Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Turn at Seventy: Particular Level and Style

Sunset December 2016
Perhaps the time to reflect lengthens, at least deepens, with age, as the past surely stretches back further than the sundial shadow falls ahead. Perhaps moments measure not by the ticking clock but more so in the degree to which “now,” this fleeting instant, saturates with beyond and before. As this school semester, Fall 2016, draws to its close, my mind muses across this cycle, the fourteenth term with a favorite course Good Stories, my next to last before retirement, colored by forty years of college teaching. 

Perhaps the best surprise this semester came first in recognizing a distinctive dimension in an essential quality. 
The course culminates in a concept called “the particular level.” This term resolves the constellation of the other three levels: Universal, Local, and Individual.  The particular level gives a snapshot of the individual’s uniqueness and significance. At its best, it’s a glimpse of destiny. A video made for Good Stories asserts that the specific value of the Particular Level comes in the individual’s movement from Multiplicity to Commitment.
Given this far-reaching scope and aim, unsurprisingly, the particular level has proven rather difficult to teach. I’ve found it hard to get students to locate it in texts when doing literary criticism; and when unable to discern the particular level in models, students have also been limited in the design of their own productions. Even with dedicated work throughout the semester, for a student to project personal destiny in their digital media productions that features one’s own unique fingerprint is no mean task.
When preparing to teach particular level once again in the Fall 2016 semester, however, I happily realized that the particular level could be detected through the rhetorical construct of style. This wasn’t a sharp lightbulb discovery. I’d long quoted the maxim remembered from my grad school days: “style is the man.” (See Note 1.)  But like most aphorisms, the permutations continue to radiate from an abstract distilled truth, and this semester allowed a renewed, more intense ray. I realized that an analysis of the style in a text could point to the place where it is most effectively displayed and felt. That point could then be examined in terms of the particular level.
The difficulty with teaching students to pick out a particular level in a text might be solved!—such was my optimistic feeling. Because, at least on a surface level, style is not a difficult thing to detect and label, especially when in addition to printed words digital media provides a voice track and a visual track. Even persons unfamiliar with the elaborate rhetorical schemes recognize and talk about vocal dynamics of pitch and rate, visual design such as color and pattern, and language features such as figurative language. 
This is not to say that effective judgment of style is easy. As evident in the 2016 presidential campaign, most persons lack capacity to judge authentic style with insight and precision, especially as style discloses ethical character and integrity or lack thereof. But perhaps I digress—the surprise involved in Good Stories Fall 2016 focused a way to teach students about the particular level by using the dimension of style to locate it.
The textbook that I’d been using for thirteen previous semesters was clearly modeling the connection between particular level and style. Why had I not appropriated this for my students? If it took me six-plus years to get it, what might I learn from my process that could help students do it in six-plus weeks?
One factor that deserves attention involves potential resistances to finding any value in style. Our social and story cultures have succeeded in giving us the proverb “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” I often hear it from students when we in Good Stories explore tales with the beast-to-beauty theme including negative versions where the beast does not transform. Perhaps before directing ourselves to study style, we need to work with our attitude toward it, especially any semi-conscious aversions.  
A significant part of my process of becoming able to work with style has involved bringing my attitude about it to consciousness. This included realizing and accepting that I have been suspicious of trusting style for a long time, at least since teenage disillusionment with preachers, politicians, and teachers who were exposed for their feet of clay or even stinkier muck. Perhaps that’s why I’d been resistant to making a close connection between the gold standard of “particular level” with the contaminated rhetorical canon of style. 
My rehabilitation of style as a valuable commodity has slowly progressed. Accepting its worth intellectually wasn’t too difficult. While Aristotle and others criticized the Sophists, Cicero and Quintilian extolled “the good man speaking well.” Rhetorical critics argued that resistance to Hitler failed in part because his rhetoric was more powerful in style; therefore, the good guys need to dress up—plain style with unadorned facts are just not enough. 
But the mind alone also is not enough. To be compelling, truth needs passionate embodiment. Effective style is inextricably tied to knowing-by-body. It might also be more attuned to that favorite of mine, sense-born-with. And I wonder how much embodied good style overlaps with moral sense. Exploration of these questions is deferred for later consideration.
The point here is to identify another part of my process that might inform preparing students to engage style in a positive way. In order for me to consolidate the gold of the unique (particular level) with the good dimension of style, I needed sufficient lived experience with authentic style so that the superficial, the faking dimension of style does not overly dominate the construct. Put another way, my intellectual understanding needed to be complemented with the body’s thrill of integrity. Hasn’t it been said so many times that the human journey is about recovering the unity of mind/body/spirit?
To “get” style, therefore, has to depend on a liberation into knowing-by-body where style and vital substance are one. Those of us nurtured as well as indoctrinated in fundamentalist religion often have a piece of work to do if the body/mind split is to be mended. Negativity linked to style also comes from our culture that is so permeated with advertising and other rhetoric designed to trick us that we develop a protective layer of cynicism toward style. This then makes it quite difficult to extract the good from it.
  My personal path of reconciliation with style still rides on the back of natural horsemanship. The discipline of dressage, perhaps like any art form, displays classical style. And again like most fields a person can take short cuts that result in a “look-like” quality, even enough to impress judges and win ribbons. But spirited horses and good coaches drive a caring person beyond that level of style. The classical appearance remains a vital sign, but it’s only as valuable as it reflects an inner dynamic that is called “true unity” in natural horsemanship. (See Note 2.) A spirited horse cuts through head-talk and acts on embodied authenticity. Even with a spirited horse, movement toward true unity depends on enough dedication and honesty to learn knowing-by-body and, more so, to develop a sense of feel.
So for any of us to become able to find the place where style reveals the particular level probably depends more on the ability to know by feel than it depends on our cognitive-analytical skill. Schooling, in general, fails to honor this. (See Note 3.)
In summary, as a first step in reflecting on Good Stories, Fall 2016, I’ve noted the surprise when I recognized a more vital connection between particular level and style. In exploring the background that clarified why I hadn’t made this connection sooner, I began to understand better why my students might be blocked from articulating style as a means of pinpointing the particular level in digital media productions, including their own work. 
I wonder how much progress we can make in decoding our destinies, much less in enacting them in powerful ways when and if our educational design remains mostly disembodied. Our campus has given terrific attention to Do Good—not just talk but embodied action.

