Growing down

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Roots                                 -                       Branches 
Deflation                            -                       Inflation
Tethered                             -                       Free floating
Earth                                   -                      Sky

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Plato's tale of descent is the Myth of Er which I shall condense from the last chapter of his Republic:

The souls are all hanging around in a mythical world, having arrived there from previous lives, and each has a lot to fulfill. This lot is also called a portion of fate (Moira) that is somehow representative of the character of that particular soul.

For instance, the myth says the soul of Ajax, the intemperate and mighty warrior, chose the life of a lion, while Atalanta, the fleet young woman runner, chose the lot of an athlete, and another soul chose the lot of a skillful workman.

"When all the souls had chosen their lives according to their lots, they went before Lachesis [lachos = one's special lot or portion of fate]. And she sent with each, as the guardian of his life and the fulfiller of his choice, the genius [daimon] that had been chosen."

Lachesis leads the soul to the second of the three personifications of destiny, Klotho (klotho = to twist by spinning). "Under her hand and her turning of the spindle, the destiny of the chosen lot is ratified." (Given its particular twist?) "Then the genius [daimon] again led the soul to the spinning of Atropos [atropos = not to be turned, inflexible] to make the web of its destiny irreversible.

"And then without a backward glance the soul passes beneath the throne of Necessity," sometimes translated as the "lap" of Necessity.

The Platonic myth says the soul descends in four modes - via the body, the parents, place, and circumstances. These four ways can be instructions for completing the image you brought with you on arrival.

First, your body: Growing down means going with the sag of gravity that accompanies aging. ([Josephine] Baker told people she was sixty-four while she was still in her mid-fifties; she wore old clothes and gave up covering her baldness.)

Second, admitting yourself to be one among your people and a member of the family tree, including its twisted and rotten branches.

Third, living in a place that suits your soul and that ties you down with duties and customs.

Last, giving back what circumstances gave you by means of gestures that declare your full attachment to this world.

[James Hillman]
The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling, p.44, 45, 62

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If we began with Saturn, we would be far more reconciled with our givens, including everything that doesn't work and is imagined to be a trauma, a curse and bad luck, and we would be far less impatient about our growth.

As I've grown older, I've come to realise that the curses, the frustrations, and the character faults visited on me by Saturn mean something completely different than what I thought when I was younger. 

I took them literally as curses, and I cursed my stars for not giving me what I believed I needed and wanted. That is, I cursed Saturn, to use the old language.

But it isn't Saturn who curses us; we curse him. We make him into that poor, shunned, limping old God because we don't understand his mode of blessing. What a curse it must be to keep giving gifts that are received as punishments!

The faults and frustrations he visits on us are his way of keeping us true to our particular image. No way out.

The old lore attributed the last years of life to Saturn. That makes sense. Only now can I begin to reconcile myself with and not rebel against what I am and what I am not.

[James Hillman]
with Michael Ventura
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse

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By the expression asceticism, which I have already used so often, I understand in the narrower sense this deliberate breaking of the will by refusing the agreeable and looking for the disagreeable, the voluntarily chosen way of life of penance and self-chastisement, for the constant mortification of the will.

[...] suffering in general, as it is inflicted by fate, is also a second way of attaining to that denial.

Indeed, we may assume that most men can reach it only in this way, and that it is the suffering personally felt, not the suffering merely known, which most frequently produces complete resignation, often only at the approach of death.

For only in the case of a few is mere knowledge sufficient to bring about the denial of the will, the knowledge namely that sees through the principium individuationis, first producing perfect goodness of disposition and universal love of mankind, and finally enabling them to recognize as their own all the sufferings of the world.

We always picture a very noble character to ourselves as having a certain trace of silent sadness that is anything but constant peevishness over daily annoyances [...] It is a consciousness that has resulted from knowledge of the vanity of all possessions and the suffering of all life, not merely one's own.

Such knowledge, however, may first of all be awakened by suffering personally experienced, especially by a single great suffering, just as a single wish incapable of fulfilment brought Petrarch to that resigned sadness concerning the whole of life which appeals to us so pathetically in his works; for the Daphne he pursued had to vanish from his hands, in order to leave behind for him the immortal laurel instead of herself.

If the will is to a certain extent broken by such a great and irrevocable denial of fate, then practically nothing more is desired, and the character shows itself as mild, sad, noble, and resigned.

We cannot help but regard every suffering, both those felt by ourselves and those felt by others, as at least a possible advance towards virtue and holiness, and pleasures and worldly satisfactions, on the other hand, as a departure therefrom.

This goes so far that every man who undergoes great bodily or mental suffering, indeed everyone who performs a physical labour demanding the greatest exertion in the sweat of his brow and with evident exhaustion, yet does all this with patience and without grumbling, appears, when we consider him with close attention, somewhat like a sick man who applies a painful cure.

Willingly, and even with satisfaction, he endures the pain caused by the cure, since he knows that the more he suffers, the more is the substance of the disease destroyed; and thus the present pain is the measure of his cure.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.392, 395-7

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Adulthood, one could say, is when it begins to occur to you that you may not be leading a charmed life.

[Adam Phillips]
On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored, p.82

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The way my people take care of something that we're not happy with is to honor it and say, "Thank you, you've taught me a lesson." If it's anger, if it's hate, if it's a drinking problem: "Boy, you've been with me for a long time. Now I'm going to try something else. But I want to thank you for teaching me something about myself."

Never try to just get rid of it. You can't, it's too strong, it's too embedded. Instead, honor it and say, "Thank you."

[Bear Heart]
The Wind is My Mother: The Life and Teaching of a Native American Shaman, p.113

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Time To Leave (2005)

Becoming vulnerable, and 'giving in.'

His illness becomes a spiritual experience, his head-shaving a form of tonsure; a symbolic act signaling an inner shift.

In 'giving in' to a higher power, the ego is finally, mercifully, put in perspective. It has taken this illness to remind Romain that there are things bigger than he, things that are out of his control; but from his forced surrender he is able to discover a new way of relating to the world, one not so dominated by the self-aggrandising concerns of his ego.

His illness unites him with his vulnerability, allows him to "grow down" into the earth. He becomes a part of things, connected in a way that he wasn't previously; his ego in its place, no longer pulling at the leash.

From the position of surrender he is able to experience things anew; to smile, to listen, to look.

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No doubt about it, the things that once had been natural and a relief, a jubilant cry to the birds in a tree, a marching song chanted aloud, swinging along the road in a light, rhythmical dance-step - these would not do any more.

They would have come out stiff and forced, would have been foolish and childish.

He felt that he was a man, young in feelings and youthful in strength, but no longer used to surrendering to the mood of the moment, no longer free, instead kept on his mettle, tied down and duty-bound [...]

As he engaged in this sudden self-analysis, he realised that he had incomprehensibly grown into the hierarchy, become part of its structure. His constraint came from the responsibility, from belonging to the higher collectivity.

This it was that made many young men old and many old men appear young, that held you, supported you,  and at the same time deprived you of your freedom like the stake to which a sapling is tied. This is was that took away your innocence even while it demanded ever more limpid purity.

[Hermann Hesse]
The Glass Bead Game, p. 179

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Stefania, mother and woman, you’re 53, with a life in tatters, like the rest of us.

Instead of acting superior and treating us with contempt, you should look at us with affection. We’re all on the brink of despair. All we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little. Don't you agree?

['Jep Gambardella']
Dialogue from 'The Great Beauty' ('La grande bellezza')


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