Fascinating Mythical Creatures: Proteus

An amazing blog has come within my radar and I feel moved to share just one of the many fascinating posts from ‘Symbol Reader’. Capturing the depth of insight and inspiration that is possible when the symbolic aspects of life are delved into, this post on protean fluidity is particularly mesmerising. I hope you enjoy it and get as much out of it as I have. Thank you Symbol Reader 🙂

symbolreader

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image via http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/artists/244344135?view_mode=2

Proteus was a wise Greek sea god, a shape changer and a prophet. Pictured as fish-tailed, he was able to change himself into a lion, a serpent, a panther, a wild boar, a tree and flowing water. In order to get answers from him concerning the future, it was necessary to wrestle him and bind him, then wait patiently through all the transformations for the voice of prophecy. He is an image of something elusive, flickering and ineffable that wriggles shakes and transforms many times before it stabilizes as an image that can be comprehended by consciousness.

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Proteus is a great metaphor of working with archetypes and symbols. They are creatures of the deep ocean of the collective unconscious and this is where they feel best. They do not fare well in the world of hard matter or clear-cut mental distinctions. Out of water they may get…

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Meanings of The Matrix

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Virtual and computer imagery in the film The Matrix

Much has been written on The Matrix film trilogy, for instance in an intriguing account of the philosophical themes which the film delves into, author Roman Meinhold asserts that we are challenged by the content of the film to think philosophically about our human existence and the nature of reality.

While philosophical and socio-political interpretations are interesting and no doubt valid, I have found myself drawn to an interpretation that favours depth psychology. Watching the full trilogy for about the third or fourth time within a couple of years, a number of ideas struck me about the meanings held within the film. Firstly, it has all the hallmarks of a fairy tale from the perspectives of Bettleheim and von Franz, detailed more fully in a previous post. As such it represents an inner quest and the various realities in the film equate with levels or stages of consciousness and maturation in the human psychological Self.

Alternative Reality

While the majority of humans’ real bodies are anaesthetised in energy farms for the maintenance of the super machines who now rule the scorched earth, their life experience is a simulated virtual reality, a set of complex computer programmes called the Matrix and run by the machines. Some humans in their Matrix identity sense something is wrong with the world and they seek answers. These renegades are detected eventually by special programmes called Agents and usually destroyed.

Real Reality

Some humans have escaped the pod farms however and live as a besieged community in an underground sanctuary called Zion. The hero Neo is contacted by two of these ‘real’ humans, Morpheus and Trinity, who offer him the chance to escape ‘into the real world’. One of the most electrifying dialogues in cinema has to be when Morpheus gives Neo the option of going back to the Matrix, innocent of any of the previous insights, or to continue with the quest and push into the real world, no going back –  the blue pill or the red pill? The Matrix as a film and a philosophical statement challenges our ability to perceive reality. It also suggests that social consensus and popular culture may be deceptions that mask our true nature and divorce us from the vitality of the body.

Image of Morpheus holding a red and blue pill in each hand.

Morpheus asks Neo to choose true reality and freedom or virtual reality and ignorance.

In one sense then it is a treatise on ‘living in our heads’ too much, cut off from the authenticity of the embodied self. The ‘real’ humans live deep in the earth in Zion and thus are connected with the source of life. They scratch a living in their grubbiness and in their make-do environment, yet are authentic and real in their experiences, contrasting with the Matrix selves who have all the trappings of modernity but are trapped and constrained by their fabricated world.

Archetypes

Morpheus is the messenger and a ‘John the Baptist’ figure, totally convinced that Neo is the One, prohesied to save humanity and end the war with the machines. He is also something of a therapist character as he challenges Neo’s reality and lures him ‘down the rabbit hole’.

Neo is the hero, unsure of his path but following his gut, even when he has to challenge both the prophesy and the Oracle.

The Oracle, though a programme, is an entity personified in a female figure of the wise woman. Like a positive anima, she enlightens, guides and creates opportunities for Neo to realise his destiny, or to make his choices as he sees fit – the anomaly is never really resolved except that Neo does break the mould and act on his own principles – eventually going to the machines to broker a mutual collaboration and thus stop the war. It is through an intense personal connection that Neo achieves his ultimate redemption, as he is in love wtih his other rescuer, Trinity.

