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Perspective & Reality

Inspired by some amazing 3-D street art by Karl Mueller, I’ve been reflecting on perspective and the nature of reality.

Folk in both the scenes below appear to be in danger of plunging to their deaths in a deep crevasse.

Karl Mueller The Great Crevasse

(Click for larger image)

Karl Mueller - The Crevasse

(Click for larger image)

But it’s all an illusion, based on the perspective from which we’re viewing the scene. From where they’re standing, they know they are on solid ground.

Karl Mueller, who created the art work above said ‘I wanted to play with positives and negatives to encourage people to think twice about everything they see.’

Similarly, many of the shadows we see in our lives are of our own making. We take what we think is a dangerous risk, only to find the leap hasn’t been so great and we’re landing safely after all.

Or we experience things that, at the time, are deeply painful and we’d give anything to be somewhere else. It’s only later, standing in a different place and viewing them from a different perspective, that we can see the gifts those experiences have given us.

One of the assumptions made in Appreciative Inquiry is that ‘Reality is created in the moment and there are multiple realities.’

Whether we see a  particular situation as a problem, an opportunity, a disaster or a gift depends on where we’re standing and how we look at it.

The difference between a mountain and a molehill is your perspective.

(Al Neuharth)

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Cosmic Jokers

Today I’ve been reflecting on the seemingly capricious nature of life.

On Friday Chris, my business partner, and I were jubilant about the fact we’d been engaged that morning for an exciting new project, which we know will be both challenging and fun to complete.

Then that afternoon an impending cold worsened, and I spent the weekend mostly in bed feeling like death warmed up – aching, snuffling fit to burst, coughing and losing my voice. So Friday’s jubilation went the way of all flesh – replaced by a dose of bodily misery.

Much better today, with that dreadful lurgy receding into the past in its turn, I’m smiling to myself at the way the Universe keeps reminding us life is a ever a journey of hills and valleys, highs and lows.

Ok, so neither the high nor the low I experienced in the last few days could in any way be described as an extreme example of its kind. But the rapid shift from one to the other and back again has definitely revealed the Cosmic Trickster at work once more.

This is an archetypal figure that has many names and guises across different cultures and mythologies.

Cosmic JokerFor example there’s the Norse god, Loki – shape shifter and trickster extraordinaire. Or Prometheus, who tricked Zeus and the other gods into allowing humans the best part of animals killed for sacrifice and stole fire from the gods on Olympus for people to use. There’s Maui from Polynesia who also stole fire from the gods to give to humans.

Then there’s Bamapana, a god of the Yolngu indigenous people from Arnhem Land in Australia, who delighted in causing disruption and discord. Or Eshu, god of chaos and trickery from Yoruba mythology in West Africa. And maybe The Joker in the Batman story can also be seen as another, more modern equivalent.

When we mere mortals are sitting comfortably atop one of life’s highs, the Cosmic Joker laughs at our complacency. “So you think you’ve got your stuff together, do you? You think you’ve got life sorted? Well try this one out for size!”

Then, when we’re struggling in one of life’s lows, he usually laughs again at our discomfiture before throwing another upward loop our way.

So how do we best cope with his quirkiness, his cruelty and his beneficence? Let go. Allow ourselves simply to ride life’s journey without clinging too desperately to the good times or fighting too hard against the bad.

Either way, whatever we try, there’s likely to be another shift just around the corner that will try to pitch us off balance again. Whether it’s for good or bad, up hill or down dale, ‘this too will pass’.

It’s all part of that disastrous, delightful, damnable and delicious paradox we call life.

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The Gods We Honour

I’ve been reflecting on some of the archetypes prevalent in our society, particularly in relation to ‘mythological’ connections. Even more specifically, in relation to the pantheon of gods in Greek mythology.

Greek God 01If we have any mythological connection at all these days, it seems to be with spirits of Apollo (the god of reason and the clear light of day) and Prometheus (the god of production, crafting and technology).

These, if any, are the gods we honour and the myths we live by. Many – if not most – of the other gods are relegated to our community shadow.

Drawing on Jung’s psychological theories, delegation of any quality or trait into the shadow part of the psyche will cause its influence to explode elsewhere in more unconscious and damaging ways.

The gods we dishonour make their influence felt in pathological ways, and leave us off balance and out of harmony with our place in the world.

Just as the ancient Greeks knew that a balanced life involved honouring a pantheon of different gods, we need to invite other forces and myths back into our society to regain our balance.

A good start might be to re-establish our connection with the qualities of Eros or Dionysos. The positive aspects of these gods are among those crucial to our successful negotiation of our path forward in this modern world.

The myth of Eros is that of creativity – the life-impulse. He is the god of relationship, and we experience him in both the pain and delight of real intimacy. Bringing more of the Eros influence into our organisations and social structures implies improving relationships and interconnectedness.

What’s more, Eros ‘pathology’ – the shadow aspect of Eros – is certainly evident in many areas of our society, in its levels of irresponsibility, self-indulgence, and rampant individualism. Eros is the puer or eternal youth, and unless consciousness recognises and honours this element, unconsciousness can produce an unwillingness to grow up.

Dionysos brings fun, impulse, ecstasy and the irresistible irrational into our lives. He is the ‘great loosener’. Eccentricity, improvisation, personal satisfaction, joy, ecstasy, choice, and laughter are all the realm of Dionysos. He is the god who warns us against taking ourselves or life too seriously – and can provide a much needed balance to the ‘heavier’ aspects of Apollo and Prometheus.

Greek God 02Dionysos’ imprisonment in the shadow is revealed in many pathological expressions of his influence in our society. Where people seem to be achieving personal satisfaction or goals at the expense of those around them, where eccentricity is carried way beyond the bounds of social acceptance, or where the search for joy, fun and excitement turns to self-harm – in all these and more we see Dionysos shouting for recognition.

Perhaps the drug ‘Ecstasy’ was not named by accident – it is a very appropriate symbol for the destructive powers of Dionysos dishonoured!

In the end, Eros, Dionysos and all the other gods will need to be invited to join Apollo and Prometheus as the guardians and designers of our modern destiny. Without them our development – and our psyche – remains out of kilter.