The term “Magical Thinking” has often been used derogatorily. When we find ourselves in very practical moods or around very practical people, what we refer to as magical thinking often seems childish and immature. Yet at the same time, when we’re daydreaming or fantasizing or allowing our imaginations to create something really original, we wouldn’t want to live without this magical thinking ability. Of course it can get the upper hand and we lose ourselves in it sometimes. Well, at least for the more creative among us. Yet if we don’t allow ourselves this process, something important is missing. The ability to slightly dissociate, to be in the world, but somehow, for the moment, not of the world, is a source of great originality and profound creativity.
In olden days, what was doubtless a similar form of dissociation was ritualized. This journey to other planes, this altered state of reality, this focus on inner creative resources had a respected place in the development of the mature human being. One of its forms was, of course, the theater. A seeker would go to a place of wisdom, the Oracle of Delphi, to use one example. After describing the need, the seeker would be sent to a specific performance. She there identified with the conflicts of the protagonist, went through a dramatic catharsis through this identification and emerged somehow cleansed, somehow wiser, somehow with answers to questions that slumbered deep within her.
In other cultures of the past and some of the present, a shaman would initiate a journey for the seeker. In this journey the seeker would encounter symbolic figures who would play out, much like the theater example above, the vital elements of a life conflict. Through this encounter, the seeker, here as well, emerged cleansed and somehow wiser. We encounter this in modern times as well. Who among us has not been profoundly moved by an opera, a piece of music or a film? Who among us has not felt himself deeply changed by encountering a symbolic conflict in a dream and working through it?
There are times when we get stuck, when we cannot see the way forward, when we feel in a rut. Often too, we see this in our friends and loved ones. It’s somehow the essence of a good friend, a coach or a therapist, to accompany someone along just such a stuck state. If this hasn’t happened to you recently, you can probably remember in early youth, in puberty or early in your career what it’s like to be in such a stuck state and the necessary and sufficient steps to get out of it. What rituals and what processes have you personally developed to make this repeatable? What rituals did your family have? Your “community”? Asking this question in group workshops reveals a profound paucity of these rituals. This is usually for a good reason: we are modern. We are practical. We no longer subscribe to pre-modern illusions of all-mighty cosmic or religious powers. We have abandoned the ‘magical thinking’ of past ages, with all its brutality and unfairness and have adopted more reasonable and practical ideologies. The thing is, in doing this, we have thrown an important baby out with some no-longer-necessary bathwater. This baby has to do with repeatable rituals which enable us to both consciously and unconsciously work through important energetic processes. The irony is that when people go through trauma, conflict or breakdowns of any kind and recover, they go through similar steps in their recovery. Without collective rituals, or any form of preparation, however, they’re on their own.
The form of the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries makes these steps transparent. According to legend these mysteries were based on the mythology of Demeter, mother of Persephone. Persephone was abducted by Hades into the underworld and held captive. Demeter (in Rome called Ceres, from which we have our words Cereal and Ceremony), Goddess of Agriculture, searched high and low for her beloved daughter and was so distraught that she forbade the plants to grow. The cries of the hungry were so loud that Zeus intervened and sent Hermes to retrieve Persephone. The story is much more complicated, depending on the narrator, but the essence of
1. Descent into the underworld
2. Search for the beloved and
3. Ascent into the light
are the familiar steps in individual and collective processes of trauma. Understanding and undertaking these steps psychologically, bio-energetically and practically is the essence of human maturity.
Even more important is the codification of these steps with an understanding of how the unconscious represents them as symbols. The potential confusion in understanding and communicating this is because it sounds to many like a regression to an unwished-for, outdated form of religiosity. In other words, the virtues of the mystic for post-modern thinking is synonymous with the incorporation of powerful symbolic rituals devoid of pre-modern accoutrements. This is one of the reasons why humanistic, client-centered astrology, shamanism, tarot, I Ching, Kabbalah, human design, lucid dreaming, hypnosis and so much more has gained in popularity. These practices and models contain important elements in the steps of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Of all the narratives involving these ancient rituals, it is said that when the initiate completes the ritual, they never, ever again fear death. No longer ‘fearing death’ is itself a symbol for a high level of resiliency, the ability, like the ‘weeble toys’ kids play with, to arise anew after every fall. Living free of ‘fear’ (in the debilitating sense of the word) is the goal of every life artist. It’s the definition of “Joie de Vivre”.
As a performing artist or singer, as a “Gesangspädagoge” im “Gesangsunterricht”, we recognize how important instinct and natural talent is. The thing is, if we’re performing or teaching on instinct and the instinct changes, an understanding of what we’re doing allows its return. A long career is synonymous with going through complex changes. Understanding how we tick on the surface and within the depths makes us resilient. That often means actually allowing a breakdown in some form and coming back stronger. Ask any singer over 50 who’s still performing, and you’ll hear multiple stories of breakdown and recovery…..love, health, family, sleep, jobs, physical, psychological, energetic, etc. etc., the list of things which can potentially bring us down is almost endless. But successful artists who’ve been around for a while are experts in riding through the dark night of soul and emerging stronger.
Life will assure that we go through ‘negative’, less-than-joyful experiences from time to time. How fast and appropriately we integrate them defines us as human beings. How we make meaning from them makes life and living it an art form. Merely the telling of this kind of profound, ritualistic story to people transforms them and their attitudes. What’s fascinating to me, as an X-performing artist, is how attractive transformative story-telling has become for the business world. Telling a really good story and relating it to a product has proved to be immensely profitable for the creation of a “brand”. One just has to study the advertising strategies of Apple, Nike or Coca Cola, to mention a few, to be convinced of the selling power behind these stories.
The appeal of “THE HERO”, whether in advertising, ‘brand’-creation, hollywood or our own personal narrative, is the appeal of vitality, courage, agility and persistence. The hero, in all of us, may not seek out may not seek out unpleasant experiences, but most certainly grows and learns from them.