A Shift in Context

Sansaku: A Shift in Context


Robert Johnson used the myth of Psyche and Eros for his book on feminine psychology, which he called She. I just pulled it off the shelf and turned to the image I was writing about yesterday.

“It has been said that Psyche is the first mortal who ever looked at a god in his true splendor and lived to tell the tale. This is the heart of our story; a mortal fell in love with a god and stayed true to her humanity and faithful to her love. The sublime ending of the story is a direct result of Psyche being true to herself and to her love.”

Most of us, when we first fell under the spell of deep erotic love and had our initiatory experience in bed world, saw the god or goddess in his or her splendor. I know I did, and it changed me forever.

We’d hitched to our friend’s house in Colorado Springs. She lived on Cheyenne Mountain above the Broadmoor.   Her last name was Lovejoy, no shit, and I thought it a very good omen.

I saw the goddess that night, and vowed to serve her. But I didn’t know much about the archetypal realm or love. I had no idea the goddess wasn’t the woman, which is what got Psyche in trouble in the first place. People were worshipping her and not Aphrodite.

The gods are jealous gods, ask Yahweh, and never underestimate a goddess. She puts Psyche to the test. “Do you really love? We’ll see.” This is when the work on consciousness begins.   And what takes pages in a sacred story, takes lifetimes in mundane reality.

Psychology has long struggled with the seeming stability of personality traits and behavior, which can prove highly resistant to change; and, the sudden shifts and definitive changes that come with slightly different contexts.

The girls at Timberline used to complain about their boyfriends. “When we’re alone in bed world, he’s completely loving. But get him around his friends, and he’s a total asshole. What’s that about?”

Bed is one of those contexts that makes a difference, and so is a herd of adolescent males. And if something is context sensitive, even the smallest of changes can result in a completely different set of behaviors. It’s one of the secrets most therapists learn early in their careers.

And I’m about to make a change in context.

I’ve been writing a story about love and consciousness for years. It has a very different context, and I’ve never taken the time to weave it together. It’s scattered sansaku style in notebooks and journals.

One of the tasks Psyche is asked to perform, and there are four of them, is to sort and separate a chaotic pile of seeds. She’s given a day to do this. It’s obviously symbolic and seeds are one of those big-time symbols.  So is sorting, selecting, and separating. We must choose.

And I have a big pile of words, sentences, and pages I need to sort through and separate. So far, I’ve only thrown them on the compost pile. It’s time to spade them into earth and sees what grows. That’s how I’ll sort and separate them.

It begins with a place and the very first vision I had. There are two sensuous hills, twin buttes, and from a distance they look much larger than they are.   Most people are disappointed and speed on past, hardly slowing to notice the girl.

















Psyche Comes to Consciousness

Sansaku: Psyche Comes to Consciousness


One of the most famous images in Greek mythology is the one where Psyche leans over her sleeping lover, Eros, and finally comes to consciousness. She’s holding a light, a candle, in one hand, and a knife in the other. Some versions, strangely, forget about the knife.

It’s like that moment in the garden of paradise, when Eve takes a bite of the apple. Consciousness comes with a bite, a blade, bright light, and so much more. The god’s eye opens.

Imagine that moment. It doesn’t matter that Psyche’s jealous sisters tricked her into betraying the love god’s “one thing is forbidden.” She forgets all that. But it is about betrayal and she sees it in his eyes. Now both are wounded by love. And the wound is consciousness.

I keep returning to the moment when the hot wax dropped on the sleeping god and broke the spell of their sensuous bed world. He opened up his eyes, and for the first time she really saw him.

His naked form, his beauty. She, too, woke up.

Consciousness is seeing and light is the oldest of symbols.   But the knife is also a symbol, because consciousness cuts and divides. Psyche is now separated from Eros. Awareness comes with duality.

Her hero journey, which is well under way, has only just begun.

I remember a friend of mine saying, “Doesn’t it seem that break-ups often come in the form of knowing you’ve been incredibly stupid?” I wonder if Psyche felt incredibly stupid for having listened to her wicked sisters, or paralyzed in the miraculous with sheer gratitude for the love she now feels, experiences, and knows is real?

Economists have a saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” There’s a cost for everything, and often the greatest of blessings come at the greatest price. Take consciousness.

Robert Bly talked about the two paths to consciousness and love. He said the feminine way chooses love, and the suffering love brings will lead us to consciousness. Ask Psyche, the soul.

The masculine path, he said, was to follow consciousness. And in the myth, consciousness is symbolized by a light and a knife. And the light causes hot wax to drop and wake the sleeping god. Now it’s consciousness that leads to love.

Consciousness and love are yin and yang, at least in this mythic image. And it’s Psyche, not Eros, who commands my attention. I can feel the woman within.

