Into each life comes information that changes the course of your life, in tiny ways and gargantuan ones. For me, books have always been a source of life-changing information. Fiction and non-fiction alike have turned the rudder of my life for as far back as I can remember. There are some that I sought out, heard about from a friend or teacher and others that literally have leaped off the shelf and fallen at my feet.
If you have a curiosity about meaning, creativity, relationships, connection, philosophy and just what the heck our purpose for being here is, you will get a great deal from these books too.
Of the very, very long list I could create, these are 10 of the most influential in my own life. I have read them all again and again, always gleaning new and delightful truth from them and often at just the right time.
There would be no point in trying to rank them in order of importance or impact but I’ve listed them in the order that I read them for the first time, going back over 20 years.
Over the coming months I will post my thoughts about many of these and invite you into discussion. Their wisdom is evergreen, their ability to bring light and truth as strong today as when they were published.
The 10 Books That Saved My Live (metaphorically anyway!)
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber
Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss
How Can I Help? by Ram Dass & Paul Gorman
The Soul’s Code by James Hillman
We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love by Robert A. Johnson
The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self & Relationship by David Whyte
Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by Gregg Levoy
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Greg Boyle
If you have a book club and are looking for new exploratory books to read, I highly recommend every single one of these.
image ©Carol VanHook
I’ve been contemplating the fact that we are now almost half way through 2014. How did that happen and where did the last 5 months go? More importantly, what season is it? I mean this metaphorically. It’s almost Summer here in my part of the western United States – but what season is it for me, in my life and business? What needs further tending and what is ready for harvest? So when I read the following from Poet and Author David Whtye’s recent article entitled 10 Questions that Have No Right To Go Away it was thought provoking for me on many levels – at least 10 of them. Below is from Whyte’s list (it’s number 3):
Am I harvesting from this year’s season of life? “Youth is wasted on the young” is the old saying. But it might also be said that midlife is wasted on those in their 50s and eldership is very often wasted on the old.
Most people, I believe, are living four or five years behind the curve of their own transformation. I see it all the time, in my own life and others. The temptation is to stay in a place where we were previously comfortable, making it difficult to move to the frontier that we’re actually on now.
People usually only come to this frontier when they have had a terrible loss in their life or they’ve been fired or some other trauma breaks open their story. Then they can’t tell that story any more. But having spent so much time away from what is real, they hit present reality with such impact that they break apart on contact with the true circumstance. So the trick is to catch up with the conversation and stay with it —where am I now?—and not let ourselves become abstracted from what is actually occurring around us.
If you were a farmer, and you tried to harvest what belonged to the previous season, you’d exhaust yourself trying to bring it in when it’s no longer there. Or attempting to gather fruit too early, too hard or too late and too ripe. A person must understand the conversation happening around them as early in the process as possible and then stay with it until it bears fruit.
If we have a tendency to be operating well behind the curve of our own growth, then how do we go about finding out just what season we are in and not have to wait for a major life issue to do it for us? Undoubtedly we will benefit from having this knowledge so we can harvest what’s ready, re-plant or just let a field lie fallow for a while. In true poetic fashion Whyte doesn’t give us the bullet list of ways to suss this out.
Our first tendency might be to look to the paradigms of where we ‘should’ be in our lives based on age, culture, gender etc., but those no longer really hold true across the board. Rapid fire communications and access to vast amounts of information online has created a cultural diversity not bound by any single society. We are freer now to do our own thing outside of social convention because they’ve been diffused and scattered. You can be 60 and going back to school, 40 unmarried and thrilled about it, 22 and starting your own multi-billion dollar business. So without referencing a cultural norm (which frankly, I think is a great relief) how does one go about assessing their own season? Whyte points to listening for the core conversation of your life. This conversation holds the elements of the season.
I had to give this a try for myself. Archetypes are obviously a core part of what I do, so why not let them do some of the heavy lifting on this job?
When you run your own business you are often many people at once, Administrator, CFO, Boss and Worker Bee. I experimented with letting my archetypal office staff give their answers to the question of season. I conducted a faux interview with each voice and asked them about their accomplishments and experience of 2014 so far. I asked what needed further tending, harvesting or just simply some rest. What I came up with was fascinating and useful.
