Archive for the ‘boundaries’ tag
The dark night of the soul, this is something that is intimately known by all who suffer depression. The dark night of the soul is what we meet when we enter into midlife crisis. Each of us senses a darkness, a place of shadows from which we want to flee. This depression is not “organic,” a depression that is chemically induced. This depression and darkness appears to be something “out there,” something to which we feel we are victims. Typically, we run like hell trying to escape, trying to hide from the darkness. Drugs, sex, money, work, new places, new hobbies, redecorating our homes, a new car, a new spouse: we try anything to banish that darkness. But, the darkness refuses to be banished. This is the dark night of the soul, or at least our introduction to that darkness.
If we are like many others, we head to a doctor’s office for some pharmaceutical relief; or to a psychotherapist’s chair for some answers, some other strategies to banish the darkness. We do this only as a last resort knowing that if we don’t do something we will descend into insanity or commit suicide. It isn’t a pretty picture, but it is real.
“Alchemy announced a source of knowledge . . . which yields a “bitter” water by no means acceptable to our human judgment. It is harsh and bitter or like vinegar, for it is a bitter thing to accept the darkness and blackness of the umbra solis and to pass through this valley of the shadow. It is bitter indeed to discover behind one’s lofty ideals narrow, fanatical convictions, all the more cherished for that, and behind one’s heroic pretensions nothing but crude egotism, infantile greed, and complacency. This painful corrective is an unavoidable stage in every psychotherapeutic process . . . it begins with the nigredo . . .“ (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, paragraph346)
So, the pain serves as an impetus to finally do something about the pain when all other avenues prove fruitless. So, one enters into psychotherapy. However, before the work can even begin, there is a need to create a place for the work; a safe, even sacred place. Like a surgeon preparing for an operation, there is the need to build a sense of safety in the relationship as well as place. The therapist needs to become aware of the boundary limits (or lack thereof) of the person and to build a sense of trust in that person as well as to have the person enter into a trust relationship with the therapist.
As time goes by, the two begin to test each other, test the boundaries of safety. And when there is a sense of safety, the belief that the container of their relationship has become sacred in its own way, then the work may begin:
“In the early period of analysis, the primary work is the establishment of the boundary, the analytical temenos, in which the analysis is to take place.” (Hall, The Jungian Experience, p. 78)
There is real vulnerability for both therapist and the person entering into this work of depth psychology. It is as through the establishment of temenos that one becomes safe enough to strip of their psychic layers as if stripping off clothing in order to expose the wounds that have led to the therapists office.
“The crucial psychological fact is that all of us, female as well as male, fear the will of woman . . . Female will is embedded in female power, which is under present conditions, the earliest and profoundest prototype of power.” (Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur, p. 166 – cited in Bly & Woodman, The Maiden King, p. 51)
I am not going to try and explain this quote directly, but would rather approach it in talking about what might appear to be something unrelated. Hopefully, the thread can be followed back to the quote and provide in the process, my understanding of what Dorothy Dinnerstein was talking about.
Following from yesterday’s post, there is the issue of Magical Other which is traced back to the desire to want to return to a pre-birth condition which can only be understood as some sort of Garden of Eden. In the garden, there are no issues of separation, of abandonment, of contradiction – all is as one. Somehow, an act propels what is to become a person with a soul, from a state of oneness to a state of separateness. Being born is a bit of a traumatic affair for both mother and child, but I want to focus on just the child for now, the infant. This newborn child is essentially helpless. Left to his or her own devices, the newborn soon dies. There must be a person with power to create the conditions for survival, nurturance and growth. And, in the typical scenario throughout human history, it is the mother.
For a child, all things come from mother. I need to repeat that to myself, all things come from the mother. Of course, this is objective reality from an infant’s point of view – mother gives and mother takes away, and as such is to be loved and to be feared; but beyond everything, mother is all powerful.
