Archive for the ‘mask’ tag
I took this older photo from 2006 in order to continue the series about naturism. But before I go further, I want to be upfront and say that in this series of photos, judicious cropping has led to the illusion of my being fully in my own skin. It’s not true. I cropped the swim wear in each photo to give an illusion. Obviously in each photo I was not alone and someone else was taking the photographs with my camera. And because of the fact of the presence of another person, I find myself, like the vast majority of North Americans, uncomfortable in my own skin concerned about my less than perfect body. I wouldn’t think of going “au naturel.” And so, I ask myself “Why?”
Well, I have convinced myself that it is “selfish” of me to not care about the sensibilities of others. I have told myself that I would embarrass those closed to me in any given situation, embarrass strangers that would accidentally see me. Being seen unclothed in a public place, even at a beach in Mexico, Cuba or elsewhere would be an intrusion into the space of others, an assault on their own concepts of self and others. And as I continue to think about it, there appear many layers of “reasons” for my feeling uncomfortable in my own skin when others are present. I want to include a few words here that I found on another site while researching the psychological aspects of naturism:
“Progressively, over the centuries, society has developed the use of clothing as a mask. Clothing was originally used and designed to protect people from the elements of heat and cold, to stop themselves from getting burned or frozen. It was also used as a method of adornment to enhance attractiveness and for ritual and ceremonial reasons. In the latter centuries, people developed a cultural dependency on clothing. Clothes became a mask and a prop for perceived personality and character deficiencies.
“We frequently see people who would not be seen dead without their clothing on. Clothing is often used to portray an image that is different from the person’s perceived inner deficiencies. It is a form of artificiality or masking that they outwardly project to cover up any personality or emotional defects they think they have. People tend to feel that by hiding behind clothing they can metaphorically cover themselves and deny others exposure to the inner-self they perceive to be crippled. The need to do this most commonly occurs in people with low self-esteem.” (Naked Beneath Your Clothing)
Again, the masking of the self, the portraying of an image that would be more socially acceptable, one that would leave me safely protected from the collective. I know that I have a lot of scars and messy aspects and I desperately want to hide them so that others will like me. I hide my true self. But that hiding can only go on so long before one is forced to expose one’s true self. I have no issue with seeing others in their own skin, something which isn’t so rare in other countries such as India, and in IndoChina. Seeing others in their own skin in North America is also not an issue for me other than me berating myself for lacking the courage these others demonstrate in being comfortable in their own skin.
The journey of individuation forces one to become honest with one’s self, and in turn, that leads to a transparency that forces one to be honest with others. I am not really there yet though I yearn to be there, need to be there in order to feel whole, to feel a sense of real holiness. This blog space is one place where I feel a real sense of safety, especially in allowing my inner self to be more transparent. The journey continues.
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.
While walking down one of the narrow streets of WuZhen which were found just off the various canals of the old city, I found a door partially opened as if an invitation for those curious enough to peer within. This is what I found. This scene spoke to me about what had been lost and the cost of losing. Of course, it wasn’t a statement of lost Chinese culture as much as it was a statement of loss of soul.
For a moment, I was taken aback as I saw in the scene, a vivid reminder of the loss of soul, or should I say loss of connection with soul that I experienced as I shifted from full engagement with the outer world to finally recognizing that my inner self did exist. When I looked within I saw how my abandonment of my connection with that inner self had left my inner self littered with debris, abandoned dreams, hopes - poetry that never was imagined, stories never told.
I was one of the fortunate ones who upon seeing the inner wreckage, decided to do the work of bringing the soul’s home back into a place that would honour the soul. It wasn’t a matter of throwing away very many things, but simply uncovering, rediscovering the treasures hidden and setting them out, dusted off. Shadows were used as accent to the glittering gold and silver of the soul rather than being banished. And, tucked into corners, broken bits are left to remind me that I must never abandon my connection with soul again.
Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk around the gated community within which I live, a place called “Sunshine Gardens” (Yang Guang Hua Yuan). To be fair, it is very much a place that deserves the name as the private homes and the public spaces in this community is mostly garden. As you can see in the photo, the word “sunshine” is also apt. The community within the exterior barriers, the face presented to those on the outside, is a different world. The exterior, for the most part, doesn’t have a “garden” look. Rather, it is mostly non-descript.
Outward appearances are important, but one must remember that these appearances are “contrived” and serve as a mask. I know that I am not that much different than Sunshine Gardens in the fact that I present an unimposing figure to the outer world, someone who is easily overlooked and ignored. And, this is something that feels comfortable for me after all the years where I stood out like a sore thumb in a smallish community as the principal of the community’s school. When I stood out, I drew negative heat and the positive energy of the community. I was both the hope and the scapegoat for the community, two roles that I resisted as much as possible as I feared being caught in the collective images of “self.”
But, so much of my inner world, my “Sunshine Gardens” is a mystery to me. My ego consciousness can only understand some of what is found within. My outer world is simple in comparison, a world that for the most part, is one of my own crafting that has been built stone by stone over the decades with each choice, and each omission of choice that has been made. I am not a victim of the world, never have been a victim of the world regardless of what I thought or believed. Rather, I was and remain, a living and breathing part of the whole.
I guess I could say that I have been a master builder of my ego and the personae that are met by the world. Yet for all of this skill, I know that I, the conscious self, am on shaky ground in assuming “I” am in control. There is something bigger than “I” at work.
“The invisible world governs the visible world, which is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to be wholly, or even partly, conscious. Every life is the enactment of not one story, but many. The story we consciously know, or believe we know, is seldom the whole story which is unfolding within us.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p.112)
I love the architecture of old China. Here just one block off the main downtown street in Changzhou, one of the last older sections is being removed so that modern China can rise in its place. This is a story that has been happening for thousands of years in China and all over the world. We build, we tear down, we build again. Purists claim that we are losing the authentic and real China in the process. Really? Which version of China over the thousands of years of history would be the real China? I could ask the same about any country. Of course the answer will always be, the “real” China is the one in which one is standing at that moment in time. The “real” anywhere is that which “is,” not that which “was.”
This building on the foundations of what “was” is what happens every time a bit of light uncovers some of the shadow contents within. As I withdraw projections I have placed on others, those I love and those who serve as hooks for my other shadow contents, I become a changed man, a new man. Does this constant changing make me any less authentic? Is the only authentic Robert, the one who existed with little awareness of the depths of “self?” I don’t think so. Each change is simply a change, Robert is always Robert though the person seen by others might see a changed Robert, wishing for the old Robert to re-appear. This can’t happen. I can’t undo the fact that light has allowed me to see my self more clearly, revealed things about me to which I was blind. But, I can control what others see. This is one reason for carefully rebuilding one’s persona.
“The development of a collectively suitable persona always involves a compromise between what we know about ourselves to be and what is expected of us, such as a degree of courtesy and innocuous behavior. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. In Greek, the word persona meant a mask worn by actors to indicate the role they played. On this level, it is an asset in mixing with other people. It is also useful as a protective covering. Close friends may know us for what we are; the rest of the world knows only what we choose to show them. Indeed, without an outer layer of some kind, we are simply too vulnerable. Only the foolish and naive attempt to move through life without a persona.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 42)
Protecting oneself, yes, that is important. I think it is also about respecting others and where they are in their own development of self. I do have a a different opinion when it comes to what Daryl Sharp says about “close friends.” I don’t think that anyone can know me as I know me. Some of what I “know” is always going to remain behind a veil. It is simply enough that I know. There is nothing to gain in terms of relationships to expose all. As well, I don’t know if I have the words to share this knowing with others. I may be aware of these things of my “self” but must live with my “complexes” that moderate my exposing of these contents, even to the closest person in my life.
Another point I would like to make is that others know things about myself to which I am blind. Should I be told about them, I would likely protest that I am not like that, that I never said those things, or showed those attitudes. I still have blind spots and my complexes do come out to play without my permission or awareness. As much as I would like to think I control everything about my presentation of “self” to the world, my ego consciousness is limited in terms of the overall “self” that lays under the persona and ego.
Like Changzhou, China, I continue to build on the foundations of who I was. Tomorrow, I will be yet a different man with a different face. But each day, the Real Robert stands here, an authentic man even though each day will transform who that Real Robert is – this is what individuation is all about.
Behind the blue metal wall is a new housing project called Chianti. Why Chianti? I could only guess. The images on the main wall suggest that the housing project will evoke an Italian and Spanish location. The main entrance has a strikingly beautiful pale yellow building with clock tower that is “European” in look and feel.
However on this side of the blue metal barrier is a different world, one that is decidedly not indicative of wealth, one that is rural and Chinese. The artifice has been stripped away and all that is left is bare bones simplicity.
