A Solo Road Trip

Prairie Harvest Sunrise

I am away from home, and at present, sitting in a Tim Horton’s coffee shop for a simple, fast-food breakfast while waiting for the nearby Chapters book store to be ready for my book-signing event. This is my third such event in Calgary in three days.

Friday I drove from my home in Saskatchewan, to Calgary. I left in darkness as it was a five and a half hour drive across the prairies to reach the first Chapters bookstore. I stopped a few times, once for gas and coffee, and once to get a photo of the rising sun.

Once in the store at the beginning of the final long week-end of the summer, I sold sixteen books. I exceeded my expectations and that of the store itself which predicted somewhere between five and ten books might be sold because it was a warm, sunny day and few shoppers were expected. Once the event ended, I drove to a room I had rented in a private home. Yesterday, I went to a second store with a sale of fourteen books during a day with significantly less customer traffic.

No internet at the house meant that I maintained a curious silence that was filled with listening to music, a bit of writing on the third novel, and finally trying to catch up on sleep. Tonight I drive on to Red Deer where I will stay with my son and his family. Tomorrow I drive to Edmonton for the final book-signing event for the long week-end, returning to stay at my son’s for the week. Somewhere along the way, I will find my way back here.

The whole idea of a book-selling road trip has a certain appeal – meeting new people, listening to their stories of books they are writing and hoping to publish, talking about my own books, engaging with others … for me, as an introvert, this is a challenge that surprisingly becomes fulfilling. But needless to say, after four or five hours, I am totally drained of energy, too tired to enjoy any kind of socialising. No one in the stores would ever guess that I am an introvert. Introversion isn’t marked by one’s behaviour and presence, but by the flow of libidinal energy – draining one’s inner batteries and recharging them.

Of course, this makes for me being tired after an event and not good company. As a result, I do these trips solo with my wife staying home to keep busy with home and work life rather than have her sit on the sidelines while I sell books, then again sitting on the sidelines because of my being too tired for anything else. Being separated isn’t a preferred state of affairs for either of us. But, it is the best scenario we can manage. At least we know and understand the needs of the other and thus accept the time apart with grace.

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Live Your Nonsense – Part Two

Live Your Nonsense

“I have seen more than one case who got stuck in too much wisdom and was unable to live, and what is the use of wisdom when it stands in the way of life? The young want to learn whatever there is to learn, and then go out into life and experience more. People sometimes think that analysis will take the place of life, they protect themselves in that way against
much nonsense that might be lived. But mind you, if you don’t live your nonsense you will never have lived at all, and the meaning of life is surely that it is lived, not avoided.”

The above words are from Carl Jung in the early 1930s. As I read these words, I thought of Buddhism where the goal of awareness does not take a person to place of privilege such as we grant people who attain lofty goals of wisdom here in the western world. As soon as I read the above words, I went in search of a parable of a Zen Buddhist monk:

“Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.”

Daryl Sharp quotes the above words of C.G. Jung in his book which found its title in the quotation – “Live Your Nonsense.” Jung’s words made me recall my own youth and the approach to midlife, a time when I sought as hard as I could, to become wise. I took class after class, degree after degree … and it left me holding a somewhat empty bag. What had I gained in the process, other than a higher pay scale? Nothing. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was still the outsider, a stranger in a strange land. I still made the same mistakes, perhaps even made bigger mistakes as I tried to fool myself and others that I had somehow obtained wisdom. I fooled most who knew me as they mistook my degrees for wisdom. But, those who were closest to me, saw the truth. I was slipping more and more into living an unconscious nonsense.

Struggling for too many years trying to rein in the nonsense, I gave up and went into analysis. I began to write, something I had abandoned as I entered a teaching career and raised a family. I needed a respectable job that paid respectable money so that I wouldn’t repeat my father’s nonsense. With the writing, I began to remember the unconscious responses to childhood trauma, acts of nonsense that likely saved me from the hopeless realities of my life. And after more than another decade of struggle, I began to wonder if perhaps I needed to trust my unconscious, to follow rather than attempt to rigidly control.

I don’t want to imply that I didn’t keep a critical eye open to keep me out of harm’s way as I am certain that not all in the unconscious is worth bringing out into the outer world. I was wary and took baby steps, pulling back to find out what nonsense had emerged and judge its worth in my life.

