Thursday, February 25, 2016

Advancing Peace & Justice through Teaching-Story

      We want to continue to emphasize the subtitle of our Good Stories course: Teaching Narratives for Peace and Justice. When we work with Good Stories, how are we advancing our prospects for moving further in capacity for building a peaceful world, both inside ourselves and with others? Several concepts developed in our textbook, On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction by Brian Boyd, are especially important in relation to this.

Explanation of Four Themes
1. Let’s continue focusing on metarepresentation. This concept explains how we are able to move across the levels as we translate from the story images to the local and individual levels. For example, in Buried Treasure, we abstract an archetypal image like the “tatema” that Luis is given.  For another example of the treasure archetype, we imagine a representation for the “water of life” in Golden Water.
         As we move from the detail in the story to the abstract idea, we are doing meta-representation: the box with silver coins is recognized as “treasure” which could also be seen as the coin Jack gets, as the puppy Epaminondas receives, and as the golden water found by the youngest sister. This amplification enriches our ability to see the treasure in a variety of forms or representations. Each of us has access to treasures, but they are easily missed unless we develop vision to see them in varied forms and to see potential the way the Creator does with the speck of mud retrieved by Little Coot in Beginnings.
          When we have the abstract image (in other words, when we “meta-represent”), we are then prepared to translate the quality across into the other levels. For example, look at how we are finding the “treasure” in our selection of a college major. If we make the fitting choice, this field of study provides riches for ourselves and for others. One treasure comes in the joy of learning (Individual Level: Inner), another is the ability to earn a living (Individual Level: Outer), and a third could be the benefits that the knowledge and skills provide for others through the applications in the world (Local Level). If a person makes the right choice on engineering, he or she should love learning about it and the projects he or she develops could provide valuable structures for others.
         Working with stories exercises our capacity for metarepresentation, and we can use that developed capacity throughout life in ways that support peace and justice.

2. The theme of cooperation is perhaps the most important component needed at our time in history in order for the advance of peace and justice. Working with stories contributes by showing us examples and by developing our ability for empathy. The story about Kanu and the Strangers is a prime example. We see the chief of the village model the ability to anticipate strangeness as virtue, and when we identify with one of the strangers we befriend aspects of ourselves that have been isolated and devalued (cf, Daniel Deardorff, The Other Within). This modeling and inner development enables us to participate in social change that reduces hostility and enhances equal opportunity.
         Boyd emphasizes this theme throughout his book because fiction (story) gives us practice with taking on the role of others who model character traits we need to build. For example, we may better appreciate patience by empathizing with Psyche; we may build capacity for courage and the judgment needed to meet with dangers by joining Kanu’s team as they accepted and enacted the challenge of bringing back the daughter of the village. This quest can be seen as bringing back the emergent feminine qualities such as cooperation that are essential for sustaining collaborative life.
         Boyd elaborates on the theme of collaboration:
We need to infer others' predispositions and their likely intentions and actions, which may in turn be based in part on their attempts to guess ours. If this hypothesis is correct, higher intelligence emerged primarily as social intelligence, through a cognitive arms race to understand conspecifics and to reveal to or conceal from others our own beliefs, desires, and intentions. Because theory of mind was first opened as a field to explore within primatology, the social intelligence hypothesis was first called the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis. Chimpanzees seek to understand one another especially in order to compete, sometimes by deception, for food, sex, or status. But researchers have begun to realize that we have probably reached our unique human level of theory of mind through pressures to cooperate more closely against other groups: we understand one another so much better because unlike chimpanzees we have crossed a cooperation divide and from infancy have a greater motivation to social engagement and shared attention than any other species.[note 68 Wilson, Evolution for Everyone; ] (p. 141-2; Kindle Locations 1597-1603). 
         During their fifth year, children grow into a distinctively human theory of mind, capable of metarepresentation--of understanding the process of representation--and involving beliefs as well as desires, goals, and intentions, a state that no other animal appears to reach. At this higher, exclusively human level, theory of mind becomes not only an intuitive psychology but an intuitive epistemology. No wonder it is hard to attain, even though as adults we employ it effortlessly. (bold emphasis, mine; p. 145; Kindle Locations 1640-1647). 

