Archive for June, 2011
I have decided on my photography theme for this year’s SoFoBoMo photo project – Shadow and Light. It will join other similar projects in the “Through a Jungian Lens” series of photography and Jungian Psychology books. I hope to have both light and shadow in every photography, but that said I won’t leave out a photo that “fits” the text because of a lack of either light or shadow. In the photo chosen for today’s post, I have implied shadow with the fading light of a day, a light that burns on the horizon. As I talk about shadow, it will be referencing the shadow aspect of the human psyche, the personal and collective unconscious. Light will be symbolic of consciousness. And, in keeping with Jungian concepts, light will also symbolize the masculine while shadow and darkness will symbolize the feminine. At dawn and at sunset, we can feel the power of both as being present. As night ends, we are pulled from our sleep and the world of dreams as the sun banishes the darkness as best it can. But, the darkness doesn’t disappear as it lurks in the shadows caused by the light of the sun. And at sunset, we are drawn into eros, into a commingling of masculine and feminine, at least for a moment before night again reigns. But in the darkness, there are brief flashes of light, a promise that darkness will not last forever. It’s a curious dance, that of light and darkness, a drama that is played out every day, every season, in every life.
I chose this photo which was taken in Cuba for a number of reasons of which the first is simply because I like it. I took this photo in 2004 using an weaker digital camera from that time which was my first relatively decent digital camera; not a DSLR, but good enough to give some very good photographs regardless. A second reason for the photograph is the mixture of darkness and light and the suggestion of fire, of heated passion.
Midlife is a confusing time. With so many years devoted to making a living, raising a family and being part of a community in a socially meaningful manner; the discovery that there is something missing, a hole in the psyche, has one respond in a variety of ways. For some men, it is a denial of the emptiness as they throw themselves further into community activity, filling every possible moment with their career or with causes. For others it is a return to a mythical past filled with motorcycles or sports cars, sex, or being a fashionista. Yet others try to fill the hole with drugs, alcohol, religion, some New Age spirituality or sex. For a few, the event causes them to sit back and look at what has happened, to begin listening to the voices and studying the images that are emerging – for these, midlife is seen as an opportunity to discover self.
Sexuality is necessarily one of the roadblocks that appears in the process regardless of the response one takes to the crisis of midlife. Responses can vary from a complete absence from sexual contact with others with its wrestling with the self that comes with the denial of the sexual component of one’s being. The denial can push “natural” sexuality so far underground that it emerges in unconscious pathological behaviour. Or in an extreme response in the opposite direction, one can become obsessed with sex, so obsessed that everything and everyone becomes charged sexually and have the conscious self become overly sexually active as if one needs to constantly add another conquest, another unique experience in an endless race to satiate the demanding drive. Either of these extremes lead to a collective attitude towards sexuality that is negative. And, the unclothed body becomes the target of these polarized attitudes.
“. . . it is almost impossible to avoidseeing it through the larger moral prism of nudity. As the historian Rob Cover (2003) has noted,“nakedness across a vast array of representations in the history of western culture has been inseparable from sex and sexuality, and has been hence located adjacent to the indecent, the obscene and the immoral” (Cover, The Naked Subject,” 2003, p. 55)
Of course, I am a part of the western culture and I have had, and continue to have at some level, some negative response to the naked body. Some bodies get my imagination going and others are met with a neutral response. In terms of other people, I don’t assume that seeing the naked body is an invitation for sex, nor do I assume that the person with the naked body is obscene or immoral. What I continue to hold, somewhat, is questions about my own appearance as an obscenity or my own immorality.
If others see my body will I be judged as uglier, as lacking or as too hairy, too short, to stout? Will others compare me to other men regardless of age, compare me to some ideal that I have never met regardless of age? I think I am a bit fortunate in being close to the norm in body size and type with the exception of excessive hair all over my body. I could do with losing a bit of weight and toning my body to be more muscular and less soft. But that is not too much of a concern. What is my one body-image concern is body hair. And like many in the western world, I have a few strategies to ease my own angst when it comes to that body hair. I guess, for the most part, I have accepted my body as it is and feel relatively good about it.
But when it comes to the question of the unclothed body being an obscenity if seen by others. I don’t see others unclothed as scenes of obscenity unless there is a perceived deliberate attempt on the part of specific others to perform acts in public that are overtly sexual in nature. Even then, I often view these as sad affairs rather than evil affairs. Yet, I still have a worry that I will be seen as a dirty old man if I doff all my clothing at a beach or walk unclothed in my back yard. I worry about offending others who might accidentally see me, or cause embarrassment to those close to me because of what “others” would say. What I do affects not only myself but those in my orbit. And so, I hide as much as needed. And in the process, I feel as though something very valuable is missing, something that has a holistic healing power.
