Saturday, February 20, 2016

Psyche without Eros

Sunrise, February 21, 2016
Our Good Story this week took us through the journey of Psyche with special emphasis on the devastating separation from Eros. (Video of my telling Part 2.) Early on the day following our telling of this teaching-story, I woke in fragments of a dream in which I and a team of teachers were designing a program. Not surprisingly, my part focused on developing a series of stories; but more strangely, we were rehearsing an entrance, as onto a stage, and I rode out with bravado, with performer’s façade, but then realized and said, “No, that’s not right.”
         In the dream, I was reaching for the word that would point to the proper tone for what was wanted when a woman said, “Authenticity.”
         “That’s exactly right,” I responded. Both in dreams, it seems, as well as in “real life,” I’m increasingly convinced of the essential importance of the fullest integration possible, of what Jung calls individuation. Style&substance are inseparable if selfhood is to be realized. In order for meaningful power to be manifest, the individual must enact as much consciousness as possible.
         Back to the dream, perhaps as I moved from dreaming into semi-wakefulness, I realized that what’s needed is a special meaning of authenticity, one that holds integrity to a gravitational field. The storyteller is meant to lean into a presence that is not just his or her present state; instead a teaching-story leans into the magnetic center.
         Our Good Stories course has been circling around this archetype of the center, sometimes called the treasure or the water of life or sense-born-with. In "Psyche & Eros," the "mysterious inner nucleus" (von Franz, Golden Ass of Apuleius, p. 97) is richly developed as the union of two lovers. It’s Love, of course; and many connect this center with Divine Love (e.g., William Chittick, Divine Love, 2013).
         Along this line, a better understanding of the love story of Psyche and Eros, particularly involving the complexity of marriage, comes in Jung’s writing in Aion about the “higher union, a coniunctio oppositorum. . . an indispensable prerequisite for wholeness” (para 58, p. 31). The development of the individual, of personality, of the self, involves the difficult integration played out in Psyche’s union with Eros. Jung says: “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” (Aion, para 58, p. 30). Jung further asserts that when material appears “in consciousness lacking the affective emphasis that properly belongs to it, [it] must then be transposed back into its archetypal context—a task that is usually discharged by poets and prophets” (Aion, para 55, p. 29).  And that’s the work of teaching-story: in Good Stories, we work back and forth across the levels that we call Universal, Local, Individual, and Particular. 
         In relation to the Local Level, the significance of the Psyche & Eros story crystallized in a news item posted the same day that our Good Stories class was working into the inner meaning of the separation of these two lovers. Reported by Maggie Fox on NBC News.Com:

         The separation of Psyche and Eros represents a significant problem both at the individual level and at the social level. Transposed into the archetypal context (to use Jung’s phrasing), Eros, until the involvement with Psyche, is portrayed as rather cold and heartless, even as a monster or a serpent according to the Delphic oracle. Translating back down into the individual/local levels, this suggests the danger to the person and to a culture left in a psychic/erotic split, as evidenced in the NBC post.  
         Marie Louise von Franz elaborates in her commentary on this story: Eros is the fount of creativity and vitality. When our spirit, our refreshing breath of invigorating life, gets cut off from that connection, we’re left with a void often called depression or anxiety. A recent translation of the story has Venus’ handmaidens that torment Psyche with the names of Anxiety and Depression (Ruden, The Golden Ass, 2011). In a lesser stage, the Psyche/Eros split manifests as boredom; and even in that condition, persons are made especially vulnerable to reckless acts and to addiction.
         Eros equally needs the union as much as Psyche does. While Eros is the source of creativity and vitality, when divorced from Psyche, Eros loses the beneficial power, the radiating warmth, of those qualities, and turns cold-hearted, even cruel. The erotic arrows then prompt foolish and hazardous affairs. Translating this story into the lives of college students, as well as the rest of us, is not that difficult.
         Fortunately, the story of Psyche and Eros leads to their reunion but only through the travail of difficult tasks. And it’s in our translation of these tasks that our battles with anxiety, depression, addiction, and other struggles might find much needed support and guidance.
         When I look across the faces of the fifty or sixty college students in Good Stories, their loveliness is so apparent; but I also sense that while I see beauty in each one of them, they might be separated from realizing it. I wonder how this veiling is like the separation of Psyche from Eros, of Eros from Psyche. The story reflects a condition when a person’s soul is cut off from engagement with creativity and vitality. Maybe pharmaceuticals can help, but the NBC news article illustrates the problem of over-dependance on that solution. As another response, how can we advance in cultivating our authentic creative spark?
         One task given to Psyche as a step in rebuilding the link to Eros, thus to the creative, invigorating power, involves ant-like work. This reminds me of the willingness to persist in detail-work, often associated with hand-crafts, or with the amount of drill and practice essential to reaching a high-level in sports. In our class, we make digital-media productions and this includes ant-work, the sometimes tedious steps in assembling and editing visual and audio tracks. In order even take on this task, we need to summon the energy to do grunt-work, to accept discipline, and to develop persistence.
         Just as in the story when the ant-work led to additional steps and eventually built the bridge between Psyche and Eros, I believe the technical work in a digital-media production offers our connection with inspiration (psyche) and creativity (eros). While the more powerful effect comes in a fuller production, I’ll give a simple illustration with just a few frames.
         In order to take on a task, especially a complex task that requires persistence and often goes downhill before going up, we need the kind of inspiration (or even faith) that imagines possibility, that sees into the invisible. When I play with images for Psyche and for Eros on a multiple-track production program, I get support in witnessing this when I overlay the butterfly (the developed, essential psyche) with the caterpillar (unconscious psyche) and make a slow fade. I put the invisible, not-yet-developed, essence under the veil--it's a god-like vision! And, in doing this, eros as revitalization reaches across to my psyche. Ahh! Yes!

         Here’s a screen capture of the tracks. 

         And here’s what it looks like when processed into a 1-minute clip: