Archive for April, 2010
I am currently in Jamestown, North Dakota where I am visiting three of my grandchildren and their parents. Since this place is further south than my home in Saskatchewan, nature is found further along its journey toward summer. These sand cherry blossoms remind me of time spent in China. I used early morning sunshine to accent the emergence of these blossoms. There is something special about light in the early morning and the very late afternoon. I imagine that for me, it is about transitions, about emerging into new realities, new ways of being.
But, when I see these images and live the experiences of discovering these images, I get a sense that it about much more than uncovering hidden aspects of my own developing “self,” I “know” that the experience and the image points to something “more.” Perhaps I invest so much in these images because they take me deeper and allow me to connect with that numinous “more.” Some would call this a religious experience, or a meeting with the god-head. But, I hesitate to go there. I find it too hard to separate my “self” from the image and the experience. Whatever it is that I touch includes “self.” CG Jung knew this as well and expressed the idea much better than I ever could. His quest for understanding led to a word that encompasses that religious feeling, that wholeness and holiness while at the same time including the individual – through the self, one meets the SELF.
Okay, I can sense that there is a protest that this is nothing more than a playing with a word using capital letters. I can sense that the protest says that nothing really has changed simply because of the use of capital letters. But I ask you to consider what that means. In our various books of religion we are continually pointed inward in order to discover that essence of “God” regardless of the name given by each religion. If God is truly found within, then “self” is not strong enough to encompass that god. We need to shout it out, to exclaim and wonder about that with which we connect. With this approach to understanding that which we might call God, we can use the One, or as CG Jung puts it, Self.
“The God-image is the expression of an underlying experience of something which I cannot attain to by intellectual means.” (Carl Gustav Jung)
Well, I got this photo just in the nick of time. It seems the sun will become a memory for the next week as we enjoy clouds and scattered attempts at rain here on the Canadian prairies. This is a Golden Elder bush that borders my driveway – well a detail of the bush to be more exact. I was hoping to catch the sunlight on the leaflets that had just emerged. It wasn’t until I had downloaded the photos that I noticed that this group of leaflets surrounded a head of what I assume will be the “flower” of this bush.
The whole takes on a different look as I see a head that is dressed in red hair and is bowed in humility, or as if it is bowed in prayer towards the sun that has breathed life into the dormant branches. It is as if the plant knows that its consciousness has its source in the sun.
I guess that this image is not much different than what happens to me each time I emerge from periods of dormancy back into periods of consciousness. Being awake doesn’t really mean being conscious. Most of the time in past years, being awake was simply being an organism that moved through life unconsciously interacting with others and the environment on instinct. Awareness was something that was pushed into the shadows as it only interfered with being in community, being engaged in career.
But now that midlife has knocked me about in order to get my attention, awareness is making small appearances and I am humbled. I finally see sunlight for what it is.
This is a different kind of photograph for me. I rarely use the camera in the car. Yet on this morning just a few days ago I had a thought that this might be one destined or this blog. I wasn’t too sure what the focal point was, whether it was the scene in the rear view mirror, the mirror itself, the clouds in the sky, or the bright red tassel that dangled from the mirror.
The idea that this concept would make for a good series of photos for the SoFoBoMo challenge came to mind and so the photo was taken with that thought in mind. I did stop in the middle of the highway in order to take the photo and realised that any such series of photos would have to be almost staged rather than natural scenes that I would snap as I passed them by. So, I will have to rethink this idea.
In looking at the photo now, I get a sense of an alter universe, the landscape of dreams. Here is what Robert Bosnak has to say about dreams:
“A dream is not a story, not a movie or a text or a theater play. A dream is a happening in space, an articulation of space.” (Bosnak, A Little Course in Dreams, 1993, p. 10)
A close look at my apple tree in the back yard, actually it’s a crab apple tree. This tree gives us quite tasty little apples that have a mouth-watering tartness. For those who prefer sweet and gentle tasting apples, this tree would be a disappointment. For me, it is perfect. As I noticed the new buds on this tree, images of returning bird, perhaps robins or cedar waxwings, making their nests in the tree came to mind. I have watched the cycle of life take place in this tree for a number of years. Last year’s residents left early and in distress. Their nest had been invaded by a cat leaving a few broken eggs in his wake. The unbroken eggs never did hatch. Nature isn’t always pretty.