I heard a dream yesterday. He’d been given a great gift, like genius, but the price he had to pay was periodic and intense existential dread. What a deal. He gladly took it. How about Psyche?   Would she take back the vision and memory of that moment?

I’ve often worked with students who have made this painful discovery, and they cannot take it back. Too often therapists make the mistake of first asking, “What are you going to do now?” It’s what we call the fix, and it’s heading too soon, too fast, into recovery.

Instead, the therapist needs to stay with the discovery, that image of Psyche holding the lamp and the knife. The question sounds like this, “What did you learn? What did you realize at that moment? What hadn’t you known until then?” Discovery leads to recovery.

I just went to Google Images. Psyche poised above the sleeping Eros. Psychology has a namesake, and the importance is not the reality, but the experience of the so-called reality.










The Crossroads

Sansaku: The Crossroads


I called Japan last night to see if Chyako had safely arrived. Okasan answered the phone, “Moshi, moshi.” It’s the Japanese hello. “Your dime, start talking.”

I’ve heard that the origin of the phrase and the way it repeats came from the early days, when they weren’t sure if the phone really worked. It’s like when we’re cut off and repeat, “hello, hello, hello.”

I responded with my name, which does not sound like it does in English, “Ko-rin des.” And added, “Genki deska?” Are you well? She was already shouting for Cha-chan.

Chyako arrived in Japan on the same day last year, and I wrote about Okasan. It’s one of my favorite blogs. It ends with that lovely observation Alice Walker made, “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”

It’s always a moment for me when I hear Chyako’s perfect English and lack of accent. I love her phone voice and it takes me home.   My mother had a lovely phone voice and I wish I could call her. It’s the color purple in a field.

This may sound strange, but I like to remember my mother dead on her bed, still glowing, with all of us surrounding her. It’s a Kairos moment for me, one of those openings in the space-time continuum when everything comes to fruition. It’s high order meaning, the pattern that connects.

At that moment, I could see her whole life unfolded like the thousand-petal lotus. She was dead and still living, just as she’d assured us. The story, the myth, had been fulfilled, from start to stop, and we could see it whole. She had lived her life with dignity and grace. That moment still echoes.

Jung said it was a great achievement to love a difficult person well, and Irma had done that twice. And I’m not even sure which of the two was harder. “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

A story is made one letter, one word, one sentence at a time, just like a life is. One moment, one hour, one day. This is Chronos, and there are moments in the story or life, when something happens that makes a difference. This is Kairos, “Oh, now I get it.” Understanding and emotional development are differences that make a difference.

I’ve often had to rewrite history, and I’ve done this with my mom for as long as I remember. I’d think I understood and could see her, and then I’d grow up a little and realize there was more.

Henry Miller said that we don’t need to put the world into order, it’s us.   This is what the rainmaker does in his little hut, and when he finds that order in himself, it’s a Kairos moment. The world is always in order, and I suppose we know that when we die.

Before my father died, I had any number of Kairos moments. I’d heard so many stories, and most of them were true. But there was more to them than the words. His was a Shakespearian story.

I might have said, “Well done,” to my mother as she was passing, but it’s not what my father said about his. We were at the VA in Prescott, and he was in the bed where he would die. “Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been. Truckin’, I’m going home…”

He was slowing down to the speed of light, and already getting some glimpses before he merged. Chronos and Kairos and Aion, the eternal, were coming to a crossroads. It’s as far as I could see, and I wondered who or what was waiting.






Sansaku: Chronos


New Years is the time when Chronos is celebrated, and I doubt there was ever a culture that didn’t. The riddle of time, what is always new and forever old? January is named for Janus, the two-faced god the Romans put on doors.   We make toasts and resolutions.

Just as water takes three forms, so does time. There’s the solidity of Chronos, the liquidity of Kairos, and the pure vapor of the Eternal.   Somehow, I discovered my journal was a laboratory, a library, and an instrument to register all three.

I encounter Chronos every day, and here’s a day in the life. I’ve always liked those stories and movies.

Forty years ago, on this very day, I was in Boulder and getting ready to leave for a road trip to see my father in Prescott.  I had a new girlfriend, and she didn’t quite believe the man existed as I’d described him.   She was about to learn, I hadn’t exaggerated.

Five years later, I was on my way to South Dakota. I agreed to teach at Dakota Wesleyan, and it was there I would meet Robert Bly.   When I told him, I taught dream psychology, he said, “Let’s sneak out and get ourselves a drink.”

In 1986, on this day, I’m in Portland and my sister yells at her son, “Chris, where did you put it?” As soon as they find it, Chris complains, “Why do you blame me for everything you lose?” Sheryll has no trouble answering, “It’s because you’re so good at finding things.” She turns to me and says, “How’s that for quick thinking?”

