Archive for January, 2011
As I walked through a morning market in Luang Prabang, I saw this older man who was intently staring at nothing in the outer world. All that was left was either a focused concentration on the inner world or else a “vacancy” due to the hazards of living a hard life. From my observations, I would guess the latter. We don’t all have the grace of consciousness as we age. Wisdom and old age do go together, but the gift of wisdom isn’t given to all, likely even most humans.
Wandering through the villages and the countryside I see so much poverty that it breaks the heart. Though I am not even close to being a wealthy man in western world terms, rather I am a simple middle-class person who has earned a small pension after decades of working in education, I see that I am grotesquely wealthy in comparison.
Thankfully I don’t care to own much and find that I have too much stuff as it is so I am comfortable enough and feel almost rich regardless of what my peers and community define as rich. I live simply and don’t spend all the pension money I get when at home in Canada and so I am able to put away funds for trips that will feed my hunger for knowledge, for understanding. I want to learn so that one day I will have enough to say to put into a book that will be my memorial, a gift to whoever would find the book and read it. What I am doing now is my apprenticeship.
I took this photo yesterday evening and was pleased how just as I saw the possibilities, aimed and shot, this image appeared. As I write this, I am tired, very tired. My sleep is as busy as my day with images overflowing in all directions. Sometimes I think it is best if I find a way to be quiet and just let the images speak their own language. Yet, I feel compelled to pull words out from within me, not knowing what I will say, but trusting to the impulse.
I feel somewhat like this young man, casting my net out into the waters of the unconscious, in hopes of netting something that will feed me, and perhaps feed others. So, I continue this journey of images through Indochina. The images will bring ripples to my psyche and result in moving me further down a road I know I am supposed to be travelling.
I visited a lot of different temples in Luang Prabang and had not thought I would use any of the temple photos for today’s post – that is until I got to the Vat Visoun Temple. There on a tree was this sign, a translation of one of the head monks from past times.
Four Groups of People
Those who go from darkness to darkness;
Those who go from darkness to light;
Those who go from light to light;
Those who go from light to darkness.
As I understand it – darkness equates to unconsciousness and light equates to consciousness. But, in the Buddhist thought as I understand it, and I am by no means an authority, darkness is more that unconsciousness, it is choosing darkness, choosing dark deeds. And light is about choices and actions that enable light to shine from Self, through oneself onto others so that life is made better.
So much to think about. Individuation demands us to move to the light and to take this light to others, and give service so that one’s light can serve as a guiding light, a beacon, for others. Hmmm? Maybe not so different when all is said and done?
I was almost tempted to do a bit of photo editing with this photo taken just a few hours ago just before sunset here in Vientiane, Laos. The scene is the Mekong River as seen from the fifth floor outdoor restaurant in Vientiane, looking across the Mekong River toward Thailand. I was initially worried that there wasn’t enough “light” because I was facing into the west making the picture darker than it was. But, the thought to edit lasted about a half a second at most and I decided to leave it “as is.”
The afternoon spent in various temples as well as a book I am reading on my e-Reader have left me in a pensive mood. I think back to my original foray into Transcendental Meditation in the early 70s, reading Siddhartha by Hemann Hesse back in the same time period and find some peace in meditative approaches that have come to me naturally in the second half of my life. Perhaps it is because I find myself approaching life in the older lane to be a contemplative time. Regardless of the reason, the temples of Buddhism, Hinduism, and a collection of animistic beliefs find a resonance in terms of honouring the unknown.
I am not drawn to any particular “religion” though I am drawn to a more spiritual life. For me, religions and a spiritual life don’t exactly go together. One can be spiritual with a professed religion as one can be rigidly religions without having a spiritual bone in one’s body.I am drawn to the numinous such as is found in this photograph. For me, it is telling that it contains water, land and sunset colours.
I belong to the earth and water, I am made up of both earth and water. And in the natural flow of life, I will return to the natural elements from which I came. And in the meantime, meaning will arise from how I life my life through both my attitude and my actions.
The title of this post says it all when one looks at the image. On the way to a village the guide made an unplanned stop so that I could investigate the tombs found in the poor soil area not too far from the village I was supposed to visit. There are a lot of tombs scattered throughout the land with almost every farmer’s plot hosting a tomb os some sort. War has been a fact of life for the Vietnamese since people have lived in this narrow stretch of land along the South Pacific coast.
War between the forces of darkness and light, between self and other, between the known and the unknown; this is how we mostly approach that which is different. Few have the courage or wisdom to hold the tension that the unknown presents to us. We have a tendency to react as though we are cornered rats, allowing the darker aspects of self to emerge and cloud consciousness. Acting blindly leaves a trail of wreckage, a land of psychic devastation. And when we come to our senses and see the waste, we wail with regret and find ourselves in need of healing. Our psyche needs to forgive self and begin the healing that will allow us to continue the journey of individuation. Without admitting one’s own part in the devastation, one gets stuck. It is as though we have entered the City of Tombs before our bodies have died.
