tells us the Daemon is at work in all our lives, the temptation at a first reading is to conclude only those names lit up by fame have listened well enough, and the rest of us are losers.

I’m sure this isn’t what Hillman is saying, or maybe it is. I find much in him that’s contradictory, elusive, beguilingly and beautifully poetic, rather like the psyche itself: alluring, intangible, ambiguous, shape-shifting. There are no firm handles, no answers, nothing to gain purchase, nothing one can test by putting into practice, no ten step plan for contacting your Daemon and realising your full potential. He is the dream to be interpreted, and like the all dreams perhaps not taken too literally.

I’m not unsympathetic to the idea of a personal Daemon. Indeed I think I met mine once, during a brief, spontaneous moment of transcendence, when I recognised myself as being interconnected with everything. Everywhere I looked, there I was. And the Daemon was there, felt, rather than seen, a formless presence reminding me, wordlessly, that as remarkable and unlikely as this vision of seemed, I had always known it to be the truth, but had forgotten it. I had drunk, as Hillman might have quoted, from Greek Myth, from the waters of the Lethe.

But the puzzle for all of us is what I feel Hillman did not address in any depth, and I’d hoped he would – this being the sense of our own importance, our own mission, which is at complete odds with the reality of a small speck of life played out in an infinite, cold and unfeeling universe. In company with our Daemon we feel how interconnected we are with world, that man and world cannot not be said to exist at all in isolation from the other. But in my case, my awareness underlined how much this was, my universe, my journey, that the Daemon and I are alone in working towards our purpose, no matter how insignificant a thing that might appear to be on paper. The Daemon is the captain of my vessel, while my ego-self, the thing I think of as me, is more the sole deckhand, as we sail the tempestuous seas of fate and mischance.

But where does this leave you?

In the working out of my journey are you merely the personification of my own fate and mischance, to be used by my captain as an object lesson – friends, lovers, family,… ill or well met, the whole damned lot of you? And how about the man who talks to himself on the bus, and whom I’d rather avoid? Is he a God in disguise, come to test my own godliness, my own compassion? Are you all merely the humours and the godlings come to test and steer, as in those old Greek stories.

Are you not really there at all?

Perhaps I should have listened more to those Greek myths as a child, for as Hillman teaches, there’s probably many a metaphorical clue in there I’ve missed that would be of help to me now. But the Greeks, like Hillman are not exactly an easy read, and diligence seems rewarded with only more questions, while the answers, far from clear, seem lacking altogether.

Or I could just leave it to the Daemon, and hope I’m on the right path anyway. Then none of it matters and the acorn of my life will, out in spite of all my protestations to the contrary.

I leave you with a taste of the late great, Dr James Hillman (1926-2011):

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MX5 HortonIt’s my third summer now with the MX5, and with all due respect to those pop psychologists, I didn’t buy it because I was menopausal, even though I’m probably of an age that’s ripe for it. I bought it because I wanted one when I was seventeen and couldn’t afford the insurance. By the time I could afford it, I was married with kids, so a two seater sports car was impractical and I ran around for a quarter century in a family hatchback instead. Then the kids reached a stage when they wouldn’t be seen dead going out with me any more and suddenly that open topped sports car was on the cards again, and if you go for an old second hand one, neither are they particularly expensive.

But there’s nothing the media likes more than to gather a few pop psychologists and poke fun at all us silver foxes pretending to be teenagers. I mean, can’t we see how ridiculous we look? I suspect such articles are written by people in their twenties, who have no idea what it actually feels like to be a man in their fifties. Well, you know what? Being a man in your fifties feels just like being a man in your twenties, except in one or two significant respects which makes being in your fifties infinitely better.

Horton Church and PenyghentI took the MX5 to the Yorkshire Dales today, a round trip of about a hundred miles, drove it with the top down all the way, not in order to attract the admiring glances of women, but because there’s a greater sense of presence when you drive this way. The air feels good once you get off the highways and you appreciate the scenery more.

I took the car to the Dales because I wanted to climb Penyghent. It’s something I’ve been doing since I was in my twenties. I’d puff and wheeze my way up it back then, and I still puff and wheeze my way up it now. I’m not worried about advancing age, I’m not trying to prove anything, this is nothing about bucket-lists or raging at the setting of the sun. I took the car to the Dales, I did the hill, and I called for coffee on the way back. It was a great day out and I didn’t once feel self conscious or stupid.

