by Laura Tuley, PhD.
A revolution never come with a warning
A revolution never sends you an omen
A revolution just arrived like the morning
Ring the alarm, we come to wake up the snoring
“Catastrophe fantasies haunt us; they announce the end of the world. As with suicide fantasies we must ask them precisely what world is coming to its end.”
the thought of the heart and the soul of the world
“But disasters and emergencies do not just throw light on the world that is. They also rip open the fabric of normality. Through the hole that opens up, we glimpse possibilities of other worlds.”
Peter C Baker, “We can’t go back to normal’:
How will coronavirus change the world?”
One thing is for certain beyond the collective panic around a shortage of toilet paper, that tidy symbol of modernity’s deft ability to deny its own shadow: the reality that we are all being forced to slow down, to look at, listen to and feel what is. In other words, as a result of the global “Time Out” necessitated by the current pandemic, we are being invited, en masse, to wake up from the slumber of routine, security and mindless efficiency in order to tend to something bigger than us. And yes, that scares us – right to our core.
“I had a weird dream last night in which I coined an acronym,” my husband reports, cheerfully, as we are hiking through the University of Wisconsin Arboretum on a Sunday afternoon, one of few outings we are still allowed. “What was the acronym?” I ask, absentmindedly. “TWB!” he responds, with a grin. “The World Before!” I pause to look at him, suddenly thrown into a painful awareness of being both blessed and cursed to exist in the midst of something so massive and life-altering that the world as we’ve known it will likely never return. I’ve known versions of this feeling before—on the day of my son’s birth, for instance, or after Hurricane Katrina, upon returning to my then home in New Orleans—though in no case do I recall my sense of normalcy feeling so threatened, on such a global scale. Nor did the future seem so uncertain then. And yet, as a Jungian, I am conditioned to look for the proverbial “gold” in darkness (not to hastily wipe it away), and this extends to the collective psyche, which also suffers from psyche-pathologies. And so, I am looking and waiting, with a sense of both awe and unease, as I watch the economy collapse and my fellow humans sicken and die. And as I settle into a deep sadness at my estrangement from friends, neighbors and colleagues and the cancellation of plans—so many plans—I wonder if this might be the only way that the world’s soul, what Jung referred to as “anima mundi,” can effectively disrupt the human animal’s centuries of ecological destructiveness and attachment to dominance so that nature, that network of being of which we are a part, but do not own, might give birth to a new and more sustainable mode of life.
James Hillman wrote about the notion of aesthesis, which he defined as “a breathing in or taking in of the world…the ‘uh’ of the breath in wonder, shock, amazement…an aesthetic response to the image (eidon) presented.” He suggests that this “taking in” of the world is achieved not so much with the mind via cognition, as with the heart, which is immediately connected to things of the world through feeling and the senses: “In ancient Greek physiology and in biblical psychology the heart was the organ of sensation: it was also the place of the imagination.” Maybe this is what is most required of us now: to take in or attend to the world, with heart, as our organ of perception, in order to feel gratitude and grief as well as to imagine something new. Gratitude for its abundance. Grief for having neglected and abused the things of this world in our frenzied pace to earn, compete, consume, and survive. Imagination as a re-creation of what we have known and the movement towards growth.
Hillman suggests further that attention to the things of the world evokes the idea of notitia, “a primary activity of the soul.” Notitia, he says, refers to “that capacity to form true notions of things from attentive noticing.” In other words, when we tend, with our senses, to the universe in which we are embedded—look at, listen to, smell and feel—we both perceive our environment as it is and, in the process, nurture an empathetic connection between us and “it.” That is, through a re-attunement to the world, we at once perceive and engender something outside of ourselves: a relation to the “soul” of nature, as that matrix which sustains us. Here Hillman gestures at a conscious re-balancing of the ecosystem within which human beings co-exist with the rest of creation; a re-balancing that may already be happening involuntarily, as I write this, on a planetary scale.
“Stare at what you love,” a patient advises me tearfully, during a recent video session. She has been expressing sadness at the dissolution of her life, alongside a sense of wonder and pride for her ability “to rise to the occasion” and support others in the midst of a crisis. Now she trains her gaze on me. She is worried that I, her “helper,” might be overwhelmed by what I am taking in—the suffering of others, so acute in this time, as well as my own—and feels the need to tend to me. I take her words to heart and allow them to reverberate, within and without, in what I am noticing. At some point within the same week, I sit, six feet between us, with a fellow clinician, the only other person who comes to the office now to meet with a small number of patients. He is a life-long meditator, a wise man, and one of the founders of my psychotherapy group. As we discuss the chaos of the times and our shared frustrations, he offers to teach a mantra to me. Something to help me to train my gaze. “I sing it before my meditation or sometimes when I am washing my hands,” he observes (like everyone else, we wash our hands mindfully now). The words of the mantra are “Baba Nam Kevalam,” which, in Sanskrit translates as “only the name of the beloved” (Baba means “beloved,” nam means “name” and kevalam, “only”). My colleague rephrases this as “only that which is most beloved,” but adds, “roughly translated, it means ‘everything is love.’” I prefer his more literal rephrasing, “only that which is most beloved,” as it seems to me to invite the images of the world I inhabit and to which I am attached. After he sings the mantra to me, strumming on the guitar he keeps in his office to give the words body, I take them in, use and repeat them, allowing the melody to guide my own meditation.
Baba Nam Kevalam. I begin with my family—my husband and my son, our old dog and our three backyard chickens. Moving outward I focus on my community, its neighborhoods, lakes and green spaces, downtown bustle and university teeming with youth, the rolling hills and small farms that frame the city. Larger, still, I re-member those places I have lived and visited which are dear to me: the whimsical disarray, colorful music and vibrant decay of New Orleans, the friends and family gathered there; the noise, pulse and hustle of New York; the breathtaking cityscape and exotic vegetation of San Francisco and the Bay Area, my place of birth. Further, still, I imagine the wild spaces—woods and mountains I have hiked—and the animals I have met, at a distance: the hawk or fox or deer. The howl of the wind, the cold of the snow, the salty spray of the ocean’s surf, the heat of summer sun. Baba Nam Kevalam. Always there on the edge of my awareness, there to be noticed, breathed in, and beloved.