Father Time grows old and young again.   It’s another five years, and this time I’m in Mexico. We are sleeping on the beach and fireworks have scared the dog. She didn’t come back, and we had to go on an adventure to find her.

Now it’s 1996 and I’m married. Chyako and I have just left Vegas and are sleeping in the Mojave Desert. The comparison between the push-up bras and smiles in the casinos with their loose slots and cheap promises is extreme. There’s no façade to the desert, and the cards it holds are beauty, truth and goodness. It wins.

Five years later, according to Chronos, we were staying in Santa Fe and had visited the Fine Arts Museum, which had a three person show: Georgia O’Keefe, Emily Carr and Frida Kahlo. I’m not sure it gets any better than that.

The New Mexican landscape was colorful and tasty, like the enchilada breakfast I’d eaten that day. Blue corn tortillas, earthy pinto beans, blood red chili, and melted yellow cheese. And wouldn’t you know it, a friend from Durango, Glenna, spots us and joins in the fun.

Time does it thing, and five years to the day, we wake to rain in Kofa.   It’s a wildlife refuge in southwest Arizona, and we’ve been camping in a canyon that looks like Mordor after Sauron has fallen. It’s a place of great beauty now. A small wren comes to visit me each morning, and each morning it comes closer.

In 2011, Chyako has gone back to Japan and I am home alone.   I was thinking that the older she gets and the longer she’s here, the more Japanese she gets, but also the more Western. It’s quite the paradox. She says, “In my dreams, I get to the top of a hill and see red rock canyons on one side, and bamboo forests on the other.”

And I also read last year’s journal, and it was long one.   I think I counted thirty pages. I had just begun Best Slowly, but I was also going, along with Chronos, through the forty years of journals.






The Journals As Symbol

Sansaku: The Journals As Symbol


I’m not sure I’ve ever dreamed about these journals of mine, but I did last night. Weirdly, I woke singing one of the first Neil Young songs I learned how to play. It was more than a bit synchronistic.

“When the dream came, I held my breath with my eyes closed… In a strange game, I saw myself as you knew me… Though we rush ahead just to save our time, we are only what we feel…”

I just googled “On the Way Home,” and heard Neil sing it. “Though the other side is just the same, you can tell my dream is real…” And out comes my guitar to see if I can still slide that D progression.

I learned it from one the campers when I worked at Cheley in college. It was a landmark time for me. He also taught me how to play “Tell Me Why,” which happened to be the other song on the YouTube I just listened to.

The dream was about time and the three ways I’ve experienced it in my journal and life. I was telling this to Chyako as we headed to the airport. She was headed west to the far-east, and the distant land where she was born.

But only the first kind of time, Chronos, makes me feel the distance. The other two keep her close. And she calls as I write this. She’s in Denver, which is close to where I was born and began my chronological journey.

Kairos time is different. If Chronos is linear and horizontal, Kairos is punctuated and vertical. It adds the dimension of meaning and depth. The one is factual and slightly impersonal, the other is the one Neil sings about. “And I love you, can you feel it now.”

Even Einstein said love runs on Kairos time. It’s in his book on relativity. Not all hours and days are the same. There are different scales and measures.

Dreams take place in the third realm, which is out of time. It’s timeless time, eternal time, or a-temporal time. It’s like memory or dream time. The mystics like to go there.

The journal, and not just the one in my dream last night, integrates all three realms into one and symbolizes the way we live in the three time zones at the same time. I pay them a visit each morning.

My Kairos time is retirement, and I am very grateful I can look down and back. My career is mostly behind me. It looks like my favorite place in the canyons. I can go there whenever I choose. I’m an elder.

The fact I’m almost 65 is one of those Kairos and Chronos intersections. It’s like turning 21, except I’m slowing down, not speeding up.   And the slower I go, the more there is to write

And while I’m reading and writing in the journal, the eternal opens up.   Blame it on dreams. It’s the symbolic eye.

Robert Keck writes about it in Sacred Quest: The Evolution and Future of the Human Soul. It’s a book my friend, Marcy Jung, gave to me.   I like the fact her last name is the same as Carl’s.

“Eternity is available for us right now, right here, spread throughout the earth, inside us, all around us. We need simply to awaken…”

And then he quotes William Blake, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand, and heaven in a Wild Flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and Eternity in an hour.”









The Wild Horse

Sansaku: The Wild Horse


She’d surprise us at times. Our normally straight mother would do something entirely out of character. This time, our next-door neighbor, a psychologist who was doing some research, asked her and George to take a battery of personality tests.

My step-dad could blow me away. He hated psychology and completely forgot that I taught and practiced it. Contradictions like that didn’t seem to bother him. But he agreed to take the test.

Now here’s the kicker, when the two of them had finished taking the personality inventories, mom couldn’t resist. She opened his up and looked at every answer. It was exactly as she thought.