How might we integrate Do Good more extensively within our academic classrooms? Our world faces a crisis as we have significantly isolated our intellectual activity from lived experience, especially from powerful socially-relevant actions exemplified in Do Good. When meaningful work gets integrated into our cognitive life, we should then have the embodiment of style, more capacity to articulate felt sense, and the ground for serious attention to moral sense.
Note 1. The source of “style is the man” has been difficult to trace. I’ve been unable to find it explicitly in Aristotle, Cicero, or Quintilian. It can be traced at least to the mid-1700s in Buffon: “Only those works which are well-written will pass to posterity: the amount of knowledge, the uniqueness of the facts, even the novelty of the discoveries are no guarantees of immortality ... These things are exterior to a man but style is the man himself. 
— Comte Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon. 'Discours prononcé dans l'Académie française, Le Samedi 25 Aout 1753', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1753), Vol. 7, xvi-xvii
Note 2. “True unity” is one of the key terms associated with “natural horsemanship” and other approaches to the human-horse connection that aim at increasing a respectful relationship. Ray Hunt is often referenced (Think Harmony with Horses: An In-Depth Study of Horse/Man Relationship. Bruneau, ID: Give-It-A-Go Books, 1978), and the term is used in Tom Dorrance’s title (True Unity: Willing Communication between Horse and Man.  Bruneau, ID: Give-It-A-Go Books, 1987). More extensive background on “natural horsemanship” can be found in: Miller, Robert and Rick Lamb. The Revolution in Horsemanship and What it Means to Mankind. Guilford,CN: Lyons, 2005; and Miller, Robert.  Natural Horsemanship Explained: From Heart to Hands. Guilford,CN: Lyons, 2007. An example of my application of natural horsemanship to teaching-story can be seen in:
Note 3. Eugene Gendlin (e.g., Focusing) and Sondra Perl (Felt Sense: Writing with the Body) elaborate on “felt sense.” I also suspect that this dimension called “feel” has something to do with what the gnostics call the “path of attraction.” 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Lost Camel--and Humanity

In Book II of Rumi’s Mathnawi, the desert traveler goes in search of his or her lost camel, frantically calling out, “Has anyone seen my camel? The caravan is leaving me behind.”  And persons lie to the traveler, claiming to have seen the camel, pointing the wrong way! The traveler goes almost manic because a camel carries all one’s treasures; without the camel it’s impossible to traverse the desert. Making the journey of life looks hopeless. How does one tell the true clue from the false ones? How do we track destiny?

While the traveler is indeed an interesting figure, right now it’s the person following the searcher that’s caught my attention.  Several accounts of this story don’t even include the follower. This second person acts the fool, a comic figure mimicing the words and actions of the traveler. “Have you seen my camel running loose?” the traveler asks an old fellow. The follower, having no notion of even having a camel much less a lost one, still says the same: “Have you seen my camel running loose?”

I’m very drawn to the moment when the traveler recognizes those directions that tell the true way. The follower sees this, and I think it’s seeing with a hungry vision, a longing for the transcendent. Coleman Barks includes this story in his book titled: This Longing.*  At the moment when the traveler discerns the right clue, the follower sees the traveler’s eyes light up, sees the dance in the traveler’s feet, and sees that the “screams of joy are not delirious.”**

In recent years when I’ve listened over and over to Coleman’s resonant voice reciting his version of “The Lost Camel,” I knew there was a pearl in the story, waiting for illumination. Maybe I needed to make sense of this second person who doesn’t even know he/she has a camel until this trial of imitation is done. 

Just as the archetypal fool or trickster fills a complex role in the ecology of mythology, just as it does in the complete life of a person, this follower offers something vital to the story Rumi gives us. What is this that chases after the sincere searcher? How can it be that this charlatan discovers a camel? And how can this strange turn ring true? Maybe this “non-rational” behavior fits in Timothy Wilson’s discussion of the “adaptive unconscious” that knows in the gut even when not in the mind (Strangers to Ourselves, for example, page 172)

When the “Lost Camel” found its way into our Good Stories this past week, an answer fell into place for me. The rightness relates to a long-standing conversation, often an argument, I’ve had with myself about the rhetorical canon of Style. In the many times that I get disillusioned with preachers and politicians and glitzy advertising, it’s often about matters of stye: emotional, seductive, waxed-over. Even if there isn’t “etymological justification for the common story that the word sincere means ‘without wax,’” sincerity  ought to go with pure motive, free of artificial covering, no excessive style. Right?

