Tuesday, January 10, 2006
I challenge myself to write something new for this blog. Some mornings, the words flow effortlessly. Some mornings, I find myself struggling with a complex idea, trying to make it fit within a small space and still be intelligent to regular people and yet interesting to people who are looking at life through a depth perspective. Some mornings, I stare at the screen of this computer and feel as if I can no longer think. Most of the time this happens, I simply need more rest - mental as well as physical.
I'm having that last kind of morning and when those mornings occur, I decide to forgive my inability to be on target all the time and instead recycle something I've written previously that I think still has value. This piece is from one of the early Arrow's newletters, written in January 2002. Entitled The Guardian at the Threshold, I looked at the whole idea of January and resolutions and why it is so difficult to keep those commitments made in January.
As I read the essay now, a new thought came into my head. It is a quote from James Hillman's Re-Visioning Psychology:
We are no longer single beings in the image of a single God, but are always constituted of multiple parts: impish child, hero or heroine, supervising authority, asocial psychopath, and so on. Because we have come to realize that each of us is normally a flux of figures, we no longer need be menaced by the notion of multiple personality. I may see visions and hear voices; I may talk with them and they with each other without at all being insane. (Re-Visioning 24)
How does this fit in with New Year's Resolutions and the Guardian at the Threshold? To admit to the multiplicity of our nature is to admit that we have fallen apart, that our ego structures which want to maintain a unitary sense of wholeness has broken.
The idea of the broken is very important to me. To live in the flux of life is to live broken in many ways. I think that we cannot change our lives without first breaking apart in some form. We certainly cannot rewrite the myth until we have broken its literalism.
I break, especially in this blog on many mornings and I am in the flux of multiple natures. The key for me is to maintain that sense of fluidity in life that allows me to recognize the days when I can't blog anything new and the days when I have to push myself onward.
The Guardian at the Threshold
For a long, long time now, I have pondered why it is so difficult to make a change in life. Each January, each new year, we set out with a resolution that something will change in our lives – we will lose weight, quite smoking, read more, meditate more, exercise more, spend more time with our family, less time on the computer, get our finances in order. Invariably by the end of January, these resolutions are broken and we find ourselves left in the same old pattern of our lives. By February 1, we are resigned to our fate, moving away from our new resolutions and back into our comfortable sameness. Why can’t we change? Perhaps in the etymology of our words, January and resolution, we can find reasons, barriers, structures that keep us in the sameness of our lives.
January, the first month of the year, the beginning of a new cycle, is named after the two-faced Roman God Janus. One face reflecting on the past while the other face gazes forward into the future; Janus is the god of doors and thresholds. His symbols are the key that locks and unlocks the door and the stick or staff that drives away those who have not earned the right to cross the threshold. In the month of January, we come face to face with this two-faced god who sees our past and our future and who judges our worthiness to pass through the gate, even as we ourselves reflect on the past year and gaze forward into the future. In January we confront Janus - the Guardian at the Threshold.
Why is there a Guardian at the threshold? In almost all cultures, the Threshold is a magical place, a boundary between the known world of the past and the unknown existence of the future, between the chaos of the outside world and the sacred space within. To cross the threshold means to be admitted into the inner mysteries, to enter into a holy place and it requires a purity of body, mind and psyche. The Guardian stands at the Threshold guarding the sacred treasures within from those unready or unwilling to experience the mysteries. The Guardians are the snake nagas and dragons standing watch over Hindu and Buddhist temples, the twisted-faced gargoyles on cathedrals and the cherubim with drawn swords guarding the entrance to the garden. They are the fearsome Watchers at the crossroads.
In all mystical traditions, the purpose of the Guardian is to challenge us, to determine our worthiness to pass over the threshold. In our own psyches, the Guardian's purpose is to keep us in our safe patterns, ensuring that we stay in wholeness, even if that wholeness narrows our lives. Those self-protective systems that would keep us as we are, the Guardian manifests as the practical, rational ones who tempt us with another cup of tea, telling us to wait one more day, until the weather clears - another week before we start our journey.
The Guardian smiles at us and whispers rational thoughts that prevent us from starting that exercise program or quitting smoking until we are beyond our deadlines at work or over that rough spot in our marriages. The Guardian is our parents, our friends, and our lovers, any who encourage us to give up our dreams, stay rational, skeptical, and conscious of our role in life. The Guardian is our own ego-conscious minds - all the whispers that tell us its ok to stop now, we really don’t need to go into that dark abyss of change. Though sometimes outwardly comforting, the Guardian is often a fiercesome and frightening paralysis that growls at us, keeping us from moving forward into the great unknown. The Guardian prevents us from facing the inevitable self-annihilation that any true change brings in life.
But what does self-annihilation possibly have to do with a New Year’s resolution? The idea of a New Year’s resolution is a curious thing. We think of the word resolve and we imagine firmness, determination, decision. Yet the archaic meaning of resolve is to separate into parts, to loosen, or to dissolve. There is no firmness here, no holding onto a tense determination for change, only a sense of breakdown, break apart, break into pieces. Can we change if we don’t break down, if we don’t splinter? Can we change if we remain whole? If we stay in one, conjoined piece, will we repeat our lives in endless, comforting, narrowing patterns? Can we ever change if we don’t break apart and accept, even in the smallest measure, the death of our old selves in order to give way to the birth of the new?
In January, we invoke the god Janus and ask him for passage across the threshold into the inner mysteries of our lives. We offer as payment, our willingness to change, to break out of the pattern of our lives, to splinter apart and allow ourselves to be made anew. We offer death and self-annihilation in preparation for a new life.