Archive for the ‘inner self’ tag
As most of my readers already know, the process that I use here is primarily that of active imagination. In each post I select a photo and then sit quiet and wait for something to emerge. I don’t worry about factual or objective reality as what I perceive as factual or objective from the perspective of the ego is quite limited in terms of the totality of who I am, of the self. Why do I do this? In my opinion, it is to allow ideas, feelings, and energy to rise up from the depths within myself thus allowing me to expand my own understanding of myself. As things, ideas, feelings, and energy rise up I am faced with recognizing this material and considering it in relation to what I already know of my self and thus engage in the process of change or transformation as Jung would put it. Here are a few words from Jung about the process:
“… transformation is the aim of the analysis of the unconscious. If there is no transformation, it means that the determining influence of the unconscious is unabated, and that it will in some cases persist in maintaining neurotic symptoms in spite of all of our analysis and all of our understanding.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 342)
In other words, the process of active imagination is not to produce works of art, poetry, music or theatre, but to allow the human psyche to grow or individuate. When I have worked with my clients on issues that have brought them to me for therapy, they have all come with the idea of having something change because the status quo wasn’t working out for them. The use of various therapeutic models by any therapist is intended to assist the client in making the change. It sounds simple but it doesn’t quite work the way we would like as either clients or therapists because often the client doesn’t know what really needs changing. This is where the use of active imagination can help both the therapist and the client as it often points to otherwise hidden issues, foundational issues. More from Jung:
“… it is a question of releasing unconscious processes and letting them come into the conscious mind in the form of fantasies. We can try our hand at interpreting these fantasies if we like. In many cases it may be quite important for the patient to have some idea of the meaning of the fantasies produced. But it is of vital importance that he should experience them to the full and, in so far as intellectual understanding belongs to the totality of experience, also understand them. Yet, I would not give priority to understanding.“ (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 342)
These final words are vitally important, the experience is vital and understanding is secondary. Why? Transformational change is not always a product of the work of the ego. Sometimes it is simply a matter of adding elements to the stew which serve as a catalyst for movement from the unconscious to the conscious.
Now, you may have noticed that I didn’t reflect on the photo above. Atypically, I am going to refrain from doing so. Rather, I am inviting each of you to allow active imagination to work within you via this image. And, if you are brave enough you could share your resonance via active imagination here in the comment section. The reflection/resonance can be as long or as short as you want it to be in posting it here. Or perhaps a reflection on what you felt or learned about using the process of active imagination. I invite your words with true interest in what you and your unconscious have to say.
A few days ago I was in downtown Toronto and got this photo from within the sports centre which plays home for the Toronto Blue Jays (baseball) and the Toronto Argonauts (football). I like to pretend with others that I am an avid fan of sports, especially hockey. But the truth is I find it hard to be more than just slightly interested, just enough so that I can find something to talk about with others who don’t otherwise share any other interests. Sports is a diversion, something that fills in spaces of time and provides an opening to relationship with others. Knowing that sports will be the ice-breaker in most situations, I make the effort to stay informed.
I am finding that the hardest part of my journey is that of relationships with others. I love being on the sidelines as it provides me with the excuse that it is my choice to engage or not engage with others. But the truth is that I feel awkward and don’t know what to say. When I do open my mouth it is only to find that others aren’t really listening to my words as they are facing the same struggle of what to say. So many of us are feeling trapped within our own heads and don’t know how to be authentic with others. What do we talk about, what can we say? So, like so many, I retreat into pleasantries about the weather and sports. Once I get to “know” these others I dare to talk about more, perhaps about world events in general terms. But mostly, I listen and smile.
I have my passions that make me soar as the jet in this photo. Photography is one of my passions as is Jungian psychology, something that is quite evident here. I am also passionate about politics in the sense that I am upset with how governments in my country and other countries are so disconnected from their own citizens. Collectively we have so much education, so many good ideas, so much wisdom when it comes to being good citizens of planet earth. Yet, we ignore all that we know and focus on power and political survival at all costs. I am also passionate about being in nature and a part of nature, a natural man with the feeling of the sun warming not only my skin, but my inner spirit. But how do I talk with others about these passions? I try but often my passion becomes too much for those who listen; it’s as though they feel overwhelmed by a tidal wave of passion as I soar with my words that have been ignited by some small opening.
Eventually I return to earth and see the glazed looks and retreat into a safer world of pleasantries much to their relief.
I took this photo a year ago, or I should say, a photo of the same scene. Last year it was an abandoned church, this year the church has caved in leaving a lot of wreckage. Nothing, it seems is permanent.
Symbolically, the church figures in my youth where I grew up as a Catholic who made sporadic visits to church with an extended Catholic family. There really wasn’t a sense of piousness in the family. Rather, it was more about routine, convenience and bits of superstition. If there was anything more interesting or compelling to do, church was banished. I did get to be an altar boy briefly in one of the many communities that were home in my youth. All of that said, I did feel I was a spiritual person and that I might one day become a priest. But, the foundation was weak, and that made a difference.
Today, I don’t consider myself a Catholic. I haven’t replaced that church with any other church, Christian or non-Christian. However, I do think that somehow I am a more spiritual person in spite of the fact that I don’t have a church anymore. Perhaps, like the church in the photography, the exterior church must crumble in order for a spiritual inner centre to become the true seat of what it is to be a spiritual person.
This image was taken at Jaco Bay in Costa Rica in January 2010. While in Costa Rica, sunset photos became a frequent activity with an occasional photo pf myself making it into some of the photos. I chose this photo in order to continue on with the theme of naturalism, being whole in one’s own skin. As I write, I do understand that many in the world do not see the naked body as a moral issue as it is understood in the North American collective. Naturalists exist in both Canada and the U.S.A. and have gathered together at private campsites, private resorts or isolated beaches. North American society grudgingly gives in to these isolated pockets while maintaining as much pressure as they can to push the fundamentalist, Victorian ideology/morality as far as they can in terms of public freedoms. Strange for me how the focus in on having citizens keep their clothes on rather than real issues of sexual exploitation and violence.
I am a naturalist in a quiet and private manner. Of course that means that I pick and choose times for liberation from my clothing, at least finding sleep as a time, space and place for being natural. Interesting to me that I honour this with the belief that in doing so, I allow the portal to the dream world to be as transparent as possible with the idea that in putting my body fully at ease, I am more receptive to whatever is attempting to be heard.
In doing my research for this post (and yesterday’s, I cam across a few interesting thoughts that I would like to bring forward here. The first is from Walt Whitman, taken from his work, Specimen Days. I have just quoted a few of the words from this section (133) called A Sun-bath – Nakedness:
“Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me… Nature was naked, and I was also… Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! – ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.” (Whitman, Specimen Days, “A Sun-Bath – Nakedness,” 1892
Another one of my early influences on a number of different levels was Henry David Thoreau who wrote a three part essay called walking (available now in various ebook formats from the Gutenberg project) written in 1861 from which he offers his thoughts on being “natural”:
“We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.” (Thoreau, Walking, 1861)
I know that I have found peace in nature, especially when clothing is set aside for a brief time. I have found this peace in lakes and in gentle pools along various rivers, walking through a Yucatan estuary, on protected areas along seashores, in isolated fields and meadows and while walking down remote trails in the wilderness. This is not about social activity or about sexual gratification. This is about being honest with oneself, stripping away yet one more mask and exposing all the flaws so that they can be accepted as natural aspects of self rather than as deficits.
This photo was taken in Toronto, Ontario, Canada earlier this month. This young woman caught my eye for a brief moment, just long enough for the camera to grab this one image. I can see a carefully crafted look in her hair style and her wardrobe, a statement of her uniqueness, her individuality in a world of apparent conformity. But upon a closer look, especially at her eyes, the lie is evident. She is lost, buying into a counter-culture statement as she rejects one collective for another. It is all about masks.
Masks conceal, somewhat, the individual from the group. That concealment is often about fear, about subterfuge, about hiding one’s self from the collective in an attempt to protect one’s self. We don’t want to expose our personal weaknesses.
However, somewhere along the way, we buy into the disguises, the masks and start to believe that we are the masks that we wear. We deny the inner so vehemently that we become convinced that it doesn’t exist, that what you see is what you get. And so the disguises become more elaborate, more “unique.”
A person invests tremendous amounts of energy into maintaining the fiction of the disguise. My disguise for so many years was that of “Teacher.” Being a teacher became more than an occupation, a way to feed my growing family; it became a way to see myself in the community. I knew that beneath the teacher layer was something messy and dark that would isolate me from community if it ever emerged. The work of building a concrete bunker around my inner self became a dedicated task. Eventually, the work continued unconsciously and I lost sight of my “self” and embraced the identity I had crafted, that of “teacher.”
The crafting of a persona of a teacher, or of almost any role, is necessary in community for a variety of reasons, almost all of them good reasons. The persona is just an interactive side of the self which we use to enable connection with others. The persona is not supposed to be about denying our inner self. One needs to remember that beneath the persona, a fuller person exists. It took a midlife crisis for me to remember the person beneath the persona.
I am still a teacher even though I have officially retired, a caretaker and nurturer. I still use this persona as a way to meet others in this world. But now I know that this is just one part of who I am. There is little conflict between the various personae that I use in my connections with others as I know I am none of the assorted cast of characters that I call upon in various situations, groups and cultures. I have finally learned that the real individual lies beneath the surface and that the surface is just that, a surface.
This stupa sitting on the top of an artificial hill in Phnom Penh is interesting in that it is a masculine symbol in honour of the feminine. The story goes that the original temple was built in the late 1300′s by a woman called Dahn Penh, the person from whom the city takes its present name. The feminine is contained within the masculine. The outer is masculine and the inner is feminine.
I am finally back in Canada staying for a few more days at my son’s home before flying off to my home in the west-central part of Canada where I will be met by one of my daughters and her children. The world of being a foreigner, a laowai, has been “disappeared.” As I move around the streets and through the communities, I am less visible in comparison. The barriers of communication in signs, in voices and in culture are gone. In their place are different barriers more interpersonal rather than intercultural.
And in looking at it more closely, I find that it is more about myself than it is about others. If anything, I become quieter in my dialogue with the inner self. It is as though I have built a stupa to contain the inner self, my soul, so that it doesn’t intrude on my time with my son’s family and my youngest grandson. I am not sure how this will impact on my writing here for the next week or two. Time will tell and I ask you, my readers, to have patience with this for the next few weeks until I find myself at “ease” again, when I unlock the container that safeguards the inner self.
This is a detail from one of the buildings found in the Imperial Palace of Hué, Vietnam, an imitation palace of Beijing’s Forbidden City. I have to say that the idea of a “Forbidden City” is one that is very intriguing and very apt when one thinks of the “self.” The forbidden city in Hué is much smaller than the one in Beijing. I am fortunate to have been able to wander through both of these palace grounds. Needless to say I was not able to see everything in either place with many areas marked as off limits to the public. The doors were locked tight and the windows were boarded up with decorative shutters keeping the contents “in the dark.” One begins to wonder if the idea is to keep outsiders away or to “contain” the shadows within the darkened buildings and rooms.
Hiding places within, places where we keep our secrets. And being human, over time we almost forget the secrets are there and forget how to unlock the barricaded spaces. It comes as a rude shock to ourselves and those around us when somehow the contents long barricaded away in the shadows find a way to ooze out, usually at the most inopportune time where it causes us no end of grief, embarrassment and shame. We get to see a lot of this now because of the social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and My Space. Twitter has “exposed” shadow stuff twice in the past few weeks, once in terms of Canadian politicians and the second time by an American politician. Once exposed, the contents are quickly withdrawn and hidden away but the damage has been done.
It is somewhat easy to understand how our “stuff” leaks out to mess up our best intentions and our well-laid plans; but, it is not so easy to understand that the “forbidden city” within not only contains our personal repressed contents, but is also home to the collective shadow. Again the political world serves as a good example. Major political parties are based on ideologies and polar versions of what the world is supposed to be like. Imagine each political party as an extravagant structure such as the building in the photo above. It looks attractive and as though it has substance. Yet when one waits long enough there is stuff that oozes out to alert one to the real nature of the political beast that has claimed this palace as its home. In listening to the individual voices that adhere to the political party we get to see that collective shadow.
As a wandered through new countries and cultures in search of my “self” I am learning that there are a lot of secret places to discover within my own psyche, in my personal forbidden city.
