Healing Identity & the Survival of Asynchrony

Kokopelli2The brooding effort of the beginning, the surprise that abruptly cuts across it, the meaning-bestowing understanding that links the unintended back into the plot by assigning it its proper place, are elements playing into the style of the whole continuity of the cosmic course, the cosmic “permanence,” which is “continuous creation.”
—Heinrich Zimmer

The effect of a sound cultural heart in a healthy social body is that the body’s very joints become a source of strength and revitalization, especially the joints that connect our capacities for creative play with our need for meaning—for purpose, identity, and ideals.
—Jeanne Campbell Reesman

The promised life—anticipated, planned, or expected life—cannot account for “the surprise that abruptly cuts across it.” All events in the continuity of promise make a life of synchrony; the unforeseen may be welcomed as fortuitous, or be experienced as thwarting and wounding. Events of disruption, disconnection, and failure, are the asynchronies of life. Such disjunctions may also present potential associative leaps, in Reesman’s terms—“the joints that connect our capacities for creative play with our need for meaning”:

What seems defining in the creative individual is the capacity to exploit, or profit from, an apparent misfit or lack of smooth connection… Individuals who avoid asynchrony…are unlikely to become creative people; those who experience asynchrony at all points may be overwhelmed.
—Howard Gardner

Creativity, like Creation, is equal parts order and chaos, synchrony and asynchrony. We live in the “chaosmos” and as with the chaosmos, identity is also a production of “continuous creation,” as in any creative effort the unexpected, unplanned, unintended, unprecedented, and accidental must be recognized as invaluable and intrinsic to the creative process. Zimmer’s “cosmic permanence, which is continuous creation,” maybe understood in David Bohm terms as “the implicate order,” or more verbosely as “the ever enfolding unfolding totality of reality.”  Just as the “abrupt cuts” cannot be foreseen, so the vast totality cannot be known explicitly, precisely because it is never fixed and “ever unfolding.” For the rational mind all this ambiguity is just too messy, so we generate tidy apprehensible conceptual constructs of what is real to the intellect, but the soul is not satisfied with these incomplete explications; the soul requires a subtle and nuanced language of implication.

The deep identity runs across a spectrum from the communal to the individual—that is, to be part of a larger whole and to be self assertively contained. Being polarized to one end or the other has its attendant vulnerabilities. The deep identity is a story. For the personal identity the story says who, what, when, and where “I” am going; for the communal the story tells us who, what, when and where “we” are going. Pick any religion or social movement and you will find a fine example of a communal identity story.

There is a mistaken assumption made in modernity that so-called “primitive” people have only a group or tribal sense of identity, that there is no emphasis on the unique individual; this is absolutely wrong, in fact I would argue that in an indigenous society  individuality is valued much more than it is in the modern world.

Of course there are numerous examples of peoples who have survived oppression, defeat, and diaspora by virtue of a continuous and collective performance of identity. The Yaqui people have been defeated time and time again and yet, as Richard Schechner says “the Yaquis have prevailed over diaspora by performing their identity as Yaquis.”  Through the performance of identity such devastating asynchronies are not merely endured, but are received as the meaning bestowing cut.

Here, rather than group-identity, we look to the individual who, suffers overwhelming obstacles, yet remains unconquered in spirit, heart, and mind. Where others have broken-down or been driven to self destruction William Blake stands as a fitting exemplar of this life affirming capacity.

Unable to afford an exhibit in one of the fashionable London galleries, Blake exhibited his own version of the illustrations in his brother’s hosiery shop. The show was virtually ignored, except for some cruel reviews, one of which referred to Blake as “an unfortunate lunatic whose personal inoffensiveness secures him from confinement…”
—Mike Booth

Many people escape confinement or exile hidden under cloak of tolerated lunacy, yet this does not ameliorate the alienation and shame. How then does one survive? As Gardner has already told us: “Individuals who avoid asynchrony…are unlikely to become creative people; those who experience asynchrony at all points may be overwhelmed.”  There is a critical balance between the opportunity to create meaning, and the security of social acceptance. Clearly, by virtue of his mythopoeic brilliance, Blake was not overwhelmed.

The worst suffering is the suffering of arbitrary and meaningless wounds. A rite of passage is a mythopoeic navigation through a lived ordeal, and as should be clear, the ordeals of life are experienced as “asynchrony”—an abrupt, often painful, discontinuity in one’s anticipated life. Without the informance of the mythopoeic intelligence such inevitable asynchronies will be experienced as merely cruel and therefore meaningless. The sought for “meaning-bestowing understanding” arises most potently in the mythopoeic performance of identity, conveyed implicitly through the language of dance, song, story, ritual, image—all the arts.

