Inhabiting the Shadow

Inhabiting the Shadow

Try as we might, there is no inoculation against shadow. No matter how dedicated we are to piety, good health or selfless service, we cannot distance ourselves from the grit and grime of being alive. The shadow will always find a way to enter our lives, but the artfulness is in how we dance with it, the degree to which we follow its lead. There is a powerful groupmind so pervasive that it is almost undetectable, which advocates for mass inoculation against shadow. It offers myriad activities and substances to keep us from depression, rebellion, anxiety and restlessness. It may even talk about shadow in a homeopathic way, offering us small, safe doses of theory and jargon, instilling the false confidence that we have any reign over chaos.  But until we become truly intimate with darkness, which is to say, respectful of that dangerous and powerful Mother, reverent of her compulsory initiations by wrath and grief, we are only making ourselves more susceptible to her possession. What is it to refuse inoculation? It is to aspire to our own humanity. Stepping away from the protective, controlled, masked persona to let ourselves be seen as we are. Just as fire can transform food from...
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Singing the Wound

Singing the Wound

We must each in our own way resist the pull of apathy. Not only in relationship to the troubled world around us, but towards our own hearts. That icy spread around our hurt which protects us too well when it keeps grief frozen. That shrug towards our own wounding which regards our pain as common, and says, “what else is new?” We may have difficulty recognising it as oppression because we’ve never learned to give voice to the wound. But there is a song that needs to be sung from there. And anything that silences it, like the underestimation of our pain, the dismissal which says nobody wants to listen, or the inner cajoling with tells us to get over it already – all of these strategies which once protected us eventually become our own oppressions. It is the other voice – the one which has never been given encouragement, the one who is burdened with shame, who is terrified of emerging – this is the one we need to lend courage to. This means standing up defiantly and repeatedly to the invalidations we’ve grown familiar with, demanding the right with which we have been gifted, inherent to our life, to sing. Give up your vows of silence which only serve to protect the...
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This Too Belongs

This Too Belongs

For all the times someone has asked you how you are, and you felt pressured to say “I am well” when well wasn’t your whole truth. I offer you this, my wish that this writing finds you not just well, but all the things that being human asks of us. And to remind you that your being alive, in all its magnificent and complicated colours, is more than enough for love. This month I came across a powerful piece of writing by Johanna Hedva called Sick Woman Theory which seriously rocked my world. The article (soon to be a book!) is Hedva’s personal story of living with chronic pain and illness, but it’s also the story of anyone who is wrestling to find relevance in a world that aggrandises wellness. Hedva lucidly articulates how ‘wellness’ and ‘sickness’ are treated as a binary of opposites in our culture. And those who fall on the wrong side of those tracks are considered unproductive and therefore excluded from the collective conversation. But perhaps more insidious is how this estranges us from our own pain, our wretched illness, our terrible grief. We are so driven to ‘get well’ that we rarely show any welcoming...
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Redeeming Medicine of Dark Dreams

Redeeming Medicine of Dark Dreams

Like many people, I turned to my dreams when their ‘volume’ got so loud that I couldn’t ignore them any longer. According to the accepted standards, my outer life was thriving at the time. I was working as an executive in the music industry, living the so-called ‘good life’ of restaurants, hotels and exclusive parties. After years of being a musician, struggling to make ends meet, my ego really felt like she’d ‘made it’ in the world. But it all came at a tremendous cost. Not only was my health suffering from the burnout that comes with workaholism, but the things I truly valued – like creativity, community and beauty-making were being devastated by my neglect. It was then that I was initiated by my dreams. One night I was awoken by a bone-chilling dream, a dark mare which haunted me for weeks. When I was finally brave enough to look at it squarely, I was forced to question the direction my life was taking. After that all the vitality I had for my career suddenly went out of me, like a flame to a gust, and I found myself in a deep depression. For the next year, the dreams pulled me down into their mucky depths, where I came to face the terrifying loneliness which my hectic life...
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The Death Mother

