Archive for July, 2010
In the background you can see the full extent of the prairie village in which I live when “home” in Canada. In the foreground, the solitary figure and shadow of Michael, my brother-in-law, is seen heading back to this little village. The scene looks east into the morning sun which accounts for the darker aspects. Something to think about here. I am seeing shadows while looking towards the sun, sun shadows.
Opposites – Michael has me thinking about opposites, and in particular, consciousness and the unconscious. Michael has his moments when he is lucid to a certain degree. For the most part, he appears to be relatively conscious. It is only when one tries to engage him in conversation or activity when one discovers that consciousness is fading. Seeing his struggles, I get a better appreciation of my own relative “wholeness.”
“Without the experience of the opposites there is no experience of wholeness . . .” (Jung, CW 12, par 24)
Of course, I must admit that “I” experience the opposites as well. For the most part, my experience of the unconscious is through dreams. At other times, I bump into the unconscious through play and active imagination. And of course, I become aware of the presence of the unconscious “after the fact” when there is fallout from my speech and/or my actions while “under the influence” of the unconscious via archetypal presence.
When considering the opposites of darkness and light, I am immediately inclined to see darkness as “evil” and light as “good.” I fear the unknown, especially that unknown which foments conflict within me and conflict between myself and others. Since the unknown is hidden in darkness, I project that darkness outside of myself rather than admit that it simply more of my “self” which has yet to be made aware to my “ego” self. So where does this “belief” of darkness and light representing good and evil come from for me? Jung has an answer that seems to make sense,
“Christianity has made the antinomy of good and evil into a world problem . . .” (Jung, CW 12, par 25)
The threats of hell, of punishments – these were gifts given to me while being trained as a Catholic youth in catechism classes, ideas validated by parents and grandparents and teachers in the Catholic schools I attended. The light is good, and the light is God and Jesus. The dark is bad, and the dark is Satan. A was taught to beware of Satan who would do anything, to sin, in order to turn me into a bad person. And, if I did sin it was enough to “repent” during confession and God would take me back and give me another chance to earn a place in eternal light, in heaven.
Now? Well, I have come to see that the bad and dark stuff that I fear in the outer world is also within me. I have also realised that the good and the light stuff is also within me. And in realising this, I have come to some balance, a place of less fear of the darkness, and of less fear of the light.
I was walking along the sidewalk holding the hand of my four year old great-niece’s hand when I saw this seed pod that had landed in a puddle. We studied the seed and its wings for quite a while after I had taken its photo. Finally, with her curiosity satisfied, we continued walking in order to find our way “home.” I love seeing the universe along side small children who are fully absorbed in all of the small wonders that adults miss.
The floating feeling is one that I enjoy, feeling myself suspended between earth and sky. There is only a small problem for me, the fact that floating in water isn’t easy. Whenever I try floating, my feet drift downwards as though to pull me into the depths. To stay afloat I must gently move hands and feet. Regardless of the difficulty with floating, I enjoy the water, especially the sea. Rather than float on my back, I prefer looking down into the depths while wearing my snorkel and mask. I enjoy being in between two worlds.
Strange when I think about it, I have a fear of heights and a fear of depths. Both fears are about falling. When I feel “safe” such as in a plane, the heights have no fear factor. Being in the depths of a cavern heading even further down offers me no fear factor as well. The fear only surfaces when I sense a lack of control, being left at the mercy of others or fickle nature.
And in listening to Jung, I remember hearing “Where the fear, there is your task.” I need to listen more to CG Jung: ”Anyone who is afraid has reason to be.” What is it about the fear of falling from heights, falling into the depths that abides within me? Am I fearful simply because of personal environmental history or is there some psychological factors at work here?
“As a psychotherapist I do not by any means try to deliver my patients from fear. Rather, I lead them to the reason for their fear, and then it becomes clear that this is justified.”
