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.
Thursday, 15 November 2012
letting go the reins
I've been talking with a friend about a motif in the Grail story of Parsifal, having been re-reading Lindsay Clarke's re-telling of this story: Parzival and the Stone from Heaven. I know the basic story well, having not only used it as a core myth in my own book and in workshops, but also from much studying of the Grail legends in their original languages at university, and then later in some psychological depth in my three-year training in Transpersonal Psychology. The latter is rooted in the writings of C G Jung and the many post-Jungians who have followed this thread, which makes much of the archetypes in myth in general and the symbolic psycho-spiritual wisdom teachings of the Grail corpus in particular, speaking as it does to the concerns of our era in the last millennium.
Re-reading Clarke's book, a little keynote idea which I know so well but had forgotten hit me like the blast of a blow-torch. In this part of the story, many years in, Parsifal has come near to despair. He has no strategies for the future; everything he has tried has brought him outer success, but no closer to the deep desires of his heart, nor to a sense of meaning, wholeness and completion. 'I was lost in fog,' says Parzival. 'I let my horse's reins hang loose' – and that is how, finally, he found the way to the Grail Castle, for which in one guise or another he'd been searching for many years, using the way of the warrior-hero and the 'masculine' attributes of acuity of will, logic and intellect. That way had brought him many fine adventures, both warrior-adventures and romantic encounters, and a place in King Arthur's court; but none had revealed to him the Grail.
Parzival, like most of us in our time, was driven by the need to achieve and the 'doing' nature, and the arts of strategy, planning, achievement, competition, gain, 'success', 'progress', and outwardness, all shaped by a sense of structure and control. Unself-conscious, he was also, through ignorance rather than anything more negative, ultimately self-seeking.
What was sacrificed was what we call in our time 'emotional intelligence': being, the inner world of feeling, dream, intuition, instinct, and the heart-nature qualities of imagination, compassion and empathy; what was missing was a softer focus that allowed uncertainty, quiet, solitude and reflection, and, crucially, an awareness of the importance of the feeling nature both in the making of decisions and the timing of them.
Dropping the reins means letting go, for a little while, of our continual striving to do more of the same, to determinedly shape our direction; giving ourselves over, for a spell, to the innate, unerring and simple wisdom of our bodies (the horse) and our feeling responses to the world; letting instinct and intuition guide our way, and allowing ourselves to be lost in the fog until it clears by itself and a new direction becomes possible, or at least imaginable. (I believe this is something of what Keats was gesturing towards with his phrase 'negative capability'.) We call this, too, 'getting out of our own light' – that is, not being overly ego-focused. Giving up striving. Giving up thinking we have all the answers.
If we don't do that willingly, life, through its natural orientation towards harmony and balance, homeostasis, will, one way or another, force us to.
As someone who is enjoying letting the horse carry me where I need to go, at last, I want to remind you how restorative a period of letting go can be...
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