It is only as months and as years pass that a child learns to put boundaries in place in order to claim some of mother’s power for him or herself. That learning is assisted by the parent teaching the child about boundaries by also building boundaries that begin the process of separation – weaning the child, teaching rules, teaching the words yes and no! Now, this is where things began to break down for me, the failure to build and maintain boundaries. Given life circumstances, my mother’s needs were too great and her breaching of frail boundaries out of control left me almost hopelessly lost. And, as an adult, it often creates confusion and conflict in relationship with others. But, to be fair, it also resulted in me becoming very empathetic. I could feel the pain of others and reach out to help, I was one easy to trust, to confide in. But one of the biggest impacts on my later childhood and all of my adulthood was the intense difficulty I experienced in trying to say the word no, especially to the feminine.
I watched my own children grow up. It seemed as though the word “No” was programmed into them as they had no difficulty in saying what they thought and claiming their space. I was the father and because of my failure to develop a sense of boundaries, I had a problem saying “No” in return. At work, I had the same issue, the problem of saying no and standing up for myself and what I believed in. I knew what I wanted, what I valued, yet I caved in and obeyed authority.
How well has that worked for me? Well, I could say it has been a disaster, but it hasn’t if I am to be honest. I was a good teacher and my students generally liked and respected me. I was and am a good father and grandfather. I am a good counsellor for those who find themselves lost. I am a good friend who listens well, smiles and is willing to give them the lead in activities shared together bolstering their self-worth. But, and there is also a but, it leaves those closest to me adrift in relationship to me.
Where is the strength, the foundation in family where the father struggles with the word no? Where does “Papa” begin and end? Where does a spouse find strength and certainty in an uncertain world? I become the authority only in absence of the real authority, the mother. I gave up authority, it wasn’t taken from me. And that, was and is the biggest obstacle to relationship. I left a vacuum and that vacuum needed filling. It is time for me to learn the word no, to build boundaries in order to create balance in relationship, to find balance within myself.
And learning this, there isn’t anyone to blame, there is only an awareness of the way it was, the way it is. For me, it became imperative to become aware of this and to take responsibility for my self. Setting boundaries is not abandoning, is not a statement of “I don’t love you” or “I won’t be here for you.” In saying this, I am talking not only to my wife and my children, I am almost screaming these words at myself. I am a slow learner.
As I walk around the gated community in which I am residing while in Thailand, I noticed this barrier that is meant to separate and to protect the residents of the gated community from the darker forces on the other side of the “wall” that is topped with broken glass. I am on the inside of the community looking out, safe within the community.
But really, is one keeping the riff-raff out, or is one being kept in place by the riff-raff. Who is imprisoned?
The image could well be a representation of the ego building walls to keep out the personal and collective unconscious. This is what the ego does in order to build a sense of self. From the chaos of the whole one needs to carve out a small space in which to have a sense of self as separate from other. When the boundaries fall, the self gets lost in the whole. Yet, paradoxically, the whole is contained within the self – the personal and collective unconscious is within the barricaded protective areas unknown to the ego.
A Cambodian woman with three of her children at the back gates of Angkor Wat. A fourth child, a girl is sitting on a block of stone that is part of the wall, just off to the left. Family grounds a person, family nourishes. But looking carefully, there is a hint that all is not well. There is evidence that the children, the mother and the face of the world in which they are presented are not nourished as they could or should be nourished. There is evidence of neglect, perhaps of abandonment and abuse. Yet, in spite of appearances, there is also love and hope in evidence.
This is really not a post about this photo, but about the self which is in much the same state of being. Anima, the soul, is not nourished as it could or should be. How does one care for one’s soul? Well, it might sound as though the answer would lie in doing things that focus on self in a way that excludes others or the outer world, but that is not even close to the truth of what it means to care for one’s soul, to nourish one’s soul.
We are individuals and can only understand the world through our limited capacities of body and brain for the most part. We are members of a collective with bodies and psyches that demand connection to others. The pull to join physically, socially and psychologically are the norm, not the exception. In joining, co-joining and cooperating with others, a sense of fullness and purpose is activated. One senses a rightness at that moment. The sense that being with other is part of what makes one whole is important. We marry, we join groups, we teach, we work and we play with others and in the process often find ourselves in the process.
