A conversation with a friend and counselor this morning helped start me on the road back to center after three or four of the most difficult weeks of my life. Events recently on all levels and in all areas of my life have provoked a crisis of faith for me. I had begun to question the reality of what I call “guidance” in my life—my contact with the Divine and the reality of the imaginal world—and without the certainty of guidance, my life would be a series of random, meaningless events. In response to the conversation, and in gratitude and love for all my fellow-travelers, I offer this prayer:
Thank you, God, for this miracle that is my life. Bless all of us who walk this path together. Be with us in this difficult time. Thou knowest my inmost heart, oh Lord—I pray for the highest good for us all. Grant us strength, love, and insight in all we do. Mitakuye oyas’in….
Help us find the courage to walk forward with open eyes and bright faces. Grant us wisdom and compassion for ourselves and for each other. Guide our way, oh Lord, hold us and show us the next step on our soul path. Mitakuye oyas’in….
May we be a light for each other; may we be a blessing for each other; may we be angels for each other as we walk through dark times. Bless us, Great Spirit, and guide our path. Mitakuye oyas’in….
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
In his new book The Wounded Researcher (2007, Spring Publications), Robert Romanyshyn (my dissertation advisor at Pacifica) presents a way of doing psychological research that keeps soul in mind. The book landed in my mailbox on Monday, at a crucial moment when my life and my research both seem to be falling apart. Romanyshyn’s words remind me that this falling-apart is part of the work of soul, the work of life itself.
Romanyshyn’s approach to psychological research is an imaginal one, in which the researcher is understood to be chosen or claimed by the research topic rather than choosing the topic herself. Rather than being the author of the work, the researcher becomes the agent, the one who listens and gives voice to what the work itself wishes to say. As Romanyshyn points out, in the process the researcher is worked on, or worked over, by the soul of the work. Transformation is inevitable—and almost never pleasant. This is the approach I’ve used in my dissertation. Next time I suggest an imaginal research topic, someone please just shoot me.
When we undertake a research project from an imaginal perspective, we have to give up our ego’s ideas for the work because we’re not the one in charge. As with anything else when you’re truly in the imaginal, the ego isn’t driving, and that is difficult to comprehend, much less to accept. When the work falls apart and simply will not go where we want it to, it’s a reminder that we’re not listening to the voice of the work itself. I’ve experienced this again and again in my dissertation process. Every time I’ve thought I “had it” and understood what the dissertation was about and how to say it, whatever “it” was has dissolved and vanished, leaving me confused, grieving, and emotionally worked over. Only now (four years into it) have I finally given in to the necessity of letting go of my own desire for this work to be something that serves my own ego.
On page 45 of this new book, Romanyshyn says, “An approach to research that keeps soul in mind has to make a place for the soul of the work to speak beyond the calculus of a researcher’s subjective prejudices.” I’m beginning to realize that my dissertation, the work itself, has been speaking to me all along but I’ve failed to listen adequately. I wanted something different, something “bigger,” something that fulfilled my ego’s needs but obviously not the needs of whoever or whatever it is that wants to speak through me.
This experience has been profoundly painful, but I find myself finally moving beyond denial and into acceptance—-and into the mourning that the loss requires. Romanyshyn describes a similar experience in the process of writing his own book. “Certainly for me the many false starts, each of which began with enthusiasm and clarity and ended in ashes, were a slow process of letting go, a slow and difficult process of mourning” (p. 62).
The process of mourning, Romanyshyn suggests, is both essential and transformative to the process of research:
The researcher whose work has collapsed and resists all efforts to restore it falls into . . . an abyss. It is the dark night of the work. It is the moment when loss becomes a descent into the as-yet undreamed possibilities in the work, a descent from the researcher’s hold on the work to the soul of the work. It is a descent into the complexities of the claim that the work has made upon the researcher and a descent into that place where this complex claim might be dissolved and transformed into the unfinished business in the soul. . . . (p. 68)
When he speaks of research, I believe that what he says is just as valid for all deep experiences in our lives, certainly all deep losses. Mourning any profound loss or change in our life—-death, loss of a job, failure of a relationship, our heart’s desire seemingly crushed—-is an opportunity to descend into the abyss and there, perhaps, find as-yet undreamed possibilities. The experience of loss gives us the chance to see that something of soul is guiding this life of ours, and we can’t force it into a known form.
