Blinded By Our Personal Lens

I am re-posting this blog post from March, 2011 when I was a university instructor in China. The ideas spoken in the blog are still relevant today.

This is a scene that I love to see over and over again when I go for a walk in Hong Mei Gong Yuan in ChangZhou.  With the sun out and being in a “sunny” mood, it is easy to buy into the illusion created in the park, an illusion of a time and place that has existed only in the heart of the people, a place dreamed about and wished for as the people went about living in a world that never matched the illusion.  But still, the illusion is taken as a reality of a golden era from the past and celebrated as “heritage.”

Ever curious, I wondered how this illusion would look from the other side.  I know that there must be balance which has to lie somewhere between the two versions of reality.  I think of myself when all is right in my world and the sun is shining and all of my needs have been met.  At that point in time, there are no blemishes, no ugliness in the world.  People smile and embrace me and I smile and embrace back.  Yet, when I am in a depression, the world is dark and colour is almost non-existent.  I am alone and the world looks a forbidding place that is ready to destroy me, to swallow me up.

When somewhere in the middle, I see both beauty and ugliness.  The world is a shifting mass of conflicting colours and ideas.  It is impossible to find right or wrong, the perfect good or the perfect evil.  Yet, evil is present.  But somehow, even in the evil there is goodness.  And in the good, shadows are present.  I think here of the world today where the Arab world is viewed with many different lenses with some seeing it as a dark pit of evil while others see it as the hope for a new world.  I also think of America which is also viewed with so many different lenses which cast it in the role of demon and of angel.  The truth is, somewhere in between.

Though knowing this, I am guilty of wanting perfection, wanting to be an angel of truth, deathly afraid of being a demon in disguise.  Perhaps the greatest fear is being a nobody trapped in between, invisible to my self and others.

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For the Women In My Life

When you look in the mirror repeat after me: "I am beautiful."

When you look in the mirror repeat after me: “I am beautiful.”

I am writing a different kind of post today, one that is for my daughters, my daughter-in-law, and all the women and girls that fill this incredible planet. This image is borrowed with hopes that no one takes issue with it’s use. This has been a man’s world for too long. It has been this way for so long that we think that this is the natural order of the universe. We have it encoded in our religions written and directed and lead by men who place women a step below men on the hierarchy of evolution.

Men rule the world by force and by subterfuge. We dominate by sheer muscle power, especially when our women are vulnerable. We built law codes that, for the most part, condone the practice of making women chattels of men, women as property. Century after century of male dominance has left both men and women believing that it has to be this way, that it is natural. Men rule the world by force out of fear. When humans are afraid, they flee the scene or they fight. Men fear women. The fight or flight response is instinctual. Men abandon women or they beat them.

In our modern world, it isn’t acceptable any more to do either.  So how do we keep women from realising their natural power as goddesses of creation? We use psychology and teach them that they need to buy a never-ending stream of products to use in order to be worthy. We create false models of perfection that teaches women to hate themselves, to hate their bodies, to devalue their power. We distract them from anything that might re-affirm their true worth as humans. We honour them and reward them when they accept these lies as truths.

So women starve themselves, punish their bodies to reach unrealistic models of perfection that becomes celebrated with riches and fame. Women are reduced to simply being bodies. When they look in the mirror they see the lie. They know that the image celebrated isn’t really who they are so they punish themselves even more in a desperate effort to be that mythical Madonna in a Barbie body.

Hidden inside, within these bodies tortured to excess, those bodies which have been abandoned, somewhere deep, are souls, the soulmates of men who are desperate for honesty, desperate for women who will allow them to be equals.

To all the women in my life, look deep within your eyes to find that light. Look into the mirror at your eyes. Suspend judgement and wonder at the depths that are there. Regardless of the body that frames your eyes, the body that is host to your soul, know that you are beautiful. Your body is a vessel that holds your essence, it isn’t your essence. Wonder at that and then re-approach your body with dignity, treating it with loving care. Embrace your body and your power as a woman.

Once you have ascended once again in your own eyes, you begin to teach men by example. It begins with love, not hate, embracing what is instead of fleeing from. Then it becomes a man’s task to love his own weakness, to embrace his vulnerability and his strengths. When this happens a man and a woman re-approach each other as equals with their union becoming the stuff of legends. The union of opposites that make a complete whole.

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One Does Not Become – Soul Loss – Loss of Libido

Where has the energy gone? Where is my Magical Other?

Where has the energy gone? Where is my Magical Other?