There is a reason for my fear and I sense that it is more than simple childhood traumatic incidents, that it is more about the larger domaine of the unconscious where I find myself staring down into unfathomable depths. Rather, I would prefer to float between the heights and the depths, suspended. This isn’t an invented fear within me, this is primal.
“I can say this because I am a religious man and because I know with scientific certainty that my patient hasn’t invented his fear but that it is preordained. By whom or what? By the unknown. The religious man calls this absconditum “God,” the scientific intellect calls it the unconscious.”
The depths, the darkness, the unconscious – this is my fear. I dare not deny the fear, nor avoid facing this fear. I need to approach the fear, the unconscious though I quake in fear of that unknown. For it is only in approaching this darkness, this depth that I can find a bit more light to carry forward through my days and nights. And as I do this work, I find it a bit easier in trying to climb gentle hills and swim in deeper waters.
PS – Just a small note to say that most of these words of Jung’s cited here come from a letter Jung wrote to Fritz Buri in 1945.
“At the hour of dawn, before the sun’s rising from beyond the horizon, I sat in the middle of a field communing with Nature. At that hour filled with purity and beauty I lay on the grass, what time men were yet wrapped in slumber, disturbed now by dreams, now by awakening. I lay there seeking to know from all that I looked upon the truth of Beauty and the beauty of Truth.” (Gibran, “Lament of the Field,” A Tear And A Smile, p.66)
Before putting Gibran’s book aside, I decided to read a bit more.
“And when my reflecting had set me apart from the flesh, and my imaginings lifted the covering of matter from off my inner self, I felt my spirit growing, drawing me near to Nature and revealing to me her hidden things and teaching me the language of her wonders.” (ibid)
As you may well guess, I took a significant pause after writing these words of Gibran’s before daring to add my thoughts to this post. All that comes up for me is to finally be still with the moment and let the image and the words do their work of talking to my soul, and like Gibran, “set myself apart” in order to allow the spirit to grow.
With evening rains becoming a normal occurrence in the semi-arid region, I find myself taking a larger number of “puddle” photos as the images found within those puddles become a living alter world that draw one into a participation in the fantasy of those alter worlds. How is it that in “looking down” into a watery underworld, I see the sky, clouds and trees? In looking down, I am also looking up. There is something “deep” in this awareness, something that I need to think about for a while. While I am thinking, I want to share a few words about fantasy with you, words from Kahlil Gibran’s book, A Tear And A Smile:
“Life carries us hither and thither and destiny moves us from one place to another. We see not save the obstacle set in our path; neither do we hear save a voice that makes us to fear.
Beauty appears before us seated on her thrown of glory and we draw nigh. An in the name of longing do we defile her garment’s hem and wrest from her the crown of purity.
Love passes us by clothed in a robe of gentleness, and we are afraid and hide us in dark caves, or follow her and do evil things in her name.
. . .
Wisdom stands on the street corner and calls to us above the multitude, but we deem her a thing without worth and despise them that follow her.
. . .We are near to earth, yet the gods are our kin. We pass by the bread of life, and hunger feeds off our strength.
How sweet to us is life, and how fare we are from life!” (Gibran, “Fantasy and Truth,” A Tear And A Smile, pp 61-62)
I could have written more of these words here, but it is time for my words. I bought this little book in 1971, about two years after buying and reading Gibran’s book, The Prophet. After choosing today’s photo, for some reason I reached for A Tear And A Smile which has been sitting on my bookshelf untouched for almost forty years, and almost immediately found this passage. For me, it was a pulling together of quite a few of my thoughts posted here that have been following the innate spirituality of humanity and the presence of the Divine within.
