(Bjork performing Meredith Monk’s ‘Gotham Lullaby’)
On the Pacifica Institute tribute page to James Hillman it describes Hillman as one whose
following includes an eclectic group of painters, poets, actors, dancers, filmmakers, philosophers, musicians, magicians, scholars, activists, and athletes. The composer Meredith Monk says: “As artists we’re bringing to life the invisible, and so are always working with something that’s nameless. I think that’s what James Hillman is also mining from.”
(Photo by Jesse Frohman)
This is Meredith Monk. As an artist her website describes her as someone who
creates works that thrive at the intersection of music and movement, image and object, light and sound in an effort to discover and weave together new modes of perception. Her groundbreaking exploration of the voice as an instrument, as an eloquent language in and of itself, expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which there are no words.
In an interview with Krista Tippett, she explains what she is trying to accomplish
“See, for me, well, there are the wonderful songsmiths and wonderful people that do put words and music together in such a beautiful way. You know, it is very enlightening to hear that music, but for me, the words get in the way, actually, of the heart-to-heart kind of expression that allows for each person to hear it and hook into their minds and hook into their hearts and hook into their memory”
“I think emotion or feeling, you know, we have so many more shades of feelings that we can’t label. And I guess ultimately as an artist I’m so interested in uncovering the invisible and uncovering, you know, the mysterious and uncovering, what would I say, [is] the inexplicable. So the things that we actually can’t label, that’s the kind of mentality.”
She describes how she came to collaborate with another artist to create ‘Songs of Ascension’, an attempt to combine music and space as a setting for worship. It took place in a 78ft tower with dual spiraling staircases.
“I think for many years, I’ve been trying to think how do I really keep on affirming that my Buddhist practice or meditation practice and my art practice are actually one? There’s no difference at all. There was a certain point — it was the early ’90s — that I did a piece called Facing North, which was very inspired by being up at Banff, Canada, and the silence in the snow and, you know, just this incredible environment. And I was very aware that I was making a very meditative piece and that it was like making a piece about sacred space. So that was, you know, what I was aware of at that point.
But when I started working on Mercy and I was collaborating with a wonderful visual artist, Ann Hamilton, we did a lot of talking about this, I started becoming aware of the fact that actually I wanted to spend the rest of my life working on pieces that I — it was basically making pieces about something you can’t make pieces about. So there was never going to be like a definitive statement about anything, but it was much more that the act of making artwork was also the act of contemplating something. So Mercy was the first, second one was Impermanence, and then the latest piece that I’ve been working on with this way of thinking about things is called Songs of Ascension.”
Impermanence is another important theme for Monk
“I lost my partner of 22 years, so that was a very — in a sense, that was the biggest wake-up call that I ever had in my life up to that point and probably from that point on because I think that, when you have that kind of loss, nothing can ever be the same. It was a blessing. I also saw the blessing, not the blessing of the loss, but the blessing of being part of life and the blessing of being aware of the billions of people that go through loss all the time.
So what happened that was really interesting was that, about two months after she died, I got an email from a group in England. They called themselves Rosetta Life. What they do is they go into the different hospices in England and they work with the people that have had the diagnosis of terminal illness and they say, “Well, is there any kind of artwork that you would like to do? You know, would you like to write a poem about your process or about anything? Would you like to make some music?” Then they’ll get an artist to go in and help them. So if somebody wants to make a painting, but they’ve never painted in their lives, but they feel that that’s the way they’re going to express this process, somebody comes in and helps them. A painter comes in and helps them to make a work.”
She worked with the hospice patients to try to create a music project for them to participate in.
“So what I ended up coming up with was that the piece began with hearing them sing a melody called “Mieke’s Melody #5,” which was a melody that my partner — she used to like to just improvise in the studio even though she was not a singer. And I happened to come upon a tape of some of these improvisations. So what I did was I notated one of them and then I actually changed it a little bit and, you know, made it more into a form and added some of my own phrases. So it was a little bit like a collaboration through time and space.
So I wrote out the melody because they said, “Oh, we love to sing.” So I wrote the melody out for them and then they sang it, but they couldn’t really carry a tune that well. But each of them sang it, so the melody goes like [singing]. You know, that was the melody and then they’d be like [singing], so each of them had a different way of doing it. So when the audience came in, they heard their voices and then I had a film of just their faces just looking straight out at the camera very, very, very close.
And so when they came to see it, the ones that were still alive by the time we did Impermanence, it just meant so much to them and then also their families for the ones that had passed before we ended up doing the piece. It meant so much to them.”
(The melody starts at the 90 second mark)
“I think that making art is actually about questions and that you never take anything for granted and you’re in this slightly dangerous situation, which I think is really good. Then I always say that I’m scared to death and I think, you know, what we learn in Buddhist practices to tolerate the unknown, you know, because that’s reality. The reality is that we don’t know anything, and we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the next moment. So you learn to tolerate that discomfort of not knowing and fear. I mean, I really — I think, every time, I’m just terrified. I’m actually terrified. I realize this even now working on this piece.”