The Mazda’s in the garage now cosseted under its dust sheet, and I’m in the summer house with a glass of wine and the laptop, thinking back over the day. There were plenty on the hill who were a good deal older than me, and they’re an inspiration in the sense that no one is too old for anything. Granted, I wouldn’t recommend climbing Penyghent in your eighties if you’ve never done a day’s walking before, but if you’ve been doing it all your life nothing’s going to stop you, is it?

I’m not saying the male menopause doesn’t exist, because it does, and a man must deal with it as best he can. But what the writers of pop articles about the male menopause overlook is that it’s no fun being young either. Being young has its own problems. True, you’ve more chance of attracting beautiful women and making love to them when you’re younger, but I seem to recall there was a downside to all of that as well, and one I definitely don’t miss.

penyghentOn my way up to the Dales, I stopped at some lights and a brand new Maserati pulled up beside me. It was growling like a tiger with bad guts. The driver wasn’t a silver fox, just a rich bastard with more money and ego than he knew what to do with. I could tell what was coming. When the lights changed that Maserati set off like a bat out of hell, the driver’s point being that his willy was bigger than mine. By the time I’d even snicked her into second, he was just a dot in the distance. His car was worth about £60K, mine about £900, not much of a contest, yet he still felt the need to establish his simian “superiority”.

It doesn’t take much of a psychologist to work out he’s got a considerable menopause waiting for him.

My MX5 is fourteen years old now, done 80K, still drives like new. The 1.6 litre engine isn’t particularly quick, but she’s gutsy on the hills. We attract a lot of bumper stick on BMWs and Mercs and Audis because they’re more powerful and go faster, and their drivers are rude and impatient and not a bit dim. She’s generally in good nick. Her back wings have had some work in the past, but they’re starting to bubble though again and she’ll need a bit of tidying up soon. Returning to her this afternoon after a couple of hours on the fells, I was glad to see her, glad to pull off my boots and settle into her, and I was looking forward to dropping the top and enjoying the sunshine on the drive home. In short she adds something to the day that those old family hatchbacks did not. It’s significant, I think, that I remember none of them with affection.

The menopause in males isn’t about hormonal changes, it’s about the dying of the light, the fear of death and the realisation of its proximity at time when we feel we’ve not yet begun to live, when we haven’t yet made a difference in the world. The ego cannot accept its impending annihilation and seeks as a last gasp some way of making its mark even if that risks killing us or making us look stupid. And the bigger the ego, the bigger the problem. There’s nothing surprising about this, no complex psychology, no thesis to be written. The risk is we’ll rage against it, or we’ll pretend we’re still in our twenties, that even as our hair greys, the sun will never set. Neither attitude is helpful, and neither are smart-arse psycho pop articles that miss the point entirely.

So if you’re a silver fox like me who missed out on that old MG when you were younger, don’t let societal jokes or pop psychologists get under your skin. Sure, you’re not in your twenties any more, but neither are you dead. If your kids have flown the nest and you can persuade the wife she’ll enjoy it, then go for it my friend. Stop thinking about how others see you; don’t live your life through their eyes. You are the eyes of the world as you see it, and it’s your purpose in life to go out and enjoy life as best you can, and if that means being a silver fox in an old MX5, then so be it.

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grumpy and friendHe’s an expensively coiffured young man, good suit in pale grey, a quality cloth, fashionably narrow tie. His watch is cheap bling though – gents dress-style in a thin chrome plate – more a case of show over quality. All right, perhaps I’m being a bit uncharitable, but I have a thing about watches; I notice them, and his is already an unfortunate omen. We shake hands in the foyer of the squeaky clean car dealership, and the game begins. My new friend is called Dave.

The dealership has easily a thousand cars, and a dozen well turned out young men like Dave to sell them. The place is so vast he struggles to find the one I’ve seen on the Autotrader App – a ’12 plate Ford Focus with Zetec trim. It has the innovative 1.6 Ecoboost engine with Powershift transmission, asking price £8400. Dave scuttles across the lot, in search. I follow.

It has rained heavily all day –  not a good day for looking at cars, not a good day for inspiring the good humour necessary for bridging the inevitable gap between dealer and punter’s expectations. But just now there’s a more optimistic opening, the greyness turning to white, a wider blue emerging. Gulls screech in from the waterfront. We’ll see.

