Archive for the ‘numinous’ tag
“Through the bloodweb of our mothers, we start out connected to the pulse and rhythm of the cosmos. And then we are torn from the Mother, separated from the cosmos, separated from the gods, separated forever.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 11)
Beginnings – we could easily get lost in the debate of which came first, a man or a woman without ever arriving at a satisfactory answer. For me, and for all humans, our first contact is with the woman, our mother. It is a contact that began in the womb. The relationship was physical and psychologically unconscious for each of us within the womb. We had no sense of self, no sense of separation, no sense of other. It was all one.
And then I, and you, were born. Our births began with a separation from our mothers. The cosmos within which we existed pushed us out. That initial universe died for us. The pulse and the rhythms vanished. Unconsciously, as we enter into a new universe in which we will again become engaged in relationship, we feel afraid. We have already learned loss and abandonment.
For me, like for all men, mother became the new centre of the cosmos. As we grew to sense that we were separate beings, mother became a magical being, an omnipotent being. Mother became our magical other.
The moon is beginning to wane to begin its journey into darkness where it will be lost in the earth’s shadow before beginning another cycle of re-appearance. As the moon appears in the sky, whether in daytime hours or at night, both my wife and I are drawn to its appearance. For both of us, for perhaps different reasons, the moon has a numinous quality that says it is more than what meets the eye, more than a spherical hunk of rock in the orbit of the earth.
A descent isn’t always something that needs to be viewed with trepidation. If one is able to watch with a sense of mystery, one begins to understand that there is something to be gained in a descent into the unconscious realms. Wandering in the shadows allows us to find what would otherwise remain hidden treasures.
In a way, meditation is not much different. Each time I sit and enter into a meditative state I enter into a place where my ego is released from control. I enter into a state of unconsciousness, a journey that takes me to spaces of existence that somehow affirm who I am in a larger context, a being beyond the small controlling ego sense of self. As I return to my body self and my ego consciousness kicks back into awareness, I bring back some of what I have experienced, experiences which have slightly changed me.
Like the passing of days, of moon cycles, of seasons and years, I change with acquired experience and hard-won awareness of both myself and the world. I have learned that the darkness is a part of the light; and that the light is a part of the darkness. And so I treasure the magic and mystery of that white orb in the darkened skies for what she teaches me about my soul which is hidden in the darkness of my inner being.
The Way of the Cross – Via Dolorosa. I have a different way of understanding this Catholic idea. For me it begins with one being condemned to life rather than death as is depicted in the first of the stations. And, it ends in death and reintegration with whatever one wants to call the One from which all arises, wanders and returns. I see it as a circle. This image of a cross which stands in front of the cathedral in Estaing, France, fits with my understanding how all is contained within. all is part of a whole.
The work of the second half of life is a work of uncovering and honouring the whole self. This is a work of making the unconscious, conscious – well as much as possible for there is always some things about one’s psyche that will remain a mystery, partly because the boundaries between the personal unconscious and he collective unconscious are porous. What do I mean by this? Well, to begin with, we are all connected in spite of our feelings and beliefs that tell us we are isolated from each other. Nature is a good teacher if one would listen. Our environment teaches us that all parts are interconnected; and when one part is suffering, all the parts suffer. We also see this in our families; when one member of the family suffers, all members resonate and feel that suffering and in the process, share that suffering.
The rise of eco-psychology is tied into this. We are all contained within the circle, all at home on this spherical planet. When we suffer, the planet suffers; when the planet suffers, we suffer. The latest severe storm to hit the north-eastern U.S.A. and eastern Canada is a good example of the earth hurting and humans then hurting in response. I have to add that when our environment suffers, we humans also suffer – polluted air, water and soil in turn pollute our bodies and depress our psyche.
The symbol for the Earth is also found in our spirituality – the circle and the cross as found above in the photo from Estaing. This same circle and cross is found in Celtic symbolism. All contained in one – the four seasons of the earth, the four seasons of humankind; the four directions, the four noble truths, the four virtues.
Halloween, All Hallow’s eve, Samhain – a deliberate remembrance of the cycle of birth and death of nature and of whatever it is that is our human spirit. I have different responses to this ancient remembrance. In its current form as Halloween, I am ambivalent. I detest the idea of it being trivialized through the media to the point where it loses meaning.
