This book was left behind by Barbara, I'd been hoping all week to take a closer look. Last night I had my first op but instead of picking it up to read I did the bibliomancy. Nicely shook by the result, I benefited greatly from another night of energy work and revelation.
The results, which I will share in their entirety, represent an important address, not only because the contents can be seen to pertain so personally to me... what we have here is a giving and provocative depiction of the road that often demands travel by those like myself who will no longer resist the call to unify sense and spirit as one does body and mind.
Time feels come to leave behind poisoned forms of old, the codices and indoctrinations that suggest we should be satisfied grasping for limited personal satisfactions in the detritus of a contra naturum sell-by-date world. I'm ready. In fact, I'm delirious for it. I learned just how much when I took this closed book into my hands and heart and opened it to page 122 where I found the following...
DESCENT AND RE-EMERGENCE
The powerful and evocative "descent" myth with parallels in many cultures is found in several stories in this collection. The pattern is that of an oppressive or unconscious situation which leads to a crisis and a "death" or descent or initiation in darkness, followed by a resurrection or reemergence. The experience gained in this darkness sheds light on to the whole being and through this experience we are irrevocably changed and empowered. This pattern is also found in the myths of Persephone and Psyche, the ancient Sumerian myth of "The Descent of Inanna," in the Greek initiation rites, in Shaman initiatory ceremonies, and in fairytales like "Sleeping Beauty," "Briar Rose," "The Handless Maiden," "The Seven Ravens," the tales of Mother Hulda, and Baba Yaga. It has also been observed by modern psychologists such as Sylvia Perera, Maria Von Franz, and Nor Hall. Other women who, without role models or guidance except from each other, have sought to integrate themselves spiritually while living in a patriarchal culture, have also discovered this cycle. If the descent myth is properly understood it can be of tremendous use, because it is a key to the universal initiation process, which we must take part in if we are to develop and understand ourselves. These experiences touch such a deep level that if we can integrate them again, we can undergo a conscious rebirth; rather than being unconsciously shaped by social pressures and customs.
We can appreciate and grow from our black periods, treating them as springboards rather than useless digressions. We can learn the difference between being passively drawn into darkness, and voluntarily choosing an active entry into the veiled world. We can see what and who is necessary to help us digest and incorporate the insights gained during our descents, be they voluntary or forced upon us.
In this collection of stories the biography of Nangsa Obum most clearly illustrates the descent myth. It is a "delog" ('das log) story, the story of a person who dies and is then resurrected.
I would like to look at some of the events in the life of Nangsa Obum and to see their spiritual psychological meaning in terms of the death and resurrection process.
First, the birth of a heroine or hero in many fairytales comes after a period of sterility followed by the birth of a supernatural child. In our own lives very often we may go through a period of brooding and stopping and starting projects, or just not doing extended of anything, before a major transformation or piece of creative work comes forth. In Nangsa Obum's case her parents were doing much meditation on the goddess Tara, without any selfish motives, and this activity produced a miraculous result. This could be understood as the necessity of proceeding in a direction which we feel is good and right even when no material gain is foreseen.
Throughout her childhood Nangsa was a classic example of a 'good girl'; her parents were pleased with her "even though she is a girl." This statement indicates the Tibetan preference for boy babies. When I went to Nepal recently, a woman who was supposed to be a 'yogini' told my pregnant friend that if she said 100,000 prayers to Padma Sambhava, she would be sure to have a boy, not, heaven forbid, a girl.
At any rate, Nangsa in her childhood was so 'good' she overcame this 'disadvantage'; however, she decided she would not marry but would become a yogini instead. She never questioned that this would be her future until she reached puberty. At this point her beauty began to shine forth and in spite of herself she attracted many suitors. Eventually the protective shell of the mother was broken by the Rinang king, who snatched her up "Like an eagle falling upon a small bird," to be the bride of his son.
This motif is common in fairytales: "The original protected state is experienced as one of psychic unity (one we look back upon as the experience of childlike wholeness) is broken into by the emergence of the archetype of the Great Father and his emissaries. Fairytales usually depict this event in the coming the king's son, the prince who represents the father.
Here Nangsa actually has no choice in the matter; although she expresses her wish not to be married to anyone, even a prince, her parents think it is a great match for her and are afraid to refuse. Since Tibet was a medieval society the local kings had power over the populace and if someone dared to refuse the desires of a king the results could be horrendous. We see this in the life story of Yeshe Tsogyel when she refused to marry a local king: "the official whipped me with a lash of iron thorns, until my back was a bloody pulp, and unable to bear the pain, I stood up and accompanied them."