This moment comes around once every seven or eight years for me – the hunt for a new(ish) commuter mule, a mule with minimal miles on the clock, in exchange for one approaching six figures. I normally avoid the main dealers because they’re such hard work – preferring smaller independents who are equally avaricious, but generally waste less time with Powerpoint presentations and beating about the bush. Still, today I’m open to the experience, and it’s been a while.

We find the car. It’s a pretty looking thing from a distance, a little smaller on the inside than I’m expecting, but has a nice feel to it. I circle it in the age old fashion, and with an eye trained on appraising the risks in much older cars than this. Dave stands to one side, spares me his patter for now. A good sign. I’m not expecting to find much on a car this age, but then I’m clocking damage to the bumper on the front nearside, and a serious gouge in one tyre that looks to me like it’s been kerbed and run flat for an irresponsible period of time.

Dave assures me, breathlessly, the car has passed its MOT, otherwise the tyre would have been changed, meaning they’re not going to change it now. But only a fool would drive any distance with a tyre in that condition, MOT or no. He admits the damage to the bumper is unsightly, that it will be “put right”, but by now I have lost faith in the dealer’s attention to detail and expect they’ll simply slobber some touch-up on it, and let it go at that. Shades of Tressell’s Philanthropists comes to mind, and philanthropist, at least in the Tressellian sense, I am not.

The sun goes in, a cold wind whips up, and my optimism dissolves. Thus far I’m unimpressed. But I’m polite. The car still has an enticingly low mileage at just 10,000, and may yet redeem itself in the details of the deal.

Would I like a test drive?

I suggest to Dave it might be better if he looks at my car and gives me a price for trade-in first, then we can see how far apart we are. No sense wasting time on a drive otherwise, is there? I’m not sure I’m what he’s expecting from a punter, or trained to expect, but I’ve bought more cars than he’s sold, spent decades of my youth at the grungy end of the trade, and am myself trained to be unimpressed by glossy language. When dealing with cars it is not sentiment but money alone that speaks, and invariably with a tongue that is severally forked, regardless of whether we are dealing with the grungy, or the glossy end of the trade. It’s not personal; it’s just business.

As for me, my car, “Grumpy”, is ailing, but Dave doesn’t know that, and dealers never offer what a car’s worth anyway, so I’m not feeling too guilty about it. I will not sell it to a private buyer knowing it needs repair, but to a dealer? A dealer is different. Experience assures me they are about to take serious advantage of me, so am already compensated to some degree by the knowledge my vehicle has “issues”, as I already know has theirs. It’s not personal; it’s business. The rules of utilitarian economics work both ways.

Dave gives Grumpy a good going over. An official-looking but entirely superfluous tick sheet is filled in. On appearances at least, old Grumpy cannot be faulted – full service history, four good tyres, and a tidy body. However for all of his efforts, Dave explains, he cannot give me a price directly, that he must consult his boss. This is expected, and part of the game. And it will take time – wearing down time. Coffee is offered, refused. I’m fine, I tell him, and settle in for the long haul. I have been here before, and know how it works.

At some point the punter finds himself at the dealer’s desk, while the dealer goes away to consult his boss. Now, I may be a suspicious old punter but believe one is wise to be circumspect under such circumstances, especially if accompanied by wife or other confidant. By all means talk to your confidants now about the weather, or about how beautifully presented the dealership is, but under no circumstances must you discuss your finances, and especially not your bottom line for trade-in. As shocking as this might sound, dealers have been prosecuted for eavesdropping. I don’t know if the practice still goes on, but one should be aware of the risks.

Trade-in deals are a black art – some might say a dark art – and in my experience follow not the simple guidelines of such optimistic wonders as the Autotrader App, nor less the punter’s naive expectations. One must expect, in fact, to be insulted. It’s just a question of how good a mood you’re in that dictates whether a deal will be closed or not. But before all that must come Dave’s Powerpoint presentation.

Already I’m sensing I will not be buying this car, not unless Dave comes up with something to shatter my boredom, because my mood is sinking and I can be a serious depressive. To be sure, it isn’t looking promising for Dave at this stage, as the “full dealership experience” renders numb my bum, and takes on the air of something more Pythonesque. It is only a grim sort of curiosity that keeps me seated now.

