Archive for June, 2012
Taken just a few days ago, this is one of the various varieties of cactus plants that burst out into blossom. The flowers are large and delicate in comparison with the cactus plant itself which is tough and painfully thorny should one make the mistake of stepping on one of them, something that I have been known to do on a number of occasions. Of course, if I was truly present when walking in the semi-arid hills, I would see the cacti and avoid unnecessary pain.
One of the things that I am finding difficult is to find presence, as I have been bouncing back and forth between places so much that no place becomes the centre. All the bouncing between leads me to relocate even more into an inner space making outer space even more like a foreign country. All of the routines that I used to mark my days have stopped being routines. Of course, there is something good to be said for having routines fall away:
“Most of us have a set routine that gets us through our day. Somewhere along the line, we solidified that routine into a way of life. The question then becomes, “Is it working?” Day by day, we may find ourselves getting restless with the same classes or job, the same relationship, the same hangouts or hang-ups, and we long for some radical change.
However, it is not our world that is necessarily problematic; it’s our point of view.” (Rinzler, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar,p. 4)
Restless! Yes, that is a good word to use here. It is a word that helps explain some of what is churning inside. What is missing is the point of view that would help clarify life lived fully present rather than through routines. My routines are dissolving, but there is no clarity emerging. Rather than continue to follow a Buddhist train of thought, I find myself turning to an alchemical way of looking in hopes of understanding what is happening.
The first of the four major stages is called nigredo. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about nigredo from a Jungian standpoint:
’the nigredo of the process of individuation on the other hand is a subjectively experienced process brought about by the subject’s painful, growing awareness of his shadow aspects’. It could be described as a moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development. As individuation unfolds, so ‘confrontation with the shadow produces at first a dead balance, a standstill that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective or even impossible…nigredo, tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia’. Here is ‘the darkest time, the time of despair, disillusionment, envious attacks; the time when Eros and Superego are at daggers drawn, and there seems no way forward…nigredo, the blackening’.
In this stage one has entered into the Dark Night of the Soul. It is hard to be present when the inner realm is breaking down all the routines, the convictions, the assumed truths and the convenient lies that have allowed us to ignore the dark shadows that lurk within the psyche.
As I was driving from Calgary to my home in Saskatchewan, I stopped by this building I had passed a number of times. I had thought of photographing this place a number of times but was either in a hurry or it was raining when I passed. In spite of very strong winds which were gusting between 50 and 110 kilometres per hour, it was sunny so I stopped. I decided that it would never be the perfect time and that every time was the perfect time.
In this particular photo, I used the abandoned ruin of an old farm house as a contrast to the scene that unfolded behind it on the Canadian prairie. Water, grasses, fields and an immense sky helps to place the abandoned farm house in context, helping me to have a sense of smallness in the expanse of prairie. I could almost feel how the original settlers must have felt in building this shelter in an empty land where winds blow incessantly, a land of extremes: drought, rain, storm, heat, cold and space.
Today’s post is going to remain short as I have spent most of the day outside in a part of the Canadian prairie where cactus and hills remain much as they have been for thousands of years. The time spent outdoors has left me pleasantly tired and blank when it comes to intellectual activity. Today it was enough just to be breathing in the sunshine. Of course I took my camera with me.
I took a few photos yesterday evening as the sun finally appeared and painted golden scenes outside my window. I was intrigued by the light and the colour in contrast to what had been a gray and dreary day of cloud and rain.
Now, an attempt at opening the Pandora’s Box exploring what I would consider to be my dreams. What are my dreams, my visions for myself? I have talked a lot about returning to the role of counsellor an idea that has been in my head for the past ten years, since I gave up that role in the world of education. To return means to obtain certification outside the world of education and educational psychology. This is something that I know I am good at, something that gives me a sense of worth and value, especially now that I have retired. Part of that desire is to both fill some of my hours and to fill my head. There are no real obstacles getting in the way of following up on this particular dream. Yet, I wonder if this is more about keeping busy rather than following my bliss. It seems I have lost the key that would open up the inner voices that would affirm or not, what is a real dream of being and doing versus what is just distracting me from the fact that there is nothing there within me serving as a dream for my dream quest.
