Monday, January 16, 2017

Inviting in your genius


The Romans never described a person as a genius. They might say, "Apollonius has a genius" - i.e., a special relationship with a tutelary spirit. The word genius is related to gignere, which means to engender or "beget". It implies reproductive energy, the power of inseminating new life. The Romans called the marriage bed genialis lectus. As observed by Jungian analyst and classicist Marie-Louise von Franz, "this referred not only to sexual potency but also to the qualities that today we would call psychic vitality, temperament, resourcefulness and a lively imagination."
    In a well-bred Roman household, a statuette representing the personal genius of the father of the family usually stood near the hearth in the kitchen. It might be the figure of a young man, holding a horn of plenty or a phallus or a snake. The woman of the house was believe to have her own guardian spirit, or "Juno", who embodied the power of giving birth. In the Roman conception, each of us is born with a personal relationship with a spiritual patron, or genius, who is the source of creative energy.
    James Russell Lowell was close to this perception when he wrote: "Talent is that which is in a man's power; genius is that in whose power a man is."
    To live and work creatively, we need to make room for this energy. The Romans were on to something. To bring something new into the world is to give birth. We see this in the pregnancy dreams that are not about physical childbirth, but about something new that is borning inside us. We can feel it in our bodies in a period of creative gestation.
    When one of my books is ready to be born, I feel pregnant. I mean that in a quite literal sense. My appetites change. I develop odd cravings at strange hours. I forget to eat or sleep for days at a time, then walk out of a dinner party to crash or feed my face with something I wouldn't normally touch. I develop morning sickness. When my new baby is ready to come out, I can't stop the contractions, even though sometimes, like a woman I once heard screaming in a maternity ward, I want to yell, "This has to stop!" There is no dope, no epidural, no C-section available to dull the experience or shortcut the labor; whatever is in me has to come out the old-fashioned way. There is an equivalent to birthing in water: the blessed gift of going into a state of flow, in which I relax into the rhythms of what is fighting its way into the world.
     As Erich Neumann remarked, "Every human being is by nature creative. Yet one of the gravest and most menacing problems in our Western civilization arises from the fact that this civilization cuts man off from his natural creativity."
    To choose and act creatively, we must be able to put our commonplace selves, with their reliance on structures and schedules,on one side, and make room for the source energy of the begetter. Creative inspiration, as all artists and discoverers know, comes through spontaneous combustion between the waking mind and other levels of consciousness. "I know now," wrote Yeats, "that revelation is from the self, but from that age-old memoried self, that shares the elaborate shell of the mollusc and the child in the womb, that teaches the birds to make their nest; and that genius is a crisis that joins the buried self for certain moments to our daily trivial mind."
     You cannot program a creative breakthrough, but you can clear a space where it may come about. Dreamwork is a wonderful aid to the creative process, because the source of dream images and the source of creative inspiration are not separate. When you resolve to catch your dreams, you are telling your creative source, "I am available. I'm listening."
     When you record your dreams, you are developing the art of storytelling. You will discover your gifts as a writer, and if you are already a writer,you will find you have done your "warm-up" exercises almost effortlessly and are ready to go he distance. Best of all, through dreamwork you are constantly learning to approach challenges from new angles, in a spirit of play. The Romans believed that a person's genius rejoices in good living, in laughter, in healthy sex, in having fun. Forget to play, and you are not working with your genius, for whom play is the only thing in mortal affairs worth taking seriously.





Adapted from Conscious Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press



Image: Winged genius from mural in a Roman villa at Boscoreale, near Pompeii, late 1st century, now in the Louvre.

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