Both Trinity and the Oracle seem to me to personify two sides of Neo’s own anima – romantic love and maternal love.

The Hero’s Journey

During the course of the story, Neo goes through several stages that could be equated with the hero’s journey. First, he is unsettled and questing in his previous life in the Matrix. This is how he is detected by Morpheus and Trinity as he attempts to hack into the Matrix programmes. As Morpheus tells him, he is trying to ‘wake up’, a wonderful metaphor for the unease that often drives a person into therapy or some sort of self-reflective journey – “you feel something is wrong, it brought you to me” he says. The Matrix, explains Morpheus, is “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you.” To take the red pill is to embark on the journey from which there is no turning back.

Neo takes the red pill and erupts into his body in the real world, in a pod on an energy farm, plugged into the system of cables that draw the energy from his body and feed the virtual reality of the Matrix into his brain. Rescued by Morpheus and Trinity and taken to Zion, Neo is effectively a newborn and must re-learn who he really is, not unlike the catharsis of therapy and self-discovery. This is, I think, the central message of the Matrix films, encapsulated in the Oracle’s kitchen wall plaque – Know Thyself – a great Jungian theme on which to conclude.

Morpheus Image citation: http://www.casescorner.com/id57.html

Matrix Image citation: http://scipp.ucsc.edu/~haber/ph116A/

Philosophical citation: http://www.roman-meinhold.com/matrix.pdf

Delving Deep: Meanings and Metaphors from Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’

artist's impression of a big marlin leaping from the sea with the old man in the skiff in the distance

The Old Man and the Sea – Santiago hooks a giant marlin

Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea in 1951 to tremendous acclaim. Read as a symbolic novel with overtones of religion, identity, life and death, I feel it has a much richer set of meaning layers and can usefully be read through the lens of depth psychology as an individuation narrative, a Hero Myth.

The Jungian concept of individuation entails a process of gradual and lifelong connecting with the unconscious at ever deeper layers, ultimately with the collective unconscious which is hard to define but in some ways can be understood as nature itself. This process of connecting with and owning all our archetypal aspects, energies or identities leads to greater wholeness and a lesser tendency for unconscious acting out of destructive complexes. In essence it is a maturation journey, full of struggles and epiphanies. It is also an existential task, to come to terms with death as inevitable and therefore to adopt a meaning-based attitude towards life.

Symbolic Meaning in The Old Man and the Sea

Several layers of symbolic meaning are to be noted and Hemingway builds these gradually by setting out the relationship between the old man Santiago and the boy Manolin. Much mutual trust and affection is evident and this may be read as the dependent and intertwined nature of the archetypes of the ‘puer’ full of energy and freshness, and of the ‘wise old man’ full of wisdom and intuition. The boy will become the old man one day and has much to learn from him; at the same time the old man sees himself in the boy and remembers the happiness of his youth – the cyclical regeneration of human life and the transmission of culture. Santiago dreams of lion cubs on the beach, a sight he marvelled at in his youth when working on fishing boats going to Africa. While he knows he has much intelligence and experience, he is also mindful of his poverty and ageing body. This insight is worn with the idea that humility ‘carries no loss of true pride’ however; he is as valid a part of life as anyone else and indeed so is the noble marlin.

The Sea of Unconsciousness

But the greatest symbolism is in the sea itself which I see as the unconscious, and the search for the ‘big fish’ is a delving into the unconscious for its gifts of wisdom and a connection with the wild creativity (and destruction) of life and nature – for the Self. It is a metaphor for the searching life, as Santiago says to himself  ‘My big fish must be somewhere’. He identifies with the fish and the turtles, seeing in them both the dignity and the vulnerability of his own self. During the fight, he feels sorry for the fish, as well as for his own suffering holding the lines with bleeding hands and an aching back. In the end he tows it towards the shore, exhausted and fighting off sharks, and says, ‘I have killed this fish which is my brother and now I must do the slave work’, as he harnesses the trade winds to set sail for home. He has learned all his life how to suffer and to make meaning from it, then to enjoy the rewards when they arrive. Living so close to nature and struggling for every piece of sustenance, there are lessons to be learned and truths to be remembered from the old man Santiago and his apprentice Manolin. I was carried away by it and truelly uplifted.

