The beginning of this series starts here …
I don’t think I’ve ever believed in Hell as a condition of everlasting punishment, even when schooled in its physical existence as an impressionable child. Intellectually I understood the concept of Hell as a psychological or religious metaphor. However, I found that the image of Hell as a “place“ persisted in my consciousness.
In the dialogues it seemed we had concluded our discussions of Time and Culture and now there was a bit of a hiatus. I had been especially interested in the discussion of empathy. I had experienced the psychological and spiritual aftermath of rape trauma and the resultant vulnerable empathic condition of having permeable personal boundaries. I often felt an uncontrollable porosity when around other people, overly sensitive to everyone’s empathic inclinations and unable to tell if these empathic tendencies were conscious or unconscious. It could be overwhelming and although I had healed from the worst of this, empathy was of great interest to me. Understanding the various ways it culturally manifested added clarity to the variety of my experience, although it also brought up further unanswered questions. Considering empathy’s negative manifestations, I also found it inauspicious that empathy was attributed solely to humans. However, this also somehow qualified my own experience.
Then one afternoon while opening once again in resonant communication, I was asked to envision what metaphorically appeared to me to be an immense constructed earthen well. It was deep, vast, airless and with the stillness of complete emptiness. Then I saw a picture of a person in a symbolic scene. It was a visual story with few elements, but where every aspect held meaning. When I “returned” from this “well” I was asked to recall what I’d seen in detail, and then I was told that I’d experienced a human archetype.
Over the next four months I was asked to view this “well” many more times while in resonant communication. Each time I saw a different scene, another symbolic archetype. Between sessions I’d feel immense resistance. I couldn’t place my reservations in any context. It was just a feeling of profound apprehension. I would deal with my reservations and then return to the work. The only information I was given was that each scene was an archetype relative to human beings. Each of the archetypes had within it inherent vulnerabilities and acquired strengths.
While viewing the archetypes, the rules I was to follow became more strict. Gone were the meandering observations concerning Culture and Time. There were new procedures about asking questions that were relative only to myself and these questions were discouraged. My focusing abilities were challenged, my concentration sharpened. New prayers were added and repeated more often. Every move was refined in seriousness.
I was to be in an almost entirely responsive posture now. The trust I’d been building was the ground I stood on and in this vastness I felt unsure of its capacity to hold me in place. In the dialogues I had become used to a simple introduction to whatever material we’d be working on each time I’d open in resonant communication, but now I was to simply to be present without any idea of what we were actually working on. The testing also increased in both occurrence and subtlety.
We began by discussing archetypes. In my work as an artist I have often been fascinated by visual archetypal designs and symbols used by different cultures. I respond to them as a universal language…. a form of visual poetry. Archetypes have also become standard in psychological, cultural and spiritual myths and systems of exploring the human psyche. I could see that archetypes are a broad category. Were we talking about the hero, the scapegoat, the savior archetypes that we spoke of when exploring Time and Culture? Or were we referring to the myths and the stories that inform us? The Fool, the Serpent in the Garden, the Trickster Coyote? If these are branches of the archetypal tree, I was now being asked to dig deeper into the roots.
The archetypes we were addressing were not simply stories we collectively tell ourselves that eventually, over time, become the fabric of our cultural or spiritual considerations. These archetypes were deeper… more like skin. To be as intimate as skin, an archetype would have to hold more than just story. Our skin is experiential in every sense. It is our largest sensing organ. Individual cells make up the structure of skin. Cells replicate, they know their purpose, cells are in relationship with other cells. They have memory. These archetypes encompassed both personal experience and memory.
But what of my own conditioning? The stories of Hell I remembered from childhood that created the assumption that this well was a place? For indeed, the intensity of my apprehension towards the archetypes I was witnessing called to mind a kind of hell. This storied archetype of Hell continued to color my understanding, keeping me from clearly seeing that the “well” where these archetypes existed is not a place…
This “well” is an embodied empathic memory.
© Jana H White
Artist: Hieronymous Bosch