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Reflections on the story: Gabby & the Old Woman

 

 

The characters

There are two main characters in this story. There are also the children, who though critical to the story, are only mentioned in passing. The old woman refers to them as the “Anawim”, a Hebrew word meaning “the little ones of God”. In this story it can be useful to think of children representing simple consciousness or first naiveté.

Gabby represents a committed and highly motivated young person. She certainly wants to work well and commit herself to caring for children. Gabby is a person who you would welcome on your team. Her ‘crisis’ is the everyday crisis of a young person who has moved, like we all have to do, from simple to complex consciousness. She has eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and so lives in the face of certain contradictions. In complex consciousness, many things will seem impossible to reconcile. Inner contradictions are hard to deal with internally, are often not accepted, seen or known, so can become projected onto others and the outside world.

According to John Welch:[1]

"Those things which we cannot abide in ourselves we project upon others. If I do not admit my shadow side I will unconsciously find another who will carry my shadow for me. Once this projection is made then I need not be upset with myself. My problems are now outside and I can fight them out there rather than within the real arena, myself. Projections give us an excuse for our bad behaviour toward others. We can be aggressive, violent, and make war because the evil is clearly in the other, not ourselves. It is no easy task to bring our troops home and to learn to own our own shadow."  

The way Gabby projects her contradictions and shadow form an important element of this story.

Gabby was projecting onto others parts of herself that she knew little or nothing about. She was not doing this consciously. Rather, it was happening unconsciously. It was as though Gabby was sitting in a movie theatre watching a movie. Her attention was on the screen in front of her – watching the actions played out by Seth, the Old Woman and others. However, the real source for these “images” lies in the projector that was behind her. John Sanford[2] says:

"This is the way it is with psychological projection: We see aspects of ourselves in projection on other people who are like a screen to us, when the source lies behind us, that is, in the unconscious… Projection distorts human relationships, and is especially destructive when our dark side, the shadow, is projected onto other people."

At first glance, the old woman appears as something of an enigma. She seems to have returned to some form of simple consciousness. However, as the story progresses, we glimpse a little more of her. In fact, the old woman has moved forward into a form of simple consciousness that some call enlightenment. In a somewhat unsettling way, the old woman is able to carry some of the contradictions that occur around her, and has a high tolerance for Gabby’s projections. For the old woman, contradictions become paradox, and maybe she has glimpsed something of a bridge that joins even some of these paradoxes. In the midst of chaos, noise, and angry conflict she hears music!   She brings enlightenment.

 

Gabby and Her Shadow

Gabby experiences something of a drama. In fact, it is really an everyday story for those of us who live in complex consciousness. The important thing for Gabby, as it is for us, is to take the opportunity that this crisis presents for her. It is an opportunity for her to recognise and begin to carry a little more of her shadow. This also has potential for Gabby’s growth and development. John Welch[3] says:

"The shadow contains not only negative elements and destructive possibilities, but also potential for greater growth and development of the personality. Jung found that the shadow is ninety percent gold. Although it is underdeveloped and acts negatively, it is capable of being brought to light for the enrichment of personality. This “positive” aspect of the shadow is the unlived life of the individual. This 'positive' aspect of the shadow represents potential which could be tapped, but pressures, fears, or perhaps an unwillingness to take responsibility makes it difficult to “own” this part of the self."

We might speculate on how this could have happened.

There is no doubt that Gabby wanted to do well in her work. She not only wanted to do well, but to be accepted as a good worker by other staff. She wanted something of what the more experienced staff demonstrated through their actions. Her ego began to take charge of the project, and also to deal with obstacles that stood in the path. Contradictions that were difficult for Gabby to hold within, her ego was able to project outwards. The old woman was a prime, and apparently willing, target.

The old woman had a high tolerance for the shadow projections of others. This allowed space in which Gabby could undertake her shadow work. However, it was not long before Gabby’s ego over-ran its attempt to keep Gabby in control. Someone external needed to pay the price to lessen the tension that these internal contradictions were causing. The old woman took the “blame”, and of course had to go.

