Archive for May, 2010
In early spring, one of the first flowers in our garden is this little guy, a wild and free-spirited pansy. This particular plant caught my eye on a day that was dark and gray. For a moment I began to think that the pansy was animated, looking at me for recognition, daring me to look back and confirm the connection. Okay, I know, it is just a plant and it doesn’t have a sense of self-awareness or awareness of others. I do understand that this is simply my imagination running wild again – active imagination.
This idea of connection reminded me of Martin Buber’s work, I and Thou, where the “self” as identified as “I” and that this self stands in relation to the world in two ways with both a subjective and an objective attitude. Buber calls these two attitudes I-Thou and an I-It. I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, let alone an expert on Buber and his work. Still, I can speak of what I understand and where these thoughts lead me in terms of understanding relationships such as my relationship to this pansy which for a moment in my head, became a holder of my projections.
“The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being.” (Buber, I and Thou, p. 54)
As I understand it, for Buber there is no “self” that exists without an “other.” Now this does make sense to me in a way as I do understand how my sense of self grows out of unconsciousness. And I do understand, how my personal unconscious is encased in a larger collective unconsciousness. I understand how over time I come to differentiate myself from other in order to get a sense of “I.” And, I can understand how the relationship to other is framed within me as either as a subjective or objective relationship, a “you/thou” relationship or an “it” relationship. The “it” relationship has nothing to do with whether or not the object is a living person or a thing. It is all about attitude, my attitude.
Buber talks about how attitude can shift from an “it” relationship to a “you” relationship, even in terms of a tree:
“But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. ” (p. 58)
This might sound like foolish talk but it is a way of thinking that was accepted by most older cultures and still can be found among some of today’s aboriginal peoples in a number of countries. The shift from objective to subject is only achieved when one can get past the skin and enter into depth. For example, a stranger is an “it” for most of us. Becoming acquaintances does not alter our objective attitude toward this stranger who becomes an acquaintance. As indicated by Buber, it takes more than contact to shift the attitude. It takes a will combined with grace to achieve this. It takes reciprocity for this shift of attitude between two people.
In my experiences, I find that this reciprocity in my face-to-face world only comes when I can see into the eyes of an “other” and that “other” looks back into my eyes confirming for both of us the real presence of each other. At that moment, the shift from an I-It relationship to an I-Thou relationship has happened. In this cyberspace world, I get the sense that we can have an “I-Thou” relationship because reciprocity is possible, only not through the eyes – it must come from the words in which we sense we are heard and are hearing the “other.” A few final words from Buber:
“One should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity.” (p. 58)
Now, can I say that there is reciprocity in my relationship with this pansy? Only in terms of becoming aware of a relationship that says that we are connected in universal terms, each being a part of the whole.
This is my brother-in-law, Michael. As I have mentioned in past posts, he suffers Alzheimer’s disease. He remembers his first name but not his family name. He remembers mt name, but not that of his sister, my wife. As much as we love him, we cannot walk his path for him. He must walk his own journey for as far as it will take him. He teaches me much as I come to this realisation. Michael is mostly a happy person unless he is confronted with choices which leave him stuck, or he is left alone in an unfamiliar place where he becomes fearful and agitated. Yet for all of the anxiety and confusion, he willingly leaves his space to follow me into the countryside. There, he boldly strides down the paths that he finds, even if I don’t see the path.
Michael was a hard worker and like most, raised a family. He was involved in his community and was well liked and well respected. He not only worked in his community, he played as well. He did everything right by any standards of measurement that we could devise. He didn’t allow himself much time or many resources as he felt that they belonged to his family as much as they did to him. He knew that with retirement he would be able to have time for himself. However, retirement came in the guise of Alzheimer’s. Still, he does have moments of peace. Sadly, these moments are not filled with conscious recognition, an awareness of the quiet spaces he treasured when he was younger.
