The Dog’s story; The mad dog and the wolf: Bringing home the wild and the civilised.
This article will focus on the supervisory matrix whose purpose is to make compassionate inquiry into what is happening in practice. Supervision is considered here to be a ‘quality of looking,’ which attempts to be fully present to what is happening. The story unfolds through the ‘dog’s story’ and case of Lac Caninum
The article is adapted from the book ‘Vital Practice – Stories from the healing arts: The homeopathic and supervisory way.’ This is a unique book in the homeopathic literature in that the stories explore specifically a homeopathic approach to supervision and by turn a supervisory approach to homeopathy. The invitation here is to make a connection with our common task as patients and practitioners; to adapt, survive and flourish in a continually changing environment.
In telling the stories we meet along the way with eternal questions:
Are some people healers and others not?
Do we think we can heal anyone but ourselves?
What is the difference between healing and curing diseases?
Feeling for the Way
The homeopathic and supervisory way is simple in essence. It is to attend to healing in accepting what is present here and now. The homeopathic response is to go in the direction already taken, making a minimal and energetic intervention. After all, aren’t we doing what we can already to adapt, survive and flourish? This is our natural tendency to homeostasis. It’s hard enough accepting what we are doing without trying to force a change to doing something completely different. The hard thing is to see what is happening in the first place and then, even harder, to accept its presence without condition. This is what we do when we take and receive a case.
This habit of noticing and accepting ‘what is’, when applied to clinical practice, is supervision. In a spiritual context it is the path of enlightenment. (Carroll) In the context of relationship it is the way of healing.
The most effective supervision is a mercurial thing. It is hard to get a hold of, difficult to say what is happening or why. It’s just like the process of taking a case then. ( Ryan 2002). In bringing together the scattered parts of a case, supervision, as a ‘quality of looking’, attempts to see what the matter is without fear or favour. Supervision is a consciousness raising activity. ‘It wakes us up to the dream of practice.’ (Balint)
In the language of the Organon, supervision would be dedicated to unprejudiced observation. It is concerned to take the overview;
“all these perceptible signs ( which) represent the disease in its whole extent, that is, together they form the true and only conceivable portrait of the disease. ” Organon aphorism 6 Boericke edition.
This chapter follows a case of Lac Caninum, the dogs story, as it weaves its way through the patient’s story, ‘the dream of practice,’ therapeutic relationship, supervisory conversation, myth and proving in order to conceive the portrait of the disease.
The dog’s story
The ancients knew dog’s milk to be a powerful remedy and antidote to many deadly poisons . (Tyler) The patient in this story is a man recovering from alcohol dependence and its poisoning effects. Now ‘dry,’ (that is, no longer drinking alcohol) Phil inhabits a world of self disgust, fear and anger. Being with him brings to mind walking warily along a precarious icy ledge, half way up a mountain and in a gale. I am expecting him to fall at any moment. He surprises me with his tenacity; looking down time and again into the abyss, terrified of falling into drink again, holding on at times by his fingertips.
Not every walk alongside another is a gentle stroll. To be homeopathic, we walk alongside the other and in their territory. (Norland)
Two striking features lead to the remedy Lac Caninum for Phil. He feels such disgust for himself that he “could not bear to be in his body ” he says, and related to this, that “Everyone was right to look down upon him.” He reacts strongly to the remedy, needing to be ‘held’ through the process. I need in turn to keep a hold. I ask myself
“Who am I for him?”
The essence of the dog’s milk proving is expressed by the phrase “Believing oneself held in contempt.” Certainly if ever there was a man in need of unconditional loving he is it. I take to supervision a need not to be provoked by his provoking behaviour or to re- prescribe, but to stay with the process.
“I must always remember, on a daily basis, how lucky I am and how bad I’ve been….
Addiction is a dog at my heels… My behaviour is so low. You walk in dark places if you go with me. I need to be led.”
The tamed wolf is a creature of shame; licking instead of biting the hand that feeds. He is also the conduit – between wild and tame – the dog can turn after all.