This blog site is more-or-less an exercise in self-directed therapy. Here I take down barriers to the inner core of self that I manage to find in an attempt to become more authentic in my relationships with others, and especially in relationship with my own self. With a few carefully orchestrated attempts I have included what I could best call “nude therapy” into the mix. For several months I was able to set aside time several times a week for my “nude therapy” within a small enclosure that ensured complete privacy while in Costa Rica. The experiments focused on being unclothed and allowing the sun access to my skin. There was no “social” aspects, no public exposure nor fear of public exposure. I was able to protect my ego’s fear of being seen as a dirty old man. Now that time has passed since those experiments, I am able to reflect back on the experience and evaluate the experience as being very beneficial to my well-being. Because of the experience, my book, Through a Jungian Lens: Sol and Luna, which was published a few months later, was able to reach dimensions my previous books couldn’t achieve.
And now, I am left wondering about the present and my growing desire to again experience nudity as therapy, perhaps as a partial way of being. I wonder about how much of this is perverseness and how much of this is authentic need for my soul. I don’t have the answers so I still live with the questions.
I have good again to the 2006 trip to Mexico to bring a new photo here. The trip to Cancun was a two-couple affair with the other couple choosing the location as it was to be their first such experience. They chose an “adults only” resort which meant that there was some nudity to be expected. I was quite surprised with this choice though I don’t think that they really understood what that exactly meant. Once there, they got to see little in the way of titillating scenes, nor did they engage in any “au naturel” experiences. As usual, in the privacy of my own accommodations, I was able to steal a few hours of sheltered freedom from clothing. The nudity that was present was definitely just topless young women who were proud to flash. Experiences such as this make up the bulk of most North Americans; experiences of nudity.
Two evenings past, I got to have a cup of tea with this couple who wanted to talk about last winter’s trip to Jamaica. While telling their stories, they mentioned that there was a scene where they got to see a poor Jamaican man taking a bath in the river. The wife remarked that his “willy” was big. She also talked of seeing a beggar asleep on the roadside with his “junk” hanging out. These stories were told with a disgusted tone.
Somehow or other, the conversation shifted as she then related an experience her son had while travelling in Ontario where they came upon a long beach where the family with two young children were intending to spend a few hours. However, seeing an older couple, likely in their seventies, they beat a hasty retreat to their car and continued their journey. When I asked why, the response was that it was gross for older people to go in the nude. You have to understand that this couple are basically the same age as I am, not young. I asked why and the response was all about “body” image. Only the young and beautiful should be allowed to go nude. There was no chance of having them see any other way of thinking.
I made only a few more attempts to talk about “natural” and about “positive self-concept.” In my opinion, there is a link between mental health and being able to accept ourselves for the way we are both mentally and physically. At the stage of life I now find myself, I begin to believe that taking time to be in our own skin, to experience the world “au naturel” is very therapeutic.
“Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology in the 1960s, states: “I still think that nudism . . . is itself a kind of therapy.” (Joseph Sommer)
One bares one’s soul in the therapist’s or analyst’s office in order to heal the inner wounds. I begin to wonder if we also heal the soul with the baring of our bodies in nature, letting the sun, breezes and water wash over us.
I took this older photo from 2006 in order to continue the series about naturism. But before I go further, I want to be upfront and say that in this series of photos, judicious cropping has led to the illusion of my being fully in my own skin. It’s not true. I cropped the swim wear in each photo to give an illusion. Obviously in each photo I was not alone and someone else was taking the photographs with my camera. And because of the fact of the presence of another person, I find myself, like the vast majority of North Americans, uncomfortable in my own skin concerned about my less than perfect body. I wouldn’t think of going “au naturel.” And so, I ask myself “Why?”
Well, I have convinced myself that it is “selfish” of me to not care about the sensibilities of others. I have told myself that I would embarrass those closed to me in any given situation, embarrass strangers that would accidentally see me. Being seen unclothed in a public place, even at a beach in Mexico, Cuba or elsewhere would be an intrusion into the space of others, an assault on their own concepts of self and others. And as I continue to think about it, there appear many layers of “reasons” for my feeling uncomfortable in my own skin when others are present. I want to include a few words here that I found on another site while researching the psychological aspects of naturism:
“Progressively, over the centuries, society has developed the use of clothing as a mask. Clothing was originally used and designed to protect people from the elements of heat and cold, to stop themselves from getting burned or frozen. It was also used as a method of adornment to enhance attractiveness and for ritual and ceremonial reasons. In the latter centuries, people developed a cultural dependency on clothing. Clothes became a mask and a prop for perceived personality and character deficiencies.
