Archive for the ‘meaning’ tag
I was finding it hard to capture the real mauves and violet colours of this climbing bush, so I was pleasantly surprised at how this image turned out. Many of my photos are taken simply for pleasure, not with any particular psychological purpose for this blog. Flowers, scenes, places and people form the bulk of such “personal pleasure” photographs. It is my way of being “in the moment.”
That is something that many of us, myself of course included, find difficult to accomplish. I know that I want to be “over there” where the action is, doing something “vital and meaningful” for my family, country, community and mostly, for my ego. Yes, I admit it, I am often “full” of myself. The problem with wanting to be over there is that I miss what is here in front of my eyes. I lose the real opportunity for being vital and being authentic which in turn makes life meaningful.
My wanderings around this city with a camera provides me with an excuse to be present in my own quiet way. As I wander with the camera, I get surprised by others who then see me being curious and take that as an invitation to communicate, to connect. And so, I get drawn into a more vital presence.
Back in the apartment, with the doors closed, I often fall back into a less vital existence, at least until I visit my photos which kindle anew, the sparks of connection I experienced earlier. Slowly, I learn what it means to find meaning through the act of being present in life.
I was almost tempted to do a bit of photo editing with this photo taken just a few hours ago just before sunset here in Vientiane, Laos. The scene is the Mekong River as seen from the fifth floor outdoor restaurant in Vientiane, looking across the Mekong River toward Thailand. I was initially worried that there wasn’t enough “light” because I was facing into the west making the picture darker than it was. But, the thought to edit lasted about a half a second at most and I decided to leave it “as is.”
The afternoon spent in various temples as well as a book I am reading on my e-Reader have left me in a pensive mood. I think back to my original foray into Transcendental Meditation in the early 70s, reading Siddhartha by Hemann Hesse back in the same time period and find some peace in meditative approaches that have come to me naturally in the second half of my life. Perhaps it is because I find myself approaching life in the older lane to be a contemplative time. Regardless of the reason, the temples of Buddhism, Hinduism, and a collection of animistic beliefs find a resonance in terms of honouring the unknown.
I am not drawn to any particular “religion” though I am drawn to a more spiritual life. For me, religions and a spiritual life don’t exactly go together. One can be spiritual with a professed religion as one can be rigidly religions without having a spiritual bone in one’s body.I am drawn to the numinous such as is found in this photograph. For me, it is telling that it contains water, land and sunset colours.
I belong to the earth and water, I am made up of both earth and water. And in the natural flow of life, I will return to the natural elements from which I came. And in the meantime, meaning will arise from how I life my life through both my attitude and my actions.
Looking into a hole left at one of the work sites along the sidewalk near my apartment while it was raining, I saw this photo opportunity. It’s amazing how one’s eyes get drawn into dark holes hoping to see treasure, or perhaps see proof of hell.
It’s interesting how one can see something and then load the thing with all manner of meaning. It’s important to realise that it the “self” who holds the meaning and not the object. Again, it is all about projection. Images allow us to project safely for the most part. However, this isn’t the case when we project on others.
When a relationship hits a rocky patch, it pretty much looks like everything is going downhill, down into a dark hole. One’s field of vision is reduced to a narrow band of possibility, and the possibility is in darkness, a damp darkness that reminds one of a swampland at night where sinkholes are just waiting to suck one down. In an instinctive reaction we lash out hoping to back off the demons and find a bit of breathing space. The enemy is out there, and the enemy is wearing the body of one’s partner in relationship.
“You work on a relationship by shutting your mouth when you are ready to explode; by not inflicting your affect on the other person; by quietly leaving the battlefield and tearing your hair out; by asking yourself – not your partner – what complex in you was activated, and to what end. The proper question is not, “Why is she doing this to me?” or “Who does he think he is?” but rather, “Why am I reacting this way? – Who do I think he or she is?” And more: “What does this say about my psychology? What can I do about it?” Instead of accusing the other person about driving you crazy, you say to yourself, “I feel I’m being driven crazy – where, or who, in me is that coming from?”
That is how you establish a container, a personal temenos.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 71)
Sharp’s words make sense, but they aren’t so easy to put into practice. It seems that “knowing” and “doing” are two different things completely. I know in my case, it has taken so many stumbles with a lot of personal conferences of one in which I have asked myself these questions after the fact. Maybe this is part of the learning to build a level of consciousness about relationship, in relationship.
I often take photos that mix elements such as this one where I capture water and earth, the union of separate elements. I decided to use a filter to bring a hint of black and white while still managing to capture a bit of green, a sense of life in what would otherwise be a dark, shadowy swampland. For me, this is a symbolic union of conscious and unconscious, the union of the masculine and feminine.
Of course, I am thinking of this union as something that happens within one rather than what happens between self and other, between man and woman.
That said, there is no question that what happens in the outer world will be reflected in the inner world, at least in opposite energies where what is denied in the outer world is given life in the inner world even if we are never conscious about what is going on within our own depths.
Jung calls this union of opposites, Mysterium Coniunctionis, the central theme of Collected Works volume 14. Listen to his words on the Personification of Opposites:
Our reason is often influenced far too much by purely physical considerations, so that the union of the sexes seems to it the only sensible thing and the urge for union the most sensible instinct of all. But if we conceive of nature in the higher sense as the totality of all phenomena, then the physical is only one of her aspects, the other is pneumatic or spiritual. The first has always been regarded as feminine, the second as masculine. The goal of one is union, the goal of the other is discrimination. Because it overvalues the physical, our contemporary reason lacks spiritual orientation, that is, pneuma. (Jung, CW 14, par 104)
There is so much more that Jung says, but that will have to wait. There are things here that I want to chew on for a bit, especially the bit about urges of physical versus the pull towards the spiritual. Somehow I get the feeling that midlife is a ripe time for this pull towards opposite urges to come to the forefront. The realisation that youth has been left behind and that our bodies are determined to remind us that we are changing is a crisis in itself. There is little doubt that one has begun a downward slide. Focusing on returning to an exercise regime lets one soon know that we can backtrack a bit, but we can never reverse the direction. Then, the shit starts to fly.
Why? What’s the whole purpose of the struggling in the first half of life? The kids are grown up, work is done, retirement is in place – so now what? Is that all there is? The only answer that can give any hope is that there is something deeper than what appears on the surface of life. There has to be meaning, there has to be a purpose for the second half of life that goes beyond taking up space and using up precious planetary resources. And in looking within, one gets to sense the presence of an answer, an answer that can’t be found on the outside, at least for me. It is this that draws me into something spiritual, something bigger than the sum total of my life.
You can tell that winter is coming. Geese, tens of thousands of them flying in huge flocks, take time out for feeding as they being the migration southward. Most of these are Snow Geese with only a handful for Canada Geese thrown in for good measure. The temperatures have dropped significantly. Two weeks ago we enjoyed +30C weather. Now, we have strong northerly winds make our daytime high of -5C feel so much colder. Over the next several posts, I will post more photos that symbolize seasonal change in Canada.
Seasonal change, from summer to winter suggests a shift from working outdoors to working indoors. Similarly, from a Jungian psychology perspective, we can see that midlife itself becomes the time where one shifts from an exclusive outer world focus to soul work, or inner work. That said, it doesn’t mean that one abandons the outer world and active presence in the outer world. Rather, it means that one needs to honour the inner world which has been kept at bay by the needs of establishing a solid foundation in the outer world, something that is necessary in order to have the luxury of time needed for self-reflection and trying to find a few answers about self and meaning for one’s life, especially now that one begins to realise that death approaches.
With the realisation that one is mortal, does one flee into the clutches of some theology and thus turn over responsibility to others; or, does one confront one’s self to weigh the worth of one’s life and actions with the hope of making changes to validate one’s existence?
Rose hips, a sign of autumn. I remember several decades ago, we used to collect these to make a pancake syrup. Those were the days when we searched for all manner of things in nature for eating, food from the wild.
Today, we still garden but have ceased gathering wild stuff with the exception of some mushrooms. Our garden is small as we have fewer needs now that our children have grown and now have homes of their own. We still can our garden produce or else prepare it for the freezer. My journeys into the wild are now for collecting photographs such as this one.
I do go into an internal wilderness in search of “soul” food. I guess this is more about the stage of life that I am living than anything else. It’s about the search for meaning in a modern world that has abandoned the gods in favour of “isms” and theologies.
James Hollis says it well:
Our goal is not happiness, which is evanescent and impossible to sustain; it is meaning which broadens us and carries us toward our destiny. (Hollis, Creating a Life, 2001, p. 102)
And so I take my camera with me in hopes of catching those fleeting aspects that point to a greater universe, one in which I have meaning as an individual, not as a member of the collective.
This is a scene from my back yard, a few pansies that I rescued from the gravel driveway. These are tough little things for all of their delicate appearance. It definitely is a tough fate to live in gravel that is constantly being driven on by visitors and owners alike. Yet, still there is a sense of joy when you look at these “survivors.”
When I watch nature, the birds in our back yard, the wildlife near the town, even weeds that have a tough time surviving in the battle with farming crops and the deadly sprays used by farmers to strive for weed free crops; I wonder about “meaning.” I “know” that everything has its place, even the mosquitoes. But knowing this isn’t enough of an answer; it’s too simple. This is what James Hollis says about meaning and surviving in an unfriendly world:
Meaning is not something abstract, somehting sought … It is a byproduct of a life lived the way it is supposed to be lived … Meaning arises out of the places of great suffering, because it is the epiphenomenon of amor fati. Loving one’s fate, in the end, means living the life one is summoned to, not the life envisioned by one’s ego, by one’s parents or by societal expectations. (Hollis, Celebrating a Life, 2001, p. 68)
One benefit to having this kind of day is that it keeps me off the golf course thus giving me incentive and time for editing my book. I have been listening carefully to a select few about their thoughts regarding the book as they read and reflect. This is a long process as it needs me to weigh valuable information and make judgement calls on what changes will happen to the manuscript.
Of course, each of my “readers” see different things as they slowly make their way through the book trying to find the right words to express their ideas. This is what makes the edit process so valuable, I get to hear what “others” think about my initial writing. Then, it becomes a negotiation of meaning where I tweak a word here and there, or try a different approach to a particular concept. In the end, I hope it becomes a better book for everyone.
The nose of Chaac, the Rain God. Ascending alongside the central staircase of the Magician’s Pyramid on both sides are faces of Chaac, each face contains an elephantine nose similar to the one found on the ground here. There are twelve such Chaac figures on each side. A thirteenth Chaac figure sits above the temple entrance. Thirteen being the number of levels in the Mayan heaven. The Chaac nose both receives the rain and distributes the rain (metaphorically) which comes from the Rain God.
Curious how such symbols of power between men and gods also can serve as ‘keys’ to one’s own inner world. When viewed as a key, the image makes ‘sense’. Water, the source of life speaks of the vast unconsciousness of humankind and of the container that holds us. At the same time as being a key, it also can serve as a ‘hook’. It even looks like a hook. And this is the danger when approaching the unconscious. Does one get hooked like a fish at sea and thus drown in the depths never to return to consciousness? Intentional descents are safer, especially with a guide, unintentional descents result in madness. Jung studied those lost in this madness to discover some of the territory of the unconscious. Choosing a descent? Not too likely. However, the pain of being present in the world without having the anchor of ‘meaning’ is often the stimulus to risk descents into the swampland, the dark sea of one’s unconscious aspects.