Mystery School: An Overview

In 1997, as word of my cancer diagnosis spread, the phrases, meant to be encouraging, that I heard most frequently were “You’ve got to fight this” or “you can beat the ‘Big C’”. (Thank you, John Wayne.) The problem is that I did not have then nor do I now have now more than trace amounts of warrior energy. But I tried. I tried really strict eating regimens, even macrobiotic (although not for long), and came to the conclusion that if this is how I was going to eat for the rest of my life, I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to live.

I spared myself the suffering that comes with the question “Why me?” I’d gone through a different version of the question during the worst years of the AIDs epidemic when I found myself asking, “Why not me?” The best answer I could come up with is that God would never give me a disease that has an unexplained weight loss. I kept that conclusion a secret until I let it slip at a dinner with a couple of HIV-infected friends and they howled with laughter at the gallows humor.

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Turner Classic Movies – My Pharmacy of Choice

After spending the last two weeks writing about Appalachian poverty and the mediocrity of Paul Ryan, I was increasingly irritable and somewhat depressed.

So I’m turning this week to, what for me is, a fool-proof anti-depressant: Turner Classic Movies (link to schedule).  *To the best of my knowledge all of the recommended films are also available on DVD.

As I lost myself in the schedule of up-coming films my irritability and depression evaporated so I plan to use the last blog of each month to preview the best of TCM’s up-coming selections. There is such an abundance of great classic films each month that there isn’t enough room to write about them all—and I’ve seen them all, multiple times—really I have!  Several are easily worth an annual visit. In choosing the films for each month, I’ve chosen to go with the ones that may not be as well known.

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Making the Poor Visible

“Obamacare replacement hits Trump voters hard. Some of the biggest losers in Republican plan are in counties that supported him”

Headline in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 12, 2017.

In the late 1990’s someone published a business motivational book called, “Who Stole My Cheese?” It remained on the NY Times best-seller list for almost five years.

My take away was that the difference between rats and people is this. There are five tunnels; only one of them has cheese. Both rats and people will, soon, after discovering the tunnel with cheese, return to it repeatedly. However, if the cheese is moved from, say tunnel two to tunnel five, the rats will return to tunnel two a few times until they realize there is no longer any cheese down that tunnel. Then, the rats will begin to explore the other four tunnels until they find cheese. Human beings, on the other hand will go down tunnel two until they starve because it is the right tunnel.

I was reminded of this business fable several times as I read the NY Times best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture and Crisis by J. D. Vance. The book, which many critics have hailed as a key to understanding the “Trump voter,” follows Vance’s life through a harrowing boyhood and adolescence amongst his hillbilly relatives to his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps to his undergraduate studies at the University of Ohio until, finally, his graduation from the Yale University School of Law. His story is more than a little bit Dickensian.

The book is well-written, reportorial and compelling. It more than likely fulfills the criteria of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” I recommend it highly; like James Baldwin’s books it, too, is a guide for pilgrims who are willing to make the journey to an unfamiliar world. I underlined so many passages that it might be easier to pick out the passages that weren’t underlined.

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Archetypal America

In honor of the release of  the Archetypal America workshop recordings, I offer this post on one of my favorite films, Stagecoach. The course recordings can be purchased as a digital download here: https://gum.co/archetypalamerica

“The main American theme, I think, is freedom. It’s about individual freedom in opposition to or in tension with collective freedom.”  -Ken Burns, documentary film maker, “The Civil War”

Throughout American history the archetypes which populate our myths and legends and capture our imagination are the Rebel, the Revolutionary, the Liberator, the Scout, the Pioneer, the Cowboy, the Explorer, even the Outlaw: all of them perpetually moving forward in pursuit of their idea of freedom, both on behalf of the common good and at the expense of it. While many of these archetypes appear from the very beginnings of our history, the conflict between the various notions of freedom—personal and collective—solidified in the American psyche in the years leading up to and following the Civil War. They continue to impact us and our ideas of ourselves to this day. Few films capture these American themes and tensions as well as John Ford’s masterpiece, Stagecoach.

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Stagecoach is high on my list of the 10 Best Movies of All Time. I’ve seen it at least 20 times, probably more. Without fail, something about it captures and holds with every viewing, so much so I save it on my DVR, along with Singin’ in the Rain and a few other films, so I can view them again whenever the mood strikes me.

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Guest Appearance: Archetypal Tarot Podcast

2015_ATP_Icon_Green_Twitter_ProfileI was thrilled to sit down with my good friend Julienne Givot and discuss archetypes, movies and more for her popular show, The Archetypal Tarot Podcast.  You can download the show for free on iTunes or listen online at the bottom of this page:

http://archetypaltarot.podbean.com/e/the-tower-embracing-the-grace-of-change/

A Conversation with Jim Curtan

This conversation is between Shane M. Nygaard and Jim Curtan on September 14, 2015, as part of the Minnesota Jung Association’s 2015-2016 season of event.

More information on Jim’s Workshop – Archetypal America October 23rd and 24th, 2015 in St. Paul, MN

SN:      Since you haven’t been in front of the Minnesota Jung Association (MJA) audience before, to help people get to know you a little before your visit, can you share a bit about your background?

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Life Beyond A Crisis: Uncovering the Secret Next Chapter of our Lives

When: Saturday March 7th, 2015, 9am-3:30pm
Where: The historic campus of All Saints Church
132 N. Euclid Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Detail: People of all ages will learn about moving from crisis to re-birth, discovering a secret chapter to our lives, aligning with grace through chaos, navigating the unexpected, love and beauty at any age.
Fee: $58
Registration link

My first workshop of the year is sponsored by Stillpoint Center for Christian Spirituality and will be held at All Saints Church in Pasadena, one of the most beautiful venues in Southern California. I taught a workshop there last year about Pilgrimage using the film, The Way. We subsequently produced a self guided workshop based on that day long pilgrimage.

BEstI’m delighted to have been invited back for another workshop this year and I’ve chosen to focus on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Part of my inspiration for the course came from something a good friend said to me while we were having lunch about ten years ago. He was a few days shy of his 80th birthday and while we were sipping wine and waiting for our entrees to arrive he leaned in close to me and said, “You know the mid-life crisis? You have another one to look forward to.” I’ve never forgotten his remark and as I approach the half-way mark of my eighth decade, I’ve begun to watch for signs.

“When old words dies on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders. “
– Rabindranath Tagore

I believe that’s why the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been so popular with viewers—so unexpectedly popular, in fact, that a sequel is set to be released the first week in March. The film captures its main characters deep in the throes of this crisis. It’s most marked characteristic is the shocking revelation that their identities, the life narratives they’ve carefully crafted for themselves are way past their “sell-by” date and they find themselves confronted by the need to discover new meaning, new purpose for their lives.

I hope you will be able to join me. Please do share this information with your friends in the LA area or those who might want to escape the cold to enjoy some Southern California sunshine next month. There is even a Facebook Event created to make it easier to share with your friends.

When: Saturday March 7th, 2015, 9am-3:30pm
Where: The historic campus of All Saints Church
132 N. Euclid Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Detail: People of all ages will learn about moving from crisis to re-birth, discovering a secret chapter to our lives, aligning with grace through chaos, navigating the unexpected and beauty and love at any age.
Fee: $58
Registration link

A Few of My Favorite Things (Gift Guide)

This time of year I like to be even more mindful that usual of all of the blessings in my life. And I am blessed with extraordinary friends. Some of these friends bless me doubly and triply because they are also my teachers. Each has a body of inspiring and provocative work and I’d like to share some of my favorites with you.

All of these would make great holiday gifts for others or you may hint to others you would like some of these for yourself.

CAROLINE MYSS

My wonderful friend, teacher and author, Caroline Myss has written many wonderful books but I especially love her recordings. Unless you’ve been at some of Caroline’s recording sessions, you may not know that she doesn’t read from a text. Although she prepares in SpiritualMadnessadvance, she speaks ex tempore. This gives immediacy and intimacy to the recordings that puts her right in the room with me.

I first discovered Caroline and her work when I was diagnosed with cancer and came across her recording of “Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can.” The wisdom in that recording has guided me through 17 years of cancer treatments.

My personal favorite of all of Caroline’s recordings is “Spiritual Madness.” I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to it, but I always find something new with every listening.

A wonderful companion to “Spiritual Madness” is the lesser known “Your Primal Nature.” It’s fascinating.

