Archive for February, 2012
I am overwhelmed with so much at this point. Having allowed the barriers to fall down, at least a little, has allowed a bit of light to enter. That is good, but it isn’t necessarily very comfortable. In truth, perhaps the lies one tells to oneself is preferable to the truth. I have been dreaming a lot more than usual, something that I expected as I re-entered analysis, but still something that at times seems to be too much. Looking at these dreams points to both dark and light aspects of myself in my relation to the world, to others and to that inner core of my own being.
So, as a diversionary tactic, I have become a bit more present on Twitter where I soon found myself “engaged” and “present” in the drama of individuals begging to bring light into the darkness of Canadian and American politics as well as with issues of child abuse and mental health. It didn’t take me long to realise that this wasn’t a diversionary tactic at all, but about participation with others in a search for truth, objectivity and meaning – again an issue of dark and light; good and evil. Somehow the drama of my dream world, the stuff coming out of analysis and the interactions on Twitter were lining up together as if to make a point, a lesson for me to hear and take note of.
In response I shifted to Facebook which is usually “lighter” filled more with meaningless “status updates” and “he said, she said” kinds of messages. And there I found this YouTube link, Love, Reality and the Time of Transition which had been placed there by one of my Jungian Twitter and Facebook friends, Terre Spencer who is a therapist with an orientation to Jungian psychology as well. The video begins pleasantly enough with John Lennon and the Beatles singing “All you need is love” and then the video moves on to look at the word love and what it really means in a big picture kind of way. There it was again, more and more and more – all joining together as if in a cabal, a conspiracy to have me open my eyes and finally learn something of value.
And realising that I don’t have all the answers, that I don’t know the truth of everything and that I need to be open to becoming more conscious, more aware and more present – I am humbled and submit to the truth that I need to open up and let the world in rather than build a box around myself in which to hide from that world.
I have always been drawn to feathery scenes involving nature, a face of nature that is gentle in comparison to the pounding waves of a rough surf. There is a sense of peacefulness, a sense of sleeping and dreaming. But the image also points to death as well as rebirth; both co-exist.
I am currently upset with some of the politics of the world, especially the politics of my home country where soul seems to have died leaving a vacuum, a long pause in limbo before there is a renewal of soul. I was grateful to find these words in James Hollis’ book which helped me frame the current situation in the world.
“Where once a peasant could look forward to the towers of the medieval cathedral embodying sacred authority, or the castle expressing secular authority, now the powers of miter and mace are exhausted, replaced by the authority of the state and populist ideologies, fads and fevers – all of which are haunted by a mythological vacuum. The beatific vision is converted to an early retirement on the Sun Coast, the Madonna of Chartres is replaced by the Madonna of MTV, and salvation is found through Halcion, angel dust and the form of crack cocaine called Ecstasy.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 25)
One could easily now suggest that the power of mace that was replaced by the state has now been replaced by the corporate entity and the economy. The mitre has shifted more and more to an ever-expanding burst of churches, New Age philosophies and practices and fundamentalist and repressive theologies, as well as drugs, virtual reality and every sort of addiction and fanaticism one could ever imagine.
This is all so depressing. Thankfully this image reminds me that in the deepest part of the winter, in the bleakest part of the human psyche, there is rebirth, the renewed promise of light, of hope, of animation in which the human soul is recovered.
This is one of the small creeks which feed into the larger Fish Creek in Calgary. It really isn’t the season for thawing, but the effects of global warming has meant a lot of days of higher than normal temperatures. I don’t want this post to be a rant about humans misusing and abusing the planet as this is not something new in human history. Rather, I want simply to use this image to talk about a thawing out in my own psyche, an event for which this image serves as a serendipitous metaphor.
By now, most of my readers here realise that I am engaged in exploring my own myth, creating my own myth and that I am using photographic images in the process.
