Deep in the chthonic chaos of the mud at the bottom of The Well, transformation
Wilhelm writes, “The well is the symbol of that social structure which, evolved by [people] in meetings its most primitive needs, is independent of all political forms.”
Myth also meets the primitive needs of people to understand our lives. The well nurtures with its clean water. Yet our deeper selves know that it is in dark underworld of the mud that our deepest transformations happen.
In the most ancient of myths, Inanna travels to this world and is dismembered and then revived. The Greek version is the myth of bright Persephone’s annual reluctant journey to her husband, Hades, dour lord of this dark realm whilst her mother, Demeter, mourns. The goddess of agriculture and fruitfulness plunges the world into winter while she waits for her daughter, Spring, to return.
This is ancient and deep wisdom indeed, transcendent of social structures fulfilling humans’ deepest yearnings to understand our place in the Universe and the world. Only in the deepest chthonics depths are we renewed: Each of us in that Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, as Douglas Adams titled a book.
In nature, the example is the caterpillar that willingly dissolves itself into an oozing mass that resembles neither of its two states of being — to emerge as a butterfly. Nothing is the same in the two beings, except essential DNA mapping the universal patterns.
I have been silent long, because an oozing mass does not speak. That does not mean nothing is happening. Wait.
The latest crinkle in my total life change Doberman Project is money. One of my required sources of income has been sold, and I’ve not been offered a contract for 2017. So I face a new challenge in this time of waiting and planning.
Looking for guidance from the dao using the I Ching, this dame turns to hexagram 36, Ming I, in the Wilhelm translation, darkening of the light.
Solstice has long been a time of wonder and miracles with customs that go back even before recorded time.
Waiting seems like standstill. It is uncomfortable for this old dame.
I started The Doberman Project eager to press forward with my tlotal Life change. I was full of concrete plans and an end-of-year deadline to enact them.
Future Is Unknown and Unpredictable
Circumstances beyond my control have intervened in my retirement plans.
Indeed the whole world is waiting to see whether the USA plunges into fascism, or the president-elect sparks a nuclear holocaust, or if the world economy goes into a tailspin as a result of the nativist tendencies sweeping the world.
The antidote to standstill is gratitude.
Gratitude is the antidote for any ill that befalls us. In the smallest pleasures of life we find redemption.
It reminds me of the soldier’s hand stretching from the foxhole for the tiny singing bird in the great film All Quiet on the Western Front (novel by Erich Maria Remarque). This last act of remarking beauty and life becomes his death.
Hexagram 12: Standstill or Stagnation
The 12th hexagram, P’i, in the I Ching is Standstill or Stagnation. The powers of heaven and earth are out of balance and pulling away from each other.
“The way of inferior people is in ascent; . . . But the superior people do not allow themselves to be turned from their principles. If the possibility of exerting influence is close to them, they nevertheless remain faithful to their principles and withdraw into seclusion.”
I have been even more reclusive than usual. Having a Doberman to train and exercise would do me a world of good. An intelligent Doberman Pinscher is a true companion dog, noble, watchful, and protective.
The notion of standstill and stagnation appears repulsive. Yet smelly things transform in stagnation; from compost come the best fruits, vegetables, and flower.
From Stagnation Comes Transformation
P’i, read in its entirety, is a hexagram of hope.
Line Three states, in the Wilhelm translation, “Inferior people have risen to power illegitimately do not feel equal to the responsibility.”
Fifteen USA security agencies say Russia meddled in the US election that has put this ignorant narcissist into office.
“In their hearts they begin to be ashamed, although at first they do not show it outwardly. This marks a turn for the better.”
The final three lines promise, “First standstill, then good fortune.”
I have a comfortable apartment. I am in good health.
I mostly enjoy my teaching job and the chance to be with my terrific, hard-w0rking, hopeful students. I can increase my savings for The Doberman Project, retirement, and my total life change.
A few close friends and family are a treasure. All my needs are met, by the grace of the Dao. I give thanks.
The election of a racist, misogynist, narcissist as president has shaken to my core.
Knowing that one half my fellow Americans think it’s okay for a man who shamed a handicapped reporter from the stage to be president earns my contempt for them.
There is no place to run and hide. A wave of far-right narrowly nationalist fervor is sweeping the planet, from India to England.