The Old Man and the Sea

citation for introductory image: creative commons for use with citation: http://www.bluemarlin3.com/tbf/hemmingway.php

Journal Me Happy: Creative Journal Therapy for Life

creative journal

Many people are finding a regular journal habit. 

According to writer and therapist Kathleen Adams, journaling as a therapeutic pastime began in tenth century Japan when court ladies wrote ‘pillow books’ to help them deal with the stresses and intrigues of court life. Writing down our personal experiences is not new.

Besides, most of us have at one time or another been moved or uplifted by an encounter with some image or piece of writing: a quotation; a poem; a story; a novel; a book; a song; a photograph, print or painting; a magazine article; even our own daily observations, dreams and daydreams.

But often the impact of the experience gets lost among the frenetic activity of everyday life, forgotten and no longer available to the conscious mind. A creative journal records these experiences and becomes a personal resource we can turn to again and again for inspiration and comfort.

During my work in mental health care, clients often remarked on the beneficial effects of art and craft activities as well as the uplifting effects of literature and poetry discussion groups. In these groups, we used articles, images, poems or stories from magazines and books, or even a trip to a museum or art gallery, to fuel our discussions. Some therapists call these techniques triggers or springboards and anyone can use them in their daily life to kick-start and maintain a creative journal for health and well-being.

Creative Journaling

Creative journaling allows you to record these encounters with your creative side and to get in touch with emotions, thoughts and memories. The very act of writing and compiling the materials is itself calming – while the hands are busy the mind is free – as Soneff and Caliquire assert in their book Art Journals and Creative Healing. Having this record to look back on from time to time can also be a useful emotional resource and provide support and motivation during times of stress and strain. Because of the way in which it connects us with our authentic selves, creative journaling can provide inner guidance during times of indecision and even just become a pleasant pastime and a source of personal satisfaction.

Creative journal therapy can be a helpful lifelong companion and there are many books and websites that provide tips and inspiration, as well as more in-depth books for those who wish to delve deeper into, for instance, dreamwork and ‘confronting the shadow’. Be aware, though, that many of these more advanced guides take a fairly challenging, psychoanalytical approach to journaling. For some, they may be worth thinking of a little further on, but perhaps with the supervision of a qualified therapist.

Some key points:

  • You are not creating a masterpiece; rather you are expressing your own inner being which is always beautiful and worthy.
  • You do not need to worry about language or spelling. Spontaneity and honesty are the only requirements.
  • Your journal will never be judged. When you browse back over stuff, it is for  personal reflection and insight alone. So allow your vulnerable side to emerge, nurture your soul as you would a child’s and your own inner child will come out to play!

Basic Materials

To start off with, a simple notebook is sufficient. The most useful type is one that has a blank page opposite a lined one – think of your old Science or Home Economics copies from school!  Pens and pencils, a pair of scissors, a printer (if you use a computer to browse for material) and a glue-stick complete the basic kit for your creative journal. Add stickers, postcards, photographs, ribbon, sequins, anything that calls to you as time goes on. Of course this can also be created as an electronic document for those so inclined but do take care with privacy. Personally, I prefer a paper copy to handle and write into directly.

Decorate and personalise your notebook cover and pages as you please with colours, stickers, stencils or whatever resonates for you. How often have you secretly envied the lovely art and stationery sets that kids get at Christmas and birthdays? With this journaling activity, feel free to put together your own box of tricks!

There is no need to purchase expensive kits or materials to begin with, as your first entries will be experimental, trying out your ‘voice’ and flexing your creative muscle. Further on, you may wish to look at the wider range of materials and kits available. Alternatively, straightforward art and craft supplies that are sold practically everywhere may appeal to you as you get into your journaling project.

