(This installment includes two footnotes.)
At our last session, Sue reminded me that at the center of the complex  is the archetype, and the archetype is a constant. One way of picturing the archetype is to see it as a crystal with a stable structure that, once it is activated, oscillates at a certain frequency. But life is also a complex or a multitude of complexes, all of which challenge us to continue exploring who we are. James Hillman, in his Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling, uses the seed (acorn) metaphor to describe how we are born with a certain constant, the seed of something, to embody. And from the moment of birth, or embodiment, that constant finds itself engaging with other constants, as life is full of givens. But the trick to living a purposeful life is figuring out what was our constant at birth, what was our oscillating frequency, our blue flame, our signature archetype, our gestalt? For me it was the archetype of compassionate reflection. For others it might be serving the word (logos), for others it might be feeding people, for others, teaching. The constant could be a gift or a calling and that calling may be worldly or it may be spiritual or in between. The trick to relating is learning to "see" someone's constant, their gift, and simply support them, allowing them space to express that gift or calling or sympathizing while they struggle, through trial and error, to uncover their core vibration, or, as Malidoma Some' identifies it, their genius. But, to the extent that you see them, you can love, encourage and support them, which is the hardest thing in the world to do if their calling is incompatible with our own! Sometimes the most compassionate way to relate to someone is to realize that we can't actively help them because they have to live something through. But the closer we come to comprehending our own constant, the easier it is to be able to help or even love someone without needing them to see us.
Most people are very good at some things and very bad at others. Some people are good at seeing others, and some people will never be good at it. But those people may be good at fixing our car! Love is being confident enough in our own constancy, in our own deep-oscillation, to leave space for others to expand in their own space. Sometimes the best we can do for others is simply to model self-acceptance. Self-acceptance cannot be faked. It is based on enjoying a thriving relationship with our constant, knowing how to enhance our own frequency, which feels like ringing ourselves like a singing bowl!
I hosted a sweat lodge a couple of nights ago for a young man who was preparing for a fire vigil, an all-night ritual that calls for staying awake from sundown to sunrise, and sitting with the sacred fire. Facing west, directing prayers to the spirit of the fire, praying for himself as the night deepens, and for the world and his loved ones and his people as darkness inches toward dawn. This is a powerful initiation.
For five months this young man had been planning on vision questing at a place called White Rocks in the Green Mountains, but just a few days before he was going up we agreed to scrub the vision quest because of the risk of exposure to ticks and Lyme. It was his decision and I fully supported it. For the fire ritual, his fallback, he was able to sit off the ground in a lawn chair, wrapped in a blanket. The hardest part of this ritual is staying awake. Between midnight and predawn, the initiate is sitting, staring at the fire, occasionally adding a log. Consciousness thins, attention withdraws into a half-dream state and one becomes a tightrope walker between wakefulness and dozing while the imperative to stay awake and stay with one's intention and the fire, keeps yanking one back from a natural free-fall into blissful oblivion. It is a very difficult passage. He said he experienced the struggle to stay awake as a little like "going mad". I remember that feeling when I did my own fire vigil about 8 years ago. I vividly recall fighting my way back to alertness over and over again. At one point, in the midst of this struggle, I found myself in a state of hyper-lucidity, but at the same time, I had shrunk or lost my sense of proportion. The fire was magnified, and I was seeing it as I imagine a child or a baby would see it, which was spellbinding at the time. It is as if I had entered a space that was hyper real and yet I was neither awake in the usual sense of being awake, nor was I asleep. I was just seeing differently, and I attributed it to this trance-like relationship with the fire that the vigil had fostered.
This young man made it through the night. When I woke up to pee at 3:30 I looked out the window and saw his fire blazing which did my heart good. When we got up at 6:30 with the sun peeking through the forest, he was cocooned in a blanket, asleep within the circle of logs. The fire was out but I knew he had succeeded.
I call an experience like this an initiation because we come out of it changed a little . . . or a lot. We go in with an intention, or goal that determines the over-arching meaning of the ritual from start to finish. When we take on something like this it isn't for a lark or for bragging rights. Even talking about it, before or afterwards, isn't recommended. Anything that involves spirits and invokes the presence of the ancestors qualifies as a non-ordinary experience and can't be understood or explained in conventional terms anyway. Ironically the shamanic or non-ordinary connotation of intention is very similar to what it means in conventional medicine, where it refers specifically to the process by which a wound heals. Shamanically speaking, a wound can be spiritual, karmic or metaphysical but, relative to these different concepts of wounds, intention means the same thing in shamanism that it means in physical medicine. In general, in any kind of healing, for the one seeking healing (for patient or initiate) intention is what sets the healing process in motion.