When I get worked up like this, there’s usually a wake-up call coming. And I think that’s what the Lost Camel has been trying to bring, especially with the part about the second person who appears to lack sincerity. The mercy of the story includes the good news that style has a redeeming quality, especially when the definition in classical rhetoric is met: style is the (hu)man. The passionate style of the traveler might be the key to waking up the “lost human.” 

The second person might be the most important figure in the story. It pushes us to care for all those, including oneself, who don’t even realize their own camel is missing. Look into the faces in a sports stadium and see the desperation, the mask of hunger, of longing for meaningfulness. See the empty eyes filling shopping malls. Listen to all the voices full of words without depth. The emptiness is not only in depression or misplaced enthusiasm or obsession; it’s also in despair and rage because there’s not even awareness of a lost camel that could provide the means to cross the desert.

But the story “Lost Camel” offers hope. The lost human might yet see someone’s passion and follow it. Even when the motives are not pure, the person can get attracted to a stranger’s eyes that light up. And why can’t that light come off a friend, a co-worker, a teacher? 
** Materials can be found on: Coleman Barks’ website. “Lost Camel” is on the CD, Just Being Here. A terrific interview with Coleman shows his passionate style related to following Rumi’s work: “Different Ways of Laughing,” Gibson Fay-LeBlanc interviews Coleman Barks, February 27, 2007.

*Quoted line is from Jawid Mojaddedi’s translation, Rumi: The Masnavi, Book Two, p. 175, about line 3000.  In Nicholson’s classic translation of the Mathnawi, the Lost Camel comes in around line 2980, Book II. Whinfield’s translation of the Masnavi includes the story but not the follower. Arberry’s Tales from the Masnavi also has the story but omits the follower.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Parables Guard Wonder

When photographing the red maple and frosty grasses (shown above), the slow shutter signaled a probable blur. So I adjusted the f-stop to get a sharper image; but after uploading the digital images, my attraction was drawn to the blurred, less clear representation. Or perhaps a surreal view moves through the superficial and into the light that had first driven me upstairs and back with camera in hand. Clarity has value but not absolute.

  The unknown approaches through likeness, by parable. Humans, at our best, it seems, are meant to be ever leaning. The apprehension of truth falls too easily into arrogance; for the essential, the most meaningful, pulls beyond knowing and most certainly beyond commanding. 

How strange (and yet not all all) that my early academic work focused on clarity. In the late seventies and eighties when “research on teaching” depended on conducting low-inference studies on process-product variables, using quasi-experimental designs, teacher clarity was marked in the top ten for research and publication. Gaining tenure depended on pursuit of such a target.

And now, easing into retirement, relatively uncaged by publication’s jailer, it’s parable that’s so compelling. Not strange also because the path toward knowing leads so often amid the experience of opposites. How else is unity approached? C.G. Jung’s exploration of individuation abounds in the “marriage of opposites.” For example, look at “opposites” in the index of Mysterium Coniunctionis (p. 679).
Dominic Crossan, writing extensively about the parables of Jesus, elaborates on the multiplicity of meanings around parables in his preface to In Parables.  The truth seems far from clarity when he asserts “reality is parabolic” (p. xiv). And paradoxical: knowing is non-knowing. Perhaps the greatest peril to knowing comes in satanic certainty. Parable holds center stage, or perhaps dances just outside the spotlight, for all religion that I’ve seen. 

The value and authority of parable flow all through the first book of Rumi’s Mathnawi.  For example, Victoria Holbrook’s translation of Kenan Rifai’s commentary, Listen: “O heart, tell a parable that you may discern compulsion from free will” (line 1519, p. 181). Nicholson’s classic translation has the line and selected others this way:
O son, (only) they know (the real meaning of) compulsion in whose hearts God has opened the sight (of the spiritual eye)./To them the unseen things of the future became manifest; to them recollection of the past became naught./Their freewill and compulsion is different (from that of ordinary men): in oyster-shells drops (of rain) are pearls…O heart, bring (forward) a parable for the sake of (illustrating) a difference, that thou mayst know (what distinguishes) compulsion from freewill.  . .  (about lines 1466-; 1496-). 
And from Book III, lines 2114 & 2786: God hath set down these tales and parables for the purpose of concealing (the true nature of) the praise from the unworthy.  [My note: Some will not understand and will criticize the one who knows the mysteries]. 
That use of similitude belongs to the Lord, for He is the (sole) authority for the knowledge of the hidden and the manifest.
      A bit more of Holbrook’s translation of Rifai:
"So, let the light of spirit shine. Once the light of the spirit has shown, all the proofs and terms of knowledge and intellect are left in the shade. This means the shining of the sun of love within the heart. When that happens, the stars of knowledge and intellect fall into invisibility" (p. 184).

Parables are not vestiges from olden times. Howard Schwartz, considered “the preeminent Jewish folklorist in America,” compiles one hundred modern parables in Imperial Messages. The second parable in this collection is the one we focused in Good Stories, Kafka’s “Before the Law.” Here, parable in its most compelling, even Kafkaesque, drives us up against the final judgment: how do we each find ourselves purely accountable?

Such a question, almost maddening, serves to disrobe the emperor, to push us to acknowledge the arrogance behind persecution and proselytizing, the intolerance of fundamentalism. Not in dualistic conviction but in holding opposites do we approach the great mysteries. Parables help us own the limitation of words, the treasury of secrets, the authority of mystery. Parables guard wonder, enter transformation and the world of art, full of blurs, the open-ended story, as Crossan tells “to help others into their own experience of the Kingdom and to draw from that experience their own way of life” (p. 52, see below). 

