Every so often (and it's been nearly a year since I've last done this), I offer up a chapter from one of my books here, just in case there's anyone with the patience to read a long piece of prose about self-development and the like. And if you're an editor or a lit agent who's passing by, have a look and give me a ring, if any of this strikes your fancy. Today's offering is from my Tao of Hogwarts, and it's about the medieval roots of ego and the modern delusion of human supremacy. Off we go, then, to No. 12, Grimmauld Place in London, with Mr. Harry Potter.
Pressing a finger to her lips, she led him on tiptoes past a pair of long, moth-eaten curtains, behind which Harry supposed there must be another door, and after skirting a large umbrella stand that looked as though it had been made from a severed troll's leg, they started up the dark staircase, passing a row of shrunken heads mounted on plaques on the wall. A closer look showed Harry that the heads belonged to house-elves. All of them had the same rather snoutlike nose.
Harry's bewilderment deepened with every step he took. What on earth were they doing in a house that looked as though it belonged to the darkest of wizards?
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 4
In the opening chapters of the fifth book in the Harry Potter series, the fifteen year-old boy wizard is attacked by a pair of "dementors"—malevolent ghouls with the power to suck one's very soul out with a single "kiss." Harry successfully defends himself from this assault and is then rescued from his Muggle home by a group of his adult friends, who take him to an obscure house in a darkened, low-income neighborhood within London. This house is the headquarters of the "Order of the Phoenix," the social defense association that has been hurriedly re-formed in response to the threat posed by the return of Lord Voldemort, the complex embodiment of evil whose shadow floats throughout the Potter series.
Nothing about his new environment is particularly encouraging to Harry: garbage is piled up in the street; dirt and filth seem to define the homes at Grimmauld Place, sticking to their exteriors like a gloomy mood. The door to the place is "black…shabby…scratched"; the darkness inside is dominated by a "sweetish, rotting smell" which gives it "the feeling of a derelict building." Gas lamps are lit, which cast "a flickering insubstantial light over the peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpet"; there are other haunted-house features, such as a "cobwebby chandelier" and "age-blackened portraits" on the walls. The question that occurs to Harry, as he walks through the house at Grimmauld Place, seems entirely natural (the name says it all: "grim and old," or "grime and mould"—throughout these stories, Rowling reveals an uncanny talent with names): what on earth is he doing here?
The question is not answered for him immediately: he only knows that he is in the headquarters of the Order, that it seems an uncharacteristic place for his friends and allies to be calling home, even if only as a temporary measure, and that its pervasive gloom feels poisonous to him. And from a metaphorical perspective, it is, as Rowling swiftly demonstrates in this tour through the realm of the neurotic tenement.
For it is here, at 12 Grimmauld Place, that Harry's smoldering emotions of fear and anger are appropriated by the ego and thus find expression in a completely misdirected outer attack on those closest to him. Why does this happen? Why, after less than a quarter hour within this house and its threatening metaphorical presence, does the ego within Harry explode in a cacophony of bile against his two deepest and most enduring friends?
One answer to this is obvious: 12 Grimmauld Place is decidedly not "a safe place." I am borrowing that phrase from a 1989 book by a Harvard psychologist named Leston Havens. A Safe Place is a compact volume of poetic clarity that calls those who would follow the way of helping people in torment or crisis to remember that "every theory acts to suppress…the real person who consists of much else," and that furthering another's inner growth is really about offering a safe and open place in which true healing may happen. Havens writes compellingly about the inner requirements for "safe place making:"
We have to learn how to be still when the other needs to be left alone but asks for intervention, to give confidence when the patient induces despair, to find strength when everything suggests madness and deviance, to bring sobriety to those who would set us afire, and…sometimes to be what the patient needs….(p. 131)
In this respect, young Harry has not been given "a safe place" for a moment during this his fifteenth year of life, and we can all observe from our own lives how common this unfortunate truth is within our culture, especially for adolescents. For Harry, it is only at his school—particularly within Dumbledore's office and Hagrid's hut—that he's allowed the freedom and safety to expose his inner demons to the light of clarity, and gradually uncover his true self. As this story proceeds, Harry will discover that learning and healing are possible beyond Hogwarts, and even within the lugubrious confines of Grimmauld Place—but that understanding will reach him only after a metaphorical process of "inner cleansing" is allowed to unfold. At this point in the story, there is no safe place for Harry to grow or heal: he has been delivered from the plastic world of Privet Drive, into the frosty but insubstantial air of escape (the broom-flight to London), and finally to this moribund home at Grimmauld Place.