Without an available receiver of Gabby’s projections, Gabby needed to do more of her own internal work. The darkness that she had seen in the outside world was now within. It was very hard to avoid. To give Gabby her due, she kept with it, and eventually she was rewarded with a minute glimpse of a world within which contradiction can merge into paradox, and in which reconciling bridges can link the two sides of paradox. In that moment Gabby hears the music. It is the heavenly choir.

Gabby Hears the Music

 

For only a moment, the complex consciousness in which Gabby dwells, opens to a heavenly choir. On the surface, it appears a return to a simple consciousness. In many ways this is true. You need to change and become like little children, and embrace the humility of the child to touch the kingdom of heaven.[4]  When Gabby sits in the old woman’s chair, and moves momentarily out of complex consciousness, she rises to a new level of understanding and consciousness.

The music of the heavenly choir may be available to any person, but according the Robert Johnson,[5]

". . . it generally takes a great crisis before the ego of an ordinary Westerner is humble enough to hear that perennial music."

Derek Travers,[6] in speaking of the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Marcel Proust, suggests:

"the vision can only be momentary in its duration, for to seek to extend it in time would be to annihilate the present and so to make human life impossible."

 

The Mandorla

The mandorla is the almond shape that occurs when we overlay two circles. The overlap can be a place of heightened consciousness where dichotomies fade and occasional glimpses of wholeness and unity occur. It can be where the physicist meets the mystic. It is often considered a sacred space. In traditional pictorial mandorlas from Christian spirituality the space would contain a picture of Christ, or on occasions the Virgin Mary. The two circles could represent heaven and earth, with Christ reconciling these two seemingly separate worlds. In the overlapping space, seemingly contradictory worlds are reconciled.

Our story might be represented in the form of a mandorla.

In the visual representation of our story, the old woman and the children, or the Anawim, are placed in one circle, and Gabby is in the opposite circle. Gabble is portrayed with her contractions, represented as light and dark. In the mandorla space we find a representation of the heavenly music. In a true mandorla the heavenly choir would need to bring us before the face of Christ. The mandorla points us to the place of reconciliation. The old woman, in her enlightenment has a strong sense of this place. She brings it in her person and contributes it as a gift within the Poor House. Her gift to Gabby is to provide her with the space to recognise and own more of her shadow. It is to make the journey from contradiction to paradox, and then to catch a glimpse of the bridge which will offer reconciliation. When this is done, her work is finished.

Carrying our shadow

In this last story and commentary we have again explored the notion of shadow, and also of the defensive practice of projection. In considering these darker aspects of ourselves, we again come to important realisations.  We need to carry our shadow honourably and graciously, recognising our need for God’s grace and mercy. There is little room left to judge others, and we learn to be more self-aware but also to be less judgemental of ourselves. In this way we can hear the advice of Jesus not to judge,[7] and to love our enemies,[8] and even extend this to our inner enemies, or fugitives, as Elizabeth Cain[9] calls them. The encouragement is to open our woundedness to the Love that can go beyond the protective barriers we build within and so experience the transformation through that which enables us to transcend our own wounded parts and set us free.

 

Notes

[1] John Welch. Spiritual Pilgrims. New York: Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1982, 121.
[2] John A. Sanford. King Saul the Tragic Hero: A study of Individuation. New York: Paulist Press, 1985, 16.
[3] Welch, op cit., 120.
[4] Matthew 18:2-4.
[5] Robert Johnson. Transformation. SanFrancisco: Harper, 1991, 56.
[6] Derek Travers. T.S.Eliot.  The Longer Poems, London, Sydney, Toronto: The Brodley Head, 1976, 106.
[7] Matthew 7:1.
[8] Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27.
[9] Elizabeth Cain. Grass Grows by Itself.  Millennium Books,1995, 33.


 
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