In opening up this inquiry to consider the first of Psyche’s tasks, Sorting the Seeds, I will share a perspective on the purpose and place of storytelling as seen by Iris Murdoch, who writes,
“One of the functions of art, is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.”
Because, throughout millennia it is stated that self-knowledge is the most difficult of the arts of living, because understanding ourselves is a prerequisite for understanding anybody else, and because we can hardly fathom the reality of another without first plumbing our own depths, art is what makes us not only human but humane.
I see mythic storytelling as an artistic medium and a form of creative self-expression which contain truths and imaginal guides who are no longer available to us in our current cultural context. But, they are encoded within many and varied narratives, and present us with an invocation to see ourselves and our experience anew, to hold up a mirror that offers us a different image of who we might be and who we might be becoming.
I have situated this inquiry into the myth of Psyche and Eros, within this frame of storytelling as a ‘tool for knowing who we are and what we want.” To illustrate how this story, like many others, on the surface appears to be a classical tale of love lost and love reunited, but if you look a little closer then you will also see that it offers up many more riches and gifts about the nature of our human experience; our relationships, fears, innermost longing, mistakes, doubts, determination, courage, creativity and reliance in the face of adversity.
It is a story of depth that shines a light on how we each can undertake a process of deep transformation to access our will, imagination, and love, inner creative processes that enable us to change ourselves and in the process change society as a whole.
But, let us begin by picking up the story of Psyche as she wandered far and wide to find support and guidance to how she might be reunited with her lover, Eros, only to discover that despite all her efforts she remained alone and fearful.
In this desperate state, Psyche realised that there was only one thing left for her to do which was to return to Aphrodite and ask for her forgiveness and help. A bold move, when you consider that Aphrodite was not Psyche’s number one fan, as the Mother of Eros, she was very much against the marriage and tried to sabotage their union.
However, the choice is critical in Psyche’s journey as her reciprocal act and reaching out to Aphrodite, despite the risk of her vengeance, serves as a the catalyst for the transformative actions which unfold, and although they are all carried out by Psyche, with the assistance of unusual helpers, each task is orchestrated by the older, maybe wiser, more primal figure, of the Goddess of Love, herself, Aphrodite.
As Psyche has entered into Aphrodite’s temple, it is here that her first task is set. Aphrodite takes Psyche to a door and upon opening reveals a large room that is filled to the ceiling with a huge variety of seeds. There are, millet, corn, barley, wheat, lentils, and nigella, all mixed up together. Turning to Psyche, Aphrodite simple states, your first task is this, “By daybreak I want you to have sorted all these seeds into separate piles, not one seed must be in the wrong place. All must be sorted and in order.” Then ushering Psyche into the room, she closes the door and locks it behind her, to be sure that no one can come and help her.
Fatigued, hungry and desperate to return to Eros, Psyche is completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before her. She tries to make a start and sorts the different seeds from place to place but extraordinarily little progress is made. Eventually overcome by grief and fatigue she falls into a deep sleep. It is when Psyche sleeps that we once again encounter an intervention and help from the non-rational dimension of our experience, or what you might call the irrational, in the form of ants, who are the transformative energy that steps in and saves the day. As, this army of ants work together and quickly, and quietly sort all the seeds into their different piles. With ease they complete the task before the return of daybreak. So, you can imagine the surprise not only on Aphrodite’s face when she returns and unlocks the door but also on Psyche’s, as she is also completely amazed by what has occurred during the night.
This first task of sorting the seeds is representative of a beginning, a threshold moment in which Psyche is beginning to leave behind and separate from old patterns of thought and behaviour. Earlier, in the story, Psyche had been very submissive, just following the rules and rituals as directed by her father, who was acting in service of the social norms and culture of the age. She continues with this pattern in the early days of her relationship with Eros and is happy to maintain the status quo, do what she is told and not follow her own instincts. Now, as she calls upon her own resources these inner patterns are beginning to loosen, and we see shift occurring through the power of rest, when Psyche allows her intuitive and non rational mind to step up and show the way.
As this is a myth, we are having to navigate our way through symbols and metaphors to guide and reveal our understanding. I see this as a creative process and one that requires us to access our imagination. To do this we need to let go of our reliance on our rational mind and begin to trust that we have other ways of knowing and experiencing the world.
However, there is a paradox at play in this first task as it is the intuition which is being called upon to create internal order through disciplined action. Rather than the conscious rational mind, which is unable to complete the task, and needs help from the unconscious mind. The symbol of the ant’s in this myth represents our inner capacity to carry huge weight literally on our shoulders, and not become weighed down by our challenges and responsibilities.
The task of sorting seeds is also a wonderful metaphor for how we can organise rather than become overwhelmed by all the often competing and conflicting emotions that arise during the beginning of a transition period, as we begin to change from one form into another. In this frame sorting the seeds can be perceived as really taking stock and learning how to see our many challenges and options much more clearly.
The task of getting clarity in the midst of feelings of chaotic confusion requires an inward turn, in short, we have to know ourselves, and as Iris Murdoch suggested, ‘plumb our own depths.’ An inward turn necessitates us to become clear on what is most important and what is not. It is a process of internal shifting and sorting through our many varied feelings, values, and the underlying motivations which exist behind our patterns of behaviour and choices. This requires real courage and honesty.
When we learn how to identify with what it is that we are feeling and can stay connected to our emotions without blaming or becoming a victim then we are expanding our emotional vocabulary. This is an aspect of ‘artful living’ as having access to our own emotional literacy increases our capacity to carry our own weights, and activates our openness for compassion, respect, self-care, and resilience.
Also, by increasing our inner capacity to be connected to our emotions then we are building up our resiliency to those moments in life that are unexpected and uncertain. We are able to view our experiences as our own witness and learn how to stay present to the jumble of seeds and pause whilst we internally sort through our jumble of seeds, and clarity emerges. We learn how to trust our creative intuitive process which is our supporter and ally but exists beyond our logical control, and hence the need for integration, and synthesis. A process of transformation in which we become our own medicine.
To bring your inquiry to life you will be invited to reflect upon, what ideas, images, memories, and feelings does this particular narrative invoke for you, in your experience?
What comes to mind for you?
What does it make you want to create or call into being?
The inquiry is yours to participate in. It is offered to open up new avenues of thinking, feeling, and seeing. To inspire new questions and perspectives about the patterns, rituals and routines that currently compose and orchestrate your life.
Imagination in Action
In this third section, I invite you to consider how you can begin to practice seeing your experience through the dimension of ‘inside eyes,’ which will enable you to just witness your experience instead of striving for a solution or outcome.
The best way to experience this is through deliberate and intentional practice and staying with the theme of sorting to gain clarity I offer you the following activity. It is called, ‘Blended ways of knowing’ and is taken from ‘The Visionary Spirit’ by Mick Collins.
The next post will inquire into Psyche’s second task, gathering golden fleece.
I specialise in weaving together, stories, images & nature connection practices to help people access their true nature, strengthen their creative fluency and increase their sense of wellness, and wellbeing in the world.