Archive for the ‘myth’ tag
As I was meditating this morning as the sun was rising, a thought crept into my brain. I tried to breath into my body, to focus on each part of each breath in order to gently dissipate the edges of this thought that came creeping. But, it was to no avail. The thought took form and called on me to honour that thought. So, I listened to that still voice that at times decides to grace me, a voice that is so different from the regular chatter that seems to occupy so much of my thinking. The voice suggested that I set aside Hollis’ book for a moment and return to Jung’s words and listen. That was it. With that, silence returned and I fell back into a meditative state.
With meditation done, I had forgotten about the voice and the message for a while as I engaged back with being present in my physical reality and got prepared for the day and making sure that I finished my morning routines. Then, I approached my collection of books on the shelf rather than doing some cyberspace surfing and connecting. I picked up one of my books that looks at Jung’s words on a theme, this particular book looking at what Jung had to say about mythology. Then, I opened the book at random and found these words:
” . . . the hero myth is an unconscious drama seen only in projection, like the happenings in Plato’s parable of the cave. The hero himself appears as a being of more than human stature. He is distinguished from the very beginning by his godlike characteristics. Since he is psychologically an archetype of the self, his divinity only confirms that the self is numinous, a sort of god, or having some share in the divine nature.” (Jung, CW 5, par 612)
I took this photo on the weekend, a scene from a section that is unmarked by the presence of paths and human footsteps, a natural piece of a young scrub poplar forest. I am attracted to those areas that for a moment are still free of human presence, natural settings that remind us of a time and a place that no longer are the norm in the modern world. These natural settings talk to me of a time long past, a time of mythological gods and goddesses, of tricksters and talking animals of the First Nations stories that I learned more than forty years ago. When I find myself in these spaces I become quiet; listening, watching, smelling the air – hoping that outside of the edge of my vision I catch a glimpse of the alter world that I know exists.
I learned from Nietzsche, long, long ago, that god was dead – dead in the hearts and souls of modern man. Science and rationalism had done in the Christian god. Like the Greek and Roman and Viking gods, the numinous presence of the spiritual that the Christian god embodied, this god had failed to make the cut and was tossed into the dustbin in which we toss all our deities when they fail us. But in spite of what Nietzsche told us, I still sense the numinous alive and well in the world. But then again, who am I to make such as statement, after all, I am just some partly crazy psychotherapist wanting some fame and glory and . . . meaning.
As I wander through the almost quiet spaces I get to feel the presence of those old gods and goddess who have chosen to remain hidden from the collective. I know that they sense my presence and approve. I bring with me my deep sense of spiritualism that isn’t bound to the old images, a spiritualism that is open-ended and has unconditional regard for them. For me, they aren’t dead and that is important for with their continued existence outside of form and institution and dogma, I find a place for myself. I belong in this larger, more inclusive world. I become a part, of the world, not some outsider at odds with a shallow world of science, dogma, corporations and governments.
Sensing these presences, I learn that I am not a victim of anything. I am as I am. I am responsible, fully, for what I become, what I do, how I am. I cannot hide in ignorance and blame the darkness that I see in the world for that darkness is also within me. I must get to know my own darkness which is also the same darkness of my neighbours, friends and enemies. And in becoming aware that there is no one else to blame, I am forced to own my own pain and make the world around me a better place, not demand that others do this work for me. I am responsible.
“If the old metaphysical powers are dead; and if we walk carrying as much darkness as light, then we are now obliged to stand more consciously and responsibly before the universe. In Jungian terms, each of us has become responsible for our own individuation. Individuation is not only the inherent, natural impulse within to become what we were meant to be, but the moral imperative of consciousness to cooperate, to further the mysterious aims of nature through the particularities of the individual . . . we are obliged to take responsibility for the meaning of our lives.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, pp 35-36)
While cycling down back lanes, paths and secondary roads in the rural Mekong Delta of Vietnam, I came across this scene of two young men who were busy taking the husks off of coconuts so as to ready the coconuts for sale. At the same time, these coconut husks were being collected for other uses including use as fuel. The scene has likely been played out over thousands of years ever since man had discovered the milk and fruit of the coconut and wondered about the left over husks. The image talks about a simpler time in Asia, a time before philosophy and psychology.
