Saturday, February 6, 2016

That DAMN PILLAR OF SALT.... February 5, 2016

This is what can happen when I take a four mile walk. Things come to mind. This is a nearly 72 year old man, with barely a foot in the outside world, reflecting. Most people who search for truth  likely  have experienced in their past 'holding in their hand' what  they  trusted was the 'pearl of great price'. It may have been our church , or the Bible or a personal relationship. It seemed near perfect. But as we further experienced it that pearl showed its serious flaw. At some point we may have recognized it was even dangerous in some ways  to our well being. We may have become aware that we had projected onto that 'pearl' what we needed it to be rather than seeing it objectively for what it really was. In the case of the church we may have, with very solid reasons, left it trusting we would find something better. The more we had invested and trusted it as the true pearl the more we are tempted to 'look back', as if to assure our self we did not 'sell our inheritance for a mess of pottage.' We may question that if we were on the right track why more people did not do the same as we did, but most didn't. This is the scenario of Lot being warned to 'not look back' at his home town, but to only look forward. But Lot's wife did look back. So we may be tempted to use energy looking back to our broken pearl but the result can be to become a pillar of salt?

But should that happen to us that is not our ending. There is much symbolic value in salt. Maybe this is the work of being the 'salt of the earth', that which keeps every one from going off on a totally separate way and leaving behind no form or structure for a culture or community to even exist. So we should not condemn the pillar of salt but still, if given a choice, it is not likely what we would choose for our self. We'd like to find a way to not be somewhat still mesmerized by what we once were so sure was our 'pearl of great price.' So our prayer and longing can intentionally become to keep 'following' the new path we have set out on and not be looking over our shoulder at what is happening in that place so formative and important in our past.

You can see how this same dynamic can happen with respect to a personal love relationship. What seems to be the perfect person in time shows his/her fuller humanity. One finally may see that again she has projected onto that person, whose hand they hold or with whom one has related at a much more personal level, one's inner dream that no mortal could live up to. One may then intentionally rearrange their expectations and allow this very much fantasized relationship become a real one where practical love becomes a trustworthy cement for the long haul of human partnership. The dissonance though  may be so great that one realizes it would not be wise to continue in this relationship for either person's long range well being. So one departs with  sadness but may ,like with the church, be tempted to look back, to second guess their previous decision and consider returning.

But there is even a more complicated situation the path of the searcher may lead to. This also is spoken of in sacred story, ancient myth, and contemporary novel and film. What if one actually did come to hold in their hand their 'pearl of great price'. That is the longer they lived with it the more true and bright and not disappointing it became. This person, as it were, held the pearl in their hand, touched it , smelled it, tasted it but before they could eat it , chew it up and internalize it the pearl was snatched away by nature, leaving one separated from what they intuit they can never find a replacement or equal. Now what does this person do? Do they intentionally not 'look back' to their momentary yet solid and full experience of the 'pearl of great price'? There are three aspects that I think that person would be most wise and true to consider: 1)They definitely should not repress that mountain top experience as if it never happened. It may be easier and less suffering to repress it, to convince themselves it did not have the value they had assigned to it. That it  like the first scenario,  was  'only' a projection and something more 'realistic' and fulfilling  will be  found by moving forward. So that is something such a  person should not do but which  will likely be their greatest temptation and the conventional advise, "Get over it."  2) This person must , while treasuring that past experience, which they intuit will never be  equaled or excelled, find the will to nevertheless move on to the future, step by step, following the flow of life. This, even if it seems only a surface path and does not have near the brightness that was experienced in the presence of the 'valued pearl' which  is only now kept alive by memory. 3) They can intentionally take this uneasy path forward 'hoping against hope' that in some different form or way  history might repeat itself , at least in this one incidence. But second time arounds can never be demanded by the mortal. There was only one transfiguration experience. This  situation has always been the province of the gods or of what Christians call providence, God's will or maybe fate.

