Archive for the ‘containment’ tag
Fences on the prairies are most often not too substantial – an occasional post and three widely spaced wires. yet for their flimsiness, they are effective in keeping one in or out according to the intention of the fence builder. Well, sort of effective. The truth is if I want to get to the other side of the fence all I have to do is to hold the top wire down and step over; or, I could separate two wired and slip through the larger opening. The fence does work for the most part as a rancher can keep his cattle from wandering off a certain piece of land into valuable crop land. In certain circumstances an electric wire is also strung along the posts in order to better contain the cattle and even horses. However, small animals ignore the fence as do deer. It’s as if the fence doesn’t even exist. The fence is more of a psychological barrier than it is a physical barrier.
We build fences in our heads as well trying to keep our secrets safe from others. We even build fences within to hide stuff from ourselves. We bury the dark things we want to deny under layer upon layer of barbed wire, behind high solid walls that are layers deep. But for all of our efforts, the hidden finds ways to slip out unknown to our conscious ego. Often we don’t even realise that something has slipped out. It is only when others around us question our statements or actions that we find ourselves first denying doing these things and then wondering “Where did that come from?”
For the most part, the walls are thick enough, high enough that we can spend almost a lifetime believing the hidden, contained stuff doesn’t even exist. But, the shadow can only be contained so much. The pressure builds and things begin to leak out. The first place these aspects of the shadow show up is in our dreams. Jungian analysts and other therapy models use dream work as a way to have us discover not only the nasty dark stuff but also the hidden treasures that we pushed away because they got in the way of our being in the world in a way we thought was safest and best. But dreams aren’t the only escape route taken by the shadow.
If one looks at one’s relationships, one sees shadow projected onto others. Our responses to others are often triggered by what the self sees as its shadow. Imagine the confusion that others face when they are held in too high or too low esteem given the circumstances of engagement. A man treats a woman as a goddess and places her on a pedestal. It is a position that no mortal woman can hold for too long before getting angry as the pedestal doesn’t give her needed freedom to be herself. A man treats another woman as an evil witch though having no basis in the objective world for so treating her. In both situations, the man is projecting his repressed anima, his soul both dark side and light side onto others, others who are just as human, just as flawed and perfect as the man unconsciously projecting his inner, hidden and contained complexes.
The higher and thicker the walls of containment, the bigger the explosion and disruption of our outer life. The work of therapy is to begin discovering the fences and carefully taking them down so that the stuff contained can make its appearance in a safer environment. Making its appearance, aspects of the shadow, the unconscious can be integrated into a healthier version of self.
When I took this photo, I didn’t realise that there was a young man behind the white blossoms. This is often the case when a person takes a lot of photos, the element of surprise discoveries. I have to admit that the first reaction was that the “scene” was contaminated and the photo needed to be culled. I wanted the blossoms, not a confused scene, a compromised scene.
However, taking the time to “think” about this, I realised that the photo had become even more valuable to me “because” of the barely discernible person in the background. What I want and what I need are often different things. What I want is more often than not, something that is of momentary value, not something that is actually good for my whole being.
So what is it that I needed to get with this photo? I know what I wanted – a floral scene. I wanted a perfect world. I wanted only beauty. I wanted release from crowds, from people, from messiness. What did I get? I got a message that I can “mask” as hard as I want to, the reality of life, but it will not stay hidden. I can build all sorts of retaining and containing walls around my shadow, but it will still poke its head out in spite of my ego efforts.
If I don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised with my shadow, I need to get to know it better, to release some of the pressure so that life becomes easier.
This is another photo from the past which I found again and wanted to bring forward to share with you. I took this photo in June, 2008 and thought that this would be a good way to begin June posts here. The fence pictured here is one that I built to define my property. The rose belongs to a plant that was on the neighbour’s, side of the fence. Rather than push the blossom back to the other side of the fence where it belonged, I propped a rock along the opening so that the rose would find support. This rose, a solitary stranger, became a treasured visitor.
The image is a powerful one for me. The fence was much the same as the fence I continue to build and rebuild in my own psyche as I continually try to define myself. That idea is basic to all of us. We build fences beginning at an early age, trying to carve out a space for “self” from the confusing and many times overwhelming mass of everything. I see this in my grandchildren who have moved from infants of need to become distinct little people. The fences we build are multi-functional fences.