When I started this blog, I was inspired with a sense of purpose and energy for how to spend my retirement: I would find a home with a yard appropriate for me and a Doberman. I would participate in training to the highest level of excellence possible for the animal and me.
A simple plan for a total life change.
Then, whoosh, despair for the future of our great Republic swamped me — despair that so many people choose to put illusions of self-benefit above civility, the Constitution, compassion, and the law.
One person suggested that I need therapy. I think not.
“The ultimate purpose of psychotherapy is not so much the archaeology exploration of infantile sentiments as it is learning gradually and with much effort to accept your own limits and to carry the weight of suffering on our own shoulders for the rest of our lives. Psychological work, instead of providing liberation from the causes of serious discomfort, increases it, teaching the patient to become adult and, for the first time in [her] life actively face the feeling of being alone with [her] pain and abandoned by the world” in Swamplands of the Soul, Hollis, a Jungian, quoting Carotenuto (The Difficult Art), p. 15.
After a certain age — and a certain age (often posited as post-50) is barely a shadow in the rear view mirror of life — and a certain amount of counseling and spiritual seeking, therapy is only a way of escaping the difficult realization that I am all I have.Oddly, I find these ostensibly cheerless words comforting. I even find a glimmer of hope and renewed purpose in them.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
TS Eliot, Little Gidding, the last of The Four Quartets (http://www.coldbacon.com/poems/fq.html)
I was greatly influenced by The Quartets, a meditation on time, often as an undergraduate at New York University back in the days when Bob Dylan sightings at local cafes often turned out to be true. I listened to Eliot intone the words in a flat, gravely voice, on the now archaic invention of a long-playing album.
After decades of exploration, I cannot say that I know this place in life — despair — at all. I can say my current despair is a situational adjustment issue, as a therapist would frame it, and not the inner angst of youth that goaded my early consultations of this poem.
A Sufi notion suggests sometimes we are in the garden where life pleases us, and sometimes we are in the fire, where we are tested. Both are places where inner lessons may be learned.
TS Eliot reached the same idea in the final lines of The Quartets:
“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
This old dame has been studying the I Ching for a long time — sometimes often, then for years . Some of the principles have seeped into my soul by this long acquaintanceship.
This is a challenging time in putting my total life change plans into motion, yet not stagnation (Hexagram 12). Lots is going on, like the gentle wind trigram beneath the thunder trigam in the hexgram of duration.
They rarely come true. One did. I was a very good reporter. I led an exciting and interesting life meeting and socializing with artistic, intelligent, and amusing people.
I haven’t lived a dream in a long time. Youth is a time of hopes and dreams. Old age is a time of maturing through recognition and acceptance of limitations – in health, income, opportunities of many kinds.
As my house hunting cracks into the reality of how little there is in my price range in safe, attractive neighborhoods, fear creeps into the schism between fantasy and reality.
One of the things I struggle with is keeping my home organized.
Getting ready to move (as part of my retirement planning) has provided a lesson in the dao of preparation for my total life change.
Moving has been my excuse for letting things pile up. There was no reason to think that packing a mess is easier than packing well-organized possessions; the opposite is true.
Mail on the dining room table has become a pinwheel of papers. Notebooks and receipts, thick envelopes and catalogs swirl in dizzying disorganization.
Closets are easier to keep organized than rooms.
I can label the shelves, baskets, and other organizers. I put clothes where they belong no matter how tired I am, because labels make it easy.
Mail is the biggest time waster.
Some people say to chuck everything you don’t need to read on the spot. I don’t want to read anything on the spot when I get home late. And I often forget or avoid it later.
As I searched for my phone book beneath the current cache of political ads, needless paperwork from various vendors, and miscellaneous ephemera — I noticed the melange was loosely arranged in three piles from less urgent to most. Not bad for a subconscious sorting mechanism.
Out of this stew, a total life change is being formed. The caterpillar metamorphoses into a gooey mess before emerging as a butterfly. We often don’t like to think about the deep chthonic stew from which life emerges: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Except ashes and dust are euphemisms for the ooze, gunk, and stink that fertilize transformation.
We avert our eyes and our noses; only the brave investigator of the soul confronts such reality. Meditating on life’s inevitable changes — those that may be part of life or retirement planning and those that take us by surprise —
are part of wisdom.
Realizations such as this one are rewarding parts of the journey and confirm that for now this is my dao.