Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Place to Heal

Eric was head of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) which sponsored my stay in South Africa. From the outset I knew there was something about Eric that I did not know; that very few people really knew. He was charming and unfailingly courteous, but something lurked behind his eyes. He smiled often but I had never heard him laugh.

There was an alert vigilance about Eric's manner; often when sitting down one of his legs would vibrate in a kind of compulsive action, that I would describe as controlled but highly agitated distress. There was something out of sync about Eric.  He was both present and elsewhere at the same time. In the midst of a crowd one could almost see him reach for that private space. The Orphan’s antennae had zoomed in on an outsider.  

Representatives of foreign governments made a beeline to Eric’s office for advice and wise counsel. He ran the largest most successful NGO in Southern Africa, and overseas money for development was channelled through his organisation, side-stepping the apartheid regime. Post apartheid Eric was mostly surrounded by admirers and those who wanted his attention, but he retained his private space, that was his protection. Eric's anger was well concealed; my Orphan Child recognised that one. One day, I am not quite sure how it came about, Eric shared a little of his story.

After leaving school he was employed as a technician in the electronics firm where his father worked as a driver. Eric said he cringed with embarrassment, dismay and indignation at how his dad was treated. The secretaries referring to him as kaffir (a pejorative racial term in South Africa) would order him to get their lunch. The bleks were undeserving of respect, and their dignity as human beings was simply trampled under foot.

In employing Eric, the company was breaking the law.  It was illegal to employ bleks as anything other than labourers. Eric grew increasingly militant and joined the trade union movement. He was eventually detained by the security police and initially taken to the infamous John Vorster Square police station, used as a detention centre mostly for political activists, and from which Steve Biko is said to have fallen to his death.

A Healing Place
Part of me left as Eric began to speak of his systematic torture. During his initial incarceration, Eric was mostly left naked in his cell where he could see pieces of skin still attached to the walls. Before he was eventually charged and imprisoned on Robben Island, Eric was bound hands and feet and placed naked in a bag with a couple of cats. The bag was then submerged in a tank of water...

I had come face to face with a good reason for joining those protest rallies around Trafalgar Square. A few years after my return to the UK, Eric died of cancer. He was still quite young.

Now back in the UK, I became acquainted with a postgraduate student who, with a friend, had started a gardening project where torture victims worked as part of a healing process; they came mostly from South America. She invited me to visit several times. I never did.

After two-and-a-half years in South Africa, I too was in need of a place to heal.  An initial sanctuary turned out to be that course in transpersonal psychology. It helped me to reach somewhere beyond human chaos, to begin to acquire a different perspective on a world filled with madness.

See: Obituary: Eric Molobi | World news | The Guardian

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

When Change is not Enough

One particular experience during my South African sojourn seem to have reverberated down the years, the impact of which I cannot really verbalize. The experience and its aftermath unravelled my world view and left it floundering and adrift, while I struggle to get a handle on a new construct that remains beyond simple articulation.

It was the day of my first visit to that Johannesburg Township (see Back to Africa). Afterwards I sat in the minibus taking us to the next stop on the day’s itinerary, feeling numb and quite sick. I had gone into another space and only vaguely aware of what was going on around me. Did I really see a man sauntering across the motorway just a little ahead of us? A voice asked what on earth was he doing. Our driver said 'they built a motorway through his ancestral land and he needs to get from one side to the other, what do you want him to do'? That made perfect sense to me.

Within half an hour we arrived for lunch at the home of a well-known anti-apartheid activist. Like the home of most white South Africans, it was surrounded by very high walls and the only way in was through imposing electronic gates, as high as the walls. I was not prepared for the level of opulence that awaited me. It was a buffet lunch like no other I had ever seen, and certainly never participated in.

Table after table was laden and overflowing with food. The spread was indescribable –  game/meat of every variety, including kudu - a South African antelope - fish, caviar, the best wines. Everything that anyone could wish for was catered. If I wanted good old British fish and chips or Jamaican jerk chicken or even Eastern Caribbean style saltfish, fried dumplings and callaloo, it would have been conjured up in an instant.

I needed time and space to reconcile the collision of two mindblowingly different but juxtaposed worlds: the one I had just left behind in the Township, and this one. There was also my own world, the one I inhabited back in England, vastly diffferent to the two I had encountered that day. I was suffocating and needed to breathe. 

I stepped out into the garden which rolled away into the distance with orchard, separate rose, vegetable and herb gardens, swimming pool, tennis court, all protected by the high wall surround. I had little doubt that a guard would patrol the extensive grounds at night. I stood on the veranda for a while, then walked back into the dining area and stood on the periphery looking in.