Current approaches to the study and understanding of myth and mythopoeics are largely undertaken through the disciplines of anthropology and psychology, these comparative and empiric approaches fall short when confronted with the vast associative leaps made by a thinker such as William Blake. And yet again these rational approaches fall short in the face of indigenous ways of knowing. In the rational context the asynchronous events of life, the various crises of modernity may very well be an overly literal misapprehension of the sacred language of the living world.

We have in the West a few fine examples of creative individuals who have resisted the colonization of their psyche by cultivating their own meaning making capacities. Such creative freedom resembles the fluid consciousness inherent to the oral traditions:

Indigenous perspectives are presented without explicit comment—in accordance with the oral tradition of letting the listener…make meaning from someone’s words and stories without direction from the storyteller.
—Jo-ann  Archibald

If one succumbs to the dictates of the way things are “supposed” to be, one will surely miss such subtle disclosures of inexplicable meaning. Making meaning is a way of making ourselves whole, that is healing. However, there is healing and there is the fantasy of healing. The fantasy says that when we are truly healed everything will be back the way it’s supposed to be. As an example take the idea of returning to our indigenous roots, this is a move toward wholeness, however many teachers tell their students that they must learn the ways of their original people, of their ancestors, of where they come from. I think in many cases this is a fantasy and not the actual healing. What if many untold generations ago our ancestors rejected the old ways? What if our people were exiled so long ago that we cannot trace the path to our homeland? What if our people were shattered and scattered beyond recollection? Being healed is not the same as being fixed or repaired. As D. H. Lawrence wrote

I am not a mechanism,
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly,
that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul…

The soul’s healing, sought for here, is the task of taking up the story of whatever has happened to us with courage, devotion, and imagination, and making it mean something, and doing so by how we choose to live.

There has to be a wholeness that can include my very incompleteness. I cannot go back where I came from, and yet I belong to a time and a place, I live on ancient ground in a mythos where William Blake, Black Elk, and Lao Tzu stand side by side as elders and guides to the meaning of my life. The survival of life’s extreme asynchronies is dependent on the capacity to make personal meaning from our own wounds, and communal meaning from the wounds we share. The gift of the “meaning bestowing cut” is, as it has always been, the touch of the gods bequeathing the mark of destiny:

I understand the Angels now
Who envy our lives here
And all the great mistakes we make
And all the things we fear,
For we are guided by our wounds
As surely as the stars…
If you want to read your destiny
It is written
In your scars.*


Heinrich Zimmer, The King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul’s Conquest of Evil (New Jersey: Bollingen, Princeton University Press, 1956) p. 262.

Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Trickster Lives: Culture and Myth in American Fiction (Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 2001) p. 63.

Howard Gardner, Creating Minds: An Anotomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi (New York: BasicBooks, HarperCollins, 1993) p. 381.

David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1980)

Richard Schechner, “Waehma: Space, Time, Identity, and Theatre at New Pascua, Arizona,” The Future of Ritual: Writings on Culture and  Performance (London: Routledge, 1993) p. 103.

Mike Booth “Madman, Journeyman, Genius, Prophet…” online, accessed 3/1/2011 http://www.worldprintmakers.com/english/blake.htm

Jo-ann  Archibald, Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit (Vancouver: UBCPress, 2008) p. 17 .

Daniel Deardorff “Burning Windows,” The Heart Has Three Rivers Music CD 1995


© 2011, Daniel Deardorff. All rights reserved.

About Daniel Deardorff

Daniel Deardorff is a "Singer" in the old sense of the word, which involves being a musician, a storyteller, and a maker of ritual. He has been a composer and a performing artist for more than four decades. As an independent scholar of myth Deardorff's emphasis is on associativity and the performative aspects of mythic expression. He is the author of The Other Within: The Genius of Deformity in Myth, Culture, & Psyche. He is also the founder of The Mythsinger Foundation http://www.mythsinger.org and the Mythsinger Consortium http://www.mythsinger.net an online community devoted to myth, ritual, and the mythopoeic arts.
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3 Responses to Healing Identity & the Survival of Asynchrony

  1. Devan Miller says:

    This is beautiful Danny! Thank you for doing what you do!

  2. Tom Hirons says:

    Excellent! Thanks for this nutshell, this whipcrack to wake me up from the winter-snoozing. This is an arrow in the plump sadnesses of unsouled living. Thank you.

  3. “I live on ancient ground in a mythos where William Blake, Black Elk, and Lao Tzu stand side by side as elders…” If only more of us would read more than just one good book. Well put Danny.

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