Archive for the ‘midlife’ tag
Another photo taken from a walk in the hills yesterday. Today is my birthday and I am now 62 years old. As I key this onto the computer I am sitting in an airport preparing to make the journey to visit my mother. I have become a more frequent visitor to her place as I now make the journey once a year. It is about duty, not about being a good, loving son. She is my mother and that is a good enough reason for now. The bond between mother and son is fragile in terms of our relationship. There is history obviously, but that is not a story for this post.
Each of us has a Mother Complex whether or not we realise it or will admit it. It doesn’t matter what kind of person one has had or has as a mother or what the relationship is or was like. All mothers are charged with power that is archetypal and all mothers somehow wound their offspring whether they so so consciously or unconsciously. The wounds are sometimes hard to define, hard to trace to their roots, especially for those loving, kind and nurturing mothers who are careful with their words and with their emotions. All mothers have a shadow that enters into the relationship with their children. And it is this shadow that wounds the psyche of their child.
It is often in the heroic journey of midlife that one dares to confront the mother complex, one of the monsters that one encounters on the journey. But like all the monsters and demons found on the journey, the complex only wants to be honoured for its presence, not denied. With acceptance of the mother complex, life becomes a bit easier.
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.
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.
There was something compelling about this man sitting on the edge of the busy street, oblivious to the traffic and the tourists while engaged in his writing. In a way, I saw myself. I have begun to notice the men here in Vietnam. This land, as is to be expected of all lands, does have a masculine as well as a feminine aspect.
Of the men I have seen most working bent over at their tasks on small boats, at sawmills, in rice fields and curiously, over sewing machines. One the streets, the motorcycle traffic is mostly men of varying ages, faces lined with determination and concentration as if engaged in on a battlefield. Life is serious. The men somehow find it harder to smile at a foreigner who is armed with a camera and a smile. Yet, there is no disrespect shown.
I have had opportunities to talk with some of the older men in French. With these men, there is a generosity that is surprising. Few of the younger men, men in midlife, can speak French. These men are focused on business, nothing more, nothing less. There is no room for the soul. I guess this is what surprised me with this man. He has taken time out from business, a business that is an art shop, in order to do his “personal” thing, perhaps “soul” work.
This is Michael, the class monitor of one of my sophomore classes in College of Commerce at C.I.T. With exams happening next week, I decided to allow the class to have their Christmas party this week. There is no question about authority in this classroom or any other classroom in a Chinese university. Authority lies with the teacher. At the peer level in every class, the class monitor holds authority, and with it responsibility for his or her class peers. Michael has the authority but doesn’t wield it with vigour. Of all of my students, Michael has a good sense of self. It’s as though he doesn’t need to demonstrate his authority over others. However, this is not the case with most of the other students, even those who are monitors in other classrooms. Again, I have come to the issue of authority, an issue that dwells within the activation of the Father archetype. My students are the typical angst-driven youth found throughout the world.
“The angst-driven search for external authority through fundamentalism is a flight from personal growth and development, an abdication of the summons to individual life.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 48)
Here lies the source of the zealotry that is channeled by groups throughout many, if not most societies. You need a human sacrifice for the sake of religion, someone to strap bombs to their body and become a human torch? Look to these youth. You need front-line fodder to take the brunt of any battle? Again, look to these youth. But it isn’t just the youth who embrace the answers found in fundamentalism, there are many in midlife who yearn for someone to take control, to take the burden of responsibility away from them, to give them answers to questions they are afraid to ask.
But in Michael’s case, it is a matter of revolt, a small revolt to be sure, but a revolt none-the-less. He is carving his own authority based on his individual nature, not an authority bestowed by a higher authority.
“. . . revolts against authority are the only way in which a new authority may be found. It begins with a child learning to keep something secret, to protect some part of the psyche which needs security and solitude in order to live. It takes form in the many experiments of the child, in the revolt of adolescence, in the need to move out of the house. And when these separations are not achieved, the vitality of the personality is sapped,, the life which is meant to flourish withers. No matter what security is offered by staying on the home range, within the protection of a perceived authority, the gift of the developed person to the world is denied through this failure of individuation.” (Hollis, p. 47)
These words make one think, and think hard. Where have I caved in to external authority? I don’t mean an authority based on employer/employee, necessarily. I mean the authority which takes responsibility away and lays it in the hands of an “other” – perhaps one’s wife or husband, perhaps one’s spiritual advisor in whatever church one subscribes, perhaps the authority of a political viewpoint and its leadership. Do I dare answer my own question? To acknowledge the truth would force me to then do something or . . . . .
This is one of my Chinese colleagues sitting at his desk waiting for students to arrive for the next class. He is one of the less timid colleagues and often stops to talk with me on the stairs or in the hallways as we pass each other on the way to classes or finishing classes. I chose to use this photo because you can’t identify him in terms of culture or using any other criteria. All that you can know is that he is likely a male and that he is an older specimen of the male gender, likely in late middle age.
Midlife is a hard time for most of us. The work of the first half is basically done. We may have become parents; we likely have taken care of carving a place in the outer world, in the community; and now our mortality is staring at us in the face. We know we are getting older. And, we wonder at has become of the time we so carelessly used up. After all the focus on the outer world, we are left staring at ourselves in the mirror and saying, “Is this all?” We see a stranger in the mirror, an aged face that causes us to again ask, “Who am I, really?” and we worry about dying without finding meaning for our short lives. And so if we are not satisfied with the lack of answers and we are willing to risk digging deeper, we begin a new journey, a heroic journey in which we meet ghost-like images in the shadows within. We battle for survival with these shadows knowing that to fail would mean that our lives would truly be meaningless. Who will rule, ego or shadow? It is only when we arrive at the realisation that the only way to survive is to accept the shadow as an intimate part of “self.” We must assimilate our shadow.
“There is no generally effective way to assimilate the shadow. It is more like diplomacy or statesmanship, and it is always an individual matter. Shadow and ego are like two political parties jockeying for power. If one can speak of a technique at all, it consists solely in an attitude. First one has to accept and take seriously the existence of the shadow. Second, one has to become aware of its qualities and intentions. This happens through conscientious attentions to moods, fantasies and impulses. Third, a long process of negotiation is unavoidable.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 47)
Daryl Sharp has it right. If one doesn’t do this work, one is reduced to being a victim, to being confused, bitter and angry. Moods consume us and control us. We drown our pain in alcohol, in drugs, in chasing the elusive fountain of youth and money trying to deny that the questions are even heard. We live through the lives of our children and grandchildren rather than face the fact of our own lives and that we are responsible for the quality of these lives. Better to be the loved, self-sacrificing grandparent or parent than to risk self-discovery.
Perhaps, but not for me. I must take the risk regardless of the cost in terms of what others will think of me. I need to find answers to these questions that can only be answered by turning within and assimilating the parts hidden in shadow.
How can I explain this photo? Why did I even take it? I have to admit that I had already written a good portion of this post before figuring out what I wanted for a photo. I knew which quotes I was using for the post and had searched through my photos taken here in Costa Rica only to feel that there was nothing that “fit,” nothing that could speak for me where words failed.
So, I returned to the quotes and did some serious thinking. The first quote finally convinced me to risk exposing things that I have devalued. I knew that Jung was talking of something broader, something at the collective level. What did I share with others in the collective? What has the collective devalued that has convinced me to devalue in myself?
The answer is body identity and sexual identity. In my culture a man is considered normal or better if he is tall, light-skinned, and trim and fit. I am small: short, dark and hairy. Society has men be men with an active sex life that woos many and scoring many conquests. I only wanted to be desired by one woman. One woman finding me to be the man of her sexual dreams was my dream. Of course that only set me up for maintaining my virginity into my twenties.
So, I took this photo, an image that is explicit though its lines are soft enough to give the photo a certain artistic quality that saves it from being just another opportunity for exhibitionism. But in all honesty, can I deny the intent?
“If anything of importance is devalued in our conscious life, and perishes – so runs the law – there arises a compensation in the unconscious. We may see in this analogy to the conservation of energy in the physical world, for our psychic processes also have a quantitative, energic aspect. No psychic value can disappear without being replaced by another of equivalent intensity. This is a fundamental rule which is repeatedly verified in the daily practice of the psychotherapist and never fails.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)
What has been devalued in my life? Well, I guess that the answer isn’t as easy to state as I thought it would be. For so many years I devalued myself as a short man, one who didn’t fit in. I lived in redneck country when I left my youth as a city kid. I was the odd man out and soon believed that I even looked odd. That feeling has never really left me and I am just now learning to accept that perhaps I am not odd as I came to believe.
There was no question in my mind that any woman would actually find me attractive, especially in midlife. I never did understand what my wife ever saw in me. I was and am certain it had nothing to do with looks or sexual attraction. She saw something buried under the skin that was valued, likely that old expression holds true here – opposites attract – we are fully opposite (INFP versus ESTJ) in so much.
