Hand to Hand

I have a former work colleague who is happy to watch people arguing partisan politics online for hours on end. Me, I couldn’t do it, it would drive me insane. But so she tells me, she has spotted an interesting trend. Something interesting is happening in the Brexit/Scottish independence debates.

We all know the script. Usually, it is the conservative/defending position that takes the more aggressive stance. The opposing side is the ‘enemy’. Although generally speaking, the progressive position plays less dirty, with repeated exposure over time, both sides can become as bad as each other.It is now standard practice for political campaigns to use paid agents provocateurs to veer public opinion in their favour or away from where the discourse might naturally flow. These campaigns also act as magnets to organic trolls acting out their fear of the unknown. You can always tell which ones are which. The paid trolls give themselves away every time in their sheer stamina and consistency in their use of poltical jargon. It is laughable to think that only the Russians could be capable of such a thing!

The organic trolls, however, are real people. Sad, maybe. Bitter, maybe. But real nonetheless.

And this is where tentative change is occurring.

Taking an argument about COVID resrictions in the UK as an example, the engagements might start with the usual mudslinging but if the time is taken to interrogate the reasoning behind certain assumptions and postions, what becomes clear is that a) the ‘troll’ is acting on misinformation, a misapprehension or a misunderstanding b) they genuinely believe what they are saying c) they are over the moon to discover that they have the wrong end of the stick and d) they are really just scared and want someone to take the time to listen to their concerns. The overriding theme is loneliness.

Of course there are maldoers and idiots among them, but contrary to popular misconception (promoted by the media I have to say), the majority of these bitter, angry people are as sensitive as you or I, they have just learned to process their emotions differently. In the rush to embrace other disenfranchised parts of the community, such as ethnic groups, women or the LGBT community, the old mainstream was pushed to one side by the progressive elites.

Obviously, there are individuals out there who have figured this out and who are willing to take the time to engage on a more human level with their political opponents. They are not engaging from a position of moral or intellectual superiority but as equals. Friendships are forming. Some are meeting in real life over coffee.

I am writing this because I feel strongly that our brothers and sisters across the Pond need to be reassured that this is how it is done. Not by Washington, not Westminster – just us.

Reunifying a divided population is possible but it has to be undertaken in a sprit of compassion – at the grass roots, on an individual level. It is less about finding common political ground than about rediscovering our common humanity. If we can do that, the politics will do just fine.

Heaven’s Gate

A FEW years back (2014-15), during the most turbulent throes of my inner journey, I turned to the most readily available source of information, the Internet. It was only too easy to find an explanation for what was happening to me. Not only was I ‘ascending’, so was the whole damned planet. In short, the ‘awakened’ part of humanity would evolve into a higher dimension, while those that didn’t would remain in this denser reality. Conveniently, both would become invisble to the other. The ‘good’ guys would ‘escape’ the Apocalypse. Sounded pretty appealing.

Despite the holes, once I had adjusted to the idea, I embraced it. Months later I found myself in a situation where I thought to myself “Hang on, something isn’t right here.” The thing is that instead of feeling more centred, balanced, calm, during my quest to find out what was going on with my soul, I became more anxious, as the list of practices I had to learn, stuff I had to know, grew longer. Like which angels did what or what colours to avoid during visualisation. Worse, when was IT going to happen. The Ascension ‘symptoms’ grew worse the more aware of them I became.

Using different key words, I googled a bit deeper, only to find that the Ascension program was most likely a spectacular con, designed to distract those who might otherwise be capable of breaking the status quo and make a few bucks in the process. This alleged hoax was perpetuated by the very agencies that were supposedly trying so hard to prevent it occurring at all. (Did it never occur to anyone that the ‘Illuminati’ might actually WANT every Misfit under the Sun to pack their bags and “””” off to another planet?!)

I also learned that following a spiritual path was less about acquiring ‘spiritual’ knowledge and more about ditching belief systems altogether. Deep down I had always known this and a load was lifted.

So I nipped it in the bud, spent less time dwelling on it and more time following my own inner guidance system, regardless of whether it conformed to any known spiritual practice. Hey presto, the electrical sensations in my crown chakra soon stopped.