My eyes stared, mesmerized by the white gloves of the black male servers, at least four of them; a couple bustled between kitchen and dining area; a second pair stood unobtrusively on the circumference of the room anticipating every need of the guests of the Mistress of the house. Surely, even in immediately post apartheid South Africa, this was not really happening; I was stuck in some horrible time warp, a kind of British Raj era. Why was everyone acting so normal? This was a stage and I was watching a play, surely.

The hostess appeared before me, smiling warmly, asking what I wanted to eat, at the same time beckoning one of the servers to bring me a plate.  I was not hungry; the food refused to go down my throat. I heard myself asking my hostess whether she had ever been to the Township just down the road from her home.

The temperature change was immediate. The smile vanished, the piercing blue eyes narrowed, became icy. She knew where this was coming from. A cold voice said, ‘you people come here and make judgments. Poverty is everywhere, even in your own country’. And she was right. Whatever way you look at it, in North and South America, in Australasia, throughout Europe, in Africa and Asia, it is exactly as she says.

At one end of the spectrum there are those who have more than they could possibly need in this lifetime and well into the next, and at the other end there are those, including the upstanding and hardworking, who are barely able to survive from day to day. But the issue is not poverty is it, that’s just one of the many labels we give it. Is it really to do with race and/or class and so called under-development?  I’m beginning to think not. No. For many in South Africa today, Mr Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom turned into something of a chimera. The more things change the more they remain the same.

Change, real fundamental change, does not come by moving the pieces around. It's not about moving from apartheid or dictatorship to democracy. It’s not about changing your spouse or partner, leader, political party, government….its about dismantling and obliterating a deeply ingrained and entrenched pattern that is apparently impervious to change. It’s about transformation and that is quite different to change.

Related Post: Back to Africa; Rock and Royalty in South Africa; Predictions of a Sangoma

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Predictions of a Sangoma

Towards the end of of 1996 I was sitting in my office in Johannesburg talking with Rupi, a work colleague. She was telling me something of her family history, the circumstances which brought her ancestors from India to live in South Africa over 80 years ago; and about life for the Indian community under apartheid.
Business district Joburg (Gauteng)

          The conversation turned to her personal life and struggle as a young wife to conceive a child. To my surprise, this slight wisp of an Indian woman told me that she had consulted a Sangoma (whom the Western world would call a witch doctor) about her apparent infertility. I stared hard at Rupi. 

The Sangoma told Rupi her first child, a son, would be born within two years and a daughter would follow soon after. She should stop worrying, relax and live her life. Her dreams would come true. By the time I met Rupi her daughter was about three years old. Did she actually consult a Sangoma about her inability to conceive? That seemed so improbable.
bones and things

Rupi said she highly recommended this Sangoma and I should go for a consultation. My first response was ‘not on your life’.  From the little I had read about the African Sangoma they were revered traditional healers who after years of training, and probably a calling, were able to summon the spirit of the ancestors to assist their healing work.  But my Western conditioning conjured visions of bones and potions, cowrie shells and dead bats.  

            Rupi insisted that I should go, and told me where I could find this Sangoma – not in an out of the way village somewhere as I had imagined, but right in the middle of town, about a 20 minute drive from where we were sitting, in quite a plush part of Johannesburg. I was intrigued.

          Eventually, I summoned up the courage to ring the number Rupi had given me. The voice gave me dates and times when the Sangoma could see me. And so the time came when I was sitting in the Sangoma’s quiet and tranquil office. She looked at me and smiled, perhaps noting the incredulity on my face. This was not what I had been expecting by a long way.
           The Sangoma brough out her paraphernalia and together we made a spread on the small table between us.  She told me I would be returning to my own country shortly, and within a year from now I would be going back to school and would work with women. What? You must be joking, I thought; going back to school at this time of my life, not bloody likely. That was the furthest thing from my mind. That was never going to happen; simply unimaginable. I had already been through higher education and had no desire to ‘go back to school’. 

Famous last words spoken in ignorance of what the gods had in store for me. 
            A few months before the much heralded 'two nations in concert' event in Joburg, when the Spice Girls met Nelson Mandela and Charles Prince of Wales, accompanied by Harry, I was back in the UK for about a month. I had no inkling, not even a vague thought or plan, that within the next six months I would be leaving South Africa.

     During that month in London a series of synchronistic events – better termed as ‘the gods at play’ – propelled me, much to my astonishment, to enrol on a post-graduate programme in transpersonal psychology. This was something which had never been part of my thought process at any time, not even on the periphery of my vision, ever. Never saw that one coming.  And as it turned out my first job, on return to the UK just over a year after consulting the Sangoma was at the Women’s Therapy Centre. (Founded by Susie Orbach, the centre was run by women for women)! Well blow me down. 

