Having been recently reminded of the recordings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes (C.P.E. for short) with Sounds True (thanks symbolreader and dreamrly), I began revisiting the first part of her Mother Night series, called Walking in Two Worlds. She spends this episode discussing, what Toni Wolff called, the medial nature – the ability to walk in two worlds, to see and draw sustenance from the hidden world, the world of the soul or psyche and to navigate through one’s contemporary life with the hidden world close at hand.
She reviews several mythological tales and personalities, drawing our attention to their significance as a reality that exists within each of us – as aspects of our own medial nature. One such character is Tiresias, the blind hermaphroditic seer found in Greek Mythology. She describes Tiresias as one who though blind has the ability to ‘see’, and whose gift is a way of cutting through BS and getting to the heart of the matter. This is a crucial aspect within us, she says – a part of ourselves that will not mince words even though our heart or our sense of the future may be blinded to the truth. The fact that Tiresias is both male and female, C.P.E. says, also can open up our ability to see beyond gender, to observe others without judgement, to step into another’s shoes with understanding and compassion – to see beyond all of our differences – gender, race, culture, etc.
She suggests using ‘practices’ as a way of strengthening our connection with these aspects of our medial nature. While not defining what form a practice can take, she does offer some guidelines. By practice she is not referring to a repetitious way of learning a new skill or habit. Rather she uses the Spanish word ‘declamaciones’, which she defines as a way to sing or to speak aloud in order to remain close to or to remember something. Here the relationship to stay close to is this feeling of the sacred within. She also suggests that this practice is not the repetition of a phrase like a mantra in order to arrive at a calm center. Rather it is having the intent to find yourself in the center of fire and excitement. A characteristic of the medial nature she says is one of fire, charisma, passion – what excites the soul.
A blind seer who can be either male or female, is but one aspect of the medial nature within each of us. Tiresias’ story as one who can see beyond appearances is a healthy reminder to me as I tend too easily to get lost in the day to day illusion that I am only who I appear to be in the mirror. The ubiquitous influence of the dominant culture would have us all become cookie-cutter identities diminishing our ability to live in two worlds, or at least forgetting that we are able to do so and in fact must do so if we are to live as an alternate culture in one that is dead and dying. C.P.E.’s Mother Night series is a great tool to discover or be reacquainted with that deeper mystery of who we really are. I’m grateful to be listening to this series again.
If you want to hear more about the Mother Night series – Myths, Stories, and Teachings for Learning to See in the Dark, it is available through Sounds True.
“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