Archive for the ‘fear’ tag
I found this image somewhere on the Internet a while ago. Where? I don’t remember. It is taken from some work of art painted when there was no need to conceal the truth for some particular agenda. Maybe I shouldn’t use the word truth as I begin to doubt that there are any truths other that the swirling mass of thought within one’s head, a swirling mass that is rarely based on reality. All is illusion. Yet, if we are to have histories as a people, then we must be able to hold some of that history as being valid. Was there a Jesus Christ? Was he the son of God if he did exist? Personally, I do think that there was a man who was the person we call Jesus Christ. Was he a son of God? I would have to say yes as I truly believe that we are all sons and daughters, all the offspring of the initial creator.
He was a man and he was a godling just like you are a godling. Like you and me, he was born naked out of the womb of a woman. Like you and me, he was a child, saw things children should never see, and suffered for it. Like you and me, he wrestled with his demons and resisted his singular path. For some reason, he was able to hold his singular path, a feat not many are able to accomplish because of fear, because of the cruel weight of community opinion. And like all others who dare to hold to their destiny, he was crucified by his community for daring to go against the collective shadow. The Romans crucified him in fact, but it was his community that forced the hand of the Romans to administer the death penalty for daring to challenge the status quo. The Romans crucified him in the Roman way – hanging him on a cross, naked so as to induce shame.
But for one who dares to follow the individual path that opens into light even as one goes forward seemingly into darkness, there is no shame, just a sadness for others, and a burning question – Why?
I have long struggled with this why and still have yet to find the answer. Perhaps there are no words that can serve as an answer. Perhaps the only answer that can emerge is the experience, step by step, that one passes through along the journey of one, a psychological and physical journey that Jung called individuation. Perhaps it is a conceit on my part, but as I dare my own journey, sometimes at costs that I am loathe to pay, I find myself learning to forgive myself for my own darkness. And in forgiving myself, one dark shadow at a time, I am finding that the path ahead of me is beginning to be bathed in a faint light.
As I inch my way down this individual path, I wonder if it is all worth it. It seems to be costing too much in terms of relationships with others. I find myself wondering if this is far enough along the path. A voice within tells me, I have gone far enough, further than most others travel as if that pat on the back will be enough. Yet, I am in turmoil wondering if I am a coward. I know that I can’t turn around and run back to the past and the certainties of that past, even if there was suffering and pain in that pain - better the devil one knows - is a folk saying that I am tempted to adopt rather than pay the price that is required to go further along the path, a path that I know ends in my own crucifixion, and a resurrection.
The sky is wild this morning. One minute it is dark with ominous clouds flying by as if they are on a freeway, and the next minute there is glorious sunshine. And the speed at which this is all happening makes the mind swirl. The wind has been blowing all night following a long period of rain yesterday late afternoon and all evening, and is still blowing strong creating whitecaps and pounding waves along the shoreline. Sometimes nature serves as a good metaphor for what is happening within one’s psyche. I know that in today’s case, it is quite the mirror.
I didn’t sleep well and it wasn’t because of the rain or the wind. Rather, it all had to do with the stirring of shadow contents within, stuff that lies below the surface of my awareness. I was asked why I was a naturist, why I needed to be naked when the rest of the world, the civilized world was doing well with their clothing on. I wasn’t able to give a satisfactory answer nor did I think that there could be a satisfactory answer in terms of having another person who is not a naturist, understand and accept. Of course, saying that, I open myself to the possibility of being very wrong. I don’t really have an excuse for not finding the words to answer this question, even if it is just for myself.
Because of my long involvement with depth psychology, I knew that the answers did exist, somewhere deep within my psyche. So this morning, I opened up the door to the question during my time for meditation which then lasted longer than usual. It was essential to let the question stew for a while, allow the contents within to become stirred up in the darkness of the unconscious. Later in the morning, after sitting for a while in silence with my morning coffee, not actually thinking but also not banishing thinking, I went for a long, two hour walk along the beach. I refused to force an answer but I also left an opening as if an opening in the clouds, for whatever needed to come to consciousness to have an entry.
