Alice in Wonderland revisited or whose rabbit hole are we trapped in, yours or mine?

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A while back my granddaughter and I snuggled up and watched the film Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp. In it Alice tries to pinch herself out of what she assumes to be her dream, but is it a dream? She wanders confused and unable to assert that she is even who she claims to be.

 

“’Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I – I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’”

–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 

Like Alice are we in a dream? And like her is it our own unmet fears that keep us there? Is it our unwillingness to assert our true self that keeps us trapped in our own little madness?

Often the whole world seems a confusing place and trying to figure it out is like trying to answer the Mad Hatters oft repeated riddle, “Why is a Raven like a writing desk?” The point is that sometimes there just isn’t an answer, or meaning–sometimes life is just absurd. As one looks closer at the world we’ve made, it all gets “curioser and curioser”.

Falling down the rabbit hole into the dark underworld of our dreams will lead us to a curious and confusing realm. But if you were to imagine falling up the hole and into the daylight might it be the crazy conscious world we’ve all adapted to that is mad and the dark world of the unconscious holding the actual enlightenment we seek? Ah what then?

Trapped in a hole of our own making, preferring to limit ourselves to a very small landscape rather than to open our selves up to the endless view of our real self i.e. to be willing to live in hell for fear of heaven–what madness is that?

 

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 

Ah, but we all think that it was happenstance that we’re here, that we didn’t choose to be here. Are you sure of that? Maybe that thought is your ego’s way of not having to be responsible for how it all turns out?

But what is madness? Deviating too far from a norm or from what is the standard for common sense? Was it madness to believe that sound and image could be broadcast through the air across great distances? Or that women could ever be the equal of any man and deserved the same rights and privileges? And that there would ever be a willing confederation of traditional enemies as is being witnessed in the European Union? Was it crazy to believe that humans could be made to fly or step foot upon the moon? Or that two young college dropouts could change the way the world communicates? At one time the answer to all of these and more was an unquestioned, “yes, it is madness”!

 

“The Mad Hatter: Have I gone Mad?

Alice: I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

–Lewis Carroll

 

Real madness seems to be a society that fights desperately for its freedom and then votes for someone to restrict and oppress them. Then there’s a society who believes that the answer to personal safety and security against guns is to buy more guns, bigger guns, with more bullets, and more power. Or how about those who believe that if you punish hard enough the transgressor will learn not to do bad things (look how well that works in our penal system) or that if you hit a child for hitting that it will teach him not to hit? And why the human love affair with retribution and revenge, how’s that working?

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I’m sure that the readers of this blog could come up with many more bits of curious madness than I’ve detailed here. The point is that perhaps in our madness we’ve reversed what it means to be sane. Maybe we all ought to be a little more mad? In the best sort of way, of course, I mean, all the best people are.

A little night music

 

Nighttime at a roadside inn somewhere near Mt. Shasta.

 

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Found on Myazdatabase images

Banners of blood red and yellow clouds shining brightly in the distance turn grey silhouette upon a mountain’s edge at days end.

There’s a holy feeling as quiet descends across the valley. In communion I stand in an empty field singing to the night.

A bright flash lights the distant mountain kingdom where war sabers of cold and warm meet. The gods of day and night having one last joust.

A knight of the road dismounts his chuffing beast, fills its hungry belly with a sulfurous black fluid, and again flies into the now inky sky.

 

 

The Never-Never

 

“The second star to the right and then straight on ‘til morning.”

 

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A metaphor for our Unconscious Mind?

In several blog articles I’ve explored how myth reflects the workings of the human psyche. Though not myths in and of themselves there are also popular fantasy stories that have added to our cultural mythology that themselves are allegories to the workings of the psyche. I’ve looked at such stories and poems as Shakespeare’s Mid Summer Nights Dream, Louis Carroll’s’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Today I thought I’d tackle yet another of the English-speaking world’s favorite fantasy stories, Peter Pan.

“The second star to the right and then straight on ‘til morning.

