May 3, 2021 at 9:20 pm #74328Stephen GerringerKeymaster
Author, archetypal consultant, and recognized futurist Kristina Dryža is once again our guest in Conversations of a Higher Order for a discussion of “Poetic Imagination: The Rich Language Of Image And Metaphor,” her latest contribution to JCF’s MythBlast essay series. Her work focuses on archetypal and mythic patterns and the patterning of nature’s rhythms and their influence on creativity, innovation and leadership.
By now forum users know the drill: I will get us started with a few questions and comments, but it will be your thoughts, reactions, observations and insights that expand this beyond just another interview into a communal exchange of ideas – true “conversations of a higher order.” Please feel free to join the discussion and engage Ms. Dryža directly (as well as each other) with your questions and observations.
There was a time in my younger days when I was a rationalist who tended to take language literally (my very first session with a therapist, my counselor asked about significant images I recalled from my life; I had no idea what she was talking about, as my default assumption then was that thinking and everything related to it, including memory, was done with words; I could not grasp the underlying images shaping my perceptions and driving my behavior).
This question is on behalf of the youth I once was:
A poetic and symbolic sensibility assists this endeavour because many of the most important lessons of life are expressed through pictorial narratives. Indeed, eternal truths are usually best conveyed through myth, parable, allegory and metaphor.”
You reference myth and parable – and yet these are stories, recounted and transmitted through words. Could you explain what you mean by “pictorial narratives”? (I do believe this comes through in the context of the rest of your essay, but that sadly literal lad I once was would totally miss such nuance – so would you mind spelling this out in a little more detail?)
My second question is related. Later in the essay you write
. . . all too often we’re trying to change the world through a linear mind, when in reality, it can only (ultimately) be transformed through the non-linear – metaphors, myths, dreams, symbols . . . “
And yet, clearly there is such a thing as a logical, linear thinking, which seems to be favored in much of the modern world dominated by a rational, Cartesian mindset. Why do we have that? When would you say linear thinking is appropriate – what are its strengths, and where does it fall short?
This may seem elementary to many students of mythology and depth psychology (not to mention literature, poetry, and art), but an over-reliance on logical, rational thought strikes me as a huge barrier to understanding metaphor and the poetic image (and I can’t help but notice how many who lack that understanding are driving economics and politics around the world). So how would you explain that difference to those who can’t see the image and lose the metaphor in a literal reading?May 6, 2021 at 5:05 pm #74334
Thank you for the questions Stephen.
To your first one, language puts the air in vibration. I believe that how we speak to a plant has an effect on how that plant grows. Supportive or criticising words affect how both humans, and plants, develop. Language carries the mentality of people. There is no neutrality in language. We can speak both plants, and people, into being. We can recreate and transform the world by how we use our words.
Why am I writing this? Because how often do we enjoy the aliveness of language? Too often we deaden it. We must have joy in our expression and articulation. Abstract thinking with no rhythm, rhyme or pictorial expression prevents Aphrodite from appearing in our communications. Beauty and aesthetics are crucial on the spiritual path because they have the might, and impressive ability, to pull us into a respecting and loving devotion.
When we only exercise a rigid intellectuality, with the dullness of a rock, the hard thoughts and mechanisation of the mind bring a death force to ourselves, and to nature. What we’re after is an imaginative clairvoyance, not a vacant one. So to me, pictorial thinking is an imaginative fluency that indirectly benefits the spirit, as much as matter.
And manifestation too requires a pictorial capacity, the ability to express in pictures. So how can we get our thinking as colourful and vibrant as the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat? How can we employ the richness of imagination? It requires starting from the cosmos, the great picture, then drilling down to the microcosm, and accessing all the wealth of imagery in between to potentially reach a deeper, inner understanding of the world.
We get nourished by vivid, descriptive, visual thoughts. Much more than our usual grey, lifeless thinking. And as I mention in this MythBlast, it’s necessary to wrestle with the pictures in our own minds to get to their truth, because otherwise our nervous system gets depleted with all that abstraction devoid of any iconographic or picturesque content.
Patterns in the psyche exist individually and collectively, and so we paint them in with words and express them through images. Eternal stories get clothed culturally, and it’s what brings our beautiful and diverse world to life. It’s actually rather unhealthy to take in images and impressions, which we don’t understand. If we don’t take the pictures in and live them, they can become a corrupting influence. When it’s no longer solely a picture in our mind – when it’s nestled deep in our bones – that’s when we can transform the image.