That’s one of the techniques marriage counselors often employ.   They have a couple take a personality test, not only for themselves, but for each other. Then process how they differ.

Unlike George, Irma was psychologically curious and aware. She hadn’t chanced upon the idea to peek at his answers by accident. She’d been studying him all along and wondered how he could perceive the faults in others so accurately, and so blatantly miss his own.

It’s a good question for all of us.

About this time, she told me a story. She was young and they lived on the prairie in southeast Colorado. A wild horse had been injured and her mother walked the distance each morning to feed and water the magnificent creature.

“My mother,” she said, “took her time with everything.   She was never in a hurry to get things done.” I imagined my grandmother, Christina, who I mostly knew through my mother’s eyes. My grandpa was something else. I knew to keep my distance from him.

Christina’s hearing wasn’t good, and that’s a story of its own. It probably helped her survive her time with James, because he had one of those voices that barked more than spoke. It could sound rational, but it wasn’t.

She was a person who cared for others and gave, but needed very little. She liked to be alone and was most peaceful when working. On a ranch that size there was always much to do, and she was the happier for it. But she did look forward to the walk each morning.   The mustang would be waiting.

Mom said, “Animals trusted her and she trusted them. Such pure intentions are never misunderstood, except by those who lack them.”

James was one of those who would never comprehend, and he warned her to be more careful around the animals. He was the kind who scolded dogs before they even approached, and he treated children the same. The dogs and kids could feel it.

While Christina did not consciously resent or wish that he would change, she was very aware of just how different they were and wondered why he didn’t seem to notice.

Still, on that day when James took his rifle and rode towards the wild mustang, Christina was angry. James didn’t understand her. He thought the horse a waste of time and feed and energy, and he would have none of that. It made good sense to him.

When he returned, Christina was silent and he asked her why. But before he could listen, his irritation got the better of him. She just listened, like she always did, but this is what she thought, “So stupid.”  And then she went back to work.





A Christmas Vision

Sansaku: A Christmas Vision


It will always be my favorite, and I have many. She’d been talking about the sculpture for days before she brought it home. We were still living in the old house. And I’ll never forget the moment.

I laugh when I’m nervous, in trouble, or shouldn’t.   I laugh when I’m tickled. TMI will make me laugh. I have a laugh that embarrasses me, and a laugh I could use as a signature. I laugh when I’m joyous and I laugh when pleased.

I don’t know what I expected, but I laughed and couldn’t stop. She asked me what was funny. It had started to annoy her.

If I had an altar, I’d put it there.

I got to thinking about it this morning. I’d had a Christmas vision years ago, where the Divine Phallus touched Sacred Earth, and the penetrating Light entered the Dark Womb of Life and all of Creation was born. I doubt I told anyone and I know they would have laughed.

I’ve got that sculpture on top of my file cabinets. My old journals are there, along with many embodied memories. There are owl feathers and a bear claw I found in our garden. There’s a single plant, an aloe I’ve had for twenty years or more.

I’m not sure Chyako ever titled it, although it graced the announcement for the exhibit at San Juan College, which is where she first showed it.   She tells me the show was called “Views From the Crossing.”

I remember standing in the corner and watching people encounter that sculpture. This was Farmington, not Durango, and I could be somewhat anonymous.

It was actually one of a series and I think she’d be famous now if she’d kept it up. I’ll need to be careful with puns.

Her mentor, David, told me something I’ve never forgotten. Sadly, it was a few years too late in coming. He said she’s an artist and he would no longer criticize or judge her creations.   He totally trusted her vision and knew it was good. “Don’t interfere with her, Colin.”

I wonder what he felt and thought when he first saw them.

I’m still bothered by the memory of that day she brought it home. I feel a bit like the snake in the garden of paradise. I said, “It’s the most incredibly phallic sculpture I have ever seen. And it’s coming out of the earth.” I’d like to say that it goes beyond good and evil. It integrates.

Georgia O’Keefe could paint flowers in the most sexual of ways. You could practically enter and feel them.   But this sculpture went beyond that. It was large, well-formed, smooth yet textured to the touch, and as one of the art professors said, “You had to make the tip purple.”

Chyako actually made half a dozen or more of these outrageously beautiful and sacred sculptures. To her way of thinking, they were organic, like gourds or garlic, and had a feminine beauty.   And when she described them that way, I could see it.

My father’s favorite flower was the anthurium.   My step-mom, Mary, was a floral designer and often brought them home for him. They’re one of those flowers you just can’t forget. For some reason, I’m thinking about baboons, with their scarlet behinds.

Anthuriums are like that, except they have a proud and protruding phallic spike. I think the tips are the color of pollen and gold, not purple or pink.

It’s my Christmas vision and this is my card.