I’ve borrowed the title of this post from the recent annual conference of the Guild of Pastoral Psychology. It was a title that grabbed me.
I was very excited when I spotted the topic over a year ago – it brought together two of my great interests – Jung and yoga. The main speaker, Charles Zeltzer, is a Jungian analyst hailing from my home town Los Angeles, and he was due to speak on ‘Kundalini yoga, alchemical symbolism and individuation’ – again all subjects of interest for me. Also planned was a ‘social dreaming matrix’ led by Amelie Noack and as dream analysis is yet another interest of mine – well, it seemed this conference must have been made for me!
Many months passed between signing up and the actual conference – with some temptations in the middle, including an invitation to the folk festival at Tonder, Denmark which I had to turn down. So, perhaps not surprisingly, I arrived with high hopes and great expectations. What follows is not a report on the content of the conference or even the experience itself – it was highly complex and a lot of it quite abstract, and I don’t presume to have understood it all. My mind was in another state by the end and I don’t think I was alone in that. Standing outside the dining hall awaiting the last supper, I asked another attendee where he was travelling to that night and he answered Norway when in fact he meant Nottingham! Many of us felt a little like that by the end.
I just want to capture a few impressions that might trigger or spark thoughts for some of you.
The social dream matrix was fascinating. The idea is that sharing dreams and associations in a group, without going into personal interpretations, may have echoes and resonances for the group and gathering as a whole. Each morning at 7.30 we gathered and sat in a spiral and shared our dreams. I had two quite personally evocative dreams during the conference, and it seemed that the themes did bounce back and reverberate and resonate – rather like light particles in quantum physics (as I understand it as a non-scientist – another theme that came up during the conference). On the second day we found our dreams were full of blocks and obstructions – there seemed to be a block to the energy expressing itself, as if some of the chakras (as those of you who are familiar with Kundalini yoga will appreciate) were obstructed.
The message that came out for me on reflection was that perhaps we could not get to our dreams, or the meanings in them, because the conference as a whole was not yet addressing its theme captured in its name, ‘the wisdom of the body’. To paraphrase, Jung said that Westerners are too much in their heads and must rediscover their bodies, they are not sufficiently grounded. The conference felt like it needed to make a step on that journey as it was, up until the middle of the second day (excepting the belly dancing and clowning session on Saturday evening which was great fun!), very much in its head. It was Charles Zeltzer’s courageous second talk which helped us to break through to a different space.
Charles calls dreams the asanas (Sanskrit word for postures) of the psyche. For me, that was a hugely evocative phrase. Though it might have been offered as a passing or even throw-away description, in the context of his densely packed material, for me it has been one of the most resonant phrases from the weekend.
In yoga, asanas are postures to which we return time and again. Every time you revisit an asana you experience it differently, and different awareness and consciousness arises. A sequence of postures is a vinyasa. Experiencing a vinyasa is different from experiencing a single posture, as you are much more aware of the transitions and spaces in between the postures.
A dream can be a single image which lingers in the mind – for example, a padlocked gate, a car tumbling off a cliff, cupped hands holding liquid soap, a pile of beautifully textiled fabrics. Equally a dream can be a vinyasa, a sequence of images which are linked even if not always obviously or logically. Even when our dreams are filled with different images, there are themes to which we may find we return again and again, repeating the vinyasa. And of course some people have the same dreams over and over, through repetition hoping to unlock some meaning perhaps, the unconscious seeking expression.
What emerged for me from the weekend was a deepened appreciation of the need to bring the psyche and the body into a vinyasa – an interactive, interdependent (if not always logical) sequence which we might call spiritual living. It is hard to put this kind of understanding into words.
Both body and mind practices need to be there as equal partners in the development of the Self, and one is not more important than the other. The challenge of having them there as equal partners is huge. Depending on our personalities we will gravitate to one more than the other, thereby compromising the equality in the relationship. This was reinforced for me over the weekend and particularly through the impromptu yoga class I taught where I endeavoured to translate Charles’ ideas and references into a physical experience of the chakras.
There is a hierarchy in our society where for many of us, the mind is seen to be on a higher plane than the body. Certainly I was brought up in a household with this belief. For others who have learned to worship the body, the body is placed above the mind, and sometimes in a mindless way or even a bodiless way when it becomes more about image than the body itself! (I experience this regularly at my local leisure centre.) We need to learn to inhabit both our bodies and our minds, and in so doing we may approach our spirit. Our bodies hold awareness and understanding that cannot be captured mentally or intellectually but that links deeply with our emotions and our sense of identity. Learning to not always strive to put an intellectual construct around the body is a hard lesson for those of us cerebral types.
I remember when I started to practise yoga and I began to notice things about my body – for instance, that the left and right legs didn’t bear weight in the same way – I would often ask teachers ‘why?’ Some of them would visibly get quite annoyed with me, others would sidestep the question, while still others would give me a technical, anatomical answer that actually didn’t take my understanding any further other than in my head. Over time I have gradually learned that ‘why?’ is not always the supreme question I have been brought up to believe it is. Instead, the explorations that come out of ‘how about….?’ or ‘I wonder if….’ can yield far better grounding and understanding, and a sense of being able to make a next step.
The body is a door into our unconscious. The way we orient ourselves in the world – simple movements such as how we stand up from a chair or how we sit, how we walk – all of these speak about who we are. But so often we make these movements automatically. If we turn our attention to these simple movements – which for me is a core part of yoga practice – then we bring that of which we are unconscious into the light, and this in turn gives us insights into who we are and how we are in the world.
James Kirsch said ‘The goal is to make a conscious decision to live unconsciously’ – the meaning of this statement continues to perplex me despite Charles explaining that he is acknowledging the need to give the unconscious a space in life. I think the call is for us to do this not just through intellectual reflection but also through physical exploration. The two must go hand in hand.