Archive for June, 2012
I am taking this opportunity to write about Father’s Day with the primary focus on the young men in my life who have become fathers and in the process, gifting me with six incredible grandsons. Two of these young men married my daughters. Of course, a father finds it difficult to give up his daughters into the care of another man. For me, it became a bit easier because in both cases, these men became my sons which meant that my daughters remained close to the heart in terms of association and physical presence. My son, the youngest of the three children, has remained close even though geographical distance grew as he followed his own family and career. I am blessed with my children.
These young fathers have blessed me with six grandsons, a grandfather’s dream. However, due to the vagaries of nature, I don’t have a grand-daughter to spoil as a princess. That means, I continue to keep my own daughters as princesses who have turned into queens in their own right. Like their mother, they are fierce and determined and very territorial when it comes to family.
Parenting is the central focus in each of the three families. As a father, it means a lot to me to see my children grow and mature and carry forward the belief in family first.
Being a father isn’t an easy thing. There is more to the role than simply supplying the sperm that is necessary to create new life. There is more to the role than simply supplying the dollars needed to financially support the family unit. We learn to be fathers by watching our own fathers, if we have the opportunity to do so, an opportunity that is not to be taken for granted as marriages end up in divorces, or fathers die, or fathers are so broken by life that they can’t function as fathers whether present or absent in the lives of their children.
I learned a lot from my own father on how to be and not be a father. He didn’t teach me consciously, but rather through simply how he acted in that role. Most of what he taught me through being my father was how not to be a father. Yet, there were a few things that he taught me that were of value, the skills of hammer and saw, how to see a finished product which would guide my hands through the work. The most vital lesson he taught me was that we are all wounded, that we all suffer and in turn hurt others. It was a lesson that has allowed me to be more compassionate with my children and accept them for who they really are rather than demanding that they be perfect people. That has allowed me to be comfortable around my incredible children and grandchildren knowing that I am as imperfect as any other man who has been graced with children. I am free to be authentically myself, warts and all.
Happy Father’s Day to all men who have fathered and have dared to take on the role of father in fact as well as by biology.
I realise that this is an atypical image when it comes to talking about dreams and reality, but then again dreams and reality are more atypical than not. Lately I have been having a bit of difficulty with recording dreams. If I do get any sense of the dream after waking, it often becomes too difficult to put into words as the fragments that do rise to the surface are too scattered and too far between each other for any hope of finding meaning in the dream. At times like this, I simply accept that the dream doesn’t need my attention, that it is doing what it needs to do at a sub-conscious level. All that is left to me are just disjointed pieces of words or images, such as this image.
Of course images are powerful in their own right. Taking an image such as this one, I can, and often enough do, allow my imagination to build a story, a fantasy around the image – the process of active imagination. This process allows us to bring meaning to images, to tell stories. But, are these stories and interpretations valid? Do they hold any value psychologically, any value in terms of orienting or understanding ourselves? Obviously, simply in allowing these questions to be asked indicates my response in the affirmative. One wouldn’t even entertain these questions if one didn’t consider that there was value. If one was clearly of the opinion that there was nothing to be gained or learned, then the question itself would not arise, rather any hint of the questions would simply be dismissed as nonsense. I guess, for many, the whole idea that there is something of value to doing dream work is in itself a waste of time and shear nonsense.
” The first question we must discuss is: what is our justification for attributing to dreams any other significance that the unsatisfying fragmentary meaning . . . If we start from the fact that a dream is a psychic product, we have not the least reason to suppose that its constitution and function obey laws and purposes other than those applicable to any other psychic product. . . . we have to treat the dream, analytically, just like any other psychic product . . .” (Jung, CW 8, par. 449-450)
As a society, we have somehow accepted that dreams, at least some dreams have meaning thanks to the work of Freud and Jung. Perhaps even more importantly in the western world, we have the stories of the Bible which shows us the power and validity of dreams. And often, these messages are given to us as singular images. The images appear and we are told to look beyond, beneath, within the images to discover truth. We are also told not to worship the images themselves and miss the gold within the depths of these images. Children seem to intuitively know this as they create stories from images, from sculptures and from the artifacts of nature and man. And these stories are not important in literal terms, rather their importance is psychological – the moral of the story being told, the kernel of truth contained.