Neither the king of Rinang nor the prince who wanted to marry Tsogyel cared a whit for what was inside these women. They both possessed the mixed blessing of great beauty, which Tibetans see as a result of good karma, and a desire to renounce worldly life. The king hardly ever sees Nangsa as human, and in fact asks her if she is human or the daughter of a god, a celestial musician, or a serpentine spirit. He sees her as a beautiful piece of merchandise to be possessed for the aggrandizement of his family.
Even in the twentieth century, we as women may be threatened with a beating for expressing our spirituality or not wanting to marry someone, or we may find ourselves getting into and remaining in negative relationships because patriarchal society teaches a woman that she must be with a man in order to validate herself. If a woman is young and at a point of inner hesitation, it might be a relief if a man defines her life for her. If she falls into this trap and then later tries to assert her individuality, she will meet with tremendous resistance, perhaps even violence. When a woman's own desires begin to conflict with the man's needs, there is an explosion and the anima projection (when a man projects his unconscious feminine side on to a woman) collapses; or she gives in and continues to suppress her own individuality and lives out his projection. If she does this she may try to maintain an inner life of her own, but the conflict between her inner and outer worlds, and her imprisonment in the service of his psychological needs, will inevitably cause her to live in a semi-somnambulant state of depression.
This explosion comes to Nangsa in the form of being beaten to death. But before her "death" the impossibility of her situation already comes to consciousness when she encounters the yogis, who point out the uselessness of her present life, and again when Sakya Gyaltsen manifests as a handsome beggar with a monkey. His choice of beggar and monkey is an interesting symbol. He is a beggar because Nangsa's spirituality is 'begging' for attention, and is impoverished. Yet he is handsome, not only to raise the suspicions of the father-in-law, but because her deep longing for her individuality is beautiful. It might seem strange that a guru who is supposed to emanate compassion would aggravate an already painful situation as Sakya Gyaltsen did, but it is often the case that the teacher will submit the disciple to hardships in order to purify his or her karma and speed up progress on the path. In this case he also foresees the she must have this 'delog' experience in order eventually to be able to help others.
The monkey symbolizes something which is captured and trained to imitate. It is captured because its appearance is charming, and then through painful training its natural instincts are controlled and it becomes a source of entertainment for free human beings. The beggar uses the monkey, and several other animals such as the parrot, as examples of Nangsa's situation. Finally he tells her that if she does not give him a substantial offering she is no better than the paintings in the temple. This means that unless she is willing to make a substantial commitment to her true self, she will remain a superficial woman, no deeper than a two-dimensional painting.
Although Nangsa appears to be fulfilling her role as a loving wife and mother, she is secretly longing to go into retreat and practice meditation. She is isolated from her experience because of the undercurrent of this unfulfilled longing. So her separation from her husband at the time of her 'death' is actually an amplification of a separation which has been running under the surface the whole time.
By staying silent and not defending herself from Ani Neymo's jealous accusations against her, she unconsciously provokes the confrontation which forces her out of her stagnant, depressing, obedient phase. Her exaggerated gifts to the yogis and the beggar are further unrepressible instinctive actions which bring on her descent and the eventual resolution of the situation. Many women experience this helpless 'no way out' feeling after marriage and children. They have given themselves, and they feel that if they are not happy they have failed. Old desires for fulfillment have remained unsatisfied and undermine the situation. The woman in this situation is restless and sad even when she has 'everything' that she is told should make her happy. Usually a woman does not see that this discontentment is caused because she has lost her own power, but sees it as a personal failure or incapacity. So she continues to try to find ways to find satisfaction within the context she has chosen, but usually she cannot and the demon of depression continually rears its ugly head.
Nangsa was conditioned by her culture and her mother not to trust her ability to follow the life of a yogini. We see this when her mother says:
"If you really want to practice the dharma, it is very difficult.
If you think like this why did you have a baby?
Do not try to do what you are not incapable of doing.
Practicing the dharma.
Do what you know how to do.
Be a housewife."
"You are like a little sheep, who does not want to stay with the other sheep and be fleeced. So do not be sorry if you are sent to the butcher!"