So, Harry is hustled upstairs, into another glowering space ("a gloomy, high-ceilinged room"), left alone by the adults who have important, grownup business to attend to downstairs, and he is then almost immediately excoriating his friends Ron and Hermione with demands, claims of right and privilege, bitter, paranoid accusations, and viperish, self-referential pettiness.
Even as he spouts this venom, Harry is obliquely aware ("self-ashamed") of the fact that he is being overtaken by the power of ego. Yet he carries on in the shrill voice of the neurotic realm—the power-hungry impulse to be in the know, the self-consciousness of the hierarchy implicit in one's relative proximity to the seeming center of things, the obsessive demand that he owns priority above others for his past actions. His bitterness is a function of the fact that a more natural expression of his fear and anger has been closed off to him; it is also a reflection of and response to his environment. As Havens points out in his book, our spaces, in both their outer and inner formations, will show us whether we will be allowed a healthy and disburdening expression of our distress, or be left with a narrow, restricted, and distorted projection.
Rowling's use of environment illustrates this principle. Compare the way Harry accounts for identical actions from his past in two separate spaces, first during his tirade at Grimmauld Place (above) and later at Hogwarts (below):
…before he knew it, Harry was shouting…
"I'VE BEEN STUCK AT THE DURSLEYS' FOR A MONTH! AND I'VE HANDLED MORE THAN YOU TWO'VE EVER MANAGED AND DUMBLEDORE KNOWS IT—WHO SAVED THE SORCERER'S STONE? WHO GOT RID OF RIDDLE? WHO SAVED BOTH YOUR SKINS FROM THE DEMENTORS?..WHO HAD TO GET PAST DRAGONS AND SPHINXES AND EVERY OTHER FOUL THING LAST YEAR?…BUT WHY SHOULD I KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON? WHY SHOULD ANYONE BOTHER TO TELL ME WHAT'S BEEN HAPPENING?"
"Just listen to me, all right? It sounds great, but all that stuff was luck—I didn't know what I was doing half the time, I didn't plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help—I got through it all because—because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right—but I just blundered through it all, I didn't have a clue what I was doing—STOP LAUGHING!" (p. 327)
Returning to Grimmauld Place, the full impact of this reflection of environment and inner state is revealed as the textural details of this house are drawn. To the ghoulish and dystonic images already provided, the author adds more over the next two chapters. Harry soon understands the necessity of silence and darkness in the entryway to the building, when an accidental noise sets off one of the more intriguing images of the book:
The moth-eaten velvet curtain Harry had passed earlier had flown apart, but there was no door behind them. For a split second, Harry thought he was looking through a window, a window behind which an old woman in a black cap was screaming and screaming as though she was being tortured—then he realized it was simply a life-size portrait, but the most realistic, and the most unpleasant, he had ever seen in his life.
The old woman was drooling, her eyes were rolling, the yellowing skin of her face stretched taut as she screamed, and all along the hall behind them, the other portraits awoke and began to yell too, so that Harry actually screwed up his eyes at the noise and clapped his hands over his ears…the old woman screeched louder than ever, brandishing clawed hands as though trying to tear at their faces.
"Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks, begone from this place! How dare you befoul the house of my fathers—" (pp. 77-78)
This portrait represents the figure of Sirius Black's dead mother, and now it becomes clear where Harry has landed—in the ancestral home of his godfather's ancient family. Now as tempting as it may be for us to see certain Freudian (specifically, Oedipal) analogies in this concatenation of images and relationships, it would seem more consonant with Mrs. Rowling's development of the story to focus on this metaphor from the perspective of a more human and less ideological psychology.
For we have now entered the metaphorical realm of what Karen Horney called "neurotic pride" and what Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog refer to as "the demonic sphere of consciousness." Kierkegaard called it "the sickness unto death," and specifically "the despair of weakness," which he describes pointedly in terms of false self-perception:
…there are essentially two forms of illusion: that of hope and that of recollection. The adolescent's illusion is that of hope, that of the adult recollection. But precisely because the adult suffers from this illusion, his conception of illusion itself is also the quite one-sided one that the only illusion is the illusion of hope…What afflicts the adult is not so much the illusion of hope as, no doubt among other things, the grotesque illusion of looking down from some supposedly higher vantage-point, free from illusion, upon the illusions of the young. (The Sickness Unto Death, p. 89)
Anthony and Moog describe this "demonic sphere" of illusion in terms of a false use of language, the product of fantasy and myth:
The false use of words in describing the Cosmic Reality leads to mistaken ideas and beliefs: about the nature of the Cosmos and its ways, about life, about Nature, about human nature, and about the place of humans in the Cosmos…The false thoughts and emotions coming from this false consciousness project themselves into reality…the parallel reality created by the collective ego, which can be described as the domain of suffering. (I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way, p. 713)
Horney speaks of this illusory, projected consciousness as the product of a neurotic error, in which "a wish or need, in itself quite understandable, turns into a claim." We may see that Harry himself falls into this neurotic trap: his self-important tirade (quoted above) comes from the same inner milieu as that of the portrait of Sirius' mother. Under the influence of ego, his need for personal autonomy becomes a claim to superiority above others, based on his past accomplishments. This claim is a brand of "personal racism," which parallels the more global and stereotypical racism of the portrait's rant against "half-breeds, mutants, and freaks." Certainly, their tone and volume are very well matched: Harry and the painting are both loud, biting, offensive, and imperious. This involves an acceptance or embodiment of what Horney refers to as "the expansive solution of mastery," in which "the individual prevailingly identifies himself with his glorified self." To do so, however, is to separate from one's own true self, one's human needs, and from the Cosmic Reality. This inner act of dehumanization springs from the same seed, which condemns others as "the enemy," "the traitors," "the mob," or "the ignorant," and subjects them to oppression and demonization, usually in furtherance of some proclaimed "noble end."