Now that I have come to an understanding of the individuation process as described by Carl Jung, the best argument against a collective Ascension scenario is this. One of the basic principles of analytical psychology is that in order to become more whole, we each have to delve into our own Unconscious to integrate the Shadow, those parts of our psyche that we have rendered inaccessible. According to Jung and others, this is done at an individual level. Yes, critical mass can be achieved collectively but it is NOT a group effort. More importantly, in order to ascend, we first have to DESCEND.

Denial and dissociation are what create the Shadow in the first place. And, no matter how many times we try to kill or refuse to acknowledge it, the Shadow doesn’t simply go away. So what makes us think that by committing the most spectacular act of dissociation ever we can guarantee our own salvation? What happens when the Veil cracks and the Shadow comes back to haunt us millennia from now? What will have prepared our descendants for the shock of coming into contact with a world we had wilfully chosen to ignore?

I am not suggesting for one minute that the idea of collective planetary ascension has no truth to it – indeed, if it is a hoax, the best ones have a basis in truth – but that wholesale acceptance of the ‘Ascension Program’ as it has been packaged is a trap. Even if the prospect of splitting off from the horror of life on this planet is real enough, take it from me, when you commit a deliberate act of forgetfulness and it comes back to bite you in the bum, it is not pretty.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020

Apocalypse

Depending on who you talk to, the Apocalypse is either the end of everything or the end of life as we know it. Me, I never imagined that when it finally happened, it would be like watching paint dry …

Regardless of whether we are in THE Apocalypse, certainly by definition we are in AN apocalypse of sorts. The word itself means revelation, the removal of the veil of illusion when all will be revealed and nothing will be left hidden. It is easy to see how that could translate in the context of the internet age; it is difficult these days for even governments to keep anything hidden. So apocalypse is less about suffering and more about being forced to see things as they are.

We tend to fixate on the external physical suffering. Most of the graphic imagery of Revelation is not literal but symbolic, in that most of the action occurs within the psyche. And there is a clear implication that we ourselves are co-creators of our own suffering. Again, this correlates with the warnings that if we don’t change course now, our planet will die and us with it.

However you cut it, every end is a new beginning. Without death there is no rebirth. Things have to break down in order to build back up. In some countries, apocalyptic events occur on a continuous basis. Try tellling them it’s not the Apocalypse. The earth has endured countless cataclysmic events and this current world crisis will not be the last.

The greatest arrogance, of course, is for any one of us to believe that we have any greater prerogative than anyone else to survive anything the earth throws at us. God or no God, ultimately, Mother Nature will call the shots. The more we try and control our way out of this, the worse it will be.

Whatever happens, if it is in my own destiny to survive the global crisis, I look forward to seeing what lies on the other side. Hopefully, it will be a world where hate and anger have burnt out and Gaia has a fighting chance to recover from Us.

Secrets and Lies

YEARS AGO I was fascinated by my ancestry. I still am to a point, only I have other preoccupations to take up my time! Not only did I find out who my great greats were, I discovered their stories, was able to work out what their motivations, aspirations might have been. I saw them as characters in my own story, identified with their struggles. I even learned things about myself.

Other family members humoured me, as I asked pointed questions of anyone who might still be in the know. Until that was, I got to my parents’ generation. Then I might be met with a slight bristle, disguised as concern that in pursuing it I might accidentally self-destruct. Stranger still was the reaction when I wanted to talk about events from my own living memory, things that were mine to discuss. Suddenly, the language would turn to “Don’t you think you should just move on?” or at worst “Leave it alone. What’s the point of digging up the past?” At best I might be met with a blank expression.

What they failed to realise was that I already knew damn well their reaction was a projection of their own fear of having to face up to things that they themselves might no longer remember. And secondly, the past we leave behind never goes away. That time is a great healer is a lie – what fades only sleeps, wreaking havoc with our personalities and our relationships in ways to which we are oblivious. Unprocessed memories hole up in the unconscious part of our psyche and fester. And they grow. And they fester some more. And they grow some more. Until they act out because they can be contained no more. The only way to ‘get rid’ of them is to process them and integrate them into the conscious part of the psyche. Only then can we truly ‘move on’.

