Arriving at a name for this blog came slyly as I recalled a conversation from the eighties. A friend, Rotimi Fani Kayode said something which stayed with me for years: Art heals wounds better than time does. I see now how ever more relevant Art is having researched into how writing and journalling can help people to come to terms with personal difficulties. Flexing my pen power can keep me out of the doctor’s clinic – most of the time. This process, as has been proven by Pennebaker and others, can have a positive effect on the immune system which, let’s face it, makes millions of decisions each day on our behalf. It does not have to be writing, the same goes for any artistic activity but the fact that language is structured into our brains lends impetus to the power of words to render our reality. But even doing this may not be enough to bandage the toxic hurts that lurk at the core of the sick self.
As I go deeper into the mystery of wounds, attempting to be self physician, pondering why we have them, what purpose they serve – also through studying the astrology of Chiron – it seems that wounds do not go away that easily. The cosmic clock is whirring away in the background of our lives, relentlessly creating conditions for wounds to keep popping up. You cannot just rub them out, tempting as that may be, as what you resist, persists. Even wanting to heal your wounds can be a barrier to understanding why they came to us in the first place. Holding the pain up as a mirror might be a better first step; the trick is to see its purpose.
Painful experiences cry out for a re-frame, a new perspective, where what seemed unendurable at the time, turns out to be the best thing that ever happened, and what appeared first as a blessing, turns rapidly toxic. To learn not to run away from this polarity, but to embrace it, not in any masochistic sense, is to begin to work closely with life at it unfolds in order to glean its many hidden, often coded, messages. In this way we can develop a negotiated relationship with our core wound. This then could allow us to tolerate its presence, where we might be less likely to have the knee-jerk aversion response. Just like the shadow, you dance with the wound as part of the healing process.
ART as ALCHEMY
But there are other skills needed to adapt to painful experiences – as when a business fails, when we are dumped,or become ill, or are obliged to divorce, or someone close, or even a pet dies, or we don’t get the job that we want. These skills do not come easily, but at some cost. The traditional view is that time heals all wounds of loss, betrayal, death, and abuse, all the deadly slings and arrows life tosses in our direction. This is true to an extent. But if Art is the prime healer, and not time, then that changes the perspective. You do not have to just sit and wait passively for the pain to diminish. It positions you as the artist of your own life and we can begin to understand that when Wilde said he put only his talent into this work and his genius into his life, then that can be true now for all of us. Having any kind of creative activity can really boost your ability to get a handle on life’s trickiness.
This Art is more akin to Alchemy as depicted in the Thoth deck than it is to painting or sculpture. This image was previously called Temperance in the Rider Waite deck, but the image clearly suggests an alchemical process which equates to individuation in Jungian psychotherapy. It is no easy feat to gain a greater sense of self when all around us the culture commands us to rejoin the tribe. The message in this card is Visita Interiora Terrae rectificando invenies occultam lapidem which means “Visit the interior parts of the earth; by rectification thou shalt find the hidden stone.” Depicted in the card is an experiment with the elements of life, poured into a cauldron that is the raw self. Alchemy in this sense requires the practitioner to go inside the self to find the rejected shadow parts,which are then brought forward into light.
Georges Braque said it succinctly: “Art is a wound turned into light.” To become light and lighter in both senses makes the pain easier to bear. Working out issues through art is now an accepted form of healing. It has even gained ground in hospitals where art therapy is now used as a distraction from stress for patients recovering from surgery. Apparently, the ‘joy’ response part of the brain is stimulated when we see artworks according to study at the University of London(2011). This effect is similar to when we see a loved one and it triggers oxytocin or serotonin, giving us that ‘happy’ feeling that boosts the immune system, making recovery easier.
HOW TO DECODE THE WOUND: Dr Mario Martinez
This jumble of ideas about art and alchemy may seem too nebulous to grasp, but where it can be of practical help is in the work of Mario Martinez, a bio-cognitive scientist. There are different types of wounds, personal, archetypal. Each needs to be distinguished, yet many are universal but culture specific. He said in a Sounds True interview that his cross-cultural research supports the idea that cultural beliefs create mind-body interactions. Illnesses are often just learned from the culture premised on the placebo/nocebo effect. He calls this the ‘MindBody Code’, which is the process by which culturally inherited ideas form the parameters of our health potential. Genetics is only a predisposition. What we think, usually based on unexamined beliefs, has a major impact on our immune system. People are so embedded in their cultural beliefs that they hardly realise they could be enslaved – until they try to break free.