As I listen to voices in cyberspace talking of community in new ways, community that has no geographical boundaries, no racial or religious boundaries, I learn that “otherness” is not something that needs to be separate from “self.” In fact, I learn the opposite, that otherness and self are two parts of a wholeness. And this is a lesson that one needs to learn about the “otherness” that exists within one’s psyche, the shadow world that one senses is there but often refuses to associate with or acknowledge. Denied, the internal otherness, the soul wrapped in mystery and darkness, only results in the self reflecting the malnourishment. Depression, anger, fear, moodiness and isolation eat away at the foundation of one’s self.
Individuation is a work of one within the container of the whole collective with the collective being nourished as one’s soul is nourished.
I took this photo four days ago. Yes, that is snow! The scene was at a rest stop near the Alberta – Saskatchewan border. As we continued driving west, the snow became thicker until we found ourselves in a full winter blizzard. The temperature was hovering near zero Celsius, so we knew that the snow wouldn’t last long on the ground. Two days later, it was as if the storm had never happened.
Storms have always interested me. More often than not, they give me a sense of comfort when I am in the house, safe. When I am outside, it becomes more of a contest in which I am pitted against the storm. I like to push the boundaries of safety so that I feel the adrenaline rush. But, I only do so with a careful eye to rescuing myself if I wander too deeply into the storm. There is a difference between taking conscious risks and entering the storm oblivious of the danger.
Why do I enjoy these storms? Well, I guess the most obvious reason is that I am left feeling very alive. The storms pull me out of my head, pull into the world where I can feel and connect with that world. When storms arrive and my first reaction is positive, I know that I have been too withdrawn and dissociated. The outer storms challenge me to look inwards and uncover the blockages that get in the way of connection. Storms in dreams do much the same.
I can also tell the difference in my inner state when a storm in the outer world doesn’t make me feel more alive. Storms generally become more of an obstacle that seems to want to force me to slow down in the outer world, force me to acknowledge the inner world. I can tell the difference through my responses.
Looking back at the photo, I noticed that the tree is showing blossoms, the promise of fruit. Would the storm kill these promises and force the tree to wait for another year before producing fruit? More often that not, this is the case if the blossoms freeze. The lost potential fruit is not a permanent response, it is simply a fact delayed. And like the fruit tree, I must accept setbacks knowing that new awareness will come. For now, I am not ready to become more conscious of self. The container must be ready to hold the fruit.
Spring is a time for reflection and for finding reflections. As the snow from the recent blizzard is melting, I caught this small pool of water in my son’s back yard. What appealed was the shimmery quality of the water as well as the reflections of fence wire and fence post. It is almost as if the entrance into this world is barricaded to keep people out (or is it to keep the shady characters of the underworld from escaping into our outer world?). I took this photo in the late afternoon in order to catch the change in light that comes at that time of day, a light that paints the world with a hint of gold.
Light, the bending of light and its transformation of the world it touches makes for interesting photographs. And it symbolises the transformations we experience as humans. That shimmery golden light seems to be the boundary between the physical world as we know it and another world. This golden light becomes a boundary between day and night hinting that there might be something of value to be found in the darkness, something not otherwise accessible.
The question of boundaries goes beyond the simple division of spaces, places and states of being. Obviously there are boundaries such as exist separating private property, physical boundaries that are solid. What I want to look at here are those that are porous such as the boundary between consciousness and the unconscious. We talk of relationships (self and other) and see that there are obvious physical boundaries. Yet, there exists a zone between self and other that is porous and not influenced by conscious intention. The personal unconscious of both, as well as the collective unconscious have a way of ignoring intentional conscious boundaries, even what we could call ethical and moral boundaries.
It is easy to accept the notion of respecting the privacy of others, yet we think nothing as a society in creating and using technological tools that render privacy obsolete. We do so in the name of public safety. And, for the most part, we accept this significant erosion of privacy. On a more personal level, we are less willing to allow the boundary to be ignored. We expect the door to the bathroom to remain closed giving us privacy. We expect our diaries and journals to be kept sacred. We expect our sessions with analysts, therapists, doctors, counsellors and other institutional officials to be kept private. We even create laws for most of these expectations. Yet, for all of those laws, expectations and beliefs, most are willing to sacrifice these boundaries for reasons that they perceive as in the best interests of someone for whom they have a concern.
