A wood between the worlds
In recent weeks, we’ve published serialised essays by two of the wisest articulators of what we call ‘unpsychology’ – and Chris Robertson. In a world where opinions are loud and exponentially escalating, is committed to finding and publishing thoughtful and imaginative creators like Nora and Chris – as well as lesser known artists and writers.
This week, we’re taking a break from the long essay format, and inviting you into the world of Unpsychology Magazine, out of which this Substack was born, with a short reflection on Unpsychology as a space beyond the noise of big opinions, mindsets and certainties.
Meanwhile, you can find links to download (FREE) all Unpsychology Magazines from the past nine years HERE. This is a substantial body of work and many wonderful artists and writers are featured. In addition to the downloadable PDF editions, the last issue – An Anthology of Warm Data – is also available for sale in a print edition, and you can get hold of a copy from HERE – and you can flick through in the video below:
A world beyond the noise
When I was young, like many budding SF readers and writers, I read C S Lewis’s Narnia books. Even then, I was less taken with the often tiresome, English middle-class human characters and twee anthropomorphised animals, than the way Lewis conjured up a magical sense of perilous place and mystery.
In particular, the wood between the worlds – that mysterious, liminal portal – captured me. Even now, more than fifty years later, I can imagine myself there, relaxing on the grass between the pools that lead to other worlds – in a world beyond the noise.
Now as an older adult, working often with children and young people, I am struck how complex the relationship between world, self and imagination can be, even for the very young. There is an instinctive way that children know that their shape does not ‘fit’ in the human social world, and in the ways they seek out quiet and meditative places to recover their equilibrium. This might be particularly true for those that are sometimes termed ‘introverted’, ‘highly sensitive’, ‘neurodivergent’ or ‘queer’, but these labels puts the onus on the individual child, and there is a bigger picture here.
They often know, from an early age that, in another place, they might be fine. It’s just that in this increasingly boxed-in, noisy, dangerous, fragmented and socially toxic world, their instinct is to withdraw and sit on the cool grass in a silent in-between place. It’s a lesson for the rest of us who lack their insight, or have forgotten this essential piece of being human - of being animal.
The wood between the worlds, then, is a space beyond the noise. That’s what Unpsychology has always been about exploring. We are less interested in clinical theories of healing and developing the ‘self’, than in sitting with the seeds of awareness of what it might mean to be human in the interdependent mesh of this amazing ecology of mind.
The world of psychology - like the worlds of health, politics, education, economics and the rest - is full of myth, noise, claim and counterclaim. It’s often either stuck in clinical diagnosis or pseudoscientific woo – and sometimes both at the same time.
Cool dudes come up with big ideas like meaning-making, transhumanism and life-hacking and shout about them on podcasts. Therapists and coaches grasp for the issue of the day – attachment, trauma, positive thinking, conscious evolution – and everything goes downstream in a rush. New treatments. New claims. New courses. Holistic this. Integral that…
…while really what we might need to do is turn off the noise. While really what we might need is to understand that the pain we feel is the world’s pain, and the grief of losing something special – something slipping through our fingers before we have ever really grasped it.
When I picked up the first physical copy of the Warm Data issue of Unpsychology last summer, it had a tingling quality - a sense of psychological complexity that Susan Cain writes so beautifully about: “Bittersweetness is a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy when beholding beauty. It recognizes that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired. A song in a minor key, an elegiac poem, or even a touching television commercial all can bring us to this sublime, even holy, state of mind—and, ultimately, to greater kinship with our fellow humans.”
Reading it, I imagined myself sitting there, with my back to a tree, turning the pages – drinking in the images and words created by people who were imagining – together – the ways that warm data and relational learning flow; the ways we come to terms with endings, beginnings and might-have-beens.
When I sat in the wood between the world as a child, I was alone. I sat by the pools, daydreaming. Now, I understand that there are others (human and non human people) here too, and that the ‘ecology of mind’ we all live within is relational. It’s not transcendent. It’s not dependent on ‘peak experiences’ or ‘healing our trauma’. It is about being quiet, in-between, uncertain – and having a sense of wonder at all this that we can learn – together.
Unpsychology is bittersweet; honouring sorrow and suffering – personal and collective. It can be revolutionary in values and intent, wild of thought and action, but it is also nostalgic and quiet, grounded, real and beautiful. It is a portal between worlds – between paradigms that always seem to be cancelling each other out.
There is, perhaps, a strand of golden thread that is woven through our clamorous culture that, if we follow through the world, may lead us somewhere beautiful and still. To rest. For only a short while, perhaps. To breathe in sweet air and dive back into another pool - or another - to find new worlds that might be as close a breathing.
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