Rescuing the princess, rebuilding the animus and growing healthy relationship archetypes

Recently I have been exploring the common archetype of the princess in the tower, in relation to my life. It is something that crops up from time to time, when I feel helpless or overwhelmed; I feel out of control, like a small child, powerless and desperate; I don’t think I can do things by myself. Whenever this pattern emerges I secretly wish for someone to rescue me, when really I know I always have to rescue myself.

Please excuse the gendered nature of the archetypes presented here – they actually don’t need to a particular gender, that is just the common representation… I do feel, however, that growing up without a healthy father figure/male role-model has stunted and warped the development of my animus, which I have been progressively healing/growing back over the last few years. The animus is commonly known as the ‘male’ or masculine part of the psyche, but is also associated with the warrior or rescuer archetype. If you didn’t have a present or adequate father/male role model, you may well be in the same boat.

Early on, we who need to rescue ourselves tend to fall into the trap of becoming the rescuer – of being attracted to wounded puppies who we think we can save with our love and guidance. This is a massive exercise in projection and gets quite circular. We are seeing our own damaged animus reflected back through damaged people and damaging relationships. Without a healthy animus, we are doomed to repeat this cycle. The good news is that, eventually, we can heal the major inner fractures in ourselves (if we need to). We can piece one together from the aspects of healthy ‘masculinity’ and strength we encounter in our lives. We can make a frankenstein animus and bring it to life – or re-grow an under-developed animus archetype until he reaches maturity – along with culling all the unhealthy/predator/shadow aspects we may have internalized from having painful or exploitative experiences with men.

Even when we have cobbled together a healthy representation of animus inside ourselves, we may find that we still feel tensions and anxieties arising from attachment and relationships – even with healthy significant others who are not wounded puppies. While being attracted to healthy (rather than damaged) people is a sign of significant healing progress, it doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing from here. Our new healthy animus still needs to be socialised. Invite him to sit down for a cup of tea. Build a good relationship with him. If you are projecting anxiety onto an external attachment, transfer this projection, along with your needs and desires to your inner animus and practice relating to this inner ‘other’ in a healthy and loving way. He can be there for you, love you, support you and rescue you in an insecure world. Through this inner transformation, the external world can mirror harmonious relationships back to you.

Removing psychic splinters

I have written before about untangling projections and nursing the primal wound, letting go of baggage and peeling back layers… but it’s an ongoing process, right.

Lately something has been triggered for me, but I’m not exactly sure what it is or how to deal with it. In this vague, ambiguous state I feel a bit stuck. What is holding me back? It isn’t big or dramatic. It isn’t agonising. It’s more like a splinter in my chest – of fear or doubt, of past pain. Like a physical splinter, it is inflammatory. For me it is connected with insecure attachment issues and feeling vulnerable… but probably, you have something like this too – that might come up at some point in your life, triggered by someone being a dick or not answering your text messages or something.

Western society is not particularly good at emotions – probably because it is founded on denial and a false dichotomy between the body and mind – which is, ironically not very scientific… so we might as well develop processes to deal with our emotions, right? This is something I just made up, and as a qualified hypnotherapist, I’m totally allowed – this also means when you read it you can make the voice in your head sound very relaxed and hypnotic ūüôā

As we know, to clean emotional wounds you need to focus on them. It’s not pleasant, but it’s important work if you actually want to get over something. Focus on the sensation and where it is in the body. It might feel uncomfortable.

Focus… focus…
When your attention slips, that’s okay, just focus again.

It’s a bit like a surgeon, or a mum removing a splinter from a child’s foot.

Focus.

Can you name the feeling?
Let it well up
Submerge yourself in it.
Keep focussed.

What’s underneath?
Let it well up again – feel it out – go through the middle… again…
that centre of the splinter…
the eye of the storm…
splitting discomfort
fear/pain/trauma

Separate this from anything external. This is part of you. It’s all about you.

Focus.
Focus.
Feel it.

Has it moved?
Has it shifted?
Sneaky little splinter.

You could keep distracting yourself – numbing the pain with facebook or beer or movies or whatever floats your boat, but unless you really get in there and focus it will stay there – keeping you stuck.

Stretch from side to side.
Focus.
As you focus it may grow or diminish…
maybe both, alternately.
It may hide and re-emerge.

Eventually it may crystalise so you can see the damn thing.
What is it?
A fleck of wood?
A shard of glass?
A prickle?
A dagger?
A mighty spear?
How big is it?
What colour?
What does it look like?
Does it change?

Distractions are important coping mechanisms – let them come and go.
Re-focus every time.

What more can you find buried here?
Memories?
Baggage?

Focus

Stretch

Focus

Walk it out…

Go for a walk alone, in as peaceful place as possible, with as much of a clear horizon as possible…

…and feel.