“As may be clear by now, myth represents the crystallization of basic experiences of life construed through various forms of imagery. Such imagery lies beyond intellectual comprehension yet is experienced meaningfully. Mythic images help us to approach the mysteries. Myth draws us near the profound depths of love and hate, life and death – precincts of the gods, the mysteries, where categories of thought falter and slip into dumb-found silence. Myth is a way of talking about the ineffable.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 23)
“Talking about the ineffable,” talking about the energies, the impulses to spiritualism and meaningful existence for which words fall short. A simple word such as love shows us the impossibility to capture exactly what love really is. Humans have tried to capture that meaning in dance, sexual activity, poetry, novels, philosophical examination and even in scientific studies. We know that love exists and often find ourselves embraced in the energies that we call love. Yet for all of this knowing, we can’t prove the existence of love or adequately describe love. So we invent stories, myths that point towards that mystery, try to present an explanation for ourselves.
I create my myth as a way of trying to explain to myself who I am, what I am and why I am. I remain a mystery to my “self” at least to my conscious self. I am so much more than my biology, my factual history that is remembered and forgotten. I create my myth as an attempt to understand those with whom I engage in relationship whether that relationship is that of husband, father, grandfather, teacher, therapist, analysand, friend, acquaintance or any other role in which I have participated through the years. And in reaching for my myth I find myself using images as hints, as pointers to what I want to say but can’t say because of the poverty of words in trying to explain the mystery of my self.
This morning, while sitting on the sofa waiting for the sun to rise, I caught the first rays that came through the window and saw how they created a sense of gold even though nothing in this scene has any actual golden colour. Golden light appeared for a moment and painted a scene, then it left leaving in its wake ordinary reality.
After I had taken the photograph, I returned to sit with my cup of morning coffee and noticed that the golden glow had disappeared and everything was back to normal. If I hadn’t taken the picture when I did, I would have soon forgotten the shifted moment in time when another world had appeared. I could look upon this moment in time as simply a moment in time that has no meaning other than natural light shifting. Or, I could look upon this moment as meaningful – meaningful to me.
I know that I see the world through a lens that catches nature as if all of nature is alive, even the reframed nature at the hands of man. I see purpose and meaning in all that is around me. I can’t accept the idea of a meaningless world.
“If one feels that the universe is absurd and devoid of meaning, then the burden of meaning falls directly upon the shoulders of the individual. If meaning is not implicit in the structures of nature and the evolution of history, then it is clearly the task of humans to render their lives meaningful through the quality of their choices.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 13)
I know quite a few people who view the world as having very little meaning for them. As Hollis suggests, these people I am thinking about have invested all of their meaning in their work, their families and perhaps their possessions. Outside of these boundaries there is no meaning. It is hard to say one way is right and another way is wrong, but I do feel that the loss of the numinous, the magical and the mythical leads to a life of spiritual poverty. Possessions get old and need to be replaced over and over again in an attempt to recapture that momentary sense of satisfaction of ownership. Career often is more concerned at sucking all of one’s energies for the benefit of unseen others and a fickle economy. Families grow, change, expand, contract and through all of these passages and transformations still leave us feeling alone – one becomes dependent on others for meaning and when alone, meaning evaporates.
I have retired which has forced me to search elsewhere for meaning. My children have grown, built their own small families in different communities. Things have long lost their magic and have become only functional objects. I have been forced to choose between a meaningless universe and a universe in which animate and inanimate have worth, meaning and purpose on a scale that is beyond my capacity to fully understand. I choose a universe filled with gods, goddesses, magic and meaning; I choose a universe in which everything I do, say, think, and dream has meaning.
This is a photo I took yesterday while wandering through Fish Creek Provincial Park which is located within the city of Calgary. Even though the weather was quite wintry, it was an enjoyable walk with my wife and camera. After two days of analytical sessions, I was ready for a change of mind and scene, so nature was what I needed. I am fortunate that this provincial part is only a short two kilometre walk from the place I am renting.
