Soulcraft

At some point in your life, you begin to wonder if perhaps there is more to life than another round of success (or failure) at the Standard Game of Security Building—the pursuit of your personal selection of career, material possessions, physical safety, comfort, social and sexual relations, and economic position. (47)

This book (Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche by Bill Plotkin) was an interesting one to read at the end of the year. My sister got it for Christmas and I have been skimming through it myself these past few days. I’m really going to have to get his other book, Nature and the Human Soul, the one Cary Tennis recommended. These are some of the things that I found interesting about this book:

– I liked the book’s emphasis on myth-making (particularly of the Joseph Campbell kind), storytelling and archetypes. I loved it when he used a scene from Star Wars to illustrate an example of Jung’s Shadow (hint: it’s the scene in The Empire Strikes Back). It made me want to re-read Jung: A Brief Introduction and actually take notes this time so that way I can actually remember concrete information about his theories. I liked Plotkin’s definition of archetypes as a representation of “the patterns and possibilities of being human,” and how we will all embody each archetype (some more than others) at each point in our lives. As I’ve said before, this idea of fragmentation and many, separate selves that are somehow all cohesive really appeals to me. Case in point: Tori’s American Doll Posse album, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. I also liked how Plotkin argued for the ego to be reassigned “as an active, adult agent for soul, as opposed to its former role as an adolescent agent for itself.” (36) My ego DEFINITELY feels like an adolescent most of the time.

– My favorite part of the book was Plotkin’s discussion of specific archtypes, such as the Wanderer (seeker of adventure), the Wild Child (sensual creativity), the Nurturing Parent (does exactly what it sounds like!) or the Lone Solider. The latter particularly freaked me out because I wrote quite a few short stories this year that were about soldiers doing exactly what Plotkin says is the archtype’s purpose: an ally who protects you during childhood, but who needs to be told that the war is over, the battle is over and they can leave, they can go home. This archetype reminds me of another great mantra from Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, in which you picture walking away from your pain, sadness, anxiety, depression etc. like a soldier laying down his arms and walking away from the battlefield. Just listen to this:

Common Loyal Soldier survival strategies include harsh self-criticism (to make us—the ego—feel unworthy and thus ineligible for Wild Child actions that might bring further punishment, abandonment or criticism); placing our personal agenda last, other codependent behaviors (e.g. caretaking, rescuing, enabling) to stave off abandonment; pleasing but immature and inauthentic personas; partial or complete social withdrawal (to minimize social contacts); adopting an unpleasant or downtrodden appearance (to protect us from criticism); restricting our range of feeling by encouraging us to always be in charge, busy, angry, ruthless, withdrawn, and/or numb; and suppressing our intelligence, talent, enthusiasm, sensuality and wildness by locking up these qualities in an inaccessible corner of our psyches. (92-93)

That’s a long passage but I wanted to type it all up so that I could remember it, because it was definitely the section of the book that impacted me the most in terms of its “whoa… I learned a lot from just reading that” factor.

– I also found the book’s emphasis on the theme of descent (as in the mythological hero’s descent into the underworld, a la Innana) very interesting. I agree with Plotkin’s POV that we live in a culture that “protects us from the hardships and dangers of the descent.” One of the main reasons that I liked his discussion of descent is because I’ve been thinking a lot lately (as I’ve said before) about depression and addiction (thanks again, Infinite Jest and Shame the movie!). I read this transcript online about a depression-themed radio episode that was really fascinating and that I highly recommend, especially its discussion of depression not as something as an excess of feeling (i.e. sadness) but more like something that’s the ABSENCE of feeling. The idea of needing to stumble through the darkness in order to get to the light appeals to me. It makes me feel like it has a purpose, and that you can emerge triumphant at the end.

– I really related to the book’s criticism of contemporary culture. Not to sound like a crotchety old fart George Orwell type… but it really gave voice to a lot of things I’ve been rolling around in my mind, on and off, for the past three-four years. Such as how we live in a culture and world in which “everything is more or less predictable and where most people emulate getting the greatest socioeconomic rewards,” as opposed to meaning and mystery. He quotes a lot from a book with the pretty incredible title of My Name is Chellis, and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. Check out these gems:

“The Western worldview says, in essence, that technological progress is the highest value and that we were born to consume… The most highly prized freedom is the right to shop… Competition, taking, and hoarding are higher values than cooperation, sharing and gifting…. Western lifestyles that revolve around a constant barge of anemic distractions may be, in part, ways of self-numbing so as to minimize the pain of that loss… This way of life becomes an addiction. The more we live this way, the more alienated we become from something deeper and more meaningful, and the more we need this way of life to keep us from experiencing that alienation.” (91)

I really dug how he brought up addictions (AGAIN!) here, specifically in Plotkin’s point that we seek “distractions” to hide the feeling that something essential is missing.

