The Signs of the Times and the Time of the Heart
Visionary Time: The Time of Soul
You could not discover the boundaries of soul though you tried every path,
so deep does its measure reach down.
A remarkable feature of regression therapy is the rapidity and precision with which it takes us out of the “stuckness” of material reality, the solidity of the world, the fixity of the symptoms, egoic concretization of my tumor, my backache, my impossible life into a very different experience of the self and of time. By the use of a simple yet radical instruction: “Now, just close your eyes, lie down, and go inside” good regression therapy helps us move from talking about our personal symptoms and problems-externalizing and objectifying them-into the vivid subjective reality of our “inner world.”
What is “inside”? What is this “inner world” where centuries and lifetimes flash by in less than an hour or two, known so well and intimately to many of us. from regression therapy and shamanic journeying? It is this strangely condensed time with its infinitely rich territory of the inner world that I propose to call visionary time.
When we enter visionary time we can move swiftly into the broader spaces of history actually have immediate access to all of them. A carefully chosen phrase or a specific image embedded in a bodily pain can, with the precision of a Google search take us within seconds to the historic soul wound lying beyond a persistent complex. Without using the artificial picture of linear time we learned in school we can take our client “back” to birth instantly. We don’t need charts of history and timelines at all. We can go “back” 6,000 years. We can go to the Roman Empire; the Druids to the beginnings of life on earth, to cellular consciousness of an amoeba if we wish.
It’s as though we have discovered what the great Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, called an Aleph. In his intriguing metaphysical short story of that title Borges writes of a group of occult researchers who discover one of several esoteric sacred sites called Alephs where it is possible to be given a vision of all of time and space simultaneously. Borges tries to describe the vision of given by the Aleph of one of the discoverers:
The Aleph’s diameter must have been about 2 or 3 centimeters, that’s all, but cosmic space was in it without diminution of size. Each object, the mirror’s glass, for instance, was infinite objects, for I clearly saw it from all points of the universe. I saw the heavy laden sea, I saw the dawn and the dusk. I saw the multitudes of America, I saw a silver plated cobweb at the center of a black pyramid. I saw a tattered pyramid; it was London. I saw interminable eyes looking at me as if in a mirror. I saw all the minors in the planet and none reflected me. I saw clusters of grapes, snow, tobacco, veins of metal, steam. I saw Equatorial forests and every grain of sand in them. I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall not forget. I saw her violent hair, her proud body, the cancer in her breast. I saw a circle of dry land in a sidewalk where formerly there had been a tree. (The Aleph)
Borges’ researchers find their mythic Aleph in a cellar, other are said to be in hidden caves. Borges draws on the archetypal folk wisdom that locates much initiatory or visionary experience in a cave or a part of the underworld where the initiate meets the shades of spirits of the dead, such meeting taking place, one might says beyond earthly time. Often poets are given this initiation into visionary time and space; one such was the Roman poet Virgil who tells how the hero, Aeneas descends into an underworld cave at Nemi where he meets the spirit of his dead father; his “otherworld” vision confirms him in his mission to found the great city of Rome.
Another example of a poet who seems to have such an initiation into visionary time is the great Welsh bard and shaman, Taliesin, who lived in the latter half of the 6th century. He had the ability to see into all the lifetimes of anyone he was with, including his own. He was thus given the ability to see through the veil of the ages, like Nostradamus. A modern poet. R.S. Thomas recalls his bardic voice thus:
I have been all men known to history
Wondering at the world and at time passing
King, beggar and fool, I have been all by turns,
Knowing the body’s sweetness, the mind’s treason…
But it is another contemporary Welshman, Vernon Watkins, who evokes most powerfully, through the persona of Taliesin, the gravity of the time of history and its interface with the prophetic aspect of visionary time. In common with other bardic initiates, his vision comes when he stumbles into a cave, in this case on a deserted stretch of beach:
I tread the sand at the sea’s edge, sand of the hourglass,
And the sand receives my footprint, singing:
“You are my nearmost, you who have traveled the farthest,
And you are my constant, who have endured all vicissitudes
In the cradle of sea, Fate’s hands, and the spinning waters.
The measure of past grief is the measure of present joy.
Your tears, which have dried to Chance, now spring from a secret.
Here time’s glass breaks, and the world is transfigured in music.’
So sang the grains of sand, and while they whirled to a pattern
Taliesin took refuge under the unfledged rock.
