Archive for the ‘Mythologems’ tag
A flight delay is allowing me to post again here which is just as well s I find that I am ready for more. While waiting here at PuDong International Airport, I took out Mythologems, by James Hollis and found this quote on the last page, a quote that was highlighted on a previous visit to the book:
“The gods are present whenever we ask the right questions about our journeys. Knowing what questions matter is the first and nearly the most difficult task. Living the answers the gods bring to, in lieu of those we would prefer, ist the greater challenge.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 148)
Asking the right questions – Is it time to set aside the patterns and predictability of life in China and risk a conversation with the inner aspects of self: anima, shadow, saint, demon, child, sage and whatever other gods make their presence known? Do I risk what is, for what might be regardless of how that unknown might look/feel/be? Do I trust myself to keep the focus on self-discovery rather than caving in to meet the expectations of others, expectations that perhaps I invent and are not really there? Will I discover that I am worthy of this work?
I don’t know if these are the right questions or only questions that lead to yet more questions which lead to yet again more questions before it is time for the right questions. Right questions or not, I am am saying “Yes!” to each of these questions regardless of where the questions and answers take me. It is about trust in the unknown, in saying yes to the re-animating of my life.
A Chinese magnolia tree in Sunshine Gardens is about to blossom. This flower bud will become a large pink blossom. All the white magnolia blossoms are already on display. Spring in ChangZhou is all about colour and vitality. Yes, the image chosen today is very evocative of the masculine, something that I didn’t notice when I was busy with the camera taking a raft of photos for a posting on my other blog site, the one which chronicles my life in China as a laowai (foreigner) teaching ESL, a posting about the flowers in the gated community in which I live. However, once I went over the photos, the masculine aspect became evident. Using a little editing, the colour and texture made that fact even more obvious.
One of my readers remarked to me once, “What is it with you and erection?” in response to yet another post and photo that highlights the masculine. I guess the question was really more of a “What is your story that notes these images as you pass through life?” Each of us has a story, or more correctly, stories that compose the foundation of our identity, of how we see ourselves and how we understand and decode the world.
Well, I’ve been thinking about how I would answer the question posed to me and realise that I have been answering the question about my stories with each of these posts. The posts are more of a living story telling about my own psyche as if this space was no different from the container of an analyst’s office and that the stories told here are those I could have spoken to an analyst. Each of the images I have brought here illustrate my personal myth. I want to call on the words of James Hollis to somehow explain this idea of a personal myth.
“To ask, what is your story? is to be obliged to ask what are your stories, for we are no single narrative. What is humbling is the acknowledgment through age, repetition and the growth of consciousness that we have less autonomy in the construction of our lives than we had fantasized. In the end, the chief result of a long-term analysis is not a solution to our dilemma, for life is not a problem, but a progressive unfolding of mystery. The joyful discovery is that our lives become more interesting to us as we discern that we are part of a larger mystery. This is a proper relocation of the ego from its imperial fantasy to its unique, personal place. We become amazed witnesses of the great theater wherein we play our part, and are reminded of the progressive incarnation which occurs in even the most modest of moments.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 113)
So the answer I have found is that there is nothing “the matter” with me. Rather, I am discovering, uncovering, my self in a way that is transparent and honest. There is nothing to hide, nor any reason to hide that which I discover as bits of shadow enter into consciousness and cease being shadow.
Sometimes a picture just jumps out and says, “See me, see me!” This was one of those pictures for me. I often take doorway and window shots as they are “natural” frames. Doorways and windows are structures that provide openings into another place. Closed doors and windows leave one wondering and leave one shut out. Open doors and windows are almost an invitation to enter, to risk.
This photo has a hint of colour amid the darker colours of the wall that separates this side of existence and the version of existence on the other side of the window which is a curious blend of door and window – that has been opened. Within the inner world, green leaves on a small bush that talks about life on the opposite side. The wall behind the bush is a blend of darkness and white, a suggestion that this alternate world is not necessarily a perfect place.
As you can see, I am projecting a lot on this scene, using the image through active imagination to create a dialogue with my inner self. This inner world is more mythological than it is defined. The inner world is a place that defies clarity. But then again, as I am learning as the years and decades pass, the outer world is also a place that defies clarity. The lack of clarity often leads to a sense of depression, a questioning of purpose and meaning. Many, unable to handle the ambiguous nature of living in this outer world, turn to some sort of religion in an attempt to find answers to their personal questions of self and meaning, especially during times of unrest such as is being experienced in the world today.