*Crossan, In Parables, p. 52:  “It is one thing to communicate to others conclusions and admonitions based on one’s own profound spiritual experience. . . It is quite another thing to try and communicate that experience itself, or, better, to assist people to find their own ultimate encounter. This is what Jesus’ parables seek to do: to help others into their own experience of the Kingdom and to draw from that experience their own way of life.”

**Much commentary has been given to “Before the Law”; for example, Chapter 5 of Acts of Literature focuses Derrida’s exploration. Before the Law can be heard narrated by Orson Wells & with visuals.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Teaching-Story: Working with Opposites in Multiplicity

Multiplicity of images

I keep going back to Epaminondas, not because it’s a good story for everyone, but because it has high resonance for me individually. That’s the primary touchstone: continue to check the vibration. The best value in good stories comes through making personal connection with the numinous, by going to the edge of consciousness where the water of life can be found, where the source of vitality flows. 
For over sixty years, the little story of E has offered such a wellspring for me. I’ll elaborate briefly, again not to send anyone else to E or any specific story, instead to assert the importance of searching for the inner spark. I believe Good Stories offer a guidance for one’s destiny, certainly not the only guide but a good one, and only if the personal connection is affirmed. That’s resonance. There’s no cheating fate. A person cannot copy another’s story or point of resonance.  Each must trace his or her own fingerprint into a story that fits.
When a story fits the individual, it’s generative. When I return to E over and over, the effort is more than worth it because it yields wonder, insight, even inspiration. The story, with the gift of simplicity, revealed the death-dealing power of literalism and suggested the pathway of liberation. Of course, it took me decades to articulate those supernovas, but the illumination along the way gave sufficient light and warmth to keep trekking on. 
Strangely enough, wondering enough about the fate of the puppy probably led toward the need for powerful interpretation instead of literal meaning. Finding my way to psychoanalytic theory both 1) resuscitated instinct (often indicated by the dog image), 2) saving it from being drowned by authoritative voices (like E’s mother), and 3) the process of getting to that insight brought along redefining of career toward more narrative and hermeneutic directions 4) instead of being dominated by the behavioral and cognitive hegemony in academia.  Although I won’t elaborate here, it also probably played a significant part in 5) leading me to a very surprising and lasting love affair with horsemanship (where book learning moves backseat).
Putting the brakes on what could become a very long testimonial, let’s skip ahead to the second step. Resonance gives the foundation of affirming the right place, but the particular story that has high resonance usually needs outside help if the wellspring is to be accessed. That’s where step two comes in. Because amplification has already been described in other posts and videos, I’ll only hit high points here. When I stayed with just the E tale, it remained for me in the category to which it’s often assigned: nonsense. Only when I explored source materials and related tales did meaningfulness replace nonsense. E probably derived from the Lazy Jack tale and from there I explored other Lazy stories with the special treat of finding Buried Treasure
In Lazy Jack, I began to see the importance of persistence, of simply “showing up.” But then Buried Treasure went further into the limitation of persistence because the Worker, exemplifying the virtue of being industrious in contrast with the apparent laziness of Luis. I knew that Lazy Jack’s reward lacked verisimilitude; a person can’t depend on getting rich by just showing up. So the Buried Treasure took wonder further by giving the reward to the “lazy”—but was he really? Something very true showed through the false labeling. Cultural values (in this case, hard work) sometimes miss a higher value (in Buried Treasure, the higher value is Luis’ faith statement).
The amplification with other stories shines new light on the old story. For example, I’d missed seeing into the final part where E steps in the pies. Although some suspicion kept pushing, only after long detour was I able to recognize that act as one of defiance instead of continued stupidity. E might be acting out: “If you aren’t going to teach me how to be independent enough to adapt to change, I’ll just do the opposite of what you tell me to do!” While this is troubling also, it does have verisimilitude. 1) Dominance is real. 2) Developing independence often makes trouble. The little story of E, like any other tale, doesn’t show the entire path of destiny. It stops not with the happy ending but at least with a glimpse of an important next step. This redemptive step, however, will only be seen by persons with readiness to incorporate it. And that’s probably a good thing. 
Because the steps in Good Stories are overlapping, we’ve already moved nicely into a third area, Multiplicity. Amplification proceeds into multiplicity in order to 1) identify centering terms and 2) to array a variety of descriptors around a central term. Multiplicity works with this array in order 3) to discern, and even to force, oppositions. The intention is not to produce inauthentic terms but 4) to reveal the hidden force field. 
The nature of opposites is powerfully articulated in the work of C.G. Jung. A few quotations reinforce the purpose for Good Stories as it emphasizes the development of opposites within the multiplicity step. Key features include these:
1. Essential for consciousness.“There is no consciousness without discrimination of opposites. . . Nothing can exist without its opposite; the two were one in the beginning and will be one again in the end.” From “Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype," The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, p. 96, para. 178. 
2. Life energy.“The repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible. The conscious mind is on top, the shadow underneath, and just as high always longs for low and hot for cold, so all consciousness, perhaps without being aware of it, seeks its unconscious opposite, lacking which it is doomed to stagnation, congestion, and ossification. Life is born only of the spark of opposites.” From "The Problem of the Attitude-Type, "Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, pp. 53-54, para. 78. 
3. Process includes tension, production of energy, and attempt for reconciliation.“For just as there is no energy without the tension of opposites, so there can be no consciousness without the perception of differences. But any stronger emphasis of differences leads to polarity and finally to a conflict which maintains the necessary tension of opposites. This tension is needed on the one hand for increased energy production and on the other for the further differentiation of differences, both of which are indispensable requisites for the development of consciousness . . . Then a counter-movement sets in, in the attempt to reconcile the conflicting parties.” From Mysterium Coniunctionis, pp. 418-19. 
4. Attention to feeling as well as thinking.a content can only be integrated when its double aspect has become conscious and when it is grasped not merely intellectually but understood according to its feeling-value. . .”  From Aion, p. 30-31, para 58. 
5. Connection with destiny and peace.“The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing halves.”  From Aion, p. 71, para. 126.

