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
“I stood in this sunsheltered place
‘Til I could see the face behind the face” – Peter Gabriel, ‘Secret World’
“To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others. To remember the other world in this world is to live in your true inheritance.” – David Whyte, ‘What to Remember When Waking’
Clarissa Pinkola Estes discusses in her ‘Mother Night‘ series that as we are opaque objects, when a bright light is shone we cast a shadow. The darkest part of that shadow is the umbra. The popular notion of the shadow in psychological terms is that it is a part of ourselves that we do not want to look at, what we want to hide from ourselves and want to hide from others. CPE opens up that idea to suggest that the umbra in each of us holds our deepest secret, a secret gift that our collective culture does not recognize. Many who carry the wounds of being over acculturated, may not be able to see beyond the veneer of what they, or our modern commerce culture think their lives are supposed to look like. The challenge might be to see what gift(s) may be hidden from ourselves; or if not hidden, perhaps abandoned or ignored as not a valid part of who we think we are in this world.
I think there is a secret world within each of us, perhaps part of our subconscious, perhaps accessible through a private language, perhaps no language at all. Jay Griffiths explores the idea of what children experience during “unscheduled, timeless, unstructured play in make-believe worlds. During this imaginative play, children talk to themselves in what psychologists call “private speech,” planning and thinking aloud, practicing self-regulation, controlling their emotions and behavior. This is not just a matter of “good behavior” but of autonomous thinking, the thought of artists, creators, and politically independent adults thinking for themselves, uncontrolled.”
Jill Bolte Taylor‘s experience of expansiveness after losing her ability to use and understand language when she had a stroke points to what may lie beyond our ordinary cognitive ability to perceive the world within and around us. Allyson Grey‘s secret writing, “symbolizes all communication and creativity — the unutterable truth beyond language that is pointed to by sacred text. Secret writing… represents a language beyond literal interpretation, a language so universal that it cannot be translated.”
All of this points to something hidden in each of us, deeper than what we have been programmed by our culture to perceive. This secret world is what I want to celebrate and encourage – in myself and anyone who cares to join me