I use images as my way of honouring the unspoken and unseen aspects of my inner self as well as searching for ways to connect to Gaia, Mother Earth and to other humans at a level of collective depth. This little fellow, a squirrel in the park, knew I was there and was accepting of that up to a certain point. As long as I remained as a nonthreatening presence (as perceived by him), I was able to remain in a presence even if that presence also held a certain level of tension. The image of this squirrel evokes more than the fact of the squirrel; it is a dynamic image, pregnant with a vitality that connects me with a larger reality.
“Images can manifest in words, movement, plastic arts, science, architecture, or any other form of cultural or personal expression. In other words, anything that can carry the imprint of divine energies can be a temporary vessel of the mysteries, or the gods.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 12)
“Temporary vessels” – it is vital that I remember this. The image itself isn’t numinous; what is numinous is the temporary presence within my consciousness, even sub-conscious state, of an attitude that is willing to see yet another sign and face of the divine. Once that moment has passed, the image returns to be a photography. It could easily said that for a moment, the Divine manifested in the image as a way of talking with me. Then with that dialogue finished, the Divine leaves the image which then becomes perhaps a piece of art or simply a snapshot. It is the Divine that chooses the time, place, space for dialogue with the soul.
As Hollis tells us, we can sometimes find the presence of the Divine in a song, in dancing, in an act of painting or building. The Divine can become manifest in any thing, any doing, and especially in our moments of openness to the Divine such as when we are asleep through dreams. But one must not expect the presence of the Divine every time we sing, dance, create, make. The Divine is present, but at those moments when we cannot evoke the Divine, it is because we attempt to contain the Divine in all of these things and these acts. The Divine can’t be contained for that reduces the Divine to being a servant of ego.
I am in the process of putting together my poetry from the 1990s and I found this poem which I wrote on December 15th, 1997. I think it bears sharing at this point with you as it tells both myself and you, my readers, what precedes the fall or crash that leads one to finally reach out for help.
Journey of a Wounded Healer
Sitting in my rocking chair
Surrounded by the darkness of the night
Imagining the horrors that have no name
Tears well for no reason other than as a protest
Sitting in my rocking chair locked in the silence of night
Fearing the horrors that have no name.
Fighting for strength in the light of a new day
Breathing deeply to contain the terror of an unknown future
Eyes strained from sleeplessness and tenseness
Fighting for hope in the promise of the new day
Closing my eyes to contain the terror of an unknown future
The wounded healer’s journey begins.
I published this poem in February, 1998 in a web-zine that was produced in Victoria, B.C. by Ron Nye, along with two other poems. I will be including this poem in the poetry book I am currently working on for publishing later this winter/spring.
As I prepared myself for today’s post, I began with a search through my archives for a photo. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, only that the photo somehow was symbolic, artistic. With the archives being quite vast, I clicked on the folder for last October and this photo caught my immediate attention. I didn’t ask why, but knew that I had to go with it, trust that it would somehow carry the idea that was still hiding in the shadows of my consciousness. It was only when I had cropped the image and tweaked it in terms of exposure that I began to see where the image would take me.
“The truly religious attitude toward life obliges us to suffer ambiguity, ride the current of soul as it changes and disappears, and await its reappearance in a fresh place.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 10)
I would have to say that my life somehow has shifted from a secular attitude to a religious attitude. And in saying this, I don’t mean that I am embracing a religion in terms of church or a theology. Rather, it is about looking at life, the whole of life, as a numinous experience of the divine. In this particular photo I am drawn to the tea table as spiritual symbol. The tea shared is not simply about the relationship between the individuals who would sit at this table, but also with the spirits that are invoked when a few people gather to immerse themselves into the ritual, the silence and the sharing that has a place at this table. I can sense the soul of this table that joins in with the souls of those gathered around it if those people would be open to the fullness of the experience. The soul is found in the wood as well as in the craftsman who formed the wood into the table and the stools. The soul is found in relationship between people sharing tea together. The soul is found in the tea, the water and the delicate cups which hold the liquid. The soul is found in the appreciation of the tea, the company, the artistry of the table. It takes a shift in consciousness to note the soul which is always present in all things and in all life.
