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

Sunday, 21 August 2016

the creative tension of personal relationships

One of the best things about loving and being loved is that sense of belonging. Accompanying this is the sense of being seen, being affirmed for who one is. There is nothing like it.

But if we assume, as I do, that part of the 'purpose', the 'meaning', of life is to do with growth of consciousness, then sometimes the most loving thing another can do for us is to shake us up and out of our complacency, our habitual grooves. That doesn't mean it's fun; but it may be necessary.

Luckily, we don't need to try too hard to do this: if we're being honest with self and other and are trying to live with depth and intimacy, it'll be an inevitability in our personal relationships. 

In my novel course I remind would-be novelists that no one (as far as I know) goes to a novel to read about contented characters who live lives in which nothing ever happens. Why would we? What we want is to see them pitted against something or other, whether that's in the outside world or in themselves; to see them face difficulty and come through; to see them change and survive the transitions. We want to see them grow and transform. We want to see how other people do it, this life business.

I was thinking again this morning about the challenges we meet in our relationships and how, as I've written elsewhere, our personal relationships, as one of the Jungians wrote, can be a fast-track to consciousness, if we let them teach us. (This doesn't, of course, have to be a primary relationship; it can be the case too with friendships, colleagues, family members.)

I am now in a happy and rewarding primary relationship. But it has been, and still is at times, bloody difficult; by which I mean I've had many 'opportunities' to look at myself and my unconscious habits and patterns.

This is not, I think, navel-gazing or egocentric (although of course it can be both those things). It's simply living 'an examined life' which aids psychological health and hygiene: in learning more about myself and how I react rather than respond to the world allows me choice, and bringing these things to consciousness allows me to grow and to judge others less harshly – at least in theory.

Jung said: 'We do not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.'

This kind of shadow-work is, I think, indispensable.

It's good to notice what gets us going in another person; what presses our buttons. According to the psychotherapeutic notion of projection, often what most annoys or irritates you, upsets you, makes you most threatened, insecure or angry, what you most dislike, hate or fear in another is possibly a mirror of that very same quality in yourself; just hidden below the level of consciousness.

Similarly with the positives: noticing the people to whom we're most strongly attracted (not necessarily sexually), or that which we most admire, envy, or project as a positive quality onto another tells us what positive attributes may be under- or undeveloped in ourselves; what positive qualities in our own being are hidden below the threshold of our conscious mind. Look at what people project onto celebrities (and noticing where these projections fall, personally and collectively, tells us quite a lot about our values).

So, while the world and our consciousness are of course much bigger than the merely personal, it's a positive step to allow the world also to be a mirror for us.

Here's a practice, if this might be your thing, and should you want to give this five minutes' attention, perhaps at the end of each day for a week: note down exactly what has got you going, pressed your buttons, positive or negative today – whether it was a personal encounter or something you read or witnessed. How might this offer you a mirror of what's going on in your inner world? Of what might need bringing forward, or acknowledging?

And if you're a writer: how might this enrich your writing?


  1. A fantastic, invaluable, piece, Roselle. It's heart-warming to read this sort of wisdom to which I've subscribed for most of my adult life and probably long before that, though less consciously. You put it so well: 'sometimes the most loving thing another can do for us is to shake us up and out of our complacency, our habitual grooves. That doesn't mean it's fun; but it may be necessary.'
    Oh yes, we (J & I) both know this feeling so well.
    And every paragraph says something equally true. When most of the people we know would react to this with the words: 'navel-gazing, egocentric', it's always reassuring to know there are people like you out there to help us feel 'affirmed for who one is.' National Curriculum, please listen!

    But none of this will be a surprise to you. It's just a good time for us to hear you say it, two days away from seeing friends we've known for nearly 40 years who have so little self-knowledge (resulting, recently, in one of them constantly undermining me) that we wonder how long our friendship will last without some plain, uncomfortable speaking on our part. Poor woman is, I think, going through a difficult time, but finds it hard to admit to it. I hope we can grow through it but we're not optimistic.
    And yes, I must always have this in mind when writing. Much to cover still in my novel, but it's very absorbing and always enlightening.

    Thanks as ever,
    love, Miri

  2. Miri, hello from la belle and very hot France! I expect your friends will have been and gone, and I hope it was a more comfortable time this time. Failing that, I have recently had to learn the hard way that there are some friendships from whom one simply has to walk away. We need people around us who affirm us, and vice versa of course.

    Looking forward to the next instalment of TWR (though no hurry from my POV).

    Love to both



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