Joy to the World

Long has this blog been a space for introspection and, without wanting to sell myself short, much navel gazing at times. Well, there’s a new wind blowing from the East, and it’s blowing away some of the cobwebs from the parts of me that delight in simple pleasures, in lightness, colour, movement and the joy of childhood things: Like my chocolate advent calendar and the handmade knitted and felted decorations hanging on my Christmas tree, purchased from local crafters at the Community Base Christmas Marketplace, a web design project that kept me busy and in a generally positive frame of mind during the second lockdown.

I know it’s a wind from the East that’s blowing away these cobwebs because this is the direction I’ve been consciously apprenticing this year, with frequently quite startling and unexpected results. In his book Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche, Bill Plotkin places in the direction of the East the archetypes of the Innocent and the Sage. There’s far too much to say about the direction of the East and these two archetypes in a short blog post, but one important quality of this direction is that it is a place of contradiction and transformation.

The sun rises in the East and for this reason in many wisdom traditions that embrace the cyclical nature of the seasons and the phases of the day/night cycle as a metaphor for a human life, this is the point on the wheel where life begins, the place we are born. It is also the point on the wheel where life ends, the place where we die: It is darkest just before the dawn. It can also be understood as the place where, after a stage of our life has come to an end, we are born again into a new life stage, with a new task, and in some senses, with a new identity.

It’s this dual nature of endings and beginnings that encapsulates the contradictory energy of the East. The Sage is the archetype associated with the authentic wisdom that comes with being in the final chapter of life. The Innocent is the archetype associated with the innate authenticity of pure being with which we are born, and which we embody in the first chapter of our lives, before we form an ego. We are born Whole – by which I mean, we are born without any filters or artifice. In this stage of life our gift to the world is what Bill Plotkin refers to as Luminous Being. In the final chapter of our lives, if we’ve managed to negotiate the various tasks of the life passages in between with some degree of success, we return to a somewhat similar state of Wholeness prior the final life passage into death.

Both these archetypes arrive at the same basic wisdom but arrive there from opposite directions: Life is a sacred and serious business, but it does not serve us to take it, and particularly ourselves, too seriously. If we can give ourselves permission to let go, even for a moment, of the weight of the pressures and the expectations that life foists upon us, then there is awe and delight to be found in every blessed moment, in every blessed thing.

These are ideas that David Whyte explores in his poetry, which is complemented with achingly beautiful results by music and moving images in this short film. And it is of course familiar territory for Mary Oliver, who expresses so vividly the simplicity of delight in her poem Mindful (below).

It is also the territory I will be exploring with groups at the Centre for Ecotherapy in Stanmer Park on four dates in 2021. Early Bird places can be purchased as a Christmas gift for yourself and/or your loved ones at the Community Base Christmas Marketplace until 20th December. All purchases include a 10% donation to the Centre for Ecotherapy. Use the voucher code INNOCENTSAGE at the checkout to receive a 10% discount on your order.

I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press, 2005.