All of these are available at www.SoundsTrue.com and Amazon/Audible

MARK MATOUSEK

wyfd_lg1I’ve known Mark Matousek since he was sixteen years old and was around him a great deal until he went away to school. He chronicles this part of his life in “Sex, Death, Enlightenment” one of the finest spiritual memoirs I’ve ever read. The follow-up memoir, “The Boy He Left Behind,” avoids the sophomore slump of many writers, and is, if anything, even richer than the first book. I have a particular bias toward his book, “When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living,” because I’m interviewed in it and that the interview put me in the company of Joan Didion, David Steindl-Rast, Dr. Rachel Remen and Bill McKibben.

Mark is also an exceptional teacher. He regularly offers a six-week on-line course called “Writing As a Spiritual Practice” and he’s just released a seven-part audio course called “What’s Your Story.” To find out more about Mark and his work visit him at www.markmatousek.com

WILKIE AU

EnduringHeartWilkie Au is a spiritual director’s spiritual director. I can say this with certainty because I have been blessed to have Wilkie as my spiritual director for over fifteen years. Alone, and with his wife, Jungian analyst and spiritual director, Noreen Cannon Au, Wilkie has written a quintet of invaluable spiritual guides, each of which focuses on a specific quality of developing a richer spiritual life and practice. If you are unfamiliar with their work, the two books I most recommend are “The Enduring Heart: Spirituality for the Long Haul” and “The Grateful Heart.” The former is a reassuring reminder that the essence of spiritual life is, like marriage, relationship. The latter is an activist’s handbook for living a life rooted in and committed to gratitude. For more information visit: http://wilkieandnoreenau.com/

ELLEN GUNTER

Earth-Calling-book-coverEllen Gunter is a woman on fire. She’s a prophet and gadfly. Her book, “Earth Calling” is an impassioned education and wake-up call about the multiple environmental crises that threaten the planet. What sets her book apart is that on every page you are reminded how much Ellen loves the earth. This book isn’t just good science, it’s a love letter. The book is available on Amazon.

RICHARD ROHR

Father Richard Rohr, OFM, is so prolific, it’s hard to settle on just a few recommendations. If you are unfamiliar with his work his three volumes of daily meditations—excerpts drawn from his books, articles, sermons and workshops—are like mini-anthologies which are wonderful in YesAndthemselves or may guide you toward one or another of his complete works. The three anthologies are “Radical Grace,” “Yes . . .And,” and “On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men.”

Among Father Richard’s audios, I particularly like “True Self, False Self” and “Great Themes of Paul” (Richard’s series on Paul provides compelling evidence that Paul is a great mystic whose writings have  interpreted literally and damagingly. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I fell in love with the St. Paul revealed in these recordings. www.cac.org

JAMES FINLEY

James Finley was one of my teachers when I was  training to be a spiritual director and ContemplativeHeartbecame a colleague when we taught together at CMED.* I don’t know that there is any substitute for encountering James Finley in person. If you ever have the chance to spend a day, a weekend or a week in his company, sign up immediately. To find out about his retreat schedule check his website: http://contemplativeway.org/ . His book “Merton and the Palace of Nowhere” is a contemporary classic and essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Thomas Merton’s teaching. James has collaborated on audio books and recorded seminars with both Caroline Myss and Richard Rohr. You can find them at either www.soundstrue.org or www.cac.org  Ally of them provide rich material for reflection and contemplation.

Happy Reading! Happy Listening!

Love,

Jim

Archetypes and a Movie Poll

Many of you have already enjoyed the first edition of my ‘Archetypes and a Movie’ series: Ratatouille:  Fate, Destiny & the Hero’s Journey.  We are in the process of planning the next workshop and would love your feedback on what you would most like to see and learn from.

The theme of “pilgrimage” has been coming up quite a bit lately and pilgrimages can take many forms.  While you don’t literally need to travel to go on a pilgrimage, it’s always a journey to the Sacred.  The word pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) means a traveler, literally one who has come from afar.

Each of these films are an exploration of the archetype of the pilgrimage. We’d like to know which one you would most like to experience as an audio workshop.

Please take a few seconds to complete the 3 poll questions below.

Many thanks,
Jim and Julienne

Film Choices for a course on Pilgrimage

The Way (2010) TheWay_2staring Martin Sheendarjeeling_limited

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) staring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith & Tom Wilkinson

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) staring Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson & Jason Schwartzman

Philomena_posterPhilomena (2013)BEst staring Judi Dench & Steve Coogan

 

You can also use the comments below to suggest a film not on this list and tell us why you’d like to learn from it.