I also found it helpful to pay close attention to the conversations that were going on in my life with myself and others. I looked at what archetypes were driving the conversations and responding. A week or so in, I realized that the core conversations were pretty clear and some surprising answers to the seasonal question came up.
If you are game to give it a try, here is a simple exercise to help you work out your own seasonality. I bet you’ll be surprised by what you come up with and in turn, gain a clearer understanding of your next steps.
Discovering Your True Season
Every day for a week, before you go to bed, jot down a list of the following. No need to write the entire conversation – just the key points like a newspaper headline. Don’t read the list from the day before.
- 5 situations I worried about today.
- 5 conversations I had with myself today.
- 5 conversations I had with others today. This could be anything, a chat with an office mate, partner, the lady in the check out line.
- 5 things I was excited about today. If you don’t have 5, write down what you wanted to be excited about instead.
- Things I was asked to do today. This could be what you were literally asked to do or something you felt called to do like smile at a stranger, or buy a co-worker a coffee, ignore a phone call.
On the 8th day (maybe a Sunday over coffee and when you have time to relax) take out your notes. Rip out the pages and set them on the table side by side. Read them in order, mix them up and glance over them again. Too many wildly different conversations? Maybe it’s mid-summer and some weeding needs to be done to make room for the truer harvest later on. What’s coming up with no fruit and needs some fertilizer or perhaps a winter’s rest? What has you really excited and needs some planting? Lots of requests for the same thing? Maybe it’s harvest time. Whatever comes up for you, the essential clues come in the form of the season that your ideas need right now, the next steps are naturally going to be clearer.
“What we strive for in perfection is not what turns us into the lit angel we desire.” ~David Whyte
Julienne’s rendition of the Temperance card
With a little rest after the Death card the Archetypal Tarot Podcast explores the beginning of the rebirth cycle with Temperance – the fourteenth card of the Major Arcana. Julienne Givot and Cyndera Quackenbush discuss the Angel archetype and the healing and recovery that can take place internally and even below conscious awareness. At the end of our second row, the Realm of Equilibrium, we have a resolution to the ongoing theme of opposites. Here, two elements are alchemized to create “the third thing” that mediates and transforms opposing realities. Listen to the podcast for more on this next step of the journey.
Cyndera mentions A Blue Fire by James Hillman specifically chapter 3.
Julienne mentions this related article: Original Fairy Godmother
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
~Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address
Angel & Fairy Godmother/Godfather Archetypes in Films & Television:
-Angels In America – The Play / TV Mini Series (2003)
-Aunt March played by (Mary Wickes) in Little Women (1994)
-It’s A Wonderful Life – Film (1946)
-Danny Glover, Kevin Kline in Grand Canyon (1991)
-Rosalind Russell as Mame Dennis in Auntie Mame (1958)
-Audrey Tatou in Amelie (2001)
-Dustin Hoffmann in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007)
-Robert DeNiro as Captain Shakespeare in Stardust (2007)
-Marlon Brando in The Godfather trilogy
-Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
-Touched by an Angel
-What Not To Wear
-Glinda in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Winter of Listening
By David Whyte
No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
Rider-Waite Temperance Card
the night wind carries
everything away outside.
All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
round every living thing.
What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
What we strive for
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
and then nourishes
What we hate
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.
Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.
All those years
listening to those
nothing to say.
All those years
has its own voice
All those years
you can belong
simply by listening.
And the slow
is born from
Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
for the new life
I must call my own.
©Justina Kochansky / Flickr
If dating seems like an ordeal, you are not alone. I’ve heard many versions of “I’m not dating because it sucks” from all sorts of people; gay, straight, men and women of all ages. I’ve expressed that sentiment myself more than a few times, but I also know that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. Each of the archetypal guides in this series can help illuminate why dating can be difficult and how we can experience the process in a more grounded, wholehearted way.
This next archetypal guide is a biggie – it’s probably the main reason dating can be painful, confusing and un-fun. Just stay with me here because our guide to less vexing and more wholehearted dating in this edition is the archetypeA universal pattern of motivation and behavior. of the Victim.
