Archive for the ‘hero’s journey’ tag
Another day and another hike in the Canmore area was rewarded with another sighting of elk. I wasn’t able to get as close as I wanted as the river stood between us. I continue to be amazed at how lucky I am to see so many wild animals in so many places. I just happen to be in the right place at the right time, each time. Thinking more about this idea of being in the right place at the right time, I began to think again of my time along the Grande Randonnée 65 in southern France. And, these thoughts turned to the morning I woke in Le Puy en Velay, in the pre-dawn darkness before it was time to head to the Cathedral for the Pilgrim’s Blessing by the Bishop of Le Puy:
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I lay there in the dark knowing I couldn’t fall back asleep no matter how hard I tried. It was a perfect time to meditate. It’s strange how meditation became such an important part of my life. Of course there are all the benefits for the body, but it was the benefit to my inner self that drew me to meditation and held me there. It was one of the few times that I achieved anything that resembled being at peace with myself and the world. The outer world was more about chaos for me than it was about peace. At this point in my life, I didn’t know how to handle the unknown, the chaos and the uncertainty of anything and everything. Meditation helped me achieve some needed balance and it was teaching me the skills I needed to mentally survive in the chaos of my life.
“Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit.”
Wise words from Pema Chödrön; but for me, life hasn’t been much of a friend. I know that life is life, neither good nor bad, but still my mind remembers so much that I felt as “bad” as a youth. I still get caught off-centre and off-guard as the scenes replay themselves in my mind over and over again. As I continue meditating, I return again to these words and begin to allow the contrasting negative thoughts break apart and dissipate.
“Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic–this is the spiritual path.” (p. 10)
Eventually I stop thinking and I begin to relax with a shift of focus back to my breath.
I am continuing on with an idea that was presented in my last post, the idea of finding oneself unable to maintain control. About an hour after publishing the last post, while writing out the story of my pilgrimage in Southern France, I turned to Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart. I had taken the book with me on the pilgrimage and had taken opportunities to read little bits of it when I took rests along the trails I travelled. When I found the words I had underlined more than a month ago, I realised that the words belonged here as well for they spoke of the feeling and the state of being that had been uncovered.
“Each day we’re given many opportunities to open up or shut down. The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we cant handle whatever is happening, It’s too much. It’s gone too far. We feel bad about ourselves. There’s no way we can manipulate the situation to make ourselves come out looking good. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. Basically, life has just nailed us.” (Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 13)
‘Life has just nailed us’ is a good way to put it. Life has hit us on the head and pointed us to the ultimate truths about ourselves and the illusion of our being able to control our own shadow to the point of denying its existence. As I found out, and as others continue find out, the shadow has a way of eluding our control.
It’s all about control, the illusion that one can control not only oneself, but also others and nature. Parents attempt to control adult children when they haven’t mastered how to control themselves. Husbands and wives try to control, mould their partners into some vague inner model which can’t be explained or held constant. Any slippage in one’s personal control is blamed on others or some undefined vagary of life in general. At all costs, the fault has to lie outside of oneself. To be caught in this illusion leaves one a bitter, angry and frustrated person. It is only when life nails us to our own cross that we can find an opening out of the illusion so that we can enter into reality. Sadly, not many will walk through that opening, choosing instead to deny, deny, deny.
Three times I had taken the wrong path, the path marked with crosses that indicated I was not to follow this path if I was to stay on the true path. Three times I walked until someone stopped me to tell me that I had erred. Thankfully, I listened and retraced my steps. I guess I was ripe to listen, to accept that I was fallible and lost. After the third time, it was my turn to open myself to listening to the inner voices that I had long denied, voices that tried to tell me that all that I had buried in the darkness and shadows.
It was time for me to accept all the shadows that helped define the reality of who I was. I thank the universe, life, for nailing me to my own cross where I could be held still long enough for the truth of who I was emerge.
On the way home from visiting grandchildren in America, these two very large moose decided to cross the highway about a half-hour south of my home. The bull’s rack of antlers was just beginning to form. There are still a good variety and very good population numbers of wild animals on the Canadian prairies. The two moose passed in front of me, ignoring my presence though I was less than fifty metres away, two powerful and potentially dangerous beings.
Wild and free, or wild and contained. After having spent a good amount of time wandering up and down trails through the very old mountains of France, I had thought I had done the work necessary to set myself free of ghosts and shadows that had haunted me for much of my life. But, did I really set myself free or did I simply let down broken fences that kept the shadows and ghosts too close? As I walked the stone strewn trails, stumbling along clumsily, I thought at first I was outrunning the shadows, turning often to see if they were visible behind me on the trails. It was only when I was too exhausted, almost broken by the hills with my head bent down, thinking exhausted, that I gave up the great escape, the desperate flight from my ghosts and shadows. I had no energy left for holding the barriers in place.