I took another set of hundreds of photos today and have trimmed the lot so that only three hundred photos remain from the day’s efforts. I then ended up selecting this photo taken a few days ago though there were a fair number that I had thought would be used for today’s post while taking them. This photo was what was needed for me today so I decided to honour the pull to it and present it here. It’s a simple photo not too unlike a mandala to my mind. The image isn’t symmetrical or balanced, but it works. It wasn’t until the third viewing of the photo, after it was placed here in this post that I noticed the Buddhist swastika, a mandala unto itself, in the bottom right of the circle.
My original thought was of being on the inside, looking out – in the dark, looking toward the light with a yearning. And what was to be found in the light wasn’t in focus, couldn’t be objectified and so kept its numinous quality, its mystery. As I peer through the barriers of my ego and filters, I can only see these barriers clearly. I know that I have to take these dark lines, these projected pieces back into my self if I am to attain the light.
I begin to wonder if perhaps this is a call for me to once again turn to meditation. I wonder but know that I will wait, hold the tension to see what else pulls me before committing to a turn in the road that is my journey of individuation.
I have just returned from a day and a half spent on the Pacific Ocean in Halong Bay. Trying to find an image for this post was incredibly difficult since I took so many photos during the time on the water. Of course, I had a lot of photos that I deleted in the first round of viewing which made the whole thing a bit easier, but after a while one scene blended into the next scene so that nothing seemed to jump out. Finally, this image presented itself and I feel satisfied.
The light in this photo is anything but clear and distinct. Though it is daytime, the cloud cover and the mist makes one feel as though they are in another universe. I know that had the day been sunny, the colours would have been sharp and filled with abundance. While taking these photos and while simply sitting or standing on the deck with the cold, damp air, I felt a comforting peace. For a change, I had to wear a thin coat because of the cold air, but that only added to the mood. It definitely was not a time for dozing off. I was forced to be present – and that was good.
This whole journey is so filled with images that I am beginning to be a bit overwhelmed with the journey. After arriving back in my hotel in Hanoi in the late afternoon, I had no desire or energy to go wander the streets, here in the old district, which are teeming with life and images; especially images of people. I need time to sit still and be quiet, time to reflect a bit on this journey.
This morning I went to a village called Phu Thuong, a village near Hué that has a group of ladies that make the conical hats that are symbolic of Vietnam, hats as worn by these two men who are herding their water buffalo. It was an opportunity for my wife to try her hand at the craft of making conical hats with the ladies. We got more than we had hoped for in the process. While the work with the ladies was taking place, I noticed that for a good while there were two ladies, two older ladies, who looked at me with distrust and some initial fear. They had lived through the American War and their first response was that of an American standing in the doorway, an image burned into their memories from the past. The oldest woman had lost a son and a nephew in the war.
The initial fear passed as it became obvious that we were not in the past anymore. I talked with the young people who had gathered to see the foreigners while my wife continued chatting with the ladies and engaging them in bouts of laughter.
The situation served as a reminder to me to let my own anima free in interactions with others rather than to always rely on the ego. Sometimes masculine energy creates distance and distrust.
I took this photo just outside of the Forbidden City within the walls of the Citadel in Hué, Vietnam yesterday afternoon. Obviously, the photo wasn’t part of the record file of the UNESCO site, but an image that has its own life. This journey through Vietnam is one that has several purposes for me. The first is an escape from the “sameness” of everyday life in my home in Changzhou, Jiangsu, PRC. The second is the love of travelling and capturing images of what I see. A third purpose is to understand something about “others.” And the most important, to meet my unconscious self that peers out in some of the images and scenes before my eyes and the camera lens. This photo falls into the last category. I have another purpose for taking images, that of capturing scenes for use as teaching tools, ways to help my students see a different world in a way that connects with them. I guess I must be a teacher at heart as well as by profession.
Today’s image is an invitation to look within, with a different eye. There is a comfort given that says what is to be found beneath the level of consciousness is connected to what is found in the conscious outer world. The perspective changes for one’s outer world when gets to add depth to what we experience and see in the outer world.
I stopped at Hoi Van Pass en route to Hue from Da Nang this morning. There is no question in my mind that the clouds and darkness of the morning well suited the scene that met my eyes and heart. This image shows one of the defensive emplacements used by the forces of “good” versus the forces of “evil,” at least as it was experienced by those who manned this and similar bunkers during the Vietnam War, or as it is called in Vietnam, the American War. Seeing the terrain, I could almost feel the terror and the fear that must have been experienced by those waiting for the enemy, an enemy that didn’t want to play by the same rules of war.
“With no human consciousness to reflect themselves in, good and evil simply happen, or rather, there is no good and evil, but only a sequence of neutral events . . . ” (Jung, cited in Jung on Evil, p. 7)
Both sides seeing the other as enemy, as forces of evil. Both sides following orders trusting in their leadership. Both sides fighting with their god(s) on their side. There is no room for consciousness in a war.
Taken on an individual level, this image becomes more about how an single person feels surrounded by enemies, surrounded by the vast unknown that is, for the most part, out to get you. Each of us gains just enough consciousness to know that death lies around some corner in our future. We grasp at anything or anyone who promises us life. We huddle in collectives rather than venture into the dark unknown regions. We make ourselves victims of our own fear. And so, we remain unconscious of our own acts of unconscious, acts where we hurt others and hurt ourselves.