Under the big top

I started a proper engagement with the 21 Soul Module Two materials this week. I’ve been sitting with them for a while but not responding (certainly not consciously). Perhaps the part of the material I’ve been unconsciously sitting with for longest is the ‘egg’ – although it’s also a part I didn’t respond to directly in my drawings (see below) but am going to do so now.

In Steve Thorp’s module two material, the egg is presented as a metaphor for the self. There’s a story where the egg has an outside self, a whirling self, and the inner – the shell, the white and the yolk. An outside that protects, a whirling self that is both creativity and chaos, and an inner or middle self, which is the soul. It prompts questions about protection, about stillness, clarity, how stories come through from the soul. Are you overprotective of your own self, for example, thickening that outer layer against a cruel world? Is the whirling self too chaotic?

When I first went for coaching/gestalt counselling with Iain Mackenzie, another wonderful, gentle and mindful healer/helper, paid for out of the winnings from Sunderland’s Innovation in Teaching Award 2009, no less(!), one of  the first things we visualised was a landscape of lived experience that had smooth parts and bumps. One of the things that inhabited this landscape was a whirling, heavy black egg, that moved about, a little like the Vortex in the BBC cult classic The Adventure Game.

This whirling, black steel, heavy-as-lead egg, was the inner story: something I was afraid to crack open but which I carried around with me everywhere. It felt (then) impenetrable. The money (and courage) ran out for working with Iain, but that image of the egg stayed with me, as did the ‘lived landscape’ and the need for the ability to recognise the bumps (the obstacles) earlier than when right up against them, often when it’s too late and the anxiety has taken its grip—to be able to feel the landscape change earlier, and to then make better choices of how to proceed (or retreat).

So the egg has returned, in more places, at this time. I’ve just read Marion Milner’s On Not Being Able to Paint, and there is a significant appearance of her own egg in one of the formative ‘free drawings’ she uses to explore and understand her ‘pilgrimage’ towards being able to paint: that is, being able to understand the creative process and the fusing of an inner and outer reality that is necessary for access to the creative unconscious through ‘contemplative action’; which, as Emma Letley and others note, is also the process (when it works properly) of psychoanalysis that Marion Milner had recently trained in.

Milner’s egg appears in one of her most important drawings, that of the angry parrot. It stands for “one’s own separate identity’ but also ‘something deeper than that, more to do with the danger of losing one’s whole belief any goodness anywhere, it was this that the parrot was so frightened of  and angry about.’ Finally she sees the egg as ‘a symbol of the necessary illusion of no separateness between subject and object’, and an illusion that must not be too soon ‘shattered’.

That is, to paraphrase the entire book’s theory, the creative process is the ability to fuse the inner dream with outer reality, and to accept the gap between the two (that the music or picture or story in your head doesn’t seem to match the music you compose, the picture you paint or the story you write, and that you will always, at some level, be disillusioned with life) but to accept that gap without losing the ability to create. In fact, that the gap is always there, so to live in illusion (that you can create something out of that disillusion) is the basis for all creative life. If the illusion of no separateness is shattered too soon or too painfully, by poor parenting, schooling, and the rationalities of culture and society that prioritises the objective fact over the subjective experience, then the individual will never feel courageous enough to believe that what can come from the inner world (dreams, wishes, fantasies, images, stories) can find a ‘good enough’ form in the outer world.

The angry parrot is angry because the world is trying to shatter the necessary illusion; the parrot does not want to simply ‘parrot’ what other people say, think or feel, but to have her own feelings, thoughts and creations. Of course the illusion needs to be shattered, at some point, otherwise it can lead to madness: believing the inner and outer world are the same. But to shatter it too fully will destroy not only the outer shell but also the inner subjectivity that is the basis for truly objective, original thinking and art.

(There is also a drawing on p.33 of Milner’s book of what she calls an ‘Indian Drum’ that looks almost exactly like my own whirling black egg, drawn on the first day of WWII.)

21Soul2 Black EggI finally got to draw my egg when exploring visually the idea of my ‘existence’, one of the five lives of soul and shadow in Steve’s module (more of this in a separate post, to follow). Here it is.

My artwork is not great, and I had done a fair few drawings before this and I was getting tired. It looks to me more like a pear, with two halves, but perhaps that is less important than the fact that how I visualise it now is far less impenetrable than it was four years ago, whirling but something that it would be frightening, but not too frightening, to step into. A little like the vortex in the Adventure Game, in fact, which, as a child, half-scared me but also fascinated me. Where did these people disappear to when eaten by the vortex? I wanted to go there.

(Is it any coincidence that the aim of The Adventure Game was for the contestants to go through the challenges set for them on Planet Arg in an effort to raise funds to pay their way off the planet and back to earth by… collecting eggs?)

Back at the beginning of the engagement with the 21 Soul materials, I sat down, a few days after a conversation with Steve, where I said I wanted to approach the materials differently—to think, first, without immediately writing stuff down—and sat with a pencil and drawing pad, and took up Milner’s suggestion, radical at the time, but quite commonplace now, of free association in drawing.

