Archive for the ‘conscious reflection’ tag
I am getting close to being finished with exam marking and doing all the administrivia that comes with wrapping up a term of teaching at the university. Most of the work should get finished today leaving another day of work for next week. Even though it means a good number of hours at the desk, I still take time out for a good walk when the weather is decent. I found this park-like setting along one of the canals that wend through the XinBei district of Changzhou, about two kilometres from my apartment. What is different about this park is the fact that it has almost no one in it. It will be about two years before this side of the river is developed enough for people to move in. The work has begun on a large number of new residential areas with the old residential areas finally removed save for a handful of older buildings that have somehow resisted the fall of the sledgehammers. A few are still holding out – holding the tension, trusting that in doing so, a new way will emerge, one that is not quite there yet.
I have walked through this park about a half dozen times already noticing how it suffers from waiting for people to be present. Already the park is looking worn on the edges, frayed and faded. It’s strange how something can be both new and old at the same time. Waiting does that to a park, and to a person.
Yes, I am waiting, but not quite sure what I am waiting for at the moment. There are some things that are on the surface such as a four week journey through IndoChina that begins in a little more than a week. There is tension in waiting for that trip to begin. There is also the smaller waiting for the last exam to be given to signal the end of another university term. A similar small tension is found in waiting for the next term to begin and the students who will become my extended family for the term. Each day is much the same; filled with the small tensions of waiting, of wondering what is coming.
Somehow, all these bits of tension seem to be insignificant now for me as compared to the past when these things would fill my life, keeping me on edge. I guess that comes with age. An old French expression comes to mind, “que sera, sera.” Now, there are bigger tensions that I hold: ”Will I begin the PhD program that I have often talked about? Will I really finish the photo book about Changzhou and get it published in China as a dual language book? Will I return to teach another year? Will I find a “home” in Mexico for winter months if I don’t return?” But, even these are not really all that significant in the big picture.
The biggest tension that I hold is hard to put into words. If anything, I guess I could say that it is about the will to authenticity. When? Where? How? I am searching for words to frame the questions that will mark who I am, and the purpose of my being here at this time and place. Until I find these words, I am waiting . . .
Today’s photo could be considered “flawed” because of the over exposure at the top. But, it serves a purpose for me because of the excessive light from the sun. Light. Consciousness. Having taught developmental psychology for a number of years, I can’t help but think of that journey of development from the pre-natal waters in darkness, to the bloom of full adulthood when one is standing tall in the light, tall and proud. It is a long journey that is all uphill. But, like this photo, once one has crested the bridge of life, it is necessary to descend, to move back toward the darkness, towards death where human consciousness is no longer.
I want this post to focus on the high point of the bridge. If one looks into the water, into the reflections of consciousness in the body of the collective and personal unconscious, one sees what is not evident above the water, above the bridge. One sees that the self that walks this bridge, must go over the sun, go over the father in order to become a full adult. It’s about becoming the authority over one’s self rather than allowing one’s self to be the subject of the authority of others, especially one’s personal father, or the collective father represented in one’s community, one’s country, one’s religion.
“Also associated with the father imago is the issue of authority. By whose authority do we live our lives, make our decisions, practice our professions, conduct our journeys? Authority as concept is neutral; in praxis it is always valenced. Any authority, no matter how benign an well-intentioned, can exclude its opposite and over time become oppressive. No child can ever wholly evolve into his or her own truth without finding an authentic inner authority. For this reason, the individuation process obliges some form of overthrow of the external authority, whether modeled by the personal parent, the broader culture, or the resident tribal deity.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 47)
As one grows up, one discovers self as a separate being. One also discovers that one is helpless at first and must depend upon the Mother and the Father. The original power of these two figures are grounded as archetypes into our very soul. The Mother as nurturer and as the source of life. The Father as authority and the energy of life. The task of growing up leads us to overthrow their authority. Rather than to have one’s father’s voice echo in one’s head and heart guiding all of one’s decisions, one must become the authority. One shifts from being the child to the adult, from being the “subject” to the ruler. One shifts from being a member of a church to being at one with deity, to finding that there is no separation between self and deity.
It’s a long journey, not an easy one. It is a journey that leaves one alone in so many ways. Individuation. And when one has completed the journey, one returns to being at one with others seeing that there is no real separation between self and other as all are part of the whole.
This is a detail from the Christian Church found in the downtown area of Changzhou. I was drawn by the image in the stained-glass window which was framed within a diamond. Ideas of quaternity, of new life, of mandala came to mind thanks to many years of ruminating over the works of Carl Jung and post-Jungian authors and writers such as Daryl Sharp, James Hollis, James Hall and John Dourley to name but just a few. In the end, it isn’t about what I have read, but what has resonated within me.
For example, this image with the dove at the centre. I think of the dove as heralding new life, such as the dove in the story of Noah and his ark. The dove lets one know that one can return to consciousness, to a new lease on life as much as a child tells us as a collective that our human race can begin again, with hope.
Images evoke response in all humans that can see images. What is seen isn’t necessarily what was drawn or created by the person or persons behind the image. Rather, what is seen is a reflection or a projection of the contents within the viewer. The individual psyche containing both conscious and unconscious contents, acts as a lens when viewing images. This is a natural phenomenon, not some contrived psycho-babble induced phenomenon.