Rosebank district, Joburg
Whenever I re-tell myself that story, I have to laugh out loud. Rupi’s Sangoma turned out to be a white British woman, originally from Peterborough, consulting in the plush district of Rosebank.  

She was an absolutely brilliant taro card reader.

Related Posts: Back to Africa; Rock and Royality in South Africa

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Rock and Royality in South Africa

I wonder how many people know that after World War II the South African government had offered Britain a substantial sum of money to aid efforts to rehabilitate the youth of this country, after the trauma of war.

Now about to embark on her first State visit to South Africa since 1947, following the end of apartheid, the British Head of State reciprocated the gesture.  A sum of money from the King George Jubilee Trust was put towards the rehabilitation of South African youth, who had been displaced and severely disadvantaged by decades of living with apartheid.

The ABSA Group, the former Amalgamated Banks of South Africa, matched the British contribution and the Nation’s Trust in support of youth enterprise was born, backed by the UK-based Princes Trust.  An ABSA manager and I became 'managing trustees' for this joint British-South African project.

So there I was at KwaZulu Natal in April 1995 when the Royal cavalcade swept into the school at Umlazi TownshipOn that day the heavens opened and it seemed that all the water in the atmosphere simply cascaded on the school district. 

Face-saving and impromptu infra-structure was hastily put into place, along with Royal Umbrellas. Somehow, as if by magic, Her Majesty side-stepped the mud-bath that was now the courtyard where the Royal party and dignataries would be seated for the afternoon's entertainment provided by the various artists and children representing the Zulu nation.

At one point in the proceedings one of the benches, on which sat accompanying members of the Royal Household, appeared to tilt and threatened to tip over. Thankfully someone saved the day.  An official commented on the state of the drainage. Without missing a beat, and in low quiet voice, the headmaster said that drainage in townships had not been a priority for the former apartheid government.  No, thought the clown with  amusement, the apartheid regime had definitely not bargained for the day when British Royalty would turn up at one of its bantustans. The Universe has an outrageous sense of humour.

An extraordinary experience, and one I am unlikely to have again in this lifetime, was to be an integral part of the team organising the Two Nations in Concert  event to raise funds for the fledgling Trust. 

The concert held in November 1997 at Johannesburg Stadium was attended by the Prince of Wales and his youngest son and the then Deputy President of South Africa Tabo Mbeki. It featured a medley of British and South African artists. For the first time ever I heard live on stage amazing South African musicians, including Lucky Dube, Brenda Fassie, Yvone Chaka Chaka, and Rebecca Malope. 

I have to say though, the highlight of my time in South Africa was meeting a Sangoma, a witch doctor. The Sangoma told me what the immediate future held for me. Well that is definitely not happening, not in this life time I thought. But this particular Sangoma was spot on.  I chuckle every time I think about it.  It was just brilliant, and as I look back down the last 19 years, life turned out exactly as predicted.

Related Post: Back to Africa

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Back to Africa

Oscar Pistorius, the Olympics and Paralympics athlete known as Blade Runner, is back in court today for the second time since his girlfriend died at his home last week. As I watch and listen to the unfolding story of this tragic event, it brings back an assortment of memories of South Africa. It’s a desperately sad thing to live as if under siege, and many South Africans, in different ways, live like that. The physical, emotional and mental toll would be quite destructive to the individual and the society overall.

I first arrived in South Africa in July 1994, a time of tremendous hope, joy and optimism in that country. Nelson Mandela had been released after 27 years incarceration and had become President. A group of black Brits, including that iconic Member of Parliament, the late Bernie Grant, made a historic journey to the new democracy. Many of the group had picketed South Africa House in London and attended endless rallies against apartheid, and in a way this was a journey of thanksgiving.

For me, it was my first opportunity to touch base with my ancestral homeland. Even now, 19 years later, I cannot find the words to adequately describe that experience. Within a year of that initial visit, I returned to South Africa with a 6-month work permit, later extended for two more years. I was both uplifted and traumatised by my time in the country.

My very first visit to a Johannesburg township with representatives of the non-governmental organisation, the Kagiso Trust, who were the sponsors of my stay, was simply dire. Dear God. The most striking memory was the stench, the raw sewage and children with bare feet playing on six feet high rubbish heaps. But the cheerfulness and smiling enthusiastic welcome of the inhabitants of Alexandria Township, and indeed all the other townships I visited across South Africa will remain with me for the rest of my life.

