Archive for the ‘identity’ tag
As I walk around the gated community in which I am residing while in Thailand, I noticed this barrier that is meant to separate and to protect the residents of the gated community from the darker forces on the other side of the “wall” that is topped with broken glass. I am on the inside of the community looking out, safe within the community.
But really, is one keeping the riff-raff out, or is one being kept in place by the riff-raff. Who is imprisoned?
The image could well be a representation of the ego building walls to keep out the personal and collective unconscious. This is what the ego does in order to build a sense of self. From the chaos of the whole one needs to carve out a small space in which to have a sense of self as separate from other. When the boundaries fall, the self gets lost in the whole. Yet, paradoxically, the whole is contained within the self – the personal and collective unconscious is within the barricaded protective areas unknown to the ego.
I took this photo in a cave on one of the islands in HaLong Bay, Vietnam. It is quite graphic and needs no interpretation on my part in terms of what it represents. It was likely the most photographed natural stone formation in the huge cavern that meandered through much of the mountain. Most stopped at this point in the large circle that wandered through various chambers and openings for a longer period of time than at all the other structures that were a photographer’s dream. The fascination was there. Many left the path in order to get the image from different angles. I noticed that women were also among those who stopped for a moment, especially if they carried a camera. As I looked over the gathered crowd taking photographs of the structure, I noticed that it wasn’t just the young adults who were present; also gathered and studying the structure were those who were well into midlife in not into old age. It made me wonder about the fascination with phallos, phallus, the phallic.
The title of today’s post is a variation of Eugene Monick’s book, Phallos: Sacred Image of the Masculine. My copy of this book is sitting on my bookshelf back in Canada, so I am borrowing from Google Books for today’s post. I bought this book a number of years ago, read it and then set it aside. For a while, I thought it might be just a “male” thing, this attention to the human penis. I thought that my interest in the image and the reality of the penis might be somehow an aberration, a signal that I have sex too much on my brain. But then I thought of the images of little boys “playing,” or should I say “discovering” their penis. It is there right in front of our eyes and somehow draws our attention to it over the years. Males are often both proud and ashamed of their penis. We hide the penis and pretend it doesn’t exist; yet at the same time we proudly want to flaunt it, especially for the female that has captured our attention.
This phallic structure was carved out of nature, by nature. The play of light on the structure is all of man’s work. Of course one would have to say that the forces of nature were not intentional in having this structure be phallic in appearance; it is simply an outcropping of stone that has formed over the years. The lights as seen in this image are intentional. But what was the intention? Was it a way to capitalize on the sexual curiousity of humans, a bit of sexual exploitation that would help keep the money rolling in from tourists? Or is there more to it than that? I can’t even begin to guess on the motivation or the intention, but I can see the results and the symbolism that emerges. In my opinion, there is more being said here of unconsciousness guiding consciousness. Religion, art in all forms, and relationships – all respond to phallos, either embracing or rejecting the masculine principle that it symbolizes.
Yet, though we find a way to celebrate phallos collectively in our advertising, in our buildings, in our art; there is a rejection of the physicalness of phallos. Who dares expose their penis in the modern world. Making the presence of the penis obvious via clothing choices is more symbolic of perversion in the public mind than symbolic of energy, virility and the masculine. So we hide the penis behind layers of cloth, the baggier the clothing, the better. And in the process, men become guilty and that guilt is passed down to the young men, the adolescents who become more and more confused about what it is to be a male.
So, am I a pervert, a dirty old man for finding this image and posting it here? Would it not be better to find a more neutral image? Is this simply the fretting of getting older and the fear of losing the energy and vitality of being a “man?”
I’ve chosen a different photo today, one that is decidedly more messy, more full of life. When I first came to China in August of 2006, I took a stroll down this street. The left side was much like the right side, jam-packed with small shops and apartments that hugged a narrow street, a stark contrast to the city area in which I live which has wide streets with boulevards filled with grass, roses and sculpted bushes. My first taste of street food was on this street in a little tarp-covered stall that sold noodle and dumpling soup to construction workers for the most part. It still remains, at least in this small section, a messy place bursting with life.
Understanding all of this “life” that I encounter in China is problematic for me, and probably everyone else as well. How can I really be expected to understand a foreign culture, let alone my own culture when I struggle with understanding myself. It is a rare person who can say with honesty that he or she truly understands him or her “self.”
“Understanding oneself is difficult enough; understanding others is their responsibility, if they are inclined to do so and have a mind for it. What one can know of another is just the tip of an iceberg; the far greater part of anyone’s personal identity is beyond the ken of an outsider. For that matter, those who have worked on themselves enough to be comfortable with who they are – as opposed to those arrogant souls who are simply narcissistic – do not need, nor do the ask, to be understood by others. I am what I am; take it or leave it..