* * * * *

For the purpose of this article, there are two kinds of secrets – the personalty traits, emotions and memories we deliberately hide from others and the ones we lose or ‘forget. I will refer to these collectively as secrets. I should, of course, point out that it doesn’t necessarily follow that the content is traumatic or even painful. Positive memories too can be repressed or hidden, if they are deemed unpalatable either to society or to ourselves. But the psychic harm is the same.

In the case of secrets kept from others, a whole manner of methods can be used to maintain the facade. This might include outright lying, denial, omission and minimisation, even gaslighting. Not only can this have a devastating effect on the person on the receiving end of such tactics, it can also quietly take its toll on the perpetrator, until they are unrecognisable as the person they once were.
Forgetting is a form of repression, just one of a host of clever tactics employed by the psyche to avoid feelings of pain, shame, guilt or anxiety. Denial and rationalisation are others. This internal type of secret can be more insidious, since they are more difficult to identify but still show up in our thoughts and actions, if they are not brought back into consciousness for processing.

Of course, the perceived need for secrecy arises in the first place from being conditioned to cherry pick which parts of our personalites are acceptable to society and to ourseslves. But that is another article for another day.

The real problem with secrets, though, is that they are multi-layered, each one compounded by yet another. And another. Until the innermost core of the psyche becomes an immovable knot. Over successive generations, the knots become ever more tangled, as they digest us from the inside out.

The longer we carry our baggage around, the more havoc it wreaks; the damage done to our joints may be more than just an analogy. Unaddressed issues have a devastating effect on our mental and physical health and our ability to function properly. I am not saying for one minute that repression alone causes morbidity, but I am more than suggesting that it plays a part. All illness to some degree is rooted in the psyche; when all other avenues are exhausted, it’s the only place left to look.
Has recent history not taught us that secrets and unresolved trauma do more harm when kept under the carpet than they ever could revealed? Secrets kill. Lies kill. Repression kills. Unless it’s self-inflicted, they just do it very very very very slowly …

* * * * * *

But our forebears did just fine, this is a modern issue, I hear you say.

Bull. Shit. Where I come from, the majority of people born around the turn of the Twentieth Century had OCD, for godsakes, and it was accepted as normal! They were just as reliant on substances to get through, they just disguised it better.

My grandmother, with the benefit of hindsight, though only second hand knowledge, had all the hallmarks of undiagnosed mental health issues. This was compounded by having to soldier through the aftermath of a stillbirth before having her next child plucked from her by a man too embarrassed to have spawned a ‘dud’. After a fortune spent on specialist care, as long as it was elsewhere, the little girl was raised (in a loving environment, thank God) by her unmarried aunt, thus paving the way for my grandparents to adopt a ‘whole’ one. A woman who pretended not to smoke or drink, she maintained the illusion of piety, while in all likelihood using my father as a human shield to avoid intimacy with her husband. All the while, my father’s entire extended maternal family were sworn to mortal secrecy over his adoption while she fretted over his every move.

His adoption wasn’t the only one. Eight years before I was born, the family of the pregnant girlfriend he left behind in Glasgow threatened to kill him if he came anywhere near, let alone marry her, and so yet another generation was given away. No doubt, getting my mother in ‘trouble’ and subsequently doing the decent thing had echoes of a past he was trying to fix.

Did my grandparents take the opportunity that presented itself to come clean? No, they did not. Instead, my grandfather arranged for his cousin in Glasgow to forge my father’s birth certificate, so that when he married, the lie about his origins could be maintained. The later accidental revelation that he was not who he thought he was and that he had been ‘abandoned’ by his natural mother was the beginning of the slippery slope that would lead to my father becoming a first degree alcoholic and an abuser and ultimately to his ignominous death on a pavement with a full bottle of whisky stuffed in his coat pocket. Until some spiteful piece of work opened his big gob over a few whiskies, from as far back as early childhood he had never understood my grandfather’s jibes that he was something that had crawled out of the gutter.

