Dan Keusal's e-newsletter
"Speak, friend, and enter."
(to get my newsletters delivered directly to your email inbox,
join my mailing list!)
Sometimes we need the ancient, nuanced wisdom of a 'wizard,' and sometimes we need the simpler approach of a 'Hobbit.' Starting with a scene in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, this edition's essay explores both approaches, the relationship between them, and what they might look like in everyday life. Also in this edition, a well-written and beautifully illustrated book that reminds us of the good and simple things we can look forward to (Hobbits would like this book), and a compelling and realistic portrayal by Anne Hathaway of what it's like to struggle with mental health issues. And: a photo I took in the garden of an Airbnb where I stayed one weekend as part of celebrating my birthday. As always, I hope you will find something here to support and inspire you in your own journey.
Take good care.
* * * * *
Reflections: “Speak, friend, and enter."
There is a scene in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings where the fellowship of nine travelers arrives at the entrance to the Mines of Moria, through which they must pass to continue. That entrance is a huge stone door, visible only in moonlight, at the base of a cliff, sealed and seemingly impenetrable. Scrawled across an arch at the top, in rune-like letters of an old Elvish language, is the phrase: “Speak, friend, and enter.”
Gandalf, the wizard among the fellowship, thinks this means that if one is a friend, one needs to speak the secret spell or incantation and then the doors will open. He spends quite some time trying out many options from his vast knowledge of such things—to no avail.
After hours of futility on Gandalf’s part, it is one of the hobbits who figures things out. Hobbits are good-hearted, earthy, and grounded folk, but are also simple and naïve to the ways of things like wizardry, creatures whose expertise lies in areas like gardening, and cooking, and brewing fine ales, and crafting excellent ‘pipe-weed.’ The hobbit realizes that Gandalf may have been overthinking this, that the solution to the riddle might be simpler, more basic: “What is the Elvish word for ‘friend’?” he asks. Gandalf knows that simple word, speaks it—“Speak ‘friend’ and enter”—and the doors creak and groan and then swing open.
Great stories like The Lord of the Rings, the stories conveyed in fairy tales and myths and novels and movies and songs and other forms, often contain scenes like this one that, through analogy, symbol, and metaphor convey more than one layer of wisdom. These stories engage us and endure because in addition to being well-told, entertaining, enjoyable, they tap into a deeper engagement of psyche, spirit, archetype, and the soul.
There are situations in life when what is called for is some form of the ‘wizardry’ of our time, for accessing the mysteries of the world and of the psyche through learned analysis of dreams, or synchronicities, or other subtle clues arising in the life of an individual or in that of the community. Doing such work well often requires a guide with years of study and experience, and an eye for subtle, veiled details, and for intertwined complexities, for the ways that ancient wisdom informs current dilemmas.
But there are also situations where what is called for is something simpler, something slightly more literal, more straightforward, something more…Hobbit-like.
Years ago, I was working with a client who had been stuck for some time in a mild but persistent depression. One session, he began with a bit more spark than usual, and told the story of something new he had tried: “I did my laundry.”
He explained that on the day in question, he had felt stuck in his usual depression, his usual inertia (‘a body at rest stays at rest’—that is, stuck stays stuck), then decided to put in a load of laundry. “It wasn’t the biggest thing I needed to do that day, or the most pressing, but doing something, anything…got me started, moved my stuck energy just a bit, and then, anything else I did while my laundry was in the washer or the dryer…was a bonus, a two-for-one!” He continued his explanation: “Once I had done just that one thing, it was easier to do another, and then another, and then…things started to flow, just a bit more.”
Doing his laundry this one day didn’t “cure” his depression—he returned often to feeling depressed, and had many subsequent days when he couldn’t even bring himself to ‘put in a load of laundry.’ But he returned to this technique, this tool, this intervention (“do something!”) often, and over the weeks and months that followed, it was frequently effective in getting him unstuck, at least for a time.
Session after session, we continued to do the deeper work—talking about the events, and circumstances, and relationships and patterns in his life, reflecting on his dreams (those messages from the unconscious, which knows more than our conscious self does), paying attention to the synchronicities that arose (i.e., outer events that seemed to coincide with and mirror and comment on his inner life), and more. Gradually, over time, his depression lightened and lifted, and he was able to more readily and more frequently access his energy and vitality, and move forward with his life in ways that felt meaningful.
So—which response to life’s struggles is better: that of the wizard or that of the hobbit? As always, the answer is…yes. Such instances of the tension of opposites call for us, in the long run, to employ both, to gradually see that they are not as separate nor as opposite as they might at first appear. In this transformation, we can begin to glimpse a third thing that transcends the initial two, that shifts entirely our conception of “the problem” and how to respond to it. As Jung put it, in words I’ve returned to over and over (and have made the mantra for my practice), “The greatest and most important problems in life can never be solved, only outgrown.”
These ideas have parallels in other conceptualizations of the tension of opposites, for example: pragma (the pragmatic, practical, concrete) and eros (the ‘erotic,’ the juice of life, the messy mystical)…or…chronos (clock time, productivity, results) and kairos (process time, reverie, beauty, imagination)…or mind (intellect, detached assessment, analysis) and body (the inhabited, the felt, the incarnate, the grounded).
Tolkien’s story is, on one level, that of a small group of individuals making a difference in the wider course of world events. The support and healing and growth that arises from individual psychotherapy, astrology, and other healing modalities can radiate out and make an impact on households, neighborhoods, nations, the world. Three echoes of this come to mind. The first is from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has.” The second is from Jung: “When we heal the individual, we heal the collective.” And the third is the ancient axiom of Hermes Trismegistus: “As above, so below; as without, so within.”
This brings us full circle to the wisdom of this scene from Tolkien, which calls us to seek, to speak, and then…to take whatever steps we can, so that we can enter the “mines,” explore the depths, and continue the journey.
Resources For A Life Of Depth And Meaning:
(book): Things To Look Forward To: 52 Large and Small Joys For Today and Everyday (written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall). Well-written and beautifully illustrated, this book reminds us of a wide range of things that can bring meaning to everyday life by giving us examples of things to look forward to, ranging from the big stuff (like "The sun coming up") to the smaller (but really important ones!) like..."coffee." (TV episode): "Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am." ("Modern Love," Season 1, Episode 3, on Amazon Prime). In just 34 minutes, Anne Hathaway offers a compelling and realistic glimpse of what it's like to live with mental illness--of the ups and downs, and of the possibilities that emerge if one persists through them. Part of Amazon Prime's series "Modern Love," based on the ongoing column of the same name in the New York Times. (photo): "Garden Waterfall, Bellingham, WA" (Dan Keusal). I took this photo a few years ago in the garden of an Airbnb in Bellingham while I was on a weekend trip to celebrate my birthday. Click on the photo below to view it on my web site, and download a copy for your own enjoyment.