Archive for May, 2011
This woman is slowly making her way upstream on a slow moving tributary of the Mekong River in the delta area not far from Can Tho. She is on her way back to a staging area where she will hopefully pick up another passenger or two to take on a tour of the inner reaches of the river with a destination of some place of refreshment and entertainment for the tourists. The job doesn’t pay well, but it does have the bonus of tips, especially from western world tourists. The ride is mostly done in silence as the boat glides through the opaque waters with the sound of the oar swishing in the water being accented every now and then by a bird sound or the oar bumping against the gunwale of the small boat. It almost seems sacrilegious to engage in idle chat.
As a man, I am always conscious of myself in relation to the women I see, and conscious of their presence. I have learned both about their strengths and their weaknesses and how I somehow figure in relationship to both strong women and weak women. Those in the middle ground seem to not register on my psyche and that tells me even more. The strengths and weaknesses are more about the psyches of these women, psyches that act as hooks for my projections. I think that I am being a caretaker of one, or being dominated by another only to find that in reality, both types of women are more complex than my relationship to them via my projections. And it is at this point, at this realisation where I begin to pull back my projections and discover the reality of the woman beneath the layers of my own anima that had been projected.
As I realise this, I have become more confident in myself. That said, I have a long way to go in order to peel away more of my projected stuff in my basic relationships with women – colleagues, students, children, family relations, neighbours and strangers on the street and in all public spaces. I am at least a little aware of my stuff to catch myself in thoughts of all types in regards to women seen and with whom I interact.
This is curiously freeing for me. I feel like a pressure has been lifted in many areas, pressures that suggest that I have been possessed by my own projections and have blindly taken on the projections of these female others. I am now a bit more free to be myself and to create space and distance between myself and these others – a healthy distance that acknowledges relationship and separateness.
I searched for a while for today’s photo and decided that this photo taken in February in Angkor Wat deserved to brought forward for you, my readers. I chose the photo before any thoughts as to what today’s post was to be about as I was unsure about the direction of this post. As I come closer to returning to Canada for the summer, I find that I am disrupted from normal routines. I haven’t taken my camera out for a walk in weeks and my sleep patterns are changing as the weather warms up. I find it harder to focus, even to read. It is as though some alien force has clamped an energy suppressant shield over me.
I think some of this is due to the frustration I feel in trying to access Internet and write up posts. At times, the good times, I can simply turn on a browser and log into this page and write to my hearts content, taking time to search for the right photo and browse though a book or two to find words that resonate. Recently that freedom has all but vanished. I use a program called Freegate to try and get passed the Firewall used to limit the access both into and out of China’s web spaces. If there is a small opening in the wall, I can sneak in to catch up on a bit of reading and posting using social media such as Twitter or Facebook, media which shortens the distance between family and friends left behind. However, I can’t post blogs using Freegate as my host site in Canada doesn’t allow proxy access to do so.
Yet adding to the Internet issues is the perennial issue of end of course documentation so that the university can release grades and move on to a new term. At least Internet isn’t an issue in doing this work. However, it is a dull, dispiriting kind of work that drains the energy levels and leaves one lethargic.
I realise that this post is not much more than a rant, and that, thankfully is not typical for my way of being here. Now, if I could only get this tree off my back and renew my presence in both face-to-face life and here in my sacred container, Through A Jungian Lens.
At the beginning of the month when I walked around Hong Mei Park, the flowers were in full bloom and the number of park visitors was significantly high with most of them busy using their cell phones as cameras to try and take in the scene. There is something about spring and the bursting forth of flowers that stirs the life forces within each of us. There is an innate desire to possess all of this beauty, this vitality, this visible image of life energy. It doesn’t matter if one has a DSLR, an SLR or the crappiest camera phone, the focus is the same, the intent to capture and hold the moment.
Humans replicate this in other aspects of their lives, especially in relationships. The moment we feel our inner spaces stirred to the point that life forces start to surge, when in the presence of another person, we want to possess that person, to take that person into our bodies or enter into their bodies and become one with them as though in doing so, we would be complete, full, ready for everything life could throw at us. It really doesn’t matter what the person looks like or who the person is – all that matters is that somehow energy within us has been activated. The feeling, the rush that results tells us that this is what life is all about, this is what we need. And when there is a reciprocal response, the result is a relationship that primal and archetypal. We call it love.
On the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia near Kampong Chhnang, I came across these children who live on the river. These children are a proof that there is a beauty and vitality and hope for life. These children are the product of the human instinct for survival as a species and a deeper instinct for the preservation of the self as an immortal being. One doesn’t think of any of this when one meets the other with whom mating and giving birth and child-rearing becomes a life-consuming task.