My father at his core was a compassionate, sensitive, creative individual, who had the misfortune to have his true self knocked out of him, like most of hs peers, by the time he reached puberty, then latterly his identity ripped from beneath his feet. The boy who played truant just to go visit Elsa the Lion at the Kelvingrove Museum, his true nature would occasionally show through only when intoxicated or changing his mind in the throes of drowning a miaowling ball of kittens. My father’s life, in effect, was a complete fabrication, because his authentic self was hidden even from himself. For the record, his real name was Eric Abernethy, if he’d stood up to his adoptive family he could have gone to Art School and my parents’ shotgun marriage was technically illegal.

I came into this world on top of a pile of deceit and I doubt very much I’m the only one. Every family has a story like this somewhere along the line, whether they know it or not. How can we kid ourselves that our predecessors were mentally tougher than us? Resilient yes, but often lacking moral courage where it mattered and driven by motivations that have not changed one iota in millennia. I hardly think it was my father’s interests he was protecting when my fine, upstanding grandfather asked the Registrar to commit a criminal offence. The prevailing culture, I have to add, was that the sin was in getting caught; it didn’t matter what you did, as long as nobody knew about it. As for Dad, the first twenty-nine years of his life (from his point of view) wasn’t just a lie, it was a fully-fledged cover-up from which he never truly recovered.

* * * * * *

I have learned from personal experience that the only way to achieve true healing when dealing with lifetime trauma and personality disorder is to dig and this is borne out in the work of psychosnalysts such as Carl Jung. For me, writing a memoir provides a safe and structured framework through which unprocessed material can be exhumed and restored, without the need for professional intervention. This extends not only to trauma but to situations where my own actions and intentions were less than stellar. This requires a degree of honesty first with myself, and ultimately openness with the people who inhabit my psychosocial environment. And there is no room for victimhood or blame. When all the pieces are reassembled, I am both victim and perpetrator, yet neither of the above.

And yes, confession is good for the soul (though I would argue that the practice of confessing to a priest while maintaining a facade to the majority only props up the culture of secrecy). Allegedly, a tribe in Africa have got it sussed, holding mass confessionals where tribe members spill their troubles and misdeeds to all and sundry. I can no longer find the story but the upshot of it was that their health record was enviable. The other plus of communal confession is that you no longer face exposure to exploitation or blackmail. Losing the fear of what will happen to us if our innermost secrets are exposed by going public allows us to operate with complete interpersonal free will.

* * * * * *

It is said that there will come a time when all will be revealed. That time has probably come, if only because we live in an age of easy access to information and a ready supply of scandal. Each new revelation in politics or entertainment brings with it a sense of inescapability, as well as a growing recognition that the cultural secrecy racket creates far more problems than it solves.

And relief perhaps, not just for those on the receiving end. Jusk ask any high profile con artist about how much mental energy is required to remember which lies have been told to whom.

In the wake of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal of the 90s, I always had the distinct impression that in the long run Clinton felt better for the exposure, that somehow he didn’t have to pretend anymore, had to look over his shoulder a little less. And I trusted a politician with nothing left to hide a little more. Charlie Sheen fought tooth and nail to prevent his HIV diagnosis becoming public. Once it was out in the open, any reputational damage came more from the lengths he went to than for having it. In either case, the burden of denial and eventual relief must have been immense.

In the end, revealing is healing. Far better to spit it out. And if someone, or something, is holding a gun to your head, look them or it square in the eye and politely say “Bring it on”.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020

View from a Clifftop

clifftop

WHEN I reeased the first instalment of my memoir three weeks ago, I was already in a quandary. I had two selling points (USPs): one the story itself, the other the identity of my master catalyst. The latter was always going to be the bigger draw in the longer term but I was wedded to relying on the strength of the story alone to make the first few sales; the secondary selling point would come into play all by itself thereafter, whether I liked it or not. Each USP brought with it two diametrically-opposing audiences – theoretically at least, my target market would require very little explanation of what they were reading, while the mainstream end of the spectrum might get the wrong end of the stick entirely.