Yearning to belong. Anxious he will never belong, will never tame the wildness; unable to express the conflict between primal and civilised self. At a physical level, Lac Canium shows this in wandering, undecided pains, from side to side, typically in the throat. Literally ‘going for their throats’. With the D.Ts they can see snakes and in fear and revulsion suffer sudden attacks of violent rage. They know there is something wrong with them and they can’t it; the source of healing, the wildness.
In mythology the dog is the guardian at the gates of the underworld. The dog accompanies the fool on her journey into the unknown. The dog too is the magic animal. He brings back what has been forgotten and must now be re-membered.
There was no way I could step out onto that ledge with Phil without the help of animal nature. There was no way I could track this patient without stepping out there.
I had my ropes and ice picks sure; the formal space of the consultation – and the remedy; the echo answering his call. I could hold on. I could cut the rope too and let him fall if needs be to save my skin. (I may be a fool but I’m not that foolish.) One reason as a homeopath to work with others – to be in supervision – someone to hold my rope while I’m holding his. The addicted patient being with a recovering addict as mentor also supports the therapeutic process, in that I am freed from following every stumble. That his is AA mentor’s task. I can instead take an overview, to look back at the way we have come and on to the way ahead. Up to this point we are safe enough. It is a dog’s tale – no wild wolf here. We are hanging onto the ledge; the abyss far below.
I am reminded that Hermes, Greek mercury, (see chapter four Aint Gonna Die For You) was previously associated with roadways and boundaries among other things. Getting lost, slipping into the experience, ‘bearing’ the dis-ease, (see chapter three Cheetah,) requires the ‘safe enough’ and ‘risky enough’ presence of formal space: There is a distinction to be made after all between everyday conversation and the highly charged activity of storytelling and active listening involved in taking and receiving the case. (See chapter two, Let’s Go Fly a Kite)
The tale continues
“Manawee wishes to marry. The father of the twins he courts tells him he has first to guess their names. This he fails to do. His dog runs back to the twin’s hut and listens to their conversation. They talk to each other using their names. He starts on his way back to his master to tell him the names. On the way he is distracted by a large meaty bone a lion had left. He smells it and without another thought, leaves off his journey to lick all the flavour from the bone. He forgets his task and the names of the women. Again and again he returns to the hut and again and again he is distracted and forgets his task and the names. It is only in the nick of time, as the sisters are about to wed, that the little dog keeps to his resolution and goes straight away to his master and reveals the names. He has to ignore tempting scents and tracks. He survives a terrible fight with a stranger who wounds him. He keeps to his path. The man on hearing the names, bathes the dog’s wounds and hoists him onto his shoulders. He then runs to the sisters and finds them dressed ready to journey with him as his brides. They all live happily ever after, the man, the twins and the dog.” ( Clarissa Pinkola-Estes paraphrased)
The dog is the magician who can pass through the crack in the door in search of knowledge. What is the knowledge to be brought back in each case? The task of the dog, the wild to civilised animal, is to bring it back. A part of each of us is open to receiving knowledge, be it just a crack, the magician will pass through. Dual nature; civilised and wild, is married in this story in the body of the twins, but only after the task is completed, the knowledge gained, the names remembered.
It is the task that is important. It is that in the end that moves us along, keeping us to the path: What is the task in the story? To remember the name. What is the patient in my story trying to name? What is the name of the remedy that answers? That is my task, to follow the path without distraction.
Feelings can be temptations and distractions along the way. We have to get right down to it, like the dog, in the nick of time fighting for it, as if our lives depend upon it, and then we remember and act on what we know.; that which is present in the room, is expressed throughout as sign, sensation, metaphor, action and is perceived with right and left brain; intuited, understood, known.
What is the name of the dis-ease?
What is its action?
What is its path?
Keep to the path.
Remember the name.
Carrion eaters including the dog are universally associated with funerary customs and passage to the underworld. Hecate, the death goddess, had her gates guarded by the three headed hound, Cerberus. The dog in these terms is a symbol of journeying into unconsciousness; both conduit and guardian. (Graves)
The powerful dog myths and the consciousness raising in supervision give me confidence to go on, trusting to his unfolding story. If the dog can hold the door open to the wild, even a crack, then more than recovery from alcoholism is possible. That would be taming the beast. Recovering his own wilds nature is a deeper cure and now becomes possible. Healing disgust for who he is, and allowing himself to be, becomes possible.