Although Ani Nyemo appears as a negative figure who just stirs up trouble, in fact if it had not been for Ani Nyemo, who brought the situation to a head, Nangsa might have just gone on in a silent depression all of her life. Ani Nyemo causes a confrontation between the collective standards represented by the palace life and Nangsa's inner spiritual life. This confrontation eventually leads to Nangsa's release from this dualistic situation.
Ani Nyemo also represents the devalued feminine. She turns against Nangsa because, rather than seeing her as a sister, someone to share with, she sees her as a competitor. A situation dominated by male power often has this effect on women. Rather than identifying with each other, women turn against each other in competition for the males who hold the power. When women are denigrated they become twisted and negative; we do not like ourselves and we see other women negatively, looking for ways to devalue them in the eyes of men so that we can receive the favours of the oppressors.
At this point in the story of Nangsa there are two motifs which are found in Western fairytales. In "The Handless Maiden" an innocent girl, through the plotting of a devil, is misunderstood by her husband and is driven into the forest, where she lives alone. "She is driven into nature where she has to find the connection to the positive animus within, instead of functioning according to the collective rules. She has to go into deep introversion. The forest could equally well be the desert, or an island in the sea, or the top of a mountain."
In Nangsa's case she 'descends' into hell, and through her experiences there she comes back to life understanding herself more deeply and she no longer suppresses her spiritual longings. They have been validated by her miraculous coming back to life.
In another fairy tale called "The Seven Ravens," a girl has a project of turning her brothers back into humans from ravens, and in order to do this she must not talk or laugh for six years and must make shirts made of star flowers for each of them. During this time she is married to a king and she leads a double life, continuing her silence and working on the shirts as well as her wifely duties. Her mother-in-law stirs up trouble by taking the children away and then accusing her of murdering them. Von Franz analyzes this story like this:
Although she is productive and has fulfilled her normal feminine life, yet there is something going on behind the screen, a second process, which leads to misunderstandings. Sometimes the step-mother, or the mother-in-law, can alienate the king from his wife. Then she is slowly driven into complete isolation and her heroic deed consists in keeping silent; but the pressure in the situation does not force her to disclose her secret, in spite of the threat to her life. She stands the misunderstanding of those around her and her highest endeavour is applied to keeping the religious secret... Keeping the discussion within, and not allowing disruptive forces to bring it into the open and destroy it, is one of the ultimate vital battles in the process of individuation.
Nangsa protects her spiritual process with silence. Often, deep inner processes must be kept secret; otherwise they will be frozen or distorted by those whose values remain in the materialistic world, like Nangsa's husband and in-laws.
The 'death' of Nangsa itself has great archetypal significance, for similar motifs are reported in shamanic traditions, ancient Greece, and here in Tibetan initiation ceremonies, in the story of Jomo Memo, and even in the long retreats of some of the other women in this book.
The pattern is basically one of initiation. Initiation is an active choice to enter into darkness. It is a conscious closing off of the sunlit world and entry into into the deeper parts of one's being. In Tibetan initiations one is given a red band of cloth which is symbolically placed over the eyes during the initiation. One enters a different dimension by passing through darkness.
In ancient Greece at the site of the oracle cave of Zeus - Trophonios - the oracle seekers had to lower themselves into a cave through a small hole similar to a birth canal, and after three days they were helped out by 'therapeutes' or helpers.
The shaman initiatory rites were very similar to the 'delog' descent. In Central Asia the Yakut shamans recount how "the evil spirits carry the future shaman's soul to the underworld and there shut it up in a house for three years (only one year for lesser shamans). Here the shaman undergoes his initiation. The spirit cuts off his head, which they set aside (for the candidate must watch his own dismemberment) and cut him into small pieces, which are then distributed to the spirits of the various diseases. Only by undergoing such an ordeal will the future shaman gain the power to cure. His bones are then covered with new flesh and in some cases he is also given new blood.
It is quite possible that the delog stories and the Chod ritual in Tibet descend from this kind of shamanistic ceremony. However, the difference is that the delog is catapulted into the underworld involuntarily. In the Tibetan delog stories in most cases a grave illness precedes the journey to the underworld. "Before the journey the delog has terrible visions and hallucinations, he imagines himself in the middle of frightening storms and whirlwinds, he hears a fearful noise, and he believes himself attacked by mighty hailstorms, which shatter his bones and lacerate his head, he feels like a shipwrecked man at the bottom of the sea or as if thrown to the heights of the sky, he believes himself dead, for the real world disappears from his view and he sees the world of the hereafter.
