Archive for the ‘gods’ tag
One of the hardest things that I am forced to confront about my ego self is a tendency to be stubborn and hold onto things and ideas as if they were carved in concrete. Growing older, my body is telling me just how absurd this is.
“. . . there is a widespread notion that the ancient Gods can provide models of identity and sexuality for boys and men, while the Goddesses provide such models for women and girls. The origins of the notion are obvious: the Gods are felt to be masculine archetypal essences that have a bearing on males, while the Goddesses represent feminine styles appropriate for women. However, this simple equation is mistaken, mainly because the Gods and Goddesses represent metaphorical possibilities within the human psyche, and cannot be neatly parcelled out to this or that gender. The masculinity of the Gods and the femininity of the Goddesses must not be equated with the maleness of men and the femaleness of women. To make such an equation is to engage in concrete or literal thinking . . .” [Tacey, Remaking Men, p. 22]
As I grow older, I am engaging more in the feminine aspects of who I am under my skin that is lined with wrinkles and creases that accumulate as I age. It isn’t so easy for me to maintain the certainty of my masculinity though there is no disputing my maleness. It wasn’t that long ago that I truly did look only to the ancient Gods in my attempts to understand my self. Thanks to all the Gods and Goddesses for waking me up and coming to understand that all of you are buried somewhere in the shadowy spaces within my psyche
I am in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) after a thirteen hour flight and the associated waiting hours in Shanghai and the arrival time spend at the Toronto airport. All of the baggage made it through safely – and I don’t mean that the baggage was limited to physical bags, but also include the psychological baggage (attempt at humour). It is good to be back in Canada and I can “feel” the difference that comes with being in community rather than in being “un étranger” or “laowai” or “farang” or “gringo.” Here I become more invisible, more anonymous and with that anonymity, freer in a way. It is easier to just “be” rather than to have to hold to a foreigner persona.
As I wrote that last sentence, I realise that even though I am home in Canada, I am un étranger regardless. We all are strangers even within our own families and communities, even if we have never left our home communities. In truth, we are strangers to ourselves. Our families and our communities simply place the mystery of who we are, in context.
The journey of individuation is rather interesting. We begin at a point of time when we think we know who we are, a self that has carved out a place and identity based on career, family, possessions, experiences and relationships. At the moment in time when we wake up to the fact that the sense of identity, the sense of self that we have created is nothing but a fragile mask and costume, the real journey begins, a journey of self-discovery. I think most of us come to this point in our lives, see the dark hole and run screaming back into what we think is a safe place, sitting within the costume and investing all of our energies in maintaining the disguise hoping that no one looks to closely, especially ourselves. Energy is spent holding back that dark hole and in shoring up the personae that have become the public faces of who we are.
But, for some, the darkness is too powerful to hold back and we have no choice but to confront that darkness of disappear into a nothingness in terms of “self.” For me, this journey of awakening to a deeper and fuller sense of self has been understood by myself as an “Odyssey.” Like Odysseus, I wander through all sorts of trials, troubles, storms and temptation in order to find the centre of my own being, a glimpse of who I really am beneath all of the personae I live in the outer world of family and community. In the real world I have been travelling from country to country so much that I almost feel totally out of sync with the world. My body doesn’t have a sense of “time” anymore because of the constant shifting of time zones and the disorientation that comes with jet lag. Reality shifted to something within me, not something outside of me. I came face-to-face with the shadows, the gods and goddesses of this inner world that have haunted my outer world sense of presence.
Like this image of Odysseus, I am engaging in a battle with these gods and goddesses, not a battle that sees one defeated, but rather sees “me” become conscious of who I am because I dared these battles. There are no weapons or any armor that will help me other than what I can find within me and perhaps a talisman to carry in my hand on this journey.
Ta Promh has gifted me with more photos than I can ever use, as well as a life experience that I will never forget as long as I remain a conscious being. In this photo, a tree rises from the ruins of Ta Promh. The seed that became this tree belonged to the world of possibility. The possibility of life is the greatest mystery. Mystery is one way that I sense the spiritual, the existence of something that humans have given the name, God. As I look at this expression of mystery, I see two faces, one of creation and one of destruction, one of light and one of shadow.
“When we speak of “the gods” we are speaking metaphorically, as befits any approach to the mysterium tremendum, the great mystery. The gods are our personifications, please recall, the constructs of our limited intellects, which point toward the energies which run the cosmos and course through our being. So if one is “depressed,” then our being is not consonant with the intention of the gods. The gods may very well take us anywhere they damn well wish, of course, including depression as a steady state. But when we examine the psychodynamics, that is, the dynamics of the soul, we discern that depression is the expression of an energy transcendent to the ego’s choices, albeit felt as an oppression.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 104)
What is is that resonates for me and others in the presence of mysterium tremendum? Well it is that aspect of self that is the soul. I know the soul is there. here and in all that is me. I am a biological being, but the body is just the container, not the essence of who I am. Whatever it is that is the self is more that the body. Yet, the body has its role, its purpose in the life of the soul. As I come to realise this, I begin to understand better my purpose.