After attending a funeral in Northern Province, I sat in the ‘village square’ on one of about half a dozen stools hewn out of tree trunks and placed in a circle in the dirt. Suddenly an old crone came up and sat beside me. Her face was shiny and unlined but she could not have been a day under 100 years old. Her eyes radiated the strength of the life force in her body. She took my face between her two palms and began talking to me in Sotho, one of the eleven official languages spoken in South Africa.

Of course I had no idea what she was saying, but there was a distinct familiarity in her manner and a soft gentle inquiry about her words and facial expression. I simply gazed into her face and smiled. It was all I could do. Eventually one among our party, a white student from the University of Witwatersrand, told me she was asking where I lived and what was my father's name because she recognised my face. The young man explained in her language that I was from England and a visitor. She turned towards me again and spoke in her language. The young man told me she said welcome daughter, welcome home.  As tears welled up in my eyes, she patted my knee and eventually stood and walked away smiling and waving farewell.

Initially, I lived in a very plush suburb of Johannesburg, in what was formerly the maid’s cottage in the grounds of a grand house owned by a widow, herself an immigrant originally from Ireland. Her trainee doctor daughter lived with her. The maid and gardener no longer lived in. They now returned to their townships and families at the end of each day. An extraordinary vignette of South African life when I lived there was the sight of black maids in their uniform driving children to and from school in a top range Mercedes. 

The ‘studio’ cottage was basically one room divided into bedroom, sitting room/kitchen and bathroom.  Now designer decorated, it would be considered a bijou ‘des res’. I had the use of an enormous indoor swimming pool and at least an acre of garden. The house stood well back from the road, behind 20 feet electronic gates. On the other side of the road was a golf course. My landlady entreated me to keep my eyes peeled if returning late at night. If I saw anyone loitering around in the street I should drive around the block until they had gone before opening the gates. 

The message to be alert and observe a safety code was fine, and one I give to my own children. But who was likely to be loitering, presumably on foot, at night in a rich white Johannesburg suburb? For me this particular 'safety code' also carried a subliminal instruction: to be at least on guard around, if not afraid of, people with the same skin colour as mine. This sat uncomfortably in my psyche. The clown in my personality said, for god sake make sure you don't actually look in the mirror, or you'll be driving around the neighbourhood all night long. The time came when I needed to move on to a more 'normal' neighbourhood. Ironically, Mr Mandela's Jo'burg home was about four blocks down the road.

Living Under Siege
The vast majority of homes were barricaded behind high wall surrounds, with instant response alarm systems, some had guard dogs and a ‘safe zone’ inside.  My landlady did not have an old black man sitting outside all night with his flask of tea and a gun guarding the sleeping white folks inside, but many did.

Only the Blade Runner, who is said to have had a gun at his bedside, knows exactly what happened in his house when his girlfriend died. But in white South Africa in particular, waking in the middle of the night with the perception that an intruder is present generates the perfect scenario for an unimaginable human tragedy. What happens to the human psyche when it exists in a siege-like state, constantly stalked by fear?

Saturday, 16 February 2013

To Eat or Not to Eat? That is the question

For the last 10 days or so the UK news network has been filled with the horsemeat ‘scandal’.  Now it has been found in pies destined for schools in the North of England. One newspaper even suggested that aged donkeys might also have been slaughtered for human consumption. It is suggested that the impetus for illegal meat stuff getting into the food chain comes from consumer demand for cheap food, especially in a recession. Apparently this demand paves the way for criminals to infiltrate the ever lengthening global food chain, and especially around processed foodstuff. Oh yeah, blame the consumer.

To eat or not to eat? 
But what’s the problem? A quick internet search reveals that Bute (or phenylbutazone) - an anti-inflammatory drug used for treating horses has also been used to treat some types of human arthritis in the UK (banned in the USA). However, Bute is no longer approved for meat animals as it can occasionally cause severe side effects, such as suppression of white blood cell production and a type of anemia in some people!! Surely that can’t be right. Not generally approved for ‘meat’ animals, but used to treat human beings?  Nah; must have got that wrong. If you are partial to a bit of rump steak, you’d better check it out for yourself because horsemeat is being packaged as beef and distributed throughout the Euro Zone. It is only now that this is being openly acknowledged.
          I am reminded of a British politician who, in 1990, made a great play of stuffing a burger into the mouth of his 4-year old daughter on camera. This was supposed to demonstrate that beef was safe to eat in spite of, or perhaps because of, an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) or ‘mad cow’ disease.          
          A few days before this public display, a cat had apparently died of a BSE-like disease and six months earlier the government itself had banned beef offal for human consumption.  A few years later people began to die of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) a rare, degenerative and up to now, invariably fatal brain disorder. Is there such a thing as equine spongiform encephalitis?
Western lifestyles demand more and more ‘speed’ so ‘fast’, cheap junk foods which are highly processed and contain high levels of salt and sugar, and only god knows what else, contribute not only to obesity but also excessive levels of heat and cholesterol in the bloodstream. This generates an inner environment where abnormal cells can mutate and flourish, spawning the kind of diseases for which modern medicine have not yet developed a cure. 
    Not being a meat eater, and as far as I possibly can, an avoider of all processed food, I’m not sure what to make of it all, except to look on with bemusement. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