What did you say woman? Victim?!
(Like I said – hang in there.)
The BIG THING to remember is that the Victim has two sides to it and is all about safety, strength and boundaries. It remains neutral until we feed one side or the other with thoughts, ideas and actions.
Unempowered Victim Archetype
Keywords: Pain, Fear, Blame This is the part of us that is consciously or unconsciously hurt, defensive, pissed off, fearful, vengeful or sad. It’s a tender part that needs care and compassion but it also needs to know it’s not the only game in town. To identify with only the unempowered Victim is how we can end up in dating suckland. Being in the mindset of fear skews our vision and makes for hasty decisions (fight or flight dating anyone?). This is where being present and paying attention to what’s going on in our minds and hearts without judgement can keep us grounded.
Empowered Victim Archetype
Keywords: Strength, Resilience, Courage I like to call this the Victorious part of us but it’s still a part of the Victim – we can’t really have one without the other. This is the archetype of working with the fear, letting stuff go, setting healthy boundaries and getting on with life more informed and stronger than we were before. The empowered Victim is also a wellspring of compassion – for self and others. It opens the door to maintaining vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. If that sounds like an oxymoron, think of it this way, our ability to truly connect (be vulnerable) allows us to be who we really are beyond the fear we might feel (strength).
Dating means putting yourself out there in a way that could bring old wounds and insecurities to the surface – something most of us instinctively avoid. Hence the Victim archetype rearing it’s head in the middle of our single life saying it’s not safe out there. Here’s the thing though, if we let our fears wall all that stuff up in order to feel safe, we are also walling out what we most deeply want – love and connection.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need in all women, men and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” ~Brené Brown from The Gifts of Imperfection
Love, if it is real, will never be completely safe because it requires vulnerability, which is to say that the soft gooey center of us could get squeezed and maybe not pleasantly so. In order to truly love, our shields have to come down for a connection to be made. This is true of platonic relationships as well but dating can feel like the stakes are much higher.
“No human being has ever lived without knowing heartbreak, and to accept that truth is to give a merciful gift to ourselves.” ~David Whyte
Actively working with our internal Victim can help us cultivate the strength, resilience and spaciousness to experience dating in a whole new way. How we relate to our internal Victim resonates out to how we treat other people, including our potential love partners and sets the tone for our future relationships.
Here are some ways the Victim can be a guide to dating where we feel stronger, more present and grounded:
Know Your Ropes
You know that exercise where someone walks up to you one small step at a time and you tell them to stop when you begin to feel uncomfortable? That’s how we can determine our personal physical boundaries. For some people it’s 5 feet and for others 5 inches. The Victim here is a guide to emotional boundaries, which is all about how we handle our own vulnerability. If we have overly porous dating boundaries we’ll be prone to spilling our emotional guts on the first date, getting hurt unnecessarily or taking on other people’s emotional burdens. Diamond hard boundaries mean we are never going to be able to let anyone in and be a part of an intimate relationship. Understanding how this might work for ourselves emotionally can save a lot of confusion and bruised feelings.
Understanding and developing emotional boundaries is huge topic and there are many resources to support more learning so I’ve provided a few below.
Boundaries vs. Barriers by Pema Chödrön
How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 3 Crucial First Steps
Ten Ways to Build and Preserve Boundaries
Self-victimization can slide in when we aren’t looking; maybe an un-returned call, text message or presumed mistake on a date sends you into a bout of self-flagellation. Whatever the cause, it’s a ripe time to take a moment to remember that:
1) things are not always as they seem
2) you are human and do all sorts of things that might not be intended
3) berating yourself does not help anything (in fact neuro psychology research shows it can make things worse).
Self-vicitmization is a call for self-compassion. Once you’ve stopped beating yourself up you will know what to do next with much clearer vision. You will also have more compassion for those you are dating.
