from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

the art of conscious relationship

 It's seemed to me for many years now that the path of conscious relationship is as valid a practice as any (other) spiritual path, and arguably increasingly urgent in this poor fractured conflict-ridden world. For me, it underpins all my spiritual practice (or at least that's the intention – easy to say, of course. So I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I'm constantly aware of its demands and necessities, its tug at the hem of the psyche.)

Mystics have always said, and science via quantum physics is validating this, that everything is relationship, from the grandest cycles to the smallest imaginable organisms or events. Everything. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and everything has an effect on everything else.

This is so elegantly demonstrated in particle physics where two particles can be charged with interaction with each other, and the one can be shown to change the other instantaneously, even 'if they have travelled to opposite sides of the universe' (Michael Brooks in The New Statesman, more another time).

You'll see the thread I'm following: one I keep coming back to in these posts. This particular thread for me connects not only to Zen and pagan/arcane spiritual practice, but also to my days of studying myth – initially at university (Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic; my focus was on the body of Welsh and Irish mythology), and then later in my transpersonal psychology training, rooted in Jungian and archetypal thought.

A determining, even epiphanic, moment for me in my early 30s was a blinding revelation in relation to my own personal history and the way some mythic stories addressed aspects of this.

Myth embodies in story form the truths of humanity, and the wisdom of a culture, and offers us solutions or resolutions to the dilemmas and crises we all meet. I fell on the Grail mythos (much of which I'd read in various ancient languages at university, where the struggle was simply on translation and the content slipped by!) as others turn to the Bible, and then read all the Jungian books in relation to the deeper symbolism of the Grail stories (which, as we know them now, were adapted during the later Christian era from a body of much older knowledge, sourced probably in ancient Egypt and ancient Europe/Britain).

Meantime – this is in 1990/1 – I was building on my own personal inner work to create a series of workshops called 'Myth as Metaphor'. The rest as they say (as they say) is history.

OK I'm wandering a bit. Focus, girl.

If the ego seeks gratification, the Self seeks transformation and unity. (Here I'm using the 'Self' as Jung used it – the larger 'higher self' that is not focused on gratification of the hungry little ego, but on growth and potential for consciousness and the wider requirements of the collective.) We are all part of much bigger cycles, and as Dr Guirdham said, in a very real way 'we are one another'. But if you're anything like me, your tendency too will be to view everything 'out there' as if it's separate from you (me, us). Then our world becomes dotted with fragments of disconnected 'its' that we push around as if they were dead, to feed our appetites.

If we make our work though that of reclaiming the journey to the Self something changes. This is what so many of the Grail myths exemplify – the journey from the self-seeking nature of the immature person to the perspective of the mature adult who can form relationship that at least some of the time is not toxic and completely driven by the need to 'get' something from another; and in which evolution of consciousness and service play a determining part. I suppose that's the journey from 'love' to Love, too. At least, that's the theory!

Reclaiming our 'stuff', taking responsibility for our shadow, the unevolved bits of ourselves that we project out there and see in or dump on another but are blind to in ourselves seems to be the fundamental starting point. Rather like (I imagine) lancing a boil, there is such relief in reclaiming this stuff, pain notwithstanding (or maybe I'm simply a masochist!) – so much energy is locked up in all this projection!

Of the many books on all this that I possess or have read, one I come back to over and over is James Hollis' The Eden Project – in Search of the Magical Other, 'a Jungian perspective on relationship'. I can't help feeling this should be on the curriculum in all secondary schools. I want to tell everyone interested in relationship – that is, everyone – to read this book!

I have been using this work as a kind of guidebook/handbook/map for many years now, and it has come into focus again this year as I work through it more intensely as part of an important (to me) and significant (ditto) collaborative project.

There are a series of questions that Hollis raises that now underpin my journalling. In case any of this  resonates with you at all, I'll copy them out. What I put down below is a very slightly adapted form of JH's questions.

The fundamental question
'What am I asking of this Other that I ought to be doing for myself?'

Its corollary
'What am I doing for this Other that s/he ought to be doing for him- or herself?'
(I think this is mine rather than JH's, though I may have misremembered – this is a big lesson for me, being both stubbornly independent and also over-responsible)

Other necessary/related qs:
Where do my dependencies show up in my relationships?
How do I repeatedly constrict myself through my historically conditioned attitudes and behaviour patterns?
Am I taking on too much responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of the Other? Am I taking on his or her journey at the expense of my own?
Am I living my life in such a fashion that I will be happy with the consequences of my choices? If not, when do I plan to start? What fears, lack of permission or old behaviours block me from living my life?
In what ways do I seek to avoid suffering?

AND: in what ways do I avoid intimacy?


'The way we live our days is, of course, the way we live our lives.' Annie Dillard

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