I would imagine that few passing by the puddle posted above, would be drawn into its depths and find there life, beauty, love and wisdom. Looking at the photo, one might get confused by the wall of asphalt that borders the sky, and likely deny its presence as it doesn’t “fit” preconceived notions. Or else, what this puddle offers us in fantasy is rejected and dismissed as simply being a fuzzy reflection of reality found in an ordinary puddle. When one walks through life blind to the numinous on the edges of almost all that is seen, felt, heard, touched and scented, one is barren. One is left holding onto false truths, not even half-truths about who he or she is, about the purpose and meaning of life. And in anger for not finding a purpose and meaning for life, one denies, dissembles and destroys.
I know for myself, truth about who I am is found when I enter into the realms of fantasy. And there I find so much more than truth. Thank you, Kahlil Gibran for helping me to remember.
I took another photo of the full moon late yesterday evening. I went through a full range of settings in hopes of getting an image that I would actually like because of the weak light situation of late evening before darkness fully sets in. The photo reminded me of a song I used to sing, one made popular by Cat Stevens:
Moon Shadow - Cat Stevens
I’m being followed by a moon shadow
moon shadow-moon shadow
leaping and hopping on a moon shadow
moon shadow-moon shadow
and if I ever lose my hands
lose my plough, lose my land
oh, if I ever lose my hands
I won’t have to work no more
and if I ever lose my eyes
If my colours all run dry
yes, if I ever lose my eyes
oh well …
I won’t have to cry no more.
. . .
and if I ever lose my legs
I won’t moan and I won’t beg
oh if I ever lose my legs
I won’t have to walk no more
And if I ever lose my mouth
all my teeth, north and south
yes, if I ever lose my mouth
I won’t have to talk
Did it take long to find me
I ask the faithful light
Ooh did it take long to find me
And are you going to stay the night . . .
moon shadow – moon shadow
The moon does have shadows as well as reflected light. I know because my camera tells me this. And when I think of the moon as the feminine aspect of self, I think of both light and shadows, just as the sun as the masculine aspect of self is all about light and shadows. Listening to the song, I think somehow of St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) and his song of joy to the night, and the light of the night. To me, this signifies a holy union of light and shadow, of soul and spirit, of masculine and feminine – all the polarities that exist within the self, those polarities that cause us so much grief and pain and suffering. C.G. Jung had it right when he counselled to hold the tension of the opposites until a new path emerged, one that didn’t lead to either pole, but to a state of being in which both are held with dignity.
I took this photo a few nights ago while looking out of my window. It wasn’t because I was simply being lazy, rather it was about wanting to “frame” the moon and the scene. I am again searching for ways to hint at what it looks like to be within darkness looking out at the world outside with which one wants connection. One a side note, I did go outside to get full photos of the moon for my archives.
“Whoever leads a solitary life, and yet now and then wants to attach himself somewhere; whoever, according to changes in the time of day, the weather, the state of his business and the like, suddenly wishes to see any arm at all to which he might cling – he will not be able to manage for long without a window looking on to the street.” (Kafka, The Street Window)
It’s actually interesting to watch where an image leads me. I first thought of my last posts about my brother-in-law, Michael and thought that this post and photo might be about him as well. Little did I realise that I was talking about myself. It’s strange how one can be in a group of people without feeling a part of the group, feeling like someone who peers out into a world of others, a world from which one feels disconnected even thought connections are present.
The journey of individuation does funny things to the world of relationship. Travelling this insular journey down pathways that are almost non-existent, one puts distance between self and others. And in the process, one is left in a state of tension. One part of self wants to be embraced by family, friends and community; while another part of self is itchy for the solitary path upon which incredible discoveries await. One is torn between the two poles.
This is where I often find myself. I cherish the moments of solitude and get upset when life demands too much presence from me, especially when I am in the active hunt, rummaging thought photos taken in the past, out with the camera in search of new photos, thumbing through books long read in search of another resonance, reading a new book with eyes-wide-open for something that might hint at a new-for-me idea, and when writing here.
And when the self is filled to saturation for the moment, it is at this time that I look through the street window of my own eyes into the world of other, craving connection and belonging.