Many reasons are given for marrying in our modern times – love, wealth, power, duty, loneliness – but whatever the initial impulse the two entering into a marriage begin to change because of the marriage, because of the intimate contact with an other person. Two people choose to be together in a contractual arrangement that is best described as a marriage. Yet, it isn’t too long before both parties of the contract have changed. Intimacy evokes a response as much as dropping a stone into a still pond affects change in an environment.
“Many marriages simply evolve beyond the implicit terms of the invisible contract. Whatever complexes or programmed ideas of self and Other may have inspired the marriage the psyche has moved to another place. It is not so much that people fall out o love, but that the original controlling ideas have waned in favor of others – or the complex has decided that the Other cannot meet the expectations of the original agenda. (Hollis, The Eden Project, p 44)
Imagine if the two in a marriage became stuck in the initial human psychological developmental stage (it happens). Two who become forever adolescent; two who never move past that initial Magical Other; the result is tragic from the view of individuation as individuals, and perhaps even more tragic if these become parents who are so fixated on each other that the children are basically orphans in a psychological sense.
The binds and blindfolds of the Magical Other deny the growth of self. One is frozen in place and in time. One never does find the person behind the projections. And, one never does find the depths of one’s self.
On a boat going upriver on the Mekong, I came across this young couple who were also making their way upriver in their small boat which serves as both home and workplace. Millions of people live on the Mekong River as it traverses through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Most are small family units, nuclear family units for the most part. Most of them are also in their first half of life. Their journeys on the river are about searching for a home, a place of stability, a journey that will lead them to solid ground.
For myself as someone fairly typical in the western world sense of the world, the search for home has been a search for love.
“Everything, everything, seems to ride on this thing called love. We love nature, we make love, we fall into and out of it, we pursue love and ask it to save us. Romantic love, by which we mean that élan, that heightened ardor, that intense yearning for the Beloved, that frantic grappling, that profound sorrow when the Beloved is lost, that anxious uncertainty about the fixity of the Other – all this and more is both the greatest source of energy and the chief narcotic of our time. Given the erosion of tribal myths which once helped connect our ancestors to the gods, to nature, to the tribe and to themselves, romantic love may prove to be the primary region of existential hunger in our century. One may even suggest that romantic love has replaced institutional religion as the greatest motive power and influence in our lives.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, pp 41-42)
There is no question that whether one is searching for land, searching for a home, searching for family or searching for that one person that will be soulmate, all of us are living with yearning. And it doesn’t matter that we find land, find a home, build a family or get married to the one we have fallen in love with, head over heels; the yearning continues. What we yearn for, what I yearn for, is not to be found in the outer world, in things, activities, or other people.
One of the stops I made as I toured through Cambodia was at these three floating schools; a kindergarten, an elementary and a secondary school. These schools were found just a few hundred metres from the northern end of Tonle Sap Lake, an area that floods during the rainy season. I got there before classes began in the early morning in order to catch the light and avoid the heat of the day. I checked in with the kindergarten classes and got a few interesting photos which I then showed the students which only made them more willing to be photographed. This was followed by a visit to a classroom of older students in the elementary school. In the late afternoon while returning from a visit to a floating village on the lake, I stopped off at the high school to catch some boys playing soccer (football) and talk to some other high school students before they headed home for the day. There is little doubt that I find a lot of pleasure in meeting students and talking with them, I seem to be at home when with young people, listening to them and having them listen, with interest and respect to what I have to say to them.
Young people are willing to trust a guide, a teacher as they prepare themselves for a life of adulthood. The teacher-student relationship is precious for both the teacher and the student. But, one can’t take the relationship for granted. The moment the teacher becomes puffed up with his or her importance, students retreat from listening and respecting the teacher. There is a shift from student to resistance fighter. The key relationship activity of authentic presence that recognizes the other (both teacher and student) has been sabotaged and the resultant loss leads to grieving on the students’ part. And, also to a delayed sense of loss and grieving on the teacher’s part.
A lifetime in the classroom has taught me a lot about relationships with young people – but not so much with peers. I lack confidence and have built a fairly impenetrable fortress around my psyche with “friendly” personae to suit the adult audience. I am on edge trying hard to please, to keep the focus on the other rather than have anyone see my “self” in any depth. I hide behind a mirror while giving the egos of those I meet positive strokes. People in general don’t know me though they think I am a quiet and kind man who smiles easily and listens without trying to monopolize the conversations. I was a good school principal in terms of ethical behaviour and in caring for the students and being there for them. I wasn’t all that good with the teachers though because as more than one teacher and support staff mentioned over the years, I wasn’t tough enough. I didn’t want to be tougher, couldn’t be tougher – I didn’t want to open the pandora’s box that contained my shadow as I feared I would become too tough and do more hurt than healing. Now, six years later, I am again teaching and enjoying it.