Often a preliminary draft of opposites results in an imbalance of value with one side very positive and the other appearing strongly negative. For example, I could have a central term in the amplification of the E story as Adaptation. I might pose as opposites: 1) sense/nonsense, 2) awake/asleep, or 3) lazy/industrious. 
The sense/nonsense pair doesn’t work for me due to the imbalance.  “Sense” is very positive while “nonsense” leaves me cold, and thus the potential for transformation is limited. As I’ve shown in other posts, if I change nonsense to not-yet-sense, I’m more open to a transcendent awareness such as a realization that some mysteries or puzzling circumstances are not to be avoided. For some troubles, when I can’t figure it out, I don’t have to give in to frustration, to calling myself stupid or to feeling depressed. For example, the problem of pain (why do the good suffer?) may lead beyond human comprehension.
In order to be generative, the pairing needs to carry energy in each term. If I cannot see it in each side of the pair, I’ll either work to find it or move to other terms. Although “asleep” might look lifeless, what about the power of dreams that come in sleep? With “lazy,” at least in the Buried Treasure story, the label might point to a cultural perspective that could be challenged. The pairing might be revised to “industrious” and “devalued” or even “oppressed.” The recognition that “lazy” has been used as a stigmatizing term to justify oppression fires up the opportunity for insight and even action. 
The fourth step in Good Stories is Transformation. It’s a big concept that will only be sketched here and developed further later. Coming from the resonant E story, the work with amplification and multiplicity generates a set of oppositional terms: a) being bound by tradition versus b) breaking free toward authentic being. The central term might be framed as Liberation. The transformation concerns significant change in thinking, feeling, and/or acting. Insights about liberation include: 
1) Breaking free is likely to be messy.  For example, ruined pies may be a necessary loss. 
2) Negative labeling should be interrogated. 
3) Approval from outside may be sacrificed—so get ready for it before proceeding. 
4) A higher value can (and probably must) focus and take precedence. For example, Luis’ faith statement was more powerful than the culturally-approved norm. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Mining the Resonant Field with Mantras & Story Moments

Shakespeare’s Hamlet succinctly tells “the time is out of joint” (Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5). I’ve never had a dislocated shoulder, but it looks really painful.  In a way, our stories are even more disturbing because the dislocation, the misplacement, might go uncorrected. When the warning signs are subtle, like life’s signals often are, who notices? And when we’re distracted, so busy, playing fantasy football of whatever sort, we’re out of touch with the caution to keep watch for the day and the hour. Like Hamlet, our good stories warn us: Take heed in order to judge clearly between the essential and the superficial, between true and false, right and wrong.
In the Kuan Yin story, the village was characterized by racing on swift horses and shooting with bows and arrows. We considered this situation as a life preoccupied with activities at a certain level while missing a quality more significant. When the luminous beauty entered their marketplace, they became aware of what had been missing. The story invites us to wonder if we might be missing the most important value or purpose of our lives.
As Kuan Yin guided the village to return to the quality of compassion, in a similar way, The Odyssey reminds us of the importance of xenia, hospitality, especially for the stranger. We noted that most, if not all, major religions place much importance on caring for the other, the one fallen in the ditch. Our Statue of Liberty beckons: "Give me your tired, your poor. . . Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”  As we saw in the Kuan Yin story, saying the words does not necessarily mean understanding them and much less does it approximate living them. To walk the talk takes a high level of heedfulness. Good stories push us to ask: What is the sacred text that guides my life?
This question was pushed even more sharply in “The Visit” when the youth was graced by the true love, but then fell asleep, repeatedly, and thus lost the close connection with the beloved. In this story, the condition of being separated from true purpose and vitality was represented through the image of a false parent and a traitor-tutor. In “Kuan Yin,” the people did not remember the sacred text; in “The Visit,” it appears that the teaching is oppressive and has to be cut away—if the beloved is to be embraced.
The phrase “out of joint” reminds me of a time working with a carpenter with the frequent reminder: “true up that joist!” Joists and beams are vital foundational structures and when not in proper alignment the integrity of the building is at risk. One way for persons to true up is to follow the guidance of good stories. What is the sacred text that takes root inside? When memorized, it blossoms for the wind that returns in Machado’s lines: 
Llamó a mi corazón, un claro día,
con un perfume de jazmín, el viento.  
Because this poem is rooted, memorized, in mi corazón, in my heart, my soul (to borrow Robert Bly’s translation), I’m reminded to tend my garden, to watch for the inspiration, to care for the llantos de las fuentes, the water of life. 
The instructional video (shown at the top) discusses how we are tending our resonant field with good stories by searching for the holy text and connecting with story memories. In the video, I also recite the Machado poem and talk about its guidance. May the good stories give us direction and courage to true up.