“Or, consider anxiety, that steady state affect of our existential, precarious existence. It is hard to imagine an organism which experiences equanimity in the face of its imminent annihilation, although that counterpoise has been the chief goal of most world religions. Many of those religions seek surcease of suffering through sleight of hand, the promise of an afterlife, which after all is simply offering the ego the promise of a second go at it, presumably under better conditions. (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 104)
Is this why I am drawn to doorways and windows? With no religion to turn to with their promises of another life, another world, I am forced to find a different answer to my personal questions of purpose and meaning in a world that isn’t particularly concerned with my personal continued existence.
A second photo from the series taken at Ta Promh, a group of buildings and temples near Angkor Wat, shoes how trees have wrapped themselves around doors, walls and windows of one of the temple structures. I took the photo in the late afternoon, a time when light coats everything with a sheen of gold. Though the scene is one of abandonment and decay, there remains a strong sense of what was in place in the times before abandonment. There is a feel of almost holiness as if this was a once-upon-a-time favoured place of the gods.
As I look at the photo, I almost sense a heaviness, a depression. Yes, this is a holy place, but the intent of ego which was responsible for building the temple has been overthrown. The gods have responded to the ego and not in the expected manner. As Hollis would explain it, “the ego’s agenda is overthrown” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 109). What is it that overthrows the intentions of ego, the plans of men and women? Listen to Carl Jung’s thoughts on this matter:
“I know of the existence of God-images in general and in particular. I know it is a matter of a universal experience and, in so far as I am no exception, I know that I have such experience also, which I call God. It is the experience of my will over against another and very often stronger will, crossing my path often with seemingly disastrous results, putting strange ideas into my head and maneuvering my fate sometimes into most undesirable corners or giving it unexpected favorable twists, outside my knowledge and intention.” (Jung, Letters, vol. 2, pp 522-523)
God then is a personal god, one with which one battles. One knows that this god is present and has a presence that transcends all that one knows. Yet this personal god with whom one wrestles is also bigger than just a personal god for one person. This transcendent otherness is also engaging others and in found in places and within images. One knows this presence through some aspect of self and consciousness that is found only on the edges, a numinosity.
This image holds that sense of numinosity for me. This was a place for the gods, and curiously the photo “glows” pointing back to the gods that have transcended the time and place. And what is left becomes a temple that points to a God transcended, not a god tamed by man, contained by man’s stonework.
Yes, Starbucks in found in Changzhou. I know of two different Starbucks locations in this city of three and a half million people. Joining Starbucks are other corporate entities that no-no-borders such as Macdonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut, and KFC. There is no question in my mind that the powers behind the scenes are now visible through these outlets. It has stopped being about nation versus nation, about one political belief system versus yet another system. The real Power is Prosperity, Progress, and Pleasure.
“The loss of relationship to the invisible powers makes the visible powers all the more powerful. We have corporate moguls running government, as deceitfully as they ran corporations . . .” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 99)
It isn’t as though we “want” to be ruled by these power brokers, to be ruled by others who have no agenda other than being on top, holding as much power as can be held. The election of Obama as the president of the United States of America was watched by people all over the world, people who saw this event as belonging to them as well. Perhaps an individual with a vision could recapture a sense of humanity, could take back the power lost. But, like all the other leaders, he is a man that is constrained and contained, essentially powerless. His advisors have advisors, and the advice doesn’t advance the will and the needs and the dreams of people who have chosen him as their leader. What has been delivered in the U.S.A. and all western world democracies and the up and coming countries such as China is something different.
“. . . the spectacle of modern social and political interaction is little more than the exercise of the old will to power serving contemporary neuroses. The outcome is no longer in doubt. We end in neuroses, in addictions, power and displays of enthusiasm, banality, diversions of increasing urgency, and more and more loneliness. The gods have hardly departed; they have simply gone underground and reappear as wounds, as inflations, as pathologies. Our contemporary suffering is not tragic, for we wrestle not with gods; rather it is pathetic, the suffering which is unconscious and invariably victimizing of self and others.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 99)
Choose any location you want in today’s modern world and look carefully. Consciousness is not much in evidence. The events in the U.S.A. defy common sense, the lack of ethical behaviour in Canada’s leadership are two examples in a world that has lost its moral compass. With the loss of the gods, the vacuum has been filled with greed and the other deadly sins. The call to fundamentalist religions does not hold the answer, for they too are more about remaining as unconscious as possible.