I have somewhat vague ideas of things I would like to try, but I don’t know if they could be called dreams. One of the ideas that come to mind are to walk el camino de Santiago and to wander other parts of the world. I don’t know if this is just a distraction or a real dream. This idea first came to me when I read about the pilgrimage in one of Paulo Coehlo’s books. I wonder now what it would be like to make this pilgrimage beginning each walking day with Buddhist meditation, not rushing the pilgrimage and taking time to be present in place and in self along the journey. I begin to think of the process of the pilgrimage as an 800 kilometre long meditation and exploration of my body and my my psyche. I guess this does make the idea a dream of sorts. What I don’t know is if I will do this, risk doing this or whether I would just leave it in my mind as another intellectual idea, or if this is just another distraction that appears in the absence of a real dream.
So many padded walls and doorless doorways that serve as blinders; I had thought that I might actually reach for something in taking this challenge of exploring my dreams, but I keep coming up empty as though I am dipping into a well using a pail riddled with holes. I have built too many layers of blinds that separate the core of my self from the world I find myself so that when I try to find that core self I find something blurry like the scene outside my window in the photo above.
All of that said, I know that I am going forward, trusting the journey, trusting that The Way is unfolding as it should. And for me, that is a real Hero’s Journey.
I took this photo in Thailand where life seemed to move at a different pace for a lot of people such as for this man who definitely had time to relax while the young pig was being roasted. I know that I get less done in spite of the fact that I haven’t slowed down the pace of my own life. I manage to keep busy without actually accomplishing anything worth talking about.
As I write this I am in a local library in Calgary, a place I often find myself visiting after an analytic session. I came into the library with full intentions of slowing down and focusing on a journal project that would look at authenticity and following one’s feelings and dreams. That was more than a half hour ago. I began this session with opening a MS Word document, writing two sentences and then . . . Yes, I got busy. I changed my computer settings to start with so as to have my battery last longer regardless of the fact that I will be long gone from the library before my battery gives out. Then the laptop automatically found the wifi in the library which required a click to activate. Since I was taken to the login page as part of the activation process, I decided I might as well check my e-mail. Of course that only led me to check out Facebook as well to see how my children and friends are doing since the last time I checked four hours ago. I did take time to click “like” a number of times and to write one comment.
At that moment I had an inspiration, ‘why not write up today’s blog post since I am already online?’ Naturally, I had to search through my photo archives to find an appropriate photo even though I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about. Next came time to do some cropping and some slight adjustments with exposure and saturation with the photo while thinking about what would the content of the blog speak of. Just to get this far kept me busy for three-quarters of an hour.
Now, this doesn’t invalidate the value of this work of creating this blog post, but it does speak to the photo and coincidentally to what I have been reading in Lodro Rinzler’s book, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar.
“For many of us, life does feel like a battle. Our first instinct in the morning is one of self-protection, wanting to burrow back under the covers instead of facing the day. this is because we often view our daily routine as just a way to get by in life – pay the bills, find a romantic relationship, maintain our friendships, nurture our family life – at the end of the day, we are exhausted by our struggle to keep it all together.” (page 3)
Keep busy, don’t think too much – maybe we will get to sleep with some hope of real rest. It doesn’t matter how we look at it, whether we want to hide under our covers or flee them, we flee into being busy with life.
“We spend so much energy constantly trying to keep up with voice mail, e-mail, junk mail, bill mail, females, or males. Instead of engaging these various aspects of our life with an open mind, we schlep our way through them and cling to our escapes: we chew our nails, drink beer, have sex, shop online, or go to the gym. Some of us might even be able to multitask and do all of the above at once. Although we try our hardest, we know at the end of the day there is always another thing we should do, and yet we have taken so little time to take care of ourselves.” (page 3)
I don’t have any of the usual excuses for avoiding taking the time. I am retired, I have taken time out from the normal patterns and routines that filled my life at home to focus on wellness . Yet, in spite of this, I find my days, hours and minutes filling themselves to the point that I manage to avoid my self. I am aware of what has happened and how I sabotage my own well-being. Recognizing that, I accept the reality of what has happened and make the conscious decision to again slow down and be with myself long enough to listen and learn.
It has been gray and wet here in Calgary quite a bit this spring. Warm and sunny days are not frequent, not as frequent as I am used to at my home in Saskatchewan. The gray skies continue this morning though the light drizzle has stopped for now. Everything is wet and the trails for hiking are a bit sloppy making hiking more of a chore than an exercise in exhilaration. All of this combines to make this analytic journey in Calgary one that is even more of a challenge. In a way, it becomes more of a journey of trial, a pilgrimage of sorts.
Last night I watched a movie, something I rarely do for some strange reason. I have this absurd idea that I “should” be doing “work” while in Calgary as being here costs in terms of money (significant) and lost time in terms of relationship with my wife who waits in Saskatchewan. I push myself until I go blank and in that blankness, there is no energy or ambition to even watch TV. Slowly, I am learning to relax and just be myself, and as part of that initiative to relax led me to watch a movie. The movie was called, The Way, a movie that talked of el camino de Santiago. I had heard of this pilgrimage a number of times over the years and had entertained, briefly, the idea of one day walking the path of the pilgrims.
Watching the movie and seeing how the journey worked with transformative power, I was reminded of the journey of individuation that I am following consciously and unconsciously. My journey combines Jungian analysis with Buddhist meditation and dharma. As well as working consciously with these tools, I try living the changes that are happening within me each time I make the journey back to my home, another pilgrimage of sorts on its own. There is no question about the fact that each time I re-enter my home I do so having undergone yet another transformation regardless of how small that change might appear to others.
One of the lessons I am learning is that I have become a permanent pilgrim. I have entered into a journey of transformation that will last until my last breath as a human.
I have been struggling lately with energy and as a result have found myself doing very little productive; if anything, I have been wasting my time. Take today as an example. I slept in long past my usual 6:00 AM wake-up. During the night I did have dreams and woke for a moment but refused to record the dream, being obstinate. Yes, I can be a very stubborn person. Once up, I went through some of my usual routine including taking time for meditation. But it didn’t take long for the resistances to be rekindled and I skipped making my morning coffee and checking my e-mail. I did finally, at 11:00 AM decide to eat a bowl of cereal with fruit for breakfast followed by a short chat with my son using GoogleTalk. Then, I slipped back into doing nothing again.
It took until almost 1:30 PM before I got my butt in gear and decided to go out of the suite and engage with the world, a world that is coated with gray skies that leaked without much enthusiasm of their own. I had a chore to take care of and a small desire to check out some books at a Chapters store in a shopping mall. While in the store I found a few books I had been in search of and took them to the Starbucks coffeehouse that is found in most Chapters stores. I bought a plain coffee and a scone and settled in to check out the handful of books so as to decide which ones to buy and which ones to keep. And somewhere along the way, I woke up.
It was a neat thing, to wake up sitting in a coffeehouse while in front of a cup of coffee and a handful of books with my laptop opened. What surprised me is my response to this event of waking up. I somehow avoided getting angry with myself for wasting time. I realised that I was just being and that I am now just being. No one moment of being is better than a different moment of being. This is what it means to me to accept the shadow as much as the light. When I get angry with myself, I am berating myself for being myself, thinking that I should be better: more fit, more alive, more productive, more super human, more spiritual. But the truth is, I simply need to be.
My life is messy, I have to admit it. I have these visions of being the perfect husband, father, psychotherapist, friend, world citizen – but, I wake up and find myself, warts and all. I get lazy in so many things, I sometimes forget to shave for a few days and end up looking like some grizzled old geezer. I procrastinate and then forget what I was putting off. Left on my own I am a bit of a mess. My children know the truth of this and accept this as okay. In a way, perhaps it makes it easier for them as it would be hell to try and live up to model of someone who somehow managed to not be messy.
This afternoon, I found another book in the library that almost jumped of the shelf as I walked by in order to catch my attention. The book is called, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar, and is written by Lodro Rinzler. Now this, is a book that sounds promising, so I picked it up off the self and began to read it. The first words in the book confirmed what I suspected, that this book will get some of my time. Listen to Rinzler from this opening paragraph in the book:
“This isn’t your grandmother’s book on meditation. It’s for you. That is, assuming you like to have a beer once in a while, enjoy sex, have figured out that your parents are crazy, or get frustrated at work. It’s a book that doesn’t put Buddhism on some pedestal so that you have to look up to it. It’s about looking at all the nooks and crannies of your life and applying the Buddhist teachings to them, no matter how messy that may be.” (Rinzler, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar, 2011, p. xi)
Now this is what I thought I was going to find when I adopted Buddhism as part of my way of being and living. For some reason I got caught up in the words of Buddhist teachers whose words have been recorded over the past two thousand and five hundred years. I have to admit that those words often felt “distant” to me, words that talked of a life and culture that are far removed from my experience of life. A few voices along the way such as Chogyam Trungpa’s provided a context that was more relevant to the world I live in, but even Trungpa understandably brings his Tibetan way of being and knowing into his presentations. I would have to say that it was my Sangha teacher who is much closer to my own experience of the world, a modern western world, that showed me that Buddhism was for “us” as well. Discovering this American Buddhist’s book promises to be a book that will find its way here in posts to come.
I found this Star Fruit hanging in a tree in Thailand in January and found that I needed to take its photo because of the “light” that glowed on the fruit. In a way, it was as if the light was within the fruit rather than shining on the fruit. Of course, objectively, the sunshine was touching the fruit from the outside. But, and there is always a “but,” perhaps the light was coming from within the fruit itself – at least that what caught my eye.
It is too easy to dismiss that which comes from within, to deny its very existence, or at the least, its worth in comparison to the outer world of things and people. At least it is too easy for me to dismiss the positive inner light that shines within me. Strange how it is so easy for most of us to see the light shining out from others but so difficult for us to see our own inner light. It is there, in each of us. Sometimes it is buried so deep under layers and layers of denial and repression, under the words of others in our life who somehow felt a need to cut us down to size in order to have a momentary sense of standing taller. For whatever reason, we believe the words that denied our light than the words that speak to our light.
Why is this? For me, it has to do with the idea that to believe the best of oneself is to be egotistical, to be all about me, me, me. Childhood teaches many of us that we must defer our belief in self to the belief in others: belief in parents, in school, in authority, in community – the self comes in last place or else. We learn to sacrifice in order to please and appease and believe somehow in the process that our individual self will flourish in such an environment of self-denial. Of course, it doesn’t work, can’t work.
Denying self doesn’t work. The only result is a sense of diminishment, dis-ease, and disillusionment. We end up trying deperately to fill in the holes in our self with stuff, experiences, addictions of all kinds. And we don’t find the hoped for relief at all. No matter how many new cars, new partners, new toys, new whatever; something remains missing, a hole in the bucket of our lives that refuses to allow us to feel fulfilled. The only way to get out of this trap of placing our sense of self under the authority of others, is to finally risk becoming aware of ourselves, be willing to risk connecting with the inner light that is there waiting, patiently waiting for us to open our eyes. Yes, there is a risk of being called selfish. But, that risk is necessary if one is to rejoin the land of the living, full living.
I saw a number of these sand secretions, structures that had no meaning but were rather a product of simply living such as this sand worm cast which I found in Thailand. Simply living and being present and participating in life is all that is needed, but that is something I find quite hard to do. Rather than just letting life be as it is, I often escape either into the past or fantasize about the future.
A good example of that would be how I try to understand the past events that have landed me in analysis or looking towards a future day when analysis is over. Somehow, engaging in these polarity positions, I don’t have to face the fact of what I am doing in the present, looking at how I am in the present. It is a hard habit to break and one that causes some sense of fear. Why fear? Well, what if in paying attention, being present, I fail? What if I am rejected even by my analyst, my family, my friends and acquaintances? Better to bury the fear in telling tales in which I look better that I was, to paint a future that shows me as an accomplished and successful person, perhaps even somewhat famous. Being stuck in the now leaves me so ordinary, less than ordinary in my own eyes. And so I become defensive stuck in fear.
“Fear does not allow fundamental tenderness to enter into us. When tenderness tinged by sadness touches our heart, we know that we are in contact with reality. We feel . That contact is genuine, fresh, and quite raw. . . .
Sometimes people find that being tender and raw is threatening and seemingly exhausting. Openness seems demanding and energy-consuming, so they prefer to cover up their tender heart. Vulnerability can sometimes make you nervous, It is uncomfortable to feel so real, so you want to numb yourself. You look for some kind of anesthetic, anything that will provide you with entertainment. Then you can forget the discomfort of reality. People don’t want to live with their basic rawness for even fifteen minutes. When people say they are bored, often they mean that they don’t want to experience the sense of emptiness, which is also an expression of openness and vulnerability. So they pick up the newspaper or read anything else that’s lying around the room – even reading what is says on a cereal box to keep themselves entertained.” (Trungpa, Smile at Fear, pp 58-59)
I find myself doing this too much, finding creative ways to distract me from being present in life: problems with sitting still in my meditation, drifting into a mindless experience with Netflix, surfing the Internet to read almost anything just so that I can be distracted from my self. Being present is too much hard work. Being able to actually hold emptiness, to hold the idea of vulnerability, to hold onto the fact that even the idea of who I am is a fiction leaves me feeling very raw indeed. So, like almost everyone else I find some way to avoid all of this, even if it is just to once again do a statistics check to see meaningless data about this blog site. I don’t like coming face to face with shit, with my shit, and calling it shit. It is best to flush it away and pretend that it never existed, better to imaginary castles and kingdoms inhabited by heros and villains and gods and goddesses. Or, so I try to convince myself.
But in the end, I can’t escape the rawness, the vulnerability, the emptiness.
This little guy sat still long enough for me to go and get my camera and get this photo taken. To tell the truth, when I got back outside his wings were folded and I had to wait a while before he opened them up again for this photo.
There is no doubt that I was lucky that the butterfly had remained on the tree during the time it took to get these two photos two days ago. I didn’t know if I should keep the first photo as it is a bit blurry and doesn’t have the aesthetic quality of the photo with its wings opened to receive the warmth of the sun’s rays; but now, I am glad that I did. The two photos seemed to illustrate my dream from early this morning. I guess I should explain.
My dream this morning was about dreaming. In my dream about dreaming, I was concerned about the recording of the dream and found myself recording dreams in two separate journals. The second journal contained dream fragments, those bits of dreams that indicate that there was more but defy all conscious attempts to capture the fullness of the dreams. The first journal was where the dream then got recorded in all of its fullness, a drama in full colour even though the drama has no linear structure, a fullness that almost has all the parts existing at the same time in which the ego dream-self navigates without worrying about obeying the laws of physics or rationality. Two journals; two versions of the same dreams – two photos that has one hinting at way is hidden while the second photo holds nothing back.
I know that I am always stuck with the fragments which sometimes are actually quite large running into several hundred words, but usually containing less than a hundred words. The fragments do help me in terms of “associations” with my personal past and often with incidents of the very recent past. Yet, these associations are not enough if I am to fully understand the dream. Looking for more, I turned to C.G. Jung in order to find a bit of guidance.
“Dreams, then, convey to us in figurative language – that is, in sensuous, concrete imagery – thoughts, judgments, views, directives, tendencies, which were unconscious either because of repression or through mere lack of realization. Precisely because they are contents of the unconscious, and the dream is a derivative of unconscious processes, it contains a reflection of the unconscious contents.” (Jung, CW 8, par 477)
Unconscious contents, repressed contents being “reflected” – there, I knew that there was something to even this fragment. It doesn’t take more than a fragment to point to what the fragment is a reflection of, the fuller story. Jung spoke of how dreams pointed to motifs, to themes that are often represented in myths and fairy tales, stories of the collective unconscious which is embedded within our personal unconscious. Finding the theme allows us to hear what the dream is attempting to communicate to us. Now, all I have to do is to mull upon the question of what is it that I am trying to disguise about myself, saying as little as possible in terms of self-disclosure. Of course, the clues are in what is actually disclosed, in the fragment.