But, Peter, how do we get to Never Land?

Fly, of course.

Fly?

It’s easy! All you have to do is to… is to… is to… Ha! That’s funny.

What’s the matter? Don’t you know?

Oh, sure. It’s… It’s just that I never thought about it before. Say, that’s it! You think of a wonderful thought. “

 

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From Disney movie Peter Pan

And thus began one of fantasy’s most incredible magical journeys, Peter Pan by J.M Barrie.

What is this Never Land of which he spoke?

Barrie thought of this land as a place found in the minds of children. Each land is as different as each child, though there are some basic similarities as it is between children as well. This seems not unlike the archetypal images of which Jung spoke which would make Never Land an archetype for the psyche’s imaginal realm.

In this way Never Land might be likened to the dream world with the “mainland” of Wendy, John and Michael Darling representing the waking world.

Barrie’s Never Land was probably a reference to the popular name for the Australian Outback i.e. The “Never-Never” that was to be found in the deserts of the Northern Territory. This wouldn’t be too far fetched when one thinks of the Australs as the southern most land mass on the planet and thus analogous to the unconscious mind from whence all dreams are born.

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Never-Never National Park

Neverland can only be reached by flying and in the dream world, flying is a metaphor for freedom and independence, it’s also a central theme in Peter Pan’s world.

The star in the beginning of the story serves as a guide or map to the place of their desire; where they aspire to be i.e. Never Land. In dreams stars also relate to ones aspirations and desires. There’s also an aspect of fate or luck in the story because you’re encouraged to believe that you just have to follow “the 2nd star to the right and then straight on ‘til morning”, a star in ones dreams also symbolizes this same aspect of luck.

In the book The Archipelago of Dreams Robert also followed a star that drew him into the Spirit World of his deeper self where he also tempted fate.

Growing up in some way is also an aspect of many stories both in the desire and the resistance to it. We all want the seeming independence of being grown up and in charge of our fate, but how many times have we all, when overwhelmed with the responsibilities of our grown-up status, wished for the simpler days of our childhood? In our dreams this often shows up in images of our childhood home, friends, events, or family.

You see, our fantasy stories as well as our myths come from the same place as our dreams– they are projections of our deeper, and all too hidden, nature.

 

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Capturing the divinity in everyday things

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The mystical is not so lofty as we make it out to be. Standing before a multicolored canyon at sunrise, or above a misting forest or wooded trail, staring at the fog rolling in across the hills and into a valley, the crash of waves upon the shore, the first cry of a baby’s borning, a rose in full bloom, falling in love, a piece of music that stirs the soul sending waves of joy throughout your body, the sight of a feast after the fast, middle schoolers swarming the local coffee shop at the end of their day, swarms of birds dancing to the setting sun, or a deceased loved one visiting a dream are all common mystical experiences that speak clearly about the divine in the everything of the everyday.

These moments are sacred and point to the infinite being that we are. When connected with the whole of the every day we are never alone, never lost, or confused. When standing in the moment we are in a religion of our own and open to all that there is and the imagination soars set free from the petty restrictions of the ego.

It is at those times of the common mystical that we can sink down into our deeper self and find our true being. We cannot define the experience but when it happens we know that we have transcended the ordinary and connected with something much bigger, much grander than our limited selves.

The mystical is not limited to visions and dreams. Look for the common experiences of the mystical in every facet of your life. They’re there and will make themselves known if you open your mind and heart to them.

Embodied Cognition: The enlivened Dream

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Not too long ago I was reading an article in the Jan/Feb 2011 Scientific American Mind Magazine. The subject was how body movements and fleeting sensations affect our thinking. This is called “Embodied Cognition.” It reminded me how when I used to give seminars and workshops in the 70’s and 80’s I used to always wear a light colored pastel sweater with audiences that I thought might be resistant, or even hostile to my message. My own research, though narrow, seemed to reinforce the calming and trust inducing effect this had on the audience. Mr. Rogers and his blue cardigan seemed to have it right.