I enjoy taking pictures found in nature as you can probably well guess if you have been following these posts for some time. In nature, I find that the layers we use for the protection of our ego in community, are not very evident. I have to admit that there is the use of some camouflage by many animals which exist so that the animal’s chance of survival in increased. In nature, what is up front is not a mask; what one sees is what is. It is as though the barriers between consciousness and unconsciousness don’t exist. I can’t imagine nature setting up artificial laws to protect the rights of unborn birds in eggs with punishments given to marauding cats who attack the nests in hopes of getting a free meal.
With consciousness, humans have introduced a different way of being in nature. That consciousness allows us to look at choices and weigh them in terms of being good for the psyche or hurtful to the psyche – stuff that indicates an ethical or moral nature. This is also “natural.” In community we create laws that support those concepts of moral behaviour. I guess one could call laws that we build in community based on nurturing the psyche, natural laws. Other laws? Well, I guess that they are based on advantage – not really about nourishing the individual or collective consciousness.
If we re-think our understanding of given laws, such as the ten commandments, in terms of how the laws nourish the soul and the psyche through avoidance of behaviours that damage the psyche, then we can determine which laws would be more “natural.” For example, “Thou shalt not kill” is one that can be easily understood in these terms. The number of soldiers who have participated in warfare which saw them “kill” another human, who have since fallen into depressions, dysfunction, or have committed suicide is startling. It doesn’t matter what their society tells them about the righteousness of their actions in the theatre of war – their soul and psyche tell them otherwise.
Then if we look at other laws such as those prohibiting nudism, we begin to see how some laws are based on collective complexes. I want to give an example based on Canadian history. At a given time in Canada’s past, the Church was a force in terms of community law. I guess that churches still are forces of law within their tight communities, but not to the same extent. That said, the Church in response to behaviours exhibited by the parishioners, created a law banning the playing of cards during a church service. The issue was not of the actions being hurtful to the psyche or soul of the individual or even the collective, but was more of an issue of collective control. Such laws are not within the field of natural law.
For myself, I need to respect natural law so that I suffer less in terms of my soul as well as avoiding putting immense roadblocks in the way of my journey towards becoming a more conscious person. I also need to respect legal codes when those codes don’t contradict natural law. I am not fond of getting tickets for parking in the wrong thirty square feet of space on the planet even though parking in that spot would not have made a difference in the personal or collective consciousness.
It’s all about caring for the soul in the end, isn’t it?
This is more new life emerging with approach of warmer weather. I took this photo a few days ago. Looking out the window this morning, I see a totally different scene. It looks as though winter has returned as there is a layer of white snow covering the world, a thin layer which is more like lace than like wool. It is snow that won’t stay long. That is one of the more amazing things about spring on the Canadian prairie – the only constant is change, The joke around here is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.”
The appearance of more snow this morning fits yesterday’s posts about how we put on layers and layers of protection only to then work hard at midlife to remove these layers upon layers in order to “find ourselves.” While we engage in this journey of self-discovery, we have a tendency to fall back and cover ourselves up with another layer as we feel exposed, too exposed, and therefore at risk. Much like a late spring snowfall, this new layer won’t have a long life-span.
I think of how I retreat for short periods of time behind a layer or mask in community, take on a layer that looks like one I used to wear so that those around me can then recognise me. The layer is temporary. Sometimes I retreat into a revised layer in order to give myself a rest from the journey. Going from retirement back into teaching at a university in China is a good example of this. I retreat into an older persona and invest energy and time and avoid the journey as if it was the plague. Yet, beneath that revised layer, I know the truth and can’t still the voices I am coming to recognise only too well. As a result, the persona shifts to accommodate a more conscious self-awareness. I am now a different kind of teacher as I re-emerge.
The journey is cyclical, one retreats into dormancy like a plant into winter, only to re-emerge in the spring with a newer version of self – one that will also retreat into dormancy and then re-emerge. This isn’t a new idea. The changes aren’t always positive, sometimes they are regressive. Sometimes one chooses to not do the work of enlarging one’s narrow slice of consciousness. Rather, the retreat into darkness and shadow as if a victim. For myself, I will fight the darkness and strive towards the light even as the sun sets on span of my life.
This morning as I enter these words on the keyboard of my laptop, there is a slight drizzle that is expected to turn into snow as the morning wears on. It is zero outside, that line that marks the freezing point. The skies are gray. It has become an almost colourless world here on the Canadian prairies, a world waiting for sunshine and the return of colour, the return of life.