As a child I was sexually abused, emotionally abused, physically abused in my family of origin by my biological parents. The sexual abuse extended to include my maternal grandfather and more than one parish priest. I was a docile child, the eldest of a large group of children. It was my job, the expectation that I came to embrace that I was there to please others, to take care of others, to put others before myself. I forgave my parents before they both passed away, enough years before their death so that I would be able to include them in my own children’s lives as grandparents. It also gave them time to acknowledge their part in my wounding – but that never came to be.
The patterns learned in early childhood that continued through to a few years after I was married with children of my own carried over into how I interacted within the family in which I was husband and father. It carried over into my career as an educator, coach and then as counsellor to students, staff and people within my community. I was well trained to put myself behind me and do my utmost best to be a good father, a good husband, brother-in-law, coach, neighbour. This is a story I knew well, one that I wrestled with through midlife and my own course of psychoanalysis. But where does this almost primal urge to naturalism come from?
It was soon after the sexual abuse from my grandfather, the last time I was sexually abused as a youth, that I found myself in a quiet meadow in a nearby small forest with a book of poetry. It was a warm late spring day, about six months following this last incidence. Feeling the warmth of the sun and feeling the words of classical poetry, I soon found myself naked. Over the next two years, my last two years at home, I took every opportunity, weather permitting to hide in this forest and meadow in order to be free.
Leaving home, I found other opportunities, especially the opportunity of sleeping in the nude, to recapture this sense of freedom. A job at the other end of the country found me enjoying social nudity in swimming pools and saunas with my co-workers, other young adults. The exhilaration of body freedom acted as a sort of barrier that banished my history of being abused.
Yet now, the pull to nudity is again strong so I look to these roots and it dawned on me that it is being nude where I claim control of my body, control of my identity, control of my sexuality. My body is not about pleasing others, making life easier for others. Do I remove body hair or make sure it is groomed for my own sense of well-being, or do I allow the needs of others dictate what I do or don’t do with my body hair? It comes down to control. Am I in control or do I defer control to someone else?
Now, in my sixties, I am saying this is my body and I will care for it, and my identity, and my psyche as best I can. I will not be a child and give control to another. I am a man, not a child victim continuing to seek approval, seeking to please others while disregarding my self.
I wonder if this is an answer, or just the beginning of an answer?
Heroes and villains, it seems that we are either one or the other. Of course I am referring to men here as I continue on with the problem of the masculine in today’s world. Of course, one man’s hero is another man’s villain which makes the problem even more difficult to resolve. On the collective level, men don’t really have a definition of what it is to be a hero or villain.
Women have their own ideas of what constitutes a hero or a villain, which are just as varied as it is for men. It depends for the most part on which side of an arbitrary line one stands behind in making these judgment calls.
I would like to approach the problem with the consideration that everyone is both hero and villain. At different times during one’s life, both take turns emerging from the depths of one’s being; and often, such appearances are beyond conscious decisions that are made.
And to bring this different approach forward, I want to follow the Hero as described by C.G. Jung and by Joseph Campbell. In reading and considering this description, almost all women will testify to this “masculine” quest, this “heroic” quest:
“The hero is the ideal masculine type: leaving the mother, the source of life, behind him, he is driven by an unconscious desire to find her again, to return to her womb. Every obstacle that rises in his path and hampers his ascent wears the shadowy features of the Terrible Mother, who saps his strength with the poison of secret doubt and retrospective longing.” (Jung, Symbols of Transformation CW 5, par. 611)
It kind of sounds pale in contrast to the latest media versions which feature men battling the forces of darkness to protect innocent women and children that form the plot of most “heroic” films. But when you slow down and take the time for reflection, you will find that all the heroes are engaged in conflict with both themselves and others and at the core of these conflicts is the feminine, the earth mother, the captured and/or enslaved woman, the evil witch – all faces of one’s personal complex relating to “mother.”
Of course there is battle needed with the shadow figures, the monsters that issue from black holes ready to exterminate the hero; authoritarian figures who would strip the hero of all his power and leave him naked and exposed to the ridicule of the world; and, all number of all around bad guys who make life a living hell for the hero. You will find all of these in any good heroic tale at the cinema. You will also find all of these lurking within each individual male, found in the stories of their dreams which trace the journey of conscious development.
Of course most of us can’t deal with being our own heroes and villains, so we banish them deeper into our psyche and project the left over energies onto others in the outer world, others who we then name heroes and villains.