What is the knowledge to be fetched back from the wild?
What is it we need to know?
What have we buried for shame?
The images I felt-sensed in practice with Phil and the fable of Manawee are relevant to our task of healing relationship in that they remind us to hold the connection between the rational technical side and letting go into the unknown to learn anew. Apollo and Dionysus are with us at every twist in the tale.
We get lost in our dreams, intuitions, felt-senses, metaphors – and find the way back out again to a more conscious, rational understanding. We are like HÃ¤nsel and Gretel, exiled in the wood, laying a trail of crumbs. And, like in the fairy tale, sometimes the journey is longer, harder, requires more craft and endurance than we are prepared for and even then we are asked to go on again. We need all the clues we can find on such a journey; both to go on as far as we need to go and to re-member the way home.
The homeopathic way is to journey in the direction already taken. The noticing is that feelings very often lead the way into the elemental story and that feelings too can just as often lose us the way; distracting, side-tracking, throwing us off the scent as in the story of Manawee. I use the term felt-sense to communicate the idea of feelings barely articulated, feelings that are sensed by the body rather than named as such. They aren’t yet attached to some comfort story. These take us to the more e-motional feelings – those connected to movement – and so down to the elemental story.
Amoebas continually change shape in response to more or less favourable conditions.
Immobile sea sponges produce unpleasant tasting chemicals to ward off prey. The sea anemone, a flower like animal, opens and closes its tentacles, and on being touched, shoots out stinging cells. These simple creatures are showing what I am calling, in a rather over simplified way, e-motion. They are reacting, automatically, to the presence of threat or prey. In evolutionary terms, e-motion comes before conscious feeling. It is an instinctive response, involving an automatic physical reaction. (For a proper discussion of the neurobiology of emotion and feeling see to the work of Antonio Damasio chapter two, and to his categorisation of emotion for the purposes of inquiry.)
“All living organisms from the humble amoeba to the human are born with devices designed to solve automatically, no proper reasoning required, the basic problems of life. Those problems are; finding sources of energy; incorporating and transforming energy; maintaining a chemical balance of the interior compatible with the life process; maintaining the organism’s structure by repairing it’s wear and tear; and fending off external agents of disease and physical injury. The single word homeostasis is convenient shorthand for the ensemble of regulations and the resulting state of regulated life. (Damasio)
This is why the cravings and aversions take such high prominence in a homeopath’s case recording; because all our various movements are designed, automatically, to bring us to equilibrium. This is mirrored in our appetites: We go about it in an odd way very often; it doesn’t look like any straight forward motion, but that’s us getting in the way of ourselves again isn’t it?
“I wan’t you to love me and so I will say horrible things to you and push you away.” (Ignatia in love)
“I wan’t to love and so I will choose a completely unsuitable and unavailable person to worship.” ( Natrum Muriaticum in love)
It does make sense of a kind once the full story is known….
Feelings, as opposed to e-motions, come and go. We can change them. They are our own, individual and private story. We make and re-make that constantly. The parts that settle become our comfort (or discomfort) stories; the sense and nonsense we make of our lives. Tell or hear our stories differently and the feelings shifts; the comfort story is interrupted. In telling our story to an active listener we can feel significantly better.
(See chapter one ” What is the matter?”).. for a time that is. Feelings have been aired, shared, released, reframed and re- storyed. Sometimes this enables us to make actual changes, if the more elemental story, that which speaks to our more primal motivations, is ed. Often it isn’t. The motive force, the e-motion, has not yet been engaged.
‘E-motion,’ core motivation, is ‘non human specific.’ (Sankaran) This is the level we are getting down to when we are looking at healing and dis-easing. When we are in touch with how our body moves and changes, expresses disturbance, in sensations and function, we are connecting with the force for change. (See also Sherr ‘The verb’)
I’m adopting the term e-motion simply to express felt-sense with enough force behind it to move us. It is reaction more than response. Feeling and e-motion are more properly indistinctly separated along a continuum between automatic, primal survival reactions and highly conscious, private, finely tuned sensitivity. We track through feelings very often, and sometimes we are waylaid there, like the dog in the tale Manawee, or else we can’t get a toehold in the first place, like Phil who has forgotten himself in addiction, and in either case, we lose our way.