A curious thing happened at that point. Rather than being overwhelmed and consumed by those shadows and ghosts that haunted me, nothing happened. At least that is what I experienced. I was still exhausted, too exhausted to fight back against shadows. I was ripe for takeover. But, nothing happened. There was nothing that would happen. With my self-imposed barbed wire and electrified fences disabled, I had set myself free of the prison that constrained me. The shadows and ghosts that pursued were not external villains and evil spectres, they were denied aspects of me.
I continued to walk, differently, over the trails that crossed small mountains and farmers’ fields and through villages and towns. The walking became easier as I had only physical pains reminding me to stay present on my own journey, a journey that had taken me home psychologically and geographically.
As the photo indicates, I am back in Canada, back home in Elrose, Saskatchewan. My walking pilgrimage has come to an end.
My pilgrimage began long before I left Canada in August. My motivation and need for this pilgrimage rose to the surface during my time in analysis. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I trusted my instincts. I knew that I had been “running” for way too many years, moving too much and too fast for any sane gypsy. I was running in my head, hoping somehow that I would be able to escape the contents of the unconscious that stubbornly refused to stay in it’s proper place hidden in the depths where it could be properly forgotten and denied. Analysis became a dance between analyst and analysand. I knew too much about the process and so the dance became more of a stalemate with neither one of us willing to give up the lead. That said, analysis did bring me more focus as I worked through dreams with my analyst. But deep down, I knew that I needed to do something that would finally break down my resistance and allow my psyche to emerge. Yet, I was afraid of what else might emerge. I knew that what was hidden and denied was filled with shadows, darkness, the source of my anxiety and fears. What I didn’t want to admit was the fact that there were other things hidden as well, enough things of the light, things that spoke to the positive of my existence. I intellectually knew all of this, but my fear simply scoffed at this intellectual knowledge.
As the idea of a pilgrimage began to gather strength, I began to have some hope that the walking would somehow break the bonds of my self-imposed prison in an inner darkness. For too long I had been dancing on the edges of black holes, daring the descent into madness. I was tired of it all; I was tired of seeing how my depression and silence was bringing grief to those whom I loved and who loved me as husband, father and grandfather. But of course, I had to disguise all of this with a story that I was walking to Santiago, Spain. I was heading out for adventure. I knew better, but it didn’t matter, I needed to tell myself this lie in order to find the courage to actually begin the process.
And so the walking has happened and something happened along the way. I began the walk as though I was being chased by demons, ghosts and unnameable dark shadows. I walked with fierce determination, always checking behind me to see if they were catching up to me. I walked and walked until my body demanded some relief. I ignored my body for the most part, and the physical pain increased to the point where the last part of each day’s walk were more about hobbling than walking with my feet on fire and my hips and knees begging for mercy. Yet, I refused to give in. I was on a mission.
And then one evening in a cathedral in southern France, I emotionally broke down and let the barriers fall. Another two days of walking, walking with my head up and smiling, I knew it was done. It was time to return home and rejoin my family which had spent the time I was in France as if they were in mourning. I knew that to walk further would only hurt them needlessly. The pilgrimage wasn’t about Santiago, it was about healing. It was time to go home.
I will continue to write from my journal, here. I will trace the physical journey and the journey of my psyche so that you can come to understand just how it all came about. It is good to be home and to be smiling.
It is our anniversary today. My partner in life, a woman who inspired me to propose the evening we met (yes, she accepted at that time) is close by my side as I prepare this post, looking at photos we have taken over the past week. I am in awe of this woman who somehow has found the strength to be strong as I prepare to make a very long journey, a pilgrimage in France and Spain. It would have been easy to give up the pilgrimage if she had not insisted that I follow my spirit. I know that over the next several months we will both have melt-downs simply because we are apart from each other. We have not done well being apart. Yet, this time apart has become important for both of us. Coming back together is the prize for being strong in terms of relationship. But an even greater prize is how both of us will have become “fuller” people in the process; stronger as individuals who choose to continue being life mates, heart mates.
