Archive for the ‘archetypes’ tag
Heroes and villains, it seems that we are either one or the other. Of course I am referring to men here as I continue on with the problem of the masculine in today’s world. Of course, one man’s hero is another man’s villain which makes the problem even more difficult to resolve. On the collective level, men don’t really have a definition of what it is to be a hero or villain.
Women have their own ideas of what constitutes a hero or a villain, which are just as varied as it is for men. It depends for the most part on which side of an arbitrary line one stands behind in making these judgment calls.
I would like to approach the problem with the consideration that everyone is both hero and villain. At different times during one’s life, both take turns emerging from the depths of one’s being; and often, such appearances are beyond conscious decisions that are made.
And to bring this different approach forward, I want to follow the Hero as described by C.G. Jung and by Joseph Campbell. In reading and considering this description, almost all women will testify to this “masculine” quest, this “heroic” quest:
“The hero is the ideal masculine type: leaving the mother, the source of life, behind him, he is driven by an unconscious desire to find her again, to return to her womb. Every obstacle that rises in his path and hampers his ascent wears the shadowy features of the Terrible Mother, who saps his strength with the poison of secret doubt and retrospective longing.” (Jung, Symbols of Transformation CW 5, par. 611)
It kind of sounds pale in contrast to the latest media versions which feature men battling the forces of darkness to protect innocent women and children that form the plot of most “heroic” films. But when you slow down and take the time for reflection, you will find that all the heroes are engaged in conflict with both themselves and others and at the core of these conflicts is the feminine, the earth mother, the captured and/or enslaved woman, the evil witch – all faces of one’s personal complex relating to “mother.”
Of course there is battle needed with the shadow figures, the monsters that issue from black holes ready to exterminate the hero; authoritarian figures who would strip the hero of all his power and leave him naked and exposed to the ridicule of the world; and, all number of all around bad guys who make life a living hell for the hero. You will find all of these in any good heroic tale at the cinema. You will also find all of these lurking within each individual male, found in the stories of their dreams which trace the journey of conscious development.
Of course most of us can’t deal with being our own heroes and villains, so we banish them deeper into our psyche and project the left over energies onto others in the outer world, others who we then name heroes and villains.
One of the differences I saw between Laos and Cambodia was in the choice of umbrellas for the Buddhist monks and novices. In Luang Prabang, Laos the monks used black umbrellas, a fact that is captured on many canvases, postcards and other tourist items. In Cambodia, it seems that saffron is the colour of choice. That said, this photo wasn’t chosen because of this bit of trivia. While living and travelling in Asia, I find that I have a certain fascination with monks. The four weeks in IndoChina found my “lens” filled with images of monks, a contrast with China where monks are not frequently seen other than immediately around Buddhist temples.
I’ve often wondered about whether or not I would have ever chosen the life of a monk, or if I would do so in the future if I found myself alone due to some circumstance or other. There is an appeal to a life of contemplation, a life of holiness. Yet, I wonder if, for me, the temple would be a place for contemplation and holiness. I somehow think that the reality of temple life and the structure of a religion would work against what I perceive to be my journey of individuation. And, I know that I can only speak of my journey and not judge the paths taken by others.
In this photo, the young monk, who I presume would be a novice, is being the object of another’s spiritual outpouring. He is the container in which the young woman projects her prayer. His journey is to gather offerings for the collective of monks as well as for the most desperate who feed off the leftovers of the monks. There is a curious dance of needs in the process. In a way, it makes me think of the dance of archetypes and shadows from the unconscious being brought into the lens of the outer world where people become the faces of the archetypes. How much of this is conscious intention on the part of the monk or the others that are in his orbit? I would guess that none are operating with conscious intention but rather out of superstition, out of spiritual need.
I wonder how much of this I do, that is being unconscious of the acting out of shadow, the faces of archetypes, in the outer world? I sometimes become aware of it after the fact when I see shock or surprise in the eyes of others who become the projected recipients. Because I know that I have a shadow that isn’t afraid of the light, I tread a bit more gently when interacting with the world, always with a sideways glance over my shoulder to check out if the numinous faces of archetypes are trying to put in an appearance without my acknowledged permission.
