Archive for the ‘Changzhou’ tag
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
This was taken along the shores of one of the river-canals that wend their way through the city of Changzhou. As I understand it (and understanding reality in China is not all that easy or certain), there are three rivers that wind their way through the city. A river doesn’t look any different from a canal from an observation point of view. Asking others who are Chinese gets mixed responses as few actually know the city other than their particular neighborhoods, even those who have spent their whole life in this city. This makes me think of how we only know parts of our own self, parts that are the easiest to access down familiar well-worn trails of thought and feeling.
I have been feeling both full and empty of late, a feeling that has resulted in me standing still and doing very little other than teaching my courses at the university. I have been doubling up on a number of classes pushing my teaching load so that I can take a week off in mid-November in order to take a sunshine and snorkeling holiday in the Philippines. I am looking forward to the warmth and the sunshine and the long beaches. I will have Internet connectivity so I imagine that time will be found in the evenings for posting here. As well as extra teaching, I have been listening to a number of Shrink Rap Radio podcasts that have a Jungian focus. The result has been a whirlwind of stuff floating within my head with nothing settling long enough so that I could find a calm period for writing here, writing with more depth.
Meditation remains an important part of my day that I try not missing. Sitting still, like this empty shell in the photo, brings me back to my core self, puts life back into place as things sort themselves out and settle.
Yesterday’s walk to me to a new part of the city, the northeastern outskirts of the city proper. It was a surprise to find such a quiet and undeveloped space only two kilometres from the apartment. Needless to say, that meant a lot of new photo scenes were captured. As most of my walks go, I didn’t walk alone but with my wife who is seen walking down an unfamiliar path. Off to the right is a canal and off to the left is swampland that has a series of small vegetable gardens, evidence that there is no such thing as wasted land, useless land. There is little doubt that this area will be visited a few more times this fall and winter.
This Chinese city is similar to the typical human psyche. I will explain that it a moment but first, a bit more about this city. The core of the city has a population of just under two million with the population of the governance area of just over four and a half million. Though it is given one name, Changzhou is really a series of old cities, towns and villages. Today, the city is divided into five districts (each with its own administrative centres, towns and villages) and two sub-city administrative departments. Changzhou has a mayor as one would expect as well as five vice-mayors, one for each of the administrative districts, and two sub-city mayors. Within this administrative nightmare are the small towns and villages with each having their own administrative structures which are under the umbrella of the district government which is under the umbrella of the Changzhou prefecture-level government. That is a lot of government for what could say is a single entity.
As I said above, the city makes me think of the human psyche where ego serves as the “mayor” thinking that ego is actually the boss. But under the conscious governance of the ego, there are a a host of competing power structures. Some of these structures come out of the experiences of ego with the world, structures called complexes. Some of these structures come out of the collective human unconscious, structures called archetypes. Underlying complexes and archetypes there appears to be a undefinable presence that permeates everything, unifies everything.
I see quite a few men fishing in almost all of the canals that thread their way through the city. The size of fish isn’t an issue for these fisherman. What I would gently return to the water are kept in anticipation of good eating. Looking at the water, I have doubts that any fish caught in these waters would be worth eating. In spite of my opinion, the fish caught in these murky and often stagnant waters somehow feed people.
I really shouldn’t be surprised as most of the “rich” rivers that feed people around the world are murky. I have a prejudice that comes with living in a northern country with few people where river waters are often crystal clear. The prejudice that only fish from these cold, cold rivers are healthy is not based on fact. Fact has little or no place in one’s biases.
I should know better as it is in the dark and murky waters of the unconscious that I find nourishment for my soul. Being human requires an immersion into a messy life where there are no clear pathways to follow. Most times following paths carved by others with bright signposts to lead the way are paths that lead to sterile existences.
What feeds me, what animates me is not found in clear, clod waters. And it appears, what I find in the murky waters that are found in the swamplands of my soul to nourish my self is what I truly need.
Yesterday I went for a walk in the sunshine down a path I frequently take, at least once a week if weather permits. These flowers come in a variety of colours and their season is almost at an end and I haven’t taken many photos of this variety this autumn so I was glad to finally take the time to take a series of photos while playing with focus and depth of field.
It was my intent to shorten the depth of field in order to create a blur while still keeping a sharp focus on the highlight. I am pleased with the result in this photo. I was particular with this photo project as I had an intention for this blog post.
I meditate in order to create a space of clarity within myself. While meditating the images in my head begin to disappear as though my attention to my breathing reduces the focal length of my inner vision, honing that inner vision to a sharp point, stilling the surrounding background and foreground. Sometimes I use a mantra a ‘focus ring’ to help me arrive at the same place, the same point of clarity. Sometimes I use an image or a smell to achieve the same result.
With the chatter in my mind stilled, I seem to step outside of my ‘normal’ self and look deeply into a space that was hidden by the chatter, both visual and mental chatter. It is as though there are complete landscapes hidden in plain view, hidden realities.