The Death Mother

“Our culture’s wounding and belittling of the feminine and its values has led many mothers to mistrust the world and men to a greater extent than ever before, and this mistrust inevitably becomes part of the emotional heritage of our children.” –  by Massimilla Harris, Ph.D., and Bud Harris, Ph.D., from Into the Heart of the Feminine If you were the child of a mother crippled by her own devaluation, you may have inherited the feeling of being unseen, invalidated, or worse –  with the unspoken communication that you (or some aspect of you) was unwanted or even wished dead. Long after you leave the family home, the tyranny of this archetype that Jungian analyst Marion Woodman calls the Death Mother continues its reign in our psyches. Before you even think about attempting something new, asserting your voice, or stepping towards change, the Death Mother is there. Disapproving, denigrating, even repulsed by your impulse to expression and joy. Like Medusa, she only needs to look at you and raise a single eyebrow for your whole body to turn to stone. Rejection from the one we love most can be so devastating to a young person that we internalise the belief...
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Where is my vital edge?

Where is my vital edge?

As human beings, I think we are always walking a line between the creative and destructive. We are both compelled by our wild nature into new forms of living, while also aching for the stability and constancy of belonging. You may have known times when you were just one or the other. Maybe you came all the way untethered and saw what dangers and addictions, what loneliness comes with being rogue. Or somewhere, along the way, perhaps you made an internal vow to be ‘the responsible one’. But responsibility can be just as dangerous as rebellion. It can come on like quicksand, burying you in its requirements, turning your life a platonic hue. What may have started with an edge of penance, now crowds out the very rebellion which kept you feeling alive. Like the wise words of a young man who climbed the ladder only to discover more ladders, “I wish I’d made more mistakes.” And so we must find a way to walk between these things; alternately separating or uniting. Sometimes singing into the great choir of belonging means having a dissenting voice. At other times, the shelter we’ve built must be maintained as a refuge for others, and our creativity. At any given time we...
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Interview with Toko-pa: Be You Media

Interview with Toko-pa: Be You Media

It was a treat to be interviewed for Be You Media, by the lovely and talented Jenn Grosso this week. Our conversation turned to some intimate topics like depression, stage-fright and the book I’ve been writing on Belonging. I hope you find something useful here and I look forward to hearing how it lands with you: “In my own life, and in the lives of the  people I’m blessed to do dreamwork with, I found that the search for Belonging is the silent conversation behind so many of the other conversations we have in the open. And while we crave this elusive thing, so few of us feel as if we’ve achieved it. So this book has taken me deep into the question of exile in my own personal history and in my ancestral lineage, taking me as far as rural France where I’ve walked the same cobblestones my ancestors walked before meeting their death in the holocaust. And I’ve come to understand that belonging is not a place at all, but a set of skills that we in modern culture have forgotten. This book is an attempt to enumerate what I call those ‘competencies of belonging.’”  Read the rest of the interview...
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The Grace of Nostalgia

The Grace of Nostalgia

What if nostalgia is not a fruitless dwelling on those irretrievable moments of the past, as we are taught, but an attempt by sweetness to reach you again? What if nostalgia is really located in the present, like a scent or ambiance which is gathering around you, should you avail yourself to it. As anyone who has been heartbroken knows, there comes a time when, long after loss has been well-lived with, a small melody of love always returns. And to your surprise, you may recognise the tone of that love as the very same love you believed you lost. It’s then that you know your love never belonged to another. Your love was always your love. And if you let yourself be unguarded to it, nostalgia may find its way back into the generosity of your presence once again.  
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Listen to your Lostness

Listen to your Lostness

Drop your maps and listen to your lostness like a sacred calling into presence. Here, where the old ways are crumbling and you may be tempted to burn down your own house. Ask instead for an introduction to that which endures. This place without a foothold is the province of grace. It is the questing field, most responsive to magic and fluent in myth. Here, where there is nothing left to lose, sing out of necessity that your ragged heart be heard. Send out your holy signal and listen for the echo back. To read more, sign up for Toko-pa’s free newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/jtRaL      
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Strike a Holy Grove

Strike a Holy Grove

So many of us feel an agonizing longing to contribute something meaningful to the deficits of our time. But years can disappear in the doing of duties, in the never-reaching of rising expectations, in the always-falling-short of proving of one’s enoughness. The truth is that if we really want to make an eloquent offering of our lives, we have to step out of that ‘call and response’ relationship with the external world and locate our source of guidance within. To hear the rhythm of your indigenous song, to fall in step with the poetry of your unfolding, first there must be a clearing away: a ‘temenos’ of simplicity in which to dwell. Strike a holy grove of silence where you can listen as you long to be heard, see as you long to be seen, recognize where you long to be relevant, needed and necessary in the Family of Things. Sink down into that fissure – not into the nostalgia of Before your Trust was Broken – but right down into the estrangement, and let the grief of your disappointment soften the soil of you so you can be the seed come finally broken...
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On Village-Making and Asking for Help