I used to revel in the role of authority, now I resist it as much as possible. As an authority, I was no better than any other authority. I became full of myself, swollen with a mana personality. I thought I knew best, was wiser than others around me and that it would be better for others if they would only follow my lead. Now, I know that it would be a mistake for even one person to follow me. It is more than enough that I find my own path which is a path that can only hold my self. That is the call to individuation.
I was fortunate to get this photo of a Chinese couple as it is atypical of most such couples that I see in China. They are holding hands. I imagine that they are grandparents. I also imagine that they are parents, likely of more than one child as they are old enough to have had their children before the introduction of the one-child per family policy was adopted in China. My three children were all born before this policy was introduced, and I think I am younger.
I remember the concern with overpopulation that existed in North America in the late sixties and early seventies, a time when “Zero Population Growth” was chanted frequently by young activists. In 1970, I wrote a newspaper editorial on this topic in favour of limiting population growth. It’s an issue that is still relevant as the world population numbers continue to spiral upwards. That said, being a parent is both a biological and psychological imperative. I can honestly say that I am glad that I took the path of parenthood versus the path of zero population growth.
I wonder how much the complexes we have regarding our own parents has influenced our choices. Does one get married and stay married? Does one have children? How many children? How do we raise these children? Heavy questions that we think through. Yet, in spite of our conscious intentions, we do much as our parents did and unconsciously wound our children.
“How can we see beyond our complexes, beyond the limits of personal biography? Is there ever a time when the image may be witnessed with neutral affect? Probably not, for whatever one experiences of father or mother remains the central complex, that is, the primary, affectively charged imago of one’s life. They were there at the beginning, they were the mediators of all experience with the larger world, and diffused or intensified the inherent trauma through which this life is experienced. Even when one seeks objectivity, pulls back from the affect and solicits reason, does not the complex form the very lens through which one sees the matter?” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 43)
Yes, this I understand. One’s lens and the filters on that lens. Accepting this kind of understanding, one can begin to forgive oneself and perhaps almost as important, forgive one’s parents. Perhaps, one can be better parents, with better understandings as our children become parents themselves. Parents are flawed, must be flawed. It would be an intolerable situation to have perfect parents.
I can accept the differences in the parenting practices of my children. I can’t claim that they are wrong or that what I did was right. I know I hurt my children, that I wounded them in ways that I will never know. Yet in spite of my unconscious wounding of my children, the bonds of parent and child remain strong. I am lucky, my children still want a bond with proximity. I can’t say the same in terms of my relationship with my own parents. It was easy to be away without contact. Yet, in spite of that “distance,” the way I was “father,” the way I remain “father” is a result of the parenting I received. My complexes influence both my conscious and unconscious acting out of the role of “father.”
On the way back to our apartment after a meeting with the head of the English department in a large elementary school where we have agreed to teach one afternoon a week, I came across this particularly colourful butterfly. It isn’t as beautiful or as exotic as some of the other butterflies I see here in Changzhou, China; but it is beautiful none-the-less. There is something about butterflies that speaks about love.
Before going to far into this post I want to clarify that I believe in love. I don’t mean the love of a parent for a child or the love a grandparent has for a grandchild or the love of a child for a parent or grandparent; I mean romantic love. This is the love that “pulled” me into a relationship that has now seen four decades. Somehow, what was triggered 40 years ago still is active. What ever it is, it defies reason, defies the reality of the two of us. So, what is this “love?”
I guess the first thing to say is that romantic love is messy. It seems it should be straight forward with a “he” and a “she” somehow finding each other out of billions of possibilities and becoming “we” and giving food for the poets, for songwriters, for love stories and cinema. The messiness of romantic love is what results when the he and the she are faced with each other and the activated emotion and somehow try to find a way to live in the real world.
There is something called anima and animus lurking in the shadows of the he and the she – archetypes. Within the man, within myself, exists an image that is hard to contain as it constantly shifts, a contrasexual image of the perfect woman. This anima is also the container of a man’s soul. The anima is unique to each man and comes out of personal experience with the feminine in our lives as well as cultural and instinctual tribal memories. When our eyes catch a fleeting glimpse of anima/animus in another person, we tend to project anima/animus onto that person. Sometimes the projection is overwhelming as the object receiving the projection, a real person, somehow activates more than just a fleeting glimpse. It’s as though anima has decided to engage us as consciously as possible. Falling in love, romantic love, isn’t so much falling in love with the person, but with the projection of that unconscious aspect of self, the contrasexual aspect which we deny within. What is denied within is lived in our outer life as fate.
