Archive for the ‘community’ tag
The work on our home has just been completed and our home is returning to something that might be called normal. I use the word “normal” loosely as each day is somewhat different than the day before, or the days before. My writing has been productive in spite of my not knowing when I would have time to write. My practice of meditation has been shifted almost on a daily basis from what I might call my “usual” time to a different time in order to accommodate questions of those doing the renovation work, or other needs that make an appearance
If it could be said that we approach our days here with set routines, the month of December turns all of those routines on their heads. As in likely all small communities, December brings those gatherings of various groups for celebration of Christmas as a community. As well as these “community” gatherings, there are the smaller “get together” meals with friends and neighbours, with return meals as we take turns being hosts and hosted.
Our habit of taking a daily walk is also tossed around during December. We must pay close attention to weather, especially wind, and the forecast so as to somehow chose the best time to walk and even where to walk. If wind persists, we find ourselves walking in various patterns around the small town rather than following our favoured country roads. We walk keeping shelter from the wind in mind, or at least limiting the amount of time walking against the wind which plunges the actual temperatures to even colder “wind chill” temperatures.
All of this makes for the carving each day as a unique experience regardless of the fact that most would see very little of this uniqueness. One can only appreciate the uniqueness of each present moment if one is fully present in the present.
The new students have arrived at the campus and like all new students everywhere in China, the first weeks are spent in a form of military training. Chinese students arrive at the university with the idea that they are the centre of the universe, they are doted upon by parents and grandparents and do little for themselves other than the obligatory school work. At university they are placed into a group of forty to sixty young adults and are expected to perform as a team, to learn as a team, to put the team first. It’s an interesting process to watch, to see them learning how to march in a coordinated fashion, to respond as a group to a command and to build new friendships that will last a lifetime. Coming from single-child families they finally get to have brothers or sisters. This is a ritual that shifts the individual from childhood to young adulthood.
Rituals to mark transitional points in one’s life. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I first wondered about transitions in terms of the masculine, the transition for boy to man, a transition that seems to be barely identifiable in the modern western world. But, as I began to think more about it, I wondered about the whole idea of ritual outside of the boundaries of the masculine. A quick search on the Internet soon proved to me that there still are a lot of rituals left in our modern world.
“A ritual is a well-defined sequence of words and actions designed to focus attention, establish significance, and achieve a beneficial result. Although some people think we have lost our sense of ritual, modern society makes use of many rituals to mark the beginning of significant events (baby showers, grand openings, ship launchings); the ending of life, or ways of life (funerals, bachelor parties, happy hours); the completion of important tasks or performances (graduation ceremonies, toasting successful negotiations, applause); the transition of one state or time period to another (birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, religious ceremonies like baptism/bar mitzvah/confirmation) and the making of connections (marriage ceremonies, church services, flirting).” (King, “Rituals and Modern Society“)
After reading and considering what King has had to say, I have to admit that there are rituals in our modern society. But, at the same time, King’s words leave me unsatisfied as there seems to be a lot missing, unsaid. So, the search continued.
“When I consider the decline of ritual as an element . . . I come to the conclusion that the erosion of community life is a very important factor. We have learned from Durkheim (1912) that religion, especially through its rituals, fulfills an integrative role in society. From Erikson we learned that rituals originate in the mother-child relationship; that, later on, in the community in which a person lives, rituals disclose and hold fast the “hallowed presencec”, the binding mystery of the community. Thus, without community there is no ritual and there are no rituals without a community. Where the community withers, as in our modern society, rituals decline.” (Heimbrock, Current Studies on Rituals, page 53)
Yes, this is what I felt was missing, and this is what the initiation of the freshmen students at the university was providing for my students – community, a binding together. The rituals that build and nourish communities, the communities that build and nourish rituals for the cohesiveness of the community. I wonder after reading these words why there is a growing sense of dissociation in the world, a sense of loneliness while in large crowds. As a school principal I saw too many lonely students, too many youth who were excluded and in their exclusion, bullied. Now, I see that the school didn’t provide rituals that built a sense of community.
There is too much here for one post. I need more time to think and to find questions that need to be asked, as a man and as a human.
Heading north from DaNang, Vietnam which is seen here from a scenic rest stop partway up the mountain road that leads to what used to be called North Vietnam, I stopped to take a few photos to mark the occasion, tourist photos for the most part. The light conditions weren’t the greatest for good photos but that rarely stops me from capturing scenes such as this one. For me, this lack of clarity is an important statement with regards to taking a journey, especially into what one consciously considers to be the unknown, new territory. I was travelling through Vietnam, new territory and as a result had suspended judgement about what to expect, an attitude that lets me see things that would otherwise be missed.