When Dreams Come True

 we must die to one life before we can enter another {Anatole France}

Image result for images of missile hitting houseIn my last post I promised to decipher my dream about the missile hitting the house where I lived with my family - mother and twin brothers. The house was left basically uninhabitable but we all escaped unscathed. 

There was also a young girl staying with the family who was about to attend a nearby school, with which I seem to have a connection. 
The dream indicated that certain patterns in behaviour, responsible for much of the stress in my life were about to be reconstituted. Their day had come and gone.

In decoding the dream, it is necessary to say something about an aspect of my personality, an archetypal behaviour pattern that ran my life: the Orphan Child. An insight into her way of being is critical to understanding the dream.

Although we all have and express the many different aspects of the child archetype – Wounded, Eternal, Magical, Divine, Nature etc – the Orphan had totally dominated my life. She had become a complex lodged deep in my psyche. Her all pervasive management of my life was far more than I had ever appreciated. 

In the shadow, she sucked my life force and drained my vitality, not that I was aware of any of that. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.  The Orphan Child had lost her way. Her behaviour had long impacted all aspects of my health - physical and emotional, economic, mental, and spiritual. In the shadow she was a false god that controlled my life. In the world of psychiatry she might well be labelled a dissociative identity - described as an ANP - an Apparently Normal Person! 

I felt blessed that not only did I train in transpersonal psychology which takes psychiatric disorders very seriously indeed but (and) at the same time goes above and beyond psychiatric labelling for greater understanding. I also had the good fortune to meet and work with Caroline Myss who enabled me to better understand and language differently a world that I encountered every day in my working life.  Not only was I better able to understand myself but could give clients a deeper more optimistic perspective on their own life journey.

Anyway back to my dream:

My orphan child persona is independent, preferring to go it alone, is a non-conformist and holds a general attitude of non-compliance. She is confident about her ability to survive. That tends to make orphan children rebels and risk-takers. This orphan had made common cause with outsiders and underdogs. In one way or another, most of my working life had been given to advocacy on behalf of, and championing those I viewed as the dispossessed or marginalised.

Much of my life was lived and viewed through the lenses of the orphan and from her perspective – an angry and exhausting life script, apparently set in stone by childhood experiences.  

From my personal perspective (and training) in dreams all dwelling places is representative of the physical body – home of the earth-bound soul.  

Image result for images of missile hitting houseThe missile was symbolic of something destructive. The dream was  alerting me to the fact that my body, my soul’s home, was about to be hit by catastrophe but I would survive.

The ‘family’ represented those archetypal patterns of behaviour which had to change in some way; they longer served a purpose in my life. The twin brothers in the dream were aspects of my personality I called the Rebel-Advocate; they supported the orphan child, who vastly overshadowed another, quite different child.

          I did not immediately appreciate the significance of the young girl who was living with the family and was about to enrol into a nearby school. Like Harry Potter, she was in fact only apparently an orphan, concealing the real identity of one that was hidden and on the point of emergence. A different more optimistic child waiting in the wings – a magical one – was about to come on stage. If I was going to get through the next phase of my life, then I needed her. 

The mother in the dream represented a patient nurturer who enjoyed birthing new life. In the dream, I had reassured mother that the house (my body) would be repaired within a few days. Indeed, the lights in my house were about to dim metaphorically and literally. There would be dramatic and unexpected change. I needed my Orphan to survive it, but also the Magical child to enable me to see blue skies behind the looming clouds and actually welcome the challenge of spiritual growth through adversity.

As individuals we are generally oblivious to our own reactive archetypical responses, even when they, like the shadow addict, hedonist, vampire etc generate chaos in our lives and on the planet. Very few of us are either conscious of, or ready to admit to those aspects of personal behaviour that contribute to the deterioration of our health and well being.  There are also aspects of behaviour that are not conducive to the health of the environment.

Attachment to our false gods, our way of life, is so strong that many of us passively acquiesce to their control over the choices we make. It is far easier to deny that our personal behaviour is a major contributory factor to the degeneration of physical, emotional and mental health, and in creating environmental catastrophe than to take individual and collective responsibility. 