So, back to this image, to the fragment(s) of a dream, of a thought that somehow sticks – what story can we allow to be told? What do we need to hear? What is message from within that we project exists that needs to be heard? Therein, lies the value of fantasy, active imagination and dream work.
My mind has been busy of late even though I have spent a lot of time away from my computer and those things that often feed my mind with all sorts of data. Rather than a focus on books, my mind has been occupied with sorting through sensory data that has been flooding in due to “engagement” with face-to-face life. Taking two weeks off from the “process” of analysis and leaving Calgary in order to spend the time in my home in Saskatchewan has given me an opportunity to break through the routines that somehow shift a person into a more “unconscious” way of being.
One of my latest dreams highlights the need for being “real,” whatever that proves to be. I called the dream “Haqiqia Boots” because in the dream the word “haqiqia” was both heard and seen. In the dream I found myself in a cold, wintry scene without winter boots. The dream was a positive dream in terms of tone and feel, with the main concern whether or not I should have my real winter boots sent to me or if I should buy some new ones. The dream’s location seemed to come out of my distant past where I began my career in education, but with a corresponding resemblance to the relatively recent past where I was still engaged in teaching in China even though I had officially retired, a blend of the two. Just a little side note to add; I was given a “real” traditional pair of winter boots the day before the dream.
Of course, the dream of winter boots is easily explained due to the event of being given the pair of boots. Winter boots require a winter scene. The fact that I used boots similar to these boots while living in Canada’s far north where I began my teaching and school administration career “fit” with the idea in the dream of teaching. But there, common sense came to an end. Why the reference to China? Was it because China was my most recent experience of teaching? It didn’t seem real to me at that point as the urban Chinese experience didn’t fit the location. Looking for something to make the connection, I hoped that the word “haqiqia” would fill in the gap of missing knowledge, missing information that would allow the dream to “talk” to me.
I began to wonder if the word “haqiqia” was a Cree or Dene word, or even a Chinese word given the sense of both Northern Canada and China that was being evoked. Curious, I did a “Google” search and found thatI began to wonder if the word “haqiqia” was a Cree or Dene word, or even a Chinese word given the sense of both Northern Canada and China that was being evoked. Curious, I did a “Google” search and found that the the word “haqiqia” was actually an Arabic word. Using both “Google Translate” and “Babylon Translator” I came up with the same definition – “real.” was actually an Arabic word. Using both “Google Translate” and “Babylon Translator” I came up with the same definition – “real.” Now, I was really confused. How could I know an Arabic word (this has happened on a previous occasion in a dream in 1998, the appearance of an Arabic word)? How could I explain “seeing” and “hearing” this Arabic word in relation to a pair of winter boots, real winter boots?
Now, to go further into the dream work, I had to look at the recent emotional situation of my life allowing for resonance and feeling tones to help discover the intention of the dream. But rather than go further into the dream work here, I want to return to the word “haqiqia” as this was the dominant aspect of the dream as I felt and understood it at the time of the dream and afterwords. “Real – haqiqia.” Out of curiosity I then did a wider search and found that the word “haqiqi” is an Urdu word that means “true, real.” I knew that Urdu is a language spoken in India and Pakistan so I wondered how this could match up with the Arabic word so perfectly. A bit more research and I found that Urdu was a language that came with the Muslim migration to southern Asia. Was all of this taking me further and further from the dream? I was beginning to think so until I realised that the word “real / haqiqia” was being confirmed as the “core” element of the dream, that I shouldn’t be distracted by the surreal aspects of the dream, that I needed to come to grips with “reality,” to be “true” to my “self” on my journey that bounces between Calgary and Saskatchewan.
