Today in Belfast seemed like the first day of a real Spring season so I took a walk around Botanic Gardens and Stranmillis. Cherry blossoms are everywhere and the bluebells are in full bloom as well, perhaps a little early but I’m not complaining since they’re my favourite flower. Though sunny, the air was chill and I used that as an excuse to do my usual jaunt into the Ulster Museum (so conveniently situated right in the lovely Botanic Gardens). Took a few snaps along the way, hope you enjoy 😊
11 Apr 2017 Leave a comment
12 Nov 2016 2 Comments
One day a few decades ago while living in the staff residence of Purdysburn Hospital where I trained, a guitar-backed voice drifted along the corridor and filled the atmosphere of my little box room with such a haunting power that I literally stood still to listen. It was my first encounter with Leonard Cohen singing Suzanne.
My friend Edyth had just bought an LP of this master of lyrics and beautiful melancholic melody and once my obligatory cassette tape copy was manufactured, Leonard Cohen became my ‘go to’ artist for many years to come.
To date there is much commentary around Cohen’s prophetic words and their poignancy for the conditions of contemporary humanity but my purpose here is to pay tribute to an artist who enriched my life and helped strengthen my spirit, and to declare both sadness that his life has ended as well as joy that his songs will live forever. Like David Bowie, another Maestro lost this year, his work is woven into my Self in a multitude of ways. Yet professing this devotion often brought forth responses that were characteristically stereotyped comments along the lines of darkness, gloom, foreboding and nihilism. Not for me, though. I have always found Leonard Cohen’s songs enchanting and uplifting. They always bring me joy.
Laura Barton’s obituary for Cohen on The Guardian’s music blog takes the same view. To describe him as a ‘miserabilist’ is ‘to miss entirely the warmth of his words’, which, she elaborates, ‘run at the same temperature as blood.’ What animates Leonard Cohen’s offering is the joy beyond pain, the lesson in the challenge, the solution within the problem, the beauty within the chaos. As Barton reminds us, he echoes the wisdom of Rumi in his song Anthem
‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.
So to the songs that stick with me most:
- The Partisan
- Famous Blue Raincoat
- So Long Marianne
- The Sisters of Mercy
- Lady Midnight
- Who By Fire
- Dance Me to the End of Love
- Hey, that’s no way to say Goodbye
Tibetan Book of the Dead Narration
Some time ago I found a documentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead perfectly enriched by Leonard Cohen’s voice as the narrator, so this is what I’m watching now as my memorial to another Maestro gone from the world. Check it out, it’s a profound exploration of life meaning and enrichment of the human spirit through meditative practice and Buddhist teachings. There is an empathy and wisdom in Cohen’s voice that makes this film a celebration of life in the midst of physical death. I wish him well on his journey and thank him for the songs.
Songs Never Die
11 Jul 2016 1 Comment
Many ancient traditions, as well as some modern belief systems, view all life and existence as being made up of five elements: earth, air, fire, water and spirit. While each element brings unique qualities to the mix, they all blend together to create the dynamic manifestations of our perceived reality and experiences.
It is, perhaps, in the midst of nature that we humans sense our existence most deeply, feeling connected to the planet while we walk our gardens and even to the wider Universe as we gaze at the night sky. I believe that these sensations happen through direct contact with elemental aspects.
Think of a windswept hillside or rustling trees; a loud downpour of heavy rain or a silent fall of light, fluffy snow; a golden sunrise or crimson sunset; sand sliding through your toes or waves splashing around your ankles; the emotions of relationship and the inspirations of spiritual practice, whatever you perceive that to be. The list of possibilities is endless. I’m captivated still by the Louis MacNeice poem The Sunlight on the Garden, particularly when I look out at the pale streaks or sunrays across our hedge on a winter morning.
Though sun basking is a favourite activity when I get the chance, today I am a little more fixated on wind (air) and water, both very powerful yet both also capable of being soothing and gentle. In the part of Ireland where I live, weather is relentlessly changing and notoriously unstable. Rainfall levels are at the higher end of the spectrum and seem to be living up th their reputation as July progresses; winds bluster and blow from the Atlantic Ocean or North Sea and most winters involve some snow, although we are considered a temperate clime.