Yet, in spite of what it appears is happening, there is something else going on beneath the surface, something not so trivial. Life requires balance. What is lost in one place is found in another place. Birth leads to death and death feeds new life. The gods and goddesses seem to have disappeared only to change shapes and re-emerge in other forms. In spite of the commercialization, children sense the magic that is truly present, see what we can no longer see. And for a time, the dead gods and goddesses are reborn and live.
I was looking for a photo for my wall as part of my sacred space and found this image which caught my attention. It isn’t the image I want for the wall but it was waiting for my attention here on the blog site. As I wandered through various countries in Asia over the past six years I am surprised at the number of photos taken of Buddha. The first image of Buddha that I can recall was one that was Chinese in appearance as compared to the Tibetan or Southeast Asian versions of Buddha. Wandering through Southeast Asia I got to see various representations of Buddha and began to realise that Buddha has been culturally personalized. It didn’t take me long to also realise that the practice of Buddhism is as varied as the physical presentations of Buddha.
The images point to something beyond the image. Buddha is not a god. Rather, Buddha images beg us to look beyond the image into something that is impossible to capture in an image, something numinous, something god-like. As I dig carefully into this numinous idea called Buddhism I am beginning to see that same “kingdom within” that is spoken of in Christianity. The digging quietly leads me deeper into my Self, not the small self of ego, but a larger version that tells me that I am more than my ego, that ego is a flawed, conflicted and complexed self that is haunted by shadows and darkness.
As I find light in the darkness I get to banish the shadows and learn that I am more than I know. And so I take heart and continue the work of individuation, the work of enlightenment, the work of becoming more and more aware of Self. I embrace the journey learning to love myself and others simply because there is no more choice. Once begun, the journey can’t be stopped, one cannot go backward while the mind is still alive and functioning.
I was fortunate this weekend to be able to meet and take part in a week-end presentation and workshop with Jungian analyst, Guy Corneau, a Canadian analyst from Montréal, Québec. Guy had been diagnosed with terminal, stage four cancer in his lungs and three organs in 2007. Obviously, since he was here in Calgary, something happened to him that makes for a story well worth telling. In short, he decided that he wanted to live and decided that to do so he would have to use all of his resources – people, medicine, and any other modality that might have his body change its mind, such as tai chi, meditation, writing poetry and playing guitar. Of all these modalities, in his opinion, it was a practice of engaging in a dialogue with the cells of his body that became the key. By 2009 there was no trace of cancer left in his body. If anything, his body was in the best physical shape of the last thirty years of his life.
Below I will highlight a few key points that struck me:
- the body understands feelings more than it does what physically happens to the body
- the self needs to be rooted back into life
- the ego must give up the familiarity of darkness or the body will die prematurely
- use active imagination to create a positive vision for self
- dare to risk when there is nothing to lose but darkness and fear
- we have a subscription for unhappiness that we need to cancel
These are powerful statements. As I listened hypnotized by the words and ideas, I saw so much of myself being exposed, and in listening to his story, heard my own story. When we left China, my wife explained to those we left behind that I was going to Canada to deal with brain cancer. The truth was that I do indeed have cancer that Guy described as being narcosis of the psyche, a cancer in my head that is willing my body to darkness and death.
As he told his story of healing, I heard a story of my first death sentence as a child, and what happened to me that resulted in that death sentence being lifted. I contracted acute nephritis at the age of four and there was little hope that I would make it to adulthood. As I now come to understand it, the first four years of my life lived with a dark mother who was abandoned by my father sowed the seeds of the disease (dis-ease), and the return of my father which lead to a deeper emotional abandonment by my mother triggered the outbreak of the disease.
I was in and out of hospitals with sickening regularity yet something changed in my life and my feeling state when I was fourteen that resulted in the doctors being puzzled by the disappearance of the disease from my body. That year, was the first year in my life that we stayed in the same house for a whole year with the belief that I would be there for a long time. I began to have friends, I had a horse which I would ride in the open countryside, I spent time studying the stars lying on my back, and I got a guitar and played my heart out. I had embraced living for the first time and my body thanked me.