We also build fences to protect ourselves from our neighbours, especially those that threaten our sense of physical and psychic safety. We build fences that present a various outer faces of ourselves to the outer world. We build fences to prop up the wounded interior. And we build fences to contain the dark elements within that threaten to escape and replace our conscious sense of self. Yet, for all of these fences, stuff leaks out and stuff sneaks in.
This rose is an example, one that suggests that some of the stuff that makes it way passed the barrier is good, but with the proviso that one realises that all that appears good has a dark side as well. A rose does have thorns.
The photo also reflects the entrance of “other” in the guise of “anima” into the “self.” As a man, I built a world that was contained within boundaries of my sense of who I was as far as my consciousness would allow. In my outer life, anima found its holder in a woman that, like this rose, found her way through the porous fence surrounding my self. Of course I didn’t know that the walls were porous at all. I thought I was secure in my independence. But, consciousness is never complete – there are always holes.
With the entrance of the rose, the inner yard becomes more complete as it adds something that was missing even without the knowledge that something was missing. With the presence of anima cloaked in a woman, I became aware of another dimension of my self. And the continued presence of that woman continually pushes me to grow more conscious not only of self, but of other and of relationship to other.
My son and I are busy at work on a new fence on one side of the yard. Why a fence? Well, with the presence of dogs and small children when the family gets together, it makes it easier to contain both in safety with a fence. Boundaries do have a purpose. My neighbour was hoping that we could do away with the fence as they want to feel less constricted. I guess it is all about perceptions.
Working on the fence, visiting with my son and his wife, taking time out to golf with friends on my birthday and now getting ready for a week-end golf tournament has not left me with a lot of time for being present here. Of course there are other things that impact on presence here, but the point is simply to let anyone reading here know that the site hasn’t been abandoned.
Individuation is a process that is similar to building a fence in some ways. Of course it is easy to understand that it is important to separate the self from the collective so as to have an identiy, a sense of self. This primary motivation brings forth the ego. As parents we watch this happen with our small children, we watch them change from cute little blobs into tiny people with personality over the first years of life.
With the ego firmly in place, more fences are erected again in the adolescent years when children struggle to assert independence from the parents. The power of the parents is never truly overcome and we live forever with mother and father complexes as adults.
And again, once we are moving past midlife, we again need to build fences as the journey of individuation continues. A lifetime spent in being part of community has resulted in so much being banished to the shadow, to the unconscious. In a way we have denied self. Now, it becomes important to reclaim what has been banished, to discover that which has also never been allowed into consciousness. And this is again about building fences, only this time, the fences are within. We build them so that we don’t get overwhelmed by the vastness of the shadow. Too much and we disappear into madness. So like alchemists of old, we must carefully measure out and work with bits of the unknown, but at the same time, containing these bits so that they can be safely absorbed into a larger sense of self.
This is a male Rufous-Sided Towhee found in the semi-desert hills of south-western Saskatchewan. One of my grandsons pointed out this bird to me while we were hiking in the hills. There were seven of us, a grandfather, a son-in-law and five grandsons – a gathering of the masculine. At one point, the youngest had a small fall with a very slight skinning of one knee – a wounding of sorts. Of course, that resulted in a badge of honour, a chance to be manly. As Monick points out:
Masculinity is an accomplishment, not a birthright – so strong is the pull of nature-mother. (Monick, Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine, 1987, p. 48)
The bridging of generations for males is built through small rituals and large rituals as well as containment of the developing masculine in the absence of the mother. A sense of self as a masculine being is simply that, a sense of self. It isn’t about other, it isn’t about power over other. It is about self awareness as a male.
This afternoon I went to check out the reservoir that serves as a both a source of water and as a recreation area. In the photo above, you can see the stack of a new bathroom near the beach which is completely underwater. The water level is up about fourteen feet from its regular levels which means secions of the road have completely disappeared. A bridge from the main shore to a recreational island where I would play disc golf is also completely underwater. The power of nature, the power of water!
Attempting to keep the water in check is still resulting in flooding on the low side of the reservoir’s dam. It seems that man can’t completely contain nature. Nor, can man completely contain the unconscious. Shadow continues to seep out along the edges.