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Every once in a while i feel compelled to dash off some writing that I don’t know what to do with – so I put it at my other blog at Subtext Consultations and release it to the wild for it to do whatever it is supposed to do on its own.
You can read it over there if you like by clicking below:
illustration by the brilliant Cranky Muse Projects
I learned yesterday that a dear friend, colleague and collaborator, Jason Evan Mihalko, Psy.D. died last week.
I first contacted Jason after I came across a stunningly brave series of essays he had written after surviving a client’s suicide, and quickly we became fellow advocates for a new kind of transparency in our profession and the value of psychotherapeutic perspectives in our national social conversation.
He was a brave, loving, radically compassionate, fierce and funny man, who will be dearly missed by the thousands of people whose lives he impacted.
But his words, at The Irreverent Psychologist should speak for him. His beautiful series of essays: “Dear Young Therapist” remind us all of the core values that sit at the heart of this impossible profession.
And this is from my favorite of those essays:
I’m old enough to no longer care how my fellow psychologists evaluate me. I’m skilled enough to know how to wield these twin tools of relational growth and change within the safe boundaries of a therapeutic relationship.
I’m thankful that I’ve never met a patient that I couldn’t love or couldn’t learn to love. It’s from that space that I begin to see the seeds of where a person might be able to go, grow, and let go. It’s from that space that I can find the confidence to let go of wanting a patient to be something I need them to be (or society needs them to be) and let them go about finding what they need themselves to be.
Still, young therapist, I don’t frequently tell my patients that I love them. It is often dangerous and disruptive to use the word. Patients can become incredibly confused and conflicted. Too many therapists also become confused and conflicted.
Just because love is dangerous, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be thought about.
I am not afraid to love and to say that I do when a moment of genuine honesty is the best intervention. Don’t forget this, young therapist. Don’t forget that our work is built on a foundation of faith in humanity and love of the person who sits across from you.
Please go read this series and explore his blog if you haven’t.
I don’t know if this blog, What a Shrink Thinks, would exist if I hadn’t met Jason. He made me feel braver as I stuck my nose out into an online world and we made joyful noise together.
If you want to hear us gabbing and laughing our fool heads off you can listen in to the one podcast we had a chance to record before life took a detour that derailed us.
And if you feel so moved, please consider making a donation in his memory here.
Grateful for all that he gave. Words fail me.
There is a Bible in every wanderer’s bedroom, where there might better be the Odyssey. Greek polyistic complexity bespeaks our complicated and unknown psychic situations. ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
I took a vacation. I went with my husband and kids to a couple of Greek islands, a few days in Athens, a day trip to Delphi (I insisted on Delphi) and then home again.
We haven’t traveled as much as we’d like. It is expensive. And we’ve been derailed bit by – I guess you would have to call it – fate.
My son is especially ambitious and yearns to travel the world. He chose Greece. And my husband, the practical one who usually vetoes any wished for large expense surprisingly said: “What the hell! Let’s do it! Let’s go to Greece!”
Greece persists as an inscape rather than a landscape, a metaphor for the imaginal realm in which the archetypes as Gods have been placed. ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
My first thought, fair or not, was this: “He’s agreeing to this now because if I start dying in earnest and we didn’t take this opportunity – he’ll regret it forever.”
I thought the same thing, last spring, after a long fall and winter of inpatient chemotherapy, when he contacted the handyman and asked him to build a handsome fence around my vegetable patch. He knew it would make me happy and deepen my commitment to growing things. If I spent my last summer lamenting all the kale the ground-hog had devoured, he would hate himself for withholding the fence I had fantasized about.
Eat, grow vegetables, and go to Greece for tomorrow we may die.
Or, to be specific: I may die. Or I may not.
There is no knowing.
Critics are right when they see the “return to Greece” as a regressive death wish, an escape from contemporary conflicts into mythologies and speculations of a fantasy world. ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
I’d spent the past year acclimating to a daily oral chemotherapy to suppress a chronic leukemia that had emerged, mysteriously, strangely, uniquely, in my spinal fluid and central nervous system instead in of my blood or bone marrow.