Another day with Michael and I have another photo of him for you. This is his reflection in the water of a large puddle near my home. It rained last night and as a result there are a lot of puddles to be found. I had to rotate the photo 180 degrees in order to get this result as though it was a person looking at themselves in a puddle. In the original, he was on the opposite side of the puddle so he was inverted for me, the viewer.
This teaches me about perspective. Where one stands gives one a unique viewpoint in which one sees the world and how one sees one’s self.
“The self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is in the centre of consciousness.” (Jung, CW 12, par 44)
One stands in the centre; I stand in the centre. Why do I say this? Well, that is where “I” am. What I know about myself and others and the world is – my consciousness – is located in the ego. ”Ego” equals “I.” As I move forward or backward or sideways, I remain in the centre with the universe unfolding all around “me.” With that said, and as I study Michael, I see that one can never escape this fact of being in the centre and never being able to step outside of it regardless of one’s conscious capabilities.
Understanding and awareness of the world and others is always being forced through the lens of the ego. And when that lens becomes blurry as it does for those suffering a loss of self-awareness, one finds one’s self struggling through a haze more lost than found.
Does it matter if one finds themselves lost because of an organic disease, or addictions or trauma? The result is the same – being lost in the swamplands.
I know I have written here in the past about my brother-in-law, Mike who suffers from Alzheimer’s. He is staying for a few days at my place as he is en route to a new way of living. It’s time to be in a safe harbour for him. Life lived on his own has become too fearful and too lonely. I took this photo yesterday while he was engaged in doing dishes with his sister, my wife. As usual, I was taking photos for family and event purposes and didn’t realize that I had also taken a photo for this site. Standing outside the house I was trying to get a photo of him in the kitchen as the photos taken in the house were poorer in quality because of the excess light coming in through the kitchen window. As well, I was only able to get a photo of his back while he was at the task. In many ways, I think that this photo shows something about the reality of Mike today – a man who has lost much of his sense of self.
In a way, when I see Michael, I see the man I could have become if I had rejected the work that came out of “crisis,” that pivotal moment when one is assaulted by deep questions of self-worth; those questions of identity, purpose and meaning. I could have chosen to be the victim of another meaningless life in a meaningless culture rather than choosing to be the hero of my own story. Michael didn’t have a choice, or so I think. Alzheimer’s made the choice for him. For the most part he is somewhat happy though I don’t for a minute think that he is without anger, angst, confusion or fear.
I could have chosen a medicated life as a way to stay in the world. However, I know that I would have become a ghostly type of person, not a vibrant “full” person. It isn’t always about choices, I agree. But, when there are choices to be made, what will the response be? Will it be for clarity and the suffering that comes with it? Or, will it be for as much relief from suffering as one can take and still hold on to some small bit of “self?”
A double rainbow appeared in the sky a couple of days ago. Of course, being me, I had to fool around with the image and this is what emerged. Purists might be disappointed that I didn’t just let the rainbow be represented as it appeared in the camera. Regardless, this isn’t an exercise in pleasing others, it is all about “discovery” of what is behind the obvious in front of my eyes. I want to know what lies beneath the surface, what appears if one looks deeply enough. I want to return to Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, (CW Volume 14) here as it talks to me about the shift happening within myself, and the shift that I know the collective must go through in order to arrive at a better, higher state of consciousness.
“Any renewal not deeply rooted in the best spiritual tradition is ephemeral; but the dominant that grows from historical roots act like a living being within the ego-bound man. He does not possess it, it possesses him . . .” (Jung, CW 14, par 521)
Now I understand why I am so vested in all that is “spiritual” at this time. It is actually amazing how many years I have been reading Jung’s works and that of others who reflect deeply on Jung’s understandings and how different parts of his works come to have their turn at resonance within me. I guess I am a lot like a stone being worked in an alchemists workshop. It is necessary for the psyche to proceed through the whole process in order to arrive at the proper place and at the proper time for each unique and individual psyche.