It is, however, the professed "noble end" that usually contains the seed of the delusion, the fuel which drives the engine of tyranny. Mrs. Rowling reveals some of the corrupt ideas that perpetuate delusion in her account of the cleansing of the house at Grimmauld Place, which, as Harry discovers, is more a process of "waging war on the house" than mere dusting and cleaning. In one scene, the children join the grownups in clearing out a collection of glass cabinets that contain some of the relics of "the noble and most ancient house of Black." The scene evokes Harry's earlier experience of the second book (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), in which he was misdirected within the magical fireplace network into "Knockturn Alley," a kind of parallel, subterranean commercial world to that of Diagon Alley. These cabinets hold "an odd assortment of objects: a selection of rusty daggers, claws, a coiled snakeskin, a number of tarnished silver boxes inscribed with languages Harry could not understand, and, least pleasant of all, an ornate crystal bottle with a large opal set into the stopper, full of what Harry was quite sure was blood." (p. 106). During the actual clearing of these cabinets, Sirius sustains a bite from one of the silver boxes, Harry is attacked by another object, and everyone present is almost clinically sedated by "a musical box that emitted a faintly sinister, tinkling tune when wound," until one of the girls has the good sense to force the lid shut.
The common theme to all of these threatening objects is their decadent, medieval character: metaphorically, they are the demons of an ancient, culturally-conditioned consciousness that seem to exude decay and a kind of inner contagion. They must be dealt with summarily: as each object is removed and its corrupt energy subdued, it is thrown into a trash bag. There is the bottle of black, rotten blood of a racist nobility; the silver trinkets of excess; various seals, lockets, and medals won for empty deeds or else bought with money and influence; and finally the mythic embodiment of this rank, feudal anthropocentrism: a massive book entitled "Nature's Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy".
Now we must be very clear about the reference of these metaphors: though their character is collectively medieval, they represent acutely modern problems—demons of the psyche that inhabit the neurotic realms of both group and individual consciousness today. They are embedded in our culture, our law, our moral codes, our religions, our educational systems, and even in our arts and sciences. To free oneself of these demonic elements derived from cultural conditioning is the object of insight teachings such as those of Lao Tzu, who advised us:
Drop the struggle, silence the demons,
And your natural self will be free.
(Chapter 8, Tao Te Ching)
The I Ching also encourages us to "silence the demons" in several passages of its text, most notably in Hexagram 18, whose title has been variously translated as "Working on What Has Been Spoiled (Decay)"; "Corruption"; "Ills to be Cured"; and, simply, "Illness":
Working to cure an illness is supremely blessed.
It is favorable to undertake the crossing of a great river.
Begin three days before the first day—
And you will end three days after it.
(from Rediscovering the I Ching, tr. Greg Whincup)
The "illness" is a metaphor that relates directly to Mrs. Rowling's feudal metaphors from the cabinets described above: it is nothing less fundamental than the delusion of human supremacy over Nature and the Cosmic Whole—the ultimate racist prejudice. The I Ching's text repeatedly underscores the centrality of humility and modesty in human conduct as an active means of overthrowing such "uber-racism," and much of Rowling's work in the Potter stories is devoted to exposing the myths and false perceptions that underlie and perpetuate this ancient and monumental form of prejudice. In their commentary to Hexagram 18, Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog add the following insights:
Once the images of human superiority were established by the heroic myths, rationales were created by the rational mind to support their validity. These rationales were then combined with the threat that people who were perceived as being disloyal to their heritage, were guilty of betrayal. (One of the greatest taboos is to be disloyal to one's heritage.) These threats were directed as well toward anyone who questioned the presumptions on which the rationales were founded. By such devices the presumptions have been maintained and passed on from generation to generation. In sum, they represent the feudal mindset that has dominated people's thinking worldwide for the last 3,000 years. In time, the societies that created these myths wrote them down and declared them as ancient wisdom, further intensifying the power of the fantasies, and the rationales that supported them. (I Ching: Oracle of the Cosmic Way, p. 239)
This describes precisely the thrust of Rowling's feudal metaphors found in the contents of that ancient cabinet in the house at Grimmauld Place! The I Ching and Rowling also intersect in their respective views of the specific character and consequences of this feudal delusion that has been carried into our own time and lives, and it all centers on the notions of patriarchy and hierarchy—as intricately knotted together as braids in the head of Medusa.