With hindsight it is also clear to me that I became a psychotherapist in order to heal my orphan child. I even changed my name to support her retirement (I now use one of the names given me at birth and my maiden name, not the one people have known me by in my professional life); that past life has been left far behind.

So, to friends and colleagues who still express utter incredulity that I simply gave up or turned my back on ‘public life’ which, in their view, enabled me to make a contribution to social change, all I can say is on the one hand I had little choice, and on the other there are many ways to ‘make a difference’. We each have our own paths to follow.  

Of course there is much more to the dream. The impact on my life was initially devastating and the changes generated continue to unfold to this very day, many years after the dream. I love the story and it is only one chapter, maybe one day, in the soul's journey. 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Dreaming the Future

One important thing I have learnt over the years is to 'chillax' as my young ones would say...take a chill pill and go with the flow.  Simply respond, as opposed to reacting, to whatever is going on, and never from a place of agitation or fear, just acceptance of what is. I have my Buddhist monk teachers to thank for their constant entreaty to live with equanimity. Another teacher talked about responding to Life with poise and elegance. I like that. It stood me in good stead when the Destroyer archetype came to call, to tell me to fix up or ship out.  It all began with a dream. But first let me tell you just a little about dreams from a personal perspective.

Dreams contain several layers and levels of meaning; they can be reflective of the past, present and future. While there may be universal – or archetypal – images in dreams, meaning belongs solely to the dreamer and reflects that soul's entanglements, longings and desires now, and from the past. Dreams are also predictive - indicators of an experience waiting to happen or in progress. There’s just one problem: we are not accustomed, and don’t know how, to interpret our dreams.

A couple years ago I did a test run for an online dream interpretation ‘drop-in’ programme. One of the participants made contact with me at the beginning of this very year to update me on her unfolding story. She expressed astonishment at how her dream had manifested over the period. She had arrived at the threshold of major mind-blowing change, something she would never have contemplated two years ago. But it had all been laid out in that dream. The whole thing revolved around one very specific motif in the dream. On the surface the dream was unintelligible and most people would have dismissed it as inconsequential, and making little sense. But the dream told her precisely what was emerging in her life; things of great significance about the direction her life was taking.

Dream interpretation is second nature to me….it’s just one of those things I can do.  So could my mum before me.  If my mother had a dream, you can bet your bottom dollar that her interpretation of it would be spot on.  She was uncannily and unnervingly accurate.  In dream interpretation it is important to note that every character represents an aspect of the dreaming self; and all dream images and ‘storyline’ are symbolic, relevant only to the dreamer and no one else. But how to interpret the symbols?  While the skill and knowhow of the dreamsmith will support you in finding meaning; the individual concerned must 'read' and make sense of their own dream. The dreamsmith will say 'Oh look, do you notice that rabbit dancing the samba? What do you make of that?'

'Royal road to Unconscious'
Dreams are never straightforward; like myth and fairytale they communicate in symbols and metaphor. Once the dreamer is able to align the dream images with events, experiences and desires in his or her life, and depending on the individual’s insightfulness and state of awareness, various layers of meaning will be revealed.

Carl Jung was keen on dream analysis and used it as an aid to assist his patients to get a better handle on what was going on in their lives. Jung believed that dreams were a 'royal road to the unconscious', and a natural phenomenon through which we can gain knowledge of the hidden part of the mind; that dream symbols reveal both conscious and unconscious mental processes.  Dreams come directly from the psyche, a vast unknown and uncharted inner continent, a mysterious ‘beyond world’ described by Jung as something which “challenged the adventuresome with the prospect of rich discovery and frightened the timid with the threat of insanity”.

My dreams never let me down. They are sometimes literal, and the most reliable predictors of events about to emerge in my life, given my direction of travel. They are purveyors of critical information, as long as I can interpret the symbols. So when a symbol of the destroyer appeared in my dream, I had a nervous breakdown, otherwise known as a major depressive episode - an MDE! I knew exactly what it was telling me.

In 2008, at the very beginning of my health challenges, a dream indicated that fundamental change would, almost without warning, rip through my life. It would completely dismantle the omnipresence of an old and controlling ruler. The dream was short, sharp and pointed.

I dreamt that a missile, rather like one of those drones that target terrorists, smashed into the house where I lived with my family - mother and twin brothers. There was a young girl staying with the family because she was about to attend a nearby school, with which I seem to have a connection. Our house was the only one on the street hit by the missile; the building was badly damaged and basically uninhabitable but we all escaped unscathed.