On Village-Making and Asking for Help

This being human is tough stuff and one of the acute losses we all feel is that of meaningful friendship and community. That which our great, great ancestors took for certain: when a wounding befalls one of us, we are all implicated. And so we lean in to support those in pain with our humble gifts of empathy and presence. We shoulder our unbearable questions together and we honour with ritual the devastating requirements and initiations that this being alive asks of us. But in the impoverished condition of modern culture, we are taught to feel ashamed of our weakness and to deny our own suffering – nevermind share its burden. We’ve made a hedging around the very places we should be depending upon each other. We’ve privatised pain. And then it’s hard to reach out. It’s hard to be seen with your messy lostness,  exhaustion and overwhelm as you stumble through the complexities of life. But how else can someone become trustworthy unless you allow them to share in your hardship? How can we form the village we ache for unless we allow ourselves to wrestle with these things together? If you are well, consider being the medicine for someone else’s...
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Loss of Identity: A summoning of the Numinous

Loss of Identity: A summoning of the Numinous

There’s a famous story that Robert Bly tells about Carl Jung who, whenever a friend reported enthusiastically, ‘I have just been promoted!’ Jung would say, ‘I’m very sorry to hear that; but if we all stick together, I think we will get through it.’ On the other hand, if a friend arrived depressed and ashamed, saying, ‘I’ve just been fired,’ Jung would say, ‘Let’s open a bottle of wine; this is wonderful news; something good will happen now.’ Now this may seem like backwards thinking to the rational mind, but to the soul it makes wonderful sense. These kinds of promotions in social stature set the ego into inflation, believing itself to have finally been recognized as the supreme ruler it was meant to be (!)  The ego’s survival depends upon the belief that it is in control and it doesn’t like to think that it might lose its ascendancy. But in those moments of trembling loss, it is forced to face its smallness. Jung wrote, “… the experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego.” Indeed, in those initiations by illness, loss or depression, when we are dragged into the underworld to pass through...
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On Being Cooked

On Being Cooked

Our cultural emphasis on the triumphant part of the story, where one powers through adversity to rise heroically in short course does us all a great disservice. It misses the long and painful part of the story where we’re being cooked by the flames – and while the things we love are being burned down to ashes, we are all the way left behind by the world. In the old way, you’d be expected to listen to your elders telling of such epic odysseys that you’d never get anywhere fast and your food would always go cold for the long prayers that are owed to your ancestors’ endurance. And eventually you’d come to know the stories by heart because they’d wiggle down into your bones and take life in the landscape; in the fire and the lakes, and the mountains your people have named because they’ve earned the right by crossing them. And when your time comes, as it does for all of us – to be cooked – you’d know that you aren’t the first to be chosen by the fire and it will hurt for as long as it takes, and the only way through is with your heroics humbled.
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Making Anger your Ally

Making Anger your Ally

Anger is one of those emotions that’s been long-stricken from the social palette of acceptability. Especially for women, who are taught that being angry makes you unlikeable, and being unlikeable is a kind of rejection from Femininity itself. So many set about a lifetime of unspoken penance to becoming ‘a nice person.’ You turn down your volume, soften your step, retract your talons and acquiesce. But a terrible thing is lost in the suppression of anger – your relationship with one of your greatest allies: Instinct. Anger arises when your heart has been offended, your values have been wronged, your beloveds are threatened, or somewhere, justice has been denied. Anger is the catalyst to the impotence you may feel in these situations. It sets your heart racing, elevates your blood pressure and quickens your breath. Adrenaline surges through your veins and poises you for action. This profound physical transformation can make you feel out of control, but that may mostly be because the incisiveness of power has become a stranger to us. When we suppress our anger, it often results in one of two ways: It turns inward and takes the form of Depression and/or...
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The Sacred Descent