Why do these guys work? It isn’t something that needs a lot of thought. They are adult males and work is part of what they do as members of their community, as mates to females and as fathers to children. Unlike the modern man who needs to find meaning, psychological and physiological relevance in his work, even an identity that is somehow beyond the roles given by community and family.
Mulling on this, I wonder about the original man who happens upon the original woman and how relationship and identity must have seemed to them. With no level of personal consciousness of of a collective consciousness, they were drawn to each other through primal and instinctual needs. They bonded and without thought, perhaps without language, they gave birth to the next generation. Their relationship did not offer choices of others, of soulmates, of magical others. I want to turn to a Gao XingJian and Soul Mountain to present a Chinese myth that talks of this original man and woman:
“The general name for the woman who created man’s intelligence is Nuwa. The first woman, Nuwa, and the first man, Fuxi, constitute the collective consciousness of men and women.
The depiction on Han Dynasty tiles of the mythical union of Fuxi and Nuwa, both with the bodies of snakes but human heads, is derived from the sexual impulses of primal humans.
At that time the individual did not exist. There was not an awareness of a distinction between “I” and “you”. The birth of I derived from fear of death, and only afterwards an entity which was not I came to constitute you. At that time people did not have an awareness of fearing oneself, knowledge of the self came from an other and was affirmed by possessing and being possessed, and by conquering and being conquered. He, that third person who is not directly relevant to I and you, was gradually differentiated. After this the I also discovered that he was to be found in large numbers everywhere and was a separate existence from oneself, and it was only then that the consciousness of you and I became secondary. In the individual struggle for survival amongst others, the self was gradually forgotten and gradually churned like a grain of sand into the chaos of the boundless universe.” (Gao, Soul Mountain, pp 307-308)
“Reality exists only through experience, and it must be personal experience. However, once related, even personal experience becomes a narrative. Reality can’t be verified and doesn’t need to be, that can be left for the “reality-of-life” experts to debate. What is important is life. Reality is simply that I am sitting by the fire in this room which is black with grime and smoke and that I see the light of the fire dancing in his eyes. Reality is myself, reality is only ther perception of this instant and it can’t be related to another person. All that needs to be said is that outside, a mist is enclosing the green-blue mountain in a haze and your heart is reverberating with the rushing water of a swift-flowing stream.” (Gao XingJian, Soul Mountain, p. 15)
As you can tell, I am reading a Chinese novel written by Gao XingJian, the first Chinese writer to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. I have a print copy of the book, one of the rare print books on my book shelf here in China. Most of my “lighter” reading is done using ebooks or online articles. Yet when I read these lines yesterday evening, I knew that they belonged here as I talk about relationship with self.
I am, because I experience. Others are experienced by myself and become part of my myth, a narrative of my own creation. Not one of the others in my narrative are defined by my experience nor can they be defined by myself. We are each locked in our singular worlds of experience. And that experience is foggy at best as we don’t operate with full decks of cards in terms or our full functions. We process, categorize and create based on our limits of functions, based on our flawed perceptions of nature, matter, the universe and others.
And somehow, I get to have a narrative and invite others into relationship with me. And, all the while, it remains a story of one, a personal narrative, a personal myth.
I went to my photo archives for this photo. It wasn’t until after going through the archives for photos taken four years ago on this day, and selecting this photo that I made a connection with something that was hidden beneath the surface. Today is my eldest child’s birthday, a girl who is now mother to two boys. The first child changes one’s life in ways that one can never fully comprehend, a change that I don’t know can be ever understood at a visceral level by those who never have a child. Yet, for all the change that happens, one still remains “self.” It’s as though one simply walks through another inner doorway into another region of self, a place that has always been there.