By penetrating the images with our consciousness, and letting them move through the drama of our lives, well, that’s when we can play with them. And play keeps us in present time. And here I defer to Campbell’s words in Myths of Light. “There is a curious and extremely interesting aspect of the Japanese language. There is a form of very polite discourse known as ‘play language’ (asobase kotoba), where instead of saying, ‘I see that you have come to Tokyo,’ one says, ‘I see that you are playing at being in Tokyo.’ The idea is that people do what they do voluntarily, as one enters a game. Life is a game. This goes so far that, when using this very polite language, you wish to say, ‘I hear that your father has died,’ the way to say it is, ‘I understand that your father has played at dying.’ I submit that this is a glorious approach to life.” 
And in regards to the second question, again, to me, linear knowledge involves a process of thought following known, step-by-step progression in a sequential manner. Favouring logic, rationality and analysis is comfortable, because it’s familiar. But familiar doesn’t always imply appropriate. Thinking in a straight line, with a focus on one-dimensional awareness and reductionism works in a ‘known’ world. There was a time and place for this type of intelligence to dominate but old, linear ways of working are unsustainable in an accelerated, ‘unknown’ world. Currently we’re in a state of transition, a liminal phase, where forces of disintegration and integration are occurring simultaneously. We can no longer understand the world in a logical, sequential manner as cognitive reasoning can’t lead to transformation in an ‘unknown’ world.
So, can we favour a non-linear perspective? By this I mean a capacity for spiral thought with multiple starting points, which can extend into multiple directions. Can we place more attention on intuition, our emotions, as well as thinking and feeling circularly, with an awareness of the consciousness inherent in all living things, like nature and the land? Put simply, holism.
I feel that there is a shift from the Cartesian dictum, ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ (I think, therefore I am) to ‘I sense, therefore I am.’ That there’s a move away from design by force to instead creating through presence – sensing and being attuned to what’s emerging, what’s arising and what wants to be born in the ‘now’ moment. It’s crucial for us to engage our thinking, feeling and willing with all our senses to stimulate the head, hands and heart during this evolutionary moment for humanity. But will those who are driving economic and political policies around the world hear this? Jesus said many times throughout the Gospels, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
I so look forward to dialoguing with you all this week, Kristina.May 10, 2021 at 10:04 pm #74333
Thank you for your marvelous Mythblast essay. I am still reading and enjoying the many flavors of this essay, beginning with Campbell in Myths of Light; onto our longing for universality and how a poetic sensibility assists such endeavors and eternal truths are usually conveyed through myth metaphor and allegory. This ties me to Stephen’s second question, ” . . . all too often we’re trying to change the world through a linear mind, when in reality, it can only (ultimately) be transformed through the non-linear – metaphors, myths, dreams, symbols . . . ” Indeed this thought still baffles me. Can we? Have societies changed the world through mythic ideas, dreams and symbols, or did not the linear practical reality play a more emphatic role? Is not longing for universality also a longing for the physical and mental wellbeing of all or many?
Stephen’s question leads me to what James just brought about in his post on Synchronicity. In his deep and prolific post James outlined our societal issues, lack of genuine care and concern for the vulnerable population, homelessness, and the impact of Reaganomics on the needs and necessities of those suffering from hunger, disease or addiction.
One passage from James’ post is here,
“About a week or so ago I was watching the evening news covering a gathering commemorating the passing of the homeless who had died on the street. No one knew who they were; no family or friends to mourn them. And one woman being interviewed; with tears in her eyes defiantly said: “Everyone deserves to be remembered. And although I didn’t know them; I am here on their behalf to remember them.”
This city has a long history with cemeteries located all over town where family members are laid to rest that bear reverence to those who died. Military as well as civilians have special designated cemeteries that honor the memories of those who were either killed in battle or have passed on. We even hold special memorial services with parades commemorating public military events where their lives are celebrated. Yet the most vulnerable among us whose only crime was they were sick from a mental disorder are ignored and forgotten as though they never even existed. Every life has value; every life has meaning; and the way we treat those that are helpless as individuals is a reflection of who we are as a society.
Reading the history and development of Socialized Medicine in Europe, which began with State Socialism (German: Staatssozialismus) — “a set of social programmes implemented in the German Empire that were initiated by Otto von Bismarck in 1883 as remedial measures to appease the working class and detract support for socialism” And then the National Health System in the UK, and around the world, leading to universal care for all. To me and to many others, on the surface, it appears that the health care system evolved from the practical needs of the society, the economic necessities dictated by the aftermath of war, and also the aftermath of diseases. Thinking universally was more a pragmatic step, a more linear and well thought out process.