The Sacred Descent

It may seem counter-intuitive when you’re feeling stuck to go further down into your stuckness, but there is a huge difference between letting your darkness suck you under, and willingly making the sacred descent. Going within is the only way out. There in the underworld of grief, loss and suffering, down in the muck of the very stuff our culture teaches us to reject, lives our redemption. Sometimes all it takes to get life moving again, is giving those forgotten things a Hello. To acknowledge and honour their existence. To meet them with the tenderness which they have for so long been deprived. 2013 © Toko-pa Turner      
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On Pain, by David Whyte

On Pain, by David Whyte

“Pain is the doorway to the here and now. Physical or emotional pain is the ultimate form of ground, saying, to each of us, in effect, there is no other place than this place, no other body than this body, no other limb or joint or pang or sharpness but this searing presence. Pain asks us to heal by focusing on the very center of the actual torment and the very way the pain is felt. Pain is an introduction and then an apprenticeship to alertness and particularity. Through the radical undoing and debilitation of repeated pain we are reacquainted with the essentialities of place and time and existence itself. In deep pain we have energy only for what we can do wholeheartedly and then, only within a narrow range of motion, metaphorically or physically, from tying our shoe-lace to holding the essential core conversations that are reciprocal and reinforcing within the close-in circle of those we love. Pain teaches us a fine economy, in movement, in what we choose to do, in the heart’s affections, in what we ask of our selves and eventually in what we ask of others. Pain’s beautiful humiliations followed fully make us naturally and sincerely humble and force us to put aside the...
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James Hillman on the Daimon

James Hillman on the Daimon

“Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling. The daimon motivates. It protects. It invents and persists with stubborn fidelity. It resists compromising reasonableness and often forces deviance and oddity upon its keeper, especially when neglected or opposed. It offers comfort and can pull you into its shell, but it cannot abide innocence. It can make the body ill. It is out of step with time, finding all sorts of faults, gaps, and knots in the flow of life – and it prefers them. It has affinities with myth, since it is itself a mythical being and thinks in mythical patterns. It has much to do with feelings of uniqueness, of grandeur and with the restlessness of the heart, its impatience, its dissatisfaction, its yearning. It needs its share of beauty. It wants to be seen, witnessed, accorded recognition, particularly by the person who is its caretaker. Metaphoric images are its first unlearned language, which provides the poetic basis of mind, making possible communication between all people and all...
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Giving Misfortune a Home

Giving Misfortune a Home

We must give the story of our misfortunes a home. This always seeking to start anew, to cover our eyes and elude some pain, eventually only makes refugees of our wounds. They follow at our heels and seep into the background life of every Love. They become the distant, tenacious ache which howls with a silent mantra of unBelonging. We must remember and be willing to say their name. We must house our displacements, gather them close and feed them with our remembering until they acquiesce as the great allies that they are.                      
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The Elixirs of our Discomforts

The Elixirs of our Discomforts

Developing your feeling takes time, especially if it has been systematically discouraged in you. There may be an initial layer of numbness or anger you have to move through and, beyond that, a backlog of grief. But as you make the seemingly bottomless descent, it helps to remember that grief is the downpour your soul has been thirsting for. Like rain, the more excellently and prodigiously you grieve, the more growth and fertility you can expect. There is a future beyond the spiritual aridity and meaninglessness of our time, teeming with life. If each of us has the tenacity to retrieve the elixirs of our discomforts, our combined medicine will heal the collective wound.          ...
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Dreamspeak: Ancestral Healing

Dreamspeak: Ancestral Healing

One of the most powerful dreams I was ever given was a visitation from my maternal Grandfather who came to me as an adult, twenty years after he died. Like many ancestral dreams, it was singularly vivid and more lucid than everyday dreams. I looked into the bright clarity of his eyes, felt the warmth and weight of his hand on my shoulder, and recognized the melody of his thick accent even though I was 7 years old when last I heard it. A great stillness stretched around us as he looked at me tenderly and said, “I’m sorry for having given you my eyesight.” Towards the end of her life, my Granny told my brother and I many stories she’d kept secret for a lifetime. She spoke of many unfathomable atrocities, and the near-death miracles that kept my Grandparents alive. But there’s one story in particular which haunts me, of a long walk they took together to escape Poland at the end of the war. My Granny always told it with pride for the man my Grandfather was, how he covered her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see the piles of corpses strewn by the roadside. “Nothing influences children more,” Jung says, “than the silent facts in the...
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