For the past three days I have been out of the Internet loop, away from my computer. I will be returning to regular posting tomorrow, again turning to the theme of Dreams. It was strange not having access to my e-mail, Twitter and Facebook, and especially my blog site. I realise that at this point, this blog site is as much about my reading audience as it is about me. Thank you for being patient in waiting for the next post. ~ Robert
I saw this photo taken last week and wondered about how a photo is representative of an object, but not the real object. Of course that led me to thinking of how my different cameras would have seen this real flower. How we see things influences what we see. We operate in life through a web of filters, some of them conscious, most of our filters operate via a subconsciousness (personal unconscious) and a few of the filters buried deep in the unconscious. Not a single one of us is able to see what is actually present yet we “know” that it is present. I imagine that the insects that are necessary to the life cycle of flowers see something yet again different.
This is what dreams are like. There is something familiar even though there is much that is beyond our level of “knowing” in terms of our experience of an outer world reality. Flowers, people, places, sex, money, violence, passion, fear, sadness, confusion,cars, trains, plains – and a self that doesn’t have to obey any of the rules that we assume to govern us including laws of time, of physics and of nature. I fly through the skies and mountains, I swim without tanks or snorkel equipment or goggles through seas without any signals of stress. Yet, to my sleeping mind, it works and works well.
In waking life I can’t do nearly anything that isn’t mundane in terms of strength and power, nor can most people. Yet, we can in waking life be able to move well beyond our normal strengths and powers and perform almost superhuman feats of strength and courage. What is fact and what is fiction becomes blurred. Reality is much more that we can “know,” something that has more dimension than we could or would ever admit. And dreams are part of that reality. It’s all there if only we could somehow find a way to access all this information and in the process arrive at a fuller awareness. Buddhists call this enlightenment, and Jungians call it a state of individuation in which consciousness and unconsciousness become one – mysterium coniuntionis – the holy marriage.
When I fall asleep, darkness is welcome rather than being something fearful. It is as though the night creates a nest of safety, a cocoon of protection. My mind becomes silent, even more silent than the state of mindfulness that I am able to achieve at moments during meditation. And in my hours of sleep I descend into a state of healing nothingness, a non-threatening blankness. Yet, coming from out of the darkness, there emerges images, sounds and other indications that the darkness is a full place rather than an empty place. And I get to be both a spectator and a participant in that alternate reality that comes unbidden during the hours of sleep. This alternate world is a real world as far as my “mind” is concerned during my time spent in that world. But, it is a world that I enter into as though through a different lens, where I see differently and even act differently.
“. . . dreams are not entirely cut off from the continuity of consciousness, for in almost every dream certain details can be found which have their origin in the impressions, thoughts, and moods of the preceding day or days. To that extent a certain continuity does exist, though at first sight it points backwards. But anyone sufficiently interested in the dream problem cannot have failed to observe that dreams also have a continuity forwards – if such an expression be permitted – since dreams occasionally exert a remarkable influence on the conscious mental life even of persons who cannot be considered superstitious or particularly abnormal.” (Jung, CW vol. VIII, par 444)
The idea of consciousness is crucial here. Consciousness is based on thought, on one’s mental activity. We can’t see a thought, measure a thought, use any of our physical senses to prove the existence of a thought. Yet, we all accept the “reality” of a thought. There are some physical indicators that suggest the presence of thought, the way a person looks when thinking and when not thinking, a measurement of electrical activity in the brain are just tow obvious ways of being aware of the presence of thought in others. In our own heads, we have yet more evidence, both physical and subjective. Consciousness is based on this “thinking awareness.” Body presence is not enough to denote consciousness. We all know the expression “the lights are on but nobody’s home,” an expression that indicates that one can move through life instinctively, unconsciously.