The first words of the photo’s caption are taken from a song called Suzanne. Earlier this morning I was playing this song on my guitar, working on the fingering for the melody between verses. This song by Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite songs along with a few others by him and by another Canadian singer, Gordon Lightfoot. Both of these men came to my attention when I was a teenager so many years ago. Both men wrestled with what it is to be human, the human condition of suffering which is the first of the four noble truths in Buddhism. My current reading of Chogyam Trungpa’s book, Smile at Fear, is allowing me to look at the nature of suffering and in doing so, allowing me to come to accept the naturalness of my own suffering as a child and youth, not accepting the suffering in terms of being a victim of that suffering, but accepting the fact that I am a human, not a superhuman as I had hoped for in my desperate desires to escape life as it was given to me.
Like everyone else, I was afraid and I did my best to hide my fear, to hide from the broken and bruised parts of my self as I knew me. I pushed back at the shadows and the darkness that was lurking within the depths of whoever it is that I was. Like everyone else I invested in the outer world, in work, in activity, in relationships and in trying my best to grasp at happiness in any form in which happiness decided to present itself. I played music and sang for others hoping to not only create a sense of happiness but also a sense of being confirmed through their listening and their positive responses. I wrote and sought the same result when others would read the words, a result that said that I was worthy of relationship, worthy of happiness. I invested in my work, in my play, in my athletic pursuits, in parenting, in loving, in teaching, in counselling, in listening to the suffering of others. Somewhere in all of that engagement with the outer world I had hoped that the inner world of darkness would simply disappear or somehow be transformed into a place of pure light and joy. But, now I find that I must finally face my fear of that inner darkness if I am to be whole. And, as Trungpa counsels, I must “smile” at that fear.
Playing music such as the songs of Cohen and Lightfoot were and remain authentic ways in which I have looked my own fear and darkness in the eyes without realising exactly what I was doing. Picking up my guitar off and on over the years to gently approach this inner sense of self has kept the darkness from overwhelming and possessing me. And now, thanks to daring to smile at fear through a combination of analysis, self-reflection, music and Buddhist meditation, I am beginning to learn that there really is light as well as darkness in the depths of whoever it is that I am.
I know that I am more than my ego, more than the bits and pieces of thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations and physical aspects of Robert. I am not any of these things. These things are hints or signs of a deeper, fuller Self. It somehow gives a sense of relief to not be limited and defined by my ego, to have the freedom to be more, much more than the conjurings of my thoughts, my complexes, my fears and hopes. Like everyone else, I am a human and it is okay to be afraid. The trick is to acknowledge that fear and to smile at it rather than flee from it.
How does one engage in the process of individuation and avoid becoming caught in the trap of narcissism? What does taking care of oneself become selfish? When one asks the question “What is right?” how can one decide on an answer when what is right is different for different people? These are tough questions, questions I am wrestling with at the moment.
Cowardice asks the question: “Is it safe?”
Expediency asks the question: “Is it politic?”
Vanity asks the question: “Is it popular?”
But conscience asks the question: “Is it right?”
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one what is right.” ( Martin Luther King Jr., ”Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” - 31 March 1968)
Martin Luther King, Jr. also asks tough questions that strike at the heart of where I find myself. I can see my cowardice, my trying to please others at the expense of what I believe is right, doubting what I believe is right in the process. I have been running almost all of my life – running away from my abusive childhood, running away from my dreams, running away from . . . all of that running was/is about fear. But the truth is I survived my abusive childhood, and I am now a mature adult. I shouldn’t be running any longer from the dark shadows of the past.
Now, I find myself being “politic,” a strategy I learned in childhood in which I kept quiet about what I knew and believed and focused on the needs and wants, the beliefs of those who where responsible for my growing through childhood. I became the agreeable peacekeeper, the pacifier, the one who tried to reduce storm waves to smooth waters. I didn’t disagree, but would swallow my truth to avoid censure, to avoid pain, to avoid loneliness. As an adult, the pattern continued. I would make only small noises and only if those noises would not threaten too much my growing family. I continued to swallow my swelling anger and let it explode within me while keeping a safe smile on my face. We all make decisions everyday that compromise our sense of truth because of both personal fear and fear or retribution upon those whom we love. We all become “politic” even within our primary relationships in order to ensure that the relationships survive rather than testing the true depths of our relationships.