I won’t bore you with the details but in the end, the diminutive size of my offering as an unknown author on a single platform, with no reviews, turned out to be a bigger barrier than I thought. And I guess in the middle of a pandemic, people want to know what they’re letting themselves in for, assuming they still have enough disposable income to indulge their reading habits.

Now, after two weeks of trying to figure out how to salvage this and coming close to throwing in the towel, reality dictates I just have to grit my teeth and jump – again – only this time like I mean it. This means exploiting both my USPs.

So go ahead, click on FREE PREVIEW below, then check out the dedication (if it starts further on, you might have to rewind to the second page). If your interest isn’t piqued at that point, then at least I’ve done everything in my power. And if you do read on, a tasteful review once you’ve wrapped your head round it would be most gratefully appreciated.

Me and my Shadow

ONE OF the most challenging foes the archetypal Hero will ever have to face in his/her journey is the Shadow, the ‘dark’ or hidden side of the personality. Stored in the subconscious, it is instinctive and irrational and it is this aspect of ourselves that is at play when we snap or pass judgement. What we reject about ourselves, we project, usually as a moral deficiency in others. The Shadow is not necessarily dark but a spectrum of negative and sometimes positive aspects. It is largely negative because we tend to reject the least socially desirable aspects of our personality. People with low self-exteerm/anxiety typically repress positive attributes, the most obvious being self-love; for a psychopath, the embodiment of their Shadow is what a non-psychopath would perceive as the Light. The Shadow begins to form when as children we try to ft in by repressing aspects of ourselves that either we don’t like or our peers/family don’t like. These can be behaviours, emotions, thoughts, differences, and even memories. As we progress through the educational system, the conscious ego develops beliefs about its place in the world in order to further protect it from rejection by others. Since standards are set from birth that are impossible to live by, it is inevitable that we all form a shadow. The unconscious mind (which includes the subconscious) communicates with our conscious mind through symbols in dreams and visions (among other channels), in a relentless attempt to bring the subconscious back into consciousness. The outward appearance of the symbols used is determined by cultural factors, so in a Christian culture, for instance, the Shadow may manifest as the Devil. Coming into contact with the Shadow may stir up feelings of shame, which is especially typical of sexual matters. Because full sexual expression is repressed by most societies, sexual repression is a more or less universal component of the Shadow. Each Shadow is unique and the more repressed it is, the more power it has over the individual. Compare a philanthropic gangster with a priest who secretly preys on children – the priest has the denser shadow. Conversely, accepting one’s dark side minimises its chances of expressing itself. Recognising one’s dark aspects is the first prerequisite to self-knowledge and a major component of psychosynthesis. It takes considerable mental and moral effort on the part of the ego. Acknowledgement and acceptance of the shadow is a lifelong process of descent, ascent and assimilation. If the process is interrupted, one may have to start over, though not at the very beginning, the subsequent attempt more accelerated than the last. A lifelong game of snakes and ladders! Integration requires vigilance to ensure that we do not over-identify with the ‘dark side’, as the shadow can integrate the conscious instead of the other way around. Susceptibility to such self-sabotage arises during times of stress, shock, confusion or over-thinking. Philosophical and religious traditions have told us for millennia to be ‘better’ human beings but not how to get there. The roadmap is steeped in mystery and jargon under the pretext that the average human being is incapable of such an undertaking. Which to an extent is true but largely because the information is so closely guarded in the first place, a shadow in itself. Personally I believe that even the most dysfunctional human being can be regarded as ready, as long as they have access to the right tools at the right time. Creativity and criminality are both indicators, the latter being a form of the former, and it is a well known fact that the bipolar nature of shadow work drives the creative process (the constant tension between opposites acts rather like a pump). Depression in one who may not even know of individuation is another clue that shadow work is at least in its early stages. Considering that depression and anxiety have reached epidemic proportions (I can only speak for the UK), it is a no brainer that a high percentage of the population has been on the cusp for some time. When the spiritual industry does articulate some form of methodology, most teach that the ego has to be overcome or transcended. This in itself is an act of dissociation, which only feeds the Shadow, so I agree with Carl Jung’s assertion that the conscious and unconscious must fuse for wholeness to occur. Indeed, I find the transcendental route to enlightenment, particularly through use of drugs, can do more harm than good. The Shadow has to be dealt with head on before enlightenment can truly begin. This is why it’s vitally important that we build on the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. in order to achieve a more enlightened state of relationship with ourselves and our planet, exposing that which is hidden in our collective pasts is a painful but necessary milestone in the healing process.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2020

