Dark transformation: a scene from the Handspring Puppet Company’s production of Ted Hughes’ Crow. Photo by Simon Annand
Jay Griffiths is a wondrous writer. In this essay she weaves in and around in 3D linking her healing trip to the Amazon seeking relief from suicidal depression to the shamanic power of poets and artists, all the while referring to the dark transformation that so many have undergone. It is rich with historical and cultural reference and a reminder of where we have come from and to what we are still connected to.
She writes, “During one ceremony in the Amazon, I had the sensation that one of the shamans had sent his soul out to find mine. Although I was lost in the dark forest of depression, suddenly he was there, in a bright clear pool, healing and sunlit. Shamans use the term ‘soul-loss’, not an expression I had heard before, but exactly what I felt the moment mine was found. A good healer of any kind can find people who are lost in the forests of the mind.”
She continues, “Halfway through his journey in life and lost in a dark forest, Dante began his poem-path. By naming his lostness to his readers, they, if they are lost themselves, may feel understood — found — by him. Artists send their soul out into the world in a parabola, thrown from the heart of solitude so that in the arc of its return it can comprehend and speak to the loneliness and separateness of other minds. A book, as Franz Kafka said, must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.”
“The shamans I visited used a metaphor common in the Amazon: you have been struck by arrows, they said, poisonous darts designed to kill the spirit. It was a perfect metaphor for what I — like so many artists — had experienced. And, they said, they could suck them out of my mind. So, like powerful dramaturges, they dramatised the metaphor, embodied its meaning, staging the powerful sense of cure, sucking the poison out of my head. It made me well.”
“Placebo effect, a cynic may might say. Absolutely. The word has its roots in ‘pleasing’, and good medicine like good art should please in order to heal: the placebo’s success is evidence for the power of metaphoric medicine to heal mind. ‘My project,’ says the magus Prospero in The Tempest, is ‘to please’. In the Amazon the shamans sang songs over me called icaros, half-whistled, half-voiced, half-heard, half-imagined: exquisite Ariel music, in themselves mind-medicine, curative music sung by these curanderos.”
Read her entire essay here – Forests of the Mind
” At the end of a retreat in California, a friend wrote this poem:
I have lost my smile,
but don’t worry.
The dandelion has it.
If you have lost your smile and yet are still capable of seeing that a dandelion is keeping it for you, the situation is not too bad. You still have enough mindfulness to see that the smile is there.
You only need to breathe consciously one or two times and you will recover your smile. The dandelion is one member of your community of friends. It is there, quite faithful, keeping your smile for you.
In fact, everything around you is keeping your smile for you.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
While suffering a severe depression after the death of my father, these words from Thich Nhat Hanh became a lifeline of sorts. As I took my regular walks with Buffy (now departed too) I would encounter these little dots of sunshine. Thay’s words would echo forth as the darkness of my grief slowly began to lift with time. I painted this as a reminder to myself of the darkness and the light; the grief, the depression, and the non-depression that eventually emerged.