I think that this travelling and living in a place where one is an outsider is actually helpful for me. I can’t make too many assumptions about the others I see around me or myself in relation to these others. There is enough foreignness on both sides that clearly differentiates self from other.
When back in my home territory the differentiation is not so evident. I do sense my differences as do those around me. But habit and expectations and a lack of confidence catches me and I slip back into the older patterns of behaving and relating as though in a straight jacket. The collective has a power over me that is hard to dispel because of familiarity, fear and inertia. In a new collective, culture, community there are no patterns, no real expectations that the self has for others or that others have of oneself. No wonder I find a release in being elsewhere.
Returning to the community, it is almost a step back in time and in feeling. After having left, the return is warm but at the same time, it is guarded. By leaving, one has in a small way rejected the community. In spite of the warmth of the “welcome back” an unconscious distance and separation is erected. The community needs assuring, needs proof that the returnee still belongs, is still one of them. And so, in an effort to appease, it is necessary to deny the changes and work hard to prove that one is still part of the community. As I learned, the last thing anyone wants to hear is a new idea that might contradict the locally approved view of the world.
This photo was taken in Luang Prabang, Laos inside a Buddhist temple area where young novices live, work and study. I got to interact with them for a few hours over a period of three days mainly as an English teacher providing them an opportunity to practice their skills which are fairly week. There was a deep appreciation given for the time I spent with them in a group as well as in several one-on-one encounters in the courtyard. In many ways, I could see that an extended period of time spent in Luang Prabang would be very rewarding for anyone needing time, quiet and a sacred spacial container for anyone needing a time out for the healing of soul.
I am seeing changes in myself as a result of the time I spent in IndoChina. I have returned to my teaching post here in China with a different vision, one that is looking out at the world in hopes of finding a pathway that is more engaged. Because of the shadows that are seizing control of governments, corporations and communities I find a need to take my journey of individuation into the outer world. It means I will be more politically engaged. It is as though sitting still within myself becomes an excuse rather than an honouring of self. I am learning that it isn’t an either/or choice. I am becoming aware that I can do both and in the process achieve a balance for myself, something that has always been difficult.
These young monks go to classes to learn the realities of the outer world. They move through their communities engaged in their quiet manner, returning to the temple dorms to take part in rituals and to do the prosaic tasks of life. And, they play. Balance between inner and outer.
This is one of my many photos of Lotus flowers taken here in Changzhou. Usually I focus on isolating them in the water so that I can capture their mirror image being reflected. This time, I was pulled by the image of “fullness” in “community.” Rather than isolation and focus on the individual, this image places the individual within the collective. On the right-hand side in the foreground, a new lotus is emerging, being “born” into the collective so that it, too, can flourish for its moment in the sun.
The isolated lotus flower is about the individual. In isolating and focusing on the one that is symbolic for “self,” one is able to transcend the ordinariness of being within the collective, a way of being that is messy where the stinks and detritus of both birth and decay are ever present. One is able to enter into a state that transcends time and place while at the same time including all time and all space. And one discovers the source of one’s “self.”
After writing the above words, I thought I would then find out the name of the Hindu God that emerges out of the lotus flower. And in the process of doing that search (answer is Brahma) I found more than I was looking for. The lotus is symbolic of spirituality in Hinduism, Buddhism, and in the ancient Egyptian culture. Emerging from the lotus are Brahma, Buddha and Ra. One interesting thing of note for myself was the fact that each of these religions are experiential. And, in trying to understand why my “western world religions” seem to be failing me, I get to understand Jung’s similar state of dis-ease with religion in the western world.
For religions in the western world, “conceptions of faith are divorced from any experiential basis in humanity’s awareness of itself, and become dehumanizing substitutes for the life-giving experience of the unconscious which the symbols express. Of this destructive psycho-spiritual situation, Jung writes: “It [theology] proclaims doctrines which nobody understands and demands a faith which nobody can manufacture.”” (Dourley, The Illness That We Are, p. 18)
Growing out of the mud and dirty, even polluted, waters the lotus flower provides an example of what I can do as an individual as I strive to become more conscious. I catch a glimpse of the deity within, the spirit within. And in being able to finally notice its presence, I awaken as a spiritual being and begin the next stage of my journey.
