Archive for March, 2012
Every where we travel, I find a way to take photos of my beautiful wife. Of course I also end up using a timer and a tripod to take photos of the two of us together at significant landmarks. I guess, that is part of the record-keeping that marks family, a practice we have had all through the years of raising children. In a way, it is proof to ourselves that we have been places, done things and have built up a wealth of positive memories.
Sometimes we need these proofs to pull us out of times when we find we feel isolated, stuck inside a dark place. Photos serve as a window out of the dark spaces allowing us to re-connect in our heads through memories. And the memories we see in the images turn into memories that have a deeper connection through our senses, body and soul memory.
Photos aren’t the only images that we draw on. We find inner images that do much the same, images that are not quite as two dimensional. The inner images have sound, smell, texture, emotional affect and well as depth. These inner images are not discriminatory as they are just as likely to record those moments in life that are our nightmares as well as those moments in life that we celebrate with joy.
Part of the journey of individuation is bringing these scenes into focus with a view of learning from them so that we can overcome hurdles we are meeting in the present. We bring our little home movies of mother and father into the process to understand better the strategies we have developed in relation, not only to our parents, but the the Great Mother and the Sky Father, those archetypes that are bigger than our biological parents, our collective sense of mother and father. On this journey, we meet Mother-complexes and Father-complexes which we must overcome (rather than continue to be owned, ruled by these complexes) so that we can get a fuller knowledge of our own inner connection to the archetype of Mother and Father.
Of course, this is not really about digging up the bones of the past in order to simply chew on those bones and staying stuck in the past. The focus is on the present, what do I do now that is pulling me into darkness that is stained by scripts we built while we were young children. The problem isn’t the parents or the abuse – the problem is living with life scripts and beliefs that we have crafted at an age when we didn’t have the conscious tools to craft more effective life scripts. Understanding that allows us to leave the self-built prisons of victim.
I have visited a lot of temples in a lot of countries. There is a core within me that is seeking something that resonates at the spiritual level. Because of past sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests, I began a search to replace my loss of a spiritual centre in Catholicism. I was fifteen years old and I found myself wandering through so many different churches that still held to Christianity. Months of trying out so many different faiths left me empty and I walked away from hope that there was a place that I could call my spiritual home.
Not long after I got married while going to university, I found a few books called the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the I-Ching and Herman Hesse’s book, Siddharata in a used book store. Not long after that discovery, I bought a damaged small wooden Buddha statue. This was soon followed by an introduction to meditation. For a few months until the start of my teaching career in the fall of 1974, I lived quietly, part-time, in an alternate world of spirituality. Life happened, work, raising a family, and being a member of a community filled in all of my spaces in a good way. Yet somehow, the absence of honouring my spiritual core began to push into my life. My soul began demanding my attention. A community member who was coming to me for counselling, a Lutheran pastor easily saw that spiritual centre pushing out over the course of several months of our work together. As the time for closure approached, he suggested that I become a Lutheran pastor as I had the spiritual core necessary to be a good pastor. At the time, it caused me to chuckle for I wasn’t a Lutheran and had no intention of becoming a Lutheran.
On numerous trips to Europe, I found myself in centuries old cathedrals and monasteries and in each place, I could feel something still lingering of a time long past when those places were real places of spirituality. In the Yucatan, again I found old churches, and Mayan ruins not on the tourist routes that also spoke of deep religious connections. And when I went to China.
While in China, I visited many temples and pagodas, some active in Buddhist faith and many tourist stops collecting fees at the entrance. I could never seem to get enough as each place was different. China gave me time and access to India, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand where I wandered and experienced. I knew I was listening and experiencing my own spirituality in the process. It wasn’t about photo opportunities. It was deeper than that.