Jung offers us something to think about as we approach midlife if we would stop long enough to listen and reflect:
“The nearer we approach to the middle of life, and the better we have succeeded in entrenching ourselves in our personal attitudes and social positions, the more it appears as if we had discovered the right course and the right ideals and principles of behaviour. For this reason, we suppose them to be eternally valid, and make a virtue of unchangeably clinging to them. We overlook the essential fact that the social goal is only attained only at the cost of a diminution of personality. Many -far too many- aspects of life which should have been experienced lie in the lumber-room among dusty memories; but sometimes, too, they are glowing coals under grey ashes.” (Jung, CW Volume 8, The Stages of Life, par 772)
I am glad that Michael has lost his memory as with those memories gone, he will not experience regrets for all those experiences he sacrificed, experiences he had hoped would be lived in retirement. Now, if only I could learn from his experience, the autumn of my life will be that much richer.
This is a home-made birdbath that sits beside our crab-apple tree. A number of the artifacts found in the yard are from the farm upon which my wife was raised. Rather than toss out the old, the cream can, various pots and pails, and wooden items; my wife gave them a new home in the yard. In her way, she honours her roots while at the same time uses these artifacts as anchors in an otherwise too fluid world. Since leaving her home on the farm, she has shared a home with me in ten other homes before this one. Only one of those gave her a sense of stability, a home in which we spent twenty years. This home has been ours now for seven years. There is no doubt that my wife has sacrificed much to stay with me as I am more of a gypsy where she is rooted. But then again, that is part of the cost of love.
“Love requires depth and loyalty of feeling; without them it is not love but mere caprice. True love will always commit itself and engage in lasting ties; it needs freedom only to effect its choice, nor for its accomplishment. Every true and deep love is a sacrifice. The lover sacrifices all other possibilities, or rather, the illusion that such possibilities exist. If this sacrifice is not made, his illusions prevent the growth of any deep and responsible feeling so that the very possibility of experiencing real love is denied.” (Jung, CW Volume 10, The Love Problem of a Student, par 231)
When I took this photo out in the countryside where it was so quiet that one could actually hear silence, I thought about how lonely solitude could become. At the time the photo was taken I was with my brother-in-law and was struck by how easily he slipped into a state that seemed not to “need” others as he wandered from my side to investigate. He suffers Alzheimer’s and is indeed alone with himself. From what I can see, most of that alone-ness is filled with anxieties.
I wonder at times about being alone, sometimes thinking that it would be easier, that there would be fewer distractions, fewer interruptions. What books I might then write, what photos I might then take, what learning about “self” I might then discover! But each time I find myself alone, I slip into lethargy and do less. Anxieties seem to surface and paralyze.
I “know” that I must learn to bear the anxiety, but I cling to the hope that in relationship to an “other” I will be saved the pain of loneliness, that in relationship to an “other” I will have meaning and purpose.
“Indeed, next to the fantasy of immortality, the hardest fantasy to relinquish is the thought that there is someone out there who is going to fix us, take care of us – spare us the intimidating journey to which we have been summoned.” (James Hollis, Swamplands of the Soul, p. 11)
Well, I’ve thought about this for so long, chasing the idea all around my head and heart that I only get dizzy. My heart says that this “other,” this someone is there. My mind says that this “other” is found within, not without. Now, if I understood Jung correctly, I must continue to hold on to this polar opposites for a something else to emerge that reconciles these opposites.
This is a bay that I found on walking the shoreline of Lake Diefenbaker, a flooded section of the South Saskatchewan River near Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. The hills in the background look the same as the hills I see from my living room windows though they are a different set of hills. The scene is about 65 kilometres from my home. Between my place and this recreational area are scattered farms and a small community of less than 500 people. This is a land that somehow doesn’t encourage people to stay in spite of its beauty, a beauty that is overlooked.
Personally, I am a forest, trees, small meadows, streams, rivers and lakes kind of guy when I am not hugging an ocean shoreline. I find myself at home in the woods. Yet, I recognize a need for connection to people, a need for relationships. In that context, I would have to say I am a city person rather than a small rural town person. In the city there is a better chance that I can maintain my privacy yet have the opportunity to converse with someone on topics that I find interesting and stimulating. It’s interesting that somehow I find myself living in the semi-desert country where trees are scarce, where water is scarce and where people are scarce. Not only does this contradict how I understand myself, but I am also allergic to the grasses, alfalfa, poplar trees and dust that form the ecosystem of the prairies. All that said, here I am wandering rare shorelines naked of trees with no human visible as far as I can see, which is quite far indeed. This is quite the paradox. Why? The answer is actually quite simple – there is a woman . . .