Dreams have the same nature of existence as does thought. They are just as observable to an outsider indicating that there is “something” there. Our bias against a dream as a meaningful phenomenon, is based on the fact that we can’t seem to “control” these dreams. If we are honest, we have to admit that we often have great difficulty controlling our thoughts as well. Any beginner in meditative practice quickly learns how “thinking” seems to have its own agenda and will. It takes a lot of self-training to “tame” thinking processes in meditation. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a real connection between thinking and dreaming in terms of consciousness.
I took this photo in Calgary, not because of any historical significance though there is a lot of historical significance for the Canadian prairies, but because it made me think of a fantasy world filled with hobbits, elves, trolls and other magical beings created by Tolkien. When I taught the book, The Hobbit, many years ago to grade ten English students, I found that talking about the story in terms of its dream-like quality allowed the reluctant students to begin to make some connection to the story. Of course, the story was too linear for being a dream story, but the conceptualization of darkness and light as well as characters that defied our notions of intelligent life was definitely the stuff of dreams.
Dream work is a vital part of my process here in Calgary. I have a fairly deep history with dreams and dream work, the first formal venturing into dream work happening about twenty-five years ago at the University of Saskatchewan. This initial training with dream work was focused on a Gestalt approach and was based on working within a group, more of a psycho-dynamic approach rather than a psychoanalytical approach. Of course I had worked with my own dreams much longer than this, not for a psychoanalytic reason, but simply because the dreams had imposed themselves upon me and gave me no peace until I addressed them.
Today, recording my dreams has become an automatic response. Recording the dream allows me to re-enter the dream later, even feel the presence and the weight of the dream while still being able to objectively observe the feeling tones as well as the content and flow of the dream. I want to bring some of G.G. Jung’s words here as he talked about dreams so that perhaps you will get a better sense of what it is about dreams that is vital for the process of getting to better know oneself.
“Dreams have a psychic structure which is unlike that of other contents of consciousness because, so far as we can judge from their form and meaning, they do not show the continuity of development typical of conscious contents. They do not appear, as a rule, to be integral components of our conscious psychic life, but seem rather to be extraneous, apparently accidental occurrences. The reason for this exceptional position of dreams lies in their particular mode of origin: they do not arise, like other conscious contents, from any clearly discernible, logical and emotional continuity of experience, but are remnants of a peculiar psychic activity taking place during sleep. Their mode of origin is sufficient in itself to isolate dreams from the other contents of consciousness, and this still further increased by the content of the dreams themselves, which contrasts strikingly with our conscious thinking.” (Jung, Collected Works – Volume 8, par. 443)
Necessarily one has to understand that consciousness is about becoming aware of, that something becomes “known” in some way. Being aware of something does not mean that one understands that something or that one is correct in what one understands about it. For example, I can be aware of a person’s existence without in the least having any knowledge of who that person is or anything about the character of that person. Just because I don’t know anything more than the fact that I “saw” this person does not mean that person is a figment of my imagination. I am aware of his or her existence because one or more of my senses tell me this. I accept this as proof enough. But of course, this is all in my mind and we do learn as we move through life that our mind isn’t always the most reliable of ways of knowing something. Our minds do play tricks on us. That said, our mind tells us and we become aware. So it is with dreams, our minds tell us and so we become aware of something else which emerges out of the darkness and into the light of awareness. It then is up to us to do something with what has emerged into our consciousness.
I took a tour of a pioneer site in the centre of Calgary with my brother. Yes, this scene was found in Calgary – Heritage Park. In the background are the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I am continually amazed at the sheer size of the city in terms of area and how much of that area is covered in green spaces, protected spaces. I could easily imagine myself sitting still on the grass lost in meditation with my eyes wide open. The scene invites me to wonder, to being fully present.