Every time your mind drifts off,
Bring it back.
Keep doing it until you can figure out how to remove the splinter.

Then you can just leave it alone and let it heal.

The state, the market and astrological politics of the 4th and 10th houses

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I have been reading anarchist democratic theory for my thesis and the parallels between the 4th and 10th houses and the state and market keep coming back to me. Neoliberals want the market (10th, father) to rule Рconservatives want this too but it is the other side of the 10th that appeals to them (control, structure). Neoliberals want a society of competition and progress (there is a Mars/1st element here too), conservatives want a society of rules and order.  Together these two political ideologies create a tyranny of corporate control, social inequality and suffering for most of the population. 

Socialists, on the other hand, want the 4th (mother/home) to rule. They want a more caring, fair society, where things are more equally distributed. Unfortunately, when instituted in a paradoxically top-down way (10th house), this can be equally tyrannical and disempowering for most people.

I wonder if these political ideologies translate to personal childhood experience. I suspect so. If we could just make sure our political class were thoroughly psychologically analysed for mummy/daddy issues we might well avoid all these messes and grow up politically. After all, market/state is a false dichotomy; they are two sides of the same coin. Even if they are involved in power struggles, they co-create each other.

Personally, I have a distrust of daddy/market and a longing for a nurturing mother/state. I’m also aware that the state isn’t as I’d like it to be, it is quite disconnected and covertly violent. We are all probably better off without passive aggressive mother and psychopathic controlling fathers as rulers, don’t you think? It would be nice to see more of a focus on humanitarian/Uranian/11th house politics: a politics that is more aware of what it is actually creating in the long-term, that is inclusive of diversity and seeks to resolve problems through democratic process, not just use the political stage as a contest. This is where contemporary anarchist (no-ruler) democratic process sits.

The things that make us uncomfortable…

There is power in things that make us uncomfortable. Sometimes they are the shadow element, the big bad wolf in the fairy tale, the predator that we run away from. In that situation they have power over us, but there is another kind of power too: the power of transformation.

For a long time I didn’t want to think about poverty. In my food research I wanted to focus only on the positive: healthy food, community food, local food… I didn’t want to think about corporations, exploitation, corruption, starvation, pesticides, additives, genetic modification, and so on. I figured there was enough focus on the problem. I wanted to focus on solutions, I still do, but one of the things I didn’t want to think about at all was poverty, and lately I can’t stop thinking about it.

Poverty is a wicked problem, that is, a problem with so many compounding factors that there is no simple solution. I didn’t want to think about food scarcity or hunger, only about abundance and how to create it in healthy, sustainable ways, but there is so much ignorance about poverty and so many frustratingly common ridiculous social prejudices¬†that I can’t stop thinking about it.

Underneath all this there is an unearthing or my own childhood relationship with scarcity and powerlessness. When I was growing up there was always poverty around. For us, as a single parent family when I was very young and as a large blended family when I was a bit older, there was the ordinary struggle with finances, with scarcity, and so on, but, even though I had blood-sugar issues that made me often feel like I was starving, and even though I was neglected to the point of not always having lunch at school, we were okay. We were relatively privileged compared to the people around us – at the school we went to and in our wider family. My experiences of poverty through family and school were difficult and ugly. The overwhelming powerlessness tangled with my other childhood traumas into the psychological wound that was painful to touch. I didn’t want to think about it, but now I do.

The “Why don’t they just…” attitude to poverty is really pissing me off. The negative response that vulnerable people often get when they stand up for themselves makes me sick. There is no simple solution here. If there was, people would have figured it out by now. If it was simply a matter of choice, people wouldn’t so easily damn themselves by “making bad choices”, would they? No one wants to live like that.

I feel compelled to raise awareness of the complexities of these related problems. People who have never experienced this extreme powerlessness seem to have trouble relating and, therefore, little empathy. To me, this feels like personal transformation through the shadow.

Doing Shadow Work

I was about fourteen the first time I was introduced to the concept of the shadow through Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet, in which Ged split off a part of himself out of a foolish desire to prove himself and spent many years running from his shadow. ¬†Later, when I was sixteen, my counselor, Fiona (who was also practiced in Celtic shamanism) explained the shadow as all the parts of a person they don’t like – that they are afraid of – that they don’t want to deal with. She talked about bringing the shadow into the light of awareness and encouraged me to write a list of all the things in myself that fitted this description. It was easy to pinpoint external things: the things I felt guilty about, the obvious things I struggled with. It was harder to dig deeper than that, into the tangled unconscious web of depression and trauma that I wasn’t ready to face. I wanted to make things special and spiritual. I didn’t want to deal with the raw ugliness of reality.

