History, Mystery &
The Other-Worldly Foot
doctors, psychotherapists take "histories." Telling
of our afflictions leads us to be known, presaging what must be healed (so
that we might come to know ourselves in a different way.)
And for the therapist,
the history-taking--which begins at the very onset
of the process--can be like the opening chapter of a detective novel, where
the first clues lie as to what is to be healed, and how this might be achieved.
Like a novel,
these early stories that come forward in taking a history
are always unique, and yet might be viewed as part of a genre. To mention
but a few, these genres might be irreverently named "War Stories of
Childhood" or "This Strange History of Love," or "What I Want To
Be So Is Not What There Is."
Life is often
painful, and I'm not wanting to make fun of suffering--yet
as genres of discourse, there often is something generic here, like "the
common cold," or "garden variety neurosis," something each of us might
suffer--the pathos of being human
To have our own
story regarded as "generic" could feel the worst of
narcissistic insults. But in a narcissistic culture, a culture where people are
taking themselves to be an image, a historical self, the generic quality here
could actually be comforting--for the therapist. Like an experienced editor,
if he has heard some version of this story before, he may have, already,
some notions of how to treat it, how to help guide it toward a good ending.
The generic quality
of these stories (which I've put in bold case above)
might also make passable titles for a literary work, something at least that
might appear in the "Self Help" section of the local, independent bookstore
--that is, if any are still left. And perhaps a function of therapy is to learn
how to tell a better story, one with a slightly altered narrative voice, a voice
that has learned to stay present with a naked eye, a naked I--like the kind
of writer who fearlessly leaves nothing out--as if we suffer from what we
have not yet learned to say.
(At least this
is what Freud--himself a notable writer--thought with his
"talking cure" which challenges the patient to get past the repression by
which parts of our story remains untold, or lost from view.).
But these histories are also tales of a further waking wanting to happen,
as if the speaker is dreaming aloud, like Sleeping Beautywhile in need of
a wakeful, soul-stirring kiss. And the story that is found even in the word
"history" may have myths embedded within it as well.
Unlike the doctor
sleuthing the chart of the past for its clues of
etiology--through the understanding of which he might cure the patient for
a less afflicted future--the shaman has one foot in another world, a timeless
world, a world of mystery. And he would use the world of mystery--and the
allies that are encountered there--to heal the patient from her history.
The shaman, poet,
therapist, and the spiritual guide all seem to be
variations of a kindred social calling, like fragments of the same logos. And it
is not uncommon when any one of these has some access to at least one of
the other three.
Each of them
can summon healing by virtue of having a foot in a different
world than that of the consensual agreements often made by the culture in
which he plies his trade. In this way, like Hermes or Hekate, he is a medial
figure, and his job is to connect the two worlds, like the left and right
hemispheres of the brain, and in so doing, to heal some form of mythic
The foot that
is in "another world," gives a different stance, lends
angle of vision than the perspective of pathology from which his culture suffers;
it is different too from the way each "patient" tends to view herself and her
world. And it is "the other-worldly foot" that provides the healing ground
--from which the medial agent might stir the soul, and give his wakeful kiss.
his other-worldly foot, the healer must also join in some
way with the vantage of the other, must bend in her direction, must bend his
heart and ear, learning how to employ her images, and to speak in her language.
This bending is like a bow made before a slumbering deity. Or like a bow--the
kind that is strung--evoking Cupid and his quiver. Or the psychic body thus bent
is like a bridge, a bridge of eros. But this bridge also leads back--over a chasm--to
the perspective now needed by the other, in order to better face the rest of her
When it comes
to our historical sense of self, it seems we can "drop the
in failing to own what happened to us, failing, for example, to acknowledge our
wounding--and how the effect of it continues to live on
Or we could get stuck in our wounded-ness itself,
holding onto it as a kind
of familiar identity, such as continuing to identify with the perspective of the
wounded child--or perhaps-as in my own example, that of being "an idiot."
And both of these
ways of "dropping the ball"--either our heedlessness
denial, or our attachment to our suffering self-- could also be a defense against
the mystery--against which we recoil, often with an unexplored terror.
Either of the
above tendencies leads us to be tainted by the past, defined
and confined by the historical self--itself a kind of fiction--and thus, a self that
ultimately needs to be deconstructed. Or at the least (like the images that form
to represent this self) not taken so literally, not equated with identity.
Whereas our more
essential nature is part of the mystery, it hasn't suffered
a "mythic dissociation," in fact the mythic dissociation that I have referred to in
this book is the loss of our essential nature. And when we are mythically
dissociated we take ourselves to be separate from a divine Source that can only
be worshipped as something "out there."
Unlike the personality,
essential nature is not rooted in history, but in
eternity. That means right here, right now, not in some "everlasting future."
(For this misperception of eternity is also "mythically dissociated.").
nothing to do with time. Even "the present" is a conceptual
façade, behind which it gleamingly stands. And so, like our dreams, our essential
nature is not time-bound, nor is its sense of space (or knowing) confined. And
because it was never fabricated or constructed in the first place, unlike our
neuroses there is no need for it to be deconstructed in order to reveal a deeper
wisdom, and humor that arises from primordial space is in itself
the great elixir, a cure for so much of what ails us. But it only seems to come after
we have let go of any sense of perch, any fixed notion, any fixed structure we
might cling to (or avoid). Which is what The Diamond Sutra is pointing to with
its mention of "the mind that dwells nowhere." For an innate quality of expansive
ease seems to follow this letting go, this loss of confined structural referents-- and
our having learned to trust this "nowhere land."
sense of space, this awakened "nowhere land" that is
on no map from Rand McNally, nor in western psychology's structural mappings
of the psyche, is for the spiritual guide like the "other world" of the shaman.
If there's no
place like home, "no place" might be his home--though
not to dwell there either, for as the Heart Sutra teaches, emptiness (itself) is (a)
And so, the path
here is continually coming home (to the present), letting go
of it, and resting in the space that letting go might bring, along with its wisdom.
Rather than fearing
the primal void, the spiritual guide takes refuge here
what is unconfined and unborn, the primordial space that has always been.