Archive for November, 2011
Often in the work of psychotherapy and in the work of individuation, one tends to become too serious. There is so much of life to celebrate even when life is far from being perfect. It never fails to astound me in my travels in the world that the happiest people are often the poorest, those who cherish the simple things likely because the simple things are all they have access to in their lives. But is also the simple things that cause us so much angst.
As I mentioned in my last post, my students are pondering what they can do to improve (change) themselves in order to do their part in making the world a better place. I will present a few of their thoughts here as illustration of thoughts:
Tom: “I think I have so many shortcomings. But the most important thing I should change is to learn how to make decisions. I often make decisions with difficultly and unwisely.”
Wendy: “I hope I will be more out-going. I am too shy when I see strangers and have no words to say. Someone may not know what I am thinking and they may be mistaken about me.”
Shirley: “Sometimes I’m impatient, I want to be more patient. And I am always careless, I want to be careful.”
Yuki: “I want to become optimistic. I have a negative attitude towards my life sometimes. Some days I am sad without reasons, just sad. So, I will try chatting with my friends and learn to have a positive attitude. And, I will plant some flowers so that they can let me be happy.”
And finally, the words of one more student:
Lily: “Only I change myself, I can have a better and different life. May be before long, I can change my family, even my country. Only change myself first, everything could be possible.”
My students are enjoying their lives as university students and know that they are the privileged in Chinese society because of the fact they are university students. They know how to play and sing and laugh and work. They know that there are problems in the world and in China and they know that they have a role to play in their families and in their society to make their world a better place. Hopefully they are wise enough to remember it is about changing themselves, consciously and not about forcing others to change.
I had an interesting day with my students at the Chinese university in which I work, today. The topic was about “changing the world.” It’s a lesson I have used once before a few years ago. This time around I tried a few different things, not because the lesson didn’t work before, but because I find it difficult to repeat the same lesson as each class is different and I am different with each class in response.
One of the things I do repeat with this lesson is the use of a song by Johnny Reid called, Today I’m Gonna Try And Change The World. As far a song goes for my Chinese students, the voice and the music would not inspire much of a positive response. That said, it all comes down to context. In response to a number of questions the consensus was that one can change oneself and that change will result in changes to the world (they do know about the butterfly effect). In my next post I will want to share some of their ideas about what they think is important to change about themselves in order to make a positive change to the world.
As I taught, I ending up thinking about my own beliefs about how I change the world. It became obvious to me that I can’t help but change the world regardless of what I do or don’t do. I effect change simply by being in the world. Should I choose to cease being in the world, that effects even more change. Should I decide to not make a decision and just let others or life make a decision for me, that also changes the world. That is a powerful realisation to make. I find myself forced to claim my own power and drop the notion that I am often the victim of the power of others.
Is this flower (another hibiscus) behind bars so sot speak, imprisoned? Well, I guess it depends on how one looks at it. One could see the flower on the opposite side, a symbol of freedom to someone on this side. Or, it could be simply a flower and a fence that marks property, a fence that is a boundary, not a barricade. Changing the world is about changing how one sees the world and takes ownership for all the things one does and doesn’t do.
I have to thank my wife for this photo of me walking down a new trail we found in the back country on the island of Cebu, Philippines. We are both curious about new places, seeing what is behind the public face that is presented along the coasts near villas and resorts or on the tourist trails as advertised in travel guides.
Heading down these hidden trails is as much of an adventure of discovery of the world behind the scenes as it is about a discovery of ourselves in relation to each other in the face of what we experience together as we wander and talk about what we see. What is quite amazing is how we see different things in the same scenes. As we talk about what we see, we begin to see the world through the lens of the other. The mind, in relationship, becomes open to new possibilities, to different views. It is this willingness to be open to other possibilities that animates a relationship, that keeps an eternal wonder and mystery of other.
Sadly, much of the world is not so open and hides behind closed minds, unwilling to accept any other possibility. James Hollis refers to this mind set as a fascist mind.