As recently as 2010, “The anti-austerity movement in the United Kingdom saw major demonstrations throughout 2010s in response to Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s austerity measures which saw significant reductions in local council budgets, increasing of university tuition fees and reduction of public spending on welfare, education, health and policing, among others. ” Similarly, Reaganomics of the 1980s,introduced austerity measures in the US, reduced public spending on health education and welfare — an economic process thought out through numbers and greater emphasis on reducing the size of public spending and increasing the private sector. These economic planners cite the need for higher profits so as to encourage production and investment (looking at the private sector of the society) while underplaying the realities of those who depend on their bread and butter on their fixed wages.
As a believer in myth and metaphor, the economics of social democratic states in Europe baffles me. A very negligible population in Europe is homeless, they think for the collective, they have fought for social justice and equal taxation for all (no privileges for the billionaires), they have protested and demanded rights to country’s land and resources like oil and gas, from their monarchs, and gone on to elect a government that oversees their well being.
Dear Kristina, I confess I have digressed a bit much, but would love to hear your thoughts on how a poetically rich society can help bring about social equality and justice for the many that have none. I love your concluding remarks, ” It’s crucial for us to engage our thinking, feeling and willing with all our senses to stimulate the head, hands and heart during this evolutionary moment for humanity. But will those who are driving economic and political policies around the world hear this? Jesus said many times throughout the Gospels, “He who has ears, let him hear.” So, how do we work towards a society that has sensitive ears, soft eyes, and a noble heart?
Shaahayda (with gratitude)May 12, 2021 at 8:51 am #74332
Thank you for your generous and considered comments Shaahayda. You bring such rich material to contemplate.
Your question about if societies have changed through mythic ideas, dreams and symbols points me to Campbell in Myths of Light where he writes, “He backed away and then, acting as though it were an inconsequential matter, he said, ‘Everyone must come out of his exile in his own way.’ Well, that might have been perfectly all right from Dr. Buber’s standpoint. But what struck me immediately was that the whole point of Oriental wisdom and mythic themes is that we are not in exile – that the god is within you. You can’t be exiled from it. All that can happen is that you can fail to know it, that you don’t realise it, that you haven’t found a way to open your consciousness to this presence that is right within you.” So for me the question is more about how do we release the idea of being in exile, and then as members of society, create from this presence of the god within us.
To your final question, and again to Campbell, “And that is the first doctrine of Buddhism: it cannot be taught. No experience can be taught. All that can be taught is the way to an experience.” How do we get into the daily ritual of asking what’s sacred in this moment? (during many moments throughout the day)
Truth, beauty and justice have a greater chance of flourishing when we live in alignment with the patterns of nature and the illumination the archetypal world bestows. For one reason, this enables us to fixate less on prediction and concern ourselves more with presence. We may then better meet the future as we learn to make the mysterious and the unknown our permanent home. Rather than constantly being consumed with what’s next, we instead focus on what’s sacred. But for another reason, a poetically rich perspective honours the sacredness of all things – the earth and all her creatures – and holds an increasingly expanding vision of the wider cosmos. From here we must begin, but what is the inner and outer invitation we each must first make to cross this threshold?
Very best, Kristina.May 12, 2021 at 7:02 pm #74331
Thank you for your thoughtful response. For me, your last paragraph nailed the issue of a fair and just society. You wrote, “But for another reason, a poetically rich perspective honours the sacredness of all things – the earth and all her creatures – and holds an increasingly expanding vision of the wider cosmos.”
Thoughtful of earth and all its creatures takes me to the time when oil was discovered in the Norwegian continental shelf in 1969, Norwegians working within a constitutional monarchy, sat down and planned a long-term wealth, that would benefit their entire society and make them competitive beyond just a commodities exporter. Their universal health coverage, free university education (for international students too), a year’s worth of maternity and paternity leave, senior care for life, plus a lot more, were all a result of careful ‘sacred thinking for all’ and also sound planning to invest the ‘sovereign wealth fund’ for the wellbeing of all, not just for the king’s coffers (as in some ME absolute monarchies) or as in countries with a free-market approach, where governments are discouraged from long-term public planning. Norway’s “oil and gas activities have rendered more than just revenue for the benefit of the future generations, but has also rendered employment, workplaces and highly skilled industries.”
Norway is not the only country that has so properly invested for its people, and thought of the land as sacred, there are many others. On the other hand, these Scandi countries have also discriminated against the Samis, but since the late 80s and 90s, the Scandinavian countries, have accorded special protection and rights to the Samis. They now have seats in the Parliament. They decide the area of activity of the country’s Sámi Parliament and the Sámi and Scandinavian languages have equal standing in the country.