Loss of soul. The loss of libido, one’s life force and energy is tied up with loss of soul. Most forms of psychology and psychotherapy have no room for the idea, even the existence of soul. The word is too wrapped up in religious dogma and as a result it has lost its original meaning. My studies of psychology with the completion of the Arts degree soon led me into a place I had once wandered as a youth, the world of depth psychology and philosophy. It these areas, the ancient idea of soul were still alive and well.

It is hard to believe in the existence of something, anything, until that something disappears and leaves one with a sense of loss, the feeling of emptiness. This is probably the truest for the soul. For most people, the soul is a religious concept that one accepts without question, without a need to find evidence outside of the religious authorities and doctrines. As a result, anyone who is not a “believer” generally accepts that the soul is simply a delusion, a figment created to have people ignore the bad things happening to them and those around them by “others” who use the concept to “control.” Yet, there comes a point when some people, in spite of their religion or their lack of belief, come to look at life from a point of searching through the rhetoric in search of answers that resonate with more than just what the head, the ego tells them.

Perhaps, it has to do with the fact that the word has become too broad and as such, meaningless in the process. Carl Jung suggested that a more relevant term, anima which is a Latin term that means the vital principal of life, along with a fuller definition, would allow us to look and understand loss of soul, which leaves a human shrivelled like a raisin, a shell of a person, following midlife.

The anima is not the soul in the dogmatic sense, not an anima rationalis, which is a philosophical conception, but a natural archetype that satisfactorily sums up all the statements of the unconscious of the primitive mind, of the history of language and religion . . . It is always the a priori element in moods, reactions, impulses, and whatever else is spontaneous in psychic life.”[1]

Depth psychology goes on to explain that all that we hold as soul is projected onto others, particularly others who are of the opposite gender identification. For me, that projection of soul was placed on my wife. When in the presence of someone upon whom we have projected our soul, we feel “alive,” and all is well in the world. However, when the projection of soul is withdrawn, especially unconsciously, one falls into a depressive state of soul loss. For so many, midlife is an unsettling time of life when all the knowns that have served as the foundations upon which we have built our lives and our belief systems, come crashing down. We suffer loss of meaning, loss of libido, loss of soul.

I, like so many others, had felt my world falling apart. Yet, when I looked at my outer world, everything was going on as it had always gone on, oblivious of the panic and fear that raged through me. I didn’t know it at that time, but I had been given the “call” to take back ownership of my soul. The life path I had been following had hit a crossroads. Which way would I turn?

But it didn’t feel like a journey that I wanted to take. All I could sense was that I was risking losing everything I had treasured. I had only fear of what would be found within myself, stuff that I intuitively knew was what needed to remain hidden. The inside was so dark, filled with so many ghosts of the past, not a good place. Of course I didn’t know that this was what was going on within me at that time. All I knew was that my certainties had come tumbling down. And so I found escape routes to avoid that advancing darkness within me.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”[2]

I didn’t want more pain. I had more than my fair share of pain, I had worked hard to escape the poverty I lived within while growing up, have a family, and become a respected member of a community. What was I to do? My wife had become human in my eyes, no longer a goddess on a pedestal.

[1] Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i

[2] Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12

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Being Ripe For the Call of Relationship

Romantic love, magnetic attraction, activated complexes, and unfinished business.

Romantic love, magnetic attraction, activated complexes, and unfinished business.

So you fell in love and before you knew it, all hell broke loose. “What the hell just happened?  Who is this stranger and what do I do now?”

The stranger who captured the heart is no stranger at all. The parts of self that have been cast out, pulled out by the resonance of something buried deep beneath the surface of the stranger, know intimately, the soul of the Magical Other.

Depth psychology tells us that what is cast out are projections of denied self, that we see the denied gold within ourselves in this Magical Other. Our histories, our complexes serve to form and shape these projections which have found a home, a hook upon which they can be caught by the unconscious shadow of the Magical Other.

Yet there is more to it than this. It is more than projection, it is as much, if not more, attraction as though the self is pulled to the other. I think of it in terms of energy. After all, what and who we are is as much about energy as anything else. Science, Physics tells us that everything, including people, is composed of subatomic particles called quarks which somehow arrange themselves. Interesting to note that for every quark there is an antiquark, its opposite which “differs from the quark only in that some of its properties have equal magnitude but opposite sign.

Magnetic field or lines of flux of a moving charged particle

A magnetic field is created between the opposite fields of energy as shown in this model I borrowed from the Basics of Magnetism. The movement of the energy in a magnetic field includes both attraction and repulsion in a constant flowing away and returning to form what we have long called the symbol of eternity.