A presentation by Craig Chalquist entitled – Conscious Apocalypse, Outliving Our Ruling Institutions.
Dr Chalquist explores what it means to live in the archetype of the apocalypse and how to do so with what he calls more consciousness.
He reviews the current collapse of governmental, religious and financial institutions along with the catastrophic disruption of the cycles of the natural world; the experiences of apocalyptic events in past history, the unique phases that historically emerge, and the reasons why they occur. All of which now leads to a systemic breakdown of all structures at all levels and the choice to then find a way to re-align with the new post-apocalyptic time and place or the choice to die with the old way that has passed.
Dr Chalquist then touches on the images of renewal, the images and stories of a new mythology, what it means to let go of old institutions, and how to embrace the voices of the disenfranchised who were excluded from the vanishing culture.
If we can make it to that phase, then, as he quotes from Linda Buzzell, “The redesign of every sector of society to be compatible with the rest of nature and nature’s laws is the Great Work of our era.”
Chalquist ends his presentation with a quote from Jung’s Red Book, from Philemon’s Prophecy
“The earth became green and fruitful again from the blood of the sacrifice, flowers sprouted, the waves crashed into the sand, a silver cloud lies at the foot of the mountain…The stones speak and the grass whispers.”
(H/T Carolyn Baker)
(All photos by Paul Caponigro)
“I think the first step is the realization that each of us has [a calling]. And then we must look back over our lives and look at some of the accidents and curiosities and oddities and troubles and sicknesses and begin to see more in those things than we saw before. It raises questions, so that when peculiar little accidents happen, you ask whether there is something else at work in your life. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve an out-of-body experience during surgery, or the sort of high-level magic that the new age hopes to press on us. It’s more a sensitivity, such as a person living in a tribal culture would have: the concept that there are other forces at work. A more reverential way of living.” – James Hillman
Hillman in The Soul’s Code fleshes out the idea of the acorn theory or acorn myth. This is the idea that each of us has within us the kernel of a calling, a gift, a way of being that grows into maturity much like an acorn grows into an oak. It is an effort to explain what drives each of us to live the lives we feel compelled to live beyond the deterministic boundaries of genetics or social conditioning. In his book he gives examples of how this can be seen in the lives of several well known public figures like Judy Garland or Martin Scorcese.
Paul Caponigro, who would become an accomplished musician and photographer, as a child began to exhibit clues as to what this ‘calling’ would look like for him. Caponigro – “My father’s brother was a pianist. And so when we went to visit the relatives, I could not wait until Dad brought us to Uncle Jimmy’s. And he’d open the door and greet us, and I would run right through his legs – I was quite small – and sit at the piano, knowing he would play eventually. And so I’d wait until he played. I couldn’t wait to hear it, you know, because the piano meant something. This is age 3, 4, 5, thereabouts. I knew there was something in the piano for me.”
Sometimes a mentor appears, as in the story of the Hero’s Journey, to help guide or to give one tools so that you will succeed on your mission. Sometimes this mentor is a parent. Many times it is a teacher, as Hillman recounts in the lives of James Baldwin or Truman Capote. Caponigro remembers one man who noticed his latent talent. Regarding his parents,”They were very hard-working peasant types. And it was more [of] keeping a family together and making a living. There wasn’t enough time and space for them to look a little bit deeper, you know. It just was a major outer structure they were trying to keep together. And they did a fabulous job. They took care of us. They gave us love. They gave us a house to live in. You know, I mean, they really did well. But the subtler things of seeing a little deeper, that was seen by Arthur Gavin, who lived across the street with the principal of the high school. They eventually married. He was the art director for that city, the city of Revere. And he caught on that there was something going on with me. And he would feed me paper and colored crayons and pencils and inks and, you know, tell me to have a good time. And he’d do it in front of my mother, who didn’t understand what was going on, wouldn’t have seen that I had an artistic nature, and that it was supposed to have an outlet. So he caught on that there was something going on, and he tried to help my artistic nature.”