Un-stageable. No predictions or prognosis possible.
They discovered it as I first felt excruciating pain, and then lost sensation from the base of my spine, down my right leg to my foot. They’d found a way to treat it, by giving me higher doses of chemo than those with the “normal” version of this leukemia, enough, hopefully, to cross the blood brain barrier.
And miraculously it worked. The pill I take each day suppresses any evidence of disease. My spinal fluid tests “all clear.” There are no more lesions up and down my spinal cord.
They say the life expectancy for “normal” people with this cancer is “10+ years”, if you look online. I did of course. Even though there is no way to know if these statistics can generalize to my circumstance or not.
Most see me now as “well”, the cancer as“gone” and “the worst behind us.” So, eighteen months post-diagnosis maybe I have “8+” years before “the worst” could re-emerge ahead of me. Maybe I would make it to see my children complete high school, maybe even graduate from college. Maybe I would live to sixty-three.
It is hard to feel “lucky” although I know that I am.
The “return to Greece” is a psychological response to the challenge of breakdown; it offers a model of disintegrated integration. ~ James Hillman, Re-visioning Psychology
I take the pill every day and live with the side effects:
Curly hair that I am learning manage. Fatigue, which falls on me like a lead weight in the evenings. Susceptibility to infection. I’ve been told if I develop any cough at all I must contact my treatment team immediately because of the dangers of a particular fatal pneumonia. Bruising. Joint pain. Muscle cramps and spasms. Mouth sores. Anaphalaxis and angioedema (I’ve had both since starting this medication, they are uncertain if I am “allergic” to the chemotherapy or the cancer itself). Some memory troubles and fuzzy-headedness, as chemo-brain leaves me less able to retrieve dates and times, names and details.
And painful inflammations, which the doctors can’t really explain and don’t concern themselves with overmuch since the cancer has been so successfully controlled: a suddenly swollen hand, or elbow, or knee or foot, A “flare” of some sort, usually lasting four or five days. When it strikes a muscle or a joint on my leg or foot or hip it can be so painful that walking is impossible. In my arms or hands, it slows down texting or writing, requires that I ask others to open jars and bottles for me, and carry my bags. But then, after four or five days, the tightened skin, the throbbing bulge, recedes. As if it was never there.
Only then I am allowed to forget, but only for a week or so, that I am “sick.” I am, recognizable to myself for a brief interval. Until the next throbbing “flare” – even as the joint lays immobile through the night. I try to ignore it, but when I can’t my mind races: Is this damaged nerves coming back online? Is this nerve pain from a new lesion? Is this a muscle spasm from the medication? The heart is a muscle too – and of course I remember at 3:00 am that dangerous arrhythmia and cardiac arrest are possible “side-effects” of this medication.
Joint pain and mobility impairments came on slowly, belatedly as cumulative side-effects do – only emerging after taking the medication for a year or more. I had also been trying, although it was intensely uncomfortable, to reanimate my nerve-damaged body, to resurrect the dead zones and zombie-parts with intensive acupuncture. It remained unclear, a full year after lesions had been washed away by curing poisons, what might regrow, and what neuro-connections were severed permanently.
I had tried to attach to the cultural myth that sick people recover, get stronger if they don’t die. Now it seemed that I was as better as I was going to get. Getting worse was now more likely, even while keeping “the worst” at bay.
Was the medication saving me or killing me?
The divine physician is the sickness and the remedy… He who wounds also heals.~ C.A Meier, Healing Dream and Ritual
And the other “effects” – post-traumatic/existential anxiety that destroyed my sleep disrupting my dreams. No matter how philosophically, mindfully or thoughtfully I “processed” my experience in the daylight – at night my terrified-rabbit-body panicked in the bushes, heart-pounding, hiding in the dark from a predator that circled and sniffed mere inches away. No meditation or prayer or discussion or cognitive re-framing or acceptance or self-care could soothe it. I could only slow my pounding heart, by watching British real-estate home-shows on my phone, until my eyes grew heavy. Carefully courting sleep floating in a wash of comforting accents, borrowing the future of a proper middle-aged couple from London who hoped to start another life completely alien to the one they lived before.