This understanding isn’t an intellectual understanding. My mind resists the fuzziness of soul, of this mysterium tremendum. My mind wants it all to be straightforward, provable to mind analytical mind, verifiable by my physical senses. As I resist the shadow and run into obstacles, my mind is taught a lesson and is reminded that I need to attend to ALL that floods my consciousness, even the stuff that only appears at the edge of consciousness, the numinous stuff. I resist too hard and find out that I don’t really have all the self-control that I think I have. The message is clear. I am not in this alone and I am part of a whole.
A second photo from the series taken at Ta Promh, a group of buildings and temples near Angkor Wat, shoes how trees have wrapped themselves around doors, walls and windows of one of the temple structures. I took the photo in the late afternoon, a time when light coats everything with a sheen of gold. Though the scene is one of abandonment and decay, there remains a strong sense of what was in place in the times before abandonment. There is a feel of almost holiness as if this was a once-upon-a-time favoured place of the gods.
As I look at the photo, I almost sense a heaviness, a depression. Yes, this is a holy place, but the intent of ego which was responsible for building the temple has been overthrown. The gods have responded to the ego and not in the expected manner. As Hollis would explain it, “the ego’s agenda is overthrown” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 109). What is it that overthrows the intentions of ego, the plans of men and women? Listen to Carl Jung’s thoughts on this matter:
“I know of the existence of God-images in general and in particular. I know it is a matter of a universal experience and, in so far as I am no exception, I know that I have such experience also, which I call God. It is the experience of my will over against another and very often stronger will, crossing my path often with seemingly disastrous results, putting strange ideas into my head and maneuvering my fate sometimes into most undesirable corners or giving it unexpected favorable twists, outside my knowledge and intention.” (Jung, Letters, vol. 2, pp 522-523)
God then is a personal god, one with which one battles. One knows that this god is present and has a presence that transcends all that one knows. Yet this personal god with whom one wrestles is also bigger than just a personal god for one person. This transcendent otherness is also engaging others and in found in places and within images. One knows this presence through some aspect of self and consciousness that is found only on the edges, a numinosity.
This image holds that sense of numinosity for me. This was a place for the gods, and curiously the photo “glows” pointing back to the gods that have transcended the time and place. And what is left becomes a temple that points to a God transcended, not a god tamed by man, contained by man’s stonework.
Yes, Starbucks in found in Changzhou. I know of two different Starbucks locations in this city of three and a half million people. Joining Starbucks are other corporate entities that no-no-borders such as Macdonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut, and KFC. There is no question in my mind that the powers behind the scenes are now visible through these outlets. It has stopped being about nation versus nation, about one political belief system versus yet another system. The real Power is Prosperity, Progress, and Pleasure.
“The loss of relationship to the invisible powers makes the visible powers all the more powerful. We have corporate moguls running government, as deceitfully as they ran corporations . . .” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 99)
It isn’t as though we “want” to be ruled by these power brokers, to be ruled by others who have no agenda other than being on top, holding as much power as can be held. The election of Obama as the president of the United States of America was watched by people all over the world, people who saw this event as belonging to them as well. Perhaps an individual with a vision could recapture a sense of humanity, could take back the power lost. But, like all the other leaders, he is a man that is constrained and contained, essentially powerless. His advisors have advisors, and the advice doesn’t advance the will and the needs and the dreams of people who have chosen him as their leader. What has been delivered in the U.S.A. and all western world democracies and the up and coming countries such as China is something different.
“. . . the spectacle of modern social and political interaction is little more than the exercise of the old will to power serving contemporary neuroses. The outcome is no longer in doubt. We end in neuroses, in addictions, power and displays of enthusiasm, banality, diversions of increasing urgency, and more and more loneliness. The gods have hardly departed; they have simply gone underground and reappear as wounds, as inflations, as pathologies. Our contemporary suffering is not tragic, for we wrestle not with gods; rather it is pathetic, the suffering which is unconscious and invariably victimizing of self and others.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 99)
Choose any location you want in today’s modern world and look carefully. Consciousness is not much in evidence. The events in the U.S.A. defy common sense, the lack of ethical behaviour in Canada’s leadership are two examples in a world that has lost its moral compass. With the loss of the gods, the vacuum has been filled with greed and the other deadly sins. The call to fundamentalist religions does not hold the answer, for they too are more about remaining as unconscious as possible.
This is an early December photo from Hong Mei Gong Yuan (Red Plum Park) in Changzhou. This is a beautiful setting suitable for any god or goddess.
“We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal spectres, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed by autonomous as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders of the brains of politicians and journalists who unwillingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.” (Jung, Cw 13, par. 54)
“The gods have become diseases” . . . I guess that about sums it up. These words were written quite some time ago, yet it is as if C.G. Jung is looking at today’s world and events with these words. These words trigger a series of thoughts within me. What a statement to make, “the gods have become diseases”!
