Archive for the ‘persona’ tag
This is a scene from the edge of the Battle River as it traverses its way through east-central Alberta, Canada. This little river will eventually rise as the winter snow in the mountains begins to melt, but as it is right now, the shoreline shows the water still receding and leaving its mark on the mud. Nothing stays the same as the water continued to carve the shore with each season that passes. The land works on the water forcing it to change its course over time, and the water works on the land, eroding the banks and creating new land formations at a new location, perhaps as an island where the river widens and becomes shallower. The only sure thing to note is that there is constant change.
My life is not much different. I can look at this scene and see my ego, my consciousness as the land and the unconscious as the river. As I age and as I experience life, consciousness grows or should I say, emerges from the unconscious. It really isn’t about creating something that was never there, it is about bringing what was hidden under the water to the surface to be noted and incorporated into awareness.
All it takes are little things, sometimes so small one is almost not aware that something has changed. Just for example, I write down my dreams now, more than has been my habit for a few years. That change was somewhat significant as it came with the territory with re-entering analysis, but not so significant because it was an activity that had been part of my routine for a number of years. I guess it could be somewhat similar to the changing levels of the river over seasons where high water levels would be marked with increased dreaming and attention to dreams and low water with decreased perceptions of dreams.
With attention to dreams, I am more likely to make shifts in my awareness of the world around me and be more aware of my body as well. That extra awareness causes yet a few more “conscious” shifts in behaviour. The slight shifts in behaviour then results in slight shifts in terms of relationships with others. In the process, I appear as a different man though in reality I am not really that much different, I am only more aware of who I am. I might “look” or “respond” a bit differently with the loss of a few extra pounds due to a slight shift in eating habits or in exercise habits (minor changes, not focused major changes), or taking a few moments to really ask myself what I think in response to a question before answering. In spite of the cosmetic changes, the reality of who I am doesn’t change. The only thing that changes in how I present that self to the world and how the world responds to that presentation.
Of course, I will continue like almost everyone else to basically live with a lot of unknowns about my self and others and the world around me, live with the unconscious working away over time. Given enough time and enough attention, perhaps I will become even more aware of myself and be better at being in conscious relationship with others and the external world.
Individuation, a term coined by Carl Gustav Jung, can be described as a journey from the familiar past to the unknown future, a lifelong journey which has as its goal, the realization of one’s fullest potential as a human. This is a journey which requires us to become more aware of ourselves, to become more aware of ourselves in relation to others, and more conscious as humans. This explanation is by no means fully representative of the process called individuation. However, it will serve to provide an alternative and legitimate viewpoint for human development.
To fully understand the process of individuation, it is essential to have some understanding of some foundational concepts upon which Jung constructed his theory of life stages. Jung proposes that every individual is born with an innate personality, a template of possibilities. For Jung, there is no tabla rasa, no blank slate upon which a human self-creates who they are. This template has universal components, which have crossed boundaries of time, distance, and culture.
These components have been identified as archetypes. The archetypes are universal functions which appear as guiding patterns that enable one to draw sense from the unknown thus allowing for an apparent increase in awareness of self, others, and the human community as a whole.
Jung’s work and research provides us with a unique viewpoint regarding the developmental process for adults.
Based on the concept of individuation, humans are born with personality. Jung states:
Behind a man’s action there stands neither public opinion nor the moral code, but the personality of which he is still unconscious. Just as a man still is what he always was, so he already is what he will become. The conscious mind does not embrace the totality of a man, for this totality consists only partly of his conscious contents. (CW XI, par. 390)
Humans progress from one task to another task, from one stage of a personal (yet paradoxically universal) development to another.
This progression in a Jungian context is similar to peeling the layers of an onion, discovering more about who one really is, becoming more conscious of oneself. The intriguing part of this peeling the layers of an onion, is that one peels from the core outward, expanding the conscious centre, an act that is more holistic.
The notion of becoming more conscious of one’s self, is one that is echoed frequently in the field of developmental psychology. Of special note would be the Jo-Hari Window (Teleometrics, 2003) which serves to illustrate the natural and experiential process of one’s increasing self-awareness. However, the Jo-Hari model, created by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is simplistic in comparison to the Jungian model.
In the Jo-Hari model, there is no potential for the ego to be informed by the unconscious. The only way the unconscious contents can be uncovered is through interactions with others and through disclosure by the self to others. The Jo-Hari model does serve an important role in explaining important relational and intentional work for increasing one’s awareness of self.