The doctors suspect-guess that if I discontinue the medication that the cancer would re-emerge. It isn’t active, or detectable, but neither is it gone or considered curable.
It has all been, one highly educated, yet totally wild guess.
Mystery is the new “same old same old.”
My fate rests in the hands of the gods, like everyone else – but also, somehow not like anyone else at all.
But the “Greece” to which we turn is not literal; it includes all periods from Minoan to Hellenistic, all localities from Asia Minor to Sicily. This “Greece” refers to a historical and geographical psychic region, a fantasy or mythic Greece, an inner Greece of mind which is only indirectly connected with actual geography and actual history ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
Those who encounter me day-to-day, clients who come to my office for psychotherapy, friends who have supported me and deserve support back, the neighbors I encounter on the street, my amazing beautiful teenagers who I try to allow to be as selfish as they are developmentally entitled to be – often see me as “back to normal” or close enough. And, although I know nothing will ever be normal again in my life I try to let them think what they need to. I live in this strange space full-time but I’ve learned that others can only visit these existential realities for a few minutes here and there. In my daylight hours, I’ve learned to stop talking about the things I really think – about how feral and brief and random our lives are – I lock it in the vault so that I can listen to their normal worries, their hopes and fears for the future, their “five year plans,” the expectation that they will simply “go on being” their need to fantasize about a future that I may not be around for. I try to join them where they are, and do everything I can to avoid disrupting their necessary denial of the unfathomable, relentless, traumatizing uncertainty of life.
When they ask how I am, I tell them I am fine, or maybe complain a bit about an ache or a pain.
I can’t explain how much work it is –to see living and dying as present, concurrent and continuous events – in a world that insists they are opposite and antithetical to each other. Whether it is a reasonable goal or not – my aspiration in the face of this ruptured denial of death – is not to just stuff it back into the basement and forget it. I don’t want to fight it, or conquer it. I want to live with it, along side it.
I can very nearly imagine a way of being that can apprehend life and death as the warp and woof of the same fabric. What would it mean to be awake to death as ever-present in every aspect of life – and the mirror-world – life as never absent from death? What if they need each other for both to exist? What if matter and anti-matter are not merely opposites, rivals, enemies but intimate partners that have forged the entire universe?
For the “return to Greece” offers a way of coping when our centers cannot hold and things fall apart. The polytheistic alternative does not set up conflicting opposites between beast and Bethlehem, between chaos and unity; it permits the coexistence of all the psychic fragments and gives them patterns in the imagination of Greek mythology ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
I am trying (and some may think it foolish of me):
to tolerate this paradox,
to see what happens if I suppress nothing,
to attempt to withstand it, to see what might emerge from the excruciating tension,
to integrate non-being and being into something truthful and whole.
I may be too ambitious.
Two of my oldest, dearest friends lived every minute of their adult life, eighteen until their mid-thirties and -forties with HIV and AIDS. But they are not here to coach me through this – and I know that my own existential-terror-death-denial cocktail offered them no real companionship or support with the load that they carried. When her time came to face mortality my mother relied on her favorite life-long defensive maneuver: “I just try not to think of it.” Younger friends and loved ones “kept fighting” – as a young person should- right up to the moment that the possibility of continued living was taken off the table.
Nothing is as firmly based on the subjective conviction as the spiritual element. If the patient needs it for his cure, he must discover it by himself, in himself, it may be said to his own great astonishment, as the result of his most personal research and effort. ~ C.A Meier, Healing Dream and Ritual
I try to work this through in the daylight: as I read, write, meditate, pray, walk, daydream. But even so the terror, the hum and buzz and crackling static of Precariousness and Uncertainty, Mystery and Aloneness creeps out at night and seizes me, while my defenses and cognition rest. When all the humans I love and care for are sleeping deeply I talk to the dead and wrestle with my pounding mortal heart alone.
