Archive for November 6th, 2010
As I was wandering through China Dinosaur Park here in Changzhou on Halloween, I saw these three gigantic figures carved into the side of a desert hillside (all artificial of course), a scene which evoked the world of the gods and goddesses of Egyptian history. My first impression was that these were all representations of “Set,” the God of Chaos (also known as Seth and Setan -> Satan?). Symbolism, symbols – it is all about the need for symbols in our life for meaning to emerge. Without symbols to point towards something “more,” we are left in chaos.
Maybe the need for symbols is what has driven me in my pursuit of images with my collection of cameras. I would like to say that I am a photographer, but I am not. I simply use the camera and have no interest or energy to “study” the art of photography as an art. I just want to use the camera to capture images that appear to me as symbols. Otherwise, the camera is just a recording tool that documents places visited and the life of my family. Symbols, images and the numinous allow me to trace a thin path through chaos into a sense of meaningfulness.
“To Jung the loss of the symbolic sense was a catastrophe for both individual and society. It meant that the healing and religious disciplines of his time, themselves cut off from their own deepest resources, blocked their practitioners and devotees from them also. The consequences appeared, on an individual level, in the widespread occurrence and experience of meaninglessness, depression and neurosis, and socially in the outbreak of new epidemics of faith (often in political form) as the unconscious offered demonic configurations of mass-mindedness to fill the gaps left by the demise of the traditional religions.” (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, pp 15-16)
I see what Jung saw in my own backyard. Quiet Saskatchewan is now a hotbed of black and white fundamentalism, new versions of something that is supposed to be Christianity are appearing at the same time as others are retreating to rules and forms of religion of the past. All proclaim their “truths” that have been pared to a plain and stark set of words, a belief system that lacks the numinous. Religions are angry and seeking economic and political power, especially the new iterations of old religions. Under the appearance of strident purpose, chaos is rampant.
I see and hear this and I know that the only way through this is an individual path. As much as I would like to lead or follow a surge of others who would heal the human soul and the collective spirit, I know that all I can do is to find meaning as a unit of one. And in doing so, I must carefully watch out of the side of my eye for Set and his threat of chaos.
This is one of my many photos of Lotus flowers taken here in Changzhou. Usually I focus on isolating them in the water so that I can capture their mirror image being reflected. This time, I was pulled by the image of “fullness” in “community.” Rather than isolation and focus on the individual, this image places the individual within the collective. On the right-hand side in the foreground, a new lotus is emerging, being “born” into the collective so that it, too, can flourish for its moment in the sun.
The isolated lotus flower is about the individual. In isolating and focusing on the one that is symbolic for “self,” one is able to transcend the ordinariness of being within the collective, a way of being that is messy where the stinks and detritus of both birth and decay are ever present. One is able to enter into a state that transcends time and place while at the same time including all time and all space. And one discovers the source of one’s “self.”
After writing the above words, I thought I would then find out the name of the Hindu God that emerges out of the lotus flower. And in the process of doing that search (answer is Brahma) I found more than I was looking for. The lotus is symbolic of spirituality in Hinduism, Buddhism, and in the ancient Egyptian culture. Emerging from the lotus are Brahma, Buddha and Ra. One interesting thing of note for myself was the fact that each of these religions are experiential. And, in trying to understand why my “western world religions” seem to be failing me, I get to understand Jung’s similar state of dis-ease with religion in the western world.
For religions in the western world, “conceptions of faith are divorced from any experiential basis in humanity’s awareness of itself, and become dehumanizing substitutes for the life-giving experience of the unconscious which the symbols express. Of this destructive psycho-spiritual situation, Jung writes: “It [theology] proclaims doctrines which nobody understands and demands a faith which nobody can manufacture.”” (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, p. 18)
Growing out of the mud and dirty, even polluted, waters the lotus flower provides an example of what I can do as an individual as I strive to become more conscious. I catch a glimpse of the deity within, the spirit within. And in being able to finally notice its presence, I awaken as a spiritual being and begin the next stage of my journey.