“At this point the fact forces itself on my attention that beside the field of reflection there is another equally broad if not broader area in which rational understanding and rational modes of representation find scarcely anything they are able to grasp. This is the realm of Eros. In classical times, when such things were properly understood, Eros was considered a god whose divinity transcended our human limits, and who therefore could be neither comprehended nor represented in any way. I might, as many before me have attempted to do, venture an approach to this daimon, whose range of activity extends from the endless spaces of the heavens to the dark abysses of hell; but I falter before the task of finding the language which might adequately express the incalculable paradoxes of love.” (Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 353)
The hills to the south provide quite a few opportunities for photographs. It doesn’t seem to matter that I have probably taken similar photos in the past. Since I continue to change over the years as I get older, these scenes take on different affect. Because I change, the world around me retains a sense of vital energy, a numinous quality.
As I wrote these words above, my mind raced with thoughts of those who miss out on this renewal, those who live with the creed “seen that, done that and bought the tee-shirt!” The search for renewal is limited to the outer world and outer experience. The constant changing of even the home with new furniture, new furniture arrangements, new colours, new toys . . . The need for renewal has to be met or we feel suffocated, bored, a loss of soul.
Carl Jung had to deal with this as well. In his Red Book, a very personal story of Jung’s search for soul and soul-renewal written between 1914 to 1930, CGJ said:
“My soul leads me into the desert, into the desert of my own self. I did not think that my soul is a desert, a barren hot desert, dusty and without drink” (Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus, 2009)
I want to give credit to Heide Kolb, one of my Twitter friends, for this quote which appears in this blog post. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a copy of this book. Now, back to the post.
In the desert … the desert of one’s self … there among the thorns, thistles and burnt grasses … in the desert one passes through suffering, a necessary passage, in order to go deeper and discover that which was hidden.
However, in taking this journey of self-discovery, unlike Jung who somehow managed to emerge sane doing the journey without a guide, I would advise that anyone trying to renew their spirit, the soul and the will to life, that the journey be taken with a guide at hand. Like Urspo commented in the last post, guides are necessary for almost all of us. Even then, the journey is painful and difficult. But, the cost is worth it. As the old expression goes: ”no pain, no gain.”
If we look all around us at all the renewal projects happening in the outer world, we see that change is a difficult process to experience whether it be changing the face of a community, changing the structure of a family, changing location, changing relationship. Even the creation of new materials only comes through destruction of old materials (petroleum into plastic is a good example). The change process is an alchemical process – baptism by fire, so to speak.
So, if you are bored with life, bored with yourself and others, then perhaps this is a signal for you to embark on the voyage of self-discovery . . . with a guide, of course.
The last number of days I have been posting photos taken featuring prairie sloughs, the prairie swampland. In each of those photos I focused on the positive, on the source of life that the water provides. However, like everything else, there is an opposite side, one that is negative and dark, one that embraces shadows and death. It would be unwise to enter into this swampland unaware of both of the faces of a swampland.
This photo was taken just a few steps from the previous photo of a duck. This bush is dead, drowned in the stagnant water that has overwhelmed. It seems that too much water, the source of life, kills. Getting lost in the unconscious contents means losing the conscious world and becoming trapped in the underworld and appearing to be insane in the outer world where one has left one’s body.
One needs to enter the unconscious domaine to discover more, to become more conscious. There is no question that the high one gets in discovering treasures (and consciousness is treasure) that point to a higher and more valued “self” can become addicting leading one to dive in too often or too deep. One must protect the self by constructing a safe container. That is the job of the ego.
Since we live in community, even the timing of journeys into the unconscious must be considered. It isn’t any different than my needing to time my physical journeys to visit a slough or a forest or the hills. I must weigh my need for presence and connection with others and then carve out my private time accordingly. It can’t be all private time or all relationship time. As always, there must be a balance that is individual specific so that the individual can maintain optimum psychic health.
There is something more to be gained than greater self-awareness, there is also the “bonus” in that one can now be more aware of others, being able to see the dark as well as the light in those others. Of course, Jung says it best when he said:
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” (Carl Gustav Jung)
Often when I am walking through fields and come up a slough here on the Canadian prairies, I will see ducks and other water birds. Getting close enough for a photo is not as easy as one things, especially when the birds are hunted by men with rifles in other seasons. This sometimes forces me to take photos from behind cover such as this photo. It is all about being cautious and respectful.