Why is it that I took this photo and passed on the European style of beauty that lay on the other side of the wall? Good question that remains to be answered. Strange how I get pulled into attention with contradictions and the tension between those contradictions.
“There is by definition a natural conflict between ego and shadow, but when one has made a commitment to live out as much of one’s potential as possible, then the integration of the shadow – including the inferior attitude and functions – evolves from being merely theoretically desirable to becoming a practical necessity. Hence the process of assimilating the shadow requires the capacity to live with some psychological tension.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 30)
I should have guessed that it was not just an attraction to dirt roads as opposed to paved highways. It is about staying alert to the tension between the conscious and the unconscious; between ego and shadow. In thinking about it, the terrain between my dominant function of intuition and the weaker functions is not much different that the differences between the dirt road country and the world on the other side of the blue wall. One is well constructed with all manner of comforts while the opposite side is mostly abandoned, undeveloped. The image is clear in what it asks of me – “Please pay attention to me; please bring me some of your energy.”
This is part of the scene I see when I look out of the window of the apartment in Changzhou. The rain has washed leaves and the bamboo and wood of the gazebo in a yard within the housing compound. Two and a half years ago I watched as the gazebo was repainted after a winter of pollution had caused the gazebo to look old and frayed. It doesn’t take much to be revitalised.
I ask myself how I can distinguish between being revitalized and being artificial. I can see how so many, at times myself included, work hard to present a face that glistens attractively to their neighbours and any passing strangers. Huge expenses go into landscaping and giving their home a new look. Yet, more often than not, the expense doesn’t yield rewards that satisfy. One is left feeling empty, cheated. And so a new cycle begins as furniture is rearranged into new patterns or again replaced; an new look is studied in the latest popular magazines; or perhaps a new house in built in the latest housing development – all in the hopes of somehow finding meaning in the shine of newness.
I wondered about this as I looked at this scene. The colours and the air of peace that I saw here, are they just another example of face that is so much a part of the Chinese psyche? Or, is this a place for the owner of this scene to escape the outer world and find himself within?
This photo was taken in Changzhou, the city that was home for two years. This canal was only a few short blocks off the junction of two main streets in the downtown area. The coned buds on the tree to the left side are large brilliant mauve flowers in the spring. It was simply amazing to me how the most modern buildings, upscale shopping area and huge shopping crowds could be bordered in just two blocks by this scene which dates back significantly in time, to reveal a different face for China.
This is pretty much the same story, when I think about it, for me. I have a certain polish when I get dressed up. I show my age, but it is not a dated age. It is more a modern maturity that “fits” with modern society. My mask and persona work well and all is well in terms of being at one with the collective.
But, if I retreat even just a little bit, just enough to get a bit of perspective, I see something else about myself. I see that the mask is simply a mask. Under that mask there is a curious combination of light and dark, of shadows and mystery, of exposed warts and wrinkles. And running through this self beneath the mask is an unconsciousness that looks like it might be gentle an peaceful, but in truth is a dangerous place.
Below that peaceful reflective surface … Well, it is all unknown … and often one is right in fearing the unknown … encourage that unknown into the conscious self and all becomes forever changed … and the fear that the ego will be overpowered, possessed …
It was a cold January morning in ChangZhou, Jiangsu, P.R.C. As I walked down the streets of the city basically wasting time, killing time, as I had finished marking the final exams and doing all the paper trail administrivia for the city university. The air was pungent, almost acrid with industrial haze. As usual, I walked carrying my camera. Too often I had gone for walks only to miss capturing yet another image for my archives. It seemed as though every day was a special event as far as my camera was concerned.
ChangZhou was/is a modern city, a city that could challenge almost any North American city for shopping adventures, for wide boulevards and spacious parks filled with flowers no matter what the season. The streets buzzed with a mixture of Mercedes, Volkswagens and Toyotas. There were no old cars, no clunkers. No matter which day you would walk down a street you would see people dressed in the height of fashion. There was little evidence that I was in a developing country. Well, at least most of the time.
This woman showed a different face of China, one from a not so distant past. She tells her own story, her story of her home country.
I guess that we all put on a special face when we go out into the public sphere, we wear a mask and act a role that would tell all that we have our shit together, that we are okay. But underneath that mask and the persona, there lies a different story, one that isn’t so pretty. So much for being “civilized.” Truth is, we barely hold the shadows within at bay. The harder we try to deny the dark stuff, the more it seems to squeeze out to embarrass us.