Ideally, the more personalised you can make this notebook, the more it will come to represent your special ‘me-time’ and help you get in touch with your creative, healing self. So either choose one that appeals to your tastes or take a budget style version and stick or draw onto it with images, patterns, quotations or photographs that are special to you.

A Quiet Space

Identify a space or room where you can expect privacy. Make it comfortable and inviting with a relaxed atmosphere and with everything to hand that you will need for your creative journaling. A storage facility like shelves, a cupboard or even some decorated shoeboxes will hold all your necessities and a comfortable but supportive chair with a small desk or a lap table should be positioned for optimum back support as well as comfort. You are now ready to begin. A good idea is to start with a brief relaxation exercise such as slow breathing, visualisation or chanting a favourite mantra.

Timing

Some people may feel they want to set aside a specific day for journaling, or even foresee themselves journaling on a daily basis. My personal experience is that for several days in a row material just keeps cropping up, then I may go for a week or two with no entry and often find I use that time to browse back over previous entries. Alternatively, a set time of day to sit down with your journal may be helpful, when your body-mind will begin to tune into that as your time for getting in touch with yourself. Last thing at night may feel right for contemplation and journaling or if you wake early, that could be your inspiration time.  Above all, never feel you should work on your journal, just follow your inspiration and your own natural rhythms.

The Journaling Process

Next, be on the lookout for pieces of material that strike a chord with you. For instance, you may have at the back of your mind a favourite poem, book or painting and if you don’t have a copy on hand, either Google, Wikipedia or your local library will help out. It’s useful also to keep a rough pad and pencil handy at all times, to copy out poems, quotations or references as they come to you, or to jot down flashes of inspiration that pop into your mind, which you can then transfer to your proper journal later on. Hone your awareness to material that makes an impression on you personally – quotations and images in magazines for instance, or have a browse through old photographs, letters or your book collection. As soon as something hits your emotional buttons, you’re off.

Make a record of the piece – copy or stick it in as the first part of your journal entry for that day (it is helpful to date each entry). Then start to jot down your thoughts and feelings about the piece: how you found it; what you like about it; how you feel when you engage with it; what memories it calls up for you; what it might symbolise for you; any goals or intentions that emerge as you think and write about it.

If finding something to write about is eluding you, just pick a colour and start doodling, scribbling and ‘messing around’. In her book The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself, Lucia Cappachione advises this kind of limbering up exercise and suggests that eventually, words will come, or you will begin to feel a reaction to the images you are creating on the page, feelings and thoughts you can then write down.

Another author whose ideas are inspirational is Diana Trout, an artist who has incorporated journaling and art making into everyday life. She advises a technique called ‘spilling’, using images and words to brainstorm spin-off words and feelings that can then be entered into your journal; words like time; rose; twilight; living; wings; ocean; snow; hope; river; luck; stone. These words might also spark a search for images or a drawing session, all manner of expressions may flow out of a single starter word.

References and Further reading

Kathleen Adams, Journal to the Self: Twenty-two Paths to Personal Growth, 1990, Grand Central Publishing

Lucia Cappachione, The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself, 2nd edition, 2002, New Page Books / The career Press, new Jersey

Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols, 1968, Turtleback Books

Tristine Rainer, The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-guidance and Expanded Creativity, 1981, Published by Jeremy P. Tarcher

Sharon Soneff and Mindy Caliquire, Art Journals and Creative Healing: Restoring the Spirit through Self Expression, 2008, Rockport Publishers Inc.

Diana Trout, Journal Spilling: Mixed Media Techniques for free Expression, 2009, North Light Books

Citation for Images from creative commons Google images advanced search ‘free to use, share or modify’ accessed 20th Feb 2013, trackback to:

Image 1 from http://moonstarsandpaper.blogspot.co.uk/2007_01_01_archive.html

Image 2 from  http://www.flickr.com/photos/libookperson/7248114918/

Many websites provide daily hints to get your journaling juices flowing. Any internet search engine will call them up; this is one of the best sites I’ve come across: http://journalingprompts.com/

creative journaling                                     HAPPY JOURNALING !

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