He could not see the cave, but groped with his hand,
And the rock he touched was the socket of all men’s eyes,
And he touched the spring of vision. He had the mind of a fish
That moment. He knew the glitter of scale and fin.
He touched the pin of pivotal space, and he saw
One sand grain balance the ages’ cumulus cloud.
Earth’s shadow hung. Taliesin said: ‘The penumbra of history is terrible.
Life changes, breaks; scatters. There is no sheet-anchor.
Time reigns; yet the kingdom of love is every moment,
Whose citizens do not age in each other’s eyes.
In a time of darkness the pattern of life is restored
By men who make all transience seem an illusion
Through inward acts, acts corresponding to music.
Their works of love leave words that do not end in the heart.’
Taliesin and the Spring of Vision
The Time of the Heart
The work of love is to open that window
in the chest and to look incessantly
on the Beloved.
Taliesin’s visionary epiphany, so hauntingly “imagined” by Vernon Watkins, also carries within it an awareness that even amidst the chaotic play of opposites in visionary time there exists a window of transcendence-what I am going to call, with a nod to the great Rumi, the time of the heart. For as Taliesin proclaims: there is a place where “the kingdom of love is every moment,” and that place is in the heart.
Many of us who are therapists work daily in regression with all kinds of images of suffering, of abuse, of abandonment, of cruelty and violence. To the extent that we can contain these difficult images and give clients an opportunity to work through and release them we see countless cases where authentic healing takes place. And yet for many therapists and healers it can become a huge psychic strain to be exposed over and over again to stories of “man’s inhumanity to man” to use the old cliché. It is not easy work in this sense and even for those who are called to it, it is always a challenge not to be drowned in the sea of human suffering
Many people when they first read of past life therapy or hear about it object: “I don’t need to hear about past lives; I’ve got enough misery in this life to deal with.” It’s a reasonable complaint. Why open this Pandora’s Box brimming with the residues of slavery, the depredations of Nazism, the brutality of the Conquistadors, the wretchedness of poverty etc. etc when the world today is so full of war and its consequences? But our work shows us that the soul is truly ancient and is inseparable from “the turbid ebb and flow of human misery…Sophocles heard long ago” (Matthew Arnold: Dover Beach). We do it because we have learned that only by going back to its source within the time of soul, to the deeper roots of our suffering, can we fully release the compulsive repetitions playing in our lives today. In doing so we bear witness to the wisdom engraved at the oracle of Delphi: “That which wounds, also heals.”
To accompany our clients through the rapids of their complexes without being dragged in-triggered, to use the metaphor in fashion-is by no means easy. Experience teaches that there is no substitute for doing one’s own work, broadening one’s own capacity for suffering: Jesus was said to have been “a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.” This is the old principle of the training analysis in psychoanalysis-you cannot take someone where you have not ventured yourself.
When Taliesin says “The kingdom of love is every moment.” he alludes to the very special kind of time that we find in the practice of meditation, when we are deeply listening to music, perhaps lovingly tending our plants in the garden or lost in gorgeous sunset. When absorbed in such activities we develop a quality that in Buddhism is called mindfulness, rigpa or vipassana. Open awareness, is loving, fully accepting; it never judges or discriminate. I believe it helps deeply if we as therapist can develop this kind of open awareness with our clients or indeed when listing to anyone in distress.
What I am talking about is an ability to stay with whatever the moment presents, to be fully open and to bear with it. We have to be psychic vessels of the sufferings, of the pain that our clients go through. Whatever training we have, however many regressions we have done, we may not know where this particular regression is going. We may not know what exact trick or suggestion to use for it may be a type of story we’ve never heard before. This person may be so deep in their despair or their pain or their rage, we feel hopeless ourselves.
When these things happen, the attitude of loving acceptance, non-judgment and open awareness is more important than ever. It does not help to rescue someone from their entry into dark night of the soul because this may be their true way of purification, their passage through what a medieval mystic called “the cloud of unknowing” To be present with calm but poised awareness, an open holding which is loving, accepting and does not judge, and also is prepared to rest in the cloud of unknowing, is a great gift. This is close to what the Buddhists call compassion, feeling or “being with” the passion or suffering of the another. (William Blake in his poignant poem On Another’s Sorrow knew this attitude profoundly)
I have often been struck in the symbolism of the seven chakras of yoga teaching that the chakra in the centre is the spiritual centre of the heart. It is as though the descending energies of spirit unite with the ascending energies of the soul which is embodies in the lower chakras. I imagine two circles overlapping as my diagram shows.