“Thus the fascist mind – which is always with us, in whatever culture, waiting to control what you or I might experience for ourselves. Why? Because it makes them uncomfortable! Today they show up on school boards and try to remove books that challenge their antiquarian, three-story universe. Today the seek to impose creationist dogma as science, in the name of free inquiry, of course . . . they deny the reality of evolutionary process even as their bodies mutate and evolve within their short lifetimes in reaction to antibiotics and environmental toxins . . . they show up labeling dissent, different views, and sincere questions as unpatriotic and disloyal . . . the fascist mentality occurs whenever ambiguity occurs . . . they want, need, to “save the appearances,” deny the discrepancy, patch over contradiction, and make all things fall within their control.” (Hollis, What Matters Most, p. 30)
Hollis is talking about a segment of society that somehow has the reins in the modern Western world. But he could just as easily been talking about each and every one of us. Each of us wants control, consciously and unconsciously. Like the “moral right” in modern society, we deny things that contradict whatever it is that we hold to be true. It seems that it is too much to hold the mind open for things that come from the opposite, the polar regions of being and knowing. How do we suspend what we “know” to be true and actually hear what others “know” to be true?
Though I am not empowered by the moral right of the modern world, I also have a fascist mind that sabotages my journey of individuation, my attempts at going behind the scenes to find out other answers, other ways of being my self.
This image of a young boy and girl was taken in the Philippines in one of the many little back country yards that surrounded fragile houses made of woven palm leaves and wood. Their playground was rough ground that was more rock than dirt. The poverty surrounding the children was heart breaking, but the attitude towards life was animated and joyful for the most part. This image of childhood is a universal image, one that has held for as long as there have been children.
But not all images hold in the human psyche unlike this image of childhood and hope. James Hollis talks about our current Western World condition in which our pictures don’t work well any more:
“. . . civilizations are often caught between “pictures,” the “understandings” that once worked but which increasingly prove ineffectual.”
“. . . and souls drifted into a profound disorientation, inadequately treated in time by the development of . . . surrogates” (Hollis, What Matters Most, p. 28)
The loss of certainty that was embedded in the understandings of religion, community, country and people due to science, natural tragedies and human warfare basically left us at a loss of certainty in our religions, in our communities and in our countries. With the loss of the foundational pictures we have been drifting from one image to another image hoping that something will hold us and give us what we need in terms of meaning and purpose and place.
“. . . in our present moment, the putative fixity of definitions of race, gender, sexual preference or orientation, Western hegemony, trust in government probity, and many other presumptive truisms have been challenged, and largely overthrown, although millions cling to the slope side of history in service to their psychological security.” (Hollis, What Matters Most, p. 28)
The most current of these challenges in the Occupy Wall Street movement that is spreading outside of the borders of nation to become a movement that is as much protest of the present as it is hope for the future. We need hope for the future, the same hope that is evident in the eyes of this young boy.
As usual while on a holiday which involves the sea, I find myself taking many, many photos of sunsets and sunrises. This photo was taken while walking toward a small village down a rough road not too far from the villa that was home for ten days while in the Philippines. Sunsets are particularly appealing because of the colours, especially the gold.
In the second half of life, there is a resonance with late afternoon and its golden light and the gold that appears in the sky with sunset. Each evening up and down the beach I was able to see people gather to honour the setting sun, to wonder at the colours.
For me, sunset and sunrise are the times when I feel the numinous presence of something that can only be described as the ultimate presence, the source of my spiritual nature
Now that I am back at work, I am already planning the next tropical adventure where again I will bask in sunshine and make my private ceremonies of sunrise and sunset.
There are certain flowers that have a strong symbolic association for me such as this flower, a hibiscus. It was on a trip to Cuba that this flower found its way into the inner space in which symbols gather to enrich my life. It is not often that a woman will gift a man with a flower, but my wife did just this – a gift of a single hibiscus flower. Now, each time I see one of these flowers I am taken back to that magical moment in time.
