Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
July 2012 - Volume 12, No. 7
In many old “fairy” stories - the ones I grew up on, there’s someone called “the wicked witch” who for some reason will cast an “evil spell” on an unsuspecting Prince or Princess, turning them into frogs. (This is not good for frog PR, but it’s the way of the stories, and still seems to carry the message.) I’ll mention this phenomenon to new clients, reminding them that they come to me pretty “froggy” to begin with - from which I always get hearty agreement.
Now there’s something important here, especially in therapy. When a wicked witch makes someone into a frog, it’s a spell cast from outside. And a spell cast from outside usually can not be uncast solely from inside. It takes the help of an outsider to disentangle, unravel or break the spell. Often in our first sessions, when I’m listening to the client’s story, I’ll comment that nobody casts a debilitating spell on themselves, the ‘original program’ always comes from outside (even from when we were very young, and possibly before we had language by which to think about it). If they could have uncast it themselves, they wouldn’t have had to come to me. Now it’s my job to study the intricate specifics of the spell, and come up with the specific antispell which will free them.
Of course, this sounds at first like a passive-patient approach, where he or she just sits and lets me, the all-knowing therapist, do the work. But in my experience it does give my new client some relief - that I understand the sense of impotence and defeat they bring to those initial sessions. They have a sense that I “get it.” That’s where I start.
From that beginning we commence on two levels. First it is my work to seek out and discern the patterns that are binding my client into a stuck or “spellbound” place. That’s my art, my craft - to see that which often the self cannot see, that which is unconscious. And it provides me with a great amount of satisfaction to be able to do that.
But, the meaning of the “Princes/Princesses into frogs” stories is not to exalt the power of wicked witches or to indulge in meaningful conversation about the general frogginesss of the populace - or even to appreciate how smart the commenting therapist is. The meaning is rather the struggle of the froggied to gain/regain their true selves. My work is to re-member the full story. And in many cases, the accomplishment of their “true selves” only comes about with the struggle. The wicked witch is necessary. The “frog” is necessary. And strangely, throughout human history, the ordeal itself is necessary. Basically, it’s the only way it can work.
This is quite at variance with our current cultural worship of an easy fix, the temptation of victim entitlement, of implicit self-deserving. You can hear the four-year-old child’s insistent “I want, I want, I want.” We have a whole generation now of people who don’t care or even know how to work (entitlement frogs). Don’t fix it, just twist it to your own advantage (cf Karl Rove’s self-admitted political strategy).
So let’s take another look. I don’t know if 2012 will be seen in retrospect as a pivotal year, but it certainly looks like it from within. There’s a lot of wicked witchery out there with a great vested interest in making the rest of us froggy. Call it engineered disparity, unrestrained greed, the trafficking of elections, oligarchy, the 1% vs the 99% - a froggy populace is very dangerous to the self-correction of a vital democracy.
Where is there hope for the spellbound? What is the role of the story-teller? What is the role of the one who sees the larger picture and understands the froggied?
I am hopeful for our world. It has many times gone through times of turmoil where the frogginess of despair and cynicism seemingly held sway. And it took a lot of work.
Popular culture feeds our hunger for the image of a hero. Especially in times of trouble, this always emerges. It’s the daring of one man or one woman who “comes to save the day.”And in a sense, this is right, this is the countercast to the spell of oppression. But it’s also like the therapist who has all the answers and will do the work (or write the popular book with all the answers). Oprafroggy. We look for the medication that will take away the problem. Pharmafroggy. Billions of corporate self-interest dollars to manage the image of one man running for office. Politifroggy. The oversimplification becomes frightening.
And, of course, what’s even easier than supporting a hero is to demonize his or her opponent. It’s less work, less responsible, and for the moment more fun. (Ever wondered why large political groups are called ‘parties’?)
But the meaning of the stories is not that an outside hero will save us - though there are wonderful accounts of the heroism of individuals. The important stories, like princes turned into frogs, are inside stories. For me, world mythology is primarily about the inside story, the story that provides the pattern of struggle by which we each redeem ourselves, and thereby the world.
It’s hard work. It involves struggle, remembering our birthright, remembering who we were born to become. As author and mythologist, Michael Meade (one of my own mentors) says, it’s about remembering, reconnecting with our own story, the story we were born to live, and finding the divine spark in it all that will keep us centered and alive.
I’m not a hero, but I like the work I do - working for the same thing, one individual at a time. -To contend against those powers that would froggy so many of us (yes, why not make it into a verb as well). -To re-member the vital Prince and Princess deep within. -And to guide and encourage the struggle by which they prevail. -To know and to think for ourselves. -To care for others, and help build a community where all can know and share a balanced prosperity. (And where even frogs can have a good and safe place.)
The time has come around (again). Yes, there’s so much work to do.