I went looking for a photo in my archives, one that would suggest presence under the ego-self, and I found this one of fish swimming in one of the pools of one of the many parks in Changzhou. The idea I have in mind is one of “acknowledging” that there is energy beneath the conscious surface of our lives. I think that most of us “fear” that which is hidden in the murky darkness that lies beneath our conscious awareness of self. That fear prevents most of us from “connecting” with that inner shadow world. Many of us look to something to divert our attention from the shadow-land; television, exercise, sex, eating, travelling, work, drugs, alcohol – the list is endless. The objective is to hone in on the “real” world and hope that the shadows and the figures in the shadow-land disappear as if just a bad dream, a nightmare. Yet, a few dare to turn around and look back into the shadows and acknowledge the energy that lurks there.
“. . . the great god Fear, a god who holds sway over many a soul. Who cannot identify this god will end by being governed by it unconsciously. . . . To personify the god is to acknowledge that it is not only powerful but that one can come into some sort of conscious relationship to it. The god Fear, unacknowledged becomes a tyrannical murderer. To personify the god brings the possibility of assimilating the contents into consciousness and thereby removing their demonic power. When a person is in the grips of the demonic, and the crowd reinforces that energy, the ordinary individual has little purchase on consciousness.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 96)
Over the past two days a new story has come out of Arizona, or rather an old story that has taken on a new look. The god, Fear, erupted into presence as a number of people were killed and more injured in a politically charged arena. No one is listening as the rhetoric of polarity politics rages. The same god, Fear, is seen in the churches, in the government chambers, in the actions of nations “standing on guard” with weapons ready. The same god, Fear, has convinced people to give up freedom on thought and expression in schools in order to ensure that only the “right” words are spoken to our children, words that deny other ideas, other beliefs.
I have to admit that I am sorely tempted to join the activated and heated yelling in hopes that someone will listen and change their minds about the “right to bear arms” as those arms are used to kill, to punish, to threaten. But, I know that one can only hear when one is ready. To rail uselessly only provokes a demonic response. Read again the reports that came out of the medicare debates in the U.S.A. and you will see what I am talking about.
I see Fear working his magic here in China. This isn’t about one country, but about humans not acknowledging the shadow within and thus falling into the role of projecting the demon onto others. Mob mentality feeds on this. Watching the world, I am not the happiest of campers.
On one of my innumerable walks, I passed by a new housing community that featured about a dozen skyscraper high rises and a collection of two and three story complexes and homes. Standing at the edge of the community was a short two story building that was like a miniature castle. It wasn’t a home, though. I saw this tiny thing as quite pretentious in its location. One would have expected it to be the tallest of the structures rather than one of the shortest buildings.
The image taken and then left on the computer with other photos from the walk, it was soon forgotten. Then, while looking for a specific photo, I saw this one again and decided that it had something in it that merited another study. So, I cropped it to see what emerged. The first thing to stand out was the phallic symbol. Ah-ha, a photo for the series of posts that I want to do on the theme of the masculine. I then left the image on my desktop screen until I could place it in its appropriate folder that I have set up for the images that might be useful for the theme. yet, I never did drag the photo to the folder and it stayed on the desktop staring at me.
Today, I began to think of writing my blog post after checking my morning e-mail and reading my Twitter and Facebook pages in order to see how family and friends were doing. Before deciding on today’s topic, I somehow chose this image to be here.. I trusted that the words would find their way here. Besides, I could always change the image later. Then, I turned to Mythologems and soon found the reason why this photo belongs here:
“Looked at archetypally, a god is the image that arises out of a depth experience, an encounter with a mystery. For this reason, divinity is always renewing itself. How could it possibly be fixed? It is energy, not image. The image is only the transient husk of divinity. Divinity floods the husk, renders it numinous, and when the human ego seeks to fix it, worship it and constrict it in service to its own ego security agenda, the god “dies,” which is to say, leaves the husk to reincarnate elsewhere. This is the meaning of the “death of a god” motif, which may be found in the ancient mythologies of all peoples, long before Nietzsche’s mid-nineteenth-century pronouncement.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 91)
The phallic imagery in these words “fit” the image I have brought here. Of course, I don’t equate “god” with “phallos,” but I do see the metaphor of being filled and being emptied, about being a “husk” and about worshiping the image instead of the energy. It has to come back to the energy. The mating of self and other in which both are “filled” to create a holy marriage followed by a small “death,” that is part of the imagery. It isn’t the swollen membrane that deserves worship, if one must worship, it isn’t the holder of the energy be it a penis, Allah, Yaweh, Baha u llah, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius or whoever; it is the energy which gave rise to these holders of the energy that one must honour. For me, it is about honouring and not worshiping the energy that arises from the depths, a place where “self” and “Self” become one.
