As a rule I generally find polarities quite difficult. I’ve spent much time on the blog wondering about where the boundaries between apparent opposites lie. Whether masculine/feminine, gay/straight or magician/mystic, I keep trying to explore those queered places inspired by my devotion to those fluid dynamics embodied by that strange god Baphomet.
Another binary that interests me, is that of Introvert and Extrovert. Somewhat predictably I take some comfort in the idea of an ambivert who is able to incorporate aspects of both poles, but I am also aware of the danger of seeking a premature synthesis that doesn’t properly value my introvert self. While people may debate what we mean by the term introvert, for me it connects to my need for space, quiet and relative solitude as a means of topping-up my psychological tanks. This space provides a greater possibility for reconnection to an internal world, within which I can gain the resources I need for dealing with the external world.
Part of my initial love of the work of Carl Jung was formed by his articulation of the differences that might exist for the introvert and extrovert. I bumped into Jung while I was both studying theology and exploring a possible monastic vocation. Jung’s formulation provided a vital key in my own process of understanding why I had always felt this need for quiet, self-isolation and space. Undoubtedly there were some less functional drives lying behind this need—shyness, confusion about self, and shame generated by bullying—but in embracing the introvert, I felt that I was giving myself permission to express a more authentic version of self.
The pull towards monasticism was in part inspired by the dual images of St. Anthony and St. Francis seeking a simpler, more stripped-down path in their pursuit of the divine. St. Anthony as one of the founding desert fathers and mothers, fled to the desert in response to the growing respectability of the state sanctioned expression of church. For Antony the sparseness of these desert places provided the ideal geography for encountering the vastness of God, and to do battle with forces he perceived as demonic. In contrast Francis provided me with a more accessible role-model in his pursuit of simplicity, and vision as an inspiration to service and social change. Francis (at least in my imagination) was an example of the introvert, who when refreshed by silence and space, was able to utilise that energy in his engagement with others.
This experience of space and silence can also contain negative connotations when our experience tips over into one of loneliness. In his excellent The Soul’s Code the psychotherapist James Hillman seeks to explore the experience of isolation and loneliness as central to the alchemical process of “soul making”. He seeks to contrast a mythic approach to loneliness that differs radically from either Judaeo-Christian depictions of it as a form of punishment, or as indulgent revelry in some form of Existentialist ennui. For Hillman, a more heroic/mythic engagement with loneliness and space allows the possibility for us to discover and attune with our unique daimon or life’s purpose. The sense of separation engendered by this positive use of loneliness allows us to challenge the conditioning and control that we may have imbibed via either family or societal scripts.
One example of such heroic separation that I’ve recently found inspiring has been via the character of Ragnar Lothbrok in the series The Vikings. For the uninitiated, the first four seasons of The Vikings is largely focused on the unfolding fate of Ragnar as he becomes a leader within his community. Predictably the show deals with the brutality of Northern European life in the 9th century and the interactions between the Old (Norse) and New (Christian) gods. What struck me about the programme’s depiction of Ragnar was that despite (or perhaps because) of his leadership role, he often seeks periods of silence and solitude as a way of reconnecting to his wyrd. In a number of episodes, Ragnar is seen undertaking a practice of “sitting out” (Utta Seti) in which he seeks both the quiet and sharpness of nature as an opportunity to hear and realign with his Gods. To some extent this is the territory we seek to explore in our monthly Zen Hearth, using both trance and deep listening as a means of gaining gnosis. We use the discipline of mindfulness meditation as a means for creating the space in which the whisperings of the deep self can be heard.
One of the greatest challenges for those of us who feel compelled to explore these spacious (and potentially darker) dimensions of self and cosmos is how we return from our isolation so as to communicate any insights gained. The truly misanthropic may choose to reject such as role, but often the magician/shaman/witch has been the one who takes the high risk role of speaking prophetically to the norms of a given culture. Often we dwell at the outer edge of what is known and can at times become conduits of both mystery and the unorthodox.
When we take the risk of sitting with the pregnant void of silence, new insights and words may arise and we are often asked to become the midwives at their birth!