In the article, researchers at Yale University found that rough textures in the environment tend to make social interactions go roughly and that while touching hard/cold objects in the environment would affect the perception of rigidity. The article implied that drinking something warm on a first meeting between people would increase the feeling of warmth toward each other vs. the drinking of something cold.

Physicality has always played an important role on our perceptions and our learning. Educators have known for years that children learn their letters and words easier when they use large arm movements to ‘draw’ the letter, or word in the air.

Using “manipulatives” while learning math principles has also proven effective in elementary learning situations. Adults build models of chemical reactions to extend their learning and to enhance the discovery process.

We also know that simulating an action while reading a story increases the comprehension of that story. This concept is one of the generating principles behind the effectiveness of Gestalt therapy and Active Imagining, both of which I’ve mentioned in earlier Blogs. Mentally simulating body movements has been a technique to help embody a routine in gymnastics or on the field of various sporting activities. When I was in community theater the director would have us go through all our movements mentally before the play so as to help build the action into the body’s memory.

Re-embodying a dream after you have awakened by selecting a prominent image from the dream and bringing it back into the imagination while quietly meditating can allow one to interact with the image and gain greater insight as to why it has visited the dream.

The embodied cognition effect also shows up when you journal a dream. The mere act of writing a dream down immediately after waking stimulates and reinforces the recall of that dream and in many cases the recall of many subsequent dreams.

Archetypal memes in our stories and our dreams

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For several years now I’ve been slowly adding to my personal encyclopedia of dream images. After a particularly numinous dream the other day I thumbed through my collection to the archetype section and found what I was looking for. It was a comment on the archetypal images that often show up in fictional and fantasy stories.

Stories thrive on archetypal characters. There are the heroes such as Odysseus of Homer’s work, or Hercules in Greek mythology. Characters like Puck and Lady Macbeth, Othello and King Lear along with a whole host of others in the works of Shakespeare are also archetypal memes.

The White Rabbit and the Cheshire cat lead us into our inner realm, as do all animals in our dreams and music such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker shows evidence of characters like the trickster and shadow. The psychic archetypes portrayed within this work show up in the form of the Trickster-magician Drosselmeyer, the Shadow creature portrayed by the Mouse King and his minions and the various goddess images envisioned as the Sugar Plum and Snow fairies.

The Nutcracker itself transforms from one state of being to another, becoming human in the process, a nice metaphor for Carl Jung’s Individuation Process and not unlike the transformative performance experienced by Pinocchio who morphed from being a puppet to a real boy. Both represent the magic-like development of the human psyche as it transmutes toward wholeness and realness.

As with anything in the imaginal world of the psychic archetypes, they are more metaphor than actual. We can’t touch them, only point toward their attributes. They represent the patterns of the psychic function.

The Depth Psychologist James Hillman said that they were the root of the soul. He went on to say that because of this imaginal description of archetype we are lead “to envision the basic nature and structure of the soul in an imaginative way and to approach the basic questions of psychology first of all by means of the imagination.” (Hillman, J., A Blue Fire, Harper Perennial, 1989, pg.23)

Imagination is the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses. A Psychologist might say that it is the power of reproducing images stored in the memory under the suggestion of associated images or of recombining former experiences in the creation of new images that aid in the solution of problems or that are directed at a specific goal.

The archetypal imagination of our soul has the ability to create unreal or whimsical imagery and the decorative detail that we experience in our poetry, dramas, stories and art.

On occasion an archetypal image will visit a dream and deliver a luminous or what has been dubbed a numinous (i.e. holy or sacred) quality to the dream that can stimulate an emotional state that brings transformational meaning and purpose to ones life.

The emotion can be of deep sweetness, ecstasy or of terror and dread but definitely a wholly other experience of astonishment and wonder.

Whether the experience is “real” or not in terms of whether one has been visited by some spirit isn’t all that important because it’s the effect that it has on ones psyche and resulting behavior that is of consequence.