I remember a chaplain who came briefly to visit my mother the day we removed her from her apartment, her cats, and everything she cherished, and placed her in residential hospice.
“Dying is such hard work” she said. “No one understands what hard work it is.”
Forging a relationship between living and dying is hard work too – but it is work that ends only at “The End” – and every kind of labor requires that we take some rest and recreate ourselves.
But this goal is an achievement not easily attained. The illness must yield a meaning. This is the age-old pious concept that behind the sickness a meaning lies hidden which demands recognition – philosophical the causa finalis. ~ C.A Meier, Healing Dream and Ritual
So Greece was now, or maybe never.
This was the moment to strike, and the day to seize, I suppose.
Friends and acquaintances would squeal with anticipatory vicarious glee:
“I’ve never been! I’ve always wanted to go! Oh my god, you will love it! It is one of my favorite places! You have to be sure to go to (fill in the blank)! You so deserve it!”
But I couldn’t feel it. Why should I travel halfway across the world for a farewell tour when all I wanted was for the gods to grant me permission to remain at home and watch my children grow as long as possible?
I was frightened of being far from my medical team in case of emergency.
Frightened of being exposed to some respiratory illness on the plane.
Frightened my night-fear would be impossible to contain in a shared hotel room.
Frightened of sitting through a long flight, of muscle cramps and nerve pain.
Frightened that fatigue or a “flare” would emerge to disappoint my kids, my husband, myself, confining me to a dark hotel while they set out on a gorgeous adventure.
And no one wanted to hear me fret about traveling to Greece for god’s sake.
I mean, would you?
When the dominant vision that holds a period of culture together cracks, consciousness regresses to earlier containers, seeking sources for survival which also offer sources of revival. ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
So the week before our flight I stuffed my anxieties in the bottom of the suitcase along with a fat stack of books to read or re-read: James Hillman would be perfect to sink into in Greece, a delicious poolside consolation prize if I couldn’t go exploring. I limped to the drugstore to grab travel size toothpaste and a bottle of something over-the-counter sleep aid to knock me out at night – reluctantly surrendering to the necessity of “even more pills” – so my 3:00 am thrashing and fretting wouldn’t disrupt my children’s sleep.
And off we went, to the first Cycladic island on our journey.
We are trying to understand both what is this “Greece” that so draws the psyche and what the psyche finds there. ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
A valium swallowed on the plane helped an inflamed knee to release and relax so that by the second day on the island I was no longer limping. I was relieved to be reminded what slug-a-beds teenagers are and how willing they would be to nap while I rested and read in the late afternoons. They helped with my bags and opened my water bottles through the airport while my hands were swollen, but soon the full range of motion returned to my fingers.
Then to the precincts of Gods we went: I was strong enough to lead the charge as we explored the birthplace of Dionysus, climbing the hill to a temple honoring Demeter – whose grief over her separation from her child was so overpowering it ground the whole world a halt, my own terror at being torn out of my children’s life validated.
We hiked to a sacred spring. We gazed at the sea through the Portera of Apollo. I passed people younger and healthier than me on the hot, dusty trails.
Instead, Greece offers us a chance to revision our souls and psychology by means of imaginal places and persons rather than historical dates and people, a precision of space rather than time. We move out of temporal thinking and historicity altogether, to an imaginal region, a differentiated archipelago of locations where the Gods are, and not when they were or will be. ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
We were all hungry to linger in vacation-time, deep-time, dream-time, mythic-time. To eat the healing sunshine as it photosynthesized and infused every drop of olive oil, bite of fruit, taste of cheese, spoonful of yogurt.
We swam in the sea, floating on our backs, staring at the sky.