Last night we went out to dinner at a new restaurant with our apartment neighbours where we met another couple, an American and his Chinese wife. During the evening conversation, I learned where they had bought a new apartment, a place not that far from our apartment. The photo I posted two days ago was taken not too far from their location. To get to their apartment, one has to cross two bridges over two canals. The photo above shows a bridge over the first canal that I cross when headed in that direction. Today that bridge is gone. Changes. Four years after the photo was taken, there is nothing that is the same at this location other than the fact that a canal is still present. Yet even the canal has changed. It has been dredged and a new wall has been built. The banks of the canal are now parkways, green spaces that edge high rise after high rise apartment buildings. The quality of life, from a materialistic point of view, has definitely improved for many Chinese people. But, at what cost?
I won’t answer that last question, it isn’t for me to answer as I would only be making statements based on almost no real objective information. That said, I can look at the images and see what “I” as a westerner have lost. Though I often focus on “self,” I know that I am part of a collective and that what is lost to the collective directly and indirectly impacts upon my “self.” The shift from the dirt and mud into a world of sculpted park has come at a cost. The loss of messiness is really a loss of gods, competing and complementing forces of the human soul.
“The banishment of the gods leads ultimately to a dreary, mechanistic universe. When the word spread throughout the ancient world that the great nature god Pan was dead, there was no rejoicing. He was replaced by the stern monotheistic gods of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic world, who were in turn replaced by the modern reigning deities of Positivism, Materialism, Hedonism, and most of all, the great god Progress. And so the world gets emptier and emptier, and the clients pile up in therapists’ offices, huddle fearfully in houses of ancestral worship, or numb out through television, drugs or even an obsessive preoccupation with health. The gods have hardly gone; they have simply gone underground, and they constantly resurface in the form of our various pathologies.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 89)
Here, in China, I can see this a lot more clearly. Religions and their gods really have no place here. China is racing towards modernism as fast as their newest trains which race from city to city at more than 300 kilometres per hour. There is no pretense – the gods of modernism are embraced with a will as all rush to get their small piece of “happiness.” And sitting here in China, I can more easily see those sitting back at home in Canada and the U.S.A. doing their part to get their small portions while wanting more as they didn’t get the promised happiness. The more that is owned, the more one is left empty. I don’t have answers. I only know that my soul is tired of being deceived and wants to find a home in this world. The home isn’t a place anymore, it is a way of being. And for me, that is the greatest change that has come out of midlife, a time where my children take their turns at being parents.
I originally took this photo as part of a collection detailing the YanCheng area which is a site that recreates part of Changzhou’s history that goes back at least 2,500 years. The tower is representative of something that normally would have been found in the Ching and Ming dynasties. However, when I took this photo from a high point, it leaves me feeling that I am looking at a portal that leads down into the earth.
The only gift I remember getting from my maternal grandmother was really not a gift, but a book I got from my maternal grandfather upon my grandmother’s death, was a book called The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. I was a teenager at the time and the book filled my “Catholic” head with images that rivaled those from my dreams. If anything, the images highlighted the inner images that came from within me. It wasn’t long after getting and reading this book that a complete stranger, an adult male that I had never seen before, stopped me on a street in downtown Ottawa and told me that I had to read Thus Spake Zarathustra by F.W. Nietzsche.
My mythic dreams, these two books, a depression and a loneliness that came from moving too many times in the first 17 years of my life and attending too many schools in different provinces and cities had marked me, had prepared me as though I were some alchemical stew, for a rebirth. There was no way for my upward into a new life until I had plumbed the depths where the old would be transformed as though in a cauldron over a huge fire.