3. The empathy we develop through feeling with a character in a story can expand our understanding of the attitudes, values, and behaviors needed to cooperate, to accept differences (like Kanu does), and to expand our value system in ways that extend justice. Boyd elaborates on empathy: Empathy arises from recognizing others' goals and desires, a capacity necessary in an individualized social species.  (p. 138; Kindle Location 1561).
A third aspect of the theory of bonds is social exchange. In the human case this extends far further than in any other individualized society and has led to the evolution of a complex suite of moral emotions to solve problems of trust and commitment.[note 55] We can observe the basis for human moral emotions in other animals, especially primates: empathy, which as Darwin noted makes individuals much more able to live in groups; [note 56] a sense of fairness and self-righteous indignation, recently found experimentally even in capuchin monkeys,[note 57] and demonstrated cross-culturally in humans;[note 58] forgiveness and reconciliation, needed to repair relations, observed over the last twenty years in many species;[note 59] emotions like generosity and gratitude; and a capacity for detecting cheating in social  relations . . . Nature has endowed us with a moral capacity "much like a gyroscope at rest," and culture's role is "to spin it and establish its orientation."[note 64]  (p. 140-141; Kindle Locations 1584-1591).

4. Stories are true but they are true at a level of abstraction that has to be translated into “real-life” situations if we are to manifest these truths into our individual and social worlds. In order to translate the archetypal images that resonate within us, we need the resources of imagination, play, and creativity. Boyd emphasizes how these elements have been vital in the movement of culture and civilization.
They [Darwin machines] cannot find the right answer beforehand: there is no single right form of life, no single right antibody, no single right synaptic link, no single right move.(note 32) But they can generate possibilities that the environment tests. Survivors generate new variations and face new rounds of tests, so that even without preplanning, success accumulates.  (p. 120; Kindle, 1387-1389).   
In art understood as a Darwin machine, works are not somehow created to fit the cultural environment. Instead they are generated, unpredictably, in the minds or actions of artists, and selected first by them in accordance with their intuitions about their social world, and then by this world itself. (note 40)(p. 123; Kindle, 1414,)
Art develops in us habits of imaginative exploration, so that we take the world as not closed and given, but open and to be shaped on our own terms. In and through art, we readily turn the actual around within the much larger space of the possible, the conditional, and the impossible. Art opens up new dimensions of possibility space and populates it with imaginative particulars.
Art builds our confidence, at the individual and the group levels, in shaping our own destinies.   (p. 124; Kindle,1427-1429, 1435)
         The connections among the four themes from cooperation to creativity are shown in these excerpts from Boyd:
But a system of unconscious emotional contagion [that works before language and below conscious awareness and has evolved along with sociality] allows us to coordinate genuinely cooperative intentions. Mirror neurons, [whose function was discovered only in the early 1990s,] fire when we see others act or express emotion as if we were making the same action, and allow us through a kind of automatic inner imitation to understand their intentions and attune ourselves to their feelings. 
Quoting Goleman:
When people are in rapport, they can be more creative together and more efficient in making decisions ... Shared attention is the first essential ingredient
Animals learn best to attune themselves to one another through the pleasures of play, taking turns, checking to see that their partners still seek the "high" of intense mutual engagement.(note 19) Humans, more flexible in behavior and dependent for much longer in childhood, broaden and lengthen social play, not only in childhood but right throughout adult life. And they extend it, crucially, into the cognitive play of art.  (p. 103-4; Kindle, 1186-1195)
And through pretend play and fiction we learn to try out the positions of others, we attune ourselves spontaneously to the shifting emotions of an unfolding story, and we encounter story after story that embodies prosocial values in memorable, emotionally compelling images, actions, and outcomes (p. 106; Kindle, 1214-1215).   