I think there are many historical persons whose lives have left some record that they found themselves in the psychological/spiritual situation I have tried to describe just above. And it was only after experiencing their 'pearl of great price' and being separated from it that their creative work came out of them. It was only during the suffering of the separation from their treasure find  or their vision of the 'pearl' that whatever opus they actually brought to their peers or to humanity quite naturally 'came out of them'. It is a creativity like  that of  giving birth after a long hard labor.  It potentially  is the birth of a 'new creation.' Only out of their completely unplanned  grieving separation, after which they nevertheless kept moving forward with an irrational hope in tension with their treasured  'pearl' experience, did their naturally occurring sacrifice bring  an outward creative manifestation. I recall the phrase  regarding Jesus that , 'it was for the joy set before him' that he , with grace and meaning, 'endured the cross despising the shame.'   Jesus and others who, after finding their pearl of great price,  unwittingly found themselves sacrificing, in their mortal life,  their highest joy by living without it. This was not something which  developed directly  out of any conscious plan or  their will to do any great thing for humanity, but simply the natural living out consciously ones strongest longings for that which they had personally found  of greater value  than anything they would have ever imagined stumbling upon. It was , 'like a man plowing in a field, who came upon a treasure. He straightway went and purchased the whole field  so that he might secure the treasure for himself.'

I will offer one  more historical example of this that was made more clear to me in an 'active imagination' process. Active Imagination is a very natural kind of technique that Jung discovered partially  by reading the Christian mystics  and which he believed helped a person to , as it were, to make  intentional contact with the Collective Unconscious. Active Imagination is more direct and can gain faster results  than is experienced waiting for dreams to bring such information. In it one is encouraged to  speak directly to any characters that appear in the fantasy as if they are fully real.  And to accept the spontaneous responses that come in any conversation that develops. Obviously, from our Western perspective,  one can feel quite foolish in their first attempts at this.

Active Imagination Dante Alighieri March 30, 2014

My first time to sit by my pond this spring began with me taking the trip to the 'depths' through imagining dropping into the earth to the bottom of the pond. I arrived quickly at the familiar now  dimly lit vaulted cavern with eight doors equally spaced around the circumference. All of this is the same as many of my Active Imaginations. This time I went here specifically hoping for an encounter with Dante. I was not disappointed. Immediately he appeared in the center where I was seated on a green stone chair. He wore a black  hooded robe typical of the Medieval  poets. His thin tall torso and sharp facial features were like I have imagined and seen in paintings and sculpture. He spoke in deep tones from a face that was welcoming and serious. He greeted me:
Dante In Paradise

D: Hello Jim Hibbett. I have been aware that you have considered conversing with me for some time. I am glad. How did I get your attention?
J: In Florence, Italy January 4 I heard you mentioned often and was quite taken by the statue of you in front of the The Sacred Cross Church. Since then I have become aware that much of your work comes out of your interest in love and perhaps seeing that human love had not reached its potential in your day in a way that was a common experience of people. That remains a disposition I carry, so I was drawn to hearing more of your story and of your work that I might better grasp what it may mean today to help love become more conscious and more highly developed among us humans.
D: I hear you and am interested. Please go with me to a more comfortable place.
He then led me through one of the arched doorways. I noticed engraved around the stone arch four words for love-the Greek Agape, Eros, Phileo and Caritas a Latin word for love. We then entered a bright ornate room that looked much like an Italian church side area, but with nothing that marked it particularly Christian. It could as easily have been a Roman temple room. He invited me to sit down on a comfortable couch at one end and, taking off his hood, he sat at the other end only a few feet away.