I invite you to read “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love.” Johnson explains so much better than I what romantic love is.
“When we are “in love” we feel completed, as though a missing part of ourselves had been returned to us; we feel uplifted, as though we were suddenly raised above the level of the ordinary world. Life has an intensity, a glory, an ecstasy and transcendence . . . (p. 52)
This is a photo I took of a butterfly sitting on a marigold flower in my garden – a real flower and a real butterfly. Yet, as you can see, it is not all that realistic because I used filters and editing to arrive at a different viewing point.
This is the same photo without editing other than cropping. Which one is “real?” Well, the truth is, both of them and none of them. The camera sees the scene through a lens and is limited in what is able to be captured by the sensor and the recording media. The result is an image, not the real thing in itself.
Yet, behind the image is something that is definitely real regardless of the filters through which that “something” is sensed or felt. One doesn’t even have to have the sense of sight to have and awareness of the flower. But of course, this blog post isn’t about the flower and the butterfly, it is about my “self.”
“. . . to acknowledge that whatever reality may be, it will to some extent be shaped by the lens through which we see it. When we are born we are handed multiple lenses: genetic inheritance, gender, a specific culture and the variables of our family environment, all of which constitute our sense of reality.” (Hollis, The Middle Passage, p. 9)
When it comes down to it in the final analysis, the only thing I can truly know must be filtered through my lenses. And as I grow older and perhaps a bit wiser because I have experienced bumping into the world and others, my lenses change. Some of those changes are due to ripples from my presence in life, and others are due to the ripples due to the presence of others. I have learned that I can choose the lens I want to use. And more than that, I have learned to enlarge focus and depth of field at will – or to allow focus to slip into a foggy place where it is almost impossible to be fully present in the outer world. Learning this has been followed by a realisation that it isn’t all under my conscious control. Emotions, complexes and the presence of archetypes have their way with my lens collection as well.
Of course I can always defer to the realities that come from outside, accept their versions of my reality, accept their truths. Most people seem to do this without much ado. But I find myself confused as I know that all that enters into my consciousness only enters through my filters, through my will. It is only by my choice to give up my authority over self that allows the truths of others to replace my own truths.
And so I learn to live with being responsible for myself, and accept that I can only know the world through my own lenses.
A photo taken later in the evening, before the darkness of night, has a halo envelop the moon. In a way, it is easy for me to imagine the face of a bride cloaked in a veil, with the right side of her face in shadow. But then again, I am a man; and as a man, I am pulled by the mysterious feminine. That which pulls at me, is of course, already within me though buried under layer upon layer of unconsciousness.
As any typical human, man or woman, I yearn for completion, for meaning, for understanding. As any typical man, I yearn to both contain and be contained by my contra-sexual other. This sounds simple: man wants, needs, desires woman: woman wants, needs, desires man. But, it isn’t so simple at all as we find out in living in the outer world. Expecting a woman or a man to satisfy these yearnings is a recipe for disaster as can be verified in looking at the state of satisfaction in relationship for the modern human, man or woman.
In these modern times, we talk of the search for soul, of nourishing our soul. For myself, soul is anima. For a woman, soul is animus. Both of these terms are based on the soul being the contrasexual “other” as archetype. Often, dialogue that crosses gender barriers becomes bogged down in misconceptions and miscommunications because of gender. For example, the idea that I have been trying to wrestle with in terms of “Sol” as a masculine archetype and “Luna” as a feminine archetype. This same inner wrestling is found in the outer dimension in the comments to my posts. In hopes of trying to find some way to bridge the differences, I turned to C.G. Jung’s works for an answer.
“In a woman the moon corresponds to consciousness and the sun to the unconscious. This is due to the contrasexual archetype in the unconscious: anima in a man, animus in a woman.” (Jung, CW Volume 14, par 159)
It does all come down to consciousness and unconsciousness. For me that unconsciousness has a feminine aura; for a woman that unconsciousness has a masculine aura. Rather than externalize this as a conflict of men and women, or of self and other, one needs to discern that in the end it is about making the darkness within, less dark.