This inner calling can sometimes be so strong that it can filter out other responsibilities. What society deems successful can, to this calling, be seen as a failure (or vice versa), or at the least a major conflict. Caponigro – “I was poking around the photo supply stores, and I’d look in the shop windows. I’d go in and just look at things…in those early years, I was not interested in school. I did not want to do the work…I…could not wait for the bell to ring to dismiss us, and I would head out, not go home but go straight to the ocean, which was very close by, or the woods, and hang out there and listen to the birds and watch the waves come in and pick up shells. At an early age, I realized nature was my teacher. I didn’t want all the reading and arithmetic. I couldn’t give it my interest. So nature was really my teacher all through school, up to must have been the eighth grade. At which point I remember coming back from one of my forays to the sea – – – I remember coming back from being in nature, picking up some shells, get some stones. And I was passing right through the school yard where I was going to school, on the football field. And I was stopped dead with a realization: I had to get a camera and photograph this stuff that I see out there in nature…”
Caponigro discovered that his emotional reaction to certain kinds of music or to what he saw in nature was going to be his guide. “[It is] as if the cosmos itself arranged that I would not be a good student in school…in order that the emotional realm that I worked with would flourish and develop…I saw it as a gift that I did not do well in school… in that the excessive intellectual activity subdued my emotional activity. I saw that my emotional activity could get fed and would function quite easily, and was very perceptive that my emotions would do the perceiving. When that happened and I got information, I always felt confident about what that information was…”
At one point he became aware of who he was and what he wanted to do. “In the same way that I got this burst that said, get a camera and photograph what you’re seeing and what you’re working with…In the same way – it was at the age of 11 or thereabouts – I was walking the streets alone. Came from the center of town to go home. And I remember exactly the corner that I turned to get up the street. And again, this burst of something came in and said, oh, my God. I’m an artist. I recognized that I was an artist. And I had a double kind of whammy which said, what a wonderful thing and what a responsibility, the two of them simultaneously. I go, wow. What am I going to do with this? I’m an artist.”
So the choice becomes a question of what is this life going to look like. How does one honor the gift one has been given. How do you stay true to the calling. Caponigro – “So it didn’t take too long for me to realize, no. You know, I don’t want to go through what these concert pianists go through. Sure, I’d love to play at Carnegie Hall, and I’d love to thrill a big audience, and that would all be great. And to this day, I could still think of doing that. But I realized that that turning of the corner when I was 11 years old and saying, my God, I’m an artist, and the other half that said, it’s a responsibility, not merely a joy, and that part really was connected to the idea that art was a sacred act. It wasn’t until I had studied more and more of the Egyptian art and early ancient works in the museums, and certain of the modern pieces that you could tell were permeated with a man’s soul and real being – it wasn’t until then that I thought, my God, yes. This is – this could be a man’s religion. It did not have to be the organized religion of those structures and burning candles and incense and the rituals and the ceremonies. This could be a path to sacred experience.”
“I think we’re miserable partly because we have only one god, and that’s economics. Economics is a slave-driver. No one has free time; no one has any leisure. The whole culture is under terrible pressure and fraught with worry. It’s hard to get out of that box. That’s the dominant situation all over the world.” – James Hillman in response to this question – – – “Goethe…remarked that our greatest happiness lies in practicing a talent that we were meant to use. Are we so miserable, as a culture, because we’re dissociated from our inborn talents, our soul’s code?”
“We have a seeded self that begins to germinate at birth. Our true goal in life is to become that self.
There’s an African proverb: “When death finds you, may it find you alive.” Alive means living your own damn life, not the life that your parents wanted, or the life some cultural group or political party wanted, but the life that your own soul wants to live. That’s the way to evaluate whether you are an authentic person or not.
Spirit in mythology and traditional cosmology is connected to fire and air, and it rises. Soul is connected to water and earth, and it descends. When we rise with spirit, we get peak experiences and those overviews of life that include moments of freedom. Soul goes the opposite way. Water runs down. The earth has gravity and pulls us to it. The soul wants us to grow down and become deep like a river. When people talk about “connection,” they’re really talking about soul. The real connections are not surface connections. You can have many friends on Facebook, but your real friends are those who know and support your deep self and will remind you when you’re losing touch with your own soul.
What is often missing in modern mass culture is this depth of connection. When you see a culture dividing into simplistic polarities — which is all of our politics nowadays and most of our religion — what’s going on is a loss of soul. People who are in touch with their soul know what they’re supposed to be doing in the world and what their way of contributing to life is, in the same way that people know what music they love and what food they enjoy — not just life-sustaining food, but food that has flavor, that makes you feel nourished, even inspired.
The U.S. has become mired in spiritual materialism. People are substituting material accomplishments or possessions for the things the soul loves, such as music and meaningful speech. The soul even loves suffering when the suffering produces realization. In a mass effort to find superficial comforts and avoid suffering, the whole culture has lost soul.” – Michael Meade
A year before Picasso died, he painted this self-portrait called The Young Painter. It could be said that it was a memorial to his earliest beginnings as a painter. The psychologist James Hillman had a different idea. He described this painting as the portrait of Picasso’s daimon, the ever-present force that guided him his entire life. His notion of this daimon is that it haunted and inhabited Picasso’s life and then revealed itself finally to him before he died; that this was the impetus behind his prolific artistic output. Hillman’s idea of the myth of the daimon is that it is like an acorn that one is born with and as your life unfolds, the acorn spreads its branches as it matures with you into a mighty oak. He actually referred to this painting as the acorn painted by the oak. Whether one believes this literally or as just a metaphor, it is a way of looking at your life with an acknowledgement that perhaps certain talents cannot be accounted for just by the nature/nurture argument that you are a product of either your genetic history and/or your environment growing up as a child. It is the subject of his, ‘The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling‘ and the idea of the daimon as a driving force in your life is something we will explore more in future posts.