J: Before we venture into this I'd like to say how profoundly I feel connected with the array of love words on your entrance door. Do you think many words are needed to reach a fuller understanding of the deepest nature of love? Also I feel a need to confess that I am a far more common person regarding intellectual and aesthetic capacities compared to you. Yet this question and theme of love I so strongly identify with.
D: Yes. Love, because it is of the most importance also has the deepest meaning of all ideas or experiences. You do not need to apologize for your place in the world. When a person becomes a well known intellect and contributor to the common interests like happened with me, they are seen as distant and different than ordinary. This keeps their work from seeming applicable in practical ways to the average person. So I am glad for you that all your life has been lived on the more common path for your life's setting.
J: Thank you for that reassurance.
D: Now, how do you wish to start our talk? If you go a direction that I do not think is time well spent I will tell you.
J: Then I will ask, did you find that love for woman, or a woman, was at the heart of your discovering whatever is most important about love and life?
D: You have begun at the right place I can see. I may say at the start my love experience of Beatrice Portinari was my life time obsession. Without that reality at my center I am very sure you would have never heard of me. My family decreed when I was twelve years old that I would marry Gemma Donati which I did when I was twenty years old. But, as much as I would wish it, married love was never the high and soul capturing experience that my love for Beatrice remained from the time I met her when I was ten years old and she was two years younger. I only saw her a few brief times in my life and knew she tragically died when she was twenty four years old.
J: In your day was it somewhat scandalous for a married Christian man to carry such a love for a woman who was married to another man? Was this a problem for you?
D: I was lost at finding a way to justify the reality in my heart. I knew profoundly that the caring love and appreciation I had for my wife and the inspirational , spiritual love that obsessed me regarding Beatrice were two different kinds and experiences of love. I considered pursuing, with its likely tragic consequences for everyone, Beatrice in an open way. But something deep within, I must say a voice of God, declared that my love for her was not to ever be a part of my outer life, but was to be the central inspiration of my life, my passion and my writing. And this is how it was?
J: This sounds like a very sad love story Mr. Alighieri?
D: I know. It is sad but I think also the kind of spiritual situation that results in a man reaching places of a spiritual nature deep within himself. And out of that to be able to offer back to God and to culture gifts that would have never been born without such suffering love. I know the 'Divine Comedy' would have never happened from me if it were not for the passionate love I unashamedly carried for Beatrice. She was the center of the inspiration from which all that I expressed poetically came. When I wrote I knew without question that it was 'she' who guided my words and who brought the strong emotions and images to my heart. I still cannot explain nor do I understand this horrible yet divine mystery of love. I thank you for this opportunity for a dead man to try to express these things to the living.
J: I am very honored. Did you keep a strong connection with your wife Gemma all your life?
D: She and my children were as important to me as wife and children were to any man I knew. When in exile for nearly twenty years my wife and children remained in Florence. I kept in written touch with her to the extent possible with the help of friends. I did the same with my children. She died there and my children eventually joined me in Ravena where they were near me and a great comfort the last years of my life. My daughter was named Beatrice at my request. This is all I can say. I am a strong supporter of marriage as a way for a very important kind of love to exist and in which for children to be raised. But, often to my dismay but to my surest knowledge, a typical married life was not to be mine as one who carried this kind of inspirational spiritual love for another woman. I can't say more about this that would make it more understandable, even to myself.
J: Did you live with a sense that you really knew Beatrice Portinari since your personal communications with here were so sparse?
D: At the time I was living I don't think I was conscious of what you are asking. Since then I have continued to try to understand this. Such occasional communications with the living like this have helped me. I think I would now have to say that the Beatrice figure that inspired me had to be a personality that was contained within me and not in actuality the human Beatrice whom I hardly knew. That is hard to my pride and sad for me to acknowledge but I can see that it must be more the truth. I can only assure you that the inner world love I experienced with her was all these engraved words and more. It was the faithfulness of Agape, the caring of Caritas, the warm friendship of Phileo and the incomparable ecstasy of Eros all alive at the same time and consistently over a life time. I question how often such a level of love has been yet so fully experienced in human life like it was in my heart of hearts. I ask continually of the dead here if they have had such an experience.
J: Mr Alighieri, I think that such spiritual dynamics of our inner lives are beginning to be more understood in present times than they could have ever been in your day. You seem to have learned so much about yourself in the kind of insight you have just stated. One last question: Can you imagine the day in human history when the kind of inner love life you experienced with Beatrice could become the outer love life experienced in marriage with a real life woman? That a man might see in the real woman in his life the 'goddess image'(and she the 'god' in him) you experienced with an inner woman? And that they still both relate mutually and equally attending to the details of a normal outer life together?
D: What a wonderful vision for humanity, leading to nothing less than the 'love of the world' which our Lord is said to have had. To love and be loved in that full way I can only say would create humans who had a compassion and appreciation for all other people and all things and would make it 'on earth as it must be in heaven.' I can envision nothing grander for humanity than that.
J: Thank you very much for this conversation Mr. Alighieri.
D: Thank you for coming Jim. I'm glad you feel you have interest in and something in common with what my life was all about.

Dante stood up and warmly said, “ Jim Hibbett. I wish you well in the mysteries of love and life. Buonasera” . With that it became pitch dark , he was gone and I was instantly again sitting by the pond.

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