This idea of opposites being necessary movement around each other is also found in ancient Chinese science and philosophy with the image of yin-yang representing that necessary co-existence if there is to be matter.

In Chinese philosophy, the feminine or negative principle (characterized by dark, wetness, cold, passivity, disintegration, etc.) of the two opposing cosmic forces into which creative energy divides and whose fusion in physical matter brings the phenomenal world into being. 

In Chinese philosophy, the masculine or positive principle (characterized by light, warmth, dryness, activity, etc.) of the two opposing cosmic forces into which creative energy divides and whose fusion in physical matter brings the phenomenal world into being.

Of course all of this information has simply the task of pointing to awareness that I want to use in hopes of understanding something about what the hell happened when I found myself falling in love. And as soon as I realised what I had discovered, I saw the connection with falling in hate. It seems we can’t have one without the other. Where there is no affect on the unconscious psyche, or very little affect, we have separation with space which allows others to have an identity without our projections foisted upon them.

Does this make any sense? Not all that much. What does make sense is that feeling of being pulled into relationship and then finding myself pushing back in order to reclaim my sense of being an individual only to find myself being pulled once again back into relationship. It is some sort of magic that has entranced both my wife and myself over the decades. Somehow we have held together during the moments and sometimes seasons of repulsion to slip back into that embrace that has the self “fall” into the other.

Others don’t have it so lucky and so find themselves repeating the first cycles over and over again as they spin lost in the dance of attraction and repulsion. I, and likely you, have seen so many others give up on the romance and the person only to enter into new relationships with another Magical Other that is like a clone of the one abandoned. We comment about how they always choose the same kind of “loser” or “lover” (depending on our prejudices) and seem stuck, unable to evolve. It’s as if the “call” to self-discovery is attempted until it gets too fearful, to difficult having us flee into a drab existence where we can hide from the pain and confusion that “woke” at the intersection of attraction and repulsion. When the pain has been numbed enough, we again are ripe for the “call.”

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A World in Desperate Need of Us

Mangrove swamp and water lily.

Mangrove swamp and water lily. One little flower growing out of darkness and muck gives hope.

It’s a quiet and reflective time this first week in Mexico. Listening and reading to the news from around the world doesn’t leave a positive feeling or much hope for humanity. However, there are small things that are happening in scattered bits and pieces of the world not making the news, hidden things – hidden in plain sight – that contradict whatever agenda that exists to build a darker culture of fear and despair. Media is not free to speak nor see anything other than what the controlling interests work so hard to incubate the dark culture of power and privilege. Ego gets wrapped up in the hunt for news bytes, ego that is competitive and worried about surviving in the mad dash for public exposure.

Who wants to hear that in a tiny spot in Mexico thirty strangers met in the jungle and were guided through a few activities that were focused on peace, forgiveness, and human connectedness with each other and the planet we call our home? Who wants to hear that unknown strangers visited lonely people in communities around the planet simply to find some sort of peace and meaning for themselves in offering precious moments to terminal patients or abandoned elders in nursing homes? Who wants to hear that a passing stranger gives another stranger in obvious need a cup of coffee or a bit of change along with a smile that changes the relationship of strangers from “I-it” to “I-Thou”?

There isn’t much any of us can do other than to risk being real people, risk opening ourselves up to hear and see the others around us without taking offence or making judgements. It isn’t up to our church leaders, our government leaders, our business leaders or the media. Only we can bring a thin ray of light and hope to this world of ours in desperate need of us.

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Light That Nourishes the World

Behind the eyes lies the darkness of the unconscious.

Behind the eyes lies the darkness of the unconscious.

What an interesting image that I found. There is no question that what appears is an alter universe. I am not sure if that universe is buried within the psyche or if there are other universes that we can access in other ways. The image is of a new dawn, a new day. But, I don’t know if this new dawn, this new day, this new universe is one that will be life affirming or yet another desperate challenge to make it through the day to return again to the night. Though there is blue sky, the heaviness of clouds and a moon, as well as the stark islands in the sea, hint that all is not perfect.

An American Marine in Afghanistan at dawn.

An American Marine in Afghanistan at dawn.

Perhaps it is the season that has me brooding with dull heaviness. Whatever it is, I can feel the pulse of the world of my time and place as it talks to me of pain, suffering and darkness. As a human race, we have somehow found ourselves standing guard at the approach of dawn, armed and ready to kill. We have built barricades around our souls hoping to keep everything that is different out.

We are afraid of the day for what it will expose about our world, about ourselves, about the others who we keep from our doors. We are afraid that these others will want us to return what we have taken from them. We are afraid that we will have to become accountable for our wealth and privilege in a world that suffers hunger and poverty. It’s not a pretty picture at all.