And now, well into my second half of life, I see what has been added to my life and what has been left on the sidelines. I can’t talk about gains or losses, because it isn’t about that. Rather, it is about self-discovery. I am the writer I once dreamed as a youth that I could be – well not quite that good a writer, or famous by any stretch of imagination. I am socially awkward, but in a way that others accept. I am a sun worshipper – not in a religious or cult sense, but in a body sense. I love being warm, and being clothing free – yes, foolish in our modern world, a strange way to live my nonsense. Yet, in doing so, I feel more balance in my life. I feel healthier than I have ever felt, both mentally and physically.

Still, it isn’t all champagne and roses for in living my nonsense, those closest to me have to struggle with that nonsense which often doesn’t jibe with their nonsense. So, where does that take me? Obviously, I can’t answer that question. So, I’ll go back to doing what I do best and see where that leads me.

Yes, I know. What about Daryl Sharp’s book? Sorry. I leave it to you to follow up on his book which is available as a free eBook download from Inner City Books.


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Live Your Nonsense – Part One

Live Your Nonsense

I have finally sat down with my “free” copy of Live Your Nonsense, by Daryl Sharp, and now feel compelled to share here, what I have been learning there. I have often reflected on various books by Daryl Sharp, a Jungian analyst I became some sort of friend back in the 90s, based on the fact that I was turning to Jungian psychology as I felt myself plummeting into darkness. He wrote books, and he had some history in the small town I was living in at that time. We exchanged emails and letters by post and I bought a lot of books from him, books he had written and books he had published for other Jungian analysts. Over time, I have come to appreciate this man and his work. So it was a surprise when I entered into this particular book only to discover that Daryl had changed his writing style and had become more personal. This is more personal, an unusual act of “self-revelation” on his part. Right away I knew that I was going to like this book. After all, “self-revelation” is basically why and what I write here. So what is this bit about nonsense?

As he writes in the introduction to his book”

“nonsense is not necessarily frivolous, foolish or sinful. It may be politically or socially incorrect, but it is often a pointer to the essence of one’s personality, which is what we Jungians call individuation—becoming who you were meant to be. There is no denying that this is an elusive, subjective concept, not something
that can be imposed, or judged, from outside.”

In reading these words, everything begins to fit back into place with what I know about Daryl. This has nothing to do with nonsense, but in honouring the essence of who you are as an individual, “becoming who you were meant to be.” I have recently spoken about this to a young writer I have taken to mentoring. And realising that, I knew that it was no accident that I had delayed reading this book. And so I turned again to the book wondering what I would find that I needed to find.

Well, it didn’t take long. Right away, on the first page following the introduction Daryl says:

“If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that that I am unconscious most of the time. Not always, but mostly—and, moreover, usually unaware of it. That is in the nature of the psyche: the ego cannot see itself from the outside. This means that everything is colored by subjectivity, from experiments
with electrons to the belief, or not, in God. Of course, this results in nonsense of all sorts.”

As I am human, likely a lot less wise than Daryl Sharp, I did a quick look at myself and realised that I was – I am – basically unconscious. I mean how many of us sit on the sidelines and monitor ourselves with a corner of our brain so that we don’t say something, or do something, without first filtering out the slips of tongue or the body language, or acts that have us protest too loudly that we didn’t know where “that came from.” I am frequently asked why I said such and such, why I stared, why I did some act that is deemed way out of line with my normal version of myself. Typically, my answer is silence.

How do I answer that when I don’t have an answer? I guess I could try and come up with some sort of response, mostly contrived BS, that would somewhat give an explanation. However, I’m not that quick on my toes and the silence is left hanging. And I look rather foolish in the process. What a blow to the ego. And, it seems to be getting worse as I get older. No matter how hard I try, I can’t make any sense out of it – and there it is, nonsense. I don’t necessarily mean foolishness, but responses to life that make no sense.

So far so good. I am anxious to read more. I’ll be back, the muse willing, with more to say about the book.

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Footprints on the Psyche and Soul of the Other

Morning evidence that she was here the night before.

As we move through life, we leave traces of our passage though we rarely see that evidence with our own eyes. For the most part, we are blind to the effect we have on others, and even blinder to the effect we have on the planet. It seems no matter how self-aware and other-aware we get, there is too much below the surface of consciousness, too many filters and complexes, to interfere in our ability to see the trail of cause and affect that we leave behind us as we journey through time and place.