Monday, October 17, 2016

In the mystery most

Beauty moving across the worlds.

Chincoteague, October 2016

When we reach across the misty edge
where minds meander--as humans must,
          we're gardenless.

Our fingers point outstretched in
to leaning, losing mortal balance
          almost, by this edging closer.

For God is in the mystery most
and likenesses near, trembling, love
         as Eve did

and Job, lean just so far: the bridge--
like this, like this--the living parable:
         word made flesh.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Amplification Leads to the Secret Pearl

The Hidden Pearl

Having focused on image and the technique related to its representation/production in Week 2, a rebalancing back into the experience of story felt right for our third week of Good Stories.  In order to deepen the oral-story-experience beyond attending to the surface story line, we’ve also brought in an emphasis on amplification
We returned to a theme from our first day, buried treasure, and now in week 3 we’re amplifying this archetypal image with stories on “the water of life,” a wonderful variation on the theme. In order to connect X (a treasure box hidden underground) with Y (a healing tonic: water of life), our minds are pushed toward abstraction where broadened terms like “treasure,” "talent," and “grace” provide gateways for illumination and vision, where the gifts from the ocean of the unconscious flow bringing vitality and insight, as well as a healing touch for the world. While we don’t want to risk inflation (for example, by presuming to have the healing power to fix anybody or anything), we might, by amplifying the archetypal images for treasure, open our intentions toward accepting each of our talents and taking on the concomitant responsibility to know and develop these gifts, not just for personal gain but to contribute to peace and justice.
          The story we call “Golden Water” (which amplifies the Grimms’ tale, “Water of Life”) launches with three sisters playing a wishing game. Consistent with the treasury of wish-fulfillment stories ranging from King Midas to “The Monkey’s Paw” and including “The Fisherman and His Wife” (from Shaw’s World Tales), we’re cautioned about attempts to shortcut the maturation of destiny. When the youngest sister in “Golden Water” makes a flippant wish to marry the new Shah, her dream amazingly comes true; but she was scarcely prepared to handle the demands of being a co-ruler, particularly the jealousy of her sisters. In addition to stories, a sampling of persons considered to have had great success and who died young also brings a sobering reflection on the wish-making enterprise. So what might we glean from our amplification that guides the path of destiny and avoids tragic consequences from making a wish?
          Fairytales concentrate character into extreme forms and fast-forward time so that we’re offered a glimpse of what might otherwise elude us when we're walking in the more subtle and slow-moving pace of everyday life. For example, while we might underestimate the danger of presumption in “real life,” presentation of the two older brothers in “Water of Life” magnifies the effects of greed and arrogance so we can hardly miss the warning. Each brother scorns the small voice that asks “Where are you going so fast on your high horse?” Soon enough each is stuck, wedged in by canyon walls; it happens in real life when a person fails to heed the warning signs of hangovers, smoker’s cough, overwork fatigue, on and on. Even when rescued by their compassionate, though naïve, younger brother, the arrogant ones immediately betray him and steal the treasure.
When we amplify with “Golden Water,” we’re warned that it’s not only brothers who betray; sisters or anyone else can do it, too. The amplification helps us shift from just making applications to our external social life and include interpretations into the inner level. For example, we might recognize that we have internalized older voices that dominate more fragile possibilities. Our imagination can be chilled by the scorn of status quo so that the adaptations needed to change our environment are left in the fantasy heap. C.G. Jung’s discussion of the need to attend to the inferior function connects with this bit of guidance from the stories.
          In the closing discussion of our third-week classes, I observed and commented on a student’s amplification of the archetypal treasure. Among the many possible applications of treasure, she selected the treasure of knowledge. As she brought the images from “Golden Water” to her exploration, I saw that she was pointing us to the SECRET!  “Golden Water” paved the way for opening a vital distinction of knowledge worth knowing. With all the volumes of information flooding our intake valves, how do we discern the bit really worth knowing?
The wisdom to penetrate to essence was being offered through our amplification of the archetype of treasure. “Golden Water” helps by giving not one but three images for the treasure. When the sister climbed the pinnacle of the quest, she found an unusual representative for treasure, a talking bird. We recognize its value when we see it doesn’t just talk but it reveals secret knowledge. In the story, the bird knows and tells the true but hidden identity, and the bird constructs a scenario where the person who has been most blinded from seeing what should have been obvious finally “gets it.” The essence of the way to know comes in the pearl, another fabulous image with the rich associations of being formed through coping with and transforming an irritant, a bit of grit. 
Another view of this secret knowing must involve a person’s perception of his or her destiny. As elaborated in a previous blog, James Hillman tells us about the secret and our destiny:

“So the ‘lot’ [from Plato’s Republic] is the image that is your inheritance, your soul’s portion in the world order, and your place on earth, all compacted into a pattern that has been selected by your soul before you ever got here—or, better said, that is always and continually being selected by your soul, because time does not enter the equations of myth. . . Unpacking the image takes a lifetime” (The Soul’s Code, p. 45).