“We frequently see people who would not be seen dead without their clothing on. Clothing is often used to portray an image that is different from the person’s perceived inner deficiencies. It is a form of artificiality or masking that they outwardly project to cover up any personality or emotional defects they think they have. People tend to feel that by hiding behind clothing they can metaphorically cover themselves and deny others exposure to the inner-self they perceive to be crippled. The need to do this most commonly occurs in people with low self-esteem.” (Naked Beneath Your Clothing)
Again, the masking of the self, the portraying of an image that would be more socially acceptable, one that would leave me safely protected from the collective. I know that I have a lot of scars and messy aspects and I desperately want to hide them so that others will like me. I hide my true self. But that hiding can only go on so long before one is forced to expose one’s true self. I have no issue with seeing others in their own skin, something which isn’t so rare in other countries such as India, and in IndoChina. Seeing others in their own skin in North America is also not an issue for me other than me berating myself for lacking the courage these others demonstrate in being comfortable in their own skin.
The journey of individuation forces one to become honest with one’s self, and in turn, that leads to a transparency that forces one to be honest with others. I am not really there yet though I yearn to be there, need to be there in order to feel whole, to feel a sense of real holiness. This blog space is one place where I feel a real sense of safety, especially in allowing my inner self to be more transparent. The journey continues.
This image was taken at Jaco Bay in Costa Rica in January 2010. While in Costa Rica, sunset photos became a frequent activity with an occasional photo pf myself making it into some of the photos. I chose this photo in order to continue on with the theme of naturalism, being whole in one’s own skin. As I write, I do understand that many in the world do not see the naked body as a moral issue as it is understood in the North American collective. Naturalists exist in both Canada and the U.S.A. and have gathered together at private campsites, private resorts or isolated beaches. North American society grudgingly gives in to these isolated pockets while maintaining as much pressure as they can to push the fundamentalist, Victorian ideology/morality as far as they can in terms of public freedoms. Strange for me how the focus in on having citizens keep their clothes on rather than real issues of sexual exploitation and violence.
I am a naturalist in a quiet and private manner. Of course that means that I pick and choose times for liberation from my clothing, at least finding sleep as a time, space and place for being natural. Interesting to me that I honour this with the belief that in doing so, I allow the portal to the dream world to be as transparent as possible with the idea that in putting my body fully at ease, I am more receptive to whatever is attempting to be heard.
In doing my research for this post (and yesterday’s, I cam across a few interesting thoughts that I would like to bring forward here. The first is from Walt Whitman, taken from his work, Specimen Days. I have just quoted a few of the words from this section (133) called A Sun-bath – Nakedness:
“Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me… Nature was naked, and I was also… Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! – ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.” (Whitman, Specimen Days, “A Sun-Bath – Nakedness,” 1892
Another one of my early influences on a number of different levels was Henry David Thoreau who wrote a three part essay called walking (available now in various ebook formats from the Gutenberg project) written in 1861 from which he offers his thoughts on being “natural”:
“We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.” (Thoreau, Walking, 1861)
I know that I have found peace in nature, especially when clothing is set aside for a brief time. I have found this peace in lakes and in gentle pools along various rivers, walking through a Yucatan estuary, on protected areas along seashores, in isolated fields and meadows and while walking down remote trails in the wilderness. This is not about social activity or about sexual gratification. This is about being honest with oneself, stripping away yet one more mask and exposing all the flaws so that they can be accepted as natural aspects of self rather than as deficits.
Again, I return to the topic of transparency and authenticity, something I have talked about here before. I want to talk about “natural” man as distinguished from “civilized” man. This is a relatively old photo taken in March, 2009 while spending the winter in a Mayan fishing village. I chose this photo because it is “safe” and reader friendly. The image is symbolic to me of times long past that are more about young adulthood than about midlife. I am reminded of how over the years I celebrated naturalness in the water. In today’s world there is an element of fear attached to being natural. I admit that I am quite conflicted about the being at one in a natural state, in the world. I am a naturist at small, private moments yet I must choose with care these moments because of the impact it has on others in my life. When I was younger, I didn’t care that much. Isolated beaches, forest meadows, in the privacy of home naturalism was present in small doses. My children grew up knowing the freedom of skinny-dipping and moving from bath to bedroom without body shame. We never passed a camping trip without at least one skinny-dipping night swim. Somehow, for some reason, the freedom has gone, at least in North America.