I am only one and so I do the best I can as I turn to the light, breathe deeply and wish peace, harmony and wellness on the world and its people. I turn away for hopelessness and say my unique prayer to the light that shines within my psyche and out in the world where it serves to nourish life.

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Adding Another Light Into the Darkness

Bringing light into darkness.

Bringing light into darkness.

I am back in Mexico in a village called Puerto Morelos which has been our winter home for the past three years. It feels good to be back in sunny and warm country. The decision to return to the same village and the same domicile is all about familiarity rather than exotic adventure. Familiarity also means less tension and stress leaving energy to be spent in a return to our long two-hour beach walks followed by a half-hour swim in the Caribbean Sea. We know the ins and outs of the path as well as the best swimming spots.

Winter is a time of darkness and for so many, a time of depression because of the lack of sunshine and warmth. Winter sunshine on the Canadian prairies is beautiful, but one is typically bundled in several layers of protective coverings.  In spite of the winter sunshine which paints surreal scenes of white wonderlands etched with hoarfrost on trees and tall grasses, the cold has one withdraw into oneself rather than expand outward into the world. Breathing is measured and constrained adding to the tension. One risks in the outdoors in winter or one hides in a cocoon within artificial environments doing the best to mimic a place of warmth, light and safety. In spite of best efforts, so many find the dark shades of winter creeping into their very being to sap away energy. It is the time of sadness, of loss, of constriction.

I know of too many who suffer seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.). In truth, I have to say that I am not immune to the debilitating effects of winter in the northern hemisphere. Now that our children have grown up and moved away to make homes of their own, it has become an even “sadder” season for me when depression lurks at the edges waiting for my energy reserves to dip so that it can assault libido. Thankfully, I have learned from almost too many battles with depression and the loss of sunlight in both the psyche and the physical dimension, how to build walls of protection and routes of escape. This time in Mexico where the layers of protection, of the physical and of the psyche, are peeled away so that the sun’s rays can heal and nourish,

For me, journeying to the sun is a means of adding light into darkness.

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Thanatos and Eros – La Grande et Petite Mort

Crossing over.

Crossing over.

A beautiful, yet eerie image that I found somewhere two months ago finally has a home. I want to continue looking at Eros and Thanatos with hopes that what emerges will make some sort of sense.

As I mentioned last post, the simple act of sex, making love, ends in a small death, or as the French say, “la petite mort.” I say this as a man as I can’t really “know” what is experienced by a woman post-orgasm. But then again, I can never really speak for a woman, that is something a woman must do for herself. Come to think of it, I can’t even speak for other men as we are all unique with unique experiences and responses. It’s enough to say that while I am in the thrall of Eros, I slip into the domain of Thanatos if only for a moment.

As I suffered a midlife crisis, Eros – that libido that signals soul energy – went missing. I slipped into depression, took a descent into darkness away from energising light. I was suicidal at times when the heaviness of the darkness became so oppressive that the best option seemed to be death where the heaviness and darkness and pain and self-hatred would finally vanish. I longed for death but a thread of light held me back from that decision that could never be undone. Depression and Thanatos belong together and make sense when one recognizes that Eros is absent.

But what about that recklessness that challenges Thanatos when Eros is riding high in the psyche. I recall one particular incident in my life that bears mentioning here. I had been married two weeks when I went cycling with my wife. We decided to descent into a valley down a steep, winding path. I became reckless and raced ahead, showing off feeling totally invincible. A sharp turn in the path saw me sailing into the air with my hands glued to the handlebars of the bike. I landed on my head, immediately shrank almost an inch as my back compressed. How I didn’t break my neck or back or even die from concussion I will never understand. Death was present because of my foolishness.

The same can be said for extreme sports which always carry a risk of death should things go awry. One engages in such activities for the adrenalin rush that proves one is alive. If one looks at the phenomena from a different perspective, we have a person suffering soul loss who cuts themselves so that they can get a sense of feeling. The pain cancels out the numbness for a moment, a statement to Thanatos that one hasn’t given in to the darkness.

In the end, we all arrive in the bosom of Thanatos. How and when we get there is a matter of luck for the most part as we understand it, though we do contribute to the positive and negative faces of luck – smoking, drugs, what we eat and drink, exercise, excesses, meditation, and the list goes on and on. Some rush to extinction, some do whatever they can to deny that final moment.

For myself, I know what the final destination is but I want to get there following a trail though my personal wilderness, wildness, that allows me to grow in self and other awareness. I want to build some sort of meaning with the days that remain. I want to die while making love with the final movement being “un grand mort.”