The stilling . . . (curious, just as I write this the world around me explodes with sounds as another set of fireworks is set off and my mobile phone demands an answer and I am called back to the messy and busy outer world. And as a result, I have had to take a moment and slip into a momentary stillness) . . . sets aside my subjective and judgmental ego, allowing what otherwise would be unthinkable, unrealistic, unexpected to make itself present. Refusing to objectify or analyse what appears allows what makes itself present to enter into the edges of my consciousness where it can eventually become a part of my conscious knowing of myself and the world.
A photographer learns how to make the world sit still in order to capture more of the essence of the scene or object or person. An image emerges that points beyond, beneath and deep within that which is on the surface of the image. Attention to dreams, writing a journal and guided analysis are other ways to make this same journey. And meditation serves as a training ground to assist all the paths one might take in order to help answer the question, “Who am I?”
This set of doors are private doors that lead into the residential area of the Tianning Buddhist Temple. The public entrance is along a different wall and people pay to enter this temple which is an active temple and a tourist attraction. However, no tourists enter into this section of the temple grounds. When I stopped for the photo I was interested in the door handles which are actually quite common. I liked the look of these and the peeling paint on the doors. What I didn’t see at first was that the doors didn’t fully shut out the inner courtyard from scrutiny. I knew that the crack was there, but thought that it wouldn’t wreck the photo too much. And, if it did there was always a lot more similar photos already in the archives.
Yesterday, when looking through the latest set of photos, I noticed that the opening drew my attention and held it. It was as if the rest of the door was inconsequential. In spite of the lack of focus behind the door, it became the centre of my attention. It was then that I realised that the door was a visual metaphor for persona, the barrier that keeps the outer world, outside and thus allowing the ego to protect its fragile sense of self. The ego controls the doors, has several sets of doors which present purposeful masks and identities to the world. However, unknown to the ego is how time and the energy it takes to maintain the fiction of the doors, the various personae. I know that I was oblivious to the effect that life was having on my identities of teacher, coach, parent, counsellor and athlete. Like these doors, the masks for these identities were beginning to fray on the edges, showing cracks that hinted of something else behind those cracks.
And then I saw this image again and saw a different story, one that talked to my sense of a personal journey into the unknown, the journey of individuation. With my ego fracturing and the realisation that I needed to do some serious work to rescue my self in terms of core identity, purpose and meaning, I caught a glimpse of a new journey, a new destination. There was just enough light showing through my own cracks that served to act as a beacon, asking me to enter. The light behind the cracks became a compelling voice and I knew that it was a call to me to begin my own Odyssey like some modern day Odysseus in search of my real home, my real being.
It amazes me what I sometimes see in a photograph – I seem to slip out of an objective space and enter an alternate reality. And for this, I am thankful.
Taking photos is just the first part of my passion for photography. Once the photo is taken and it has survived the culling process, it waits its turn for further consideration. For example, this photo of a rose that I took last week. It has patiently waited for the week as though knowing I would come back to it as I had full intentions at the moment I took the photo of bringing it here to the blog site for a reflective commentary. And, as I wondered what I talk of today, I thought of my subject of yesterday, meditation. I realised that I meditate in a variety of ways including being mindful of the world as I walk through life.
I saw this rose and felt pulled to take yet another photo of a rose. Before taking the photo, I stood silently for a moment in thoughtless appreciation of the rose, its colours, the light that embraced the rose, and I noted my state of relaxation. When my centre felt calmness I took the photo knowing that life had entered into the picture in the form of the bee. I was certain I had captured the vibrancy of the bee’s presence when I took the photo. I took only the one photo and then moved on. The sense of all being right was strong within me.
Before writing here, I approach a photo and sit silently with it; it becomes a moment of presence, the photo’s presence, and my presence. I allow my ego to be silent and learn to listen to the silence. Being mindful of the image, I begin to be filled with silent words which then find their way here to the web page.
When all is done, I leave the work with the same level of peace that I attain when I leave a session of meditation. When this happens, I know I have truly practiced another meditation that leaves its gifts.
I have recently commented about the five-toed dragon and the Chinese phoenix or peacock. So, it was with some surprise when I went out to dinner a few evenings ago in a local restaurant and found this carved panel in an upper-floor hallway. It is yet another symbolic representation of the ancient Chinese emperors and empresses, with the dragon as symbol for the emperors.
I was particularly struct by the fact that these two symbols were contained within a circle which reminded me of tizhi (t’ai chi), the yin-yang symbol which shows masculine circling attempting to enter the feminine, and the feminine circling and attempting to take in the masculine – an eternal dance that never quite succeeds in two becoming one.
Both symbols point toward wholeness, a holistic world view. When I found this wall panel, I was excited and for a while forgot that I was supposed to be in a private dining room in the restaurant. I knew that I had found something I needed in order to talk about the inner world showing up in the outer world as fate.