Application of the themes
As we move into planning our second digital media project, these themes are the stepping stones:
1. Through resonance, we each identify the metarepresentations that are worthy of development because they connect with the unique talent and gift given to each person. In other words, the authentic “hits” made in the experience of Good Stories, of teaching-narratives, offer the source of the archetypal images capable of advancing peace and justice.
2. Just as we are doing in the journal assignments, Digital Media Project 2 translates across the levels so that the point of resonance (such as Psyche opening the treasure chest or Chameleon looking like Ruler-Above) gets applied in our individual character and at the social level. For example, DMP2 could include a comic with an inner dialog where a self-doubt is challenged by the way a divine ruler would see the situation. Another part of DMP2 could show a photo of an experience though UMCP's alternative breaks program where a home is being made for persons living in sub-standard conditions. The voice track could tell how this is like anteater’s work in the Kanu Story and how it expands the chances for peace and justice.
3. In order to extend the understanding and the texture of the key archetypal image and the related quality, DMP2 amplifies by showing drawings and photos connected with several stories. For example, let’s assume that my points of resonance tended to relate to the points where someone received guidance: the youngest brother stopping for the small voice, the young sister listening to the old woman and to the talking bird, Psyche getting help from the reed and from the tower. Through metarepresentation I connect these points of resonance with the archetypal figure of the Guide. My project amplifies with images representing the stories just named and then translates the Guide across levels so that I creatively play forward my developing understanding of Guide/Guidance.
         The empathy needed to recognize the guides we might otherwise miss out on can be developed by amplification of this theme. In the Grimms’ Water of Life, the guide was a voice that was perceived by the older brothers as too small to be worthy of their attention. In Golden Water, this is shown as a person who could be missed as just looking like a haystack. Psyche needs to listen to the reed alongside the river if she is to recover the golden wool. When we amplify the archetypal them of “guide” with these stories, we develop empathy needed to value small voices and to look into the hidden places.
         Also, the Golden Water story shows a progression of the guide archetype as it suggest development of an inner voice (some call this “gnosis”). The youngest sister is in search of the “treasures” (figured as golden water, singing branch, & talking bird) that would make her home complete. This could represent the development of her complete being, personality, or wholeness.  She gets guidance for this from the figure that was initially hidden in the mass of hair, like a haystack and then later from the talking bird. As the guide changes from human to the bird, we might understand this as developing more independence from outside mentoring and more reliance on an inner voice. In addition to gnosis, this kind of knowing has been elaborated as “felt sense” by Eugene Gendlin, as “feeling” in natural horsemanship, and as a sense of destiny.

4. As just illustrated, the making of this second digital media project invites us to nurture and practice our capacity for imagination, play, and creativity. A sense of humor is often the best tonic to get through difficult experiences. Lazy Jack’s bumbling attempts in his slowly developing ability for adaptation in moving day to day resulted in the laughter that connected with the beloved.
         Imagination also allows us to connect with resources such as the ones given for Psyche’s tasks. When Psyche loses contact with Eros, the stage is set for bouts with Depression because Eros represents the source of creativity and vitality. Our well-being depends on our nurturing our relationship with play, and play deserves to be taken seriously along the lines of the way that Vivian Paley portrays it in her accounts such as A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play and You Can’t Say You Can’t Play

Questions to think about:
1. After viewing “Beginnings,” name and illustrate your point of resonance.
2. Explain how the Beginnings story, preferably the place in the story that you just named, connects with Boyd’s explanation of the importance of creativity. See excerpts from Boyd in part 4 above.

3. Use your creativity to make a visual that you could use in DMP2. The image should show a photo of you in a place where you are getting creative ideas. Put in a thought bubble that tells about an insight or a wondering you are making based on the Beginnings story. For example, it might say, “Like Little Coot this idea I have about [fill in your idea] looks like just a useless speck of mud, but…”

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 fa├žade, 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: