Archive for the ‘I-thou’ tag
These are two of my students in one of my six different classes. I arrive at my classes early, a habit I developed from the first day of teaching thirty-seven years ago when I lived only steps away from my first school in a remote fishing village in northern Saskatchewan in Canada. As I wait for my students to arrive, I keep myself somewhat busy with the posting of the agenda for the day’s lesson on the board and with being visible. Unlike for students in Canada, as a foreigner (visibly foreign) I get a lot more attention, especially in the first part of the term. For many of my students I am the first foreigner that they have ever had as a teacher, or the first foreigner to whom they have had an opportunity to speak. In a way, this makes me a V.I.P. in their eyes. And as such, I often get students taking photos of me in the classroom. Just before I took this photo, the girl on the left had just taken a photo of me with her mobile phone. As she looked at the photo with her friend, she didn’t see me taking this photo.
I was left wondering, what does she see when she sees me as a teacher or in the moments when I am waiting to teach, waiting for all the students to take their places? Who does she see? The only thing I know is that I am seen and that I have caused a ripple through her life likely changing it in some manner that neither of us will ever know. Yet, regardless of that unknown, I do know that I have been present and acknowledged in that moment.
Writing this blog is not really much different than standing in font of a classroom and being a teacher. The photos I present and the thoughts that flow out of them mixed in with a somewhat vague resonance with Jungian ideas tell my readers, you a story of who I am, what I am, and even how I am. For the most part there is silence in the reading, your part, a silence that has its own communicative power. Regardless of conscious intention, once words are heard, something stirs within the unconscious and in the stirring change happens. And similarly, speaking the words knowing that someone hears them also creates ripples and ripples result in change.
As long as there is one reader for a blog, there is an I-Thou connection that works its magic. I know that there are a good number here who read this blog, silently for the most part. I am aware of your presence and am thankful for it. Your presence is visible in terms of blog statistics, a proof that I am not simply talking to myself. Of course there are those who comment and add their voice to mine in this space. It’s interesting to me how this individuation process is not a lonely process, but one that demands the participation of others.
I chose a different kind of photo for today’s post, one that serves a purpose in continuing my thoughts on relationships as well as for a bit of humour. First with the humour.
In China, when the weather is warm, males often bare their stomachs apparently in an effort to cool off. At the same time, they often rub their stomachs while they walk down the streets of their communities. From a western world standpoint, it is all very amusing. I am wondering if there isn’t some sort of macho advertising agenda that is consciously or unconsciously being acted out in terms of dominance, a “notice me” message.
“Notice me!” It seems that this is at the centre of much of our reaching out to others. For whatever reason, being noticed serves us as proof that we exist and that it isn’t all some strange nightmare. We need confirmation from others about who we are. I have to declare myself guilty of this. I catch myself saying things in gatherings and then looking to one or more others for confirmation, at least a silent, non-verbal agreement. It’s as though I don’t trust myself or give myself any authority to think and to say, needing approval. When others don’t disagree, one feels empowered, heard, perhaps even accepted. The silent question to another for confirmation serves a purpose, the silent answer that doesn’t refute whatever is being said or done is taken as acceptance, that one is noticed and approved.
One of the most powerful relationship dynamics I encountered as a youth involved no words. I was fifteen years old, en route to Ottawa from Winnipeg when the family stopped at a restaurant-cafe in a place called Nipigon, Ontario. In the cafe, I saw a girl about the same age as myself who also saw me. Our eyes confirmed that we actually saw each other, that both of us confirmed a real need to be seen. I was haunted, alone and lost in the events of a family fleeing to find a new place to live. I don’t know what her story was, but I did see the same haunted and lonely look in her eyes. It was an “I-Thou” moment. “Notice me! See me! Confirm me! Know me!”
An hour later with the family fed and the car filled with gas, the family journey continued, a journey that has no other memories. I was noticed and I knew that I was real. I met my “self” because of a relationship gained, then lost.
This is the scene I was greeted with as the car pulled into Chhong Kneas where I was to board the fast boat to Phnom Penh. The image of the rising sun was a welcome one and I wasted little time in taking too many photos, something that seems to be a growing problem. Since I began this journey through IndoChina three weeks ago, I have taken more than 9,000 photos. I have created a nightmare task for myself in trying to reduce the images to those that are “keepers.” The biggest problem is that I don’t yet know what to use as criteria to make the decision. I guess the best bet is to leave most of the images in the archives until “time” has worked within me as a sort of distillation process so that I can “see” more clearly. That said, this image has no worries about surviving the cut.
I can see why people in other cultures and even my own culture have found the sun to be so compelling. In the past few days leading up to the taking of this photo I had bee having vivid dreams that allowed very little rest. As I mentioned earlier, the bombardment of images on my psyche has left me exhausted and almost adrift. Since taking this image, I seem to have calmed down within so that last night I was finally able to sleep and wake up rested. It is as though, like the sun, I have ascended out of the underworld, a place of sensory and psychic overload, in order to find a bit more clarity in my life.
On the boat ride down Tonle Sap Lake, I talked with a young British man called James. The conversation was curious as it seemed to avoid all the typical tourist talk of sights seen and places visited. Rather, we talked of purpose and meaning, relationships and projections, and psychology. Part of our talk centred on the work of Viktor Frankle and Martin Buber. The meeting was definitely one of those precious “I-Thou” moments. Parting was made without parting words as they weren’t needed. The ripples of the meeting will work their magic for both of us for a long time. Interesting. It was as if I have woken up again, just like the sun has risen again.
Another butterfly, at least I think it is a butterfly, decided to sit still long enough for me to photograph it. This one definitely has a warm and fuzzy aspect to it. I recently had a comment added to my post on Buber’s I-Thou post, a post that talks about relationships – the relationships of I to it, of I to thou. I think I also once talked about the relationship that ancient aboriginal culture in North America between the individual and the rest of the universe, something viewed as alive though our modern culture reduces all to either animate or inanimate. This aboriginal approach to relationship is one that most fits with my relationship to the world. And so, I find it easy to have a relationship with a butterfly or a rock or a tree or another person. I just don’t expect these relationships to be all the same.
How do I explain this in a way that makes sense? First, it is about attitude. One begins with respect. That is easy for anyone who has ever been an avid gardener when it comes to the plants being nurtured, or a techie trying to get the equipment in his or her charge to enjoy a “healthy” lifespan. These “things” take on a certain level of animation as one works with them. It’s no different with me as I baby my camera. We all build relationships with things. We project “life” onto these things in psychological terms. But it is more than that.
I am not one who is well versed in scientific knowledge. However, I have come to understand that “all” that is, is composed of the same base material that exists in a state of perpetual movement. The same “stuff” that makes a table, is the same stuff that makes a smiling infant. A dried leaf contains the same elements as well. Even the air is built with these same components. I leave the naming of these smaller than small units to others with an interest in the field of study. For me, it is enough to grasp this simple fact. Why? Well, it frees me to continue holding the foundational idea that everything then becomes ONE – all that is and all that isn’t.
Jungian psychology does point the way to this concept as well. We begin with the ego, the locus of consciousness. As consciousness expands there is a separation of self from other and the world. And when one is conscious enough, one begins to see that such separation (individuation) paradoxically leads back to a unity of all in the SELF. This is, of course, just how I see and understand the world, the universe and my self.
In early spring, one of the first flowers in our garden is this little guy, a wild and free-spirited pansy. This particular plant caught my eye on a day that was dark and gray. For a moment I began to think that the pansy was animated, looking at me for recognition, daring me to look back and confirm the connection. Okay, I know, it is just a plant and it doesn’t have a sense of self-awareness or awareness of others. I do understand that this is simply my imagination running wild again – active imagination.
This idea of connection reminded me of Martin Buber’s work, I and Thou, where the “self” as identified as “I” and that this self stands in relation to the world in two ways with both a subjective and an objective attitude. Buber calls these two attitudes I-Thou and an I-It. I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, let alone an expert on Buber and his work. Still, I can speak of what I understand and where these thoughts lead me in terms of understanding relationships such as my relationship to this pansy which for a moment in my head, became a holder of my projections.