As the time for my SoFoBoMo project approaches, I find myself wondering what I will actually do for the project. My original idea for using the rear-view mirror has lost some of its appeal because it calls for so much planning, almost staging of each shot. Another idea involving mountains becomes a possibility, as well as a project based on the prairie slough. I even have a project based on one woman and anima sitting at the back of my mind – regardless, I seem to now be less ready than I was a month ago.
Getting back to the photo, it might appear that I am a patient person, one who is able to pause and allow things to develop without direct interference. Well, to a certain extent I am, but in truth, I don’t have a lot of patience or attention span. It isn’t that I get impatient, it is more that I become distracted resulting in losing the thread of attention. Most times this isn’t noticed by others.
Children can handle this “being present in body while not being too attentive to each of their words or actions” as long as the moments when one does attend, one is unconditional in that attention. Their is no judgement on the part of the child. And to observers who can’t see the wavering inattention due to following the wisps of thought, one would be judged as very patient.
I know that I treasure the distractions as they allow me to escape being trapped in a rut of routines. Being unable to contain the little sprites that point to things more numinous than concrete has allowed me to use this to explore, to play, and to experiment.
“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” (Carl Gustav Jung)
For those who don’t know, this is a Red-Winged Blackbird, a very common bird found along the small ponds, marshes and sloughs that are found on the prairies. It is a cheerful bird with a pleasant song, though it is a bit shy as it flies away at the least disturbance. On the prairies in Saskatchewan, the term “slough” is used to refer to all small bodies of water. I love hanging out in swamplands as anyone reading here can already guess.
Swamplands are a vibrant place of life, not just a place of dank muck and vicious blood-sucking insects, though they are there too. Walking on the edge of a swamp is liable to have one end up covered in mud and wet as well as scratching at insect bites. Unless one is very careful, a slip will quickly have one covered in the ooze that has the odor of death and decay clinging. Yet, it is only by walking on the edges that one can get close enough to appreciate the stuff that would otherwise be hidden.
What amazes me the most in terms of the swamplands, is seeing the vibrancy of life. Ducks, Mudhens, Loons, Geese, Muskrats and Beaver are just some of the life forms that find these prairie swamplands a place of feasting. It is interesting to see the ducks stick their heads into the water with their tails up in the air as they find nourishment under the surface.
This is what we also need, to descend into the unconscious, our personal swampland, in order to find nourishment for our souls.
This bird is called a Kildeer, a member of the Plover family. The egg that I featured a few days ago was a Kildeer egg. This is an interesting bird that doesn’t seem to mind getting your attention with its plaintive cry and acting as though it is injured. Of course it is all a sham in order to draw your attention away from the nest on the ground with its eggs. If ever there was a moral reason for an act of fraud, the Kildeer provides that reason.
In many ways, many people do much the same thing when we get too close to the sore spots in their psyche, they dissemble and work hard to turn our focus away from their vulnerable centre. There is little doubt that those who engage in this type of fraud soon lose their own sense of self. Their actions and investment into the deceptions lead away from the core self, away from the soul.
Sidney Jourard devotes a book to the study of disclosure and the impact of non-disclosure on the psyche in his book, The Transparent Self.
“When a man does not acknowledge to himself who, what, and how he is, he is out of touch with reality, and he will sicken and die; and no one can help him without access to the facts. And it seems to be another empirical fact that no man can come to know himself except as an outcome of disclosing himself to another person. (Jourard, The Transparent Self, p. 5)
In reading the book, a few people I know come to mind as good examples of just this loss. There is one woman in particular whose life is in a total mess though she denies even this basic fact in spite of her “poor me” litany of complaints. The refusal to see and admit the facts of her life, and to allow others to get to know her has resulted in most of her communications being done on the phone with basically no one allowed into her home.
All of her energy is focused now on continuing to divert attention from her issues to those of others, not unlike the Kildeer above. However, the cost to her psyche is enormous. She still refuses to acknowledge her need while at the same time she is unable to stem all the toxic seepage, bits of exposure that seeps out like sewage. As Jung once said:
“When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate”