Archive for the ‘other’ tag
“Every relationship has its particular dignity. There is no such thing as an unworthy love or one to be ashamed of, because each experience corresponds to a profound individual need. And if and when it ends there is nothing to regret, because at that particular time the loved one filled our emptiness, no matter what happened next.” [Carotenuto, Eros and Pathos, p. 33]
These are powerful words, words that heal where often we use words that attack the self or other due to feelings of present discord within a relationship. There is no such thing as unworthy love. What we have a hard time understanding that love doesn’t owe us anything other than the experience. We need to learn to accept the gift of love whether it is for a short time or for decades. And, when that gift of love has disappeared into some other place leaving us alone with ourselves in spite of the presence or non-presence of the one with whom we shared love, we need to say thank you for that time of love rather than engage in interpersonal warfare.
As I walked the beach earlier today, I looked at the people along the way. Most were couples; most of those couples were men and women. It was easy to spot those who were in love and those who were in hate. The rest in the middle ground were for the most part, more into themselves than their partners, but not oblivious of their presence. Most of these others were obviously couples well used to each other’s presence.
I have to admit that both my wife and I are still filling our empty spaces with each other. In spite of more than forty years together, the well hasn’t run dry and there is no taking each other for granted. Not unlike young lovers caught in the throes of Eros, of Cupid’s arrows, we need to see each other and be close enough for touch when the need for contact presents itself. In absence of each other’s presence, we are left holding onto something empty.
And when the need for the Other is no longer necessary, when the holes are filled by whatever love was needed and offered? What then?
I have recently commented about the five-toed dragon and the Chinese phoenix or peacock. So, it was with some surprise when I went out to dinner a few evenings ago in a local restaurant and found this carved panel in an upper-floor hallway. It is yet another symbolic representation of the ancient Chinese emperors and empresses, with the dragon as symbol for the emperors.
I was particularly struct by the fact that these two symbols were contained within a circle which reminded me of tizhi (t’ai chi), the yin-yang symbol which shows masculine circling attempting to enter the feminine, and the feminine circling and attempting to take in the masculine – an eternal dance that never quite succeeds in two becoming one.
Both symbols point toward wholeness, a holistic world view. When I found this wall panel, I was excited and for a while forgot that I was supposed to be in a private dining room in the restaurant. I knew that I had found something I needed in order to talk about the inner world showing up in the outer world as fate.
I want to be clear about masculine and feminine. They are often synonymous with male and female, but it would be a huge error to limit the understanding of masculine and feminine to gender. It is also a mistake to assume that in using the two terms that one is talking about two people. Within each of us are active masculine and feminine aspects. With that said, I will turn to the dance between a man and a woman as I see it, feel it, know it, intuit it – at least when it comes to my self.
For me, the question of wholeness began with my mother. I sensed that because I was born to her, I was still a part of her. Yet, I knew that in spite of being a part of her and her being a part of me, we were separate and could never again become one. As a young man, I fell in love with a woman and saw in her an opportunity to again become whole. We were both ripe for the work of becoming one. We conceived children, we loved, we held each other, we danced – yet in spite of it all, we both still see ourselves locked in our own bodies and minds, separate beings. We are curiously circling each other and trying to truly discover who the other is and what will come next. It would seem that all the work has failed us as we find ourselves alone with ourselves. But, we haven’t failed.
Both of us are forced to look within for what appears to be the missing pieces. The other in relationship will always be another person, intimately linked, but always separate. Like all couples, we learn new dances, new ways of being together after what appears to be failed expectations. We have learned that the other person has not failed nor has the self failed. What we have learned is that the other person cannot hold what is buried within the self. Love ends up being redefined and we again begin the new circling, the new dance of relationship, again two becoming one.
It’s a dance that never ends – we continue to fall into another person and away from that person, constantly circling and looking for that magical moment when two can become one.
These are two of my students in one of my six different classes. I arrive at my classes early, a habit I developed from the first day of teaching thirty-seven years ago when I lived only steps away from my first school in a remote fishing village in northern Saskatchewan in Canada. As I wait for my students to arrive, I keep myself somewhat busy with the posting of the agenda for the day’s lesson on the board and with being visible. Unlike for students in Canada, as a foreigner (visibly foreign) I get a lot more attention, especially in the first part of the term. For many of my students I am the first foreigner that they have ever had as a teacher, or the first foreigner to whom they have had an opportunity to speak. In a way, this makes me a V.I.P. in their eyes. And as such, I often get students taking photos of me in the classroom. Just before I took this photo, the girl on the left had just taken a photo of me with her mobile phone. As she looked at the photo with her friend, she didn’t see me taking this photo.
I was left wondering, what does she see when she sees me as a teacher or in the moments when I am waiting to teach, waiting for all the students to take their places? Who does she see? The only thing I know is that I am seen and that I have caused a ripple through her life likely changing it in some manner that neither of us will ever know. Yet, regardless of that unknown, I do know that I have been present and acknowledged in that moment.
Writing this blog is not really much different than standing in font of a classroom and being a teacher. The photos I present and the thoughts that flow out of them mixed in with a somewhat vague resonance with Jungian ideas tell my readers, you a story of who I am, what I am, and even how I am. For the most part there is silence in the reading, your part, a silence that has its own communicative power. Regardless of conscious intention, once words are heard, something stirs within the unconscious and in the stirring change happens. And similarly, speaking the words knowing that someone hears them also creates ripples and ripples result in change.
As long as there is one reader for a blog, there is an I-Thou connection that works its magic. I know that there are a good number here who read this blog, silently for the most part. I am aware of your presence and am thankful for it. Your presence is visible in terms of blog statistics, a proof that I am not simply talking to myself. Of course there are those who comment and add their voice to mine in this space. It’s interesting to me how this individuation process is not a lonely process, but one that demands the participation of others.
A few days ago I was in downtown Toronto and got this photo from within the sports centre which plays home for the Toronto Blue Jays (baseball) and the Toronto Argonauts (football). I like to pretend with others that I am an avid fan of sports, especially hockey. But the truth is I find it hard to be more than just slightly interested, just enough so that I can find something to talk about with others who don’t otherwise share any other interests. Sports is a diversion, something that fills in spaces of time and provides an opening to relationship with others. Knowing that sports will be the ice-breaker in most situations, I make the effort to stay informed.
I am finding that the hardest part of my journey is that of relationships with others. I love being on the sidelines as it provides me with the excuse that it is my choice to engage or not engage with others. But the truth is that I feel awkward and don’t know what to say. When I do open my mouth it is only to find that others aren’t really listening to my words as they are facing the same struggle of what to say. So many of us are feeling trapped within our own heads and don’t know how to be authentic with others. What do we talk about, what can we say? So, like so many, I retreat into pleasantries about the weather and sports. Once I get to “know” these others I dare to talk about more, perhaps about world events in general terms. But mostly, I listen and smile.
I have my passions that make me soar as the jet in this photo. Photography is one of my passions as is Jungian psychology, something that is quite evident here. I am also passionate about politics in the sense that I am upset with how governments in my country and other countries are so disconnected from their own citizens. Collectively we have so much education, so many good ideas, so much wisdom when it comes to being good citizens of planet earth. Yet, we ignore all that we know and focus on power and political survival at all costs. I am also passionate about being in nature and a part of nature, a natural man with the feeling of the sun warming not only my skin, but my inner spirit. But how do I talk with others about these passions? I try but often my passion becomes too much for those who listen; it’s as though they feel overwhelmed by a tidal wave of passion as I soar with my words that have been ignited by some small opening.
Eventually I return to earth and see the glazed looks and retreat into a safer world of pleasantries much to their relief.
As I focus on taking photos of shadow, I must remember that there can be no shadow if there is no light. There is a differentiation between light and dark just as there is a differentiation between consciousness and the unconscious.
As I look again and again at this photo taken yesterday, I am reminded of scene told to me by my father-in-law thirty years ago, a scene that has now become well known as it has been experienced by many who have died and returned – the tunnel of light. The journey to consciousness is a spiritual journey as much as it is an objective journey of learning, experiencing and being in life. Perhaps, with the arrival of midlife, it is more spiritual; needs to be more spiritual.
Strangely, this journey of individuation is not a journey of only one person. For myself there is something happening that was unexpected: the more I learn about myself, the more I learn about others. I hope that in the process I am more tolerant of others as they stumble through their lives as I forgive myself while stumbling through my own life. It is at times like this that I see a promise in Jungian psychology that isn’t being followed by many psychotherapists and psychoanalysts. In working with the self, there must be a significant consideration of others.
I don’t really know what needs to change in psychology in order to make it less about pathology and more about nurturing the journey everyone must make through life. For, this journey is all we have as we ride the rails to a new way of being beyond this life.
On a final note for today’s post – Happy Independence Day for my American readers.
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)
On the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia near Kampong Chhnang, I came across these children who live on the river. These children are a proof that there is a beauty and vitality and hope for life. These children are the product of the human instinct for survival as a species and a deeper instinct for the preservation of the self as an immortal being. One doesn’t think of any of this when one meets the other with whom mating and giving birth and child-rearing becomes a life-consuming task.
Many reasons are given for marrying in our modern times – love, wealth, power, duty, loneliness – but whatever the initial impulse the two entering into a marriage begin to change because of the marriage, because of the intimate contact with an other person. Two people choose to be together in a contractual arrangement that is best described as a marriage. Yet, it isn’t too long before both parties of the contract have changed. Intimacy evokes a response as much as dropping a stone into a still pond affects change in an environment.
“Many marriages simply evolve beyond the implicit terms of the invisible contract. Whatever complexes or programmed ideas of self and Other may have inspired the marriage the psyche has moved to another place. It is not so much that people fall out o love, but that the original controlling ideas have waned in favor of others – or the complex has decided that the Other cannot meet the expectations of the original agenda. (Hollis, The Eden Project, p 44)
Imagine if the two in a marriage became stuck in the initial human psychological developmental stage (it happens). Two who become forever adolescent; two who never move past that initial Magical Other; the result is tragic from the view of individuation as individuals, and perhaps even more tragic if these become parents who are so fixated on each other that the children are basically orphans in a psychological sense.
The binds and blindfolds of the Magical Other deny the growth of self. One is frozen in place and in time. One never does find the person behind the projections. And, one never does find the depths of one’s self.
Heading northwest on the Mekong River not too far out of Ho Chi Minh City, these homes on stilts made me realise how life along this river must be always subject to the unpredictable water of the river. Looking at the network of supporting poles, small sticks that would by themselves seem insignificant spurs me to think about all the differences I encounter while living in Asia and in China in particular.
Working at a university, I get to see young men and women every day as they move through the steps from childhood to adulthood. Teaching them a second language allows me to find out a lot about their ways of understanding the world. When teaching a second language, the quickest method is to use base knowledge of the first language and life experience as hooks for the second language. In other words, teach them what they already know, only in the target language. Since at this stage of life, relationships are the biggest focus of these young people, giving them a chance to talk about relationships and their beliefs allows them to speak with more confidence as they don’t have to learn new concepts, just the vocabulary and expressions. Aside from their romantic notions that come out of watching American films, these young people have a very practical sense of what marriage is all about. Love is not synonymous with marriage as it is in the western world.
“Historically, love and marriage have not been synonymous . . . As a matter of fact, only in the last century and a quarter has the vox populi claimed marriage and love as one and the same. This is not to say that happily committed people have not loved each other, but rather that for most of human history the purpose o marriage was to bring stability to the culture rather than make an individual happy or serve the task of mutual individuation. Possibly the greatest number of history’s marriages would, by today’s standards, be described as loveless, for they were contracted arrangements made to produce, protect and nurture the young, thus to preserve the tribe, to transmit social and religious values and to channel anarchic libido in socially useful directions.
Similarly, in many marriages love, whatever love may prove to be, is simply not the determinative value. What more commonly has brought people together, the energy which seeks synergy, are the operative complexes of each. One or both may seek to find the good parent in the other, may even wish to find an abuser in order to confirm a wounded sense of self, or may be seeking what was missing in the family of origin. Or, one may marry for a sense of transferred power.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, pp41-42)
With these words, I understand better how the young men and women in my classes dutifully abandon a “love” mate because the parents don’t support the union. I understand better why young Asian women willingly enter into relationships with older western men. As one young female told me, it is about power. The want to marry power and thus gain power themselves, a sense of security in a crowded and competitive world where there is not enough for everyone. These young people believe in love, fall in love and rebel for love. But, for the most part, these young men and women fall back into line in order to fit in with the needs and demands of their culture.
Maybe there is something to learn here. Maybe we (I) put too many demands on the people we marry making all of us crazy in the process?
While in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam, I happened to go walking down a narrow trail passed a number of small country homes and tiny fields. The scene was distant from any city and a few kilometres from a small town. As I wandered down the trail I met a few people such as these two women who were busy with the collection of banana leaves which were to be used as food wrap as well as serving platters for meals that were predominantly based on rice which was being grown not too far from this site. The young woman seemed pleased to see me here in the Mekong jungle and even more pleased that I wanted to take her photo. In my imagination, I could almost see her reaching out with her eyes as though to wish me to her, to be a magical other – of course, only in my imagination. The real smile she gave has nothing to do with the magical other. I wonder at how Asians view the idea of a “Magical Other.”
The fantasy of the magical other finds its roots in archetype, the archetype of the parent, a Primal Other. Here are a few words from James Hollis to illustrate this idea:
“Our first experience of ourselves is in relationship to these Primal Others, usually mother or father. Consciousness itself arises out of that splitting of the primal participation mystique which characterizes the infant’s sensibility. The paradigms for self, for Other, and the transactions between, are formed from these earliest experiences. They are hard-wired into our neurological and emotional networks.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 37)
Somehow, this seems to be something very important in trying to understand the idea of Magical Other, a soulmate, or love at first sight. Perhaps it is at this moment one is wired to being attracted to one gender or another. One searches for the safe container in which to find the courage to be self. Many, if not most “marriages” are born of the attraction to the Magical Other.
The stranger with whom one falls in love has power and a numinosity that is in reality too much for a human person to contain. As time passes and the bumps and bruises of relationship teach us the mortal nature of this human, we feel loss and sadness. The grieving over the loss of the Magical Other takes one through anger and the other stages of grief until we come to accept the real person with whom we have coupled, that is if one persists long enough to go through the stages. Many cannot get passed the anger and turn away from this stranger who has betrayed us, lied to us. Too late we come to realise that it is we who have lied to ourselves.
For those that survive the grieving, there is a comfort and a discomfort with what remains. We are comforted that the other, not so magical anymore, has taken on our need for sanctuary and willingly works at meeting the needs for love, security, acceptance. Each becomes lover, friend, child and parent to the other. Listen to the words and you will perhaps hear from those long married, the words Ma, Pa, Mother, Father, Mom, Dad – I hear myself addressed with different tones and different words, including Papa. Again, James Hollis has words for us:
“Such phenomena suggest that the original attraction to the partner was in great part guided by the parental imago. That unconscious image is projected onto potential partners until someone comes along who can catch it and hold it.” (ibid)
I wonder if this parental imago is not simply the replacement of one’s biological parent, but potentially the missing parent whether that absent mother or father was physically absent or emotionally absent? I must remember that is more than the personal parent, but the archetypal parent that is being sought in the Magical Other.
I am bringing another photo of roses here as I want to look at eros, love and relationship with the feminine as a continuation of the thread I have begun earlier. Humans are drawn to beauty and I am no exception. Wandering in a large garden area filled with roses I am pulled to capture as much of the beauty I see with my camera. There is a rush of feeling, of energy that courses through my veins and all is good. I remember being captivated in a similar manner when I was young, when I came into the presence of that which I perceived as beautiful. At different times as a youth, the pull was intense though rarely did I give in to the pull as I was filled with as much self-doubt as I was by desire and what I felt to be pure love for an other.
Each time I was certain that this was it. The girl who sat several rows away in my classroom was the perfect woman for me even though we never talked. I was too shy, too aware that I was poor and didn’t fit into her social world. The girl who responded to my request for a dance once high school was over and I had begun working; a girl who was so damaged by her childhood that our brief moments of being in love, a pure unconsummated love that ended as I left her to the care of psychiatrists in a hospital, cured me of a belief in pure love, leaving me jaded and empty.
I didn’t realise that what I felt was not about these girls, these young women. Rather, this tumbling head over heels was more about my search for a magical other. James Hollis describes this search, this feeling:
“The other great false idea that drives mankind is the fantasy of the Magical Other, the notion that there is one person out there who is right for us, will make our lives work, a soul-mate who will repair the ravages of our personal history; one who will be there for us, who will read our minds, know what we want and meet those deepest needs; a good parent who will protect us from suffering and, if we are lucky, spare us the perilous journey of individuation.” (Hollis, The Eden Project, p. 37)
I am no different, I believed in this Magical Other, and to tell the truth, that belief is still lurking in the background because of my good fortune to have stayed with the woman with whom I fell in love with when I was twenty-one, forty years ago – two strangers from different backgrounds, different cultures, different everything. Is there a truth to the Magical Otherness that captured my attention? I am not sure. I do know that time taught me that the stranger with whom I fell in love is a good person, a caring person, someone I continue to want filling my life. But in meeting the real person that was hidden by layer upon layer of projections, I discovered holes in my own psyche, my own sense of emptiness and darkness that no person could ever hope to fill or hear. My Magical Other could not protect me from suffering, could not read my mind or know my deepest needs, needs that are real but not definable even by myself. All that I wanted from a Magical Other, from my soul-mate, from the love of my life could only be given to me by myself.
Today we both still cling to each other as anchors in life in spite of our differences. A different love has emerged and it is no less problematic. Yet, it is gentler and kinder and more tolerant of differences.