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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Catena Aurae: Teachers – CREDO LXXV

The Catena Aurae is the Golden Chain often referred to as the succession of Socrates-Plato-Aristotle-Alexander the Great, but it has other implications as well. In generation after generation there have been great Teachers, hidden and revealed, who have passed down esoteric truths for the enlightenment of those ready to learn from them.

The image of the chain links not only these great and wise masters in every culture throughout history but can also be applied to all those wise men and women who have influenced you and me, either formally or informally, in person or in print or any of the many new ways of communication. It is like a slowly moving river of invisible love offering itself to all that thirst.

We need to pause and reflect on the influence such may have had on our lives, to realize that each was born a child and had to grow up, often under difficult circumstances, and had to learn and realize and grow and benefit from learning the hard way. For this we need to be profoundly grateful; to pause and think how we, in turn, can pass on the good we have received.

When we think of teachers, our first thought goes to education and school. As I went to several different schools in different countries, I was exposed to a great many different teachers. I was blessed to encounter four great educators. They all had something in common and I will try to explain this in Jungian terms.

1) They taught not from ego to ego alone but from Self to the Self of the student! This means the basic difference between being an in-structor, one who builds in the structure of the pertinent discipline, and being an educator. This word comes from Lat. ex ducare, to lead forth, to make conscious the unconscious of the student. As I profited from this insight over the eighteen years I taught kids myself, I realized at the end I really had not taught them anything but perhaps had engineered a few attacks of insight – those magic words “Aha, I get it!”

This puts the words of Robert Browning’s poem to mind and might explain, by hindsight, M’s prescient mentioning of Browning to me on the first solitary encounter I had with him:

Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate'er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fullness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception – which is truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error: and to KNOW
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without.

2) By extension, of course, the Golden Chain involves more than one way of teaching, the most important aspect of all: teaching by example. Looking back 65 years to my spiritual Teacher M, he personified that. For all the years I knew him, I never saw him angry or depressed or careless. He had the knack of being totally present to each of us, of being kind and even fun. Yet there was always a transpersonal dignity and implicit knowing about him. A steady Light and source of Love.

In writing this, now that I am 86 years old, I realize how short I fall in living up to that example! I was 21 when I first met him, and looking back I realize the only gift I had to give him was my ability to make him laugh. As this was in the midst of WWII, he had few occasions for laughter but calling him fondly “Dr. Gumblegurk” helped. I think I was a granddaughter of sorts for him and there was that kind of love between us. He was the inspiration for Gezeebius in my The Beejum Book.

3) Just in terms of educating children, my greatest debt of all is to A. Bronson Alcott, whose two books I discovered – unread for over a hundred years – in the stacks of the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island, and which 35 years later I managed to edit and republish in my book How Like an Angel Came I Down. He was the eccentric father of Louisa May and a Concord friend and conspirator of Emerson and Thoreau. He had the most compelling approach to the education of children and prefigured Jung in many ways in his belief that the psyche of a child is not a tabula rasa, an empty slate. In the appendix of my book, I give hands-on ways I implemented my own teaching of children in fifth, sixth, and especially ninth grades in private schools on Long Island. I am still in touch with some of them today! I feel I was repaying those four teachers I encountered during my rebellious childhood! Each of them saw through all that and summoned my Self, such as it was, and encouraged with trust, responsibility, and no nonsense affection. Many years later I wrote this poem:

The hell I knew had human eyes
angels that were demon wise.
Pain to beauty, beauty's pain
rounded wisdom round again.
Love came down in hate's disguise;
life it is that never dies;
Love it is that tries and tries.
Child and demon, demon's child,
innocent and running wild
stropped for seizing heaven's prize.
When hell is telling, heaven lies;
when hell is selling, heaven buys.
We struggle dreaming struggle's dreams
and reaching where our wisdom gleams,
the child within us cries and cries.


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