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Thanatos – Loss of Eros

Thánatos is a son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness) and twin of Hypnos (Sleep).

Thánatos is a son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness) and twin of Hypnos (Sleep).

“To Thanatos, Fumigation from Manna.
Hear me, O Death, whose empire unconfin’d
extends to mortal tribes of ev’ry kind.
On thee, the portion of our time depends,
whose absence lengthens life, whose presence ends.

Thy sleep perpetual bursts the vivid folds
by which the soul, attracting body holds :
common to all, of ev’ry sex and age,
for nought escapes thy all-destructive rage.

Not youth itself thy clemency can gain,
vigorous and strong, by thee untimely slain.
In thee the end of nature’s works is known,
in thee all judgment is absolved alone.
No suppliant arts thy dreadful rage control,
no vows revoke the purpose of thy soul.
O blessed power, regard my ardent prayer,

and human life to age abundant spare.

Today’s topic is an outgrowth of the last post on relationships. One thing I didn’t talk about when it came to relationships, was the role of Eros which is often defined as the pull to life. I know that in my own life, the pull to relationship is enlivening. I feel most alive when libido is flowing, swelling my being. But as all who have learned in relationships, that rush to union with other typically ends in a small death. You can’t have life without its twin, death.

Risking death to feel alive.

Risking death to feel alive.

Without relationship, one finds libido, a rush of energy that makes one feel alive, in activity. This is especially noted for activity that pushes limits, risk activities. The adrenalin rush when doing extreme sports, playing chicken with cars, and any other activity that challenges one’s physical, psychological, legal, and community limits, gives one the same high, followed by the same descent as one experiences in significant relationships. Both result in a pause between life and death, a suspension of feeling and thinking that is also found in the simple act of breathing between one’s out breath and the next in breath. It’s almost a state of non-beingness, an thanatos state.

I have to return later to circle around this idea again from a different perspective.

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A Man and a Woman in Relationship

The sun and moon are drawn together like a man and a woman to unite in a holy marriage.

The sun and moon are drawn together like a man and a woman to unite in a holy marriage.

Today’s post is another return of sorts to alchemy. I thought the post was to simply look at the dynamic of “a man and a woman,” but it kind of escaped my original intentions. With that said, I want to return to what triggered the post. I have been “listening” to posts on Facebook and to country songs which collectively paint both men and women in surreal terms. I heard the common complaint of “a real man / a real woman would” spoken by people who found themselves unconnected or perhaps disconnected from an idea/ideal that is firmly planted in their minds about what the “other” needs to be. In each case, the speaker is a victim telling the world that if only they could see and accept them, true love would be given.

The Red King and the White Queen of alchemy.

The Red King and the White Queen of alchemy.

Regardless of sexual orientation, each of us is hard-wired to search for that Magical Other that will fill in our holes and complete us so that we could live “happily ever after.” Of course, we don’t engage in relation with this “knowledge.” For us, it is all mysterious stuff wrapped in myths and stories and dreams. We hear these stories and sense that something is missing, something that can only be filled by someone else. So, we go in search of this someone else, a magical being of sorts. And suddenly, that person appears and we are lost in that person who glows with a magic that has us see the person as the most beautiful girl in the world, or the perfect man who is strong yet gentle, a powerful man that will fill all the holes.

The other is recognised and recognises in return, and so the union begins swathed in layers of magic and rose-coloured glasses. And then one of the pair, or both, are wakened to the reality of a flawed human in the other. There is a sense of betrayal followed by anger. “You don’t know what you’re missing by rejecting me; You are not worthy of me; You lied to me about who you are.” And the drama escalates as each retreats, unable to see that what had been triggered at first contact has remained in spite of the spell of magic which has been broken. Reality is rejected. Only magic is wanted. There is too much work on both self and other to discover what it is in that “Other.”

The holy marriage of opposites that make a whole.

The holy marriage of opposites that make a whole.

Yet, some do the work and the union grows. The two circle each other, enter into the psyche and the body of each other over and over again, mixing their essences. When at last they “know” that what they need from the other can only be given by the self, then the two become truly married, a holy marriage of two forever separate beings who resonate like a symphony in each other. And they dance in an eternal push-pull circling.

I am a lucky man. I am in a relationship that has somehow survived time. We are opposite beings pushing and pulling against-towards each other wanting and needing independence and relatedness at the same time. Yet, in spite of the shifting ground beneath us, there is something that perhaps can only be described as magic that has emerged that allows us to survive in relationship.

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