The world has changed, become more charged with sexuality. With the growing ascendancy of the right, fear is reacting badly attempting to criminalize sexuality, especially when it comes to young people. Who in today’s modern world would take a photo of their children playing in the bathtub with cousins or siblings or parents? Should someone dare this photo, it risks the photographer or owner of the photograph being charged with a criminal offense and being put on a registry of sexual offenders. Walking in the buff in one’s own home is risky as any passerby who chances to look in a window and see a nude body risks being charged with indecent exposure and being placed on a sexual offender registry.
Many psychologists say that clothing is an extension of ourselves. The clothes we wear are an expression of who we are. The Naturist’s comfort with casual nudity, therefore, represents an attitude which is comfortable with yourself as it is in its most basic state, without modification or deceit. (Indiana Naturists Blog)
Naturism. It’s a word that is not held in high regard in the western world for the most part.
Johann Lemmer, in his work, Introduction to Sexology, discusses CG Jung’s concepts in terms of sexuality and suggests that the moral issues that confront modern man are often centered around sexuality and points to the masculine and feminine images and archetypes discussed by Jung as psychology’s attempt to deal with the issues. One needs to remember that Jung’s work was built on the foundation of Freud’s work which has a significant focus on human sexuality.
“FKK” (Frei-Körper-Kultur) or “Free Body Culture”. FKK derives its roots from the philosophical works from Carl Gustav Jung (one of the founding fathers of modern psychology) and Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (German physicist and philosopher), who maintained nudity was a form of returning to nature. Specifically, it was a form of returning to the natural state of mankind, before clothing dictated our social status, and set standards of how much respect we pay to people based on the clothes they are wearing. (Celeste Neumann)
Good information, but how does that solve the moral dilemmas faced by men, women and children in both Canada and the U.S.A. And more importantly for myself, how do I navigate to liberate myself from the attitudes of those around me? I know it is my choice, that I can find the space, place and time for naturism. Yet, my choices always seem to have an impact on others, others who have meaning for me. Regardless, little by little, I am pushing back the straight-jacket that would have me wear clothing even when sleeping.
It’s shameless, I know, using two of my grandsons in one of my posts here. I took this photo two days ago while on a walk with the three boys of my middle child. The walk took us down a few back lanes in the small prairie town in Saskatchewan where I live. I had the boys look at all kinds of things including rocks, wood, flowers, dead spruce cones and a dead bird using magnifying glasses. I had them pretend that they were scientists looking for answers to unknown questions. There seemed to be an absence of rules, and a surplus of curiosity.
Today the boys return to their home in America with their mother, making their way through a region where flooding waters have caused temporary road detours. The road conditions have improved so they are expecting to be home later this evening. I will be taking care of a few things such as a medical check up so that I can renew my prescription for allergy meds, as well as getting checked for new eyeglasses. Nothing much other than life as it happens without thought of psychology or the journey.
Sometimes, it is just about being present, warts and all, just living and that’s okay. I guess one could say, “It sounds like life to me.” Below, the lyrics to a song that says it well.
Got a call last night from an old friend’s wife
Said I hate to bother you
Johnny Ray fell off the wagon
He’s been gone all afternoon
I know my buddy so I drove to Skully’s
And found him at the bar
I say hey man, what’s going on
He said I don’t know where to start
Sarah’s old car’s about to fall apart
And the washer quit last week
We had to put momma in the nursing home
And the baby’s cutting teeth
I didn’t get much work this week
And I got bills to pay
I said I know this ain’t what you wanna hear
But it’s what I’m gonna say
Sounds like life to me it ain’t no fantasy
It’s just a common case of everyday reality
Man I know it’s tough but you gotta suck it up
To hear you talk you’re caught up in some tragedy
It sounds like life to me
Well his face turned red and he shook his head
He said you don’t understand
Three kids and a wife depend on me
And I’m just one man
To top it off I just found out
That Sarah’s 2 months late
I said hey bartender set us up a round
We need to celebrate
Sounds like life to me plain old destiny
Yeah the only thing for certain is uncertainty
You gotta hold on tight just enjoy the ride
Get used to all this unpredictability
Sounds like life
Man I know its tough but you gotta suck it up
To hear you talk you’re caught up in some tragedy
Sounds like life to me
Sounds like life
This photo was taken in Toronto, Ontario, Canada earlier this month. This young woman caught my eye for a brief moment, just long enough for the camera to grab this one image. I can see a carefully crafted look in her hair style and her wardrobe, a statement of her uniqueness, her individuality in a world of apparent conformity. But upon a closer look, especially at her eyes, the lie is evident. She is lost, buying into a counter-culture statement as she rejects one collective for another. It is all about masks.