The delog, like the shaman, returns from the underworld empowered by the experience and an authority of life and death. This information is used to convince the living that the results of their actions in this world will reap results in the hereafter.
The journey into the underworld experienced in depression can also have this function. A depression can lead to the depths of oneself and dark deadness, which if used properly - and if the sick person pulls through it - can be like the introversion of the hermit who voluntarily enters the bedrock of himself and emerges with a knowledge that can help others. This experience can become a jumping-off point which allows growth and rebirth to take place. The important thing is that, when the person re-emerges, he or she is able to remember and make use of the descent experience, for otherwise it serves no purpose.
A-Yu Khadro, Jomo Memo, Drenchen, and Machig Ongmo all underwent years of voluntary isolation in order to reach the deeper states of consciousness. A-Yu Khadro literally dwelled in darkness for many years, developing inner lights through her Dzog Chen practice, which requires complete darkness. These were all voluntary descent experiences.
Western women emerging from crisis situations also often choose to live alone, intuitively knowing that the confrontation with oneself that this brings will lead to a deeper understanding. These women in our society (which sees them as pitiable and unfortunate) can take strength from the stoires of these Tibetan yoginis.
These Western women also seek the support of other women or psychotherapists to help them to emerge from their descents, just as the yoginis sought the guidance of their teachers and spiritual friends, and the Greeks needed the help of the 'therapeutes' to make sense of the memories they brought back from the oracle cave.
Speaking of the descent myth in terms of her experiences in controlled therapeutic regressions, Jungian analyst M.L. Von Franz describes the descent process in relation to the story of "The Handless Maiden":
In the Middle Ages there were many hermits, and in Switzerland there were the so-called Wood Brothers and Sisters. People who did not want to live a monastic life but who wanted to live alone in the forest had both a closeness to nature and also a great experience of spiritual inner life. Such Wood Brothers and Sisters could be personalities on a high level who had a spiritual fate and had to renounce active life for a time and isolated themselves to find their own inner relation to God. It is not very different from what the shaman does in the Polar tribes, or what medicine men do all over the world, in order to seek an immediate personal religious experience in isolation.
Because re-emerging people have often undergone a reevaluation of themselves, and the knowledge gained makes them 'different,' they can be seen as threatening to those who knew them before. Nangsa's husband and relatives found her threatening in her decisiveness. Jomo Memo was so changed after her experiences in the cave of Padma Sambhava that she was called a demoness ("memo") and had to leave her native land. She found in Guru Chowang someone who could understand the knowledge she had gained and guide her in her further development.
Up to the point of her 'death' Nangsa had been 'good,' fulfilling the expectations of the collective standards that surrounded her. After her descent she realized that complying with these standards was not genuine goodness and did not lead to a positive result. Goodness is not necessarily truth, and through her experience she gained the courage and confidence in herself to follow her heart.
Her final break with submission came when she returned to her parents for a visit after her delog experience. It is interesting that the final confrontation came when she was weaving. Weaving has traditionally been the work of women. Women weave the fabric of familial life, they weave genes and blood and nourishment to make children. Nangsa was sitting in a loom harness singing a song about how she had been woven into a pattern which was not of her choice. This song irritated her mother to such an extent that she became furious. But Nangsa could not be intimidated as she had been before and insisted that she would find a way to leave in order to unite her internal longings with her external situation. When her mother threw her out and kept her son, Nangsa gathered together her courage and finally departed to find her guru. She had to face the loss of her son and the frightening journey into the unknown. She realized the sadness of this loss but saw that this emptiness also created the possibility of finally leaving a situation which had been wrong for her for a long time. "Having and knowing that bedrock of self-validation and belief is very important, because it enables us to take risks and function in the world with courage without being paralyzed by fear of disapproval or disapproval itself."
Nangsa shows heroic qualities throughout her life, but her courage at this point is really amazing. She not only risks the severe wrath of her husband and father-in-law, but she has also been abandoned by her mother and her son has been taken away. However, her courageous step is validated in the end when the power of her teacher and herself triumphs over the material strength of her husband's army. The end result of her choice to follow her heart's longing is the elevation of all those involved. Had she not made this choice, not only she, but everyone else, would have been degraded in the process.
If we avoid the descent because of fear of what we will discover about ourselves in the 'underworld,' we block ourselves off from a powerful transformative process. This process has been recognized by modern psychologists and ancient mystery religions alike.