Addiction is a case in point
Working with addictive tendencies emphasises that talk and comprehension are not enough. E-motions that literally move us to tears, shake us with fear or curl us up in mortification are required. We are looking for the movement. Feelings are not enough.
When Phil is suffering from withdrawal from addiction, his felt-sense of being precarious, needing to hold on, to do anything, drink himself to death rather than fall, took us to the movement of the remedy most homeopathic to him at that time, or so it seemed to me: Descent into self loathing, disgust and absolute contempt: Falling and fear of falling.
Lac Caninum has a sense of floating in air. The body is a loathsome, dirty thing to inhabit.
The journey of twelve steps
The ’12 steps programme’ for recovery from addiction, can be seen in the light of heroic tasks needing to be undertaken before a cycle of an inner transforming journey is completed. The programme involves being sponsored by a guide or mentor who, as in archetypal stories, has gone before on the journey, and can therefore now offer protection along the way. To change the fixed pattern of addiction we get alongside the other, walk the way with them. We do something; go out on a limb. It is easy to lose our way without a guide; to be waylaid, like Manawee, by oral satisfactions that distract us from our task; both filling us up and leaving us empty.
Phil is a good patient at this point and a good twelve stepper. He stays with the programme. He stays with the remedy. Like a tame dog, he doesn’t bite the hand that feeds him. He walks along the ledge, holding on by his finger tips at times, not looking down into the abyss. What is down there Phil?
In order to follow patients recovering from addiction, I need my guides; both the civilising maps and wild instinctual nature expressed in dreams and images. The dog expresses for me both wild nature and the way back home. Dogs are loyal pet animals as well as their wolvish selves. They guard the door between the known and risky, unknown, shadow worlds. I am stepping into the scary world of the recovering addict. In getting alongside my patient I am very glad to have the dog alongside me. These connections are made, ‘the dream of practice is woken up to’ in my regular conversations with my peer supervisor and in my own self supervisions walking my own companion dog along the cliff paths near my home. Phil’s case and the dog’s story echoes through the landscape. And in my wanderings I wonder where in Phil’s case is the wild nature, the dog as wild wolf?
Another patient, a young teenager born to a woman using heroin, had the peculiar symptom of not being able to stand her fingers to touch each other. She had very low self esteem, anorexia and a ‘hang dog’ expression. She recovered her spirits with Lac Canium and went on to express herself as a white faced, black clothed gothic beauty. She was ‘wolf whistled’ wherever she went.
Rajan Sankaran (2002) in referring to ‘Non Human Specific’ signs and symptoms, says these always involve movement. He focuses on the hand gesture in homeopathic consultation. The hands have a special importance in world mythology:
(Hands are) “those parts of our bodies that are like two small human beings in and of themselves. In olden times, the fingers were likened to legs and arms and the wrist joint to the head. Those beings can dance, they can sing.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes p 408
And from the same book, discussing the meanings of the myth of the Handless Maiden
(The devil has ordered the father to cut off the hands of his daughter.) …
“We can understand the removal of psychic hands in much the same way the symbol was understood by the ancients. In Asia, the celestial axe was used to cut one away from the unillumined self……(By) cutting off her hands, the father deepens the descent, hastens the ‘disolutio’, the difficult loss of all one’s dearest values, which means everything, the loss of vantage point, the loss of horizon lines, the loss of one’s bearings about what one believes and for what reason….When we say a woman’s hands are cut off, we mean she is bound away from self-comfort, from immediate self-healing, so very helpless to do anything except follow the age-old path.”
The hands express the elemental story, the one telling what it is drives us. Phil in recovery clings onto the path with his hands to prevent the fall. In the case of the young Goth girl, Lac Canium cannot bear the fingers of the hands to touch each other. They are the ‘little body’ she cannot bear to inhabit.