One thing that Romanyshyn repeats again and again: “What we love we lose, and in that moment we begin to see the love that claims us . . . through different eyes.” And again, on the next page: “What we love we lose, and mourning is thus an inevitable aspect of love. . . . Mourning is a tricky business—-a business in which the desire to restore what once was and has been lost outweighs the hard task of re-membering the loss” (pp. 64-66).
To be true to our soul, though, we need to be willing to release our ego’s attempt to hold on to what we love and what we most fear to lose. We must somehow be willing to experience the pain, mourn the loss, and be transformed in some way.
For we can’t escape the loss we fear so much: loss and change and falling apart are inevitable. Death, after all, is only life’s other face. Somehow we have to continue the life our soul has placed in our path and let it lead: we have to let this drama, this journey, this encounter, have its own way with us. Marianne Williamson says, “There is a principle in A Course in Miracles stating that it is not up to us what we learn, but only whether we learn through joy or through pain.” If we don’t learn whatever it is that’s being offered this time, with this experience, we’ll be given yet another opportunity; will it be a joyous one? Each experience of deep loss or great change presents us with an opportunity, whether we like it or not, and very little choice but to learn another way of being. Transformation: this is the profound and painful gift that falling apart offers.
Have I mentioned that transformation sucks rotten eggs?
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Hope no one here is squeamish about spiders and bugs….
This lovely lady, probably the common Hentz’s orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera), lives right outside my dining room window. Legs and all, she's probably a little larger than a dime. The other night she had herself quite a feast! The victim was an assassin bug. This I determined only after locating the remains the next morning on the ground below the second-story window. I felt like a CSI digging around in the dirt with my forceps and magnifying glass looking for body parts! Once I knew what it was, I was able to identify its face through the silken shroud.
For those as ghoulish as myself, here’s the shot. (The bug is nearly upside down; locate one of the eyes to the right and just below the center of the picture to orient yourself. If you’re really curious and want to know what it looked like before its demise, google “Reduviidae Zelus” and look at some of the images there.)
Death is, after all, only life’s other face.
I was watching one of my favorite shows on TV last night—“John Edward Cross Country.” John Edward is a psychic and medium, and I love watching him work because the way he receives information is so close to the way I receive it myself. Of course, he’s way better at it than I am, but it’s still fun and encouraging to me.
Last night he was talking about how folks who have passed on like to use electronic items like computers, telephones, tape recorders, and the like because the energy of these devices is relatively easy for them to manipulate. That’s certainly been true for me! And those of us with a sensitivity to the Other World have to be careful around electronic devices because we tend to fry them somehow…. I once went through four tape recorders in a week, and anyone who heard me call my first and (so far) only public contra dance may remember how the microphone started acting up as soon as I touched it.
Anyway, it reminded me of the following event. The Ladies are the group of imaginal women who are helping me with my dissertation, and the rest of this entry is cut directly from the dissertation draft, so the tone is a little different, but I don’t have time to revise it for the blog. It’s pretty readable:
Although the Ladies are not living, flesh-and-blood women, there are still ethical issues to be considered in doing this work. Jung believed that we have an ethical obligation to the figures of psyche. I concur. The wishes of the Ladies have been respected to the greatest possible extent when including material from my interactions with them. Here is an example of how this has worked.
Early in the process of this dissertation, while I was still examining the box of artifacts and trying to decide how to use them, I came across a number of letters to my grandmother from a young woman who had been engaged to my father at the time he left for combat; let’s call her Bernice. I had not yet had time to read Bernice’s letters, but decided to scan them into electronic form first, along with a batch of other letters that I had been working on. The other letters scanned fine. When I put the first of Bernice’s letters on the scanner bed and pressed “start,” nothing happened. I checked the connections, repositioned everything, and pressed “start” again. Again, nothing happened. I tried everything one more time, and this time, when I pressed “start,” the entire computer shut down—completely shut down.
After a moment’s panic, I began to think about what had just happened. My father and Bernice had broken off their engagement some time while he was overseas; nothing in his letters or my grandmother’s even hinted at what happened between them. How difficult this event must have been for everyone concerned, perhaps especially for Bernice herself. Could it be, I wondered, that after all these years she preferred that her letters not be read? Would she prefer to maintain her privacy? I put the letters back into the box without reading them; they are still there, unopened by me. When I re-booted my computer, the rest of the letters in the box scanned perfectly, and I have had no trouble since.
My response to this incident seems strange when viewed from a rational, scientific viewpoint, but it is an ethical approach that honors the reality and the autonomy of the imaginal figures. I believe that we need to keep such concerns in mind as we work toward learning more about the imaginal world.