Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Looking Glass

This winter has been difficult. For me, it seems that January is the cruelest month. I guess if I was to be fair, it's not been a total disaster, and probably better on the whole than last January. Some good things did happen--I got a second teaching job, furnace issues may have been finally sorted out, and even our big snows this month have been light and powdery--no heavy shoveling. But it has been so cold--unnaturally cold for us. My sister tells me that this was like winters she remembers as a child in the 1960s--subzero temperatures, lots of snow.

I feel like a shut-in, and the cold and snow makes Spring seem very far away. Some nights I am unable to sleep; I have many irrational fears about the furnace going out, or the power going out. Both things have happened, so maybe it's not totally irrational. I would just like for the extreme cold to go away, and stop draining our resources. I know that places like Canada deal with this kind of cold routinely, but I also think that they are better equipped to deal with it. Just as states like Florida have heat pumps as a regular feature in their homes to save on cooling costs, I'm sure that those in colder climates have found a way to efficiently heat their homes without heavy reliance on tenuous resources.

So, this is one of many mornings where I am up, maybe not so early, with wool blankets tacked over both doors to the outside to help keep the cold out, a cup of hot green tea, and a vague sense of being overwhelmed by everything I have to do. The cat crawls under a blanket on the sofa and snores. I wish I could do that so easily.

I received word last night that my mother's sister died, succumbing to lung cancer. It seems very natural in this winter setting; death is everywhere. Yet with the death is a hope of release from suffering. I am mostly sad for my mother and her other sister, as well as my uncle, and my cousin's family. In some cases with those mentioned there was a great reliance on my aunt, and the transition to life without her is going to be difficult. Years ago her first husband died, also of lung cancer--it was at least 30 years ago. Shortly after his death one of my sisters, and possibly my brother, saw him walking down the street in my parents' neighborhood. My sister called out to him questioningly, and he just looked at her and smiled, and walked off. They didn't see him again. After reading this recent article on NDE's, it made me wonder if my uncle, or whatever remains of his personality, met my aunt when she passed. I guess we'll never know.

In my insomniac moments, I like to read. One of the stories I read in the last couple of days was Walter De La Mare's "The Looking Glass". The story centers around Alice, a sickly girl who has a persistent cough. Much is made of the line between freedom and imprisonment; she likes to visit the garden outside her house in the afternoons. She is free of those around her, and yet that freedom of being alone in nature made her a little frightened. A local old woman, described as "slovenly ponderous" and "arrogant" seems to know that Alice will be visiting the garden at this time, and always manages to be there. Alice doesn't like the woman, who is called Sarah, but her sense of aloneness there makes her welcome Sarah's appearances.

Sarah, who is an archetypal witch figure in this story, spins her "lore" about the haunted garden. At first she says "the house", and rather sharply corrects Sarah when she says the house is haunted--she MEANT the garden. The implication is that if Alice comes dressed as a bride on May Day, she will have a vision of the garden's secrets, and what is implied is that she will see a young man, a lover-figure. Alice questions Sarah endlessly about this, until Sarah is weary. Alice notices, as Sarah seems to, that the garden shimmers "like a looking glass". There is a certain clarity of the "other side". However, Sarah does not seem to be enamored of the garden; she talks about taking out the birds with a blunderbuss, and when pressed about what is "on the other side" (because Sarah has surely seen it), she says it is nothing but "death".

Alice makes her way back, and makes the telling statement that it is she herself that haunts the garden. She makes preparations for the May Day ritual, and is anxious for it. Ultimately, however, she does not go through with it, and in the end she is "done with looking glasses" and spends her time worrying about the practical domestic things of life.

Archetypally, this story is loaded with meaning. The secret, imaginative world of childhood, where fairies and Santa Claus are real, is replaced by adolescence, where we fall into the dreamy world of the anima or animus. An interest in boys or girls replaces childhood play, though that sense of the "other" world hasn't entirely gone away. Then we become adults, and it all falls away. Between education, heartbreak, and issues of survival, we step into a life that was not what we would have expected in our dreams. So, we settle into our routines, get jobs, pay bills, become "practical", and forget about the "nonsense" of childhood. In short, we trade one illusion for another.

"The Looking Glass" mentioned in the story is what shows us the other side of our consciousness--the seemingly unreal world of the Collective. We have direct access to this as children. I remember watching the documentary "My Amityville Horror" about Danny Lutz, one of the children in the house at the time of its demonic activity. He told his story, and at the end, the filmmaker brought in a psychologist who basically wrote him off as being in a "childhood fantasy". I was very angry that the filmmaker did that. Danny's childhood experience and his account of it is more real than the gibberings of some idiot psychologist. The psychologist no longer has access; the psychologist doesn't know. Danny was reluctant to tell his story for that very reason.

In a documentary on the belief in fairies in Iceland, a police officer tells the filmmakers about his childhood. He walks among rocks, and says that they had doors that opened when he was a child, and he would play with the elves that came out. Then he said what was translated as "my testicles came down" (i.e., he entered puberty) and "the doors were closed and I never saw them again."

I have often thought about what that means. Jung has said that imagination is a fact; everything we have, all our technologies, had to come from someone's imagination. We are a race of storytellers, and stories shape our lives. Illusions shape our lives. The illusion we create for ourselves as adults is called "business" and "economy". Now, it does take a certain amount of cooperation and work to make a society "go round". But our systems are artificial. We have rocks and paper that are assigned a value, and we spend our adult lives trying to accumulate those pieces of paper. They only stand for wealth; they are not really anything. As Alan Watts pointed out, money is no more wealth than the words on a menu are food. But this is an illusion that we all participate in, and it is so accepted by society that it is "real". It is the game adults play, and a difficult one to not participate in.

When illusions vaporize or are shattered, we become "disillusioned". As a result, we cease to trust ourselves. As children, we were magical; as adults, we cannot believe that we can control our destinies. It just seems "illogical". We have been taught that the rational mind is the only reliable thing--never trust your inner self, your gut feelings and intuitions. This is not really helped by a mythical view that says we are all machines, or like machines.

This is why people hang onto religions, and onto so-called "irrational beliefs"--the paranormal, supernatural, etc. We question that imaginative reality all the time, but we don't question the one we accept as "real". The "reality" is that one is not necessarily more "real" than the other. The Hindus have a concept called "maya"--illusion, and they say that this is what the visible world is--the real world is that of undifferentiated consciousness. You can choose to distrust everything as a result, but I have always hoped that this means that I can write my own illusory story instead of accepting everyone else's. If I don't like the picture, I want to be able to paint another one.

That might sound crazy, but once again I think of Iceland. When their economy collapsed due to bad banking practices, they threw the bankers in jail and forgave loans. Their recovery has been remarkable. Thinking differently about our illusions might not be so "crazy" after all.

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