Life itself is a great initiation that begins at birth, an initiation for the embodied soul. The wounding that needs to heal is the trauma that soul undergoes just by finding itself embodied in the physical universe. To borrow from the phrase that the military used to describe their bombing of Bagdad in 2003, birth is about shock and awe, the soul's shock of finding itself outside of the womb and the awe of surviving that separation and suddenly being the receiver of all the sensations concomitant with being alive. The emphasis is on awe. Shock is the shock of being thrust or pushed or pulled or yanked into a world of three dimensions and being kick-started alive. Awe follows, the awe of being someone somewhere, in time, for the first time. The closest analogy I can think of to being born, for an adult, is riding a rocket into space and experiencing all the stresses of acceleration (the g-force) culminating in weightlessness, because, as in birth, nothing about being in space compares to the world we left behind. I would speculate that every transit between worlds requires an uncomfortable adjustment, and follows the initiatory sequence of shock and awe.
I invite us to imagine that we are born with an intention for our life-initiation. What would that intention express but the spirit of our uniqueness that is carried into life by our soul. Such an intention would be embedded in us like a mantra, like a magical password or tacit understanding between Life and the soul and, for that matter, the soul and Death.
The soul is not new in essence, it is a seasoned traveler, but it is new to this particular life, this particular initiate and initiation. The body, with its unique DNA, bloodline, ancestry and upbringing and the soul, with its own yearning for manifestation and its own karmic work to do, coalesce in time and space to transform fate into destiny through initiatory breaking away from causal entrapment.
When I was very young I found a sense of purpose in writing. Writing for me was always numinous. Before writing, my inner life was rich and leaking out in fantasies that sometimes blossomed into epic adventures that I would rope my friends into. But words granted me the quasi-magical ability to tell stories and write poetry. As with most kids, dreams were an important part of my life but in my case they never stopped being important and as I grew up I just naturally paid more attention to them. To me dreams were places I had been, people I had interacted with, situations that I had to take seriously, that, in a sense, justified my preoccupation with the written word! Dream-inspired writing gave me a reason to take my life seriously and probably had more to do with helping me grow up than any other factor; it was my tacit responsibility to grow into my dreams. (I also loved to draw but drawing never pulled me into life and into a deeper relationship to dreaming, which, as I say, became my way into the world. To be fair to my artistic side, there was a period of about a year [during my mid-twenties] when my discovery of the collective unconscious was still fresh, when [I don't recall how], I got my hands on a box of oil paint sticks. While drawing came naturally to me, I was never good at painting but I was always fascinated by it because many of my favorite artists [heroes] were painters. Paint sticks allowed me to approach painting through drawing, without picking up a brush, and my creative spirit responded with fierce intensity. It was as if something wild, that had always been caged, suddenly leapt free. With paint sticks it felt like cage after cage was springing open. I painted a series of large compositions on sheets of newsprint, at least one a day, after everyone else had gone to bed, and I didn't stop until all the cages were open. Only then was I able to return to writing.)
My old soul was always pressing me to use writing to explore my inner universe that I, early on, perceived as having no bounds. I knew that it was unreal(which is what we are all taught when we had nightmares) but I also knew that it was just as valid as the "real" world, so at a very young age you might say I understood that "real" was a relative term and that there was a difference between fantasy that the imagination whips up, and the other reality of dreaming that is not made up. My intuitive intelligence was very precocious. Long before I could articulate it I intuited that there was a timeless intelligence to dream-reality that I yearned to make sense of. In other words, not only did I know that dreams meant something, but I also knew that I was equipped with the capacity to decipher them; it was only a matter of time. I wrote a poem around the age of 11, a line about my fascination with the "lamp-lit gardens". I remember what I had in mind when I wrote that line was a deeply interior garden where the animals were safe and coexisted with one another, somewhat like the shamanic underworld, and I finished the poem with the words, "I was born in this garden / and the flowers have grown / into the souls of my feet." In these lines I remember being aware that I was using writing to describe something otherworldly that was integral to who I was (and still am!), like another, perhaps even my original, home. Writing served as the silent voice of my intuition, and it was through my intuition that I was able to hear directly from my soul.
What that poem expressed was a realization that that luminous garden was part of me and that I couldn't extract myself from it if I wanted to. Now that I have neuropathy, that fusion of the flowers with the soles of my feet takes on special meaning, and it makes me wonder if I have lost touch with -- forgotten -- the lamp-lit gardens, even if they have not forgotten me. Should I be bathing my feet in flower essences and treating them to baths with the actual flowers that would have been in my barefoot life back then (goldenrod, dandelion, violets, forget-me-nots, daisies, milkweed), to restore that early connection with the gardens of my soul. Surely some soul-part of me has been left behind by this surface-world that we are frantically creating, that seems to be hell-bent on eliminating nature.