Where will this dual journey take us? The answer is unknown; it is all about discovery as we both navigate each day separated from the other, forced to be fully connected to self. We will meet each day on an outer level as we pass the hours in a multitude of ways. But it is the inner journey that will likely prove to be the most difficult as we wrestle with loneliness and separation. I have no doubt that each day will see us both wondering what the hell we are doing apart from each other, especially at those times when we are most doubtful about ourselves. But then again, the fact that these journeys are about to begin is a testament in their own ways that we are both ready for these journeys.
When I began thinking about the pilgrimage and then planning it, I had thought that I was the only one going on a pilgrimage. Now, after the long preparation for the pilgrimage, I have learned that we are both going on journeys. That is one thing that is vital to understand. When you are in a relationship with another person, everything you do creates ripples for that other person. As I began to learn more about how this affected both of us, I became more aware of how it affected others around both of us – our children, our grandchildren, extended family, community friends . . . and the list will grow to include others that neither of us are as yet aware. And curiously, as we both see the affect on others, we find ourselves changing yet again due to the ripples of their changes.
And so I thank all who fill my life as I prepare to board a jet plane tomorrow to begin the physical pilgrimage where the journey is about placing one foot on the path and then taking another step and another step until I have reached Santiago de Compostela. I include you, my readers here in this thank you for your presence here is real and you are within the web of reciprocal change.
With just over a week remaining until my departure for Europe, I find myself doing a lot of thinking about too many things. In an effort to still the thinking I have resorted to finding all sorts of things to do such as digging out old berry bush roots, trimming hedges, and sorting through things that have been sorted too many times already; all without achieving much success at keeping the thinking at bay. Even my meditation sessions have been getting noisy. I guess it is to be expected as a journey into the unknown (spiritually and psychologically) will become an active, day-to-day process.
I have packed my travel items into the backpack and weighed it a number of times. I have about 15 pounds (7 kilograms) including the backpack as my target weight. So far, I have remained under that weight. I take out each piece to reconsider its necessity for the journey. Likely I am still packing too much even though I have room and weight to spare. And this focus on my backpack still doesn’t silence those voices beneath the layer of consciousness. Something else is stirring that wants to be heard.
Pretending I don’t hear, I turn to blog sites about the Camino or to the discussion forum for experience pilgrims and pilgrim wannabes. Then this morning, I picked up a book started long ago which has been lying on my shelves ignored. Why? I don’t ask why when I am drawn to a book. Rather, I just listen to what emerges.
”Death and hopelessness provide proper motivation – proper motivation for living an insightful, compassionate life.
When we talk about hopelessness and death, we’re talking about facing the facts. No escapism.
Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, to make friends with yourself, to not run away from yourself, to return to the bare bones, no matter what is going on. Fear of death is the background of the whole thing. It’s why we feel restless, why we panic, why there’s anxiety. But if we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship, one that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.” (Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, pp 44-45)
This is why I am embarking on a pilgrimage. I am giving up on expecting others, things, and activities to rescue me from myself. I am daring myself to face my ghosts, my dark holes, my shadows and perhaps learn to accept them and accept myself as I really am. No more chasing phantoms, no more quest for some sort of fame that would define me in acceptable ways. And to do this, I need to put myself in a place where I am alone and dependent upon my body, my spirit, my psyche and all of my warts.
In twelve days I will be sitting on a plane heading towards France and the thousand mile long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I will be doing the first leg, a short leg, in the city of Paris before taking the train to Le Puy en Velay where the process will begin in earnest. At this time, with less than two weeks to go, I find that all of my “stuff” is ready for the most part. But that is just “stuff,” the easy part to get ready. There really isn’t too much to ponder when it comes to socks, pants and tops and other long-hike essentials. The hard part is being ready psychologically and spiritually.
How does one leave a home and one’s soulmate for such an extended period of time? I find myself treasuring each moment with my wife, my house, my garden and the small things that make a life at home. For the most part, I have given up thinking of past and future and have been living in the moment. I guess I am learning how to see the world from a more Buddhist perspective.
But that said, I find myself returning to the computer at times, usually with the excuse of unsubscribing from those groups and businesses that somehow find a way to fill one’s e-mail mailbox. And while on the computer I find myself reading other blog sites of people who have gone before me taking the Le Puy route. And in those moments I am lost in some future following their words and my imagination. I could call it informational preparation, but it is more than that. And in those moments, I am anything but being present in the moment. Rather, I am like this tree stuck out on a point of land surrounded by water wondering where the path of my life has gone, as though I am in some dream searching for some directional marker to lead me back home.
I will be back again before I fly off into another time, place, space and existential moment.
