28 Apr Ambiguous is the New Decisive
New to blogging I am excited to make it a regular dialogue and welcome your communications. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And be sure to check out this month’s song, “Look Out!” Like my new website, it too is a work-in-progress, a co-write with lyricist Mark Fesche (the guy who wrote the lyrics for “God Bless the Taco Stand”).
There is one line we are still working into the piece—Mark Fesche wants it to be like Eminem’s hip hop girls singing sweetly in the background. Fesche wrote, “trying to reduce my carbon, working in the garden.” I like: “Workin’ in the garden, reducin’ my carbon.” Anyway, it’s still coming together and the finished product is likely to always be a bit unresolved—depending also upon availability of “hip-hop girls.” I think that’s why I like jam bands: fresh interest and insights with each new interpretation.
Ambiguous is the new decisive I say! We are always presenting an evolution or something like that. For “Look Out!” I made a quarantine music video that shows-off a few of my multiple personalities. And I plan to post a novel song recording with each new blog entry.
Fesche and I have another coming soon, and I have begun some remote projects with (my partner in The Mostest) Pat Pearsall, members of Toast, cousin Eric, and hit-maker Andy Armer. I am also looking forward to a virtual jam with friends from Sickbird—a new project which features Andy Armer on keys, Jeshua Marshall on bass, Lindsey Elias on drums, and me on guitar. Who knows, there might even be a quarantine album when we get done, maybe a double-album if this keeps up… Deep Quarantine Grooves & Ambiguous Outtakes.
Learning the world of work-from-home, or in my case, work-from-barn, I’ve found Zoom works well for music lessons, meetings, and happy hour, too. To my surprise, this forced tech move, which I have been slow to embrace, has created some new opportunities already, and re-upped my imagination.
As I continue my education and research, the goal is to blend psychological perspectives into arts education, while bringing the tools of the artist-musician to psychotherapy. With human connection at the root of our relatedness, I am encouraged to see technology supporting this in many cases, and to see it opening doors, as we move into a realm of necessary non-locality.
Fesche is in North Carolina and I am in Oregon, and lately we’ve been communicating more than ever. Though segments of our new song, “Look Out!” have been around for some time, the music and arrangement are fresh. The song came together as the world went into lock-down. Kind of a weird time to write a song, but a fun collaboration nonetheless. Thanks, Mark Fesche for your poetic ear and masterful wordsmithing!
The creative process of polishing the song and then recording it for the video gave me a place to put uncertainties, anxieties and run-away thoughts. In Jungian terms, creative engagement became a place where I was able to hold a “tension of opposites.” A way to get comfortable with the ambiguity and face some demons imaginatively. This process, not so incidentally, sits at the center of my psychological studies.
The “depth musicology” section of this site circumambulates the intersection of arts education and depth psychology with perspectives offered in three conjoining papers. In keeping with the theme of this blog entry, it is in no way decisive. Rather, it is a beginning and home for my work-in-progress, and will evolve as I continue my research.
My style of philosophical inquiry is not for everyone, but if you choose to read these papers, I recommend reviewing the introduction first. As a whole, the depth musicology section is intended as an introduction to depth psychology, and a presentation of some of my work, which explores the connection between art, music and depth psychological practice.
This first blog entry celebrates the launch of the new website, which is a synthesis of my work as a musician, songwriter, arts-educator, and depth-psychologist. Many thanks to Anne Pick for her work on the site, and for her patience with me as my ambiguity has led us on and off-task for quite a while now!
Ambiguous is the New Decisive
Ambiguous is the new decisive. And best I can tell, it may be more of a blessing than a curse. This is because as soon as we make a decision we wipe all other options off the table. Ambiguity, decidedly un-decisive, makes space for creative solutions to emerge, and opens imagination to possibilities. Forced into an indecisive position against our will, however, many of us feel uncomfortably ambiguous. Anxious, depressed, stressed, angry, reactive, etc.
How many times will I respond “I don’t know,” before I am at peace not knowing, not deciding? Though it is uncomfortable, I’ve been dumbfounded lately by what is emerging from our current life of unknowns. As I write this, suspension from decisive action is radically shifting perspectives about what is important in our lives, about what we can live without, and how we are expressions of ecology more than inhabitants of environment.
Mother nature has spoken loud and clear, and we are listening to her, more attentively than we have since medieval times—when the forests were still enchanted, before the birth of science and our affinity for decision making. While our actions are not without hubris, we are still the unprecedented witness to billions of humans kneeling at the altar of Mother Earth.
Better yet, great goddess Gaia seems to be answering our radical response with blue skies and clear waters: dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice. Affirmations of our homage, perhaps? Can we extend our “flatten the curve” world-view beyond the current pandemic? Once again, we don’t know. But we do seem to be in a position to shift perspective, to cultivate imagination alongside our decisive default.
Ambiguity is a hallmark of artists and musicians. We tend our work like alchemists (what exactly do they do?), or as I like to say, we “serve the music,” asking Music herself what she needs. Creative process is a place where conflicting perspectives may be held unjudged and become complimentary—multiple aspects of whatever image is coming through. It could be said that the artist’s process requires reflection in the ambiguous style of self-quarantine; that every time we create, a part of us necessarily turns inward, thereby inviting imagination to the party.
It is important to mention here, that when we do this—or are forced into this zone—we are apt to face some demons, which I believe is where fearful phrases like “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” get their footing, why imagination is feared, and why there are numerous mentions of dreams in the Old Testament and only four in the New. Some early Christian fathers were so terrified of what they would vision if they dreamt too much, they limited their sleep! And many therapies today still attempt to cast the demons out.