I want to be clear about masculine and feminine. They are often synonymous with male and female, but it would be a huge error to limit the understanding of masculine and feminine to gender. It is also a mistake to assume that in using the two terms that one is talking about two people. Within each of us are active masculine and feminine aspects. With that said, I will turn to the dance between a man and a woman as I see it, feel it, know it, intuit it – at least when it comes to my self.
For me, the question of wholeness began with my mother. I sensed that because I was born to her, I was still a part of her. Yet, I knew that in spite of being a part of her and her being a part of me, we were separate and could never again become one. As a young man, I fell in love with a woman and saw in her an opportunity to again become whole. We were both ripe for the work of becoming one. We conceived children, we loved, we held each other, we danced – yet in spite of it all, we both still see ourselves locked in our own bodies and minds, separate beings. We are curiously circling each other and trying to truly discover who the other is and what will come next. It would seem that all the work has failed us as we find ourselves alone with ourselves. But, we haven’t failed.
Both of us are forced to look within for what appears to be the missing pieces. The other in relationship will always be another person, intimately linked, but always separate. Like all couples, we learn new dances, new ways of being together after what appears to be failed expectations. We have learned that the other person has not failed nor has the self failed. What we have learned is that the other person cannot hold what is buried within the self. Love ends up being redefined and we again begin the new circling, the new dance of relationship, again two becoming one.
It’s a dance that never ends – we continue to fall into another person and away from that person, constantly circling and looking for that magical moment when two can become one.
It has been a while since I last took a photo of a turtle. While walking through Hong Mei park a few days ago I saw three turtles in this post, each on its own lily pad. As the autumn season progresses, I find myself slowing down as though I am trying to match the pace of the season, getting ready for a quiet time. I find this a bit discouraging as it forces me to take stock of myself. Like some bear preparing for a winter’s hibernation, I wonder if I am doing what I need to do before the snow hits and life slows to a crawl. Of course, the likelihood of snow is low here in Changzhou, China, but the body and psyche disregards the temperature gauge. I look around and see local people wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and jackets even though the temperature is still in the 20+ Celsius range (26 C as I write this). There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the current weather condition and the way people are dressed. It is all a matter of mind set. Since it is autumn, one dresses accordingly.
It is something about being within a collective and being in that collective and behaving for the most part unconsciously, or as the people I have got to know would say, acting within the framework of tradition. Stepping outside of traditional boundaries is a risk that few are willing to take. If anything, those who aspire to be “distinctly” different, are assumed to be corrupted by the western world or simply just “off.”
It makes me think that my own culture in the western world is not much different – it’s just a matter of degree. It seems to me that the boundaries of the collective are wider and as such are perhaps that much more difficult to breach. Once one does break through the boundaries, one is isolated – socially and psychologically. Who will trust you when you consciously move out of the collective mindset, the collective way of believing, especially when the boundaries are deliberately expanded to ensure that you stay within the boundaries of the collective.
There is a need to take care on this journey of individuation that leads away from the collective unconscious. There is a definite sense of betrayal felt by those “left behind” even if it is only a psychological distancing. Though there is a definite sense of being different from others, one still belongs to the collective through family and community. Individuation doesn’t call for burning bridges with others, it asks for one to change the way one relates to others, to relate consciously without projections. It is only in this way that we serve as a catalyst for others to be changed, consciously.
But of course, this all takes time and that time passes slowly. I know I get impatient and would like it to be always actively percolating hastening change, both in myself and others. The shift in seasons reminds me that there is a time and a season for everything under the heavens.
A lot of walking in different parks and along various canals that intersect the city of Changzhou has meant that I have again taken a lot of photos such as this one that I found in Qing Feng Park in the western part of this city, or should I say Greater Changzhou which includes towns and villages in a prefecture style urban government.
Since it is autumn, there is no surprise that many of the images I am taking show scenes of autumn in terms of colour and texture. This is the season of wabi-sabi, about how we are just temporary organisms in context of a larger context. Wabi-sabi shows itself in the “less than perfect” that comes with aging, the breakdown of anything from its peak of existence, that one moment of perfection. Taking a few words from Wikipedia:
“The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (sanboin), specifically impermanence (mujo), the other two being suffering (dukkha) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (sunyata).
Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.”
I sense that for me, as human, the moment of shifting from the rising to whatever it would have been for my body to be perfect, to the beginning of descent into a simpler state happened at the age of about 35, when I set personal bests for running 10K, 20K and marathons. I was at a physical peak and then the slide started. It wasn’t so noticeable to others, but I could tell – I was becoming slower and I hurt more with training.
But, that was only in terms of the physical me. My mental growth continued (in my perception) until . . . and I find I can’t complete that thought as I don’t know how to measure it. If anything, with wabi-sabi as it is defined, the refinement of the psyche continues on until the psyche ceases to have a conscious awareness of itself. This fits with Jung’s idea of individuation. With individuation there is a growth of consciousness, of awareness of self, and others in relation to self, and of the whole in relation to self. With the growth in psychic awareness, there is a an appreciation of how the whole becomes much simpler, less fractured and scattered.