We generally consider Hippocrates as the “father” of medicine as a “Western” and “rational” science. But Hippocrates was raised in a famous healing temple called an Asclepieian, his father a priest-physician (a therapeutae) in service of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine. Most of us are vaguely aware of the snake wound around the rod of Asclepius painted on the side of an ambulance, or in the logo on their pediatrician’s website.
You marvel at the serpent curling around him and say that it is the symbol of the healing art, because just as the serpent sloughs the skin of old age, so the medical art releases from illness… For gods of this kind must have wounds and physicians. ~ Theodoretus, Graecarum, Affectinoum Curatio VIII, 19-23 quoted in: Emma Edlestein and Ludwig Edlestein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies
And here is what happened in an Asclepieian: supplicants would arrive, sleep among the sacred snakes in the inner chamber of the temple and in the morning they would tell the priests the dreams they had in the night.
And their dreams would cure them.
And occasionally, when the dream itself did not complete the task, it offered up a prescription, a directive to be followed which would consolidate the cure.
Asclepius as a giver of dream oracles only made use of that means by which gods and men were supposed to communicate. In dreams, the soul came into contact with those divine powers surrounding men and the world which it could not apprehend while awake. ~ Emma Edlestein and Ludwig Edlestein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies
That dream prescription was usually a compensatory or paradoxical one: The weak must move a heavy stone. The wasting patient must eat a food they had no hunger for. The frenetic must stay still. The stagnant must move. Baths to re-invigorate a waning life-force.
Asclepius was the son of Coronis, a mortal princess, and a god, Apollo who forced himself upon her. When Coronis laid with a mortal man while she carried the god’s child, Apollo retaliated by sending his sister to murder her. As Coronis burned on the funeral pyre, Apollo reached into the flames, and tore the infant Asclepius from her burning body. Asclepius was placed with The Centaur, Chiron, to be raised by him and instructed in the healing arts.
A demi-god born of death, Asclepius became a master physician, and dared to raise a mortal man from the dead.
Wherefore (Zeus) The Thunderer, in his anger, struck him with a bold of lightening and deprived him of his life… But this Asclepius who was born, rescued, reared and burnt in the aforementioned way, they enrolled among the other gods, made sacred precincts for him, and consecrated altars to him… ~ Theodoretus, Graecarum, Affectinoum Curatio VIII, 19-23 quoted in: Emma Edlestein and Ludwig Edlestein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies
And I began to dream again for the first time in months:
I dream I am brought to my knees with all I have lost, grieving.
I dream of a circular graphic that depicts psychotherapy as a hopeless strange loop.
I dream of caring for stubborn cranky old people, who insist on going to an ancient stadium/amphitheater. They fall down the steps, break their brittle bones and worse.
I dream I am sick and need to ride a large bus to the hospital.
We moved on to the next island – and our explorations continued . I was sometimes nervous: We went to swim in the sea near large slippery rocks. I needed my husband to demonstrate a viable way back up to shore I could negotiate with a deadened foot. He found a pathway for me. We climbed steep stairs, and rocky volcanic hills and jumped off of the side of a tour boat to swim to a hot mineral spring.
We watched the sunset over the sea.
In the afternoons and evenings I would read and rest and stare at the horizon and the sea and the stars as the rest of the family explored in shifts and brought dinner back to eat together on our whitewashed patio.
One night I received a text from my daughter, off exploring:
“LOOK AT THE MOON! ECLIPSE!” and I looked to see the moon had turned blood red.
Soon the temple servitor put out the lights and bade us fall asleep nor stir nor speak whatever noise we heard. ~ Aristophanes, Plutus, quoted in: Emma Edlestein and Ludwig Edlestein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies
That night I dream:
I follow a path to a grove of intentionally planted trees. They are planted in rows, in tiers, in an arc, three-quarters of a circle. I walk along the first line of trees.
Friends and family are just behind me.
The tree trunks are weathered, twisted and ancient, like the trunks of old olive trees, but the leaves are larger, the size of my palm, and shiny.
I notice the leaves are turning black.