A few days ago I took this photo from in front of the villa in Costa Rica, a morning photo which allowed me to capture detail of the moon. This is one of the problems with this camera that I am using, the weakness in being able to control shutter speed and light. I much preferred my old SLR that forced me to make all kinds of choices. I am seriously looking at getting a better camera that allows me more options. All of that aside, I am satisfied with this photo of the moon.
In the night, there is something that draws me upward and inward with the appearance of the moon. There is little question that the moon symbolizes a sense of spiritualism. In the light of day, the outer world is too vivid and the world becomes more object than subject. In the darkness, the world fades into a faintness at the edges of vision and is replaced by a shadows and possibilities.
“. . . when we speak of the spiritual problem of modern man we are speaking of things that are barely visible of the most intimate and fragile things, of flowers that open only in the night. In daylight everything is clear and tangible, but the night lasts as long as the day, and we live in the nighttime also. There are people who have bad dreams which even spoil their days for them. And for many people the day’s life is such a bad dream that they long for the night when the spirit awakes. I believe that there are nowadays a great many such people, and this is why I also mantain that the spiritual problem of modern man is much as I have presented it.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)
Dreams, and the visits of archetypal presences to the self ripe through sleep, a self perhaps ready to experience and grow through interaction with the archetypal presences; both belong to the night. It is easy to understand how this night which allows us to touch the faces of the gods and goddesses within, becomes a time of wholeness, a time of holiness. But like all things, the night is two-faced. For at night, the time of spirit, is also the place where darkness and death seem to be present in equal measure. Balance. One cannot have a god without a satan. One cannot have day without night. One cannot have night without day.
My problem, the problem faced by all who dare to look at the problem, is finding how to honour the polarities and find a place for myself in the middle.
This is Arenal Volcano as I saw it before darkness hid it completely the first night in La Fortuna. As I hiked up the slopes in hopes of gaining a vantage point so that I could see lava from this live volcano in the darkness, it was raining. The trail became a slippery morass in spots reminding me of swamplands. I climbed higher and higher thankful for the darkness which hid the sharp drop offs from my vision. In the daylight, I likely would have frozen in spots because of my fear of heights. Finally, the guide called a halt and we sat and waited in darkness for some sign of life from the hidden mountain. Listening in the silence, the voice of the mountain came across clear. After about an hour of waiting, a flash of red was seen in the darkness, a numinous hint of light in the darkness as though catching for a moment someone’s eye in passing. For a few brief moments, less than thirty seconds, a few red-hot boulders bounced down the side of the volcano. I saw them making the journey a success. It felt as though I was creating my own myth, my own personal link to a larger truth.
“The discovering of one’s personal revelation enables the individual to distinguish one’s personal myth and so oneself from the myths into which one is inevitably born. These are the layers of collective mythology such as ethnicity, religion, nationality, social status, etc., which can serve, in varying degrees, as impediments or resources in the emergence of the self. But it is only the emergence of the self in the consciousness of the individual that frees the individual to relate one’s inherited mythologies to one’s own deepest personal truth. As this truth emerges into consciousness the individual is progressively released from a compulsive and unconscious adhesion to received mythologies toward a more discerning response to them out of the power of the inimitable and sustaining truth of the personal self.” (Dourley, “Jung and the Recall of the Gods”, Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2006, p. 44)
The journey back down through the darkness didn’t carry the same sense of danger for me. That said, I knew that the danger was still there as it wouldn’t require more than a stumble for me to disappear off the trail into depths that were the home of night creatures that could harm me as much as the fall. There are quite a few deadly poisonous snakes hidden in the darkness of the rain forest here in Costa Rica. I would stop on the path well ahead of others and listen again to the voice of the volcano from time to time. I don’t know quite how to describe the sense of rightness, the sense of wholeness.
And later that night, when in my bed in a small hostel in La Fortuna, I dreamt. I met the devil and he met me. It was as though we had come to a point of balance between us. I was wary of the devil and he kept his eyes alert as he focused on my as well. I knew that though he had vast powers, we had arrived at a point where I no longer had need to fear him. Respect his power, yes – fear his power, no. Upon awakening in the morning, I knew that I had emerged into a different world. For me this emergence into a new state was as though I had travelled through a portal allowing me to know the presence of that transpersonal essence that is at the core.