Don't Go It Alone
The Victim can also let us know when we are heading for a situation that we should avoid and to take precautions to be safe out there in dating land. Hopefully we’ve all learned to meet someone new in a public place and continue to do gut check’s about whether we can trust the other person. This can also go overboard. My brother told me about a woman who brought along her BFF to their first date as a sort of guard. Granted, they met on a dating website but her reaction and obvious Victim mentality really turned him off on what could have been an otherwise pleasant date over coffee.
Whether for physical or emotional safety I recommend a ‘date buddy’; someone you can trust to talk something out with and check in with to let them know where you are going and with whom on a date. Our parents might not wait up for us anymore but it’s nice to know someone has our back. I’m blessed to have two date buddies (a man and a woman) and it really, really helps. I get the benefit of having access to both the male and female perspectives on things and get to support them on their dating adventures as well.
Being present to what comes up with the Victim in dating also reminds us that we can call on resources and helpers in the form of Mentors, Therapists or Groups where we can share our experience and receive support.
Avoid Reruns & Red Flags
You’ve heard the quote about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result as the definition of insanity right? It’s true, but most of us do it anyway and dating is no exception. The Victim is our guide to say “hey we’ve done this before and it didn’t end so well”. It’s a call to clear thinking and discernment knowing that dating re-runs and red flags can be avoided if we choose to.
This reminds me of a scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ when Carrie Fisher’s character says “You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right – he’s never going to leave her.” about the married man who is always proclaiming he’s going to leave his wife to be with her but never does. The Victim can help us recognize when we get into an unhealthy pattern and need to make some different choices or at least look clearly at a situation.
Although dating can bring uncomfortable things up, an honest and compassionate relationship with the Victim means we can be stronger, more loving people for the difficult lessons and heartbreak we’ve been through. My experience with cultivating the lessons of the Victim in relation to dating has helped me immensely. I never thought the process could actually be empowering and compassionate, but it can be and that is what I hope to share with you. Please comment, share, Tweet and link this article if others that you think might benefit. I love when you do that.
Image via Wikipedia
I try to make a point to write about what could be called the ‘unsung’ archetypes. One’s that don’t seem to have a popular or even a very present place in our culture. Last month I wrote about the archetype of the Scribe to illuminate it’s presence and potential for positive change.
I’ve recently come across some wonderful pieces of poetry and it brought to mind the power of the Poet archetype. For many people poetry can seem lofty , arcane or just downright fluffy in terms of day to day life and yet a good piece of poetry can stop us in our tracks with it’s ability to communicate a deep truth. T.S. Eliot I think puts it best.
“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” ~T.S. Eliot
When I come upon genuine poetry as Eliot describes, I am taken aback by its ability to circumvent the mind and drop away all it’s judgment so I can just be with something true.
My recent discovery is that of the contemporary Poet, David Whyte. He embodies the Poet archetype as well as the Teacher, the Philosopher and the Guide. He is not only a respected Poet but also teaches corporate executives and businesses using poetry as well as being the author of several non-fiction books. In reading his work I felt first-hand, the power of the Poet – the transmission of a truth with a capital ‘T’.
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
the step you don’t want to take.
(Excerpted from “Start Close In” – the full poem can be found here.)
In trying to sum up the deepest power of the Poet archetype, I found exactly what I was looking for in the description of one of Whyte’s workshops:
Poetry as Robust Vulnerability: Language Against Which We Have No Defenses: Poetry is a break for freedom. The discipline of poetry is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat. In a sense, all poems are good; all poems are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable. Yet only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time; to create a door through which others can walk, into territory that previously seemed unobtainable, in the passage of a few short lines.
Now that is a power worth treasuring! I’ll agree with Shelley when he said that Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
Films: Glenda Jackson in Stevie; Philippe Noiret in Il Postino; Sean Connery in A Fine Madness, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries; Wes Bentley in American Beauty, Ethan Hawke in Dead Poets Society; Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice
Fiction: The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll (shadow);
Religion/Myth: King David (ruler of Israel credited with writing many of the Psalms); Orpheus (great musician and poet of Greek myth, capable of charming wild beasts); Bragi (in Norse myth, the god of eloquence and patron of poets); Finn Mac Cumhail (legendary Irish hero and leader who was also greatly skilled as a poet).