I was having our usual morning coffee beside my wife, a silent ritual we share as we watch the world wake up outside the large windows in our living room. By chance, I noticed this footprint, my wife’s footprint, highlighted on the floor. Of course that meant time to take a photo. I knew that the photo was destined to make it here to serve as inspiration for today’s post.

The weather outside was darker than normal because of overcast conditions and a light rainfall. Yet, inside where we were warm, it didn’t feel as gloomy as it looked. Why? Without question, the answer lay in the affect the close presence of the other had on our mood. We continue to sit in silence well aware of the other’s presence. Whether we know it or not, we have both altered the destinies of the other as well as the self because of the footprints we have left and continue to leave on each other’s psyche and soul.

Is this because of choice or because it was written in the stars, a different level of choice?

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Psychological Fear of Being in the Light

Black-capped chickadee.

Today’s photo was taken a week ago when the sky was overcast which allowed only a low level of light to reach these northern prairies in Canada. One of the things I noticed when going over my photos, including this one, was the fact of muted colours. The rich colours I am used to seeing was not there. If anything, the world looked anaemic. Of course, this gave me the only excuse I needed to write up this blog, a follow-up to the last post, chasing away the light.

Yesterday, I spent my time doing my taxes for 2016. And yes, I did my taxes while clothing free. Doing taxes is a depressing activity regardless if one ends up paying more taxes or getting a refund, at least as far as I am concerned. It felt like I was digging in the shadows, searching for buried – well, I can’t really call it buried treasure – for buried numbers. Like most who do their own taxes, I had papers strewn all over the office in scattered piles that I hoped would provide the needed numbers. In the end, the taxes got done and I was worn out in spite of the fact that I managed to squeak out a small refund from the government. A depressive fog had settled in while I hid in my office from the tiny bit of light that was outside, filtered light.

With the lack of sunshine, there is a significant change in our energy levels, in our libido. For some, it is more serious than for others. This is especially noticeable in northern climes where the number of daylight hours is at its lowest point. In Canada, we talk about the phenomena as “cabin fever.” In medical terms it is called “Seasonal Affective Disorder – S.A.D.” But of course, not everyone is affected the same. For some, the winter is a time when energy blossoms. These are the people who need to hide from the sun during the summer. But for the rest, and majority of the human population, light equals energy – energy equals libido.

So, why do most of us continue to hide from the sun? We use sunscreen lotions and sprays [yes, I know, there is the fear of skin cancer] for protection. The more worried we are about cancer, the higher the Sun Protection Factor [SPF] we use. We even resort to buying clothing based on the SPF of the fabric. We don’t critically evaluate our real needs for protection, needs that change based on our adaptations to being in the sunshine. We base our decisions on fear that has been induced by the manufacturers of sunscreen products. We ignore the basic truth that these manufacturers are in it for profit, not for our basic human welfare. We base our decisions on the illusions fed to us by the clothing industry that echoes the petrochemical industry with their sunscreen products. We make our choices to hide from the sun out of fear, a fear we ignore and call being in tune with the latest fashions.

It’s as simple as that. We are afraid of stepping out of the shadows – psychologically afraid.

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Chasing Away The Light

Looking away from the light to see reality as shadows.

I walk a lot in the various towns and cities we visit in North America. In both Canada and the U.S.A., my wife and I have noticed that the vast majority of the houses we pass as we wander these communities, have their draperies closed during the daytime, especially on bright and sunshine filled days. I realise that there are a a number of good reasons for this in the opinions of the people living in those houses. The majority want privacy. Some want to protect their furniture from becoming faded because of the intense sun’s rays. Some simply want to escape the distractions of a passing world. And then there are others who simply prefer living in the shadows.

In my home, draperies are opened when we wake up in the morning so that we entice whatever light that exists to fill our home. The draperies stay open until after sunset and the darkness returns to the land. Then, we turn on lights within our home until it is time for us to go to bed, and to sleep.

So how does this play out in the larger world, this hiding from the light? When I look at my home community, province, and country, I see that logic and common sense  seem to be almost figments of imagination. We all have our polarised ideas and ideals to which we cling to with fierce determination in spite of what might be considered opposing facts. Of course, we can’t see or hear anything clearly when our filters are engaged, not even the things we do or say are evident to us.