Most people, including myself, often take the word soul to be representative of a separate and individual inner aspect of self. Most people, including myself, often take the word religion to mean a church, a theology. But as I have come to understand it anew, religion is about an attitude, a way of being in relation to self, to others and to the world. I have deliberately used the word “anew” because as a child the religious attitude is vibrant. One enters the world with a religious attitude which renders the world as a numinous place. It is a function of time and relationship with adults which leads each of us away from a natural religious attitude to a life of rules, objectivity, compromise and maturity. Though many of us attend churches, the magic and numinosity of soul is lost. The harder we strive to cling to a church, the more rigid we become. In my practice I have worked with those entrusted with our souls in churches. Our guides within the churches fight hard to find their own soul, their own faith within their churches. Because, like us, they have externalised religion, they are left feeling empty, soulless. When the pain of that emptiness overwhelms, it is time to begin the process of becoming like children, the process of soul recovery and the embracing of a religious attitude toward self, others and the world.
“Just as religious faith obliges us to wait with trust in the mystery, so the evolution of the personality, the individuation urge toward wholeness, obliges one to wait upon, and trust the guidance of, the soul’s energies. The enemy of such trust is the anxiety occasioned by ambiguity. As one matures, a greater tolerance of ambiguity is essential both for growth and as a measure of respect for the autonomy of the mystery.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 11)
For those following my latest version of “journey,” today was my first session in a return to analysis. Of course I will not talk about the content of any analytical session as what happens in any session involves both the analyst and the analysand. The session happens in a container that I can best describe as being a sacred and safe container – temenos. But I will speak about what I learn from the process and about feelings so that anyone reading this will have some sense of the value as well as the process.
Before I begin, I want to be clear with you as to why I have re-entered analysis. The truth is, what I was doing stopped working for me. I was in analysis almost fifteen years ago following the suicide of one of my brothers, an event that acted as a trigger or catalyst for stuff I had long repressed, bits and pieces of my life I had forgotten about as I went about my life as a husband, father, teacher, and coach. My life back then began to come apart at the seams and I found myself entertaining suicidal thoughts in an attempt to escape the flood of images and memories. Those images and memories revealed a lot of childhood abuse which included an incident of being sexually abused as a teenager, several incidences of physical abuse, and a fair bit of emotional/mental abuse. It seemed like a lot to deal with but after a semester off from teaching, I was able to return to teaching with a decent level of balance.
With the death of my mother last fall, the floodgates opened further revealing significantly more incidences of sexual abuse, from different people beginning somewhere around the age of six or seven. Some of the sexual abuse happened over an extended period of time. Overwhelmed, I decided to return to analysis in order to deal with all the memories that were presenting themselves in a way which would allow me to avoid becoming a victim of the memories. The work of analysis isn’t about erasing the abuse, it is about responding to the knowledge of the abuse in a way that allows one to grow passed the abuse, becoming stronger in the process.
As I engaged in this morning’s analytical session I was surprised by the process. I have counselled as a therapist for a long time and I have been through the process of being counselled, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Regardless of whether one has been counselled in the past, each time one enters into a new counselling (therapeutic) relationship, some basic work needs to take place, work that is about getting information flowing in both directions. You have to do all the foundational work before heading into the work of analysis (depth psychology). I had already skipped this part in my mind since this was a not a new process as a person being counselled or as counsellor; I was skipping the foundational work assuming that I would be diving head first off the 10 metre diving board as soon as the first session started. When my analyst then began with the beginning I was surprised, and relieved. My guide knew what he was doing and I began to relax and become more present in the moment.
I want to bring something here that I hope will be of some use – in the days and hours leading up to this first session, I was worried by quite a few things: Would the analyst want to continue working with me? Would I give him the right answers to his questions? Will I become silent and hide my words because of my shame? Will the analyst think less of me because of what he hears? These questions and more tortured me and sleep was hard to come by and never long enough to be actually restful. My body was in revolt and every part of me began to ache. Of course, all of this was in my head and had nothing to do with the reality of being in an analytical session.
As a therapist, it was good for me to re-experience the angst of a person entering into therapy so as remind me of what each of the people who begin their work with me would be experiencing. That knowledge allows the therapist to effectively create the therapeutic container that will keep both the therapist and the client safe. Doing the work of building that container is a joint effort that grows out of the initial dialogues between the analysand and the analyst. And now, looking back at this morning’s session, I see that our beginning work has done just exactly that. And so, I find myself relieved that I have chosen my guide wisely and have good hopes for the analytical journey that has just begun.
I was up early as usual and as a result was able to appreciate my first dawn in Calgary. I thought that it would be appropriate to share it here with you since I seem to be sharing just about everything else. It makes me think of the old sailor’s rhyme – “Red skies in the morning, sailors take warning!”
I guess I should be alert and wary as I set to sea again, the inner sea of the unconscious. I know that I have done a lot of preparatory work in terms of journal writing, active imagination, and attention to my dreams; but I must not think for a moment that because of this preparation that it will be smooth sailing. If anything, the preparatory work was more about making sure that the life jackets are all in place and that the emergency kits are all safely stowed on the life raft. The seas will be rough, very rough. And in battling these seas, I test myself, discover my limits, and discover even more, discover the presence of my soul.
“When we resonate to this incarnated energy, we know we are in the presence of soul. When, for whatever reason, the energy no longer enlivens that image for us, then that structure dies for us as a source of the divine. There remains but a dead myth or ritual that touches us not.” (Hollis, Tracking The Gods, p. 9)
It is about the energy and the myth and the images (imagination) that arise from setting out on the journey on rough water that enlivens or animates me, makes me feel as though I am finally waking up and being present. As I wake up, the world is filled with images that are alive, that have a pulse, that hint at a greater mystery.
“. . . when people feel they are living the symbolic life, that they are actors in the divine drama. That gives the only meaning to human life . . . ” (Jung, CW 18, para. 630)
I have been approaching this time of transition as though I am embarking on a voyage of mythic proportions. To be honest, the idea of seeing this process as mythic comes from my readings of both C.G. Jung and James Hollis. Lately I have referred to a book called Mythologems by Hollis, but now, I am going to look at another of Hollis’ books called, Tracking the Gods: The Place of Myth in Modern Man, as that book has allowed me to reframe the way I look at the process I am about to begin. My journey is really not different from the journey you take each day, a journey that seeks to find some answers to a few basic questions – Who am I? Why am I here? How did I get here? In a more basic form, we are searching for some meaning in our lives, a purpose for being alive and doing the best we can do within the limitations of our life’s circumstances.
“Quite possibly, nature has no inherent meaning; it simply is. But humans bring a psychic structuring process, which is part of our nature, to that chaos in order to establish a meaningful relationship to the world. Myth, with its substance of symbol, rhythm and metaphor, bridges from the known to the knower and helps the human stand in some sort of meaningful relationship to mystery. (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 8 )
For me, the way to answers is through looking at the world and myself through a different lens, that of both photography and myth. This is my personal way of constructing a metaphor for what I understand is my relationship to the world, to others and to myself. The metaphors through words and images allows me to create my own answers, the only real answers, about meaning, my meaning. As Hollis points out, perhaps it is essentially about chaos in which there is “no inherent meaning” but for me, it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is how my own head and heart come to create meaning in the chaos, for with that sense of meaning, I can remain sane and continue to strive to be as moral and ethical as I can be.