The maps that we create as human beings are usually attempts to avoid confusion and the inevitable sense of distress we experience when we lose our bearings. In trying to deal with the complex experience of being alive, we undertake cartographic projects to help us feel more secure. Whether our adventures are geographical or psycho-spiritual, we hope that our maps (whether self-created or inherited) will bear some resemblance to the landscapes we move within.
In my last two posts, I have been musing over the potential value of the maps that various World Trees might hold in connection to our spiritual aspirations. These trees can provide us with powerful images for exploring what balance and growth might mean as we dig into the deep places of personal and ancestral memory. When we engage with them consciously, they can provide not only a macrocosmic map for comprehending the mythic currents of history, but also a microcosmic plan as to how we might experience the complexity of self. As roots might reflect our longing for nutrition via connection to history and place, so our branches stretch upwards seeking light, space and the new.
Ironically this stretching, yearning impulse often feels as if it is taking us “off the map” and into unknown territories that might need new skills. Rather than pouring over the minutiae of hill contours and grid-references, we might need to look up and fully take in our surroundings. Inevitably we will view new experiences through the lens of what we know, but the challenge and clear air of the new often provides us with an opportunity for awakening:
“A person needs new experiences. It jars something deep inside, allowing them to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
― Duke Leto Atreides (Dune)
As we reach upwards, we are often seeking to grapple with the mystery and vastness of space. These branches are often our attempts at entering the realm of Asgard as we seek to interact with the numinous world of the gods. Whether we view our deities as actual or imagined, they often represent our longings and aspirations. They often embody key aspects of our future magical selves, and our attraction to them often reveals important dimensions of our own becoming.
Now this is all well and good, but it prompted me to wonder how I might maximize my own internal state, so that I might be more receptive to the incoming of such gnosis or new insight.
I have written previously about the ways in which we might work with our awe at the vastness of space as a way of gaining perspective on our existence and in managing our terror. For me, the wonder of space is that it simultaneously provides a glimpse into an unknown future while also plunging us into a primal void from which the possibility of creation can occur. We are at once viewing the place where our branches will grow while experiencing a vastness that exists before consciousness and the uttering of the first word. When we first enter into this territory it can feel decidedly challenging as the uncertainty and sense of emptiness threaten to overwhelm us.
Different traditions describe this type of space as the Pleroma, Sunyata or the primary Chaos of the serpent Apep. Even when these states of being/non-being are viewed more positively, the question still remains as to how we should work with them. Unsurprisingly such territory can seriously mess with your head, but here are a few things I have been working on so as to stay rooted; and to avoid losing my shit.
1. Sitting practice/working with silence: Perhaps the most radical way in which to work with space and its uncertainty is to befriend them. The easiest temptation to give in to when we experience this void-space is simply to fill it with more thinking, more interpretation or more spiritual toys to play with. Chogyam Trungpa described this tendency as “Spiritual Materialism” and as a magical practitioner with Chaos tendencies, I’m all too familiar with my ability to use the clutter of occult theory and practice as a way of avoiding the harder work of sitting with the not-knowing.
If we can set aside our constructs and schemas in order to embrace a Zen-like “beginner’s mind”, what might we find ourselves encountering? When we let ourselves experience a greater sense of space, we create the possibility of truly hearing new words arising from the depths.
2. Using Creativity: When seeking to work with uncertainty and the emergence of new insights, the use of visual art, music and dance can be powerful ways of accessing both the deep roots of the unconscious and the incoming of the numinous future. As we let go of the linear and the known, so new insights become possible. Cut-ups and Collages especially have provided me with a dynamic set of tools for exploring the dynamic tension between ideas and images emerging from the unconscious/superconscious aspects of self.
3. Working with the Spacious Body: In seeking to work with our sense of the incoming and unknown it can be easy to tie ourselves into knots of anxiety as we try to anticipate an avalanche of what ifs. As with our sitting practice and creativity, when we engage the body through conscious movement it becomes more possible to turn down the volume on the voice of our internal critic. Like our minds, our bodies too can become full-up with those familiar, automated patterns that can leave us feeling stiff and armour-plated. For me, gentle dance, Qi Gong and shaking practices have provided the opportunity to explore movements that disrupt machine-like tendencies, and create a greater sense of spaciousness and opening out. It would seem fitting to conclude with a quote from that mighty Tantric sage Abhinavagupta:
Thus one should think of the body as full of all the Paths (to enlightenment and cosmic emanation). Variegated by the workings of time, it is the abode of all the movements of time and space. The body seen this way is all the gods, and must therefore be the object of contemplation, veneration and sacrifice. He who penetrates into it finds liberation.
From Tantraloka. Quoted by Mark Dyczkowski in The Doctrine of Vibration.