I still haven’t given up on adults hoping that somewhere along the way, some adult will want to listen to me, to engage with me authentically sharing ideas, dreams and visions.
Heading northwest on the Mekong River not too far out of Ho Chi Minh City, these homes on stilts made me realise how life along this river must be always subject to the unpredictable water of the river. Looking at the network of supporting poles, small sticks that would by themselves seem insignificant spurs me to think about all the differences I encounter while living in Asia and in China in particular.
Working at a university, I get to see young men and women every day as they move through the steps from childhood to adulthood. Teaching them a second language allows me to find out a lot about their ways of understanding the world. When teaching a second language, the quickest method is to use base knowledge of the first language and life experience as hooks for the second language. In other words, teach them what they already know, only in the target language. Since at this stage of life, relationships are the biggest focus of these young people, giving them a chance to talk about relationships and their beliefs allows them to speak with more confidence as they don’t have to learn new concepts, just the vocabulary and expressions. Aside from their romantic notions that come out of watching American films, these young people have a very practical sense of what marriage is all about. Love is not synonymous with marriage as it is in the western world.
“Historically, love and marriage have not been synonymous . . . As a matter of fact, only in the last century and a quarter has the vox populi claimed marriage and love as one and the same. This is not to say that happily committed people have not loved each other, but rather that for most of human history the purpose o marriage was to bring stability to the culture rather than make an individual happy or serve the task of mutual individuation. Possibly the greatest number of history’s marriages would, by today’s standards, be described as loveless, for they were contracted arrangements made to produce, protect and nurture the young, thus to preserve the tribe, to transmit social and religious values and to channel anarchic libido in socially useful directions.
Similarly, in many marriages love, whatever love may prove to be, is simply not the determinative value. What more commonly has brought people together, the energy which seeks synergy, are the operative complexes of each. One or both may seek to find the good parent in the other, may even wish to find an abuser in order to confirm a wounded sense of self, or may be seeking what was missing in the family of origin. Or, one may marry for a sense of transferred power.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, pp41-42)
With these words, I understand better how the young men and women in my classes dutifully abandon a “love” mate because the parents don’t support the union. I understand better why young Asian women willingly enter into relationships with older western men. As one young female told me, it is about power. The want to marry power and thus gain power themselves, a sense of security in a crowded and competitive world where there is not enough for everyone. These young people believe in love, fall in love and rebel for love. But, for the most part, these young men and women fall back into line in order to fit in with the needs and demands of their culture.
Maybe there is something to learn here. Maybe we (I) put too many demands on the people we marry making all of us crazy in the process?
While in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam, I happened to go walking down a narrow trail passed a number of small country homes and tiny fields. The scene was distant from any city and a few kilometres from a small town. As I wandered down the trail I met a few people such as these two women who were busy with the collection of banana leaves which were to be used as food wrap as well as serving platters for meals that were predominantly based on rice which was being grown not too far from this site. The young woman seemed pleased to see me here in the Mekong jungle and even more pleased that I wanted to take her photo. In my imagination, I could almost see her reaching out with her eyes as though to wish me to her, to be a magical other – of course, only in my imagination. The real smile she gave has nothing to do with the magical other. I wonder at how Asians view the idea of a “Magical Other.”
The fantasy of the magical other finds its roots in archetype, the archetype of the parent, a Primal Other. Here are a few words from James Hollis to illustrate this idea:
“Our first experience of ourselves is in relationship to these Primal Others, usually mother or father. Consciousness itself arises out of that splitting of the primal participation mystique which characterizes the infant’s sensibility. The paradigms for self, for Other, and the transactions between, are formed from these earliest experiences. They are hard-wired into our neurological and emotional networks.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 37)
Somehow, this seems to be something very important in trying to understand the idea of Magical Other, a soulmate, or love at first sight. Perhaps it is at this moment one is wired to being attracted to one gender or another. One searches for the safe container in which to find the courage to be self. Many, if not most “marriages” are born of the attraction to the Magical Other.
The stranger with whom one falls in love has power and a numinosity that is in reality too much for a human person to contain. As time passes and the bumps and bruises of relationship teach us the mortal nature of this human, we feel loss and sadness. The grieving over the loss of the Magical Other takes one through anger and the other stages of grief until we come to accept the real person with whom we have coupled, that is if one persists long enough to go through the stages. Many cannot get passed the anger and turn away from this stranger who has betrayed us, lied to us. Too late we come to realise that it is we who have lied to ourselves.
