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- “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”
If you’re in therapy with me, you’ll notice that there’s one question I ask fairly regularly: What does that (feeling/energy/situation) look like?
I don’t mean it abstractly. I want to know if you can see a picture of your anxiety, your overwhelm, your peaceful focus, your relationship problem as it might be symbolized in a dream or a painting. I want to know, really, what does it look like?
It might seem like a silly or frivolous question at first glance. And it might take some getting used to, to think of your experiences in this way. You might flounder at first, flail around for an appropriate picture.
But when you’re able to drop into your less-conscious self, able to see and then say that your anxiety is blood-red electric currents zapping you from all directions, or your relationship is a dead cedar tree, you begin to speak the language of the psyche. Comprehension drops from the logical, cerebral, conscious mind down to the body, the soul, and the intuitive wisdom we carry around with us but rarely tap into. Images give us access to the roundabout path of the psyche that linear logic cannot enter.
Images also allow us to stand across from the problem rather than being immersed in it. When we’re a bit apart from it we can see it more clearly, define ourselves in relation to it rather than of it, get a clearer understanding of it and ask what it wants and how it could be resolved. Images crack open our thinking about a problem in shorthand, creative, intuitive ways.
It’s not unlike dreamwork in that an image means something important — and not just in one-to-one correspondence but in a way that graphically illuminates the thing, if we let it. Wisdom language emerges from the ground of the body-soul: it is not crafted by our bright and conscious minds. It is up to us only to allow the image to arrive — to, as Rumi advises, “meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.”
From that invitation we get to know the guest, know much more about them, understand how they are like us, enter into relationship with them, maybe even love them.
This is not a common way of doing counseling or psychotherapy. It is not a ten-steps-to-happiness style of self-help. It is a profoundly different way of understanding ourselves and the world. It is a daring adventure and a mythic, poetic meditation on existence. It deepens, expands, and enriches. I invite you to try it.
This week I’m observing the autumn equinox (lit., “equal night”) and thinking about “balance” as the buzzword it’s become.
We’re all looking for balance, aren’t we? We talk about work/life balance, measure out time spent with various loved ones, try to squeeze and stretch moments of leisure in between all the tasks that need doing. It feels like balance is the always-elusive ring just out of our reach.
But what if balance isn’t actually the goal?
Nature tells us as much on the equinoxes, in fact. There are really only two single days each year when light balances dark; the rest of the year we are careening through time toward the highest light at the start of summer or the deepest dark at the winter solstice. In fact, the vast majority of the year is about plunging down or rising up — it’s not about balance at all. It’s about living our passions. It’s about feeling pain, and pleasure, deeply.
I think of the cycle of the year as one long breath, one 365-day inhale/exhale exchange. Summer solstice is the fully expanded lungs, while winter solstice is the lungs emptied out. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss the halfway-there moments.
And that’s what the equinox is about: paying deep, slow attention to the inhale and the exhale of each moment. You’ll observe the brief moment of balance, but you’ll let it go, too — in almost the same instant — to make way for the deeper, higher, raucous, passionate messiness that is human life.
Balance is brief, and almost impossible. Let’s welcome the plunge — we’re on our way!