The afternoon slides away to a wintry dusk.

And the presentation begins,…

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I CHingThe notion of a life’s path is central to ideas of human development, be they secular or religious. But it’s not obvious what that path is, especially when we can only say we’re on it when we’re not deliberately trying to steer our course. And our Ego likes to steer, likes to gain knowledge, skill, and to compete against other egos in order to secure wealth, power and sex. These are the aphrodisiacs of the material world, a world that divides us, as it did in primitive times, into mere predators and prey. There can be no other way, we’re told – no surviving life without combat. It’s evolution. Simple.

Not true, says the Book of Changes.

The Book of Changes, also known as the I Ching or the Yi Jing, is a strange, beguiling text, evidence of which first appeared in China’s Shang Dynasty, around 1600 BC, though it certainly predates this period. It came to the west in the late 19th century via the translation by James Legge, and largely ignored except as a cultural curiosity, but was taken up by the Jungian psychoanalytical movement on publication of the influential Wilhelm edition in 1929. There have been many editions since the Wilhelm Edition, but none so influential, striking as it did at the heart of European intellectual thought.

It then became a companion to 60’s counterculture, and is still widely used today. While its core structure has remained untouched since antiquity, the language of its interpretation changes to suit whatever culture it finds itself taken up by. I have several versions of it, and wrote my own interpretation, The Hexagrams of the Book of Changes, available here, as a way of furthering my grasp of its curious concepts.

What we normally think of as our life’s path, says the Yi Jing, the path we can see and plot and manage, isn’t really our path at all, but simply our life situation. Our true path is more of an internal journey towards awakening. Our life situation is only relevant to the extent that we are able to adjust our relationship with it in order to prevent it from subverting the more vital inner path. The material world is a world asleep. Hold solely to material values, and you will remain asleep also. To awaken is to realise, viscerally, the deeper nature of reality and our place in it. To this end the Yi Jing is an indispensable guide.

What makes the book unique is its interactive nature. You talk to it. You can ask it things, and it answers. The answers are complex, perceptive, and personal. There’s a lot of debate about exactly who or what it is we talk to when we talk to the Yi Jing. Some deify the book, picturing in their minds the spirit of a wise old sage, like Lao Tzu perhaps, and that’s fine if it’s how you want to see it. But everyone’s relationship with the book is going to be different.

My own feeling is that when we consult the book, we open the way to a deeper part of our selves. We ask our question and are then directed to certain apparently random passages and subtexts, the combination of which forms a narrative for reflection and interpretation. The answers then emerge in our own minds, riding in on a wave of sudden insight. In some sense the book can be seen as an oracle, but this is to seriously underestimate its potential, and for me its real strength lies in its use as a psychological tool, a thing that shakes the unconscious mind in order to release personal insights.

I don’t know how it works, and I no longer think about it. The ego cannot crack it, but neither can the Ego accept the Yi Jing without explanation, so there opens a divide. On the one side we have explanations from devotees of the book that range from the vaguely plausible to the frankly crackpot, and on the other a sour scientistic rejection of the book as merely the work of an emerging, pre-rational culture. Others say we simply read into it whatever we want to hear, and that’s also fine, though this does not explain the fact that if one is open enough, one always rises from the Yi Jing knowing or feeling something one did not know or feel before. Another of its useful characteristics is that it will never shy away from telling us what we don’t want to hear. It’s not an easy book to know, certainly not without devoting time to developing a relationship with it, and many may find it simply impenetrable, banal, or even repulsive.

When I read back to my earliest conversations with the Yi Jing, I come across as a very different person, my questions very much concerned with my place in the world: job, relationships, house, kids, cars, holidays, financial ups and downs, struggles for publication,… and the answers read like repeated attempts to make me see I had the whole world upside down, that actually, none of it mattered, that the confusion and the frustration we so often feel in life is based on faulty thinking, our anxieties arising purely from a resistance to events over which we have no control.

While we have no choice, as beings in flesh, but to operate at the material level of reality, the Yi Jing tells us we should always do so in cognizance of the inherent limitations of material being, and in the knowledge that a greater understanding of the meaning of “being” comes from exploring the shifting patterns of our inner selves. As a guide to such things, I have found the Yi Jing is without parallel and is one of the most insightful guides to life ever conceived.

Not bad for a book coming to us from our Neolithic past.

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