Another flower that is a powerful symbol for me is the red rose. I gave my wife three red roses as the first wedding gift. Now, when we pass by a new rose garden there is a tendency to take a photo of both the rose and my wife as though they are inseparable sisters, each standing as symbol for the other.
Symbols are powerful. They hold an aura of magic. Often the symbol is positive and just as often it is a symbol of darkness. Symbols are powerful on both a personal level and a collective level. As in the case of my relationship to the symbolism of this flower, symbols often have little to do with the thing in itself. Rather, the symbol acquires meaning through association with a particular feeling and particular event.
Regardless of the reason for any given symbol, their existence definitely adds both colour and vibrancy to our lives. They are images which acquire meaning because we exist and through us. Without the history and the presence in which I took part, this image of a hibiscus would be just another pretty picture.
We don’t all see the world the same way. The truth is each of us sees a different world based on a large number of factors, each one unique to each of us. When I am walking with others and with a camera in my hand I often find myself taking a photo of something that the others didn’t see. When I show the image that I have captured, they are usually surprised at what they hadn’t seen. When I put words to the images, explaining what I see, something usually comes to their attention and I often hear an “ah-ha” kind of response when the words and the images create a sense of connection for them. However, sometimes my stopping to take a photo is just plain annoying to others. For them I hear a complaint about how I can’t just “be there in the moment” without looking for something significant and deep. Why don’t I just accept things the way they are and be fully present instead of in a world of my own, somewhere in innerspace. What they don’t realise is that we are all living with pictures, controlled by the images that appear to us in the world, pictures that inspire us, pictures that almost defeat us.
“Our conscious lives are driven by “pictures” and their attendant “stories.” Some of these are quite conscious to us – get a job, establish a relationship, look both ways before you cross the street, and so on. Many more are unconscious – do not be who you are for that is not safe, choose security over honesty, relinquish your personal authority lest it isolate you from others. All of these messages, pictures and stories are complexes, namely, energy-charged clusters of our history. We have complexes because we have histories, and history has an extraordinary power to write our biographies, frame our futures, circumscribe our freedoms.” (Hollis, What Matters Most, p. 26)
James Hollis has spoken some powerful words here, words that challenge me. The unconscious stories have long ruled my personal life, especially the last one Hollis talks about, “relinquish your personal authority lest it isolate you from others.” Needless to say, in following this story I haven’t been very successful in avoiding isolation from others. It all seems so pointless in the end. Because I fear isolation from others, I seem to be living the fear. I get defeated by the complex. At least I recognize the complex for what it is. I recognize it but don’t often succeed in avoiding having the complex lead me into messes. It seems to me that the more I fear something, the more that something becomes present in my life. That is what is seems like. That is what it feels like. But in the big picture it is all in my head. It is all in the way I am tuned into perceiving the world.
Today’s photo looks at the same scene from two points of view, with two different mindsets. On the left side one is blocked, isolated from the world, imprisoned behind a fence that keeps one from being at one with the world. On the right side, there is no blockage, no sense of separation of isolation. One chooses consciously and unconsciously how one looks at the world, participates in the world.
Yesterday’s post was “How do I get there from here?” Today, I want to look deeper into the question, narrow the focus which then forces me to change the question itself. “Where is here?” Without first knowing where one is, it is impossible to hope to find a way to “there.” Of course “here” and “there” are relative terms as one can only be where one is. This is one of the lessons I’ve been learning the hard way, the only way I seem to learn anything worth knowing.
I have always been on the move in one way or another. My father was always in search of something, always trying to escape a different thing. He wanted escape from his lot in life and wanted to live his dream. The only problem with this is he had never defined his dream other than not being where he was. This way of being in the world meant that as a child and youth, I was shifted from place to place and never quite found myself becoming attached to a place or people along the many roads and highways we travelled throughout Canada and parts of the U.S.A. I did however find a way to stop moving in terms of postal address for twenty years, the period of time in which I took on the role of parenting. I wanted my children to have what I didn’t have – a sense of belonging somewhere, a sense of belonging to someone.