In the world-at-large appears to be spinning out of control, we seem to be digging shelters that are purposely hidden in the shadows within which we can sort of protect ourselves from the forces of darkness and the forces of light. We need to hide. There is conflict and that only means pain. We want to build walls to keep out the world. And that need is reflected in our communities and countries. Trump wants to build walls to keep out what he perceives is darkness. In the U.K., the same sentiment is being enacted as a wall of nationalism is being erected to keep out their perceived darkness. The drapes are being closed in the hopes that the problem goes away if we somehow just stay out of the light.

Plato’s cave as described in his book, “The Republic.”

We don’t want to know the larger story, we feel much more comfortable looking at the shadows which we then project as reality. I think here of the shadows in Plato’s story of the cave.  In his writing, Plato discusses:

“And if some one were to drag him violently up the rough and steep ascent from the chamber, and refuse to let him go till he had drawn him out into the light of the sun, would he not, think you, be vexed and indignant at such treatment, and on reaching the light, would he not find his eyes so dazzled by the glare as to be incapable of making out so much as one of the objects that are now called true?”

As Plato notes, humans have an aversion to light. We get angry when what is exposed by light contradicts what we hold as our truths. Of course, this is not just about humans in the past, this remains as psychological insight for today. As a culture we are fleeing from awareness – of self and other. We are fearful of being exposed and vulnerable, so we hide in the shadow imagining and hoping to be saved by the light that is filtered. The hard reality is that we need to be dragged into the light to expose to make ourselves vulnerable. Carl Jung had this to say, words that are more important now than perhaps ever in our human history:

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.”


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Cracks in the Ice Freeing the Unconscious to Surface

Open water along the river

The past few days I found myself in northern Alberta near the town of High Prairie.  My daughter lives with her husband in a log cabin near this river. The first day we were visiting, the river was frozen over with a white cap of snow. Twenty-four hours later, the river began to appear in spots, free of the ice and snow beneath which it had been hidden for most of the winter.

I knew as soon as I had taken this photo, that I was going to use it for this post when I returned home. Like the river, this blog site is coming out of hibernation. Or, perhaps I should say, out of an incubation for beneath the surface of silence, there has been a significant amount of burbling and swirling that were stirring up the need to write here.

Where will this be going? I don’t know yet. I will have a few days to think about it before I settle on a theme for then next five or six weeks, after which I will be hiking in Europe with my wife on the European Peace Walk.

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I am the Universe

The first novel in a series that allows imagination to plumb the depths of self, an act of soul playing and celebrating being alive.

“Every good idea and all creative work are the offspring of the imagination, and have their source in what one is pleased to call infantile fantasy. Not the artist alone, but every creative individual whatsoever owes all that is greatest in his life to fantasy. The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.” [Jung, 1921]

I am a writer. I’ve known that I was a writer since I was a teenager. Likely the roots are even older than my first creative efforts in the form of poetry and sketches contrived with words. But to examine that past under a microscope to determine the exact moment in time I became a writer is irrelevant to the fact that I am a writer.

For many years I wrote what I believed was non-fiction, a written record of truths. Some of these were published as editorials in newspapers, some were published as social histories, and others focused on education – computer-mediated-communication and second-language learning. It wasn’t until the recent past when I turned to writing my autobiography in a three-volume series, writing that I believed was also non-fiction, when I realised that nothing I had written at any time in the past, wasn’t a product of something beyond my simple ego, my conscious intention.

I had learned quite a while ago that the use of active imagination as a counsellor and therapist, allowed me and my clients to access deeper truths, stuff hidden in the shadows of the client’s personal past. Were these deeper truths that allowed both myself and my client to work together to bring some needed healing, actually truths? Or was it all just fantasy? Could I trust memories? In time, it became obvious to me through working with clients, and on my own issues, that the truth was indeed present and even larger than what had been found.

I saw my story seeping into the stories of others, with the reverse also happening. I saw my story reflected in the stories and writings of others when I remarked within myself, “yes!” Even science fiction stories spoke to me, telling me truths that had been hidden behind a veil. The boundaries, the walls between my story and the stories of everyone else had begun to crumble despite my desperate attempts to barricade my “self” from the “others” who would absorb whatever or whoever I was, resulting in my disappearance. My head [ego] still believed that it all was “I-it.” There was myself separated from the universe.

But now, I can’t quite hold that “truth” anymore. The “it” has disappeared. I have become the “it” as well as the “I.” I am the universe.