This photo was taken three months ago in San José, Costa Rica at the hostel I was staying at while in the city. It seemed as though everywhere I looked, people had strung concertina wire around their homes. The wire was meant to keep out those who would steal and perhaps injure those within the confines of the sharp wire.
The wire made me think of how we build our own defenses against outside intruders. In truth, our personae are just that, defenses. We build our personae into personalities that hide the inside contents, the treasure that is our soul, our sense of worth. In a way, it is similar to the layer upon layer of protective wrapping that we use when we want to ship something fragile and priceless to another destination. The last thing we want to happen is to have an “other” steal our treasure and perhaps even destroy it.
While reading books such as the Da Vinci Code or The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (and others of the same genre) one watches as the layers are peeled back to reveal the ultimate treasure. The extremes to which one goes in order to protect that central truth is amazing. What we do in ordinary life is just as amazing when it comes to adding layer upon layer of protection. It doesn’t take too long before the inner treasure becomes almost mythic in nature. What takes on the lustre of truth are nothing more than protective symbols that can only point back to the centre, or in too many situations, point away from the centre if one doesn’t recognise the symbols.
As we try to regain a sense of who we really are, we must navigate through the carefully constructed layers of protection, decoding the symbols along the way, overcoming the traps set by our various complexes. This work is truly a hero’s journey.
This clay pot is in very sad shape. I admit that when I placed it in the flower garden that it was already in some stress with bits and pieces missing. I didn’t set it in the garden alone. Beside it is another clay pot that is losing its integrity. Though far from perfect or even useful in the traditional sense, I leave them in place as though they belong. To me, they have a certain dignity, an authenticity that can’t be matched with things that appear to be perfect.
One of my readers brought up the idea of wabi sabi to describe a state of transience. I did a bit of reading on wabi sabi and found that it holds the belief that stuff must be trimmed away in order to find the essence, a purity. It is about simplicity. There is no doubt that this clay pot is being reduced to a simplified state and that it takes on an aesthetic beauty in doing so. So how does this “fit” in with Jungian psychology. Well, I have to admit that I found no ties in doing an Internet search. However, what I did find suggests that there is enough to warrant being looked at a bit more closely.
The word “wabi-sabi” is a combination of two Japanese terms. “Wabi,” literally means poverty. However, it has a positive connotation because the word does not refer to lack of material wealth as much as it implies freedom from dependence on worldly possessions. Wabi is simple minimalism that has divested the material in order to directly relate with nature. “Sabi” translates to “solitude” or “loneliness,” such as the reflective moods induced by traditional Japanese art. (Wabi-sabi and Its Influences, SocyBerty)
In a way, this is what happens when one goes through the process of individuation, one simplifies. The search for “self” is a work that is lonely and one that requires one to take time for solitude. As I listen to what this tells me, I think of the fourth stage of live in Hinduism where a person gives up all connections and possessions in preparation of the final work leading to a holiness that leads to Nirvana. I also think of monks and nuns simplifying and denying themselves stuff with St. John of the Cross being one of the most famous of examples.
As we peel off the layers of persona and expose the essence of who we are. As we make this journey during which we shed masks our load becomes lighter and our inner beauty is allowed to shine through. It is when we are authentic and transparent that we sense the more numinous aspect of self, that which we ascribe to an outer god. Individuation is about separating from the collective and allowing the fullness of the individual to emerge. And in the process, the self then sees its true connection to the whole. Could this be yet another face of the Eastern concept of wabi sabi?
I went out yesterday morning into my back yard with the camera and found a few photos that will make there way here. There is so much that nature has to show us and to teach us if we would just listen. This photo is of a young lilac bush that I transplanted last year alongside a new fence that my son and I put up to replace one that was rotting and falling down. The leaves are trying hard to burst out into life.
I used the macro setting for this photo. I hope to get more practice with this feature on my camera as it allows me to “see” the world in a different way. It’s interesting how things appear that before seemed to be hidden from me.
During a discussion about events in China last night with one of my readers here, Deborah, who is a teacher in China, Deborah gave me a small poem by Anaïs Nin. At that time she didn’t know that I had chosen this photo for today’s blog post. The poem seems to be a perfect match. Thanks, Deborah.