“The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being.” (Buber, I and Thou, p. 54)
As I understand it, for Buber there is no “self” that exists without an “other.” Now this does make sense to me in a way as I do understand how my sense of self grows out of unconsciousness. And I do understand, how my personal unconscious is encased in a larger collective unconsciousness. I understand how over time I come to differentiate myself from other in order to get a sense of “I.” And, I can understand how the relationship to other is framed within me as either as a subjective or objective relationship, a “you/thou” relationship or an “it” relationship. The “it” relationship has nothing to do with whether or not the object is a living person or a thing. It is all about attitude, my attitude.
Buber talks about how attitude can shift from an “it” relationship to a “you” relationship, even in terms of a tree:
“But it can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. ” (p. 58)
This might sound like foolish talk but it is a way of thinking that was accepted by most older cultures and still can be found among some of today’s aboriginal peoples in a number of countries. The shift from objective to subject is only achieved when one can get past the skin and enter into depth. For example, a stranger is an “it” for most of us. Becoming acquaintances does not alter our objective attitude toward this stranger who becomes an acquaintance. As indicated by Buber, it takes more than contact to shift the attitude. It takes a will combined with grace to achieve this. It takes reciprocity for this shift of attitude between two people.
In my experiences, I find that this reciprocity in my face-to-face world only comes when I can see into the eyes of an “other” and that “other” looks back into my eyes confirming for both of us the real presence of each other. At that moment, the shift from an I-It relationship to an I-Thou relationship has happened. In this cyberspace world, I get the sense that we can have an “I-Thou” relationship because reciprocity is possible, only not through the eyes – it must come from the words in which we sense we are heard and are hearing the “other.” A few final words from Buber:
“One should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity.” (p. 58)
Now, can I say that there is reciprocity in my relationship with this pansy? Only in terms of becoming aware of a relationship that says that we are connected in universal terms, each being a part of the whole.
Photos are about telling stories. It is easy to make up stories when looking at certain images. One is drawn into the image. One almost senses an intuitive knowledge of the scene, of the story. This is a face of the collective unconscious presenting itself.
I took this photo in Jaipur, also known as the Pink City. I took a number of photos of this man as I passed him twice on my wandering through the older central part of the city. The first time I saw him he was begging in a half-hearted way as though it was too much work to do otherwise. A walk through the area the next day I saw him twice; first slowly walking along occasionally holding out his hand while begging for a handout, then in this scene savouring a minimeal obained from a street vendor. He knew I was taking photos of him. I was kind of hard to miss being the only white guy in view and packing my camera as is normal for me when travelling. When I finished taking a set of photos, I went to the same vendor and bought a similar minimeal which I ate there, near him.
Then, ready to leave, I thanked him. Strange, he never asked me for money, something I expected. For him, I would have easily parted with some money. But, I didn’t give him any money. Somehow, I thought that he preferred to be seen by me as a man, not a beggar. It was one of those “I-Thou” moments that Martin Buber wrote about so long ago. Needless to say, I won’t be forgetting this man who so briefly, yet so powerfully, touched my life.
Another photo from India, this time from Jaisalmer. Actually, the photo was taken just outside of the city at a cenotaph. It was January, 2008 in the late afternoon when the sunlight was accentuating the golden colour of the sandstone used to build most of the buildings in Jaisalmer which led to the city being called the Golden City. Besides the ornate memorials, there were a number of small piles of rock marked with a single stick, often with a red rag attached which indicated where ashes had been interred. The urn above is a symbol of sacred containment, a feminine symbol.
The psychoanalytic/psychotherapeutic encounter is also a place of sacred containnment. The dialogues between other and self in the pyschoanalytic/ psychotherapeutic container are held as sacred, not the stuff of common communication. There would be no purpose is taking the contents out of the container with the intention of engaging others in a dialogue about the contents as context would not be present. By context, I mean the tension of the moment being shared in the psychoanalytic encounter. For me, this carries on to most of my interactions with others. I have learned to keep my counsel. The sacred containment, temenos, of authentic “I-Thou” interactions prevents contamination. Translated, when dealing with the psyche of others, keep it confidential. It’s more than about therapist ethics.