The corruptions of patriarchy are exposed in the lines of the text to Hexagram 18, where the phrase "setting right what has been spoiled by the father" is repeated three times. The patriarchal consciousness is inextricably bound up with the more generalized notion of hierarchy as an inherent attribute of human nature, the universe, and spiritual life. As Anthony and Moog observe, this elevation of the Father (as a symbol of humankind's presumed supremacy over Nature, God's supremacy over Man, or the King's supremacy over the people) amounts to "the deification of humans," which has led people to see themselves "as the ones who were designated by heaven to bring order to the multitudinous things of Nature." (p. 239) This false consciousness is present today in our political, judicial, educational, and corporate structures, and of course persists in the fundamental concepts of most religious and psychological ideologies, which divide spirit and body, or mind and matter, between qualitatively higher and lower realms of being. The I Ching encourages us to "work on what has been spoiled" (by the father, mother, tradition, ancient wisdom, etc.) through disburdening ourselves from within of the erroneous myths, images, and hierarchical concepts that support and perpetuate the feudal delusion. We will return, a little later, to consider some practical means by which we may approach this task of "setting right what has been spoiled."
Mrs. Rowling's contribution in this vein comes in the same chapter as the "cabinet-cleaning" scene summarized earlier. During a break in their work, Sirius and Harry pause to contemplate an enormous tapestry hanging on the wall:
The tapestry looked immensely old; it was faded and looked as though doxies had gnawed it in places; nevertheless, the golden thread with which it was embroidered still glinted brightly enough to show them a sprawling family tree dating back (as far as Harry could tell) to the Middle Ages. Large words at the very top of the tapestry read:
THE NOBLE AND MOST ANCIENT HOUSE OF BLACK—"TOUJOURS PUR" (p. 111)
Sirius spends some time explaining to Harry the identities of certain individuals represented on that tapestry, and it is a history of folly, murder, corruption, and deceit that he depicts from its discolored golden braid. Anyone in the family who dared to question or separate from the feudal prejudice that characterized the ancient house of Black has had their names "burned out" of the tapestry (including Sirius himself).
Now we must consider that Rowling is obliquely attacking the royal decadence of the British nation itself, and perhaps someone better versed than I in the history of England and its nobility would be able to directly identify some of Mrs. Rowling's satire in this vein. But it cannot be presumed to stop there, for it is the very structure of human hierarchy that is being held up to the light of insight. This image of the tapestry simply completes and reinforces the other metaphors that Rowling has chosen to expose the feudal mindset and its legacy of outer destruction and inner delusion.
The Noise of Neurosis: Kreacher the House-Elf
The essentially neurotic character of this corrupt realm of depraved nobility is revealed in the physical rot that infests all of the objects in this scene. It is also betrayed in the voices which are heard behind the story's main action: the occasional screams of the portrait of Sirius' mother, which pierce the air whenever someone rings the doorbell downstairs, and the muttering, malevolent rant of Kreacher the house-elf. Kreacher, who is the house servant, steals into the room where the children are cleaning. He is a tiny monster, ancient and ill-appearing, with drooping skin, bloodshot eyes, and a hunchbacked gait. But his most alarming trait is his voice—a muttering, psychotic drone "in a hoarse, deep voice like a bullfrog's." His word-salad diatribes croak out of him unconsciously, in schizoid bursts that counter his conscious servant's officious wheedle. The disorganized commentary runs like a subterranean echo to the rant of his former mistress in the painting, in both its content and muted volume:
"Smells like a drain and a criminal to boot, but she's no better, nasty old blood traitor with her brats messing up my Mistress's house, oh my poor Mistress, if she knew, if she knew that scum they've let in her house, what would she say to old Kreacher, oh the shame of it, Mudbloods and werewolves and traitors and thieves, poor old Kreacher, what can he do…" (pp. 107-108)
Hermione alone senses that the old house elf is ill, and intuits the cause; this insight is later confirmed by Dumbledore in the final interview between he and Harry. The others, including Sirius himself, see only insolence, hatred, and utter depravity in Kreacher; Hermione sees, or rather feels, the demons that have enslaved his inner truth, and she wishes that they could be exposed and driven out of him. But Hermione is ignored, and even playfully ridiculed for her insight, and the book ends with the revelation that Kreacher has betrayed Sirius and Harry to Lord Voldemort, causing death to the one and yet another bitter loss to the other. Dumbledore provides the perspective in the epilogue to the story: "Kreacher is what he has been made by wizards, Harry…we wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward." (p. 834).