Masks conceal, somewhat, the individual from the group. That concealment is often about fear, about subterfuge, about hiding one’s self from the collective in an attempt to protect one’s self. We don’t want to expose our personal weaknesses.
However, somewhere along the way, we buy into the disguises, the masks and start to believe that we are the masks that we wear. We deny the inner so vehemently that we become convinced that it doesn’t exist, that what you see is what you get. And so the disguises become more elaborate, more “unique.”
A person invests tremendous amounts of energy into maintaining the fiction of the disguise. My disguise for so many years was that of “Teacher.” Being a teacher became more than an occupation, a way to feed my growing family; it became a way to see myself in the community. I knew that beneath the teacher layer was something messy and dark that would isolate me from community if it ever emerged. The work of building a concrete bunker around my inner self became a dedicated task. Eventually, the work continued unconsciously and I lost sight of my “self” and embraced the identity I had crafted, that of “teacher.”
The crafting of a persona of a teacher, or of almost any role, is necessary in community for a variety of reasons, almost all of them good reasons. The persona is just an interactive side of the self which we use to enable connection with others. The persona is not supposed to be about denying our inner self. One needs to remember that beneath the persona, a fuller person exists. It took a midlife crisis for me to remember the person beneath the persona.
I am still a teacher even though I have officially retired, a caretaker and nurturer. I still use this persona as a way to meet others in this world. But now I know that this is just one part of who I am. There is little conflict between the various personae that I use in my connections with others as I know I am none of the assorted cast of characters that I call upon in various situations, groups and cultures. I have finally learned that the real individual lies beneath the surface and that the surface is just that, a surface.
It’s summer solstice today and I am writing this at approximately two hours past the peak of the solstice. I found this image as a representative image for the solstice, an image of the masculine. As most who follow symbolism are are aware, the sun is symbolic of the masculine where the moon is symbolic of the feminine. The summer solstice is all about the sun.
Solstice is representative of the midpoint of a man’s life in as much as it represents the midlife of the annual journey of the earth around the sun, the point where man is at his peak, the moment when the sun is in the sky longest in the year. It is the time when a man is the most conscious of the fact of being a man, most feeling the power of being male.
If a man has truly worked at becoming conscious, he comes to a point of crisis as he realises that the life of spirit, of logos doesn’t fill him. All that has been believed, all the effort, the struggle now seems to ring hollow. At this moment, a man “knows” that he has peaked and that it he is now engaged in a journey back to darkness. If he is lucky, he has a guide to help him descend from the peak.
With a focus on what has been attained in the work of being a man, the fact that reaching the pinnacle of his essence as a male has not resulted in a sense of fullness, but of a paradoxical emptiness, a hollowness, a man is graced with the opportunity to move towards balance, the balance of light and dark, the balance between his masculine aspect and his feminine aspect.
And it is this embarking on a new journey that is to be celebrated at the solstice, the end of the honeymoon and the real work to come, the real work which will give life meaning and purpose. Those who resist this journey get lost in addictions which promise meaning: sex, power, money, dominance of others.
It doesn’t make sense to the objective world that it is in a descent into a subjective world that one finds purpose and meaning in the outer world. But who said it has to make sense in a “logos” kind of way? Too much of one thing leads to burn out, to a searing of the soul.
Though it might seem a time for mourning of one’s ego, a time for anger and resistance; midlife is a blessing if one can only dare to continue a journey of individuation, a journey in which one learns to embrace the feminine, the soul.
This is a Ukrainian Catholic church found in the rural area of Toronto, not too far from Brampton, Ontario. The drive though the countryside was in search of a farmer’s fruit market (which was found) that had a gift of this temple. While at the site, I also got a few photos of a memorial prayer service in the adjacent graveyard. The design of this temple is rooted in tradition however the temple itself is only fifteen years old. In spite of its modern construction, the temple evokes a sense of the spiritual that is as old as humankind.
Spirit evokes the masculine. The temple evokes the masculine in a number of ways, the projected tower, the relationship to the phallus as well as the human head the seat of the ego. That masculine though found anew in each modern man, is founded upon the primal roots of consciousness, an original consciousness that began with the body and body awareness. Man is stirred by his phallus and his mind. One seeks to penetrate the unknown and unknowable feminine and the other seeks to understand, to contain all that can be known. Spirit is about both penetrating the mysteries and containing them.
There is so much more to be said, but the words will have to wait until my own head is somewhat clearer. For now, it is enough to let the words sit and work in silence.