Knowing now, that I have it in me to heal because I have done so in the past, I feel a huge relief. A road map had been presented to me, a road map for healing in the adult world. Thank you, Guy.
The question in the photo’s caption is one that is vital for all of humanity in today’s world, not just a personal question. After writing these lines, my Daily Om meditation arrived in my mail box:
When we continually live our life
with a safety net
it creates a barrier to our freedom.
(Daily Om, March 21, 2012)
In a way, the gods and goddesses and our temples in their names were our psychic safety nets. As they fled, we got lost and we abandoned the temples, leaving them in ruin, leaving them to bare witness to our loss, our sense of hopelessness. Why did they leave us? Well, they didn’t. They fled the temples because they yearned for their rightful home, within us. We banished the gods and goddesses to temples, built walls around our psyches to keep them out. We wanted them to be “out there” somewhere to be a buffer between our fragile sense of self and the cruel world of nature and other men. We refused our own freedom and strength.
And today, will we dare the hard work of going within to find these gods and goddesses who wait for us? Or, will we find new gods and goddesses such as the economy, property, relationships, drugs, alcohol, sex, power and ownership of things we will never need? Modern man is in trouble, and will continue his race into oblivion if he cannot reconnect with his own soul, a soul which is the true safety net.
“It is no accident that the primary motive, the hidden agenda in any relationship, is the yearning to return. It is . . . the Eden Project . . . the yearning for the Beloved. It is essentially a religious search . . . ” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 17)
As much as I want to dismiss this as pure rubbish because of a number of factors including to my aversion to the word “religion,” I have to look even deeper into this because of the “heat” that the statement has elicited within me. That “heat” is a warning bell that I must heed if I am to reach my goal of freedom from my self-imposed boxes that keep me out of authentic relationships with others.
There is no question there is a yearning within me, there has always been a yearning within me for as long as I can remember. I wanted connection so badly I would do anything to protect whatever it was that could give me that sense of belonging. Most of the time, there was nothing I could do and so I would disappear into silence and into books. Sometimes life through what I perceived as threats to the thin threads of connection that did exist within my family – become a responsible adult as a child taking care of other children, becoming my mother’s little “man” of the house when my father was absent, being the offering to my mother’s father in hopes that she would be restored into a state of grace with her father. None of it worked. I blamed myself for the failure as is normal for a child when put into these life circumstances. Rather than feeling the bond of belonging, I was left wounded and betrayed by my mother, by my father, by my grandfather and by my church which has seen my vulnerability and exploited it. I was left empty blaming myself instead of others.
Then I found a girl who needed me and in turn, I found myself needing her, hoping that she could fill all of my empty spaces. She became my religion, my Magical Other. It was love at first sight for both of us with a commitment for a life of love and relationship given in those first few hours of contact. Who was this person, this young woman? I never asked that question, it was enough that she said “Yes” to my proposal of marriage in those first few hours. I was one of the lucky ones, I found myself in relation to a beautiful young woman, a woman who was everything I was not, as different as one could possibly be. And I filled in her holes.
But the holes only became bigger as the years and the decades passed; holes that had nothing to do with the “Magical Other” we had married, but had to do with something within the depths of myself. And as a result, relationship became strained – the “Magical Other” became a real, live, breathing woman as I became a man of faults, one not able to sustain the myth of her “Magical Other.” And it is here where I begin to sense the pull to something else, the pull into the religious or spiritual, a pull that can’t be filled with or by any woman; what I found missing in the dynamic was an authentic relationship to my “self.” As I wrote these last words, it dawned on me that I was trying to connect to something deeper that the core of Robert, but to the center of everything, the source that breathed life and soul into the joining of sperm and egg that would become a human. That is the religious home to which I find myself yearning for in my second half of life.
Does this mean there is no room for relationship with another human, with my wife? No! If anything, I will be better able to be in relationship, honest relationship that accepts the reality of the other person without need to project “need,” without the need to “use” this person to fill in my holes.
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)
This morning, while sitting on the sofa waiting for the sun to rise, I caught the first rays that came through the window and saw how they created a sense of gold even though nothing in this scene has any actual golden colour. Golden light appeared for a moment and painted a scene, then it left leaving in its wake ordinary reality.