What was that all about?  Tell you more in my next post.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Symbolic Sight: A Global Perspective

Seeing with the 'Mind's Eye'
This post continues the theme of symbolic sight, but locates it at the global level.  Symbols are everywhere. Our world, language and dreams are filled with symbols, if only we could interpret them.   In the world of myth and fairytale, an animal, place or object can all have symbolic meaning, but different individuals will attach varied and diverse interpretations to the same symbol depending on culture, and whether, and how it has relevance to their lives and/or experience. 

While our left brain hemisphere is responsible for logic and linguistic structure, thinks digitally and in linear fashion, the right brain is responsible for the psyche’s world of images and dreams and is not subject to the left hemisphere’s sense of time. The right brain permits us to grasp the whole – the gestalt – on the basis of a mere part. It has the ability to instantly grasp complex relationships, patterns and structures in their entirety. According to Dethlefson and Dahlke, “Poetry and the speech of schizophrenics both give a good idea of the language of the right hemisphere. This is also where analogical thought and our handling of symbols are located”.[1]

There is a world of difference between a sign and a symbol. The former merely points to something while, in addition to the obvious picture presented, a symbol implies more, something that holds deeper, hidden meaning.

 In many of the natural disasters that occur in the world of course there is the horror, loss of life and immense suffering.  And there is something else.
Perhaps the most macabre of global symbols signaling the need for change, was the literal decapitation of Haiti.  After the earthquake in 2010 it seemed that all the prevailing symbols of leadership and authority were either decimated, or fractured and dispersed: the Presidential Palace, the Cathedral and its archbishop, its Government and police force scattered. Every conceivable description of that country’s head – its power structure – literally rolled. And this ‘pushing off centre stage’ of a long established pattern of power holds true not only for Haiti but globally and particularly for the old 'empires', now struggling to retain a foothold and run with the new boys on the block.

          In the events of “9/11”, we saw the shadow of the Destroyer archetype.  And, concealed within the unspeakable atrocity of that fateful day was the symbolic message that the prevailing systems and structures, or twin towers, of global trade and finance had gone into cardiac arrest and required attention as a matter of utmost immediacy – an emergency.

          There was seven years grace before the next alarm call.  In 2008 economic catastrophe cascaded on the world stage, as the architecture of capitalism threatened to unravel, and we continue to feel the repercussions which still reverberate in our lives.  Like dinosaurs, when a prevailing life-form or structure is no longer fit for  purpose, it has come to down - whether it is any of those old and outmoded empires,  apartheid, the Berlin Wall, even relationships - however long the dismantling takes.
          But like all archetypes the Destroyer is neither good nor bad; it all depends on human intent. On the dark side the Destroyer, consumed with hate and destructiveness, is hell-bent on generating fear and destroying dreams; on the light side it releases what is potentially destructive, and prepares for new life. In my next post, I’ll talk just a bit about when the Destroyer archetype came calling, and how it heralded new life; not one that I had envisaged, or would have chosen, but the old way of life was no longer appropriate for who I needed to be, here now.

[1] Dethlefsen, T and Dahlke R. The Healing Power of Illness 

Related Post: Message in a Metaphor (December 2012)

Friday, 8 February 2013

A Perspective on the Shadow

The world is a projection of our individual psyches, collected on a global screen {Marianne Williamson}        

          As you may have gathered by now, I am fascinated by the  universality of human behaviour patterns. Generally we do not take much note of them. We remain largely unconscious of not only how we each add to and amplify the good in the collective, but also about our personal contribution to making the world turn in ways we don’t like.

    Look at the Clown. Did you not immediately conjure up an image? His attire and appearance speak a universal language. We do not need words; we can tell immediately who this is. But generally aspects of self do not ‘dress up’ in universally recognisable attire. They are hardly discernable, and in any event we are not inclined to ‘own’ them.  It’s much easier to label others, assign blame and find fault with them for our own words, actions, liability and flawed character. We disown our 'shadow' and project it 'out there'. When it comes home, we play victim.

     Certain habitual individual and collective behaviour and reactions – sometimes perceived and described as national or cultural characteristics – are observable universally (archetypal).  When their dark tendencies are unleashed it can generate xenophobia and racism, repression, ethnic cleansing and genocide, terrorism, war and all the other miseries that blight our world. 

The ‘Shadow’ is the topic of this post because I have referred to it in passing without being explicit about what I mean, and because a colleague encountering some difficulties with a co-worker was having a bit of a vent.  She is the devil incarnate he said; too bad she can’t afford Prada. We both fell about with laughter.  At least he could see the funny side of it. But who or what is this devil that we are talking about?