I was set to respond to the directions to get a sense of my own developmental depth and height, using the senses to gauge where I am at in developing my higher social self, the elegant self that can sit with emotions, feel pain and joy, and use those feelings to lead to action. What came out was something of a regression: back to childhood again, when I used to draw and colour in these diamond shaped figurations.

And by the way, these diamond shapes are also pretty similar, I see now, to the grid/game area the contestants have to pass across at the end of the Adventure Game, chased by the invisible vortex. What was it about this idea of being chased by something invisible (although you as the viewer could see it, and be pre-warned of the fate of the contestant)? It feels there is something here about playfulness and a manifestation of a bridge between inner and outer worlds in this fantasy, where I as the viewer was both the contestant and the vortex.

I then drew borders around it on the sides, as if this were, suddenly, a large tent/marquee at some sort of encampment of the lived landscape, and I was looking down upon it. I then sorted it out into two halves, Left Brain and Right Brain, and what came to me then, possibly because of conversations I’d been having, was something I’d thought of a year or two ago about an attempt to explore why a relationship had not worked. The idea was that this person and I shared some things very easily (wounds and hurts, intellectual ideas) but some things very badly (particularly desires/passions, also joys).

21Soul2 diamond1

And it seemed to be much easier to draw these ‘outside’ spaces for Wounds and Intellects than it did for Desires and Joys. The wounded part is full of hawthorn bushes and a stagnant lake and there is fencing across half the outer edge and also no way into the big top (the head) unless crawling right in at the bottom of the tent. The intellectual part has three roads and a meeting/mingling place, and is pretty and gardened, and has a bucolic feel to it. (Of course, the place where three roads meet is where Oedipus killed his own father, and is picked up by Freud as well as Shakespeare in analytic and literary analysis.)

I began to sketch in desires quite quickly, and then it all stopped and, disappointedly, faded away. Now, there’s an apt description for my past relationships if ever I’ve read one! (Ouch.) I tried in vain to fill it in, but the most I managed was a tent on the very edge of the encampment. The area felt to me like a landing strip, and the empty fields around it. ‘When are you ever going to land?’ is a line that comes back to me from a book, perhaps even something I’ve written, but I don’t think so, about someone scared of landing into their own life, and rather choosing to keep away, stay up in the air, away from choosing. At the edge I’ve written “Worked so hard to pave a route in, but nothing to carry” and “camped on the edge” and “desolate”. [Ah, it is in my novel, or was, before getting cut.]

Joys was even harder and sadder. I don’t know why this is. I thought I enjoyed lots of things: running, writing, reading, playing, peace, silence, the sea, friendship, etc. But it seemed when it came to spontaneous joy, I was really caught for breath. I tried to draw a pair of lungs struggling for air, but it turned into a sad, skull-like face. “How do my joys get in?” I’ve written.

Which is the side of the brain where the emotions happen? “For example, a person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical and objective, while a person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful and subjective.”

Well. That says a lot.

So I tried again, combining many of the rest of the questions on that page of the module, and drew another diamond, this time flatter, for some reason, and at an angle. I labelled the vertical axis as “height = social” and “depth = spirit”, and the horizontal axis as breadth, with the far left “protected” and the far right “belonging without fitting in”.

21Soul2 diamond2

And then for some reason I mapped out the four sectors of the lived landscape as Identity, Justice, Creating, Relationships.

Here looks like the opposite of the above – that the right brain is far fuller, and the left empty. Or rather, perhaps this is, I believe, a projection into the future, or at least a present. That is, I’m not in a relationship right now (not that individual intimate partnership) and that I don’t want my identity filled up with wounds (rather, what I’ve drawn there, is a ‘city skyline’, something social but also far away). The other side is full. In justice there are animals, Africa, and in creating there is a book and a circuit board.

But there is then some sort of disconnect between the two pictures. So I decided to look under the hood, so to speak, and go in from the inside, as I had a feeling that this was one of those marquees with open sides you get at festivals. Here’s the picture:

21Soul2 diamond3

I think I was getting tired at this point (it was about 11pm). But the picture feels in some way primitive and elemental but no bad thing for that. It is an outside space, there are four people sitting (meditating) at an open fire, with an animal (totem, familiar?) and the black egg whirling and the symbol of three stones in a ‘therefore’ position as described in Alice Walker’s Temple of My Familiar. There are also the sleeping tents, on the edge again, and a wonderful moon, cloudy night sky, tall trees, perhaps even a mountain blending in behind the big top (and a temple at the top of the mountain?! Yes, i think so, even though I’ve only just noticed it…). And hanging from the tent is the banner that says ‘Desires’. Here they were, then, not hiding, but already ‘inside’. There’s also a map of the world laid out, as if the people have been looking over it and taking in the wholeness of it.

There’s quite a lot to take in there. The egg feels a part of the essential story now, less dense, less impenetrable. As does the bringing of different parts of life together, and the idea of looking inside for the stories and for the desires, not always the outside external world.

More to come on the five lives of soul and shadow…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s