Recognition – the problem of integration

Here’s a thing. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the perfect way to share my artwork. I spent a lot of time trying to work out how it all fitted together – how the dramatherapy fitted with the poetry, how that fitted with the ecopsychology, how that fitted with the music, how the different types of music fitted together. There was kind of wild rock music, sweeter accoustic stuff, hip hop like stuff. There were long lyrical poems, short strange ones. Then there was the desire to link it all to ecology, to nature, to the wild, the archetypal the imaginal. How that fitted to my practice as a creative arts therapist, how that fitted to my practice as a writer, how that fitted to my guitar, how my guitar fitted to my loop station, how that fitted to my pen…how that fitted to the mycelial networks of trees, how that fitted to my own neural network…I think you get the drift…

I think there is a good deal of pain in this desire to “integrate” the different parts and activities of the self, to make it all fit into a perfect whole. To try and squeeze into the skin of a raven and fly when you need to be more down to earth, as Martin Shaw puts it nicely in one of his stories. It’s nothing other than a denial of the mutiplicity of being human. James Hillman’s writings suggest that a secret violence can underly attempts at integration, and that in the depths of oneself, multiplicity always continues:

“For even while one part of me knows the soul goes to death in tragedy, another is living a picaresque fantasy, and a third is engaged in the heroic fantasy of improvement” Hillman, A Blue Fire.

There are ways of linking together these activities, and all these different selves. I feel it can be worthwhile thing, creative in it’s own right. I have been preparing an essay called “what can imaginal ecology become for you?” which is a way of explaining how poesis can become an extension of the experience of nature, of how as the experience continues, it becomes poetic, because within the ever shifting tapestry of root, soil, bird, spider, rain, Sun, night, owl, moon, death, holly, chick, worm, skull and child lies a poetry that is not human and which human language draws upon to say anything at all but is not the container for.

However, the attempt to make all parts of the self perfectly presentable, to “fit” exactly together can be a dangerous thing psychologically. It builds an empire of the self under the stamp of the single image of the emperor. It feels like the worship of an empty mask, the persona that faces the world rather than the soul that lights it up from whatever mysterious depth that soul light comes from. Because the self is more like a theatre than a king’s head on a coin, and more like a wood even than a theatre, a living shifting ecosystem of dream and body.

So here’s another thing that links the creative to the wild; it’s always the poems that I really feel strongest that I want other people to read, yet it’s often the explanations of them that I end up sharing first. It is the pieces with the strongest feelings and images that I want to read when I dive into my notebook. These are visits to the wild, more satisfying than visits to the museum, yet less easy to understand.

Yet they often feel the hardest to share. Safer to give an explanation. Safer, yes, but no one ever gets to go to that place that poured from you like water from a rock, at the behest of some unknown power.

Some things do need explanation; and I am working on something I think will be helpful to you – I want to share ways to approach the imaginal ecology as a practice, as a perspective, and as a realm or place to visit. I want to share how all these things are all aspects of the same thing, how practice means the practice of perspective, how developing an imaginal perspective is also visting an imaginal place.

It’s been a long hard winter, and it’s clear that all is still not well in the world. I think we need more than ever the kind of art, fiction, storytelling, poetics, music and philosophy that know in their heart that we tumble the world around us, anew and somehow changed when we venture to create. That help us to carry our story, and to dive with it into the deep roots that sustain it.

Sharing art seems inevitabley linked to a desire for recognition. The desire for that recognition can bring a similar pain to the desire to “integrate.” Which part of the self gets the recognition? It seems we wish for and fear recognition, as the warm glow of knowing we have been heard can become the harsh searchlight eyes of a judge. Recognition itself has archetypal qualities, – re- cognition – thinking again. Thinking again about what you created with the feeling of having been read or heard. In this way it opens up the dilemma about our need for and fear of others. Yet to be recognised, truly recognised, itself speaks to a doorway in the soul’s wall that leads to a garden. The heart that imagines, and knows it may judged, and is able to turn around and accept that as the price for it’s dreaming, and it’s connection to others.

With that in mind, I want to share a poem called “Recognition”.


My heart sees mountains in clouds
Watches dead temples
Come to life on
A tree crowned hilltops
Gazes at the deepsigh sunset
Watches the ghosts of pilgrims
Circle the anticlockwise hill
Seven times for a bowl of soup.

My heart follows you
Into the serpent Sun you speak
To free yourself from the iron cage
You constructed to keep yourself safe;

It wants to witness your unshakeable Blakean spear
And know you in your moments of nakedness and confusion

My heart sees you run,
Electric as a white hart in flight
Hears the hosanna you sang
When you fell to your knees and wept
Before a solitary tree

My heart sees you in two places at once
Doesn’t seem inclined to care which is which
Or for the reason why you ran,
Or the reason why you sang

And if you saw God in the grassy bank
Or Satan in the medication, the corporations,
The glass and metal banks,

My heart slips like a shadow through each door to follow

I do not come to flatter to the heart,
To coat it with a baste of praise
Swollen and bloated
Boiled like mutton in an witch’s dark cottage

I want to bear witness
Not to it’s power or capacity for salvation
But it’s tenacity and fortitude in the face of
How little it knows

I do not want to crown the heart in gold
Or swathe it in purple as a smug emperor of an inner kingdom,
I know my heart can cling too long,
To ghost of past loves it would do better to release,

That it madly chases archons and demons through labyrinths of world
through intricacies of the nervous system
I know my heart can be scheming, deluded, complacent and strange;
That it’s not a god but a process,
That it must weigh less than a feather
When it crosses the last threshold.

I know the heart is not it’s own kingdom
It needs an eye, a hand, a core,
It needs language, landscape, companions,
Doorways, guitars and the sudden scent of cherries

It needs to blacken in the embers of fires that it started
Peel off the charred ashes flecked white as a crazy moonbeam
Blue as a whale in the song of it’s solitude
Red as that shade blood becomes when lust’s consumed by love

I know most of all, it needs the promise of a beloved.

Well, forget all that.
Today, I just want to praise
the simplicity of it’s perceptions,
It’s capacity for regeneration,
To garland it with wild flowers
Like a girl at her first dance
Who doesn’t know she is pretty

I want my heart’s angel to
Whisper leaves, friendships and the secret language of dusk
Into the folds of my heart’s loneliness.

And I want your heart to know
What it means to be called by name
That you’d turn, in a garden
On a startled heel’s pivot
And know in your heart’s chamber
The warm shock of recognition.

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