I move to the side of one particular tree. My friends and family station themselves throughout the grove, near all the other trees. We find some kind of hydraulic pump, that we must press vigorously to send water and minerals and some kind of “treatment” deep down into the roots of the tree. The work is muscular and frantic and sweaty. The ground becomes saturated, and we continue to pump and there is a sense that if these trees are to survive we must drive this tree medicine deep into the soil and up into their roots as quickly and continuously as possible.
But the ground is also flooding, and over-saturation can’t be good for the sickened trees either – as we pump and pump I am feeling increasingly anxious that the root treatment could be harming the tree, killing it – even as it is treating the disease. Someone from a nearby tree comes to take over my pump as I begin to tire and doubt our efforts.
As I circle the tree to assess its status, I spy some small green shoots, some new life, sprouting like fuzz, like delicate baby hair at the top of the tree. I do not know if this is the tree’s last gasp, if this new growth will be enough to sustain this old trunk or not – but I know that either way, this growth must be exposed to full sunlight. I begin to grab the lower branches and shake all of the large dead leaves off of the tree. I snap off the deadwood branches and leap in the air to reach the next branch to shake it as hard as I can. Old leaves rain down on the ground like a fall day. At last the tree is bare. A naked stump with silly green shoots growing from the very top. As disproportioned and ridiculous as it looks this tree will live or die growing, with its new leaves unfurling toward the sun.
I awoke in the morning like an astronaut who had just returned to earth from deep space.
Thus in cases where the inner sense of sickness is personifies and expresses itself through symbols, a cure can take place. ~ C.A Meier, Healing Dream and Ritual
We left the Cyclades in a few days more, and moved on to Athens. We of course visited the Acropolis: We filed past the temple of Nike, the Erechtheion and the Parthenon. We scaled the steps of the theater of Dionysus, and passed the shady Asclepieion where the sick came to sleep among the snakes, incubating healing dreams or soliciting a dream prescription from the healing god.
We moved through the city past the Agora, and circled the Temple of Hephaestus and on to the Kerameikos and Athens’ ancient cemetery. Monuments and memorial stones lasting thousands of years beyond the life they were carved to commemorate.
A pomegranate tree grows near the entrance. A reminder, that if Hades captures you, as he did Persephone and drags you to the underworld, don’t eat a single thing, not even a pomegranate seed or you will walk half of every year in the land of the living and spend the other half in the realm of the dead.
By stepping back into the mythic, into what is nonfactual, and nonhistorical the psyche can re-imagine its factual historical predicaments from another vantage point. Greece becomes the multiple magnifying mirror in which the psyche can recognize its persons and processes in configurations which are larger than life but which bear on the life of our secondary personalities. ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
We took a day trip to Delphi, to Apollo’s temple and the oracle.
That night I dream again:
I am in a suburban kitchen. There is a large kitchen island diving the living room in half, green wall to wall carpeting, and the ivory floor to ceiling drapes have been drawn closed. I have been brought there, like Neo in The Matrix to face the Oracle.
She comes into the room, and hitches her big middle-aged bottom up onto a kitchen stool, with one foot still on the floor. She is blonde. Older than I am. Her hair is long and in a large bun on top of her head, like a plump school teacher.
I think to myself in the dream: “I guess the oracle comes in whatever shape it thinks is both familiar and unsettling to you.”
She asks me about the suburban community I now live in. I say: “It’s okay. It’s fine. I don’t feel particularly connected…” She asks who we know in town: “Just a few people, slightly really. We’ve had a lot going on—”
She cuts me off – it becomes clear that this is idle chat, meant only to put me at ease – and I am answering too deeply.
“Listen,” she says, impatient with this scenario and wanting to get down to brass tacks:
“You just need to do something totally different. Forget anything you were doing before. You have to start something totally new. From scratch.”
“Just pick something. Anything. Like, take up… cake decorating…” she makes a dismissive gesture with her hand implying “…or whatever.”
I wake up.