The shadow is the realm of nightmares and the parts of psyche that are hard to face: pain/sadness, fear, rage, the horrific: too hot or too cold for comfort.  A friend of mine who was who was practiced at lucid dreaming was warned never to try to meet his shadow. He took that as a challenge and so one dream, while he was flying along, he decided to do it. Suddenly a figure appeared, a doppelganger of himself, but darker, with a malicious grin. The dream abruptly morphed into his worst nightmare and my friend, an arachnophobe, was being eaten by an enormous spider while his doppelganger laughed.

The shadow is a terrifying concept, yet compelling. We might know there is something there but we don’t know what, and perhaps there is another level of¬†naivete, or several more layers, or hundreds. We will never know until we begin the arduous task of peeling them back. We may hope for specialness, for treasure, but that is unwise because it opens us up for unhinged delusions and losing our path.

I think of shadow work as stumbling in the dark, like the le Guin’s priestess in her underground labyrinth, there is danger in rushing in: the danger of being lost to the blackness, of starving to death.¬†We have to feel our way, to edge carefully around the walls until we learn the map. Then we can be at home in the dark landscape of unconsciousness. ¬† That is why the work is worth doing: because when you face the most terrifying parts of self, there is nothing left to fear and as if we can process these things in the light of consciousness, they don’t need to manifest externally.

Nursing the primal wound

Every now and then someone will treat you really badly, whether it’s accidentally, incidentally or intentionally, and trigger all this horrible emotional stuff, right? Maybe it’s your boss, your current or former lover/partner, your best friend, mother, father or child. Maybe the’re triggering anger, detrayal, anguish, fear. Maybe you react assertively or barely react at all but either way the feelings are there. The projections run wild: “That bitch!/bastard!/creep!/idiot!/scoundrel!” How dare they? We feel wounded, underneath all the other emotions. We feel hurt. We probably feel like the other someone else has hurt us and is doing us damage, but most probably, the damage has already been done – was done ages ago – and we are re-living it over and over, and over…

The primal wound is the center of all other turmoil.  It probably comes from the drastic post-natal separation from the womb or some other very early childhood trauma and every other painful experience has compounded it. It is what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain-body. He describes it as a tangled mess of wounded ego Рof trauma, abandonment, betrayal, hurt, fear and general suffering. The pain-body is often dormant. We wander around living pretty sweet lives until something nasty happens and triggers all this shit.

The wound is primal because it predates narrative-memory, it is part of primary human experience. ¬†It is the wrenching separation from the feeling of being connected, of being absolutely safe and warm, of floating in the center of the universe. It is so difficult for us to learn that we aren’t the center of the universe – at least not to everyone else – because everyone is struggling to learn the same thing. This traumatic separation triggers our base survival fear. We are terrified of our limitations, or our mortality, of our insignificance. There is only so much a young ego can take before it ruptures and becomes wounded.

Although it’s obvious that living life through this woundedness is not in one’s best interests, we can become awfully attached to our wounds and the traumas and dramas that inevitably surround them. We construct our identities around them: “I am so-and-so and I am ____” insert addiction/trauma/negative label here. We can even be proud of what we’ve suffered to the point that we refuse to stop suffering. Our woundedness gives us an excuse to opt-out of life-obligations, it gives us an excuse to be nasty because we were once treated that way. Really, you don’t need the excuse. If you want to opt-out, do it, if you want to be nasty, go ahead. Excuses are just more unnecessary justification. If you want drama, there is plenty to create and share. If you’re over it and want to move on then begin the disentangling process.

We feel justified in our suffering, in our anger, in our vengeful thoughts. Maybe we are justified, let’s assume we are, either way justification isn’t useful. If we just stay ‘justified’ we tangle the wound even more. We can hold onto all the crap. We easily get stuck. Let’s try something different. Let’s try disentangling from current projections and old trauma. Drop the other people from the equation for a minute. Good work. Now, what is left? That wound. Over the years it has been pushed down into the unconscious to fester, it has been covered over with all sorts of ugly and pretty things. It has become like a boil, an infection seething under the skin and this new trauma, this new trigger of pain/fear/anger has brought it to the surface. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is a chance to clear out the pus, clean the wound and let it heal.

Awareness is always helpful, like a flashlight in the dark. If we can focus on this wound – not in an unhelpful dwelling-on-it-going-around-in-circles kind of way because that will only get us more tangled up – but in way that is clear of projections, in a way that regularly cleans it out and wraps it in safe thoughts, in a way that occasionally squeezes out more of the pus until there is none left, then we can give it all the right things to heal. We don’t do the healing in our minds, we just remove the barriers. Healing is automatic in the right circumstances. To speed it up we can nurture ourselves. We can eat the foods our body really wants (not the kind our wound-wrapped-mind craves for comfort), we can move and stretch and exercise in the way our bodies prefer. We can create and be with friends and in nature and do all those things that feed us. We can listen inwards to what we really need instead of looking outwards into projections of happiness on the buffet-table of life that may be all empty-calories and no nutrient-density. A special kind of freedom is possible when we can separate ourselves from the drama and projections of the mundane world, and freedom can be terrifying too, but at least it’s not tedious repetitive cycles of pain.