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
Since it is spring, there are signs all over the place of new life making an appearance. For me it is interesting that this new life shows up on both young and old plants. Some old trees seem to be slower at showing these new leaves, and some like the old apple tree in my yard hurry to be the first with new leaves and then with blossoms.
When I think on how I am changing and how opportunities arise where none seem to have existed before, I begin to realise that these opportunities are always there. Sometimes one isn’t ready to notice them, or ready to risk taking advantage of these opportunities. I know that I am often faced with dilemmas that beg for an answer, an answer that I don’t seem to have. CG Jung tells me to hold on to the tension and not rush to choose between what appears to be two opposing options. If I hold the tension long enough, a third option will appear. This new option is just that, an option. If one is uncomfortable with breaking into new territory the new option will quickly be rejected and one falls back on old habits, usually one that is based on what “others” expect from us.
Choosing to risk the new option, one places all at risk. Everything changes. This is the path of individuation, that journey of “self” discovery, the journey of consciousness growing out of darkness.
Thankfully, this isn’t a recent photo, but one from almost two weeks ago upon my return to Canada. I went looking for this photo as it was one that I felt needed to appear here. Looking out my window the sunrise is applying a light coat of golden paint to the fields and the few buildings that I can see, a huge contrast to this scene. Yet this is the scene that my head is experiencing in spite of what my eyes see.
I have seasonal allergies and they are now raging. Snow mold on the now exposed grass and dead leaves aren’t nice to me, neither are the constant dry and dusty winds. The poplar trees are beginning to show new leaf buds and that will make the situation worse in short order. Of course, like any normal person, I take appropriate medical aids to make the allergies more bearable but they only add a fog and lethargy as they do their thing in allowing me to breath easier. I say all of this, not to garner any sympathy (I get enough of that at home), but in order to contrast and inner and outer world. Though we often think of the mind as separate from the body, both are intricately linked and affect each other. Think of the yin-yang symbol where opposites are constrained tightly together yet maintaining their unique separateness within the container.
All of this is to serve as an intro to my thoughts of the next book, Through a Jungian Lens: Sol and Luna, which will be this year’s project for SoFoBoMo. I have chosen to focus on Jung’s essay, “The Personification of Opposites” from volume 14 of the Collected Works, Mysterium Coniunctionis. I plan on taking the photos and writing the text likely starting on June 12th, the date of the first full moon during the two month “fuzzy month” for the SoFoBoMo project. And, like last year, I expect that I will bring much of that stuff here in my posts. Other than the topic and the ideas from CG Jung, nothing is yet decided.
So, in spite of my allergies, I am still able to focus enough to find my way down my particular path. Tomorrow’s post will likely return to its usual, more reflective nature.
Uploading a photo this morning has been difficult. Finally the photo is here, one that I took this morning from my living room window. It’s a pleasant scene looking south at the hills in the distance and the row of young spruce trees in the foreground. There is definitely a sense of calm and peacefulness, a sense of almost timelessness. In a way it reduces the individual human to an almost microscopic and temporary inconvenience. We come and go and the earth remains only slightly changed. Though we work hard at creating great architectural wonders, time seems to reduce these outbursts of ego to dust, preserving some as relics. These planted trees will grow then die and be once again dust.
Of course, in the midst of our presence however brief it may be, we do cause ripples, do affect change on this earth. Our pollution and our attempts to landscape the planet have significant effects but when taken into a larger view, the results are just that, results. The earth remains long after we are gone though changed by our presence. The earth will survive, different from the way it was before we appeared on the scene, but it will survive.
In thinking more on this it occurs to me that the reverse is also true. We also survive. In my last post I offered the idea of soul, how each individual soul is one part of the many and that the sum of all souls would or could be called God. I went on to say that God was even more than this, that God had to include everything that was, is or will be – all the shadows, the things, the ideas, there is no end to this list.
And so, as I change my location, each location has its affect on my soul, just as my presence as a human has an affect on the location. As I change my state of presence in meeting someone, I am changed and so is that person. Meeting this person again in a future time acts as a catalyst for more change in both of us as we have both changed since our last encounter.
And with those with whom we engage daily, with whom we are in relationships that are intense, we continue to change thought that change may appear in microscopic aspects. Over time, the person we were has been supplanted by someone we would have not recognised as our “self.” No wonder then that our partners wake up one day wondering “Who is this stranger?”