Much of New Age therapy tends to ignore the lower chakras and doesn’t work with them, because it is messy. This is where the deeper and the darker passions tend to hide-our rage, our lust, our cravings, our greed, our shameful sexual memories and so on. Passions like these-the old deadly sins, in fact-tend to be lodged energetically in these lower chakras, but they cannot be healed entirely from above. So to contain the experiences of the lower centers and not forget the higher or feel the higher centers and not reject in the lower anything that is dark and ugly requires precisely that special kind of that open awareness I have called compassion. It is surely no accident that and the midpoint of all seven centers in “the human form divine’ (Blake) is the heart. The way in which the heart center holds together the higher and the lower centers can be seen in the body symbolism in the famous Romanesque mudras of Christ, who stand with one hand raised, the other lowered, both open. Christ holds heaven and hell, the lower and upper worlds in his gesture, showing us how to be open to the higher and the lower.
What the teachers from the traditional religions have taught us is that a realized being is someone who does not go beyond or above the passions but lives with them, lives through them, but is not controlled or possessed by them. Such a person has opened to their higher centers but nevertheless allows those feelings, those expressions of karma, that belong more to the lower self,, which is to say the lower chakras that is still in need of purification to nevertheless be there. Our passions and our feelings are the subtle purifications with which we prepare and work upon the most important vessel we’ve been given-the vessel of the heart. When the heart and its spiritual chakra opens-often through the painful human experience of “heartbreak”-then we can be open to the spirit.
To be able to sit and allow the horror stories that we see from Roman lives, concentration camps or slavery to unfold without reaction is far from easy. (I have already mentioned the temptation to rescue.) The kind of patience or totally open awareness required is akin to the non-conditional acceptance of things exactly as they are in their nakedness that Buddhists call vipassana, for which there is no adequate Western word. In what follows I will try to illustrate what I understand by vipassana and its correlate, compassion, by an excursus on Shakespeare’s use of the word “pity”
Giving Birth to Pity
One of my greatest inspirations in therapeutic work has always been Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, which follows King Lear and his faithful noble subject Gloucester through unbelievable sufferings-the kinds of sufferings we see in past lives and the barbarity of contemporary warfare. But there is third character in the play called Edgar. Edgar is Gloucester’s son and is greatly wronged by his father and who also suffers greatly. Nevertheless, by a process that deserves a book in itself, he arrives at self-realization and what we would today call compassion, achieving spiritual maturity well in advance of either Lear or his despairing father, Gloucester. (These three characters, Lear, Gloucester and Edgar could be seen as Shakespeare’s studies of three very different psychological reaction formations to trauma and intense suffering.)
Edgar is actually a kind of Christ figure who passes beyond suffering to become wise, gentle and tolerant. His tragedy in the play is that he is betrayed by his brother and has to flee his native country in the disguise of beggar. When his father Gloucester finally meets him, the old man cannot recognize his son because he is now blind. This is one of the most moving moments in a play full of heartrending scenes, for in it, Edgar, unrecognized by his father, who thinks him dead, describes himself in these words:
I am a most poor man, made tame to Fortune’s blows,
Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows
Am pregnant to good pity. (King Lear. 4.6.219)
The word compassion was not much used in the lexicon of Shakespeare’s time. Pity was the more common word. Pity occurs again and again in Shakespeare’s later plays, especially in those characters who have gone beyond their lust for vengeance, their rage, their jealousy, their gluttony-all the great Shakespearean passions-to arrive at self-acceptance and compassion Before the killing of the king in the play Macbeth, Macbeth’s conscience pricks him with a vision of “pity like a naked newborn babe, striding the blast.” But he goes on nevertheless to commit murder with a hardened heart in which pity dies too.
Twice then, at crucial points concerning compassion in Shakespeare’s great tragedies we find the image of pity as a vulnerable and innocent baby that we carry within us. The place where we may become “pregnant” or filled with pity is the heart so that the heart is the spiritual womb in which the delicate child pity or compassion is born. It must therefore be in the stillness of our hearts that we learn to transform feelings like resentment, hatred or grief, feelings that have become embedded and isolated like cancers in the deep recesses of the soul. By patiently “cooking” them we wait silently until the day when we give birth to a quite new form of consciousness, which Shakespeare symbolizes sp poignantly as that naked new born babe. So in order to practice this awareness we have to become a little pregnant, we have to carry these feelings within us for quite a time.