“If energy shows up in a dream image, then it already exists in the psyche of the dreamer. The invisible has been rendered visible. The task of consciousness is to begin to consider this energy, to weigh its presence and to incorporate it into the conduct of daily life. The dream has brought gifts which are continuing to this moment. Before one can deepen as a person, one must visit the depths within. We cannot ascend without first descending. (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 74)
There were so many “Ah-ha!” moments in the reading of these two books and the inner images from my dreams that found a voice in my music and my drawings at that time, that I risked all. The most telling moment for me in that time of my life was the moment when I stood on a bridge over the Ottawa River and debated my journey with my Self. I chose to continue this journey, but with one proviso, I would be a different person. Standing on the bridge in the early hours of the morning I stared long into the dark waters. With the decision made, I threw all that I had on me, into the dark waters as though these “things” would serve as a sacrifice of my old life so that I could ascend into a new life.
Yes, this is me. On December 23rd I was performing on stage for the Christmas Gala put on by the university where I now teach in my retirement. I am a “laowai” or foreigner in a foreign country. I guess you could say I am in an “in between” place. During a visit to my place several weeks ago, the people at the foreign affairs office saw my guitar standing in a corner. Soon after the visit I was asked if I would perform at the Christmas Gala. I agreed as I thought that it would encourage me to play more on this new guitar. What to play was the issue that I faced and soon found myself dithering between John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas – War is Over,” and Alan Jackson’s “The Angels Cried.” In the end, “Angels” won out. I thought that it was much easier to do in terms of sound since Lennon’s song would be best with a choral group adding their voices to the main vocals. Maybe next year . . .
The Angels Cried – Alan Jackson & Alison Krauss
They came from near,they came from far
Following a distance star to where He lay
Not being sure of what it mean, but
Knowing it was heaven sent,
they made their way
And the creatures gathered ’round
And didn’t make a sound
And the angels cried
The angels knew what was to come
The reason God had sent His son
From up above
It filled their hearts with joy to see and
Knowing of His destiny
Came tears of love
And the creatures gathered ’round
And didn’t make a sound
And the angels cried
I’ve often thought about that night
And wondered if they realized
That star so bright
Was sent to tell all the land
The Son of God would soon become
The Son of Man
And the creatures gathered ’round
And didn’t make a sound
And the angels cried
And the Angels Cried
And the Angels Cried
The song is supposed to be about Christmas, but for me it is more than about Christmas in a Christian sense. For me it is about being in a place between myths, being in a place of darkness where one sees a light that beckons one to move out of the darkness. I lost the myth of Christmas when I lost a belief in Christianity and in all religion. The journey toward light has to take place if one is to be reborn, if one is to transform. And that light becomes the new myth. The journey is about building a new myth. James Hollis explains it much better than I can, so I will let his words speak for me here.
“A person caught between myths, or a culture between myths, is in peril, but that is the only place to be when nature, divinity or the soul commands. One person said to me, while going through abandonment and disorientation, “I could never understand the idea of resurrection before this. Now I understand that I had to die in order to become myself. I was so identified with my marriage, with my parenting role and comfortable life that I didn’t know I had not yet come to be myself.”
Such a person does not choose to die. Her old myth was dying on her. That mortal transit is chosen by the gods, by fate or by the Self, yet such a person receives a blessing from the experience by coming to a new sense of self, a new mythology.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 64)
The tears in the darkness thus become, tears of joy and of hope. This was my message as I introduced and sang to all of those present at the performance. Yes, a new child is being born, and that child is you, it is me. What we lose on the journey, that which we mourn, is the sacrifice for what we are given as a gift – a Christmas gift of hope and a new myth.
Yesterday, it was a beautiful fall day here in Changzhou, China. Taking advantage of pleasant temperatures and the sunshine, I spent about five hours walking around the zoo in the southern part of the city, in the YanCheng area. I hope to use more photos from this excursion in the next while. I am looking forward to a return in order to capture other parts of the YanCheng area, especially the old water city area and the ruins that date Changzhou to more than 2,500 years.
But for this walk, I simply enjoyed nature and the colours of fall. This grass was especially captivating for me. I loved seeing the white feathery presence in contrast to the darker shades in the background. The image gives me a fairy-tale feeling, about a time and place that is just at the edge of my reality. It is scenes such as this that pull me into a readiness for seeing beyond the limits of my senses.
Today’s post, and those that follow for the next while, will draw on thoughts, words and ideas from another James Hollis book called Mythologems: Incarnations of the Invisible World. As I have pointed out before, Hollis is one Jungian analyst and author that I have come to respect. That said, I want to turn to a few of his words in the introduction:
“. . . myth carries from its origin, shrouded in mystery, and through a glass dimly, the intimation, respect, awe, frustration and longing for something larger, much larger. That numinosity (from the metaphor, “to nod,” as something which bows toward us, acknowledges us, summons us) is our source, our home away from home, and our journey’s end. (Hollis, Mythologems, 2004, p. 7)
The numinous – this is what lets me know that I have entered the realm of the almost impossible, the land of myths and legends which are projections of the personal and collective unconscious, where archetypes take on faces and character. As I come to “nod” in awareness, to resonate with an “ah-ha,” I have begun the process of making the unconscious, conscious. For me, the invisible begins to take shape allowing me to follow the inner stories and discover a fuller sense of who I am. For it is only here that I will ever be able to answer the ultimate question – Who am I?
I took this photo of the moon two days ago. I had hoped to get another photo yesterday, one of the full moon, the harvest moon; but the weather wasn’t cooperative. I guess the intuitive side of me wanted me to be prepared and so “moved” me to take the photos of the moon a day early. I did take quite a few images using different settings. Just as I was ready to say “enough” this image came into my view. I knew I had to take this one, that this one was the important one.
“Identification with a social role is a frequent source of midlife crisis, because it inhibits our adaptation to a given situation beyond what is collectively prescribed. Who am I without the mask? Is there anybody home? I am a prominent and respected member of the community. Why, then, is my wife more interested in somebody else?
We cannot get rid of ourselves in favor of a collective identity without some consequences: we lose sight of who we are without our protective covering; our reactions are predetermined by collective expectations (we do and think and feel what our persona “should” do, think and feel); those close to us complain of our emotional distance; and worst of all, we cannot imagine life without it.
Many married people have a joint persona as a “happy couple.” Whatever may be happening between them, they greet the world with a united front. They are perfectly matched, the envy of their friends. What is going on behind the curtains is anybody’s guess.” (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, p. 43)
So much to think about here. The image seems to reinforce this idea of being trapped in a collective identity leaving me looking for my “centre” which is a hazy light, the image of a soul I know is there but seems so distant, so ephemeral. Unconsciously I reach out to grasp my soul, a soul projected on an other. Does one only recover access to the soul when one withdraws the projection of anima/animus? With the loss of the holder of one’s projections, , there is no guarantee that one will turn within to find the soul. More often than not, one feels the loss of the projected anima/animus and thus seeks to find a different other to hold the projections. For, the community is about relationship with others, not with the self. Relationship after relationship in search of connection to anima/animus only to continually find that the soul remains out of reach.
Withdrawal of projections without rejecting the other who has held the projections opens the doorway to soul recovery, a reunion of self and soul. The door opens, but does one dare to enter that doorway, or does one cling to the old myth though it no longer exists?
Somehow I wonder if there is coherence in these words.
This is a Buffalo Berry Bush that is a native plant to the prairies. There is an interesting story from our First Nations People about the Buffalo Berry Bush that I want to pass on here. One thing that I thought most important was the attitude towards the deity that stands behind all things. This story can be found on the web, here.
Why Indians Whip the Buffalo Berries From the Bushes
The Indian believes that all things live again; that all were created by one and the same power; that nothing was created in vain; and that in the life beyond the grave he will know all things that he knew here. In that other world he expects to make his living easier, and not suffer from hunger or cold; therefore, all things that die must go to his heaven, in order that he may be supplied with the necessities of life.
The sun is not the Indian’s God, but a personification of the Deity; His greatest manifestation; His light.