Unfortunately, following a practice rooted in ridding demons, we overlook the image at the core of the complex. As James Hillman pointed out, the word demon is rooted in the Greek daemon (or daimon), which he likens to a guardian angel. The archetypal is ambiguous. Not good or bad or black and white. Grey. From the classical Greek viewpoint, when we look at the whole thing and not just one side, we find that which terrorizes also redeems.
When we insist on ridding the demon, we may deny the daemon, our guardian-guide. Furthermore, once we split the archetype, we tend to constellate the demonic side, over and over like a trauma loop. What I’m suggesting is that the coronavirus, by forcing us into ambiguous mists, is offering a chance to shift our perspective, a shot at redemption.
We can’t rid ourselves of covid19 any more than we can rid the world of the flu. And in scientific support of some of my reverse-psychology, we actually need the virus to develop a vaccine for it. The ancients understood this as a pharmakon—something which poisons and also cures—and found the goat-god Pan to embody these faculties.
Much like the nymphs who danced unified-but-at-a-distance, encircling Pan to quell his outbursts, we’ve been successful “flattening the curve” of the spread of the virus. As a result of our ambiguous shelter-in-place predicament, we have also demonstrated our potential for participation in the redemption of Mother Earth—like nymphs, circle-dancing harmony back to Arcadia. Ambiguous is the new decisive!
Redemption of “Mother Earth” is ecological and imaginative. Which means redemption of Mother Earth is necessarily a redemption of imagination: a rounding-out of the scientific with dose of the mythopoetic. Looking at the current pandemic imaginatively, the mythic figure Pan pops up—front and center, even before the Great Mother in this drama. Perhaps Pan’s story and ambiguous style can help us endure the epic at hand. The fact that “Eusebius reinterpreted Pan as one of the demons cast out by Jesus,” suggests we are still on-topic.
Though his own mother feared and shunned him at birth for his grotesque features, the Olympian deities recognized him as a delightful “god of nature,” and so it is no mistake that we find Pan and Gaia intertwined. He is half-goat, half-divine and, most impressively, seems to wholly accept himself, gnarly imperfections and all—beauty and beast. Pan loves himself (so much he is said to have invented masturbation).
Dr. Sukey Fontelieu, an archetypal psychologist and expert on the mythology of Pan notes, “He was able to live in harmony with his own nature.” Sukey characterizes him as “dangerous, chaotic … bringing panic and madness … A hyper-aggressive force in nature” who “found victory … by instilling fear and confusion in the hearts…” of those he terrorized.
Wait a sec, are we talking about the virus or the American government? Ouch! Perhaps both are connected to Pan’s aggressive presence (more on scapegoats in another installment).
While the coronavirus is not Pan per se, Sukey’s descriptions of his darker-side parallel our experience and response as the world was blindsided, and then began to implement shelter-in-place protocols. Pan is still in the house. “Fear-based control, panic-arousing tendencies, and flight and freeze responses” all fit the current climate.
Sukey continues, “Pan also signifies that the things in which a person takes pride will not remain secure.” Have we not shut down the sweaty dance floors, the live music, and venues I have committed my life to? President Trump’s economy is suffering too, and I’m not certain he is holding the tension of opposites very well. Perhaps he could reflect and write a song.
Pan represents a rift “in humankind between the divine and the beastly…” and also “amplifies the possibility that [this] split can be conjoined.” This is where Pan’s redemptive side shows itself again, and where, beyond the current crisis, we may bring redemption to our one-sided world-view.
Even though I put my faith in the power of music, Pan’s flute is not just melodic. Sukey associates it with inspiration. “Creativity, bravery, [strategy], loyalty and a trickster nature” are all part of Pan’s style. Like his father Hermes, he is known as a boarder-god, keeper of the threshold between what is in the light and what lurks in darkness. He reminds us that alongside our spirited aspirations for “progress” and enlightenment, we are also primal, instinctual beings, and that there is, in fact, wisdom in conjoining these aspects. As Hillman says, “Pan lived his life at the edge of civilization.” Sounds ambiguous, like quarantine, or the life of an artist.
Sukey’s work with Pan is set within a study of cultural complex—essentially how cultural one-sidedness begets cultural repression and ultimately cultural neurosis. Whether we are looking at the whole of Western civilization or an individual psyche, when Pan is present we have the chance to augment our one-sidedness, to round it out, to complete it.
“The living experience of the Self is … a joining of opposites that appalls the ego,” writes Jungian analyst Edward Edinger, “and exposes it to anguish, demoralization, and violation of all ‘reasonable’ considerations, yet the same event viewed from above is a coronation, demonstrating the reciprocal and compensating relation between the ego and the unconscious.”
The coronavirus: a coronation? A crowning. An opening of the crown-chakra. The recognition of our royal, divine-animal nature. My words may sound empty, irrelevant, or even hurtful to those who have lost loved ones in this crisis, those who are sick and afraid, or who have no job, no money, no food. There are many souls in need right now and the view I offer does not sugar-coat this fact or attempt to fix it.
This was an excursion into the ambiguous world of imagination, the realm of Soul, the archetypal plane of the gods, our mythopoetic existence, “thoughts of the heart,” as Hillman says—where we are likely to find shifting perspectives, compassion for our sisters and brothers, and hopefully enough patience and flexibility to welcome “the All.”
Charles Boer’s translation of The Homeric Hymns
Sukey Fontelieu’s The Archetypal Pan in America
James Hillman’s Mythic Figures 6.1
Carl Kerényi’s The Gods of the Greeks