I am rather pleased with how well this low light photo turned out, a photo I took in a cave in Marble Mountain just south of Da Nang, Vietnam. It’s not a perfect photo, but then again, that isn’t the point. The idea is to capture an idea, a feeling, a hint of something beyond the actually image.
I get both a sense of power and of almost acceptance for who I am in relation to the whole, to God, to the Self. I know that I am not the whole though I do feel part of the whole. I know this; it resonates within. Yet . . .
In the face-to-face world, I don’t measure up even a little bit and come up short on too many scales. I am an outsider for the most part. I am distant. I am flawed with a high level of distract-ability which often finds me leave projects in various stages of completion only to have them forgotten and abandoned. I am becoming more and more “selfish” in terms of relation to others. What does this mean? I guess it means taking more time to listen to myself, to honour myself and to accept myself in spite of what others might want, need or demand.
And I get angry with the attitudes that tell me I am getting worse as I get older. I get angry at myself for getting caught up in this anger. And I get angry with others who let me know that I am failing in terms of what is expected of me in relationships. I know that there is no need for anger within me, that I should not take the attitudes of others to heart and let those attitudes wound me. I know that the attitudes are not really about me at all, but about each of those who look at me and evaluate me as “worse.” But, there is this damned “hook” that I carry that catches all of these projections and then suffer the turmoil until the energy has dissipated enough so that I can see what has happened to me, by me.
I have learned a few things along the way during these six decades of living. One of the valuable lessons is to own my own stuff and not take on the stuff of others. Of course, this lesson is always after the fact. At least this allows me some peace when the conflict/complex is deactivated within me. I turn away from the black hole that could consume me, that of being a victim, and turn towards a hint of the numinous that embraces me and tells me that I belong.
This photo was taken yesterday as I walked along one of the many canals that criss-cross through the city of ChongZhou. I thought I was lucky to be able to isolate this one particular blossom as the bushes the blossom grows on is usually densely covered with delicate blossoms in a variety of shades of pink and red. I even found a few bushes with pale yellow blossoms.
I was particularly stuck by the fragile appearance of the blossom, a blossom that is quick to fall off the bush when contact is made. It made me think of how so many things in our world are fragile, some things we take for granted that appear to be strong – a human life for example.
As I walk through the beautiful parks and along canals and boulevards in this city which is racing to become as modern as possible and green at the same time, I can almost forget about scenes in other places that are more about horror than about blossoms. I blame it on the newspapers that find a gory sort of pleasure in featuring death and destruction. Stories of people falling out of buildings, being hit by a passing car or by a passing bullet or bomb find their way to the front pages so that we get desensitized to the fact of death. And it isn’t only death that makes these front pages, threats to our freedoms and to our humanity are also gleefully reported.
Fear – it’s all about fear. Inside we know that we are fragile and we try to escape the fact of our fragility. In fear, we retreat into a world of victimhood, a place where others are responsible for all the bad stuff that happens. We don’t want to admit that our own personal darkness has any role to play in the collective darkness that is finding a ripe world in which to run amok.
I am forced to admit my own fragility as well as the fragility of others around me. I wound myself and others when I fail to own my own responsibility. I am forced to confront my own weakness and accept that in spite of my individual space in a multitudinous world, I have a role to play. Every fragile blossom has a role to play in the larger drama in which the world is engaged. Only then can consciousness be won for myself as an individual and in turn be gifted to the collective.
“At the hour of dawn, before the sun’s rising from beyond the horizon, I sat in the middle of a field communing with Nature. At that hour filled with purity and beauty I lay on the grass, what time men were yet wrapped in slumber, disturbed now by dreams, now by awakening. I lay there seeking to know from all that I looked upon the truth of Beauty and the beauty of Truth.” (Gibran, “Lament of the Field,” A Tear And A Smile, p.66)
Before putting Gibran’s book aside, I decided to read a bit more.
“And when my reflecting had set me apart from the flesh, and my imaginings lifted the covering of matter from off my inner self, I felt my spirit growing, drawing me near to Nature and revealing to me her hidden things and teaching me the language of her wonders.” (ibid)
As you may well guess, I took a significant pause after writing these words of Gibran’s before daring to add my thoughts to this post. All that comes up for me is to finally be still with the moment and let the image and the words do their work of talking to my soul, and like Gibran, “set myself apart” in order to allow the spirit to grow.