After I had taken the photograph, I returned to sit with my cup of morning coffee and noticed that the golden glow had disappeared and everything was back to normal. If I hadn’t taken the picture when I did, I would have soon forgotten the shifted moment in time when another world had appeared. I could look upon this moment in time as simply a moment in time that has no meaning other than natural light shifting. Or, I could look upon this moment as meaningful – meaningful to me.
I know that I see the world through a lens that catches nature as if all of nature is alive, even the reframed nature at the hands of man. I see purpose and meaning in all that is around me. I can’t accept the idea of a meaningless world.
“If one feels that the universe is absurd and devoid of meaning, then the burden of meaning falls directly upon the shoulders of the individual. If meaning is not implicit in the structures of nature and the evolution of history, then it is clearly the task of humans to render their lives meaningful through the quality of their choices.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 13)
I know quite a few people who view the world as having very little meaning for them. As Hollis suggests, these people I am thinking about have invested all of their meaning in their work, their families and perhaps their possessions. Outside of these boundaries there is no meaning. It is hard to say one way is right and another way is wrong, but I do feel that the loss of the numinous, the magical and the mythical leads to a life of spiritual poverty. Possessions get old and need to be replaced over and over again in an attempt to recapture that momentary sense of satisfaction of ownership. Career often is more concerned at sucking all of one’s energies for the benefit of unseen others and a fickle economy. Families grow, change, expand, contract and through all of these passages and transformations still leave us feeling alone – one becomes dependent on others for meaning and when alone, meaning evaporates.
I have retired which has forced me to search elsewhere for meaning. My children have grown, built their own small families in different communities. Things have long lost their magic and have become only functional objects. I have been forced to choose between a meaningless universe and a universe in which animate and inanimate have worth, meaning and purpose on a scale that is beyond my capacity to fully understand. I choose a universe filled with gods, goddesses, magic and meaning; I choose a universe in which everything I do, say, think, and dream has meaning.
This is a photo I took yesterday while wandering through Fish Creek Provincial Park which is located within the city of Calgary. Even though the weather was quite wintry, it was an enjoyable walk with my wife and camera. After two days of analytical sessions, I was ready for a change of mind and scene, so nature was what I needed. I am fortunate that this provincial part is only a short two kilometre walk from the place I am renting.
I use images as my way of honouring the unspoken and unseen aspects of my inner self as well as searching for ways to connect to Gaia, Mother Earth and to other humans at a level of collective depth. This little fellow, a squirrel in the park, knew I was there and was accepting of that up to a certain point. As long as I remained as a nonthreatening presence (as perceived by him), I was able to remain in a presence even if that presence also held a certain level of tension. The image of this squirrel evokes more than the fact of the squirrel; it is a dynamic image, pregnant with a vitality that connects me with a larger reality.
“Images can manifest in words, movement, plastic arts, science, architecture, or any other form of cultural or personal expression. In other words, anything that can carry the imprint of divine energies can be a temporary vessel of the mysteries, or the gods.” (Hollis, Tracking the Gods, p. 12)
“Temporary vessels” – it is vital that I remember this. The image itself isn’t numinous; what is numinous is the temporary presence within my consciousness, even sub-conscious state, of an attitude that is willing to see yet another sign and face of the divine. Once that moment has passed, the image returns to be a photography. It could easily said that for a moment, the Divine manifested in the image as a way of talking with me. Then with that dialogue finished, the Divine leaves the image which then becomes perhaps a piece of art or simply a snapshot. It is the Divine that chooses the time, place, space for dialogue with the soul.
As Hollis tells us, we can sometimes find the presence of the Divine in a song, in dancing, in an act of painting or building. The Divine can become manifest in any thing, any doing, and especially in our moments of openness to the Divine such as when we are asleep through dreams. But one must not expect the presence of the Divine every time we sing, dance, create, make. The Divine is present, but at those moments when we cannot evoke the Divine, it is because we attempt to contain the Divine in all of these things and these acts. The Divine can’t be contained for that reduces the Divine to being a servant of ego.