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Coming to Terms with the Unconscious

Yucatan Woodpecker – Mayan Riviera

It has been a long time, three months in fact, since my last post here. The only reason I can give for this extended leave is simply that I was actively resisting being pulled into speaking, thinking, and observing whatever it was that was stirring within. I told myself that I was simply “being in the moment” with life. My life was blessed with sunshine and all was well – well, at least for the most part. These words are not fabrication of the reality that I have been living; rather, they are only about what was happening at the level of consciousness. Naturally, being myself, I just had to find out what was going on, I had to dig beneath the surface just like this Yucatan Woodpecker that visited our garden to poke beneath the surface of a palm tree behind our little casa near the Caribbean Sea.

Oh, it wasn’t as if I wasn’t engaged in inner worlds, as I was busy working on a novel, a creative act that is all about imagination. My story was being peopled by both Celtic and Nordic gods and goddesses who were interacting with ordinary mortals – okay, maybe not so ordinary. When I finally sat down to write this blog post, I was re-engaging with the novel in my relocated office and library in my Canadian home. The winterlude escape was over and I knew that before I could return to the story, I had to attend to the burbling below the surface as though attending to an itch that defied being reached.

When I write, it seems that the story manifests itself through my fingers touching the keypad of my laptop computer. I am a curious bystander, not really the author. I know better than to claim credit for the work – or the responsibility for what is said. The story and the words emerge from a shadowy place, the unconscious. Somehow I get the idea that it is a combination of both personal and collective unconscious that stirring the contents beneath my awareness. Naturally, I feel somewhat slighted in the process as I feel that if left to my own wits, I could tell a good story on my own.

Jung once asked what one was to do with this problem, that of the unconscious. His response written almost a hundred years ago, seems to have been directed to me dealing with the creative fantasy novel that I am currently writing:

“The meaning and value of these fantasies are revealed only through their integration into the personality as a whole – that is to say, at the moment when one is confronted not only with what they mean but also with their moral demands.”

I found this quote in a collection that cobbles together a number of writings by Jung on Active Imagination, in the section that has Jung offer preparatory notes for an excerpt for CW 8 dealing with the Transcendent Function. Of course – the story though fantasy and fiction, is providing me with information from the depths that I need to wrestle with in order to integrate, in some meaningful and moral manner, into my personality. I am being taught while I write for I am ripe for what needs to be heard. As the expression goes when a student is ready, the teacher will appear. Little did I know that the teacher can be the unconscious itself.

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Who is Responsible?

I’ve been having a discussion regarding the idea being responsibility for other people’s thoughts and feelings. Our society pays lip service to the notion that we all must own our own thoughts and feelings. Yet, when it comes to things that grate against what we hold is true for ourselves such as the freedom to wear or not wear what we want really don’t believe in freedom at all. We want to control, we need to control others. And when they don’t obey, they become our enemies. We abhor different. “Remove the hijab, the niqab, the burka. Don’t be naked. Don’t dress like white trash. You are making me angry. It’s all your fault!

For some reason, call it insecurity and self-doubt, we believe others when they tell us we are responsible for their anger, their sadness, their happiness, their very life. With the exception of being responsible as parents to care for our children until they can care for themselves, this is not even remotely true.

If I, as an adult male, smile at a child (I am a grandfather and father and not a paedophile), the child invariably smiles back. I didn’t do anything but smile. Yet somehow, if the child cries (what wound has the child suffered?) I somehow am responsible for that response. Why did the child cry when a hundred others smiled in return? If I am to believe that I am responsible for the tears and the smiles with the same action, logic gets thrown out the window.

How you respond to any stimulus is your responsibility. Of course, since most of those responses are unconscious responses based on complexes that grew out of your adaptation to life, it becomes easy to understand why you would blame others for your feeling responses. Society is nothing but a collective of this individual unconscious response, magnified. And it shows up in our laws, in our phobias, in our responses to others who appear different, behave different, think different, pray differently, and even eat different foods cooked in strange ways. These others become our scapegoats the ones we blame for our own fear and confusion. The last person we would expect to be responsible for our bad behaviours towards others would be ourselves.

She deserved to get raped. Did you see what she was wearing?” We blame the victim. If a child suffers abuse, we still have a hard time with the child turning his or her parent in to the authorities. In the end, the child gets blamed for ripping the family apart. If a man gets raped, he is to blame for not having the balls to stand up for himself. He is punished for being weak.

And finally for this post, this last image spells it out clearly. “Somebody is at fault and it sure as hell isn’t us.” [Yes, this was said with a bit of sarcasm]

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