A few moments after the storm had broken, I slipped outside for a walk that had been rain delayed. As the sun tried to break through the clouds, I I caught a glimpse of that sun reflected in a large puddle. The image sent me racing back into the house for my camera so that I could capture this image before it transformed into something completely different. With the photo taken, I continued the walk in an attempt to beat the return of the rain storm. The walk between the rain was navigated without becoming drenched and cold. I had risked taking this walk, risked damage to my hearing aids. I know, it would have been wiser of me to remove the aids before going for the walk. But, at what cost? Without the hearing aids, I would have experienced less.
As I look into the photo, it is somewhat like being pulled into it. There is a pull into the underworld, a call to dive into the water in order to follow the light. In some ways, the light, surrounded by the darkness, makes me think of going down a tunnel as if I would become a modern day “Alice” getting ready to fall down into a “rabbit hole.” Even before that thought was completed, another thought emerged, that of the “light at the end of a tunnel” that is often used as the image of near-death experiences. No wonder I was pulled to take the photograph, and pulled again to bring it here.
There is a certain, perhaps perverse, fascination in following the call into the unconscious in order to become more conscious. Why do I say that it is possibly a perverse attraction? Well, I guess I had better define my use of perverse as “deliberately deviating from what is regarded as normal, good, or proper.” The key word is “normal.” In the community I live in, it is not normal to invest in the “inner world.” It is normal to invest in being present and focused on the outer world. A person’s worth is judged on appearances and on presence, even if the presence is superficial. Too much of an inner focus leads one to be branded as strange, aloof, spaced-out or as an egg head that thinks he/she is too superior for the common, ordinary, everyday Joe. Knowing the societal reaction that must follow when one is drawn into the unconscious, to choose the call is a defiance of what community calls “normal, good or proper.” To heed the call is a statement to the community that one is rejecting the community, that one is selfish. So, why then, would one ever want to follow that call, to follow the light into the tunnel?
How can I explain it in a way that is “sensible?” I follow because I “have” to, not because I “want” to. To “not follow” would be akin to committing a suicide of soul with the result that I would shrivel and become a shell of a person, bitter and angry all the time. Why would I risk anything for which I have worked so hard for so many years? Why would I risk relationship? Why would I risk economic well-being? Why would I risk losing even my small space in community? I know what is at stake and yet the loss of all of this is less than the loss of “soul.”
And so, I tumble into the underworld chasing an illusory sun beneath the surface of the water, into the dark and wet underworld of the unconscious – with hope.
I took an early walk this morning through the countryside as the tide was too high for a decent beach-side walk. As usual, I took a number of photos which featured either birds or lizards which are plentiful in the area. I noticed this fence post which I knew instantly would be the photo I wanted for today’s post. As you can see, the post has been broken and therefore does not actually perform as a support for the fence. It has broken away from the collective, figuratively. Yet, it is still connected.
As I listen and think about what the journey of individuation is about, there is a tendency to assume that it is only about the self and not also about community. Well, like this photo suggests, there are ties to community that cling regardless of how desperate one becomes in carving out one’s “unique” place in the world. As long as one is in the world, one is connected regardless of how thin the thread is that serves as connection.
I have decided to give Dourley and his essay a rest and will shift focus back to C.G. Jung and his book, Modern Man in Search of Soul, in particular I will focus on chapter ten, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man. I invite you to click on the blue link at the end of the quote which begins my wandering through the chapter.
“The spiritual problem of modern man is one of those questions which are so much a part of the age we live in that we cannot see them in the proper perspective. Modern man is an entirely new phenomenon; a modern problem is one which has just arisen and whose answer still lies in the future.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)
Modern man. This is an idea that seems to be appropriate for us who live in “modern times.” Yet, C.G. Jung doesn’t hold that men and women who live in these modern times are to be thought of as “modern.”
“I must say that the man we call modern, the man who is aware of the immediate present, is by no means the average man. He is rather the man who stands upon a peak, or at the very edge of the world, the abyss of the future before him, above the heavens, and below him the whole of mankind with a history that disappears in primeval mists. The modern man – or, let’s say again, the man of the immediate present – is rarely met with, for he must be conscious to a superlative degree. Since to be wholly of the present means to be fully conscious of one’s existence as a man, it requires the most intensive and extensive consciousness, with a minimum of unconsciousness. It must be clearly understood that the mere fact of living in the present does not make a man modern, for in that case everyone at present alive would be so. He alone is modern who is fully conscious of the present.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)
I guess this leaves me out as I know that there is much yet that is unconscious within me. I react too often with heat, the activation of complexes, which come out of nowhere and have yet to be understood. Like most people, I am plodding forward but at a snail’s pace with many stops along the way to smell the flowers, cough up dust and perhaps share a beverage with others I bump into along the way. As I read this, I immediately thought of Zarathustra. And, in thinking of Zarathustra I became a bit despondent as I have serious doubts that I could ever attain such a level of consciousness.
