Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ tag
As the photo indicates, I am back in Canada, back home in Elrose, Saskatchewan. My walking pilgrimage has come to an end.
My pilgrimage began long before I left Canada in August. My motivation and need for this pilgrimage rose to the surface during my time in analysis. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I trusted my instincts. I knew that I had been “running” for way too many years, moving too much and too fast for any sane gypsy. I was running in my head, hoping somehow that I would be able to escape the contents of the unconscious that stubbornly refused to stay in it’s proper place hidden in the depths where it could be properly forgotten and denied. Analysis became a dance between analyst and analysand. I knew too much about the process and so the dance became more of a stalemate with neither one of us willing to give up the lead. That said, analysis did bring me more focus as I worked through dreams with my analyst. But deep down, I knew that I needed to do something that would finally break down my resistance and allow my psyche to emerge. Yet, I was afraid of what else might emerge. I knew that what was hidden and denied was filled with shadows, darkness, the source of my anxiety and fears. What I didn’t want to admit was the fact that there were other things hidden as well, enough things of the light, things that spoke to the positive of my existence. I intellectually knew all of this, but my fear simply scoffed at this intellectual knowledge.
As the idea of a pilgrimage began to gather strength, I began to have some hope that the walking would somehow break the bonds of my self-imposed prison in an inner darkness. For too long I had been dancing on the edges of black holes, daring the descent into madness. I was tired of it all; I was tired of seeing how my depression and silence was bringing grief to those whom I loved and who loved me as husband, father and grandfather. But of course, I had to disguise all of this with a story that I was walking to Santiago, Spain. I was heading out for adventure. I knew better, but it didn’t matter, I needed to tell myself this lie in order to find the courage to actually begin the process.
And so the walking has happened and something happened along the way. I began the walk as though I was being chased by demons, ghosts and unnameable dark shadows. I walked with fierce determination, always checking behind me to see if they were catching up to me. I walked and walked until my body demanded some relief. I ignored my body for the most part, and the physical pain increased to the point where the last part of each day’s walk were more about hobbling than walking with my feet on fire and my hips and knees begging for mercy. Yet, I refused to give in. I was on a mission.
And then one evening in a cathedral in southern France, I emotionally broke down and let the barriers fall. Another two days of walking, walking with my head up and smiling, I knew it was done. It was time to return home and rejoin my family which had spent the time I was in France as if they were in mourning. I knew that to walk further would only hurt them needlessly. The pilgrimage wasn’t about Santiago, it was about healing. It was time to go home.
I will continue to write from my journal, here. I will trace the physical journey and the journey of my psyche so that you can come to understand just how it all came about. It is good to be home and to be smiling.
I’ve been trying for two days to get access to this out of mainland China web service in order to write a blog post. Sometimes I get to write for a few minutes and then lose contact with the site as though a door has been shut. I can’t use a VPN during these moments as well. There appears to be a lot of tweaking and testing of the national firewall. When the blocks go in place I still have access to Chinese mainland sites which tells me it is all about firewalls. This photo is actually representative of the experience.
I see it as China on one side, and the Internet world outside of China on the other side of the bridge. The government agencies appear to be working at plugging the entrance to the rest of the Internet world at its end of the bridge.
I guess this isn’t much different that what we do as individuals in order to block out reality when we retreat within ourselves. It becomes a lot like “don’t turn on the lights, I don’t want to see.” There is a different message also underlying what is happening. In many places, warrantless Internet surveillance is becoming the norm as governments try to deal with terrorists threats. With the reality that most governments are fronts for vested corporate interests and an increasingly right-wing ideology, what freedoms are going to be allowed? The tools exist for governments to fully control the message and the message carriers – the bridges that link one person to another over distance and time.
I admit to feeling the weight and the darkness of the collective unconscious which has been let loose. It’s as though the collective unconscious has barricaded its end of the bridge which connects to consciousness so that its power goes unchecked.
I am bringing another photo taken at XiTang in ZheJiang province here in China. I like this photo simply because of the colours and the composition. It is enough that it pleases with no questions asked. Sometimes that is all we need to do, just accept without question. In trying to question acceptance, one risks loosing that which was found, a numinous aspect that seems to defy objective thinking processes.