Note: Here is a good look at the GR65 route from Le Puy en Velay to Saint Jacques Pied de Port. And here is the first of many maps that chart the journey. Just a reminder that the GR65 will take me to the start of the Camino Francés at Saint Jacques Pied de Port.
Sometimes words fail me. Sometimes words create an expectation that I fail to measure up to for one reason or other. For example, the intention to blog about the pilgrimage at a different blog site. I began to follow the intention and then it blew up within me. And so, I retreated into silence
As I mentioned a number of days ago, I will be posting here very little for the next while. I have built a second blog site which will be my “main” focus for this “time out” from Through a Jungian Lens. The new site is called It’s All About The Journey.
The blog site is no more. I lost the enthusiasm to continue even before I had walked my first step of the pilgrimage. And, I retreated into silence. My children and grandchildren have helped me fill the silence over the past two weeks, a good thing as I have this tendency to slip into dark holes when things fall apart on me, within me. Today, the last of my children and grandchildren begin their journey home. I was blessed with all being home at the same time and being able to celebrate that fact together.
It was a good time but it did have an edge of sadness as all knew that in a few weeks I would be gone, basically out of communication through regular channels while on my pilgrimage.
As I mentioned a number of days ago, I will be posting here very little for the next while. I have built a second blog site which will be my “main” focus for this “time out” from Through a Jungian Lens. The new site is called It’s All About The Journey. The time out at this site is being matched by a time out from the analytic process that I have been engaged in over the past five months in Calgary. The intensity of analysis since my arrival in Calgary has seen me do a full year of analysis, assuming one session per week. The time out has a definite purpose, that of re-entering daily life. During the time out I will find what has shifted in terms of contact with others, with relationships with others, as well as the relationship with myself. I am leaving Calgary and my little abode here to return to my home in Saskatchewan. I will be taking a good measure of myself at home while doing the necessary physical and spiritual preparations for a pilgrimage. I won’t be abandoning the psychological in the process, but I will be accenting the body and soul. The new blog site is where I will journal this time out. You can find the new blog site here.
I keep coming back to the image of the three moose I took almost two weeks ago and of the sighting of the three pronghorn antelopes less than an hour later – “What did their appearance really have for me as a message?” I have allowed this image to sit and stew within me in a deep background without “analyzing” it to death. What is emerging is the idea of body, mind and soul (heart). In this blog site, Through a Jungian Lens, I have been focused on the mind, the ego. I have been weighted in favour of the mind at the expense of my heart and of my body. That said, I am not abandoning Jungian Psychology, nor am I denying that my “Jungian filter” will somehow not influence the journey I am about to begin in life. When there is something that is particularly “Jungian” in orientation, I will post it here during my self-imposed time out – but likely that will be a rare instance. So from this point until my completion of my pilgrimage, I leave this place knowing that I will come back, come back home.
I have been reading various blogs about the Camino de Santiago with interest as someday I hope to make this journey a part of my journey. In one blog at About.Com, Damian Corrigan writes:
The Camino de Santiago, a 800km trek across northern Spain, is described by anyone who has taken it, considered taking it or met anyone who has taken it, as a Life Changing Experience (© anyone who has ever taken, considered taking or met anyone who has taken the Camino de Santiago). It is said that the combination of long-periods of solitude, combined with the diverse people that you meet, in such a beautiful setting as the Spanish countryside, will Change your Life. – Damian Corrigan
Well, having the idea of making this pilgrimage has been on my mind for a long time. Curiously it re-surfaced with the shift into midlife for me. I had been running for quite a while, road-running, taking part in marathons and other shorter races, when my feet gave out on me – heel spurs. What a time to “grounded,” so-to-speak. The dream of the camino was dismissed and I turned to a more sedentary heroic journey via Jungian psychology. This is a journey of the human psyche that is called individuation. I have been committed to this journey of transformation of the psyche hoping for miracles for almost twenty years.
At some point along the way, I came to realise that I was only doing things in half measures as I had discounted spirituality, an aspect of my integral self that had been present form very early childhood until life got in the way. Twenty-four years ago I was re-awakened to the spiritual centre within me as I sat in a cathedral in Avignon, France for Easter. With the shift to the psychological, I had found that meditation served as a healing balm. I then followed the idea of meditation to reach Buddhism.
Today, I have it all – time (retired), a bit of money (pension), a relatively fit body, a spiritual centre and a desire to walk in search of self-awareness. It appears that I have been on a pilgrim’s journey for a long, long time but not really aware that I was on that journey. The pilgrim’s journey begins when one takes the first step towards healing the soul, the heart.