Of course this lack of body and sexual value for myself had to find another outlet. Dreams became a hot and steamy affair. The face of anima often came looking like a harlot, tempting me. Strange how all of these dreams did nothing but leave me feeling guilty as though is some way, I had cheated on my marriage. The repressed contents also found a veiled presence in poetry.
My outer life served as a reverse mirror for what was happening within. Denying self, denying need all in hopes of becoming more acceptable only served to have anima become even more a temptress. I saw myself as more and more unworthy because of the dirt within. It was only to be expected that something would break.
“The doctor in me refuses point blank to consider the life of a people as something that dos not conform to a psychological law. For him the psyche of a people is only a somewhat more complex structure than the psyche of an individual. Moreover, has not a poet spoken of the “nations of his soul”? And quite correctly, it seems to me, for in one of its aspects the psyche is not individual, but is derived from the nation, from the collectivity, from humanity even. In some way or other we are part of a single, all-embracing psyche, a single “greatest man,” the homo maximus, to quote Swedenborg.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)
“The psyche of a people” is a powerful statement. When one thinks of it, it is something we have always known. We have no problem with the idea of a culture, a nation having a certain way of being and believing and acting in concert with each other; something that defies logic where one sees a large group of individuals in any particular culture. One would expect a lot more variation. Travelling has accentuated the notion of a collective psyche. And in accepting this idea, I see how my psyche is connected to the collective regardless of my sense of alienation.
Shame of body, shame of sexual desire is embraced by the collective of a conservative people. And in the collective of which I am a part, the body is best hidden under layers and layers. Even at a beach, bikinis are worn but are covered with teeshirts and baggy shorts. Shame of body, a sexual body is also hidden under layers of fat. If one can look unappealing sexually, then perhaps one will kill sexual desire within. But it doesn’t work and we cover ourselves in tattoos and ugly clothing that avoid any vibrant colours.
So we repress as individuals, repress as cultures, repress as a human race trying to proclaim that we are beings that transcend fascination with the human body and human sexuality. And in this repression, we end up hurting ourselves and others. We become tyrannical. The individual is part of the whole.
And as each of us become more conscious, we do influence the consciousness of the whole. There is real hope. Maybe I am not so absurd, not a dirty old man after all. Perhaps I am a human.
This is an interesting hive that I found on a walk here in Playa Jacó. I am not sure if these are termites or some sort of new bee. One thing I can say for sure is that they are busy. It’s a good thing I have a built-in telephoto lens as I didn’t want to attract their attention. Watching their frenetic activity I was reminded of friends and acquaintances when they become animated.
Just for example, today in the news there was an article about mail-order brides. It was an interesting article that looked at two sides of the story. I mentioned the story in passing to someone and it soon set off a “discussion” that soon took “positions” rather than continuing to look at all sides of the story. At that point, the discussion ceased to be a discussion between two “conscious” individuals. Instead of a conversation the exchange of words indicated the presence of complexes.
Of course we all have complexes. Life would not exist without the presence of complexes within the human psyche. If anything, it is these complexes which allow us to be unique individuals rather than a mindless collective such as these insects, all working instinctively to perform a set of tasks without question. Humans somehow are energized by their complexes.
Now a few words from Daryl Sharp on the subject of complexes:
“Consider the occurrence of meeting someone at a party with a “bee in his bonnet.” You can be sure that behind the buzzing is a complex. A person inthe grip of a complex can talk your head off about fishing, music, stamp-collecting, fitness, yoga, psychology, politics, anything, and never wonder if you are at all interested.
Of course, those are relatively benign manifestations of complexes. More seriously, on a personal level, they are at the root of any and all conflicts, marriages, separations, relationships difficulties of all kinds, not to mention murder, suicide and much more; collectively they spawn wars and every manner of political and religious internecine strife.” (Sharp, Jung Uncorked: Book Three, 2009, pp 25-26)
Well, that explains a lot, doesn’t it? In thinking about it, I see where I get buzzing around, where there gets to be heat and I take sides. Sitting back and thinking about it, most times there are no sides that need to be taken. There are too many “black and white” polarity positions taken when the territory that holds the “black and white” conflict is in full, living colour. I especially see it in terms of politics. Begin a conversation about Canadian politics and I am set off. The heat is turned up and I take a stance of certainty even though I don’t have much of the real background information. Looking deeper into it, I find the complex, a father-complex, that is at the root. I don’t do well with authority. I get the same way when the topic turns to depreciating the masculine in general terms. Yes, another complex.
Tracking all of this I begin to think that my “self” is nothing more than a collage of complexes. Well, there is a lot of truth in this thinking. Becoming aware of the complexes reduces the heat and allows me to sit back and become a calmer person. And in the second half of life, this is very important.
“You are alone and you are confronted with all the demons of hell. That is what people don’t know. Then they say you have an anxiety neurosis, nocturnal fears, compulsions – I don’t know what. Your soul has become lonely; it is extra ecclesiam [outside the Church] and in a state of no-salvation. And people don’t know it. They think your condition is pathological, and every doctor helps them to believe it. . . But it is neurotic talk when one says that this is a neurosis. As a matter of fact it is something quite different; it is the terrific fear of loneliness. It is the hallucination of loneliness, and it is loneliness that cannot be quenched by anything else. You can be a member of society with a thousand members, and you are still alone. That thing in you which should live is alone; nobody touches it, nobody knows it, you yourself don’t know it; but it keeps on stirring, it disturbs you, it makes you restless, and it gives you no peace.” (Jung, CW 18, par 632)
I imagine you know this feeling if you are reading this. You know that pills and therapy somehow don’t really get it fixed as there is no search for the roots, only an attempt to deal with symptoms. And the results have been an abysmal failure for the world of psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Hillman is correct in saying that with more than a hundred years of professional practice, we have not done any good, perhaps only having succeeded in making a bad situation worse for the individuals and for the others with whom those individuals come into contact.
Midlife crisis. What to do? Get pills? Get a new car? Get involved in a series of affairs? Step up the pace and acquire even more money and things? See a shrink? Take up yoga or martial arts? Run marathons and ultra-marathons? There are innumerable strategies to keep busy in the outer world in order to avoid that inner loneliness. Who would ever think that perhaps it is by going within to meet with the shadows that we find that we aren’t alone anymore, that we can recover a sense of who we are and a sense of meaning in an otherwise meaningless world.
Is there hope? Yes there is. I have hope and I have a sense of purpose and meaning and it is through beginning to live a symbolic life that this transformation has occurred. I have become re-connected to my “self” and in the process have allowed my soul a breath of fresh air. And, like this little bird, I am ready to emerge from behind the scenery into full life again.
I thought that this was a tree until I looked with greater care – it was a fern plant that was as large as many trees in the cloud forest of Monteverde. It was impressive to say the least, a true picture of the force of nature. Somehow, something small became huge, became more than expected. For myself, this is encouraging for it points to the possibility that I will become more than expected regardless of my now being well into the second half of life.
“The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature that achieves its end either with tyrannical might or with the subtle cunning of nature herself, quite regardless of the personal fate of the man who is its vehicle. The creative urge lives and grows in him like a tree in the earth from which it draws its nourishment. We would do well, therefore, to think of the creative process as a living thing implanted in the human psyche.” (Jung, CW 17, par 115)
So, does that make the artist a victim? I don’t accept that idea in the least. Am I an artist? In my opinion, yes I am an artist. Do I feel that I am a vehicle for some “unborn work?” Without question I accept this as a truism with regards to my “self.” For some time I thought that it was music that was my art, my gift; then it was the images I would make with paint, water colours or charcoal; and then it was photography. But predating all of this was the notion that it was with words that I was to bring forward some “work.” I knew it wasn’t a matter of choice, but of some compulsion. Jung here shows some of the wellsprings of that compulsion. Yet for me, the wellsprings go deeper, born out of my “raison d’être.” I have a need to poke into life, to examine life and my presence in that life, to question everything in search of what lies beneath. Thanks to JF for sending me a document containing these words:
“The urge to know the things of life, to doubt them and reason about them, became for Plato a daemonic grace, a “force” of human nature that grabs hold of one, not a mere “technique” that one is free to choose or not, not a mere slave to be kicked about at whim. For Plato the rationality in whose name Socrates accepted the sentence of death was not its own ground but the sublimest for of participation in a divine “giveness.” (Heisig, “The Mystique of the Nonrational and a New Spirituality”)
Powerful words that echo Jung’s words while pointing to that sense of deeper and bigger that I keep talking about. Again the lack of choice, of freedom is mentioned. I want to challenge this as I do see a way out of the compulsion – a messy out in which the “host” decided to quit, saying no to life and the divine madness. There are enough examples of artists going mad and ending it all rather than continue being the vessel through which work as yet unborn could emerge.
For me, it has been lying within, waiting for the right time. I sense that my life is more about being tempered and made ready to do the work. I sense that in this process I am to become a part of the process, not simply a victim. When? What is this work? Good questions which, as of yet, have no acceptable answers. And in thinking about all of this, I wonder if this isn’t more about delusions of grandeur, pathetic attempts at manufacturing some mystical meaning for my life. But even this must wait to be proven true or untrue.