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, 25 February 2015

tracking the deer into the forest

I've long known that a physical symptom is also a symbol. When the way we are living is out of alignment with the way our psyche needs us to live, the tension between the two naturally manifests, in the end, in the body (this is really what is meant by 'psychosomatic'). It's the psyche's way of alerting us to the fact that changes need to happen.

This is not how allopathic medicine tends to think, though thankfully there is a small but increasing number of medics who do see the connections. Holistically speaking, though, it makes no sense whatever to focus on merely alleviating the symptoms without addressing the causes. Psyche is persistent, and the issues will arise elsewhere, in a different form, or the same form again, that's all.

So a good question, at times of illness or distress, rather than 'What can I do to stop the symptoms?' (though that might need to be asked too), is 'What is my soul (psyche) requiring of me that I'm ignoring or that my current lifestyle isn't accommodating?' The answer, of course, is usually inconvenient, demanding change, and the relinquishing of familiar if dysfunctional or at least outgrown habits and ways of thinking.

There is a natural impetus in the psyche towards wholeness, and it is sensitive to imbalance.

I was pondering all this this morning early, walking with Dog through the misty valley alongside the brook. I was half-consciously following some deer tracks towards the woodland, and then suddenly looking up I saw the deer herself – a young roe doe. Dog didn't see her or smell her, and we followed her for a short way before she led us off towards the deeper forest and the little pool.

As we entered the woodland proper, two Canada geese flew over. I love wild geese, and I love the fact that they are at home in three elements.

Everything is itself, and is also, in an interconnected universe, a waymarker, if you like; a symbol. The convergence of deer and pool, and waterbird, reminded me of the fact that I know that beneath my physical symptoms of heart problems that arose at a time of great stress a couple of years ago was the demand that I change my life.

I've lived pretty much according to the promptings of soul and its values and passions, but it has been at a cost. I've always made my way in the world by following my imagination and my intuition. In Jungian and shamanic teachings this is the way of fire.

Given that I've pushed my body continuously beyond its needs for sleep and rest and time out, inevitably there would come a time when burnout would claim me. In acupuncture terms, my fire energy has been hugely depleted – the enthusiasm has remained but my body has said 'can't' (a word, incidentally – and this is part of the picture – that we were brought up as children in my family to believe didn't exist).

Living on adrenalin, my thyroid was no longer able to cope. With my thyroid out of whack, and some personal issues that were taking a huge toll on my emotional wellbeing, of course my heart protested.

I have taken various measures to address this, examining which parts of my life weren't working for me and identifying what would have to change. I still am working with this. Most of all, perhaps, I am (still) trying to learn how to take an hour out in the early afternoon to hang out, with no agenda, with music or a book or simply resting.

When I woke this morning I had a strong urge to get to the sea. My environmental conscience (I'd have to drive for 40 minutes each way) and my sense of responsibility to work (I have a number of deadlines) meant that I didn't. 

But water was calling. Arriving at the pool this morning, and witnessing the geese, neither of which I'd consciously intended, were clearly what soul needed from me. What I need in a burntout life is not to kindle new fires (always a temptation for me) unless they're small and contained, but to go to water. It's not a top-up of fire I need right now (though I do down the line) but rehydration.

In the symbolic world of Jungian and shamanic thought, water represents the feminine, the feeling function and the heart or soul (where fire represents the masculine, the abstract and the spirit). I also need to come down out of my head and simply feel.

What a sense of spaciousness in my chest when I remember this.


Later in 2015 (provisional date Sunday 7th June) I'm hoping to offer 'Soul Medicine: The Four Treasures' workshop, in Devon – a way of working with Celtic myth, archetypes, Jungian thought and shamanic practice to bring aspects of our lives into balance. This will take me back to my roots in 1991, where I led 'Myth as Metaphor' workshops following on from my training in Transpersonal psychotherapy.


  1. I do so identify with you on this. I often think of the blog in which you described lying in a hammock (I hope I didn't imagine it). For me, it's a mixture of upbringing , of what I 'ought' to be 'doing' and wanting to write so many things, novels, poetry and lead workshops! So, I'll begin my afternoon in my imaginary hammock! love Marg x

  2. Hello Marg! Oh yes - it is too 'oughts' and 'work ethics' and being inspired by so many things, isn't it? Pacing myself seems to be a big lesson for me.

    Please do begin your afternoons in your imaginary hammock! And no you didn't imagine it - in the hot summer days of 2013 I spent many afternoons in my hammock. Far fewer last year - can't remember what i was doing in the hot days we had, but not hammocking. 2015: hammock resolution. Maybe we need a Hammock Revolution, and a pact... Rx

  3. Mary Oliver's "Red BIrd" led me to your blog, and I've been wandering through it for the last several minutes. Lovely images and thoughts--thank you.

    I think you might enjoy the postings of Harold Rhenisch, who is working hard to reconnect people with place in Canada. Here's one of my favorite posts of his:


  4. Vicki, hello - and thank you. I don't know the guy you speak of but he sounds great, and I'll follow that link.

    Warm wishes to you


  5. Vicki, I've just read that blogpost. Wow. Thank you so much for alerting me to it. I'm now a follower.

  6. You won't be surprised to hear, Roselle, that this also resonates strongly with me. And I love the way you express it with such lyricism. (I might show this to my acupuncturist – a lovely lady, trained as a doctor in the western, allopathic way, who speaks of many of the things you mention and is counselling me in similar ways.)
    Interesting that often, after I've submitted a chunk of my work, I feel immediate relief followed by an emptiness, a malaise, a need to return but a blockage somewhere which snags the flow. It's also a hard journey for me – like you – to learn to pace myself properly: i.e. not to ignore the pains in my body, not to be tempted to walk so much in this glorious spring, that it wears me out. So difficult to find that balance.

    Thanks, as ever, Miriam x

  7. Miriam, thanks as ever - and no surprise! For me, a q is 'what will take me towards the water element?', which is another way of speaking of tracking the path of the (non-dependent!) feminine/relational psyche... Including of course relationship to our body and feelings, both of which are only valued on a superficial level in our culture, in my opinion - objectification and emotional reactivity. But you know all that.

    And yes maybe our creative expression keeps us alive - vital fire!

    And it's one thing to know it, isn't it; quite another to practise! Rx

  8. Interesting, that I crave the sea as you say you did. And the greatest thing, I find, about writing and wandering alone, but not lonely, in places like Iona, is that I do feel more independent and self-affirming than usual. But yes, hard to practise! M x

  9. I feel an I Ching reading might be a good idea for you at the moment, if I may be so bold as to suggest it. At times of perceived change/transition/relocation/confusion I find it enormously wise and powerful (but I only consult it very sparingly, perhaps once a year or less). But you know all this :)

  10. Robert - you know how it is that sometimes another sees one better?! I too use the I Ching but very infrequently, and exactly then - at times of change and transition. And - guess what? - that hadn't occurred to me in relation to this (though I did use a Tarot spread earlier in the year - also very helpful). Spot on. Thank you. That's tomorrow evening's content, then...


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