In contemplating the character and fate of one such as Kreacher, we are again reminded of Kierkegaard's insight: the "sickness unto death" has many faces. It has a face of power-blinded evil, such as we find in Voldemort; it has a face of smug superiority, such as the Ministry of Magic has in its way, and as even Harry and his friends in the Order of the Phoenix succumb to sporadically; it also has the face of enslavement to the false and feudal ideologies of tyranny, such as we find in both the "noble and ancient house of Black" and in its servants. The voices and the visages of the illness may vary, but the demons whose distorted energy fuels them are found squealing in the swamp of the same foul and vapid abstractions: the ideas of human supremacy, the mastery of Nature, and the division of being (and of beings) into higher and lower, chosen and damned, good and evil, pure and unclean. The "sickness" that Kierkegaard describes is not one unto physical death, but rather unto the only death that need be truly feared—the death of one's true and natural self:
Finitude's despair is just so. A man in this kind of despair can very well live on in temporality; indeed he can do so all the more easily, be to all appearances a human being, praised by others, honoured and esteemed, occupied with all the goals of temporal life. Yes, what we call worldliness simply consists of such people who, if one may so express it, pawn themselves to the world. They use their abilities, amass wealth, carry out worldly enterprises, make prudent calculations, etc., and perhaps are mentioned in history, but they are not themselves. In a spiritual sense, they have no self, no self for whose sake they could venture everything, no self for God—however selfish they are otherwise. (Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, p. 65)
Silencing the Demons: An Approach to Healing
Let us suppose that a certain individual shows no inclination whatever to recognize his projections. The projection-making factor then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power. As we know, it is not the conscious subject but the unconscious which does the projecting. Hence one meets with projections, one does not make them. The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of a real relation to it there is now only an illusory one. Projections change the world into the replica of one's own unknown face. In the last analysis, therefore, they lead to a…condition in which one dreams a world whose reality remains forever unattainable. —Carl Jung, from Aion, CW 9, ii, par. 17
Jung was able to show, and then to poetically describe, how every person seems to create a parallel world of his life, through the projective activity of an aspect of personality that Jung called shadow. Now my own feeling is that there is no such integral portion of personality as shadow (especially as a universal and timeless entity, or archetype), and that what Jung was really referring to is what I have consistently called ego throughout this volume.
Ego has arisen out of error, out of something that we have done, rather than something that we are. It is a wandering maelstrom, whose energy—stolen from our true nature—adopts the kinetic shape of a hurricane, around whose stillness a storm of destructive and distorted energy swirls. The solution to the problem of ego is in the act of returning to that silent "eye of the hurricane," for that is where the pure energy of natural being may be discovered and experienced, in its deep and original clarity; that is the "safe place" of which Leston Havens writes. To get there, we must "silence the demons," and like Harry and his friends, clear our inner cabinets of false thoughts and negative emotion, by breaking the inner bonds of feudal belief. Later in Rowling's novel, after Harry has had another outburst of paranoia, bitter anger, and the howling, self-absorbed energy of heroism, his ego is stopped dead in its tracks by a remark from a girl who had been possessed by Lord Voldemort in an earlier story (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). At this point in the story, even though some threatening and disturbing events are swirling through his life, there is a measure of clarity for Harry at 12 Grimmauld Place—due in part to the space-clearing done earlier—and his inner truth responds in sincerity. These moments do occur in every life, it seems, and we must squeeze them for all they're worth: this means turning within and examining the ego in its suspended, frozen state, to clearly identify and root out what is repressing our natural self.
Unfortunately, too often we allow the ego to recover from the concussion, and it leads us further in the wrong direction. In Rowling's novel, this is demonstrated in Sirius' treatment of the house elf, Kreacher: he is drawn into opposition against Kreacher; and the elf, as ego, feeds off the negative, combative energy coming from Sirius. At one point, Sirius physically attacks the elf, throwing him bodily out of a room. The result is inevitable: the elf becomes a cauldron of passive-aggressive energy, leaving the house to rot in its decadence as he stubbornly persists in preserving the relics of its corruption. Finally, as mentioned earlier, Kreacher eventually betrays Sirius to Voldemort, completing the arc of fate initiated by Sirius' choice to follow the delusory way of power and oppression. The projection, as Jung predicted, becomes the trap in which "reality remains forever unattainable."
Of course, Sirius is not to be condemned for this: he has been "burned out" of his family, his identity extinguished by a feudal ideology, and his inner truth denied by the very people through whose bodies he received his life—not to mention the fact that he was falsely imprisoned for twelve years. When we are conditioned as children to deny our natural selves, then we become, as the psychologist John Welwood expresses it, "an open hand that gradually starts to contract and close:"
Although clenching the hand into a fist may be a fitting response to immediate threat, it would obviously be inappropriate to walk around that way for the rest of our life. Yet this is exactly what happens in our psyche! Our first response to emotional pain is to flinch, which is not a problem in and of itself. But then we start to take refuge in this contraction, and identify with it. It feels safer to be a closed fist than a vulnerable open hand. This protective tightening becomes installed in our body/mind as a set of chronic, rigid defenses that cut us off from our feelings and thus shut down our capacity to respond to life freely and openly. In our attempt to say no to the pain, we wind up saying no to ourselves instead. In this way, we inflict on ourselves the core wound that will haunt us the rest of our lives. We start to separate from our own being. —John Welwood, Love and Awakening, pp. 12-13
Our choice, of course, cannot be to say No to the pain—for pain (as Jung recognized) is a messenger designed to provide helpful information—our choice must be to say No to the ideas, beliefs, and images that perpetuate the pain, that are its actual source. When understood correctly, we find that pain—whether it is physical pain or the psychological pain of emotional distress or mental illness—is pointing, very specifically, to someplace within, where lies the ectoplasmic residue of false ideologies and beliefs. If we can identify the ones that were drilled into us during childhood, we have an excellent chance of pulling down the inner pillars that hold up the collective ego and its influence within our bodies. As Welwood points out, it is the body in which these false defenses, with their supporting belief systems, are trapped; to rid the body of their cellular detritus is to free the psyche from their illusory power.
Uncovering the Seeds: A Regressive Meditation
What we will now learn is a new meditation, in which we will return into childhood and the earliest phases of the conditioning process, through the familiar metaphor of the home. The starting point for this work has been suggested in the above discussion of psyche and body. The fact is that there is no true separation between them; to speak of them as if divided is a necessary nod to the cultural assumptions that seem to guide our dialogues about body and mind, or body and spirit.
Consciousness is, by nature, "embodied"; every living cell is formed of energy and expresses consciousness. To divide psyche and body, and then to declare that one is "higher," "holier," "better," or "dominant," is one of the fundamental illusions of the institutional ego, which we must deprogram from our total body-consciousness. The falseness of the belief in division is betrayed to the simplest reflection of common sense: you may as well say that one ventricle of your heart is "higher" than the other; that one lung is "the master breather"; that zero is "holier" than one. Our heart needs both its ventricles; our breath works best when both lungs are present and equally healthy; the computer needs both elements of its binary language, with no discrimination toward, or against, either.
Begin by sitting comfortably, with your spine straight but not rigid, your shoulders relaxed, and your feet grounded beneath you. If you have a background in, or preference for, cross-legged meditation such as is practiced in Buddhism, you may of course use that: just remember that it is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive, to intentionally assume a painful or uncomfortable position in meditation.
Now take a few gentle, regulating breaths as you close your eyes and ask for help from the invisible world of the helping Cosmic energies. Ask simply that you be shown the cause of your emotional or physical pain, or the source of your anger, sorrow, or loneliness—let the request come from your deepest body and finds its own unique expression.
Now, see yourself approaching a house—it could be your current home; a home of your childhood; another house that you've been to and which evokes detailed memories for you; or it could even be a fictional house like 12 Grimmauld Place. It need have no specific physical character, shape, or inner association (big or small, dark or light, friendly or malignant, empty or cluttered): it just has to be a place that you're familiar with in either experience or imagination, and which you feel as if you can walk through safely and in some detail. See yourself going up (or down) the steps to the entrance—count them as you go—and then step through the door and see what impressions meet your inner senses. There is no time limit on this exercise, so pause to observe the details, textures, and sensory experiences that each phase of your journey within this house brings.
As you move through each room, each part of the space, note the people, presences, sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and memories that are evoked. If you find yourself feeling constricted, panicky, or in darkness in any particular place within the house, simply move on, or if possible, open windows, letting in light and air: see yourself being helped in this work of opening to fresh and light-giving energy. Aside from this, do not try to change, move, or "fix" anything within your house; for now, just make note of your feeling-responses to the various rooms, spaces, things, and people you encounter during your tour of the place. Stay as long, or as briefly, as you feel is right for you—again, there is no maximum, or minimum, time limit to this practice. You need not even tour the entire space in one sitting: if you feel as though you need to stop, then leave and return to your breath and your body. For some people, this exercise is best done alone; however, if you feel safer or more comfortable doing it in the company of another—a counselor, therapist, or just a close friend—then follow your intuition as to what is best for you. When you are ready to finish the meditation, it is best that you actually "leave the house"—see yourself going back out of the place and into the light of the outdoors. Then take a few more regulating breaths, open your eyes, and gently begin to reflect on what the Cosmic teaching energy is showing you through this experience.
Now, if you're by yourself, and you feel safe and ready to work with the experience, write down as much as you can about the most vivid aspects of the meditation: the emotions, memories, sense-impressions, people, and feelings you encountered. See what images, patterns, objects, and significant inner responses were presented to you. If you are in a group or with another person, talk about them if you're ready to do so. If you're by yourself, you may prefer to simply write down all you can remember and felt deeply from the exercise, as if you were writing down a dream; then you can set the work aside and allow a period of inner assimilation to develop on the unconscious plane, perhaps overnight, as you sleep. Later, you can come back to your notes and see what insights now appear to you. If you wish, you can use an oracle such as the I Ching to draw further upon the Cosmic teaching energy to nurture the clarity of your inner learning. Your experience from this will be utterly unique to your personality, your life circumstances, and your moment in time; however, you may wish to consult the list below in organizing your own learning.
o Approaching the house: Did you sense any feeling of weakness, age, wear, structural imbalance, or disproportion in the images of the house, as you approached its entrance? Was there anything about the look or feel of the place that made you fearful or otherwise apprehensive? Follow those images, and see where they might lead you; if you like, you can draw pictures of what you saw, and be nourished by their teaching energy.
o Entering the house: Note in particular here the change in lighting and mood; any smells that appeared to you in the meditation; the look and feel of the door and its condition; and any other feeling-impressions that came to you on entering the house.
o Experiencing the movement of time within the flow of space: As you move through the house in your meditation, you may find yourself moving in time as well—specifically, backward. This is why it's called a "regressive meditation," because many people seem to be drawn back, often to childhood, in the context of the "house meditation." If this happens for you, then obviously it will be important for you to note memories, impressions, feelings, and objects that were prominent in your experience as you moved through the house.
o Experiencing the ordering (or lack thereof) within and throughout the space: Note any feelings of disorientation, loss of perspective or proportion, fears, clutter within certain parts of the house, changes in the balance of light and darkness, changes in the size or look of the rooms, and any claustrophobic inner sensations you may have experienced.
o Leaving the house: Recall what your feeling was about leaving the place: was it a relief to get out of there? Did you get lost or stuck on the way out? Did something or someone try to obstruct or prevent your leaving? If you found yourself looking back at the house, compare your inner feeling then with the sense you had on first approaching the place.
A Few General Guidelines on Interpretation:
Once more, and it cannot be overstated: your experience from this work will be entirely unique to you, and so should its interpretation (which will itself change or develop over time, as you repeat the meditation). Given that proviso, here are some orienting points that you can "take off" from in discovering your own interpretation:
Images of breakage, age, wear, decrepitude, or waste: These often indicate a belief or system of beliefs that is incorrect, no longer applicable or furthering to your own life, obstructive in the sense of "holding you back" to a dead past, or a tradition that must be either updated or simply discarded. See what associations arise to you, based on the images themselves and your feeling-response to them. To borrow the ready example of Harry's experience, he was aware of a foreboding, limiting presence as soon as he approached the house at Grimmauld Place and had walked through its front door. Should you encounter such images and feelings upon entering your own house in meditation, that's the time to ask for help from the Cosmic helping energies in clearing out the encrustations of a false and lifeless past; this especially applies to any group-centered ideologies, doctrines, commandments, or moral strictures that may have occurred to you in connection with the images, either during or after the meditation.