The Indian believes that to each of His creations God gave some peculiar power, and that the possessors of these special favors are His lieutenants and keepers of the several special attributes; such as wisdom, cunning, speed, and the knowledge of healing wounds. These wonderful gifts, he knew, were bestowed as favors by a common God, and therefore he re- vered these powers, and, without jealousy, paid tribute thereto.
The bear was great in war, because before the horse came, he would sometimes charge the camps and kill or wound many people. Although many arrows were sent into his huge carcass, he seldom died. Hence the Indian was sure that the bear could heal his wounds. That the bear possessed a great knowledge of roots and berries, the Indian knew, for he often saw him digging the one and stripping the oth- ers from the bushes. The buffalo, the beaver, the wolf, and the eagle – each possessed strange powers that commanded the Indian’s admiration and respect, as did many other things in creation.
If about to go to war, the Indian did not ask his God for aid–oh, no. He realized that God made his enemy, too; and that if He desired that enemy’s destruction, it would be accomplished without man’s aid. So the Indian sang his song to the bear, prayed to the bear, and thus invoked aid from a brute, and not his God, when he sought to destroy his fellows.
Whenever the Indian addressed the Great God, his prayer was for life, and life alone. He is the most religious man I have ever known, as well as the most superstitious; and there are stories dealing with his religious faith that are startling, indeed.
“It is the wrong time of year to talk about berries,” said War Eagle, that night in the lodge, “but I shall tell you why your mothers whip the buffalo-berries from the bushes. OLD-man was the one who started it, and our people have followed his example ever since. Ho! OLD-man made a fool of himself that day.
“It was the time when buffalo-berries are red and ripe. All of the bushes along the rivers were loaded with them, and our people were about to gather what they needed, when OLD-man changed things, as far as the gathering was concerned.
“He was travelling along a river, and hungry, as he always was. Standing on the bank of that river, he saw great clusters of red, ripe buffalo-berries in the water. They were larger than any berries he had ever seen, and he said:
“‘I guess I will get those berries. They look fine, and I need them. Besides, some of the people will see them and get them, if I don’t.’
“He jumped into the water; looked for the berries; but they were not there. For a time Old-man stood in the river and looked for the berries, but they were gone.
“After a while he climbed out on the bank again, and when the water got smooth once more there were the berries – the same berries, in the same spot in the water.
“‘Ho! That is a funny thing. I wonder where they hid that time. I must have those berries!’ he said to himself.
“In he went again – splashing the water like a Grizzly Bear. He looked about him and the berries were gone again. The water was rip- pling about him, but there were no berries at all. He felt on the bottom of the river but they were not there.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘I will climb out and watch to see where they come from; then I shall grab them when I hit the water next time.’
“He did that; but he couldn’t tell where the berries came from. As soon as the water settled and became smooth – there were the berries – the same as before. Ho! OLD-man was wild; he was angry, I tell you. And in he went flat on his stomach! He made an awful splash and mussed the water greatly; but there were no berries.
“‘I know what I shall do. I will stay right here and wait for those berries; that is what I shall do’; and he did.
“He thought maybe somebody was looking at him and would laugh, so he glanced along the bank. And there, right over the water, he saw the same bunch of berries on some tall bushes. Don’t you see? OLD-man saw the shadow of the berry-bunch; not the berries. He saw the red shadow-berries on the water; that was all, and he was such a fool he didn’t know they were not real.
“Well, now he was angry in truth. Now he was ready for war. He climbed out on the bank again and cut a club. Then he went at the buffalo-berry bushes and pounded them till all of the red berries fell upon the ground till the branches were bare of berries.
“‘There,’ he said, ‘that’s what you get for making a fool of the man who made you. You shall be beaten every year as long as you live, to pay for what you have done; you and your children, too.’
“That is how it all came about, and that is why your mothers whip the buffalo-berry bushes and then pick the berries from the ground. Ho!”