My recent sessions have focused on “presence.” By presence, I mean presence in the world of others, presence in the moment, and presence with my own fullness of self. My dreams have echoed this need for presence. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that I find a synchronous echo in my reading:
“When we take the one seat on our meditation cushion we become our own monastery. We create the compassionate space that allows for the arising of all things: sorrows, loneliness, shame, desire, regret, frustration, happiness. In a monastery, monks and nuns take robes and shave their heads as part of the process of letting go. In the monastery of our own sitting meditation, each of us experiences whatever arises again and again as we let go, saying, “Ah, this too.” This simple phrase, “This too, this too,” was the main meditation instruction of one great woman yogi and master with whom I studied. Through these few words we were encouraged to soften and open to see whatever we encountered, accepting the truth with a wise and understanding heart.” (Kornfield, A Path With Heart, p. 36)
I, like most people, put a lot of effort in preventing stuff from rising out of the depths, old emotions and feelings that got buried so that childhood was tolerable. A lot of effort was put into disguising, denying, forgetting, abandoning ourselves. The result left us, left me disconnected from myself and from most of the world. I have been blessed that photography has allowed me a portal in which I can “sit” for a moment and safely plumb some of those shadow relics. And in the process, I begin to grieve for what has been. Psychoanalysis provides me with another portal with which I can recover a fuller sense of self, drawing out what is hidden and buried. And now, taking my meditation seat, I open a bit more and allow the “rising of all things.”
“To take the one seat requires trust. We learn to trust that what needs to open within us will do so, in just the right fashion. In fact, our body, heart, and spirit know how to give birth, to open naturally, like the petals of a flower. We need not tear at the petals nor force the flower. We must simply stay planted and present.” (p. 36)
I have just spend two full days with one of my brothers here in Calgary. It was a day of shared memories, catching up on each other’s lives, and telling stories that were more fiction than fact as part of the way to fill the hours. It wasn’t what was said that was important and it has never been about the words. It was more about just being together for these hours. Knowing that the hours were limited, there was no desire to do much else that would take a few of these hours away. E-mail, social media. blogging, reading and even sleeping were limited so that we could have the fullness of the hours for “presence.”
Presence. We know that presence is vital and powerful in nourishing all of our relationships regardless of the depth of those relationships. But we rarely think about our relationship to ourselves and to our activities. Robert Heyward mentioned in a comment some time ago about the advice that it doesn’t matter what we choose to do; it matters only that when we have chosen, we need to invest ourselves fully in those choices “if you choose to be x, then be the best x possible. What is vital is first to choose then become fully present in that choice.
Two days ago I was reminded of the tale of Buridan’s Ass, a fable that looks at choice (you can read a great version of the fable here). In the fable, the donkey must choose between two appealing stacks of hay. Unable to make a choice, the donkey starves to death. Of course there is more to the fable, but for my purposes, it is instructive as a reminder to invest in making a choice and in doing so, fully invest in that choice. This is all about depths – depths of commitment, depths of relationship, and depths of self.
It wasn’t a surprise to me to hear this from a Jungian analyst and then to hear this echoed in the words of Chogyam Trungpa and the Dali Lama and other Buddhist writers and thinkers. Because I am in Calgary for an intensive immersion in Jungian psychology and Buddhism, I guard my time carefully so that I don’t get distracted and thus loose either time or energy or presence in the processes. Inviting my brother to come to Calgary meant that I would have to share some of that time. Would I do my “work” of the individuation process? Would I take the full time for presence in my Buddhist practice? Would I be present “enough” with my brother in the process?
When he walked in the door, the decision was instantaneous and decisive. For the next two days, presence with my brother was not distracted by other valuable options. I knew that if I was only partially present, I would hurt both myself and my brother, and in the process cause us both to suffer an unnecessary wounding. And, in making that choice, I discovered when the hours had passed and he began his journey back to his home that nothing had been lost in either terms of Jungian process or Buddhist practice being put on hold. Rather, both had been enhanced because of choosing and committing to that choice with the fullness of presence.