The other side of my Saturn return

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Every 29-ish years Saturn gets back to the same part of the zodiac as it was when you were born. Symbolically, Saturn is the planet of scarcity, of structure, restrictions, hard learning. Saturn is the disciplinarian, the devil, the shadow. ¬†Saturnian characters appear in almost every story as villains, as domineering parents, as strict school masters, and often, as the people who teach us the most important lessons. When I first heard about Saturn returns I was terrified. I was expecting a lot of awfulness and perhaps, if I survived it I would come out more awesome afterwards. ¬†Later on, my friend Roy told me “Nah, Saturn returns are great – they are the time in your life when you get to let go of all the messages about who you’re supposed to be -from society and family – and decide who you really are.” That sounded much better than just going through hell for potential long-term benefits. I waited with anticipation.

My experience has felt a lot like being hand-washed by a powerful woman in the olden days – in a very rough fashion – like my psyche has been scrubbed and rung out over and over. But Saturn manifests in many different ways, a lot of it comes down to which sign and house Saturn is in. For people born the year before me, with Saturn in Libra, when I ask about their 29th year, a lot of them say it wasn’t all that bad, (Saturn is exalted in Libra) but when I ask if they went through massive changes in relationships and relating, whether they have been doing a lot of work to balance their lives and other Saturn-Libra things they generally agree with urgency and zest: “Yes! That was when my major relationship broke up and I went travelling” etc.

Saturn in Scorpio is a whole different ball game. Scorpio is intense. I would be surprised to find a 1984 baby out there who hasn’t had a very intense year. Scorpio governs power, money, fears, transformation, sex and all those deep-dark scary parts of ourselves. Saturn in Scorpio will bring up everyone’s fears around intimacy and security, but if it happens to be in a major transit for you, it will be a lot more intense. ¬†All of those things you’ve been running from, well, here they are. Deal.

How a Saturn return manifests will also relate to where Saturn is in your chart. Mine is in the 5th house: the party house. A few years ago I started going to a local transformational festival (Kiwiburn, New Zealand’s regional Burning Man event) and realised that partying and having fun is quite a hard thing for me to do (natal Saturn in the 5th). I want to be serious, I want to do soul-work. Why is everyone getting drunk and talking shmack? Facing the tensions and paradoxes is all part of doing the work. My Saturn return started in January last year, right in the middle of the festival. It was the first time I had worked (volunteered) to manage part of the festival and it was hard work. I got completely burn out. I loved it, but it took me all year to recover, to decompress. A couple of months later Saturn retrograded back over 10 degrees of Scorpio and my natal Saturn and everything in my life was brought into question especially things relating structure, freedom and security, and personal attachments as well. I have been journaling every day (for the first time ever), processing, processing, letting go…

Saturn went direct again, as it does, and crossed over 10 degrees precisely as I was attending another burn, this time in Australia. Burning Seed was also incredibly intense. Pressure built up and up. I had a fantastic time and several terrifying experiences. At one point I tripped over a fallen tree which was hidden in long grass. It is quite scary being in a forest in a country that has spiders and snakes when you come from a place like New Zealand. I had this weird bump on my knee and it was bleeding, so I went to the medics and was told by a volunteer that I had probably been bitten by something: cue panic attack. She assured me it was probably just a spider: JUST a SPIDER? It occurred to me then that this was very appropriate of Saturn in Scorpio, while I struggled to breath in a normal way. A few minutes later the actual medic turned up and looked at my wound, “Aw, did you fall over and bang your knee?” I nodded, feeling very silly and very relieved. The fifth house is also about creativity. I’m also doing a PhD and writing novels. Everything finally make sense.

Doing the work of Saturn in Scorpio involves facing and working through all those issues around fear and power, and because it’s Saturn, the best way to do it is through embracing structure. For me it has been through yoga and journaling, and just recently, through eating what my body really wants to eat (no processed crap, no grains). It has also meant embracing the structure imposed on me by having a child in school. My day has a very definitive routine. While this all might sound boring, I have never been a structured, disciplined person in my life, so I’m in awe. I have resisted structure because I’ve always resisted what I was told to do – reacting to the messages from society and family, rather than really figuring out what I wanted and working towards that. I feel like I’m free of the pattern of desperately trying to be free. I also feel like I’ve resolved my childhood trauma – the thing I’ve been trying to do my whole life – and like I’m not wounded and broken anymore. Freaky.

So there is light at the end of the tunnel if you do the work, and despite being a masterful procrastinator, I have been doing the work. Apparently if you don’t resolve your Saturn stuff in your first return it will come back with a vengeance in 29 years time. Good luck.