“You are alone and you are confronted with all the demons of hell. That is what people don’t know. Then they say you have an anxiety neurosis, nocturnal fears, compulsions – I don’t know what. Your soul has become lonely; it is extra ecclesiam [outside the Church] and in a state of no-salvation. And people don’t know it. They think your condition is pathological, and every doctor helps them to believe it. . . But it is neurotic talk when one says that this is a neurosis. As a matter of fact it is something quite different; it is the terrific fear of loneliness. It is the hallucination of loneliness, and it is loneliness that cannot be quenched by anything else. You can be a member of society with a thousand members, and you are still alone. That thing in you which should live is alone; nobody touches it, nobody knows it, you yourself don’t know it; but it keeps on stirring, it disturbs you, it makes you restless, and it gives you no peace.” (Jung, CW 18, par 632)
I imagine you know this feeling if you are reading this. You know that pills and therapy somehow don’t really get it fixed as there is no search for the roots, only an attempt to deal with symptoms. And the results have been an abysmal failure for the world of psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Hillman is correct in saying that with more than a hundred years of professional practice, we have not done any good, perhaps only having succeeded in making a bad situation worse for the individuals and for the others with whom those individuals come into contact.
Midlife crisis. What to do? Get pills? Get a new car? Get involved in a series of affairs? Step up the pace and acquire even more money and things? See a shrink? Take up yoga or martial arts? Run marathons and ultra-marathons? There are innumerable strategies to keep busy in the outer world in order to avoid that inner loneliness. Who would ever think that perhaps it is by going within to meet with the shadows that we find that we aren’t alone anymore, that we can recover a sense of who we are and a sense of meaning in an otherwise meaningless world.
Is there hope? Yes there is. I have hope and I have a sense of purpose and meaning and it is through beginning to live a symbolic life that this transformation has occurred. I have become re-connected to my “self” and in the process have allowed my soul a breath of fresh air. And, like this little bird, I am ready to emerge from behind the scenery into full life again.
This is a photo of a Groove-Billed Ani, a strange looking bird as you can see. I have other photos of this bird, but this was the first one I got that didn’t involve power lines. One thing I have noticed about this bird is its tendency to sit in the sun with his wings spread wide, soaking up the sun’s rays. In a way, he reminds me of myself here in Costa Rica with my own wings spread wide in order to soak up the sun.
Soaking up the sun is not simply about getting tanned all over, it is about being filled and about being emptied at the same time. It is about working on relationship with my “self.” Strange how this working on one’s self has the added bonus of being at work on relationship with other as well.
Here is what Sharp has to say about working on relationship:
You work on relationship by shutting your mouth when you are ready to explode; by not inflicting your affect on the other person; by quietly leaving the battlefield and tearing your hair out; by asking yourself – not your partner – what complex in you was activated, and to what end. The proper question is not, “Why is she doing that to me?” or “Who does he think he is?” but rather, “Why am I reacting this way? Who do I think he or she is?” And more: “What does this say about my psychology? What can I do it?” (Sharp, Jung Uncorked: Book Two, 2008, p. 22)
There is some very important stuff in what Sharp says. What it doesn’t say is the fact that the relationship is even more complicated that this, that there is not only the sorting out of self, anima and with withdrawing of projections that a man is responsible for; there is also the same dynamic that needs to take place on the part of the woman in the relationship, her work on self, animus and the withdrawing of projections. Given that all of this takes place, there is no guarantee that the relationship will survive as the two individuals may decide that staying together isn’t in the best interests of either party.
Is all of this worth the effort? Why not just let sleeping dogs lie and suck it up and go on with life as it is? Well, it just doesn’t work that way. Once the box has been opened, there is no turning back. Is it better then never to address the issues of the shadow, the anima/animus and the rest of the contents of the unconscious? Is it better to deny the urge to self discovery?
Perhaps. If one can avoid the inner world and only focus on the outer world, it might save a world of grief. Perhaps it would help if one was an extravert. But, for myself, an introvert, it isn’t possible. I would go crazy and self-destruct. I would lose my soul. And so, I begin to work on relationship in earnest by first getting to know more about my self, my complexes, the faces of anima, the reflections of self that appear in others through projection. Then, I will see how relationship with others in my face-to-face world are also transformed. I will see how relationships stand the alchemical heat.