We turn our cheek when our truths are assaulted and present the other cheek. We also turn our eyes away from our truths so that we can pretend we don’t know. “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, do no evil.” These are words we live for the most part in order to insulate ourselves from what appears to be a very nasty modern world. I am as guilty of this as anyone, perhaps more so. And when I consider other words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr, I feel shamed: “”He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
It’s time for me to wake up and be courageous. It’s time for me to risk learning the truth and living those truths.
“There are a thousand things which prevent a man from awakening, which keep him in the power of his dreams. In order to act consciously with the intention of awakening, it is necessary to know the nature of the forces which keep a man in a state of sleep. (G.I. Gurdjieff)
The process of waking up is my current journey. Will I have the courage to truly wake up, or will I go only so far as to find a more comfortable way to spend the last of my years and days on this planet?
A walk along an abandoned rail track as sunset was approaching yielded this scene in the gathering clouds. The horizon itself was clear and the sunset was also captured by my camera. Of course, since this is the location for my SoFoBoMo book photos, the photo (one one in the series) will likely make it into the book, a book about consciousness, shadow and lifespan. The work on the book is coming along slowly as I find I need a few more photos from pre-dawn and post-sunset to have the visual story fully represented. I have decided to post all of the PDF versions of my books here so that you can read them at your leisure, downloading them if so desired. Expect them to be posted up on the sidebar in the relatively near future.
When things are going too smoothly or perhaps even too rough on us, an opening often appears that will allow us to navigate through to another level of being. Why do I say too smoothly? Well, when the world seems perfect, there is a kind of lethargy that settles in and makes the perfection more like a prison than a place of paradise. When things get so rough that one wants to say “the hell with it all!” there is usually a small crack in the darkness that has settled over us, perhaps barely visible, but it is there.
Almost all of us see this opening, a portal to a different way of being, but we are hesitant to explore that opening. Fear holds us back. ”What if this is just a trap? What if it only leads to something even worse?” So, often people turn their backs on the portal and hug the devil they know, believing that what lies behind is likely worse. Why do we do this, say this to ourselves? Why? Because we are certain that we deserve the darkness that we live in. We know that though it is a living hell, it is still about being alive. We don’t want to risk worse as it might mean our extinction.
The fear of the unknown, the fear of change, the fear of death – these fears keep us locked into patterns, beliefs, attitudes and actions. It is only when life comes to the point of breaking us that we lose our grip on the fear of change and find the courage, or perhaps the desperation to dare something different.
This is another photo from my journey through IndoChina. The photos I took were a mixture of the typical scenes shown to tourists, people photos, nature photos and photos taken ‘just because.’ Of the many ‘people’ photos, of which this is one, I am surprised at the number that were of women.
And, that other is really me, that which I deny as myself, my opposite, my shadow, my soul.
“. . . she says she is drifting on a boat and doesn’t know where she’s drifting, she is no longer in control. Let it drift, on the black sea, she and you, no, there is only her, she’s not really afraid but she feels terribly empty, she wants to die, death is seductive, she wants to fall into the sea, let the black sea drown her, she needs you, the warmth of your body, even your oppressiveness gives her a sense of security, she asks if you’re aware of it, that she desperately needs! (Gao XingJian, Soul Mountain, p.129)
She is me. I want to be secure, I want you to love me, I want me to love you, I want us to be one. But, my mind only finds thin threads that connect me to you, threads of intuition, not threads of time and space and matter. So, I look outside for a surrogate you, I look into the eyes of others in hopes of finding you, finding me. Though I am standing in the sunshine, I know that you are hidden in the dark corners, in the shadows where my eyes can’t reach, where my hands cannot feel. And so I look at others, touch others, claim others, hoping that the ache is anesthetized so that I don’t feel so alone.
I felt that this is a perfect photo in which to engage in a bit of active imagination – looking at another possible universe through an opening that somehow emerges from our limited level of consciousness. It’s easy to imagine a paradise, a utopia of colour and shape that blends nature and man when we look outside of our daily worldview. Most of us take on a self-definition that sets limits on who we are and what we can do. With that box built, we become beleaguered by anything and everything that is different.