Or, could one say that those who re-discover the gods are themselves suffering from disease (dis-ease)? What it took for me to find a place for the idea of the gods, a recognition of the spiritual centre within “self” was a”breakdown” that allowed me to take “sick leave” for “treatment.” I had to be broken before I would allow myself time to think and feel again. Strange how midlife crises have become a dividing line between life externalised and life that includes “Self.” How many, like myself, have embraced a spiritual centre with the crisis of midlife bringing them to a halt in the outer world? I know that many have ignored the call to an inner self and respond to the crisis of midlife with affairs, new toys, fundamentalist adherence to some religion or political belief.
These words of Jung’s open up a huge world of questions for me. I will need to take time to think about these words a lot more if I am ever to find a way to express my response to them in some meaningful way.
I took this lotus photo not too long ago in the village of XueJia which is part of Changzhou. The photo has so many sharply defined elements, yet the lotus flower itself is “fuzzy.” However, rather than throw out the photo, I saw potential in it for an idea, the idea of “numen.” Somewhere within our depths, there is an urge to transcendence. We can sense this urge, but we can’t wrap our minds around it in order to claim this wholeness, this holiness, as being “self.”
This lotus flower is obviously there, but it is refusing to be seen fully even though all around it is in crystal clear focus. Within the psyche, one senses the existence of a self that is bigger and better than the self that we claim as “I.” Refusing to believe that this presence is part of the self, humans have invented external gods and goddesses to account for the presence. With the creation of external divinity, one then claims an omniscient power of this deity to wander at will into our very being, either to torture our soul or to bestow grace.
But, there are a few, perhaps too few, who examine the evidence of nature and arrive at the realisation that religions, with their various faces of gods and goddesses, are exercises in burying one’s head in the sand refusing to accept that the seat of spirit is within in the individual psyche. With that dawning awareness, there comes an obligation to then live accordingly with that spirit. To deny the spirit within is self-destructive when one chooses to return to a meaningless existence.
“The unconscious has a thousand ways of snuffing out a meaningless existence.” (Jung, CW 14, par. 675)
A few days ago I took this photo from in front of the villa in Costa Rica, a morning photo which allowed me to capture detail of the moon. This is one of the problems with this camera that I am using, the weakness in being able to control shutter speed and light. I much preferred my old SLR that forced me to make all kinds of choices. I am seriously looking at getting a better camera that allows me more options. All of that aside, I am satisfied with this photo of the moon.
In the night, there is something that draws me upward and inward with the appearance of the moon. There is little question that the moon symbolizes a sense of spiritualism. In the light of day, the outer world is too vivid and the world becomes more object than subject. In the darkness, the world fades into a faintness at the edges of vision and is replaced by a shadows and possibilities.
“. . . when we speak of the spiritual problem of modern man we are speaking of things that are barely visible of the most intimate and fragile things, of flowers that open only in the night. In daylight everything is clear and tangible, but the night lasts as long as the day, and we live in the nighttime also. There are people who have bad dreams which even spoil their days for them. And for many people the day’s life is such a bad dream that they long for the night when the spirit awakes. I believe that there are nowadays a great many such people, and this is why I also mantain that the spiritual problem of modern man is much as I have presented it.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)
Dreams, and the visits of archetypal presences to the self ripe through sleep, a self perhaps ready to experience and grow through interaction with the archetypal presences; both belong to the night. It is easy to understand how this night which allows us to touch the faces of the gods and goddesses within, becomes a time of wholeness, a time of holiness. But like all things, the night is two-faced. For at night, the time of spirit, is also the place where darkness and death seem to be present in equal measure. Balance. One cannot have a god without a satan. One cannot have day without night. One cannot have night without day.
My problem, the problem faced by all who dare to look at the problem, is finding how to honour the polarities and find a place for myself in the middle.
The nose of Chaac, the Rain God. Ascending alongside the central staircase of the Magician’s Pyramid on both sides are faces of Chaac, each face contains an elephantine nose similar to the one found on the ground here. There are twelve such Chaac figures on each side. A thirteenth Chaac figure sits above the temple entrance. Thirteen being the number of levels in the Mayan heaven. The Chaac nose both receives the rain and distributes the rain (metaphorically) which comes from the Rain God.
Curious how such symbols of power between men and gods also can serve as ‘keys’ to one’s own inner world. When viewed as a key, the image makes ‘sense’. Water, the source of life speaks of the vast unconsciousness of humankind and of the container that holds us. At the same time as being a key, it also can serve as a ‘hook’. It even looks like a hook. And this is the danger when approaching the unconscious. Does one get hooked like a fish at sea and thus drown in the depths never to return to consciousness? Intentional descents are safer, especially with a guide, unintentional descents result in madness. Jung studied those lost in this madness to discover some of the territory of the unconscious. Choosing a descent? Not too likely. However, the pain of being present in the world without having the anchor of ‘meaning’ is often the stimulus to risk descents into the swampland, the dark sea of one’s unconscious aspects.