Many friends and neighbours complain about the weather and understandably so – I have done my fair share of moaning about it too, especially when it becomes necessary to drive in poor conditions in order to get to work or school. But in recent years I find myself less likely to resist the wearisome weather and more inclined to accept and see the beauty in it all. I find wet, windy days exhilarating now; cold, crisp nights uplifting; frosty mornings enchanting. While I love summer, Autumn gives me some kind of earthy pleasure. It is all so elemental.
Here’s the band Earth, Wind and Fire singing September.
18 Nov 2015 Leave a comment
Read the full article here:
[citation: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/paris-attacks-belfast-band-stiff-little-fingers-defy-safety-concerns-to-play-paris-gig-34211070.html ]
There were numerous reasons for this Belfast band to defy fear in order to honour their booking in the Paris venue yesterday. Mainly, though, it was through deeply experienced empathy, the band members having grown up during the worst years of the North’s troubles in the 1970s, when few music acts (with the exception of ‘The Clash’ and ‘The Bay City Rollers’) ventured into this neck of the woods.
It was a pity, since like young people everywhere, we were obsessed with music and bands; they are part of a rite of passage. All of which makes the recent Paris tragedy more poignant given the young age of many of the victims. Reaching out and expressing solidarity is perhaps the most admirable of human traits and like all human communication is often manifest in symbolic and archetypal language and action. Music and performance in all its guises provide comfort, empathy, outlets for emotion, opportunities for interaction and identification and can facilitate healing of all kinds of ills, especially grief.
Most people I know are struggling to hold back tears when we hear and read the news reports of the happenings of Friday last. While there are certainly numerous pockets of human suffering across the globe over which we all grieve, Paris has caught us particularly badly because, I feel, of the seeming randomness of it and the exuberant youth who were wiped out or injured at the concert along with all the others relaxing in Paris’s renowned café culture.
We need to believe that peace is possible. ‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.’
09 Oct 2015 Leave a comment
“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Attributed to the nineteenth century historian Lord Acton, this insight was particularly aimed at monarchical systems where the ruler was believed to be there by divine authority and therefore could do no wrong. Like some of the more despotic Roman emperors, Shakespeare’s Scottish Thane Macbeth seems to have become drunk on his own self-image and the power of kingly status. Once in the grip of it, the thirst for more power drove him to ever more bloody and heartless slaughter. And like many corrupt regimes, once the public realised they were under the rule of a tyrant it was too late to depose him. Fear was the order of the day.
Shakespeare was a genius. His understanding of human psychology is timeless, yet forever being re-discovered and Macbeth, the play, is particularly incisive. As the tale intimates, the loss of their young son triggered the slide of Lord and Lady Macbeth into a state of emotional numbness wherein the seeds of a desperate quest for validation and position could take root and fester; almost a state of grief gone awry.
We know that grief can manifest in many forms and that anger is one of them. Yet while anger is a common human emotion built to protect us, no-one would condone a power-crazed killing spree. It is, in my view, the pathological nature of Macbeth’s anger that scares us so much and that creates the dark mood of the play, with all the superstition and ritual that have surrounded it. Blind rage coupled with the knowledge that he has damned himself seem to drive Macbeth into a state of complete disregard for the humanity around him, perhaps even denial of their suffering. Jung would no doubt say he was in the grip of a sinister, destructive shadow archetype.
But the puzzle remains as to why and how Macbeth’s reign of terror escalated to such a degree. We hear for instance his initial thoughts of ambition and regicide, then his second thoughts pulling back from the awfulness of it – yet the influence of the witches’ predictions and Lady Macbeth’s goading are the focus of some debate. Was he channelled into his dreadful path, to carry out a self-fulfilling prophecy sparked off by the witches’ proclamations, or was the naked ambition there from before? Was he manipulated by Lady Macbeth to re-ignite his notion to murder the king, or did she just fan the flames that were already there?
