Thursday 23 May 2024

Compass of hope

Over the last 6 months or so, I have discovered new dimensions to myself. Nobody ever makes discoveries like this alone. We need others, and it is a rare privilege when some interpersonal magic works like a revelation: an explosion of joy and light. Nothing is ever the same afterwards. The priorities shift to what really matters. For me this has brought a deeper grounding, patience and sense of responsibility. 

There is an individuation process which we all go through, but the twists and turns for some may be more marked than in others. The Jungian archetypes of self, shadow, animus, anima pass through stages. I often think about Tippett's Jungian opera, The Midsummer Marriage when thinking about this. The main characters, Mark and Jennifer, engage in a spiritual quest on their way to their wedding. On their individual journeys, they separate, with one of them going towards the dark "shadow" side of themselves, while the other goes towards the lighter "self", and later they swap roles before being reunited as transformed (individuated) people. The marriage only occurs after they have both visited these different aspects of their psyche.  

Tippett also drew on the archetype of the "Fisher king" - the wounded and alienated king, for whom all was material, possession and power, but who lacked the deeper spiritual aspects of the psyche. It was this lack which was his "wound" - the thing that disabled him. In  Tippett's opera, the Fisher King, becomes a cold-hearted businessman, "King Fisher", Jennifer's father, who absolutely forbids the wedding and tries his best to stop it. The mystical (and for some, frankly baffling) climax of the opera features another archetype, the "Wise old woman" who appears to bless the wedding, and cast aside the emptiness of King Fisher. As with the other operatic treatment of the Fisher King - in Wagner's Parsifal - there is some redemption for him in the Tippett. King Fisher eventually accepts the mystic realm, but dies - thus symbolically representing a new cycle of life, which affects the other characters.  

I find these stories powerful because they help me to navigate. We all know a King Fisher, we all have some understanding of our feminine and masculine sides (animus and anima), and we know we have a shadow, even if we would rather not look at it. The archetypes are rather like statues in a landscape through which we all pass, and because we pass through, our relation to them is always changing. We probably also know couples like "Mark and Jennifer". The problem with the way we live today is that we don't give ourselves time to really think about where and who we are, where we are going,  or how to become whole. In that sense we are all a little bit like the Fisher King. 

Sometimes, as in the opera, we do need to separate - at least temporarily - from the comfort of companionship and visit those different aspects of ourselves so as to discover ourselves. It is not any particular moment of experience with the shadow, or the animus/anima, or the wise woman, or the fisher king, that we individuate. It is through the slow and sometimes painful journey to understand the landscape of the psyche. Then we can be whole. 

So this time I have a more creative exercise. Can you draw, or take a photograph, of something that represents what it means to be whole? 

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