Monday, September 12, 2016

Dealing with the Image/Word Dialectic

The Web of Image

For several days now, I’ve been trying to pull together my reflections on our second week of Good Stories. I’ve missed my self-imposed deadlines for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Now it’s Monday midmorning and I’m reconciled to this phenomenon: these words are just not going to compose nicely! In a somewhat perverse manner, that’s the theme. Words and images make for a dialogue, maybe an unresolved dialectic, in which neither really “gets” the other. It may even be that each is trying for dominance, or maybe even for separation from each other.
          Yet it seems that this very word/image engagement constellates the very purpose and opportunity in good work with stories. And results happen mostly with surprise, but it's the kind of surprise that comes from disciplined labor. If there were an emergent word for this phenomenon, it might be Creativity—a happening not to be defined, but to be danced. In Good Stories, our reach is for the light to come through, the in-sight that illuminates unique gift or destiny or identity, that sense of alignment with reason-for-being. That’s the buried treasure.
It’s a treasure buried both inside and outside, and we need good stories to build the way. Our ancestors knew they couldn’t write a prescription for getting there, not even for a beloved grandchild, but they put the best they could into stories. And stories are much more than words because the good ones conjure images and derive from images, from the archetypal kind of image that translates into unimagined meanings as time moves on and as our consciousness and conscience develop.
          If we are going to participate in the dance with good stories, the play between word and image must be supported. For example, one kind of image-making that I love comes through photography, especially when a digital image appears on my computer screen more beautiful than what I’d seen through the lens of the camera. In this way, the art of Good Stories depends on grace and hard work. The image on my computer screen results from a gift of nature’s beauty and my chance of seeing it results in part from dedicated hours of looking, camera in hand. Similarly, our satisfaction with digital media production builds from attending actively to good stories, looking for insight and direction with intention of advancing peace and justice. The point is that connecting the story words with our own images into a meaning-making production depends on dedicated practice that attends to the dynamic between word and image.
          Our first week set the foundation with recognizing resonance. That’s the essential starting point: an unarticulated buzz, a spark of electricity. We paraphrase the hit in the story in words and make an image to represent it. Going further, we begin to theorize resonance by translating the universal/archetypal level into individual/local applications.
For week two, our next priority emphasized developing technical capacity to represent these “hits” and to compose them into digital media productions. While this might look like a simple bridge to cross, there’s a terrible troll hiding in the shadow that often sabotages the crossing and hoards the treasure. Many textbooks state that the script should be written before entering the production program. The implied assumption, the troll, is that one can split the conceptual (the word-script) from the technical (the image track and other aspects of production). Instead of following this prescription we should be the flashing sign: Danger Ahead!
We best proceed with a continuing awareness that on a special level the conceptual/technical are indivisible. In his Clark Lectures of 1963, poet-philosopher Louis MacNeice put it strongly:
“I doubt whether one can draw a clear distinction . . . between a mode of expression and a mode of thought. As every poet knows, one cannot draw any clear line between form and content. Yet, as every critic knows, without drawing such a line a criticism is impossible. So, just as with any other kind of writing, in order to discuss parable writing at all one has to use what Aristotle would call a ‘bastard reasoning’ and pretend that form and content can be separated” (Varieties of Parable, p. 5).
Another way to convey this struggle involving words and image comes in my personal experience when our class moved into the second week. Because the experience of story is so crucial to the design of Good Stories, I fully expected us to be engaging in oral narrative, even as the demand for attending to the technical was strong. So I was driving to campus still waiting for the right story to settle in my mind. As I listened for the fit of a story that would segue effectively from our first week, the Grimms’ Twelve Brothers came to mind. I was drawn to the sister’s pronouncement of her identity. When asked, “Who are you?” she speaks for any of us: “I’m the child of the king and I’ll search for my brothers until the sun . . .” This story and theme could extend the seam we’re weaving between authentic character and fate/destiny. It also carries the divine tone still humming from week one—like Luis’ mantra and the parrot as spirit-symbol. Yet as I tried to rehearse Twelve Brothers, the flow just wasn’t coming. I scanned in my mind for another story. Water of Life similarly ought to fit in but it also didn’t have the feel. Timing wasn’t right. So what’s going on?
Reluctantly, I stopped trying to push a story into the day’s plan. I still believed including a story is the right way to go, especially early in the course. Why isn’t it fitting? Holding that question, I shifted focus to work on the technical area. I made another demo, using Adobe Premiere Pro on the Dell computer (instead of the Mac) in order to get more familiar with equipment that many of the students use and to have a sample for them to see.
Then in class I elaborated the process they would use in preparing their productions. I made directions much more prescriptive than I prefer but that serve for persons without production experience. As I showed my demo, I noted the way we start by selecting images from sketches made the first week out of the points of resonance. Then we draft our voice-over script.  I commented on how this sequence of image before word contrasts with directions given in most manuals for digital media production. Instead of writing the script first like the manuals say, I talked about the need for a dialog between image and word.
          Later, while driving home, insight came in about the reason why the technical needed the full attention of our class session instead of sharing time with a story. I was thinking that the first production should function primarily to discover the questions that wanted our focus. What ideas were being opened? For example, when I watched my draft, I felt that certain segments needed additional images. For example, at one point the visual flow was not sustaining attention when a simple image was on-screen too long. Also, a few times something was said that was not visually reinforced: 1) add a visual for Epaminondas & maybe for Lazy Jack, 2) add another visual for the Individual Level when I talk about riding Leg’cy,  and 3) add text-on-screen where a phrase might not be clear, “faith statement” not “bank statement.” What if we really looked to our technical production for guidance instead of relying so strongly on another story?