The main offering to Asclepius, as performed in early centuries, again, is attested only for Athens. Honey-cakes, cheese-cakes, bakemeats and figs were laid upon the holy table of the god. ~ Emma Edlestein and Ludwig Edlestein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies
And my first thought upon waking was:
Great. Thanks. Super practical. I’m sure I can set aside 30 years of developing mastery as a psychotherapist and a supervisor and support my kids by opening a little shop decorating cakes.
But the part where I had to let go of everything that has come before?
It felt portentous, important, and perhaps a little frightening. I’d let go of so much. Must I remove even more dead wood?
But it also felt essential.
Shed all dead skin, shake off all dead leaves, let go of anything – any belief, any practice, any obsolete way of being. Strip down to newly exposed flesh.
“Renaissance” (rebirth) would be a senseless word without the implied dissolution, the very death out of which that rebirth comes. ~ James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
Death serves life.
Life, growth, consciousness does not exist without death, decay, unconsciousness. Death is not merely the consequence, the goal, the outcome of life, or the tax we must pay to live a life at all – it is the stuff of life itself.
Our food, our fuel, our very being emerges from and returns to it. Leaves and branches die. Shoots may grow from severed stumps. And if not, moss, fungus, worms and bugs will convert the deadened wood into rich dark loam from which life will sprout.
You cannot separate the fuel from the flame.
To see death and life as mere opposites is to succumb to an illusion.
Decorate cakes for tomorrow we may die – and still be of service to life in some new form, completely alien to the life we lived before.
It is time to start from scratch, as ridiculous as it seems.
And when this phase of being has run its course, we will start from scratch again.
We are not sick or well, alive or dead. We are sick and well, living and dying.
Withstanding the tension of the opposites, allowing the paradox to synthesize, brings us face to face with the healing god.
Indeed, the physician must be able to make the most hostile elements in the body friendly and loving toward each other… It was by knowing how to create love and unanimity in these that, as these poets here say and I believe it, our forefather, Asclepius established this science of ours.
~ Plato, Symposium, 186D, quoted in: Emma Edlestein and Ludwig Edlestein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies
And perhaps the healing is found in the gift of facing our fear of death with some small piece of lucidity, as Socrates did – his final words expressing thanks to the Divine Physician:
Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius, do pay it. Don’t forget.
And that reminds me:
I didn’t have another episode of joint inflammation for the entire two week trip.
Nor have I had one since.
Sensation has incrementally begun returning to my numbed and paralyzed body parts.
I still wake sometimes at night – but soon my thoughts “return to Greece” and I drift back to easy sleep and dream of non-binary worlds governed by a pantheon of gods who are never merely good or evil, mortal or immortal, impotent or powerful.
Do I think a dream healed me? Do I think the dream told of a healing that was already unfolding, or perhaps represented a psychological a resolution I had forged myself? Maybe the dream was merely a somatic one: a dream of deadened nerves starting to regenerate.
Or else, a randomly and impulsively purchased over-the-counter dose of acetamiophen and diphenhydramine counteracted chemo side-effects, enabled sleep and prompted dreams of sweet relief.
People went to the Asclepia, they had dream visions and awoke healed, or at least informed what to do to heal themselves. ~ Emma Edlestein and Ludwig Edlestein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies
Dreams may simply show us the ways that we already know to heal ourselves.
Healing may mean cure, it may mean relief from suffering or symptoms, or it might mean acceptance of reality as great and terrible as it is.
The god himself, or his priests never asserted that he could do everything, nor did they promise immortality; they promised assistance. ~ Emma Edlestein and Ludwig Edlestein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies
Aseclepius was known to request and inspire offerings of written testimony, prose, poetry and hymns from any of those who might find language for their experience.
I have not (yet) baked a honey cake.
But I will gladly offer up thank offerings for the assistance I have been granted.
And, luckily for me, as I struggle to compose a fitting paean to Ascelpius –
it is the the most personal of offerings,
and the simplest gifts,
– that please him best.