Now that the children have homes of their own, I find that I have been travelling again, changing postal addresses though not at the same speed as I did as a youth. More than the changing of addresses was the return to unsettledness, the gypsy state of the spirit. Changing locations in Canada, and including Mexico, Costa Rica and China did not really allow me to find what was missing in being “here.” Visiting countries hoping for a light to turn on didn’t do it either. I only learned that the world was big and filled with people and that despite all the differences in climate and cultures, there were more similarities than differences. I learned that the answer isn’t out there, somewhere. The answers that I seek are “here,” within me.
It has been a powerful lesson to learn. I am discovering that I am at the centre no matter where I am.
How do I get there from here? Unlike this bird who simply has to fly to get there, most of us find ways to say it it next to impossible to do. In jest we often say, “you can’t get there from here!” Yet, the jest is more about what we believe than it is about humour. We do limit ourselves.
Each of us has a built-in voice that often tells us we can’t do this or that or the other thing when in truth we can do all of these things and more. What limits us is a narrowed vision of our capabilities in the physical and psychological sense. Rather than face a potential failure, we simply set our “bar” lower. We somehow buy into the idea that if we don’t try something we can’t fail at it. ”I really didn’t want to . . . ” is how we rationalize not even trying. It is all about fear.
We also have the collective voice telling us what our limits are, what we can’t and shouldn’t do. We believed the authority of our parents who set our first protective limits and continue to believe that society, like our parents is motivated by concern for us in setting limits. The modern western world has as a foundation belief that humans are essentially incapable of standing upright on their own without the guidance of a church or a government or a corporation or a special interest group. Individuals are weak beings. Left to our own devices we would quickly self destruct.
So why have I switched “tone” in this post? First, I wanted to look, perhaps more objectively about self-defeating behaviours and beliefs so as to put a framework around what I am doing to sabotage my own efforts of becoming a more conscious being. In the process I am seeing that the barriers are imaginal. There may be societal barriers, but even those barriers are constantly shifting and look differently in different cultures. What is not possible or even forbidden in one culture is “normal” in a different culture. Right or wrong then becomes a limiting script for the most part, not an objective statement of reality.
Knowing this, I am forced to look at myself and question myself when I say “I can’t get there from here.”
I often wonder at the cost of this journey called individuation. I have been married forty years to an incredible woman. She has always deserved better than me though she hasn’t always known this. We clung together hard during our first few decades as we learned about each other and raised a family of three children. We still find ourselves clinging tightly together. Even in the early years I had a tendency to disappear into a different dimension, leave the planet so-to-speak. I wrote a poem to this woman after two years of marriage that I want to bring here:
Taking for granted
your need and your warmth
Taking for granted
tomorrow . . .I silently sitwith a book in hand
and silently, so silently
leave you . . .Gone to the mountains
of philosphy and men
gone in pursuit of
meaning . . .While you, painfully wait
for my return to you
while you pray
that I won’t be long . . .Nietzsche, Buber
Spinoza and Leibniz
compete for my eyes
and my time . . .
And you, so quiet, so sad
yet so calm
and you, wait
you, whom I call my wife
Back then, it was philosophy, books, and photography that somehow stole into our relationship and took my attention and had me soaring. Even then, I would be able to look back and see her there, alone even though she was married to a man she thought would be there for her, with her. Now, it is psychology, philosophy and the call of the psyche to an inner world that is as much about darkness as it is about life.. Today, she found herself sitting alone on a beautiful Philippine beach because the one she thought would/should be there with her had disappeared again into an inner world.
Yes, I wonder about the cost. I wonder at all that has been lost along the way, the tears that I have caused to fall. How can I call this love? Does love do this to the one who is loved? Does love do this to the lover? I know the intensity of my feeling and I sense the intensity of hers. Yet in spite of the wishes of either of us, we are both left alone with ourselves, sometimes even when the person one loves and is loved by in return holds one tightly, urgently, passionately. Is it easier to be alone and be by oneself than it is to be alone beside the one you love?
I wish I had the answers, not just questions.