A Prayer for the Young 2020

PRAYER for the Young was a piece I wrote in 2016. It was more of a wish list of how I wanted the world to be. Since then much has already changed in a very short space of time, while in other ways, same old, same old. I thought I might read through it again to compare my thoughts then to the way things are now, on the off-chance that I might be able to cross something off the list.

Sadly, no chance, albeit that we are moving in the right direction. One thing’s for sure, though, deep down every man and his dog knows that we have crossed a threshold, and while we have seen the worst of humanity, the best of who we are has been to the fore. Now, regardless of colour, creed, nationality, economic status, gender, ability or political persuasion, the only binary choice we have to make is whether to operate from a position of Love or Fear.

A Prayer for the Young – original article

Heroes wanted – apply within

Teamwork couple  climbers in silhouette

WE PUT them on pedestals then pull them down when we realise they weren’t what they were cracked up to be. We are in such awe that whole ecosystems were wiped out in Australia, in part because a handful of ‘nobodies’ wanted to be Somebodies, and valour theft is rife in the UK because of our obsession with the War. Add now to that the army of nurses and doctors, of whose ability to turn up for work each day knowing what horrors lie ahead, the rest of us rightly stand in reverence. As for the Marvel fetish, this will in all likelihood become more indulgent as the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll. I am, of course, talking about the cult of the hero, a phenomenon as emotive as it is pervasive.

The meaning of the word is as mercurial as history itself, which lends an exquisite irony to the way current events are playing out. Race aside, for years health and care workers were undervalued and are still underpaid while smug rich white men who made their money on the suffering of others enjoyed centre stage in our public spaces. Until now, the prevailing political narrative of the day has usually determined our understanding of what constitutes a hero. It is fitting that at this turning point in human consciousness we should decide for ourselves.

In movies, the hero is generally synonymous with the central character or protagonist. Flawed or conflicted from the outset, any virtues tend to be revealed as they interact with the other characters and the story unfolds. By the time the plot is resolved through some decisive course of action, the world in which they live, if not the protagonist/hero themself, has transformed.

The hero is one of an array of archetypes, which can include a villain, an underdog, a mentor, a love interest … the list goes on. The plot too is archetypal, consisting of a comfort zone (‘normal’ everyday life), a choice made in response to a call to adventure or inciting incident, obstacles and/or internal conflicts, a point of no return, a high point, a low point, a climax and a resolution.

Myths, regardless of whether or not they depict historical events, all share the same characteristics. It is no secret that George Lucas, when he made Star Wars, stuck religiously to the mythic principles Joseph Campbell talked about in The Hero with A Thousand Faces. Even the Easter and Christmas storylines follow the classic formula.

While the oldest myths spoke of elemental forces, animal deities then gods (and goddesses), later versions spoke of half-gods motivated by the achievement of the greater good through their selfless actions (and often subsequent death). With the onset of the Bronze Age, militarised city states and a shift from goddess-worshipping priesthoods to secular forms of power came stories of kings, conquest and the search for honour, glory or fame. The pay-off for the collective was the benefit of the triumphant hero’s protection. And since it is a key requirement of storytelling – and conditioning – that whoever is experiencing the story identifies with the protagonist, the more human heroes became, the more flawed they became and the more mere mortals identified with them.

The oldest versions of the labyrinth myth are ‘softer’ than the Minotaur story with which we are most acquainted. The more recent narrative of the male hero slaying the Beast to save the people secured the progression towards the more psychotic approach to the unknown that survives in western culture to this day. In contrast, the more feminine versions of the hero myths somehow survived in romantic tales of princes and princesses (compare Beauty and the Beast with the story of the Minotaur). Scholars now estimate the point of origin of European fairy tales to be around four to six thousand years ago.