Even the phrase ‘Beyond the pale’ (referring to the fence or wall that defines the tribal territory) outlines a boundary between tribe and the individual mind. You can’t make it ‘beyond the pale’ people say-exactly because it is taboo to step out of line, therefore ‘betraying’ the collective. People would rather die than do this. The insidious pull of collectivism and the demand to conform to standard formulas and behaviours is still greater than the will to stand alone. The tribe shames people back into entrapments of control, failure, addiction via the impact of words that in other contexts would be abusive. Worse is that we may even do this to ourselves through self-censorship in order to feel we are accepted among the tribe. Martinez demonstrates how Shame can affect molecules, and can cause inflammation in the body. This is a radically new paradigm compared to the old reductionist, determinist model of medicine which does not include ‘cultural spells.’ The culture editors, the weavers of these spells -priests, doctors, judges, scientists, politicians, teachers, media experts – are those who are empowered in the culture to have the power for nocebo and placebo effects. What they say tends to be believed which then shapes you into who you are.
Martinez’s therapeutic method is intriguingly fresh, yet fleshes out the work of Caroline Myss and others in detail. He talks of antidotes to the wounds. First, he has the person who feels Shame to embody that wound which is bio-symbolic, and bio-informational. The wound responds to thought forms. So the client must think back to times when they were honourable which is Shame’s healing field, its antidote. Shame is primitive and is localised as it feels hot and causes inflammation; you want the world to swallow you. Abandonment, which is the most primitive, feels cold, and constricts the body. It creates hyper-vigilance. Betrayal makes you feel angry. Anger, however, feels hot whereas Honour spreads all over the body. Just knowing this can help adapt to painful circumstances. These are not logical arguments: the mind does not respond to logic, but to symbolic ideas. The brain is infinitely adaptable. Illness can then be said to be learned behaviour from social and cultural symbols, which are then unlearned through the antidote actions.
If you feel any of these wounds, Abandonment, Shame or Betrayal, to any degree –and that is just about all of us – then you might not realise that to accept responsibility for being co-author in that same abandonment, shame or betrayal event is the first step forward. This is counter intuitive, but bear with it, as it goes outside the obvious plane of daily existence. These discoveries put us in Quantum mode where weird things happen. But the wounding does follow a kind of inexorable patterning: If you are one of those whose father abandoned the family, then you might tend to seek out people who will abandon you in order find evidence for that belief; if you have been Shamed, you seek out those who Shame you; if you have Anger issues, you seek out those who have the same wound. It’s a sad little merry-go-round, but Martinez gets good results and recoveries.
With the issue of Abandonment, Martinez encourages clients who look for those early signs that their partner is about to leave, to ask themselves: How am I abandoning myself? Then to recall that they have in the past made tiny commitments to themselves that they kept. This switches the perspective. Building on these small moments as evidence, the strength accumulates to remain self committed which then triggers the feelings of abandonment less and less. The same works for Shame, where apparently, you should look for evidence of Honour, where you did honorable actions, and with Betrayal you look for evidence of behaviour that displayed Loyalty to yourself.
If the only one constant in the world is change, then it is also ironic that changing oneself is notoriously difficult. Our habits are as deeply rooted as an African wild fig tree. We may have been to many workshops but have found that learning new therapeutic techniques do not always work. We may have taken change on board only on an intellectual level, without connection to the emotions, or vice versa. The changes do not take root, because according to Martinez, the three levels of Self Worth – Self Value, Competence, and Affiliation– are not yet firmly synergised. If we do not believe ourselves worthy of the change, we self sabotage. The inner core worth must be sustainable, so we need a self valuation meter to discern the three levels. Then we can make adjustments just as the Art figure in the Tarot card co-mingles elements in the cauldron. If we are not able to do this, then there lies the root of the problem, and were we get stuck licking our wounds. So alcoholics continue to attract alcoholics, addicts attract addicts, the sexually abused attract other sexually abused people into their sphere for relationships, so the events can be replayed over and over and it can begin to seem fated. So this is where I would turn to yet another layer in the narrative -astrology- for further, and deeper pointers to what is going on.