I know that I have been conscious since an early age and I have watched as I have shifted and transformed through a number of changes, mostly due to the natural rhythms of developing as a human. At each stage of transformation I have had to let go of what I “knew” as certainties in order to expand the sphere of my personal consciousness. Jung compares these transformation points to the death of an old king (consciousness) so that a new king (expanded field of consciousness) can ascend to the throne. I knew this concept in educational terms as that is how learning is planned based on a spiral curriculum. Now, a bit more from Jung:
“Although the renewed king corresponds to a renewed consciousness, this consciousness is as different from its former state as the filius regius differs from the enfeebled old king. Just as the old king must forgo his power and make way for the little upstart ego, so the ego, when the renewed king returns, must step into the background. It still remains the sine qua non of consciousness, but it no longer imagines that it can settle everything and do everything by the force of its will. It no longer asserts that where there’s a will there’s a way. When lucky ideas come to it, it does not take credit for them, but begins to realize how dangerously close it had been to an inflation. The scope of its willing and doing become commensurate with reality . . .” (Jung, CW 14, par 522)
Now, I can consider myself told. There is no need for “anger” and feelings of “powerlessness” in response to all that needs fixing in the world. It is enough (as a number of you have told me through comments and messages) to do the work of becoming as conscious as possible and daring to bring my self here and into the world of “others” in order to effect change at the collective level. Thus, I arrive at my own ray of “hope” like a rainbow in a muddy sky.
I have to admit that I had a lot of fun editing this photograph. Unexpectedly, I managed to produce a full-body halo for this image of my wife, my anima personified. Of course, I was preparing another image of the archetypal feminine aspect, that of the Great Mother Goddess, Gaia. In the process, this happy accident arrived. What emerges is a sense of the numinous, which Daryl Sharp explains is a quality of “persons, things or situations having a deep emotional resonance.” (Sharp, C.G. Jung Lexicon, p.92) Just as an added bit of information, Sharp’s “Primer of Terms and Concepts” is also available for free on-line here.
Anima in terms of the larger feminine archetype is on my mind a lot lately. The sad state of the planet, the fecund face of Gaia, leaves me feeling almost powerless in response. I do what I can to lessen the drain on her as I cut back on the use of resources as much as possible. One of my long-time friends in the Jungian field is Gwynne Mayer, has been writing quite a bit on the topic of “Gaia Gone Mad” (you can read some of Gwynne’s writings here) and hysteria. Her response to what is happening to the world points to another face of the Great Mother Archetype, the dark mother.
“The Mother Archetype has many faces: nurturing, compassionate, sacrificing, protecting, defending, providing, generous, persistent, abandoning, devouring, grieving, destructive, indifferent, smothering and abusive. Those who manifest an empowered Mother archetype enrich the lives of those they touch, imparting life. For those who maim, ignore, or abuse their children–real or symbolic–destruction and chaos results.” (Boyer, The Mother Archetype)
This dark face is what we experience when Gaia erupts in her fullness of chaotic energy. Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, altered weather patterns that result in hardships for humans and animals alike are manifestations of the collective unconscious energy of this dark face of the Mother. Unfortunately, even our western religions actively promote this dark side of the feminine citing “Eve” and how women “tempt” men into sin, tempt them with their sex. Yet, all this darkness doesn’t belong to the feminine. God the Father, also has a dark side – Satan.
Good and evil in the masculine in balance, good and evil in the feminine in balance. This is the goal of individuation, a holy marriage of the two within. This marriage of masculine and feminine in which the dark faces as well as the light faces of both are in harmony is the closest one can come to arriving at a definition of heaven.
The “self” knows this though the ego is at odds with this. The ego demands proofs that are quantifiable, provable. The ego needs the divine to be transcendent, and so refuses to look within. What isn’t found within will be found without, and that leads to projections. And so our mates are left to hold too much of our projected divine resulting in disappointment and confusion when we discover them to be as human and as fallible as we are.