       Some friends and a few extended family members go on endlessly about this devil ‘thing’.  As far as I am concerned there is no devil 'out there' - "We have met the enemy... and he is us - I Go Pogo".  Creating this devil 'out there' distances us from our own shadow behaviour.  The atmosphere becomes fraught with tension whenever I say this to certain people.  It is as if I had blasphemed in some way, wrongfooted and fooled by the devil!

          The madness of our daily lives is reflected back in the face of the paranoid schizophrenic. We abuse our children, keep them hungry and in poverty. They are used for the satisfaction of our sexual predilections even in our own homes, and as slave labour to provide the clothes we wear. The abuser turns up in society as the paedophile and people trafficker, and those employers who don't pay the minimum, never mind a living wage. We destroy our own dreams and that of others and it is reflected back in the face of those we call terrorists – the destroyer archetype. 
         Our universal (archetypical) behaviour patterns are Janus-faced or bi-polar: light/shadow or true/false. They represent both the duality within the human soul and in the world. The Shadow in our psyche represents both our unlived potential and disowned aspects of individual and collective personality projected on the world for good or ill.  And so life not lived in the light does an about face and becomes devil.  This is classical Jungian interpretation of how the shadow operates. I like that; good one Jungians.

          Knowing ourselves more deeply enables us to discard aspects of our perception, response and behaviour which no longer serve us and cause discord and disharmony, not just in our lives but also in the world, given that each one of us make up the collective.

Related posts: a) Archetypes...Politicians...and Tricksters (December 2012)/b) An Encounter with Archetypes (January 2013)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Symbolic Sight: An Individual Experience

Seeing with the 'Mind's Eye'
In my last post (Reflections in a Global Mirror) I said that symbolic sight is the ability to discern the deeper significance of both extraordinary and mundane events. This is an example of how two very mundane occurrences in one individual's life had implications for the whole of humanity; it demonstrates when the use of symbolic sight or ‘seeing with the mind’s eye’ not only solved a particular problem but had a global impact.

          Ben Carson is an African-American neurosurgeon best known for his pioneering work in separating conjoined twins. Carson, who had hung around gangs and struggled during his early school years but excelled in higher education, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the USA. His auto-biography, Gifted Hands, is also available as a DVD.  
          In 1987 Carson made medical history by becoming the first surgeon to successfully separate German Siamese twins joined at the head. This type of operation had been done several times in the past but one or both of the conjoined had died through exsanguination; they bled to death. Having agreed to do the operation, Carson kept putting off naming a date; something bothered him. He had not yet came up with the answer for how to approach the operation to give both babies the optimal chance of survival.  He had not yet accessed the deeper knowledge he needed. 

          Carson’s mother had always told him anything was possible; that all he needed to know reside neither in books nor in experimentation, they were just the door openers. All the knowledge he required was already written in his mind/brain book.
     At a point in time Carson was observing the drip, drip of the tap in the kitchen sink and watched until the drips formed into slower and slower droplets and ceased. That event triggered a thought.  Some time later, while playing a game of solitary pool, Carson watched a cue ball roll along the green baize. He visualized it moving in ultra slow motion, until the ball plopped into a pocket.
     Something clicked in Carson’s brain.  In that moment he understood how to translate the relationship between velocity and time into the optimal sequence and speed of activity to be undertaken in the operating theatre in order to successfully separate the babies, while keeping them alive.

               The operation was a huge success. It changed the prevailing matrix of collective thought and approach to this type of operation.  In my language, Carson was the ‘next’ person to engage with a particular energy flow or line of thought that triggered a tipping point in the medical world.  It’s a bit like the phenomenon used to describe a strategy for social change known as - The Hundredth Monkey (Revisited).  In essence it is quantum mechanics. 

          But social change does not happen until there is sufficient weight to tip the balance as it were - to reach a 'tipping point'.  Abe Lincoln, Emily Pankhurst, Mahatma Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachev, all stood on the crest of a wave which was in effect the tipping point.  Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement, the collapse of the Berlin Wall etc all fall into the same category. Today's vanguard of change, including and especially Barack Obama, stand on the shoulders of ancestral giants who came before them.

               The events of daily life in all their banality and exceptionality, brutality and absurdity are a source of information and, like dreams, are worthy of examination and interrogation.  Symbolic sight is the gift the artist brings to the discerning; when it is employed we can perceive the symbiotic relationship between humanity and the planet, and can appreciate that the personal is essentially planetary. Like true alchemists, we can all engage the power of our spirit with the energy flow that brings resolution.

a) At 12 Noon Sunday, February 17: Forward on Climate, Washington, D.C. USA; and b) 4-10 March is Climate Week in UK. Visit AND