If giving birth below, physically, has to do with water, giving birth above, spiritually, has to do with fire, the transforming fire of the spirit. Not for nothing Rumi counsels us to “stay in the spiritual fire. Let it cook you.” Alchemy too is full of images of vessels which are “hermetically” sealed, which means, Hermes Mercurious, the transforming spirit is locked with doing his work. This is the work of purification and transformation by fire of the dross of our feeling nature, our passions. Sometimes it is necessary to go to extremes to purify these feelings. King Lear had to go through the storm of rage.
King Lear is a play all about rage. In the most powerful scene of the play Lear stands on this open barren heath near Stonehenge and rages and rages at the storm. He is so furious at his abandonment, at the betrayal by his family who have thrown him out to live at the mercy of nature, at the loss of his soldiers, his dignity as king, his humiliation among the destitute. But it is necessary for him to pass through this rage, and so Shakespeare has him go through a kind of a psychodrama of madness. In it he attacks everything that has ever hurt him so that he can be free of it. All this is the alchemical imagination of purification by fire; in fact Lear even describes himself as “bound upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears Do scald like molten lead” Lead is the metal that belongs to Saturn, whose ego rigidity has to be melted in the cauldron of the heart.
Eventually there comes the stage in Lear’s purgatorial madness when he has released the rage and become calm. The doctor can finally pronounce that, “the great rage in him is dead.” And slowly, beyond rage and madness there emerges in him a gentle new consciousness-and with it visions of a baby’s birth, albeit a painful birth!. In an almost unbearably poignant moment -poignant means “stabbing” the heart– the sobered Lear says to Gloucester, (who himself has been horribly tortured and blinded):
Thou must be patient; we came crying hither;
Thou know’st the first time that we smell the air,
We waul and cry. I will preach to thee: mark.
Gloucester: Alack, alack the day!
Lear: When we are born, we cry that we are
come to this great stage of fools. (4.6.175)
Weeping is the heart’s most spontaneous expression and grief, or tragic loss, one of its principal stimulants. These are the waters of the spiritual womb that eventually break when we have learned to be “pregnant to good pity” as Edgar and later Lear both found.
As we listen to the rages and the pain of our clients, we listen to our own that no longer have a charge. Their feelings may touch us but they can now also pass through us. It’s as though, with what Rumi calls “the bitter tanning acid of grief” the psychic organ we call the heart grows bigger and stronger. The purified heart can bear more, carry more, hear more, judge less, and be triggered less. Feelings like Lear’s which begin as rage will begin eventually to change into something else. Anger may become the energy to start a new organization. Fear may develop into the courage that helps fight oppression, or which campaigns for some new political change. Grief may develop into the compassion that can work with the homeless, or work with AIDS sufferers. But always the key to this difficult transformation is patience, this gentle cooking process within our heart.
The word patience comes in the Gospels. Jesus says to the disciples, “In your patience, you will possess your souls.” That sentence is sometimes translated, “in your waiting.” When we truly wait, we have to be patient. Waiting is an attitude of mind that is the essence of meditation, as the mystic Simone Weil reminded us repeatedly. It means being open to all feelings as they come, entertaining and living with them until they reach their completion, reverse and disperse. The storm goes away and instead we find we are, in Shakespeare’s words, pregnant to good pity. Pity, as I have tried to show is the utterly vulnerable, endlessly touching power of love, it is that inner child recently discovered by psychotherapy and it is moreover the divine, magical child in as all. According to Jesus, it is born both of water-our tears-and of the spirit-f ire.
Both these elements are present in a poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado which is a fitting ending to the theme of the opening of the heart and birthing of the self. (The fine translation is Robert Bly’s).
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt- marvelous error!-
That a spring was breaking
Out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
Water of a new life
That I have never drunk?
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt-marvelous error!-
That I had a beehive
Here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
Were making white combs
And sweet honey
From my old failures.
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt-marvelous error! –
That a fiery sun was giving
Light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
Warmth as from a hearth,
And sun because it gave light
And brought tears to me eyes.
Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt- marvelous error!-
That it was God I had
Here inside my heart
(Endnote: This article is based on a lecture given by Roger in Amsterdam in 1994 at the Tenth Annual Conference of the Dutch Foundation for Reincarnation. (SRF).