Now it appears we have returned full circle to a pantheon of half-human superheroes (not all white blokes with long beards, thankfully) serving the greater good. It will be interesting to see how the ongoing demonisation of ‘kings’ and the veneration of key workers will play out in future narratives.

As for mere mortals, we’re all hard-wired for meaning and purpose. Some say the search for meaning arises as a reaction to the absolute certainty that one day we will all die. We are instinctively drawn to opportunities to depart from the status quo, to leave ‘home’. That is why we get bored. And when the adventure is over, we return ‘home’.

However, society counter-programs us to fear the unknown; the Bogeyman is planted in the childhood psyche to prevent us from straying too far from the herd. And so we are conditioned to satisfy our heroic impulses by vicariously following the deeds of others while keeping our own heads down and maintaining the status quo. Only those who ‘sell their souls’ seem able to clamber to the top. Nine times out of ten, hero status on the basis of virtue is granted only to those who die in the pursuit of their great deeds or put themselves in harm’s way. Indeed, putting dead people on pedestals is an essential requirement of maintaining ‘social order’ (the Church turned this into an art form). Meanwhile, from birth, our educational system conditions us to confuse meaning with validation by our peers, our whole sense of identity tied up in how many friends we have, how ‘successful’ we are, how much money we have, the badges we wear, acceptance by the Tribe.

I am convinced that everyone at some point in their life hears the ‘call’ but that most choose to ignore it. Until the next time. And the next. What else is a mid-life crisis if not an exhortation to one who chose to play it safe first time round? Most people it would seem are scared of their own company, let alone peering into their own soul.

No surprise then that the hero archetype goes deeper still. According to Carl Jung and other psychologists, the human psyche itself is rooted in mythic structure. Archetypes form the ‘language’ of the unconscious mind and are expressed as symbols in dreams, fantasy and meditative states. These are hard-wired both on a personal and collective level. In the protagonistic sense of the word, it seems we are pre-programmed to be heroes. In the psychological journey, we may face such adversaries as the Ego, the Persona, the Shadow, the Animus or Anima and the Self.

Based on his own clinical and personal observations combined with ancient wisdom teachings, Jung proposed the theory of individuation. This is a lifelong process that consolidates the conscious, the unconscious and the ego into a purified whole, all opposites reconciled. The basis of the spiritual Hero’s Journey, it s not dissimilar to the Christian idea of redemption, only wholeness is achieved without the intervention of an external force or figure. Jung’s contemporary, Roberto Assagioli, used the term psychosynthesis, which better describes the journey towards the ultimate goal of individuation. Whether it is achievable start to finish in a single lifetime is open to debate.

Often represented by a labyrinth, psychosynthesis requires introspection, often taking the very forces that create fragmentation in the first place to thrust one inward. The conversations you have with yourself (or rather your archetypes) are an integral part of the process. The end result is a well-rounded personality that is mature relationally, emotionally, practically and intuitively. As the core Self becomes more stable under all conditions, no longer relying on external sources for validation, rather than becoming more self-absorbed, it becomes more empathic and compassionate towards others. One’s past, present and future become one meaningful whole.

Imagine standing in an art gallery, nose right up to a huge painting by one of the masters. Up close it’s just rough almost random globs of paint, not much to look at at all. However, with every step you take back, the globs get smaller and smaller and the juxtaposition of colour and form starts to emerge. By the time you’re standing ten feet away, you are transfixed. It has form, it has just the right balance of shade and colour, it has life. It has meaning. If you’re lucky, you might even remember the last time you saw something so utterly satisfying to behold. Now, the artist when they painted it might have thought “Hmm, something doesn’t look right here” or “It needs something else juuuust there”. So they maybe made the blue in one of the uppermost corners just that little bit bluer or exaggerated the twinkle of an eye with an almost imperceptible flick of the brush. Not to mention that time they tore their hair out because the legs were so out of proportion with the rest of the body that they had to start all over again. Imagine now that you are both the painting and the artist.

