Archive for the ‘mirror’ tag
I am going to do something a bit different here, today. I am am going to let a voice of the self talk to you without my commentary, both in this photo and in words written by Gao XingJian:
If you concentrate on looking at yourself, you will find that your self will gradually separate from the self you are familiar with and multiply into many startling forms. So if I have to make a summary of myself, it terrifies me. I don’t know which o f the many faces represents me more and the more closely I look the clearer the transformations become, and finally only bewilderment remains.
. . . it grows and grows but often not as you wish and moreover, mostly , contrary to what you wish. It is a monster child which you find impossible to accept, yet ultimately it was born of the self and has to be accepted.
. . . I went about observing other people, but whenever I observed other people, I found this detestable omniscient self of mine interfering, and to this day there is not one face it hasn’t interfered with. This is a serious problem, for when I am scrutinizing someone else, I am at the same time scrutinizing myself. I can’t find people with whom I can identify, I search without success, everywhere:
. . . When I am observing others I always treat the other person as a mirror for looking inwardly at myself. (Gao XingJian, Soul Mountain, pp150-151)
Another day, another post, and another rose as I continue rummaging around in my head and heart in search of trying to understand relationships. So far, all I seem to have grasped is that in spite of the word, relationship, we are all alone within ourselves and likely become more so as we become more conscious. I don’t want this to sound and mean that we become more physically alone as that isn’t anywhere near the truth. I have to resort to a Jungian word to better express what I mean - individuation. The more conscious one becomes, the more separate from the collective unconscious one becomes.
I want to travel back in time to provide some scenes that illustrate what I mean about individuation; about love, about relationship and about becoming more aware of self, of my self.
In many ways the real work of self discovery comes with adolescence, that moment in time when one consciously begins to ask the unanswerable questions; ”Who am I? Why am I? Does anyone really see me?” It is as if one has just noticed that the self exists and that this being is a complete mystery. And like an infant, one begins to find an identity in terms of a relationship to others and the things and events of the world. It is as if one begins to emerge out of a darkness and begins to unfold.
As I understand it, this happens to all of us to some degree. Perhaps life’s circumstances create more of an environment for the depth and degree that one finds oneself. Life and circumstances aside, I also intuit that there are some who enter into this individuation process because of other more intangible factors, perhaps even in spite of the life circumstances that serve as the container of one’s being.
As the oldest child in a family that grew to have nine children, it wasn’t long before childhood gave way to caretaking duties that are the natural due to the eldest child. If anything, this relationship with siblings and parents should enable connectedness and relationship. But this was not the case in my life. Life circumstances added a few twists along the way. As a young child and as a youth, my family relocated frequently with a residence rarely lasting for one year. Before finding myself in junior high school I had been enrolled and had attended classes in about a dozen different schools in three different provinces. By the time I got through high school I had added another eight schools spread out over five provinces. Circumstances such as this make it difficult to develop deep friendships which in turn makes it more difficult to differentiate through relationship building. In my opinion this is not something negative or positive, but simply a life condition. One is and one becomes in whatever environment in which one finds oneself.
Because of the decided lack of peer relationships, I found myself often alone with myself. And in being alone, the questions became louder, became more insistent. And likely, the answers were pushed back further because of the intensity of the questions. I needed to interact with others to catch glimpses of my self. I knew that as those rare relationships I did establish were always charged often leaving me filled with wonder. I imagine that my intensity was received with a bit of overwhelming shock. I was an outsider but somehow not alone. I was a curiosity, someone seen as so much older and wiser in spite of my being very short and slight, often the smallest in the various class groupings in which I found myself. I often found myself puzzled over the reaction of others to my presence and examined what they said and did in relation to what I thought I said and did. The briefness of these friendships and classroom relationships meant I didn’t have much time to have the projections of others be withdrawn allowing me a peak at myself through differentiated lenses in those relationships. I guess one could say that I remained an adolescent for a long time, stuck in the essential questions about self.
Unknowingly, I did bloom and find myself a young adult. But that is another story for another day.
I guess it must be my time for revisiting older photos. Here is one from May, 2008. It was actually the May Day festival in China. I was visiting at the home of one of my education students as part of the celebrations for both the May Day festival and her birthday. One of the events planned for the day was to ride in a motorcycle taxi to visit a park just outside of the village about an hour’s drive from my apartment in the city. The photo shows a blurred reflection of my wife in the motorcycle’s mirror.
Just how well can we know our significant others? I wonder as I struggle to come to grips with who I am, how one can ever claim to know anyone all that well. It seems that the closer one gets, the more the other becomes a mystery. I think this even gets more confusing when projections begin to be withdrawn. Long years of being together has given a person some sort of idea who this significant other is. Yet, as one or both begin the quest for self discovery, then the image of the other shifts like some shapechanger.
Who is this stranger? Are you ready for your eyes to be wide open, to risk seeing more clearly, to risk the relationship? Or, will you retreat into past patterns, will you choose to get stuck?
What a problem it is when one identifies solely with the persona, the mask. Rigorous denials of shadow and other unconscious contents is counterproductive as the ego’s links to the holistic self are weakened. One becomes top heavy and ready for a crash. When this happens, the shadow will spill out exposing the persona as a fraud. It is akin to walking around without wearing any pants, being exposed and vulnerable. Better to look into the mirror and see the self behind the persona.
This is an old photo I took in the spring of 1979. This is supposed to be a self-portrait. I decided to take this using a window as a mirror. When I first developed the image, I realised that this actually said more about me than a self-portrait that would have captured all of the outer aspects that all could see. And it was fitting for me to use this photo to talk more about the persona.
At the time, I was back at university completing my B.Ed. after four years of teaching in the northern regions of Canada, teaching in a number of First Nations’ and Métis communities. I had spent four years building my image as a teacher within those communities. Of course, since I was an outsider, a southerner, I was able to craft a unique persona without much pressure from a community to conform to a stereotype. In a way, that freedom had set me up for expecting to have that freedom for the years to come. And of course, it meant that I would struggle when I returned to the south where there were more rigid expectations about what a teacher was like. It was a confusing and difficult transition as I rebuilt my persona so as to escape undo attention and stress.
Whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own face. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face.
“Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious” (1935). In CW 9, Part I: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. P.43
Of course, I knew the truth of who I was under the mask. I saw the truth when I looked in the mirror. As the years passed, the lie between the persona and what I saw in the mirror deepened into depression. I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t like the lie, especially with my family. The were learning to live with someone I saw as a stranger. The more I struggled, the more I buried under layers. There came a day when the acting crashed and the mask cracked. The unconscious refused to be forever denied.