Here’s an extract from my daughter Dearbhlá’s GCSE coursework of a few years ago, regarding
The Witches and Macbeth
‘The witches seem to predict that Macbeth will do something awful and the world will be thrown into chaos but when we meet Macbeth we see quite quickly that his thoughts have already been dwelling on his own political rank. They tell him he will be king and after they leave he states,
“Stay, you imperfect speakers! Tell me more!”
Murderous ambition is already present in his mind so the witches cannot be seen to have caused it, though they help to bring it to the surface. Even Macbeth himself starts to talk like the witches in another aside:
“This supernatural soliciting;
Cannot be ill, cannot be good.”….
….“My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is but what it is not.”
Macbeth is “rapt” according to Banquo, and mesmerised by what the witches have said but this could be because it has opened up ideas and plans already in his head. So again the witches are part of the backdrop but not the entire cause of all the chaos and horror in the play. If the witches do have a bigger plan to destroy Scotland, Macbeth is a willing pawn in their game. Even more sinister is his wife Lady Macbeth who as we will also see later encourages and even browbeats him into actually murdering King Duncan.
While the witches have created the atmosphere and kick-started the core themes of the play, it is the main characters of Macbeth and his wife who think the ambitious thoughts and do the evil deeds….
There is a sense that the witches’ predictions are coming true. It could just be that this was bound to happen and they are commentators, dramatising the events with an enchanted presence. But Macbeth may not have actually committed the murders without the witches’ confirmation that he would become king. They do, therefore, influence the development of the chaotic, terrifying plot, alongside Macbeth and his wife.’ [Dearbhlá McDonnell 2012]
As many literature students will attest, the theme of the play is terror; fear of what the next moment will bring. The witches and Lady Macbeth serve to intensify the emotion of the play and act as vehicles for the darkness erupting from the main character, Macbeth. So, on to the reason for my choice of subject today – I went to see the film yesterday evening with my daughter Caitríona at Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast.
We both felt it was brilliant, if horrifying. There are many difficult scenes of violence and carnage which do, however, create the frightening historical, social and personal context perfectly. Every aspect of the film, from cast to colour palette, does justice to The Bard’s most risky and perhaps most perceptive work. Humans are strong but also weak; have the potential for good and for evil; create and destroy. Given a conglomeration of random events and developmental circumstances, anyone’s life can turn into a perfect storm of chaos. This is the lesson we must take from Macbeth.
Without checks and balances, human nature is corruptible.
“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Citations for images:
27 May 2015 2 Comments
A summary and some interesting extracts. Do let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks, Roberta 🙂
29 Mar 2015 2 Comments
When I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road the voice in my head insisted on reciting it in an American drawl with a jazz rhythm and haunted tone. Quite why this occurred is a mystery to me but I admit that it certainly added to the enjoyment of the book. Yet on hearing the author himself read the extract above I was blown away. So what made the work of The Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac in particular so enthralling?
For me it’s the depth; the scary extremes; the delving into and compassion for human experience that underpins their expressions. A fascination with the era of the early sixties further fuels my current obsession with The Beats, all of which are brilliantly portrayed in the regularly repeated documentary on Sky Arts 1 which charts the life and work of Jack Kerouac and includes interviews with a number of his contemporaries. With the programme due to be repeated on Sky Arts 1 next Tuesday 31st March 2015, I’ve the timer set and it’s in my diary. If you’d like to join me please feel free to comment on here as well. Happy reading, viewing, whatever floats your boat, until next time 🙂
21 May 2014 7 Comments
in Anthropology, Archetypes, Books, Creative Journaling, Creativity, Existentialism, Fairy Tales, Film, Individuation, Jungian psychology, Myth, The Hero's Journey Tags: archetypal energy, archetypal symbols, authenticity, books, Fairy Tales, film, hero's journey, Jean Raffa, Jung
One of the key themes in Jungian psychology is that of individuation, which is an expansive process involving realisation and manifestation of the archetypes within. Archetypal aspects refer to many different facets of the self’s potential, such as the Shadow, the Animus or Anima, the Wise Elder or the Trickster / Magician. Many of these inner selves are unconscious or undeveloped and only emerge when we are able to unearth their existence through various channels such as encounters, dreams and active imagination.