All this to say that Joseph’s words tell me that revenues from country’s resources ought to be distributed fairly among the people. “Money is congealed energy and releasing it releases life possibilities …Money experienced as life energy is indeed a meditation and letting it flow out instead of hoarding it is a mode of participation in the life of others.” (Joseph Campbell Companion (P. 58)) http://www.jcf.org/quotes
Shaahayda (in gratitude)May 17, 2021 at 8:55 pm #74330
I enjoyed and appreciate your Mythblast in its calm motion of poetry, and earth in motion, in harmony. It captures the spirit of poetry so well and is reflected in how it embodies a poem in that it even reads poetically. While I spent a few days thinking on your Mythblast before responding, it was serendipity when in my inbox I found an article on “Waking Up: David Whyte on the Power of Poetry and Silence as Portal to Presence.” From there I followed the links within that article that offered more about poetry from several poets.
Really great poems have been written about connection between poetry and the earth, from the old world notions of earth religions/spiritualities and those that are resurgences of these today, and earth-cosmos, and also in lieu of saving the earth.
Then there is the famous and beloved Mary Oliver with her beloved nature poems, many that read like soothing nature meditations. For those that are not soothing, there is the reality of the violence of nature like the tornado in the film The Wizard of Oz.
Some of Campbell’s famous quotes come to my mind here such as the one about participating in the sorrows of the world and another on how life feeds off life:
“Life lives on life. This is the sense of the symbol of the Ouroboros, the serpent biting its tail. Everything that lives lives on the death of something else. Your own body will be food for something else. Anyone who denies this, anyone who holds back, is out of order. Death is an act of giving.”–quote retrieved from Goodreads.
How poetry can help change the world: political poems. Poetry can be an “acceptable” place for people/poets to air their politics, such as did Pulitzer Prize winning Carolyn Forche’s work. The New York Times reported that her work,
Taken together, Forché’s five books of verse—the most recent, “In the Lateness of the World” (Penguin Press), was published in March—are about action: memory as action, vision and writing as action. She asks us to consider the sometimes unrecognized, though always felt, ways in which power inserts itself into our lives and to think about how we can move forward with what we know. History—with its construction and its destruction—is at the heart of “In the Lateness of the World.” In “Museum of Stones,” the first poem in the book, Forché’s delicate but hawklike observations show us the broken dreams and false idols that are left in the wake of violence, folly, and time. She also shows how to pick our way through that detritus to search for clues as to who we were or might have been.
Maybe not just one poem can change the world, but each poem helps. There has always been the “saying” among poets that accompanies many a sigh that poets do not really write for the public they imagine, but that poets write mostly for other poets, meaning those who actually like and care about poetry enough to care about reading it. Once the printing press was invented and more and more people learned to read, poetry, along with fiction, used to be a wide source of entertainment before TV came along. Poems and fiction stories and plays were often read over the radio. When TV and modernism came along, fewer and fewer people followed poetry and by now we “follow” loads of pages on Facebook or other online places and faces. I think that during the election of Joe Biden for president (and this is not a political statement but simply one on poetry: We can all help poetry help the world by facilitating our own exposure to it and by exposing other to it such as the Poet Laurate reciting her poem at the inaugeration where many people would hear poetry. Just letting people be aware of it helps poetry change the world.
In earlier times poetry did change the world when Druids required that in order to ascend into the higher orders of Druidism that the new Druid had to first earn the title of “Bard;” the onset Druid would have to learn well an instrument and the tradition and craft of poetry. Poetry like music was considered a craft and it was, like music sacred. These are ways in ancient times that poetry (and music) could change the world being that it was so highly regarded as to be sacred.
*Artists, writers, and poets, filmmakers, dancers, musicians, all the arts, have all been said, for centuries, to carry the voice of the society in which they live–the zeitgeist.
Thank you, Christina, for a softer, gentler approach to such a lovely topic.
~MarianneMay 21, 2021 at 10:20 am #74329
Thank you so much for all the wonderful resources and wisdom that you shared Marianne.
I don’t know what more I can add to your generous and inspiriting post other than deferring to Jaime Gil de Biedma words as a finger pointing to the moon. “I believed that I wanted to be a poet, but deep down I just wanted to be a poem.”
Very best, Kristina.
PS Was just reading David Whyte’s poem ‘Coleman’s Bed’ this morning.
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