Parents read the journals of their children hoping to be able to deal with suicidal ideation or developing problems involving drugs. Nanny cams are set up both to monitor the baby sitters and the children. This comes about because of a lack of trust and the perceived need to know in spite of the need of others for privacy. It appears that these boundaries are for “self” but not “others.” The same can be said about married couples where one partner decides that the privacy of the partner is secondary to the need to “know” about perceived and real issues. Diaries, journals, emails and web surfing history are fair game as is the hiring of private investigators to track and even photograph the partner. Are these social and relational boundaries important enough to be sanctified and respected, or are they conditional? Who sets the conditions if conditional?
Tough questions. Any thoughts on your part with the question of boundaries?
This photo was taken in the Reserva Santa Elena, part of the Monteverde National Park. While I was walking through a series of trails on the mountain, I came across a number of small waterfalls with this being the largest of the group. I have to admit that I love listening to waterfalls and gurgling streams in a forest. There is something primal about it, something that descends to the core, something that lets me know that what I call my consciousness is naught but a thin, flimsy surface of a vastness that is incomprehensible to my conscious ego.
I often use the words consciousness and unconsciousness, but I don’t know if I ever truly define these words in a satisfactory manner. I have decided to return to C.G. Jung’s words in order to bring a bit more clarity to the terms as it Jung’s work that has informed my meagre levels of understanding.
“Consciousness does not create itself – it wells up from unknown depths. In childhood it awakens gradually, and all through life it wakes each morning out of the depths of sleep from an unconscious condition. It is like a child that is born daily out of the primordial womb of the unconscious. . . . It is not only influenced by the unconscious but continually emerges out of it in the form of spontaneous ideas and sudden flashes of thought.” (Jung, CW 11, par 935)
This does make sense to me. It fits with much of what I taught students while teaching developmental psychology. In infancy there is no separation between self and other, no realisation that “self” exists. All is sensory data and no more. The task of infancy and childhood is differentiation between self and other, the establishment of boundaries. One of those boundaries that I didn’t consider then was that between consciousness and unconsciousness. Somehow, I missed that dynamic – the unconscious was something I wasn’t paying any attention to at all, in fact, I didn’t admit its existence as I was much too focused on the dynamics of self and other, the self and the collective, the self and the environment. For me, it was only about consciousness, a consciousness that I confused with knowledge about things, processes and people. It was only after the unconscious tripped me up that I became aware of the straight jacket that I had wrapped around myself with the outer world.
“Everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but now have forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want, and do; all the future things that are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness: all this is the content of the unconscious.” (Jung, CW 8, par 382)
Yes, all of this is part of the unconscious, the personal unconscious. All of this informs, guides, pushes and pulls each of us through the days. Beneath and surrounding this layer of the unconscious is something bigger, something more, something deeper.
This is the view from my window looking out at the hills to the south.
I like the “space” and the “openness” that the view provides, it sort of gives me a sense that I am just a bit more free to life my life as I feel it needs to be lived in terms of boundaries. I don’t fit in well with boundaries set by the collective and prefer testing my own boundaries which allow me to discover my potential. And this, is what I hope to accomplish with the SoFoBoMo project, more self-discovery.
Well, I am in North Dakota doing some work in a basement for one of my daughters. I don’t have time at the present to take photos or reflect on Jungian psychology overmuch for the next few days. I am hoping that I can begin taking photos sometime on Monday weather permitting on the drive back home to Saskatchewan, Canada. All the photos for my project are to be taken in the prairie region of Saskatchewan. I am hoping that all my photos can be taken in less than a week giving me ample time for developing the psychological reflections that I hope will emerge from the “tunnel vision” photos. I will likely take hundreds of photos in order to get the light conditions and the content that satisfies me. I have also looked into having the final product made into a hardcopy book as well as the PDF eBook which will be forwarded to the SoFoBoMo project headquarters. There is just something “extra” in holding a good book in one’s hands.
I’ll be back in a few days.