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 woke up two days ago to a light skiff of snow coating the grass, cars and bushes. It is the first snow of the season. From the kitchen window as I looked out at this scene, there was a sense of the numinous, a sense of more than the content of the objective reality caught by the camera and my eyes.
That numinous quality points me towards something that defies being objectified, something that transcends as well as going under and into all that I know. It is at moments like this that I get a sense of what god could be. I know that a god has to be more than me, but it also must include me. I sense that it has to include everything, not just a select group of initiated members. The air, the water, the minerals, all animate and inanimate life must be encompassed by this god if that god is to fill my sense of god-ness.
“What can be said of the gods which has not been said? Who are they? Why does a relatively rational person even refer to the gods today? What can we say, if anything, about them? Are thy naught but our projections? Are they in fact the old parent figures in the sky which we inherited from tribal history, from when the heavens were “up there”" somewhere? Are they watching us with some large book, some doomsday accounting, the purpose of which is to frighten us into right conduct? Or, can a person who believes in the metaphysical reality of God A, his god, but not God B, his neighbor’s god, still find a way to listen rationally to all this palaver?” (Hollis, Mythologems, pp 82-83)
Yes, these are questions that don’t want to penned into a corner with answers that can be put into some text somewhere to serve as a new “bible” for “modern man.” As I read this in Hollis’ book, I thought of a song I have recently played as I practice with my new guitar, an old song from Bob Dylan called “With God on Our Side.”
“Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.”
I know that, even though I didn’t come from the mid-west, I came from the same belief system. I was a Catholic that had God on his side; and the Protestant kids were left out in the cold while I became a “soldier of Christ.” It didn’t matter if they called themselves Christians. It didn’t matter about the other religions lived by other kids on the street. Only I had a chance of going to heaven. As long as I believed and stayed true to the Church. That was a long time ago. In the sixties when I took up folk music and first played Dylan’s song, I was repulsed with the sense of exclusion that seemed to pervade religions. I had tried so many different versions of Christianity and had made some friendships with others who were Jewish, agnostics, or another as of that time unknown to me religion. Like Dylan, I said to myself:
“So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war.”
Today, I can’t lay the responsibility on God to stop wars, to stop global warming, to stop all of the geological and political and economic upheavals now headed our way. God is found in all of it, not outside of it.
Yesterday’s walk took me passed this scene which for some reason caught my eye. On top of this very modern building are three miniature chimneys which may or may not have a function other than appearance. There are no fireplaces here nor is there central heating for the most part. All homes and apartments that I have seen so far only have heat via the combo air conditioner and heater. That said, these faux chimneys make me think of a few people I know who stand tall and believe that they are gods. I have to admit that sometimes my own ego gets caught in the same delusion at times as I try to be saintly, try to be a perfect human. Thankfully, I am prone to fall flat on my butt where I get a different view of my self and the world around me.
“. . . the ego forever seeks the posture of divinity, until times when the neglected Self imposes itself upon the ego in such fashion as to break its delusion of sovereignty. The ego thinks it is the Self, and the religious sensibility thinks the image is the god. So our history of delusion continues, in part because of the limits of ego capacity, and in part because of the hidden agenda of seeking control of what is wholly beyond its ken.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 82)
The image above helps me to understand this. Each little chimney is posited on an expansive roof, connected and supported by the fabric of the roof which separated the chimney from the foundational structure. I see this as an analogy of consciousness resting on the more expansive unconscious. The chimney stands upon the roof looking upwards, almost fully unaware of what lies beneath. Is it any wonder that the ego, like these chimneys, would think it is god?