The draft of our production rides at the edge of the ocean where the unconscious laps up against the shore. When images arise before words articulate, they potentially bring the “water of life,” like life-energy that emerges from the oceanic unconscious. But this potential vitality will rush back if we do not hold it while it shifts shape the way the Ancient does with Menelaus (Odyssey, Book 4, lines 487-489). The power of archetypal images in terms of restoring vitality and meaning to life has been elaborated most fully in psychoanalytic work that requires considerable experience and study to penetrate, but a few passages will suggest key themes.
1. The unconscious is the great source of human creativity.
Both [Nietzsche & Jung]—though neither would have put it this way—were in the existentialist tradition of belief that without conflict and suffering, consciousness is doomed to stagnation and regression. Both sought, instead, for a philosophy and psychology (if they would admit a difference between the two) whose test is simply but richly this: does it conduce to a life rich in fulfilment, attainment, even transcendence to a realm of integration beyond what is reachable from the comfortable couches of everydayness. Theirs, alike, was a philosophy of darkness, no less than light, a celebration of the Dionysian spirit wherein is found the scariness of the unconscious with its alarming dreams which are yet the great source of human creativity. . . They agreed that no one’s intellectual or artistic achievement can be understood or fairly assessed without regard for the whole self of the creator. . . Jung would have rejoiced in Nietzsche’s equating greatness in a man with his ‘comprehensiveness, and multiplicity, his wholeness in manifoldness—how much and how many things a person could bear and take upon himself, how far a person could extend his responsibility.’*. . . Thus [to Jung], to neglect the profound questions of the origins and destinies of human consciousness is as self-defeating as neglecting dream and myth. (James L. Jarrett, “Introduction,” Jung’s Seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, pp xx-xxi)
2. Images reflect multiplicity.
“Images by their very structure are multivalent. If the mind makes use of images to grasp the ultimate reality of things, it is just because reality manifests itself in contradictory ways and therefore cannot be expressed in concepts. . . It is therefore the image as such, as a whole bundle of meanings, that is true, and not any one of its meanings. . .” .Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols, p. 15.
3. Archetypal images can be misused but not lost. “today we are well on the way to an understanding of one thing of which the nineteenth century had not even a presentiment—that the symbol, the myth and the image are of the very substance of the spiritual, that they may become disguised, mutilated or degraded, but are never extirpated. . . The “origin” of the Images, also, is a problem that is beside the point. . .” Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols, pp. 11, 15.
4. When image-making (digital media production, for example) imitates exemplary models (good stories, for example) and not arbitrary invention, the treasure is opened of psychological reality and spiritual truth.
“It depends, as we said, upon modern man—to ‘reawaken’ the inestimable treasure of images that he bears within him; and to reawaken the images so as to contemplate them in their pristine purity and assimilate their message. Popular wisdom has many a time given expression to the importance of imagination for the very health of the individual and for the balance and richness of his inner life. . . To ‘have imagination’ is to enjoy a richness of interior life, an uninterrupted and spontaneous flow of images. But spontaneity does not mean arbitrary invention. Etymologically, ‘imagination’ is related to both imago—a representation or imitation—and imitor, to imitate or reproduce. And for once, etymology is in accord with both psychological realities and spiritual truth. The imagination imitates the exemplary models—the Images—reproduces, reactualises and repeats them without end. To have imagination is to be able to see the world in its totality, for the power and the mission of the Images is to show all that remains refractory to the concept: hence the disfavor and failure of the man ‘without imagination’; he is cut off from the deeper reality of life and from his own soul.” Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols, pp. 19-20.
This point is also asserted by Jane Hirshfield in Ten Windows where she quotes Basho who says, “Do not follow the ancient masters, seek what they sought” (p. 82).
5. While the unconscious remains rather inaccessible, the adaptive unconscious as an “informed gut feeling” can be developed for a guidance system.
In Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious (2002, p. 23), Timothy D. Wilson defines the unconscious as the part of the mind that “I cannot access even when I try. A better working definition of the unconscious is mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness but that influence judgments, feelings, or behavior.. . [including] the way I select, interpret, and evaluate incoming information and set goals in motion.”  He elaborates: “The term ‘adaptive unconscious’ is meant to convey that nonconscious thinking is an evolutionary adaptation. The ability to size up our environments, disambiguate them, interpret them, and initiate behavior quickly and nonconsciously confers a survival advantage and thus was selected for. Without these nonconscious processes, we would have a very difficult time navigating through the world…” Wilson illustrates with pattern detection studies (e.g., Pawel, using computer screen, 4 quadrants, choosing the one where X would appear, and learning ‘nonconsciously’ the complex rule but not being able to tell what it is); interpretation/translator; feeling & emotion to evaluate; goal setting.
Wilson summarizes the significance of the adaptive unconscious: “As we have seen what is typically thought of as the “proper work” of consciousness—goal setting, interpretation, evaluation—can be performed nonconsciously” (p. 43). Wilson adds guidance on the application of the adaptive unconscious: “The trick is to gather enough information to develop an informed gut feeling and then not analyze that feeling too much. . . The point is that we should not analyze the information in an overly deliberate, conscious manner, constantly making explicit lists of pluses and minuses. We should let our adaptive unconscious do the job of forming reliable feelings and then trust those feelings, even if we cannot explain them entirely” (p. 172).

     Our work/play with digital media production aims at connecting us with this dynamic between word and image through our engagement with good stories as we draw upon our resources of creativity and the adaptive unconscious.