Like the broken post, I am held in place with my own invisible barbed wire to the personal and collective unconscious, connecting me to the culture and the communities in which I find myself. Still, I can recognize this and in doing so, I have hopes that I am headed in the right direction.
Here is another look at how the town I live in appears on the horizon in the month of December. As you can see, it is a very small town on the prairie, a town of just more than 500 people. The town is home in as many ways as one would want to define home. It is here that my children come with their children in order to have family gatherings. Though I have only been here for just over seven years, the place is seen by the grandchildren as the ancestral home. For them it is enough that we live there and that they get to come to our home and be special in the way grandchildren are special to their grandparents, an unconditional acceptance.
The town surrounds and protects us in its fashion. Though we travel and leave the house for extended periods of time, those that stay in the town look out for our interests as they know that their interests as community citizens is indeed tied into our interests as community citizens. It probably helps that for a few years I was a community leader as the leader of their school, years in which they saw education happening for their children and grandchildren. The town provides us with friendships in which we are able to visit each other’s tables and tell stories or listen to the stories told by others. It is also a place where we offer small, but important help as it is needed as best we can; and, in return, we receive as much if not more than we give. But it does start with giving and listening and acknowledging.
The same holds true when one journeys inward. There exists a community of sorts within and it is vital that one listens and gives what is due. The payoff comes in being supported by the inner aspects of self in an outer world when there is need.
This will be the last of the Changzhou, China photos in this series of posts. I have chosen this photo of the canal along Jinling Lu heading towards the centre of the city. From my apartment to the city centre was a walk of seven kilometres, something I was willing to do as it allowed me to see so much. Often I would take different routes to the city centre. As you can see, Changzhou has a very modern face as well as the scenes of deconstruction.
It is only to be expected that the collective consciousness and unconsciousness is found in the individual. A close study of one’s environment can reveal aspects of self that have been lost to conscious awareness. Individually, we move forward. Each of us is unique and as we struggle to become more aware of ourselves and our communities and the world at large, we do so in relation to others.
We exist in relation though we only ‘know,’ somewhat, ourselves. We are in relation to the land, water, sky and the elements. That relation has its own history that shows in our phobias as well as in our passions. We are in relation to community and family. Again, our lived history as well as the history of siblings, parents and other extended family members which are still in the collective memory of the family and the community. Both polarities of positive and negative are alive within the community as well as within ourselves.
We move through this towards a better sense of self always aware that the crystal clear picture of self we project is reflected in such a way as to let us know that this picture is hazy at best as there will always be so much that will remain unconscious with enough of these unconscious contents at the edges hinting that all isn’t as it seems.
Some of my paintings aren’t taken from my dreams such as this one above. This one is what emerged when I allowed my conscious mind to let go of control in order to see what would appear. Active imagination is an important way to access the unconscious contents. Here, the same scene is viewed from two moods, one is content, the other is depressed. The image tells me that at any given time, the same world exists in different dimensions. For my purposes, one highlights the masculine aspect of sun and the other highlights the feminine aspect of moon.
This is important stuff for me. Not only does it talk about the polarities within my “self,” it also talks to me about typology and how opposites both attract and repel in terms of relationships. The mystery of the “other” always remains a mystery and therefore allows attraction to survive in the long term – this is what the inner self wants and needs. Yet, the frustration also remains and gets in the way of the wants and needs of the outer self. I want quite, you want voices. I need voices, you need quiet. One is both satisfied and frustrated at the same time.
This polarity of a fractal world is externalised in community and in the broader outer world. What the world needs and what the world wants are often at odds. Sadly, it falls to the lowest common denominator where consciousness, itself needs to negotiate to the lowest common level of understanding. That leaves the collective shadow, the collective unconsciousness a large sphere of influence. This is when bad things happen collectively. We see it today in the news, we have seen it in the past when one man’s personal shadow is fed by the collective shadow which in turn raised the level of acted out shadow by the collective. If you don’t believe that a fractal world exists, look at the polarities in the newspapers, look at your community, look at your relationships – finally, look within.
The whole is made up of all the parts. There are no parts to be cast off. We are both shadow and light, god and devil.
Just an update to today’s post. It is time to now give out treats so I want to wish all a Happy Halloween, or a hallowed eve for All Saint’s Day. Either way, it is a time for the archetypes and shadow figures to come out and play.