For those that survive the grieving, there is a comfort and a discomfort with what remains. We are comforted that the other, not so magical anymore, has taken on our need for sanctuary and willingly works at meeting the needs for love, security, acceptance. Each becomes lover, friend, child and parent to the other. Listen to the words and you will perhaps hear from those long married, the words Ma, Pa, Mother, Father, Mom, Dad – I hear myself addressed with different tones and different words, including Papa. Again, James Hollis has words for us:
“Such phenomena suggest that the original attraction to the partner was in great part guided by the parental imago. That unconscious image is projected onto potential partners until someone comes along who can catch it and hold it.” (ibid)
I wonder if this parental imago is not simply the replacement of one’s biological parent, but potentially the missing parent whether that absent mother or father was physically absent or emotionally absent? I must remember that is more than the personal parent, but the archetypal parent that is being sought in the Magical Other.
Passion, rawness, sex, lust, love – so many words that call to the basic instinctual command to couple as a species. There is no room for logic or consciousness, just a throbbing of the loins to mate. When we begin to think about what our bodies command, we begin to travel a different road, one that often contradicts nature. Nature compels us to mate, to preserve the species as it does for all other species, a biological command. However, being human brings forth a different dynamic, one that both embraces and confounds the urges and demands of nature. I want to return once more to Gao XingJian’s book, Soul Mountain to have him speak of this dynamic from a “Chinese” scene.
“Young women in groups of five or six come to the river-bank, some standing in a circle and others holding hands, and begin calling their lovers. Melodious singing rapidly fills the vast night. . . .
. . . It is totally instinctive, uncontrived, unrestrained and unembellished, and certainly devoid of what might be called embarrassment. Each woman exerts herself, body and heart, to draw her young man to her.
. . . I am suddenly surrounded by an expanse of passions and think that the human search for love must originally have been like this. So-called civilization in later ages separated sexual impulse from love and created the concepts of status, wealth, religion, ethics and cultural responsibility. Such is the stupidity of human beings.
. . . I see her expectant eyes in the darkness, unblinking and fixed on me. My heart starts pounding and I seem to return to the long-lost trembling of my passionate youth. I am drawn to her . . . I see her lips moving slightly although she doesn’t speak again and just waits, and the singing of her companions grows soft. . . .
I’ve never encountered this style of love. It’s what I dream about but when it actually happens I can’t cope.
. . . I’m afraid of shouldering the responsibility of even pursuing momentary happiness, I’m not a wolf but I would like to be a wolf, to return to nature, to go out the prowl. However, I can’t rid myself of this human mind. I am a monster with a human mind and can find no refuge. (Gao, Soul Mountain, pp 228-229)
I am bringing another photo of roses here as I want to look at eros, love and relationship with the feminine as a continuation of the thread I have begun earlier. Humans are drawn to beauty and I am no exception. Wandering in a large garden area filled with roses I am pulled to capture as much of the beauty I see with my camera. There is a rush of feeling, of energy that courses through my veins and all is good. I remember being captivated in a similar manner when I was young, when I came into the presence of that which I perceived as beautiful. At different times as a youth, the pull was intense though rarely did I give in to the pull as I was filled with as much self-doubt as I was by desire and what I felt to be pure love for an other.
Each time I was certain that this was it. The girl who sat several rows away in my classroom was the perfect woman for me even though we never talked. I was too shy, too aware that I was poor and didn’t fit into her social world. The girl who responded to my request for a dance once high school was over and I had begun working; a girl who was so damaged by her childhood that our brief moments of being in love, a pure unconsummated love that ended as I left her to the care of psychiatrists in a hospital, cured me of a belief in pure love, leaving me jaded and empty.
I didn’t realise that what I felt was not about these girls, these young women. Rather, this tumbling head over heels was more about my search for a magical other. James Hollis describes this search, this feeling:
“The other great false idea that drives mankind is the fantasy of the Magical Other, the notion that there is one person out there who is right for us, will make our lives work, a soul-mate who will repair the ravages of our personal history; one who will be there for us, who will read our minds, know what we want and meet those deepest needs; a good parent who will protect us from suffering and, if we are lucky, spare us the perilous journey of individuation.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 37)
I am no different, I believed in this Magical Other, and to tell the truth, that belief is still lurking in the background because of my good fortune to have stayed with the woman with whom I fell in love with when I was twenty-one, forty years ago – two strangers from different backgrounds, different cultures, different everything. Is there a truth to the Magical Otherness that captured my attention? I am not sure. I do know that time taught me that the stranger with whom I fell in love is a good person, a caring person, someone I continue to want filling my life. But in meeting the real person that was hidden by layer upon layer of projections, I discovered holes in my own psyche, my own sense of emptiness and darkness that no person could ever hope to fill or hear. My Magical Other could not protect me from suffering, could not read my mind or know my deepest needs, needs that are real but not definable even by myself. All that I wanted from a Magical Other, from my soul-mate, from the love of my life could only be given to me by myself.
Today we both still cling to each other as anchors in life in spite of our differences. A different love has emerged and it is no less problematic. Yet, it is gentler and kinder and more tolerant of differences.