I have to emphasise that individuation is not about becoming a ‘good’ human being as opposed to a ‘bad’ one, rather one becomes a higher-functioning human being in harmony with itself and others. Indeed, the perception of good and evil gives way to a more subtle notion of what is appropriate in any given situation. More significantly, the effects of psychosynthesis across multiple individuals are reflected in the world at large.

So the inner journey is not a waste of precious time and energy. Upping our inner game matters. Faced with the daily diet of war, famine, abuse, unrest and catastrophe, it is easy to feel that doing nothing is doing nothing. However, if we are to address this plethora of issues (all man-made), giving ‘fixing’ ourselves equal attention is the only real way to deal with all of them. When a critical mass of people working through their own internal conflicts, helping others in their own back yard and fulfilling their innermost calling, is reached, the world will start to heal. Has the response to coronavirus not demonstrated that we have the collective power to swing the odds?

In fact, COVID-19 can on one level be regarded as the ultimate call to adventure and social distancing a fertile breeding ground for the level of introspection required to get the ball rolling. Not only are we doing our bit in saving lives, we’re already thinking about what kind of world we want to go back to.

Deep down we all want to be be part of something bigger than ourselves. As individuals, communities or a society, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to put our petty inclinations to one side and become the superheroes we always wanted to be when we were kids. And what greater calling is there than collectively pulling our entire species and our planet from the brink? If imminent self-annihilation isn’t the mother of all wake-up calls, then we might as well just go back to bed and stay there. And what a yawn that would be.

Further reading

Useful information on psychosynthesis/individuation here.

Ragged rocks

“SELF-EMPLOYED …. Oh, shit, what have I done?” 

The enormity of jumping off the hamster wheel was still sinking in. The feelings of panic I kept in check by reminding myself that I could jump back on at any time. Still, the whole point of doing this was that there was no Plan B. 

Blog. Tick. Facebook page. Tick. Linkedin. Tick. Twitter … reluctantly … tick. Now, back to that damn blog. What do I put in it? Where do I start?

While foraging online, I had spotted the title of a talk that evening in town. The Ragged University … hmmm. So, in the space of the few hours left, deciding that I was feeling a little ragged myself from being holed up for days hatching my cunning plan for world domination, I forced myself. I had only a semi-notion of what it was about.

As I waited for the talk to begin, I chatted with another member of the audience I hadn’t seen in a while. It was good to get the craic. He asked me what I was up to.

“Well …”

I had had some strange reactions from people since I had stopped coughing the word ‘writer’ as if it was something I had to apologise for. But he didn’t bat an eyelid. Instead he told me that he was hoping to do the same. He reckoned the first thing to do was set up a blog, standard advice these days for authors, but he needed to find out more about it.

I guessed immediately that he might have read The Writers and Artists Yearbook, which these days tells aspiring writers that in order to put themselves out there, they need a blog. Only thing is, it doesn’t adequately explain why (although I am prepared to concede that I might have missed a bit!). I told him that the main reason for having one was to draw people to your website so that you were more likely to be found online, assuming, of course, that you were writing material that people liked. The other reason was that it gave you a chance to show people the quality and style of your work. I was about to add that it allowed you to chat with the very people who might buy your books when you finally got published, when the talk began.

The ragged schools, I learned, were a network of volunteers operating in industrialised areas in the UK from the middle of the 19th century. Rural areas had been getting the benefit of free community-based education since well before the time of Robert Burns. This is quite incredible, when you think that a formal universal education system as we know it only started in 1870.

The ethos of the ragged school philosophy was that everyone, regardless of social, economic or educational status, has a personal library of knowledge and experience as valid as that of the person standing next to them. In that sense, everyone is a school in their own right, exchanging information with other such schools on a daily basis – any time, any place, anywhere. There is no right or wrong way of thinking or doing things. People are free to take information or leave it as they see fit. Trial and error takes care of the rest. The Ragged University is a modern reworking of the ragged school philosophy.

It became instantly clear to me that the earlier conversation about blogging was a perfect example of a ragged school in action. And I knew straight away what my first blog article would be about.

TICK.

Copyright (c) M K MacInnes 2014