It is easy to understand the biological aspect as we parent and teach through the years noting the development of skills and the deepening of personality. It is also relatively easy to understand how one becomes wiser with age because of one’s lived experiences as well as one’s learning based on the lived experiences of others. What is not so easy to understand is how one matures with regards to the unconscious.
In broad strokes, human development moves from developing awareness (consciousness) that is both biological and social, development that marks the first half of life, to the second stage, that of cultural and spiritual development.
The transition from one stage to yet another is transformational in nature, at times engendering a sense of crisis in identity. Jung uses the analogy of alchemy where there is a transformation from base material to a pure material through a reductive process, a purification process. In modern day terms, we characterize this with the term “mid-life crisis.” The process involves loss, a necessary loss if one is to move forward into the realm of what one can and will be.
This process recurs over a human’s lifetime a number of times. Historically in a number of cultures, this process is marked with rites of passage. For example in one culture, a child moves to the world of procreative adulthood through rites of puberty; in another culture, the rite is marked by a birthday where the child reaches a designated age of majority; in a third society, the rite is marked by a graduation ceremony. Though the rites are markedly different, the effect is the same. One aspect of self is given up in order for the human to move forward.
Other rites of passage are evident in modern North American culture where there is a shift from concern with self, the first level to the concern with other. This transition is marked through a rite called marriage or other forms of commitment to another person. Another rite of passage is that into parenthood. With the passage from parenthood to grand-parenting, there is a curious shift in consciousness, a shift that can only come with generational distance. The rites of passage noted above are not by any means inclusive, they are meant only to be illustrative of the concept.
In our professional lives as educators and as leaders, we can act upon the learning community with an intentionality based on an understanding of the individuation process, with a fuller awareness of the stages of the human psyche as it interacts both consciously and unconsciously in our school communities.
This set of doors are private doors that lead into the residential area of the Tianning Buddhist Temple. The public entrance is along a different wall and people pay to enter this temple which is an active temple and a tourist attraction. However, no tourists enter into this section of the temple grounds. When I stopped for the photo I was interested in the door handles which are actually quite common. I liked the look of these and the peeling paint on the doors. What I didn’t see at first was that the doors didn’t fully shut out the inner courtyard from scrutiny. I knew that the crack was there, but thought that it wouldn’t wreck the photo too much. And, if it did there was always a lot more similar photos already in the archives.
Yesterday, when looking through the latest set of photos, I noticed that the opening drew my attention and held it. It was as if the rest of the door was inconsequential. In spite of the lack of focus behind the door, it became the centre of my attention. It was then that I realised that the door was a visual metaphor for persona, the barrier that keeps the outer world, outside and thus allowing the ego to protect its fragile sense of self. The ego controls the doors, has several sets of doors which present purposeful masks and identities to the world. However, unknown to the ego is how time and the energy it takes to maintain the fiction of the doors, the various personae. I know that I was oblivious to the effect that life was having on my identities of teacher, coach, parent, counsellor and athlete. Like these doors, the masks for these identities were beginning to fray on the edges, showing cracks that hinted of something else behind those cracks.
And then I saw this image again and saw a different story, one that talked to my sense of a personal journey into the unknown, the journey of individuation. With my ego fracturing and the realisation that I needed to do some serious work to rescue my self in terms of core identity, purpose and meaning, I caught a glimpse of a new journey, a new destination. There was just enough light showing through my own cracks that served to act as a beacon, asking me to enter. The light behind the cracks became a compelling voice and I knew that it was a call to me to begin my own Odyssey like some modern day Odysseus in search of my real home, my real being.
It amazes me what I sometimes see in a photograph – I seem to slip out of an objective space and enter an alternate reality. And for this, I am thankful.
A spider, a very large spider, caught my attention this past Monday, the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival here in China, while I was walking along one of the hundreds of small canals that are everywhere in the city. I want to skip reflections via active imagination with regards to this photo for now in order to return to Jung’s position that one changes one’s personality through engagement with the contents that emerge through active consideration and participation with the fantasies. Jung goes on to say:
“This change in personality is naturally not an alteration of the original hereditary disposition, but rather a transformation of the general attitude. Those sharp cleavages and antagonisms between conscious and unconscious, such as we see so clearly in the endless conflicts of neurotic natures, nearly always rest on a noticeable one-sidedness of the conscious attitude, which gives absolute precedence to one or two functions, while the others are unjustly thrust into the background. Conscious realization and experience of fantasies assimilates the unconscious inferior functions to the conscious mind – a process which is naturally not without far-reaching effects on the conscious attitude.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 359)
So we change, become less one-sided, more of who we are rather than just a portion of the whole that we can be.
An example I can give is taken from my own experience. When asked about change, specifically about changing something about myself, I often reply that some things about me are just who I am. Jung would say that these unchangeable things are my original hereditary disposition. But of course just what parts are unchangeable? First, I have to listen carefully about what Jung is saying about dominant functions and inferior functions. Knowing that my dominant functions are intuition and feeling, and that my inferior functions are thinking and sensing I can see that I can where I can change. I can bring my inferior functions into the way I live and relate to the world and the people in the world. Yes, I trust my intuition, but there is more room for thinking to take a role and become part of how I rationally interpret the world.
When I enter a situation, it is in my nature to process what I see, hear, and intuit in order to arrive at an understanding of the situation. Usually intuition is enough and I then proceed to then to be an active part of the scene within the boundaries of my role. I have learned to add in some data via my senses and then think about that data before turning to intuition to make rational choices. When all is said and done, I do go with what my intuition tells me. That is who I am.
I guess, it is not much different than the saying that a tiger can’t change his spots. I can be a more effective person in my own skin by nourishing the neglected functions. Active imagination provides me with a way to connect with those neglected functions.
Yesterday evening I went out for the purpose of meeting with new students at the university, the Freshmen classes who were taking part in a combination “Welcome to University” and “Mid-Autumn Festival” celebration. As I walked to the university campus I saw the full moon in the sky, not an unusual site as it happens once every four weeks; but this full moon was special in terms of China as it is this particular moon which is celebrated for the Mid-Autumn Festival. I ended up taking a fair amount of photos of the moon but this one is the only one that jumped out begging for my attention when it came to writing today’s blog post after my last set of teaching classes was done for the day.
The moon is framed by a fair-sized high-voltage power pole structure. The moon seems to be trapped within the steel bars, imprisoned and contained. But of course, this is all illusion as one knows that the moon is not really contained within the crossbars, it just looks that way. It is all about perspective.
Perspective – what does the inner voices tell us about an image? What does the ego tell us about an image? What fantasies are evoked? By listening with active imagination in which we safely participate in the fantasies that come out of the engagement with the images, we can come to begin to hear our own inner self speaking to us. Perhaps it is the soul, anima talking to us through the image of the moon. Does the soul, like the moon feel trapped and unable to find release? We do this to our soul when we deny the soul, when we put boundaries to bind the soul to darkness and silence.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, in order to grow we need to engage in active imagination activity with those images that pull at us, those that catch the attention of some part of us. Listen to what Jung tells us:
“Continual conscious realization of unconscious fantasies, together with active participation in the fantastic events, has, as I have witnessed in a very large number of cases, the effect firstly of extending the conscious horizon by the inclusion of numerous unconscious contents; secondly of gradually diminishing the dominant influence of the unconscious; and thirdly of bringing about a change in personality.” (Jung, C.W. Volume 7, paragraph 358)
When we continue to ignore the faint voices of the unconscious that seek our attention so as to be included in the larger sense of self, of identity, we risk acting out unconsciously. We all know of those who do and say things that they appear to be unaware they have said or done to the point of thinking that we are telling lies about them. We have heard of those who somehow slip into and out of alter personalities like some Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, situations where the ego is banished for some time while the unconscious takes over and runs wild. The process of engaging in active imagination allows us to carefully unmask the shadow removing the necessity for the unconscious to burst out of its prison running rampant over the ego.
Remember, it is all about perspective. Once we change our perspective, we change everything.
I took this older photo from 2006 in order to continue the series about naturism. But before I go further, I want to be upfront and say that in this series of photos, judicious cropping has led to the illusion of my being fully in my own skin. It’s not true. I cropped the swim wear in each photo to give an illusion. Obviously in each photo I was not alone and someone else was taking the photographs with my camera. And because of the fact of the presence of another person, I find myself, like the vast majority of North Americans, uncomfortable in my own skin concerned about my less than perfect body. I wouldn’t think of going “au naturel.” And so, I ask myself “Why?”
Well, I have convinced myself that it is “selfish” of me to not care about the sensibilities of others. I have told myself that I would embarrass those closed to me in any given situation, embarrass strangers that would accidentally see me. Being seen unclothed in a public place, even at a beach in Mexico, Cuba or elsewhere would be an intrusion into the space of others, an assault on their own concepts of self and others. And as I continue to think about it, there appear many layers of “reasons” for my feeling uncomfortable in my own skin when others are present. I want to include a few words here that I found on another site while researching the psychological aspects of naturism:
“Progressively, over the centuries, society has developed the use of clothing as a mask. Clothing was originally used and designed to protect people from the elements of heat and cold, to stop themselves from getting burned or frozen. It was also used as a method of adornment to enhance attractiveness and for ritual and ceremonial reasons. In the latter centuries, people developed a cultural dependency on clothing. Clothes became a mask and a prop for perceived personality and character deficiencies.
“We frequently see people who would not be seen dead without their clothing on. Clothing is often used to portray an image that is different from the person’s perceived inner deficiencies. It is a form of artificiality or masking that they outwardly project to cover up any personality or emotional defects they think they have. People tend to feel that by hiding behind clothing they can metaphorically cover themselves and deny others exposure to the inner-self they perceive to be crippled. The need to do this most commonly occurs in people with low self-esteem.” (Naked Beneath Your Clothing)
Again, the masking of the self, the portraying of an image that would be more socially acceptable, one that would leave me safely protected from the collective. I know that I have a lot of scars and messy aspects and I desperately want to hide them so that others will like me. I hide my true self. But that hiding can only go on so long before one is forced to expose one’s true self. I have no issue with seeing others in their own skin, something which isn’t so rare in other countries such as India, and in IndoChina. Seeing others in their own skin in North America is also not an issue for me other than me berating myself for lacking the courage these others demonstrate in being comfortable in their own skin.
The journey of individuation forces one to become honest with one’s self, and in turn, that leads to a transparency that forces one to be honest with others. I am not really there yet though I yearn to be there, need to be there in order to feel whole, to feel a sense of real holiness. This blog space is one place where I feel a real sense of safety, especially in allowing my inner self to be more transparent. The journey continues.
This image was taken at Jaco Bay in Costa Rica in January 2010. While in Costa Rica, sunset photos became a frequent activity with an occasional photo pf myself making it into some of the photos. I chose this photo in order to continue on with the theme of naturalism, being whole in one’s own skin. As I write, I do understand that many in the world do not see the naked body as a moral issue as it is understood in the North American collective. Naturalists exist in both Canada and the U.S.A. and have gathered together at private campsites, private resorts or isolated beaches. North American society grudgingly gives in to these isolated pockets while maintaining as much pressure as they can to push the fundamentalist, Victorian ideology/morality as far as they can in terms of public freedoms. Strange for me how the focus in on having citizens keep their clothes on rather than real issues of sexual exploitation and violence.
I am a naturalist in a quiet and private manner. Of course that means that I pick and choose times for liberation from my clothing, at least finding sleep as a time, space and place for being natural. Interesting to me that I honour this with the belief that in doing so, I allow the portal to the dream world to be as transparent as possible with the idea that in putting my body fully at ease, I am more receptive to whatever is attempting to be heard.
In doing my research for this post (and yesterday’s, I cam across a few interesting thoughts that I would like to bring forward here. The first is from Walt Whitman, taken from his work, Specimen Days. I have just quoted a few of the words from this section (133) called A Sun-bath – Nakedness:
“Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me… Nature was naked, and I was also… Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! – ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.” (Whitman, Specimen Days, “A Sun-Bath – Nakedness,” 1892
Another one of my early influences on a number of different levels was Henry David Thoreau who wrote a three part essay called walking (available now in various ebook formats from the Gutenberg project) written in 1861 from which he offers his thoughts on being “natural”:
“We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.” (Thoreau, Walking, 1861)
I know that I have found peace in nature, especially when clothing is set aside for a brief time. I have found this peace in lakes and in gentle pools along various rivers, walking through a Yucatan estuary, on protected areas along seashores, in isolated fields and meadows and while walking down remote trails in the wilderness. This is not about social activity or about sexual gratification. This is about being honest with oneself, stripping away yet one more mask and exposing all the flaws so that they can be accepted as natural aspects of self rather than as deficits.
This photo was taken in Toronto, Ontario, Canada earlier this month. This young woman caught my eye for a brief moment, just long enough for the camera to grab this one image. I can see a carefully crafted look in her hair style and her wardrobe, a statement of her uniqueness, her individuality in a world of apparent conformity. But upon a closer look, especially at her eyes, the lie is evident. She is lost, buying into a counter-culture statement as she rejects one collective for another. It is all about masks.
Masks conceal, somewhat, the individual from the group. That concealment is often about fear, about subterfuge, about hiding one’s self from the collective in an attempt to protect one’s self. We don’t want to expose our personal weaknesses.
However, somewhere along the way, we buy into the disguises, the masks and start to believe that we are the masks that we wear. We deny the inner so vehemently that we become convinced that it doesn’t exist, that what you see is what you get. And so the disguises become more elaborate, more “unique.”
A person invests tremendous amounts of energy into maintaining the fiction of the disguise. My disguise for so many years was that of “Teacher.” Being a teacher became more than an occupation, a way to feed my growing family; it became a way to see myself in the community. I knew that beneath the teacher layer was something messy and dark that would isolate me from community if it ever emerged. The work of building a concrete bunker around my inner self became a dedicated task. Eventually, the work continued unconsciously and I lost sight of my “self” and embraced the identity I had crafted, that of “teacher.”
The crafting of a persona of a teacher, or of almost any role, is necessary in community for a variety of reasons, almost all of them good reasons. The persona is just an interactive side of the self which we use to enable connection with others. The persona is not supposed to be about denying our inner self. One needs to remember that beneath the persona, a fuller person exists. It took a midlife crisis for me to remember the person beneath the persona.
I am still a teacher even though I have officially retired, a caretaker and nurturer. I still use this persona as a way to meet others in this world. But now I know that this is just one part of who I am. There is little conflict between the various personae that I use in my connections with others as I know I am none of the assorted cast of characters that I call upon in various situations, groups and cultures. I have finally learned that the real individual lies beneath the surface and that the surface is just that, a surface.
This isn’t really a good photo but made the cut because of the clarity of the Kingfisher that was sitting on the power post. I must admit that the whole point of the photo was to get a good photo of the bird which I was quietly stalking in the garden area of a village not too far from Hoi An, Vietnam. In truth, I had no idea of background as I took the photo while I was slowly creeping up. I never did get too close to the bird, but now in looking at the photo and seeing the man, the gardener, out of focus, I find so much more than the bird, my intended subject.
This little bird is a close as I can get to capturing a sense of ego-self. I see myself sitting on top of the pole observing the world around me. I see others doing things of worth while I watch. In a practical world, I am not very practical. I am distant, unsure of myself around people and not confident that anyone would actually see something of worth in me. I know that I have a high IQ and that I have abilities to perform useful paid tasks for the collective. But that isn’t really of value in terms of interpersonal relationships. I get stuck in my head, get stuck in “teaching” or as could be said in a different manner, taking care of others’ needs.
People looking at me, working around me, being my students or acquaintances find me a quiet and kind type of person, good adjectives but when placed alongside of distant and cool, it doesn’t enable many friendships. As one who is nearest to me comments, I am a man without friends, a man who doesn’t need friends, a solitary man. And these words, are actually truthful words. I don’t have friends. There is no one in the face-to-face world with whom I talk about psychology or other topics with freedom and abandon. When I do dare to approach any topic that has depth, I carefully choose my words as experience has shown me that otherwise people tune me out as though I am a visitor from an alien species.
At times I forget and in my excitement the words flow and I dare to challenge, to debate, to argue only to leave wreckage in terms of relationship. The friendships I am able to maintain are those in which I serve as a good listener, confirming the ego of the other and in doing this leave the other feeling valued. I manage relationships rather than engage authentically in relationship. One of the hazards in keeping my own counsel is that my quiet, kind, listening self feeds a silence within. I catch myself managing the inner world, keeping things within my head where they can be more easily controlled. I am certain that this shows up here in how I post, how few feelings are evident in the hundreds of thousands of words here. Though you, my readers, see these words and photos, you only get to see the persona that I dare to present. Even here I censor or limit my expression.
I have been told that my only friends are the people I meet here in cyberspace. These friends are also disembodied and as such, not real people. Real people are messier. Are you real? Am I real here in cyberspace? Or are we just blurry shapes like this gardener in the photo, in a land of spirit where bodies don’t exist?
While in Luang Prabang, Laos this temple stood out near the base of Phousi Hill because of its incredible colours and graceful lines. The palm trees promised warmth and gentle cooling breezes as well as a proximity to water.
Between the hill park and this temple a vibrant market place was bustling with activity trying to sell handwoven fabrics along with rough textured paper made using rice, elephant dung, flower petals and other natural elements as well as food and other tempting objects that trigger a desire to own, to possess. For some reason I never entered this temple which is something of a rarity for me as I had likely been in most of the temples in this small city and the fact that it might be the most ornate in the city.
The temple is the persona, the face of the ego standing in its best Sunday clothing and displaying the best of who one is in the community. I felt more comfortable in those temples that were more nondescript, those that you knew were there off to the side. I’m more comfortable on the edges not standing out loudly letting everyone know who I am and what I am.