Dis-easing is pointed up to us in signs, symptoms and body language, gesture and posture. It is also pointed up in dreams, fantasies and illusions, cravings and aversions. Fine feeling helps us differentiate, characterise, get alongside, empathise. To play on this surface though is not enough. We have to get on down into the depths, go fishing for pearls.
Phil is an ‘expert’ in addiction. He knows all the wily ways of it. He’s no-body’s fool when it comes to that. He knows what to do to beat it. To be good. To be recovered. To be a model ex-addict. Only a fool would look down into the abyss. Yet what is this? Phil is so angry. Punches the wall. Doesn’t dare have a relationship. Yearns for family life, to belong. Cowers from it as from poisoned wine.
The Wolf and the Mad dog
The image that arose for me in relationship to Phil, was a landscape in which the wolf would have been very much at home. A bleak and snowy terrain hiding warm earth, fireside and friendship. The wolf’s story is quite different from the dog’s. The dog knows there is something wrong with him. He has lost his way. The focus is on the body. The dog is not aware of his ‘psychic captivity’ in the way the wolf is. The wolf however knows there is something wrong with the world – it has lost its way. (Assilem – Lac Lupinum)
Phil continued to recover from his addiction to alcohol, uncovering as he did a terrible rage. This both relieved and terrified him. The remedy Lyssin (saliva of rabid dog ) came in here as he railed against those he fancied himself dependent upon – including me. Missed appointments, turning up late, catatonic silences all characterised this period. It would be so easy to lose the way at this point. Holding the dog before us kept us on track. We literally nosed along.
I needed to bring Phil’s case to supervision regularly so that I wasn’t tempted to persecute him for his ‘bad behaviour’ and could see that this was his healing aggravation and not to take it on personally, however tempting it was at times to react against him.
No longer the beaten and tame dog but the mad and maddened creature, caught by the tail and spun by the devil. Wild nature through a toxic screen. Not for Phil the lone grandeur of the howling wolf. His wildness when it first came was expressed as mad dog. He did however stay the course. He did come to remember his name. He did look down into the abyss, he fell into his pain and not into alcohol, and he did return to tell his tale. In homeopathic terms, he aggravated after decades of suppression, and was all the better for it.
He went on to tell his tale to young addicted men in prison. He turned it around he told them: Turn yourself as Victim into vulnerable. Turn yourself as Persecutor into potent. Turn your need to be Rescued into being reflective and into taking responsibility. He mentored them. Phil turned from patient to mentor and later on to supervisor of other AA mentors. And throughout this journey he became more of Phil the wild and the civilised and less and less Phil the tamed and shamed. Hats off to Phil. A dogged traveller if ever there was one.
Inquiring within – self supervision
To work at the level of what I am calling here e-motion, requires of us a willingness to get interested. To get really interested, in ourselves as well as the other. To ‘wake up’ to our wild and instinctual, artistic and poetic, risk taking and courageous selves as well as to our more rational-technical knowings. Because we can only know others at the level we know ourselves.
We know what the matter is really, but sometimes it is very hard to witness. We prefer to tell all sorts of stories instead –
“It’s because of this and that.”
“It happened so long ago and can’t be changed now.”
” I can’t change it without them doing something first”
” I don’t remember.”
” It isn’t me it’s this wretched illness…..”
We come to the healing arts for witness; to stay on track, to retrace our steps, to re-connect with our e-motions, to hear our elemental stories in the echo between story teller and active listener….
I am a beaten dog
Who has forgotten the wolf
Who has lost his way
Who is holding on
Who is falling away
What is my name?
The three questions
We came in with three questions. They have weaved their way through our stories.
1. Are some people healers and others not?
There are no healers only healing relationship our stories have replied. There is only the way we relate to the healing archetype; to the dissolving of separation through compassionate inquiry –
“How is it for you?”
There is only the moment.
What is the quality of my presence in this moment?
How does my presence contribute to healing or not?
2. Do we think we can heal anyone but ourselves?
Healing is a self healing project comes the reply.
How do I move in relationship to myself?
To the world around me?
With self knowledge comes knowledge of the other,
Comes union with the other,