“The psyche is manifold, synonymous with nature, and contains all possibilities. In me is the saint and the murderer, the ascetic and the lecher, the monastic and the bestial. When a figure shows up in the popular culture, it is but the personification and dramatization of the energies of the psyche. As we recall, the energy of the psyche is invisible; so it is only rendered available to consciousness when it is made manifest in image.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 36)
How do these images manifest themselves? Through our creations of image. They appear in dreams, in art, in words, in music. And these images show us “self” in various guises such as this dove, a guise of hope and promise, the guise of a child, the guise of an archetype within the psyche made visible.
I had to take this photo through a dirty plexiglass viewing pane at the YanCheng Safari Park. I am satisfied with the quality of the image simply because it allowed me to use the photo for this blog. It isn’t a photo for the family photo album. For me, the photo is simply an excuse for conscious reflection.
“Our lives are an invitation to conscious reflection, a challenge to bear witness to a large symbolic drama which courses through history and through individuals. While the deeper intent of such intimations may puzzle, even frighten the ego service to those great energies we call the gods obliges a more respectful relationship than that which we have more commonly lived.” (Hollis, Mythologems, pp 17-18)
That there are things happening on the collective level that suggest a larger symbolic drama, larger than the drama being enacted within each of us, is not doubted by anyone. The posturing of minor powers with access to military armament that is more powerful that the weapons of any war in human history, the dance done by the major powers as they broker deals to undermine as many of their opponents as possible while the collective voices of the scientists warn of the repercussions of treating our world as a thing rather than as a living entity speaks loudly of humanity’s rejection of its own humanity. Collectively we have sold our mothers and our children and the voices of the elders for the latest baubles. There is little room for hope, for harmony, for finding a way out of the mess that we have created.
It is in this cauldron of modern man that I find myself somehow in search of not only myself, but in search of pride in being human, being an actor in dramas shared with gods and goddesses. And like this little guy, holding on for dear life.
This little girl was playing in the park near her mother just before Halloween. Yes, Halloween has made it to China, but it is not the full-blown version of Halloween. It is simply an opportunity to add colour and playtime for young people – no trick and treating, no pranks, no associations with the nether world of ghosts on the eve of All Saints Day.
I know that I take life too seriously most of the time and don’t make much room for play for myself. Watching the youth in Canada as they grow up in the school system, I saw them too old for their years – they, too, took themselves seriously. They wanted to be teenagers years before their time; they wanted to be old enough to drink just barely into their teen years; they wanted to be seriously in love and acting accordingly before childhood had finished. And parents, wanted their children to hurry up with the growing up so that they could go on with their own lives or find a way to live vicariously through their “hurried children.” Imagine my surprise when I found that the youth in their early twenties that I taught haven’t been rushed. If anything, the college years are the final playground before they get tossed out into the adult world.
Growing up in the Catholic religion, children are expected to be miniature adults, serious in their intention to be on the battlefields of good versus evil. With confirmation at the age of seven calling on the children to become “soldiers of Christ,” there is no room left for being a child. One was made aware of an external god that was ever-vigilant and had the power to condemn even a child to the fires of an eternal hell. One was made aware of an almost as equally powerful devil that would be working overtime to tempt one into sin, the route into hell. And, one was made aware that the robed men of the church were the only ones who could help save your soul, something that even the parents couldn’t do. One was taught not to trust one’s self. One was told to trust the church, to believe what could never make sense, to have faith in an idea that defied one’s experiential knowledge of the world. Catholicism is just one sect of the big three western religions that demand the same from each child – blind faith and obedience.
Awakening from the cocoon that religion wraps around the psyche is a shock. One is adrift, removed from the community of “faith” that has provided all the answers and the road maps. Before venturing too far into this unfamiliar realm, one must learn to begin trusting the “self.” And that, is what one didn’t learn when one took life seriously as a child.
I found this little pagoda-styled gazebo peaking out through the brush in a park in the village of XueJia, one of the villages under the city of Changzhou’s administrative umbrella. To reach this little structure one has to cross over a small slab bridge as the pagoda rests on a tiny island. It is the perfect place to spend a few hours in quiet contemplation, to get away from the conflicts encountered by simply being alive and in the world. It is hard work wrestling with the shadow as one peels back layers in search of a fuller self. As I said, being alive is being in conflict. Sometimes the conflict is quiet, just a small ripple that goes unnoticed by others, even those who are the closest.
“Any conflict constellates the problem of of opposites. Broadly speaking, “the opposites” refers to the ego and the unconscious. This is true whether the conflict is recognized as an internal one or not, since conflicts with other people are almost always externalizations of an unconscious conflict within oneself. Because they are not made conscious, they are acted out on others. This is called projection . . .” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 49)
Interesting. No wonder there is never any real satisfaction in winning an argument or in giving in with grace. At least for me, there is no sense of victory that gives me such satisfaction. It is almost as though I have lost when I win my position in any disagreement. Sometimes in order to avoid the bitter taste of victory, I simply walk away from conflict. But even then, there is no resulting satisfaction for again it is an action not interested in uncovering what is going on within myself, but simply an avoidance of externalised conflict, usually accompanied by a sense of “I am better than this, I rise above such petty conflicts.” Of course this only makes the “others” with whom I am engaged in these conflicts angry as they are left holding the heat of unfinished business.
I am learning to recognise these problems but struggle to “explain” to the others about my taking ownership of my “stuff.” When I get to realise that I am again acting out my own shadow stuff, I look for a place of retreat so that I can better assess the “heat” and my responses to the heat. In doing this, I get to see the edges of my shadow and then take ownership. Bit by bit, I am able to strip away the filters that have blinded me in relationships to others and thus discover the mystery of others. And, in the process of all this learning, I am discovering that so many people have a beauty that has nothing to do with outer appearances.