And now, I find myself looking deeper into Buddhism. There is an honest simplicity in the eight fold path that doesn’t focus on some paternalistic god or on highly debated theology and doctrines. I find myself participating in more than one Buddhist sangas for group meditation and for those moments both before and after group meditation with others who are approaching personal spirituality in the context of Buddhism. Will I become a Buddhist? That question doesn’t have an answer yet, but part of me has been Buddhist since the fall of 1973 when I found a used copies of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the I-Ching, Siddhartha, and a small damaged wooden statue of Buddha.
These two objects have a history with me. The green stone was given to me in 1994 by a gentle bear of a man who was my therapist at that time. I was to hold the rock when life was overwhelming so that the rock could take me back into the moments of safety in his office. The rock has travelled with me and hopefully will continue to stay with me reminding me of the gentle, bearded giant of a man who had unconditional positive regard for me as a man.
The second object is a chalice of sorts that I made in 1998 at a workshop. The chalice is a container that is meant to hold what I called the “Source of Life.” Another man was responsible for this, the man who lead the workshop on a cool and windy May weekend. Little did I know at that time that I would meet this man again fourteen years later, a meeting between analyst and analysand. Again, I feel that I am in a safe place, a place where I am again held in unconditional positive regard as a man.
Today, these two symbolic objects are like totems for me, and when I use the word totems, I mean it as symbols of relatedness as though kin - father and brother figures. As totems, these objects carry a spiritual dimension in which the notion of shaman is attached to the objects. For me, these two men take their place in my life story as guides through the inner worlds, the spiritual worlds – true shamans in a modern world.
A different river scene for today as I continue on with river photos. This photo was taken in February, 2011 while I was in IndoChina for a month. I was entranced by the light on the water as it created a “crystal” effect. In the photo, the family of mother and her four children appear so small though they are at the centre of the image. Theirs is a life on the river which feeds them. Where is the father? One can only imagine that the father has some sort of employment that allows the family something more than a subsistence living. In this image he is absent.
Men, as fathers, are often absent in the lives of their children, and that has a powerful affect on the children. A good father in today’s world will find that he gets to be fully present for a couple of hours each day once travel to and from work as well as the hours spent at work are removed from the hours that children are awake. This presents a problem for children. Boys don’t learn enough about how to be a man in the world with the absence of the father, especially if most of the waking hours are spent in the presence of women such as mother and teachers. In the case of fathers who do not take an active presence in the lives of the children, both male and female children suffer wounds of abandonment. Boys suffer more than girls as girls still have the model of mother to show them the pathway to womanhood.
But almost more important than the absence of father is the absence of modelling of relationship, intimate relationship between husband and wife. Both male and female children suffer the same lack modelling behaviour. What they learn is that “mother” is self-sufficient and can do the role of parenting alone, that a man is not needed, perhaps even superfluous. What they learn is that “father” is untrustworthy, undependable, selfish, uncaring. Of course, there is more to a relationship between a man and a woman that the children do not see, do not experience. Children, with their ego-centric thinking and experiencing of the world with the delusion that they, believe they are responsible for all things going wrong in the world around them because of something they did, thought or failed to do = magical thinking of a child. And so they build in small strategies to keep fear at bay, to control the world (adults) around them in order to somehow stay safe. These little strategies become life scripts which influence their life and relationship patterns once they become adults. The more effort needed to feel safe as a child, the greater the dysfunction will be in adulthood.
As a parent, one must guard against overwhelming a child with “too much” or “too little” as both will result in a child being “overwhelmed” and thus feeling unsafe as though drowning in affect. I know, it is easier said and than done.
There is no doubt that each of us is not much different than this block of ice that has broken off from the shoreline, from what once was a massive ice cover hiding a river flowing beneath. But, as I look at this image I see something of myself, a part of me that has been frozen for too long. When I say frozen, I am referring to my lack of engagement with the world in an authentic manner. Rather than being fully authentic, I have invested a lot of my energy to project an image of myself that strives for perfection. I wanted to be a person that everyone liked yet I didn’t believe that anyone could actually like me if I let my hidden parts be seen by others. My approach would fit very well into Glover’s description of “Nice Guy.”
“As much as Nice Guys try to look good and get people to like them, . . . [their] . . . defenses keep people at arm’s length. Like most Nice Guy patterns, these unconscious behaviors actually accomplish the opposite of what the Nice Guy really craves. While desiring love and connection, his behaviors serve as an invisible force field that keeps people from being able to get close to him.
Nice Guys have a difficult time comprehending that in general, people are not drawn to perfection in others. People are drawn to shared interests, shared problems, and an individual’s life energy.
Humans connect with humans. Hiding one’s humanity and trying to project an image of perfection makes a person vague, slippery, lifeless, and uninteresting.” (Glover, No More Mr. Nice Guy, p.46)
Attending to the process of daring to be honest with my self, I am beginning to peel back the layers of disguise that I have used since childhood. I am not a child anymore and have nothing to fear in being honest with myself and in turn, honestly presenting the self I rediscover to all those who are in my life.
This is an image that fits well with what I am “feeling” at this time. I am posting shorter reflections and a bit less because I am learning to shift from thinking and analyzing into a place of feeling. I have to admit that I have denied, bottled up, and diverted feeling for almost all of my life. In saying that, I am talking about my feelings with regard to my self. Otherwise, I have been a “feeling” kind of guy, one who finds it easy to empathize with others and resonate with emotional affect. I might be prone to deny my own self-feelings, but I am definitely a “Nice Guy.”
I want to thank one of my faithful readers, a photographer (Hi Paul) who suggested a book about nice guys to me in one of his comments – No More Mr. Nice Guy, by Robert Glover. As I read I am seeing so much of my story, my responses, my habits and my sub-conscious belief system exposed for what it really is – being a “Nice Guy” is not such a good thing. I want to bring a few of Glover’s words here that have resonated with me:
“Why would it seem rational for a person to try to eliminate or hide certain things about himself and try to become something different unless there was a compelling reason for him to do so? Why do people try to change who they really are?
After spending several years examining the Nice Guy syndrome from every angle, there is only one answer to this question that makes sense: because it does not feel safe or acceptable for a boy or man to be just who he is.” (Glover, No More Mr. Nice Guy, p. 19)
Beliefs of little children who take on the blame and responsibility for everything that goes wrong in family and tries desperately to fix it through disguising and changing him or herself with the belief that in doing so, the world be be a better and safer place. And sometimes, the process of disguising oneself is a vital strategy for real safety as if one is swaddling oneself in layer upon layer of buffering materials. But, because a child is a child and is essentially powerless to affect change in the adult world that surrounds the child, all that really happens is that the child grows up to be an adult still hidden behind layers and layers of buffering material – layers that deny feeling and leave one frozen in the childhood belief system.
Fortunately, we do have an option to leave this eternal winter of being locked in under and within the ice which freezes feelings. Spring has begun the melting process.
I took this photo standing on the thick ice that edged the river. Almost all of my photos taken were of ice, water, and nature. I had not thoughts of taking a “city” landscape photo. But, as I walked gently and carefully on the slick ice in the shadow under the bridge, I saw this image in my mind and knew I had to capture it. As I was taking the photo I thought of the the troll who lived under the bridge who demanded payment as people journeyed to the world of consciousness from the unconscious world. Here I was, the troll with the camera waiting for a traveller to appear and for payment to be rendered. I sometimes get caught up in an imaginal world, something that comes with trying to capture images that are more than a visual record of objective reality.
I use images as a doorway, as a portal to enter into a dialogue, a conversation with different layer of who I am, a layer that contains an aspect of my “self” that is old, very old. Children find it easy to enter into this conversation as they participate on a feeling level as we as adults read them fairy tales and folk tales. Somehow they connect, resonate and feel at home in these absurd stories. As I am getting older, I am finding that I am daring to let go of “adult” proscriptions which fit us as if they are blinders, ear plugs and straight jackets which are meant to keep the non-objective world safely contained. Even though this is true as we live with “should’s” and “should not’s” those rules which keep us civilized, what is being contained or restrained is us as individuals. It is as though we are kept within a safe zone guarded by razor-sharp barbed wire. Are we keeping the darkness outside or are we building so many layers of denial which allows that darkness free reign because we have put ourselves into straight jackets?
Such strange thoughts as I stood on the ice that was soon ready to break and allow the waters of the unconscious to rush free from their winter containment, as I stood under the bridge looking at the downtown Calgary skyline.
The question in the photo’s caption is one that is vital for all of humanity in today’s world, not just a personal question. After writing these lines, my Daily Om meditation arrived in my mail box:
When we continually live our life
with a safety net
it creates a barrier to our freedom.
(Daily Om, March 21, 2012)
In a way, the gods and goddesses and our temples in their names were our psychic safety nets. As they fled, we got lost and we abandoned the temples, leaving them in ruin, leaving them to bare witness to our loss, our sense of hopelessness. Why did they leave us? Well, they didn’t. They fled the temples because they yearned for their rightful home, within us. We banished the gods and goddesses to temples, built walls around our psyches to keep them out. We wanted them to be “out there” somewhere to be a buffer between our fragile sense of self and the cruel world of nature and other men. We refused our own freedom and strength.
And today, will we dare the hard work of going within to find these gods and goddesses who wait for us? Or, will we find new gods and goddesses such as the economy, property, relationships, drugs, alcohol, sex, power and ownership of things we will never need? Modern man is in trouble, and will continue his race into oblivion if he cannot reconnect with his own soul, a soul which is the true safety net.
I took a lot of photos when I was at Angkor Wat in Cambodia like any good camera-toting tourist. But I was looking for more that the classical scenes of ruins, I was looking for portals, doorways into another way to being in this world, doorways into other dimensions of time and place. This photo captures something of this sense of otherness for me, capturing the water which hints of depths while mirroring the presence in a manner that says, it really isn’t as it seems to our limited vision. hinting that reality is perhaps a figment of imagination. With the presence of the stones which try to hint of human efforts to tame the world, yet serve as evidence that human efforts are subject to a greater power, that of time and nature and the sun. And then there was this tree, larger than other trees with roots descending deep into the earth as if suckling at the breast of the Mother, roots feeding on the water buried in darkness below the surface – a Tree of Life that reaches up as if in prayer to the sun and the spirit of the Father.
As I have wandered through a number of different places, I always seem to be drawn to scenes such as this one at My Son in Vietnam, ruins of a different culture during the time of the Champa Kingdom. There is no question that Shiva had long abandoned this place. Does this mean that Shiva is no more? Or, does it mean that Shiva has found a different place to call “home?” Of course, this post isn’t about Shiva, it is about our basic human drive to express and contain something that defies expression and containment, that which can only be described as the Divine. I have been in mosques, in temples, in cathedrals and have found each place to be more about the people who worship in them, than about what or who is being worshiped. It doesn’t matter if we call this Divine by a name or attribute to the Divine a gender, none of our conscious acts or words can do anything but point to a Mystery.
“The archetype is a symbolic formula which always begins to function when there are no conscious ideas present, or when conscious ideas are inhibited for internal or external reasons. The contents of the collective unconscious are represented in consciousness in the form of pronounced preferences and definite ways of looking at things. These subjective tendencies and views are generally regarded by the individual as being determined by the object – incorrectly, since they have their source in the unconscious structure of the psyche and are merely released by the effect of the object. They are stronger than the object’s influence, their psychic value is higher, so that they superimpose themselves on all impressions.” (Jung, CW 6, par. 625)
This explains, to me, how the ruins, even the new places of worship, and the gods that they serve are just renderings of human imagination as containers, as images to point to something that can’t be contained or explained because of the source or wellspring from which the gods and their temples arise – the collective unconscious. And so I am left to leave my analytical thinking engage in a sort of participation mystique that swirls around defying containment by structure, object, or word.