We shape ourselves as victims of the otherness, even when we dominate the otherness. Now, how does this make sense? Think of the abuser who batters his or her children, his or her spouse – their common complaint “you made me do it” is repeated over and over again suggesting that the abuser believes that they are the victims, not the perpetrators. On a less extreme scale, but infinitely worse are the collectives who operate as mobs, as collectives with one voice and one worldview, collectives such as religions and political groups. Our nastiest atrocities on each other has been through these collectives. The evidence of partisanship bent on destruction is seen in America, Europe, and Canada, as well as the major religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Accepting self identification with a group traps a person and blinds a person to other possibilities. The world ceases to be a colourful place and takes on a black and white aspect where each side is white with the other side being black – each side believes that God is on their side. And in the process of claiming these collective identities, one claims being a victim.
It is only through active imagination that we find an opportunity to see other plausibilities in a non-destructive, non-threatening manner. One steps aside from being victim and sees what one could be, what the world could be. What is rarely realised is the fact that these utopic worlds are not places of imagination, they are real places. Of course, one can also get there via a different route, that through reducing all to ashes and building anew out of the ashes. Personally, I would try the route of active imagination rather than pursue a path of denial and destruction.
At the last minute I decided to make this a black and white image. In the process, with the green of the background leaves now lost to deep grays, I found what had been hidden by the noise of colour. This was a scene I found in HongMei Park in ChangZhou, China just a week ago. Well, it is a version of the scene, one that perhaps is less factual with the colour removed. However, what remains is deeper, more attuned to an inner universe. For me, it has taken on a numinous quality as if I am dreaming with my eyes-wide-open.
It’s strange how noisy the world is for me though I need to wear hearing aids. And the noise isn’t necessarily measured in decibels. The noise is as much internal as it is external. It makes it hard for me to focus and to sit still with myself, within myself. Now, as I write these words, I do notice that I am writing them in silence. No television, radio or mp3 player is turned on – silence reigns as I sit alone for a few hours in the apartment at the keyboard. However, that silence is a fiction in terms of what I am sensing, a loud and constant chatter from the depths, personal depths and collective depths. I sit here alone at the keyboard yet feel the crowds jostling leaving little space for me. The crowd doesn’t go in one direction, rather it is busy going nowhere, busy just being there and moving.
Yes, like a dream. These are the opening sensations of the dream images that flood out of the photo. There is more.
I feel myself as the only anchor in a fuzzy, indistinct world, clutching a child, a new life. I know that the child is the essence of who I am, my own promise. I don’t back down from the challenge, the dare to be present and take the new version, the transformed nascent self into my arms with a promise to go forward rather than disappear into the shadows with so many others.
Where does this come from? Feeling the darkness, the shadows of a larger world as though a threat? I have sat with this question and have wondered. I know that I am resonating with events outside of my self, events that beyond the scope of an individual. I see democracy threatened, security threatened, human sanctity threatened all over the planet as the power of darkness takes so many human lives in Mexico, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, China and Japan; a darkness that threatens places where one should least expect threats such as Canada, America, and Europe. It seems that humans are caught in an agitation of unconsciousness, the collective unconscious. This is what the photo signifies for me.
This photo was taken a few days ago on campus. I enjoy going to work and interacting with my students at the university here in ChangZhou. It is easy to be positive with the energy that the students bring to class. Add the colour of spring, and a bit of spring warmth, it becomes easy to see life through rose-coloured glasses.
As you are likely aware, I have been almost obsessed with the world and the Canadian situations in terms of power and politics. I need to step back and look at this obsession and see what it is trying to tell me. I do trust my inner voices that tell me what is right and wrong for me. There is much to do in terms of sorting through the feelings, the reactions in order to locate triggers and re-approach the political world with more balance. I guess that in this, it is not yet spring.
With the media shouting at fever pitch about all possible topics as if each is heralding the end of the world. it is almost impossible to sort it all out. I know that there isn’t a right side or a wrong side, but there are right and wrong actions for a collective’s security and sanity. I know when respect is intended and received. I also know hubris and disdain and greed and every sin possible for the individual and collective soul. The problem is to sort out my darkness from the collective darkness and move to act more consciously is hopes of allowing others to feel more hope and to feel loved and respected.