The appropriate attitude for a long-term relationship is not understanding, but acceptance. Each accepts the other, to the extent one can, and makes no issue of the rest. This is not easy. It means accepting not only the loved one’s persona, but also his or her shadow and other complexes. It certainly requires empathy, but it also involves a mutual acknowledgement that one is responsible only for oneself.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, pp 74-75)
What I am learning to apply to my relationship with those I hold closest to me in my life, I am learning to use here in China as I build relationships with a country, a swirling mass of conflicting cultures, and the few individuals who see me and are willing to allow me into their orbit of relationships whether as friend, colleague, teacher or simply “laowai.”
I have chosen a different photo this morning, one that I just finished taking. As usual, I was up at 5:30 am just before sunrise. Believe it or not, others are up earlier as I can hear them on the street outside my window. For a change, there are no clouds in the sky and there is a definite shade of blue in the sky as the sun’s rays catch the edges of the tall buildings. There is something about dawn that brings a warm glow that travels deep within me.
As the light and the warmth make the journey inward, I get a better sense of who I am. Each ray seeks to illiminate, to make known what lies in the shadows. And I see my self exposed. This “self” is not the full self that I am, just the self that I know, my ego’s vision of self. Most of that knowledge of self is placed into a holder, the persona. Of course we all have a sense of “person.” We see ourselves as individuals with personality and identity that is unique. We tell ourselves that we are complete beings, basically understood by others. Yet, we rarely admit that we are still mysteries to ourselves. Persona is our sense of being a person, one among many.
“Jung describes the persona as an aspect of the collective psyche, which means there is nothing individual about it. It may feel individual – quite special and unique, in fact – but such designations as “struggling writer,” “father,” “teacher,” “doctor” and so on are on the one hand simply social identities, and on the other ideal images. They do not describe a particular person; they do not distinguish on doctor or father or teacher or writer from any other.” (Sharp,Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 41)
These words make me think about how I see myself, how I even describe myself. On Sunday I met a new classroom full of students for the first time. As always, I introduced myself to them before having them do the same in return. I used the words, father, teacher, writer, photographer, grandfather, husband and so on. I was deliberately using these words because of the universal images they invoke so that the differences between myself as an English-speaking Canadian, would be bridged by these images into their collective and individual consciousness as Chinese students. I thought I was telling them about myself as an individual when in truth I was placing myself in the collective, defining myself in collective terms.
Thankfully I can hear these words and realise that I have a long way to travel yet before I can truly say I know myself. For now, it is enough that I wake and again seek to become more conscious of the stuff within, the stuff of “self.” This morning’s early light makes me think of how each day there is an opportunity for me to become a bit more conscious as a human being. With “grace” I might be able to bring a little more light into the darkness within, to bring the hidden shadows forward to be recognised. It isn’t a one-day project for me, it is one that will last until my mind loses sense of “self.”
This is a grandmother that lives in our gated housing community of Sunshine Garden. She often is out walking with her young granddaughter. She remembered us from our previous two years in Sunshine Garden. Though there is a language barrier, the ability to communicate is good. She was as pleased to see us as we were to see her. There is something special in being remembered after an absence of two years. It tells me as it tells her that one wasn’t invisible.
The first time we met four years ago, this grandmother and I, I dared to stop and say “N? h?o.” As usual, I trusted to my intuition to risk bridging the gap between self and other, especially across cultural and racial divides. With that risk taken, since then, the ongoing limited dialogue has been about maintaining the relationship, an act that is rational. This wasn’t something that I “thought” about, it was something that “felt” right. I was acting on my feeling function, my auxiliary function.
“In practice, the auxiliary function is always one whose nature, rational or irrational, is different from the primary function.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 16)
Since my superior function (or primary function) is irrational, the function of intuition, my auxiliary function (or secondary function) must be rational. This actually makes sense when you logically study the possibilities. It is about balance. Following the two pairs of functions:
Rational: Thinking (objective) <—————–y2——0—————-y1——> Feeling (subjective)
Irrational: Sensing (objective) <——————x2—-0——————x1—-> Intuition (subjective)
It is easy to see which function is furthest from the zero (0) point, the function which is primary or superior. In this example, I am illustrating the relative positions of my superior, secondary, tertiary and inferior functions. The closer to zero, the less developed the function.
I hope that this illustration explains well enough that the two strongest functions will a combination of one rational function and one irrational function. It can’t be otherwise. And the pairing of these creates for some interesting ways of being in the world.