THE HEALING MESSAGE OF CHIRON
From the astrological standpoint – as above; so below – we shifted into a shuttle between dimensions when the planetoid, Chiron was discovered in 1977. Chiron in mythology was the centaur who was wounded, but could not heal his wound until he gave up his life, and in doing so, found immortality. This can be symbolically interpreted as a new complex area highlighting the sacred aspects of the human psyche. Chiron is viewed also an intermediary or transmitter between profoundly deep and surface elements within, like an open pathway from the unconscious to the conscious, which equated to Chiron’s eccentric orbit between Saturn and Uranus. Chiron is the bridge that connects us to source. He is the shaman, mutant and wounded healer. Wherever your common pains occur, there is your wound which comes from the soul. But not everyone can be a shaman as they embody the pains of others in order to heal . That role is only for the few. To regard your wound as sacred demands a rethink of all that we’ve been told. But it begins to make sense as it is the shamanistic viewpoint. According to Robert Ohotto, the sacred wound is an invitation to return to the soul, to the spirit. Addicts know that you can’t heal a sickness with a sick mind, only a healed mind. You cannot change what you cannot accept. Acceptance leads to surrender, so painful events can trigger us back to source where we hopefully learn the message and don’t have to endlessly repeat them.
Whether our wound is obvious or hidden, it affects every one of us, creating tender spots in life that become unavoidably shredded on the rocks of difficulty, yet it also affects us individually in a specific areas. If Chiron in your natal chart is placed in the first house, this creates a sense of being orphaned. Your core wound is around your birth, making you feel rejected from the start. If Chiron is placed in the Seventh house, your area of difficulty is with relationships and you are likely to feel wounded around other people. This is where the feeling of being betrayed could become prominent. If your Chiron is placed in the ninth house, your wound is in your relationship to the higher mind and learning, and affects your ultimate search for meaning. These examples all point to the need to understand the Chiron effect in your life. Chiron is, as galaxyexpress explains, Chiron “guides us through the pain and hurt connected to past and present emotional embroilments and repressions until we have found our way through the tumults of the maze and become free to heal our inner selves.”
We all have wounds and you might be wondering where yours is. Check your body; check your chart; check your life. They may not be obvious visible wounds, like those from an accident, or car crash which have to be disinfected and sutured. They are all the more subtle and do not show up until some relationship, or challenging event sets them off like a fuse wire to a toxic feeling. It might not even dawn on us what is happening for a while. These wounds are mental, emotional, psychic, and even culturally imposed, keeping us bound under cultural spells as delineated by Martinez. Yet they lodge in our body cells and become biologically rooted, affecting our health. If your wound is mild, you might feel luckier than most, but it hurts nonetheless.
Along with the idea the wound is sacred is to view the wound as a gift, a bit like X men. So it could just be some extra vision, or skill not given to others, but for which you may be forced to suffer, or be alienated. Ask what possible benefit does this problem unfold for me? The hospital where you get treatment is life itself with both hard and soft reminders in repeated events. Healing is stated as a participle because it is an ongoing process that may never end just as in the myth of Chiron. His wound was eternal and to give it up meant dying to the mortal world. If that isn’t a conundrum I don’t know what is.
Your life is what it is, including all the pains. We don’t have to reject the world, or become risk-averse, but we might have to learn to do a little dance with our wounds to be set on course for healing. Sing: These wounds were made for walking- and that’s just what they’ll do. Art of whatever kind is one way; and self development, an analogue of alchemy, is another. The blistering paradox is that your ‘soul’ wound can only begin to heal when you accept that it will not heal. It may never heal, but you can begin to adjust to it as you ease into a difficult yoga pose, in ways that discern its beneficial effects, and you begin to notice “the sweet uses of adversity” in your life, and may even begin relish all the conundrums and contradictions that bubble to the surface.
© Kieron Devlin, 2014
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