report by John-Peter Gernaat
This workshop by Rev. Michaël Merle opens up three periods of our biography: the early childhood period before seven years of age, the childhood years of seven to fourteen and the years of youth, fourteen to twenty one.
How can we delve into our toddler years when we have very little memory of those years? We may have been told by parents that we had a challenge to overcome? Or we may recall ourselves that there was a life challenge that we had to overcome. We can find a way of integrating this life challenge through fairy tales.
Fairy tales have archetypal characters. A king is a king, a witch is a witch. There is no need to personify these characters. The secret in fairy tales lies in that all the characters that show up in a fairy tale are a part of the listener. There is no one in a fairy tale who is outside the listener. We all have the wicked witch in us, and it is okay for her to die. We all have a prince charming in us who rescues the day.
Michaël introduced us to Jung’s archetypes. He placed the twelve archetypes into quadrants. Each quadrant speaks to an archetypal desire: a yearning for paradise, leaving a mark on the world, connecting with others, and giving structure to the world. We may feel drawn more strongly to one of these desires. Within each quadrant there is an archetype that speaks to what Jung understood to be our ego nature, our self-nature and our soul-nature. Identifying one archetype provides the central character of the fairy tale.
Our challenge was to write a fairy tale in which the central character (identified from the archetype within the quadrant of our dominant yearning) overcomes a challenge, in typical fairy tale style. Every character that appears in the fairy tale is an aspect of ourselves. These characters may appear of their own accord during the writing, and it becomes a valuable exercise to identify each character within ourselves and how they have helped us overcome the challenge. Significant role players in our early childhood could also appear but only as a projection of our relationship to them.
For some members on the workshop this exercise revealed aspects that they had as yet not been able to integrate into their lives. The fairy tale does not reveal any personal secrets except to the writer. Anyone else hearing the fairy tale may relate to it in a very different way, recognising other aspects of themselves rather than the hidden secrets of the writer.
The period age of seven to fourteen presents a very different stage of life. Rudolf Steiner gave a lecture on how we would ideally experience the four temperaments, one in each seven-year cycle of development culminating in an adult who can draw on the temperament most suited to a situation but generally operating as a healthy choleric, being able to say “yes” and “no” to the things that present in life in a healthy way. However, our development is seldom ideal and we live with the consequences of drawing in a latent or premature temperament into childhood.
Each temperament is associated with an element. We created a totem pole for ourselves onto which we identified our totem animal in each of the elements that resound with the temperaments: from earth, water, air to fire, being melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine and choleric. Selecting the totem animal we most identified within our childhood years, we wrote a fable.
A fable is a story in which the characters are all animals. These animals are anthropomorphised, rather than behaving as animals would in nature. However, a central characteristic of the animal forms the basis of the tale, e.g., a hare that runs fast and stops, while a tortoise is slow but steady. The central character is the one with which we identify while the other characters appear in the fable to teach the central animal a lesson.
The fable we wrote was about our central animal learning something of value from an animal of very opposite character. Then we wrote a fable in which our main character had to overcome a challenge entirely alone. Other animals that might appear were subsidiary to the main character overcoming the challenge and not there to assist.
It was interesting coming to terms with something I saw as a challenge in childhood through writing about it in a way that brought resolution.
The years of youth are guided by the planetary soul types. It is quite easy to recognise the planetary soul type of a young person. Set a task and see how they behave. In this workshop Michaël created an imaginary situation and we had to identify how our young self would have behaved. There were six behaviour options and therefore it was quite simple to make a choice. The choice seemed obvious, until we added the planet to each behaviour type. The first reaction might have been to reject that as our planetary soul type, but a little bit of thought very quickly clarified that this was indeed our “home planet”.
Michaël shared the rhythm of the planets according to the cycle of the week, which when we look at the relationship of each planet to the sun from our earth perspective reveals a rhythm from inner to outer planet and back:
This means that the correct order of the planets is:
This is the proof that the names of Venus and Mercury were switched around at some point after the naming of the days of the week.
What are the soul capacities of each of the planetary soul types:
The planetary soul types become illumined by the light of the sun when the Ego is “born” at adulthood. Although we will always retain our “home planet” the sun (“I”) enables us to move freely to any other planetary soul type for which a situation calls.
Once we had each established our planetary soul type, we wrote a letter to our teenage self from the perspective of our adult self (the self now illumined by the sun) reassuring our younger self that life would be amazing. Thereafter the letters were ‘mailed’ to our teenage selves, and we were able to read them aloud privately as our teenage selves receiving the reassurance of our future adult selves.
This process was quite revealing. We forget something that Michaël pointed out: teenagers are able to feel, but not able to think. Teenagers have a great desire to express what they are feeling. The mistake is to think that what a teenager expresses comes from thinking. I recall so much ‘thinking’ that I did as a teenager and the impressions of all that ‘thinking’ (silently expressing to myself) still live quite acutely with me. This exercise was able to shine the light of the sun (the “I”-constitution) very clearly onto that part of my life and put into a correct context. It lifted a great weight from my shoulders, not because I resolved anything through reflective therapy, but simply by being able, at last, to place it all in a context that, within my life’s biography, makes sense.
These three workshops are difficult to characterise. Each workshop dealing with a different period of life and different style of writing, together forming a step-by-step process that takes the puzzle pieces of life and slots them into the correct places to produce a clear picture. This is unlike other biography workshops that rely on a reflection back across one’s life to find all the puzzle pieces and analyse them, hoping in the process of analysis that they will reveal their correct place in the picture. This series of Biography Through Story workshops is gentle and the results can be pondered for a long time, because they are revealing rather than disturbing or traumatic.
Reviews from other participants:
“To clearly understand, express and integrate who we are as individuals has never been more needed than now. The Biography Through Story series of workshops facilitated by Michaël Merle were for me truly wonderful. I deeply appreciated how the process and stories were clearly explained and unpacked for us each to use to personally explore our own biography. While the freedom of expression was encouraged, the privacy of each participant’s work was absolutely respected. This I believe was the key as to why each session worked so well. Thank you Michaël for this very refreshing and rewarding experience.” - Adam Botha
The Biography Through Story workshop by Rev. Michaël Merle gives us as participants a wonderful opportunity to delve deeper into the archetypal characters of man and animal and the planets. By doing that we are empowered to look into our own biographies from early childhood to adulthood with imagination and empathy. Thus, we discover new ways of understanding ourselves and our lives. The positive aspect of the method Michaël uses gives us confidence and trust to plunge into our past with enthusiasm in order to write our own fairy tale and fable. In the discussion following the writing session we are free to share our feelings and experiences if we wish. I have participated in various biography workshops in my life but none as innovative, creative and relaxed as this one.
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