All cultures have notions of human personality and self, made up of multiple aspects, many of which are oppositional or paradoxical and often these various traits are personified into panthea of gods and goddesses or other equally varied groups of characters. Take, for instance, the ways in which each of the Graeco-Roman deities encapsulates a set of particular human strengths and weaknesses. For instance Athena is wise and just but also warlike and ruthless in certain circumstances. Apollo likewise brings illness but also healing in the form of the arts and muses.
Individuation – Incorporating the Archetypes
At the start of every human life there is a diffusion of experience, expression and personality. That complex cloud of embodied sensations in the world gradually becomes organised into patterns of thought, feeling and memory and infused into a sense of the individual self. While all these phenomena are shaped and informed by the physical and social environments around us, variously named and operationalised through culture, certain broad categories of experience and expression can be identified across humanity and according to Jungian thought, these constitute the archetypes. Archetypes are universal potentials for broad human drives, yet as potentials for patterning, they are manifest in ways unique to individuals and cultures, rather like the ways in which each snowflake is structured through certain rules of construction, yet no two snowflakes are the same.
Jung stressed that this individuation was not a materialistic ‘individualism’ but a spiritual quest, a journey, and one which required a certain amount of courage and determination to overcome fear and resistance within the self. It also involves the withdrawal of projections, in other words the taking of responsibility for our own lives and recognising the fact that our own growth is in our own hands. To incorporate the archetypes successively through the sequence of Shadow first, then Anima/Animus and beyond, entails as well a kind of accumulated knowledge or insight – the elixir of life, the wisdom of the ages. And that wisdom and insight is most beneficially directed at ourselves, as The Oracle reminded Neo in the very archetypal movie ‘The Matrix’.
We have helpers along the way, though, such as family, friends, inspirational leaders and authors, as well as examples to follow in the guise of totems, god-like and saintly figures and characters from myth and legend. We also have negative influences, sometimes within the established society and canons of accepted ideas and practices around us, sometimes within our circle of relationships, and sometimes within ourselves as internalised negative attitudes and inner critical voices.
The Hero’s Journey
Archetypes and Elixirs form the raw material of the hero’s journey, our journey. Our internal responses to events, characters and relationships in the world around us shape the person we become. Whether that is contracted, frozen and bitter or expanded, empathic and wise, is largely up to us. The Archetypes are always there, waiting for us to awaken them, the Elixirs are ever-present and calling to be consumed. Taking the plunge can be the most difficult first move but also the most exhilarating. Starting with some dream delving is one way in, creative journaling another. Both of these techniques helped to jump-start my own journey, informed and motivated by reading the works of Dr Carl Jung and inspirational blogs such as Jean Raffa’s here on wordpress. Individuation is an act of self-creation and the creative potential is inherent in all humans. Any creative activity can get your individuating juices flowing, indeed creativity has been identified as a significant booster of mental health promotion and recovery.
Thanks for dropping by,
Enjoy the Journey 🙂
Flaming Elixir Image source Guest of a Guest website, New York http://guestofaguest.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/red-snapper-210×300.jpg
01 Oct 2013 5 Comments
BBC Northern Ireland recently ran a lovely series of tributes to the life and work of Irish poet Louis MacNeice. Fortunately I was able to attend three of the events and to hear tributes and readings from MacNeice afficionados such as Poet Michael Longley and Professor Edna Longley. As a confirmed MacNeice fan already, these happenings were a tremendous treat. My love for this poet’s work was triggered by the poem ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’, written in 1937. Although referring to the tension in Europe during the build up to war, the symbolism and sentiment of the poem is just as relevant today. The poem talks about the transience of pleasure and happiness, of life in fact. Yet it also celebrates togetherness, weathering the storm and at least having some ‘sunlight on the garden’. There is a zen-like feeling in the line ‘we cannot cage the minute’ but we can be IN it. I find the poem moving and ultimately uplifting. I hope you find something in it too.
The Sunlight on the Garden by
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying.
And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
Louis MacNeice, Selected Poems, edited by Michael Longley, 2nd edition (2007: 38)
publisher: faber and faber
Original Images by Roberta McDonnell