As usual, it is hard to pass by another iguana when walking with the camera. For me it was interesting to see how this iguana found in a tree was more intent on “going to ground” even though it was warm and sunny. Usually I see these iguanas making a place for themselves as close to the sun as possible so that they could bask in the warmth of that sun. And when the heat of the sun fades, the iguana heads back into the bowels of the earth in order to find warmth, a warmth of both the earth itself as well as that warmth which has been captured from the sun, stored in the darkness beneath.
I don’t think I am much different from an iguana at this point of my life. In the daylight I seek to capture as much sunlight and warmth as possible, a warmth that is reflected in my darkening skin. At night I retreat into an underworld, the world of dreams.
Night and day, consciousness and unconsciousness, soul and spirit, body and mind. These things are at the centre of my universe for the moment. I have no interest in the outer world for the most part at this time. The world is too chaotic with too much upheaval evident in society as well as with the planet itself. Does the planet’s condition reflect itself in the psyche of the collective? Or, is it the other way around?
“Great innovations never come from above; they come invariably from below, just as trees never grow from the sky downward, but upward from the earth. The upheaval of our world and the upheaval of our consciousness are one and the same. Everything has become relative and therefore doubtful.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)
There is little doubt in my mind that the arrival of midlife and the crises I faced in terms of identity, value, soul and relationships were upheavals that not only rocked my world but also the world of my family, my students and my community. Of course in the descent to the depths of my personal underworld I encountered all the sins visited upon me as well as those of my own commission. I needed to come face-to-face with these things that shamed me. One of the curious outcomes of this time of crisis was a flowering of sorts of my presence in the outer world of the community. I was able to contribute to two books in the field of second-language education, was elected to serve on the provincial executive for French Language Instruction as well as the Guidance and Counselling Association. I also managed to complete my Masters in Education. On the sidelines I painted, wrote poetry and owned and co-managed a Jungian On-line discussion group. Who said that crisis meant retreat? I do give credit to all of this to the opening of the gates which had been holding the unconscious contents at bay.
I didn’t become famous in any way, but I did become more present and active with the upheaval of the personal unconscious. Somehow I don’t think it always turns out well. I was lucky that I had some understanding of the human psyche at least an intellectual understanding. When the dam broke and the shit-filled contents started to swirl around, I was able to grab a few lifelines and point myself in the right direction. One of my brothers wasn’t so fortunate. When the dam broke for him, he broke.
Knowing that there is a collective psyche as well as a personal psyche, it does offer some hope that out of the current upheavals that are plaguing most of the world, something will be born, some idea, some process, some collective will. And with this innovation, we can collectively begin to heal our world and our place in it. Yet, I am wary. My brother also points to another darker end. And then I wonder if the Mayan end of times and the end of times according to Revelations drawing near?
It’s early morning as I write this and I am waiting for the coffee to perk, waiting for that first shot of caffiene. While waiting I thought I would go back through my archives of photos to see what I could post here, what would catch my eye. Almost immediately, this photo from India jumped out.
I took this photo under very poor light conditions as there was just the faint hint of light outside, just enough to see that some people were beginning to stir in the early morning. I was sitting in a train, in a sleeper car which had for some reason, stopped for an hour not too far from Varanasi.
These two girls are trying to get warm by burning plastic bags and other rubbish along the railroad tracks. I also saw others come near the train where they relieved themselves as though this was the public outhouse. This was definitely not tourist India.
I wonder what we look like when we drop persona? Would we look physically different? How we dress our bodies, how we hold our bodies, how we treat our bodies – all of this is wrapped up in our identity, our prime persona. But if we could get underneath all of that, what would we see?
The masculine. It has been a problem of identity for men since the dawn of history. The Mayans were very masculine, warriors, administrators, magicians and kings. One would think that these people had no issues with their masculine identity. But, the evidence says otherwise. On this figure found at Dzibilchaltun, the penis is pierced twice. And, it is doubtful that this was an attempt to decorate the penis. Sacred blood was drawn from the penis of Mayan kings as a blood offering in ritual worship.
And since the dawn of human time, the masculine, its power, its uncertainty, its sense of inferiority has been causing the individual and the world, grief. The personal and the collective. It has been difficult to grow from a child, born of a woman and nurtured by a woman, to find his way to manhood.
Defining self as man, as masculine, is an issue that seeps into relationships with women. Men see themselves reflected through the eyes of a woman. And through the eyes of a mother, the man remains a boy.
Noting this figure and finding that it had to be captured on the camera brings it home to me. I am a man, yet, what exactly is a man? An insecurity that is masked by a modern-world persona based on intuitive ideas, models and history. But, that isn’t enough, not for me.