–       I liked the book’s emphasis on the role of nature in healing the soul. I don’t think I’m going to undertake a “wilderness setting” anytime soon (i.e. hiking out all by myself to get lost on purpose and fast for four days…), but it was definitely good to read this around New Year’s, as I can now be more fully committed to my intention to go hiking more often. I have a car and six-seven months (?) left in Portland—it’s truly now or never! Plotkin also relates nature to adventure, another core value of mine and something I love having in my life. Case in point: I’m so excited to be heading off to L.A. tomorrow to spend New Year’s with my beloveds!

–       I liked how the book’s main message that the best way you can help yourself (and thus in turn help the world) is to find out what it is you have to offer it: “It’s not possible to save the world by trying to save it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift—your true self—is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs.” (13) Or as another anonymous quote puts it, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I awoke and saw that life was service, I acted and behold, service was joy.” (40) It made me feel like YES… my passion CAN be my work, eventually. They don’t have to be separate! As long as I trust my “vision with a task” I am good to go-go.

Crossing that threshold into your uncharted future is an act of great courage and self-compassion, and it changes your relationship to life in a fundamental way. It embodies your willingness to employ a new form of risk-taking, to consciously choose growth-stimulating, soul-nourishing conflicts, to live through the accompanying anxiety, and to accept your life as open-ended and unpredictable. Passing through that door commits you to living in the present in a way you never before have. (60)

– I also thought it was a nice touch in the book to have all the quotations from Rilke poems scattered throughout. God, what an intense guy. This was the best of the lot:

You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit;
now it becomes a riddle again,
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered
leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

As long as we’re posting poetry I wanted to go ahead and share the poem that I’ll most likely be transcribing in all of my friend’s Christmas cards this year. This is called “In a Tree House” by Hafiz:

Light
Will someday split you open
Even if your life is now a cage,

For a divine seed, the crown of destiny,
Is hidden and sown on an ancient fertile plain
You hold the title to.

Love will surely bust you wide open
Into an unfettered, blooming new galaxy

Even if your mind is now
A spoiled mule.

A life giving radiance will come,
The Friend’s gratuity will come –

O look again within yourself,
For I know you were once the elegant host
To all the marvels in creation.

From a sacred crevice in your body
A bow rises each night
And shoots your soul into God.

Behold the Beautiful Drunk Singing One
From the lunar vantage point of love.

He is conducting the affairs
Of the whole universe

While throwing wild parties
In a tree house – on a limb
In your heart.

Here are some reading and writing related intentions for 2012 (assuming the apocalypse is survived, of course!)

Reading – I thought about making a specific list, as in Books I Want To Read, but attempting to do so just made me feel unhappy and frenzied. I like reading in my life to be spontaneous and uncontrolled. I like reading what I want when I want to, not because I feel like I HAVE to. Nevertheless here are some intentions:

  • Read some of the science fiction books and maybe even some of the fantasy ones from this list, er I mean flow chart.
  • Read some of the Bolaño recommended books. Read more Latin American ones in general.
  • Read some more big, classic books: The Pale King, the new Murukami, Moby Dick, Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow. Maybe even Philip Roth. Hell, I read Rabbit Run, why not?
  • I might even be able to finish reading all of Philip K. Dick’s novels… can I do it? Is it possible?! Time will tell!
  • Read some contemporary writers, the kind who are published in Tin House and do interviews on NPR and OPB.

Writing:

  • My main intention for 2012 is to work on cultivating a more spiritual-like devotion to the practice of writing.
  • Continue finishing pieces, submitting them, applying for residencies and grants, etc. I did this at least once a month for every month in 2011 except for November, I think (I still have three days to go in December… haha!). Go me! Mm… maybe I can bump this up to TWICE a month in 2012, minimum?
  • Go to grad school! (!!!)
  • I would also like to write more here in this space! It is really very useful! Case in point: ALL of the Philip K. Dick books I read but didn’t review; it would be a shame to have them all just fade into a blur in my mind. I’m going to try to aim for once a week, with the understanding that sometimes this means the entries won’t be super well written or coherent, but oh well, in this case it’s the intention that counts. It’s my blog and I can do what I want with it…. 8D

Goodbye 2011... otherwise known as "The Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab."

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3 Comments

Filed under advice, depression, nature, non-fiction, poetry, pondering

3 responses to “Soulcraft

  1. i love your blog so much.

  2. p.s. that flow chart is awesome!

    • julikins

      haha, thanks for being such a loyal reader! : D

      i HIGHLY recommend bill plotkin… i think you’d really dig him… i just bought “nature and the human soul” and it looks pretty good so far…

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