Images of clutter or feelings of "microsmia": We all know what clutter is, and how narrow, limited, and uncomfortable it makes us feel: clearing out any clutter you find within your house is crucial to growth. If an accumulation of objects had appeared during your meditation, go back in the next time and see yourself throwing them out; it's best if you have a feeling of a helping presence beside you, assisting with this work. Microsmia, on the other hand, is a less familiar term to most people; but the experience to which it refers is more common than many may imagine. Microsmia is the sense of space imploding, foreshortening, or closing in one; it is often experienced as a feeling of being small, insignificant, and impossibly, dangerously vulnerable within a shapeless, distorted space that seems to shut itself around one's being—a space that seems both dauntingly immense and hideously compressive and restrictive at once. This is a demon of the psyche that has installed itself, probably from earliest childhood, and shrieks in malevolent terror within us, like that painting at Grimmauld Place. It is telling us that we are insufficient, weak, and helpless as individuals—it may have been a message installed by a parent or other caregiver, a teacher or minister, or some other authority figure. As Welwood says, this kind of demon becomes implanted in our very bodily cells, where it will fester and obstruct the free flow of the life force, causing illness and the perpetuation of negative emotion. It must be exorcised, firmly destroyed, and forever silenced. This can only be done with help from the invisible world of consciousness: no human expert, psychological method or school, and certainly no drug, can completely and enduringly disperse such a demon. Ask for help from within your deepest heart to have this demon killed and silenced, for otherwise it will become what Rilke refers to as the "stone coffins of the ancient world," in which our hearts are forever caged in fate and fury.
Images of specific rooms, and any people, objects, or aura they may contain: Let's begin with the bathroom. It is a private place, in which the processes of elimination and the cleansing of the body occur; it is meant to be a place of solitude, comfort, and intimacy, but it is often the metaphorical vessel of our most terrible and insidious inhibitions and fears. Mrs. Rowling herself has demonstrated a wonderful understanding of this inner dynamic: the bathroom takes a central place in several of the stories and substories of her Harry Potter novels; this is a theme that will be considered in detail in Chapter 12. The fact that trolls, screaming dragon eggs, mournful ghosts, and the entrance to a pit of darkness should be found within a bathroom in these stories should come as no surprise to most people in our culture. We should add, in fairness to Freud (whose ideas have come under some criticism in these essays), that one of his more significant contributions toward a better understanding of mental health and socio-cultural threats to healthy inner development can be found in his clear and open discussions of toilet training issues in childhood. However, since much of this discussion occurred within his rather skewed and rigid developmental ideology, I would prefer to cite the American psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan in this respect:
Some of the really unfortunate people of the world have been exposed to strict bowel training well before early childhood, and as a result of their parents' preternatural interest in their toilet habits…have come to suffer rather grave disturbances of life thenceforth. —from The Psychiatric Interview, p. 139
Thus, any clutter, filth, constriction of space, or other abnormality that you may encounter in the bathroom of your meditation-house may be calling your attention toward a need to examine your feelings about your body and its natural functions. Should you discover any false ideas, negative emotions, or obsessive or ritualistic aspects of your thinking associated with the bathroom and its imagery, try to make note of them and then face them down with a firm inner No, along with a call for help from the Cosmos in dispelling these limiting ideas about the body as unclean, about its natural eliminative functions as sinful or dirty, or about one's nakedness as a source of guilt and moral vulnerability. Such ideas must be firmly and forcefully dispersed from consciousness, again with help from the Cosmic realm.
Another area to attend to inwardly, in the context of this meditation, is the kitchen or eating area: this is where nourishment is brought into the body, and where many of the daily family gatherings and interactions of life happen. Unfortunately, many difficult, troubling, and even violent scenes are played out in this setting amid the family, and quite a lot of people have very unpleasant associations with this area of their inner house. During your meditation, any clutter, filth, bad smells, scarcity, or disproportion in the kitchen or dining area will probably stand out for you and be easily remembered. Follow the path of these sensations and images to see what insights may develop from them. As Anthony and Moog mention in the Commentary to Hexagram 27 of the I Ching ("Nourishing"), "the Sage distinguishes between what nourishes the true self and what feeds the ego." They add that this applies to both the food we eat and the ideas we accept into our psyche, and that "many ideas are taken into the psyche simply because we have thought they might be true and thus have accepted them by default." This especially applies to many ideological notions that are bred into children from before the time they can speak or walk, often having to do with a demonization of the body and its natural desires and functions as "sinful" or grounds for guilt.
You may also find some of the baggage and dust of patriarchy lying on the floor of your kitchen in particular, in the form of gender-defined roles and responsibilities which usually mark off the kitchen as an area of the woman's domain. The problem with domains, however, is that they are restrictive: when your identity is confined to a specific functional space within a home, then your true self is held captive to that place and that function. You can free yourself by saying an inner No to the beliefs that embody the restrictive image, and by seeing yourself step free of the boundaries so defined, in your next house-meditation exercise.
Overall, you will find that, as you progress, the house that you return to in this meditation will become increasingly more stable, welcoming, and clear of obstruction and inner debris. This effect is the action of the helping energies of the Cosmic Consciousness at work; no human method, ideology, treatment, or medication can deliver the same transformative energy as the healing that comes from within, through one's personal and harmonic connection with the Cosmic realm of inner growth.