Being in the presence of the numinous is its own gift. Being in the presence is also being in relationship with the numinous. One must accept the moment as it is as it will end, end in separation. The moment fades into someplace else, some other time, another relationship. For now, just be in the now.
This is another one of my flower photos taken just a few days ago, from a collection that grows larger almost every time I step outside with my camera. I am sure that if I look back through the collection I will find that I have taken a similar photo on quite a number of different occasions. It is about an appreciation of beauty, of the fragile and of the temporary. Regardless, of the fact that this is likely a repeat experience, I still take the photos.
I wonder why I take so many photos such as this? I am not really that passionate about flowers or gardening. I do see the value of gardening in terms of growing food for a family, or as a way of finding internal peace in a stressful world. I recognize the value and the passion that exists in others and I am very thankful for that passion as it allows me to wander with my camera and catch these images.
But, that doesn’t explain why I am taking these photos or why I present them here. In my opinion, I think it has to do with projection, projecting my needs, safely. So what is needed? In order to approach an answer, if there is an answer, I must look at the holder of the projection. What do I see and how do I resonate with what is seen?
Obviously, the flower is the holder of my projection as it is the focus of the photo. But what is it that serves as a hook for the projection that I cast? Is it the flower itself or is it the contrast between darkness and light? I know that I often mention this, but this time, I don’t think so. Somehow, that doesn’t “fit” at this point in time. Rather, it is about fragility and knowing that in spite of everything, the blossoms will fall off and be blown away, shredded.
Vulnerability. Impermanence. Fragility. Am I like this flower, just a short burst of light and beauty that must return to darkness? Fear. Yes, fear. As I sit here comfortably in China , I realise that this is just a temporary situation. I will have to return to my home in Canada and make some decisions about how to make the final leg of my life journey meaningful. I have delayed the real return for yet another year after signing another contract for teaching at the university. Like a flower, I want to cling on for as long as I can before some wind forces me to move on to the next transformation.
Now, for a change, I am presenting a photo I didn’t take though the photo was taken with my camera. On the Saturday before the QingMing Festival, I was in HongMei Park with my partner and a friend. After wandering for a few hours, it was decided that a rest on a park bench was in order. Of course, being laowai (foreigner) in China means that one gets stared at a lot. My normal response is to smile when this happens. Of course, many take the smile as an invitation to connect in some way.
Most of the time this is followed up by a request to have my photo (or my partner’s photo) taken with the person. Sometimes the smile has a well-meaning parent trying to coax a young person to practice their meagre supply of English phrases. And at other times, there is a deliberate attempt to communicate. Since I have a darker complexion and somewhat sleepy eyes, many think I speak Mandarin. The truth is, I only know some basic Mandarin, not enough for ANY conversation, just enough for some basic communication.
On this Saturday, an older man eventually decided to sit beside me and begin talking. Once I got past the fact that I was Canadian and a teacher at a university, it was evident that I couldn’t hold a conversation. But being Canadian was enough. I was rewarded with an offer of a cigarette. Now, I don’t smoke – period. However, knowing the culture and how important certain traditions are for older people, I accepted the cigarette and puffed along with him, something I don’t do for the president of the university and other important bigwigs in city government. A few more attempts at conversation and the man decided that singing would be a better thing to do.
Of course, he sang in Mandarin, a song about HongMei, red plum blossoms. The song was slow enough that I was able to join him in a fair number of points. I can make the sounds, I just don’t know what the words mean. By the time we finished the song, an audience of local people erupted in applause. As my way of saying thanks to this man for his song, I sang a French-Canadian song, “Un Canadien Errant.”
It was a magical moment and it was enough.
In the background you can see the full extent of the prairie village in which I live when “home” in Canada. In the foreground, the solitary figure and shadow of Michael, my brother-in-law, is seen heading back to this little village. The scene looks east into the morning sun which accounts for the darker aspects. Something to think about here. I am seeing shadows while looking towards the sun, sun shadows.
Opposites – Michael has me thinking about opposites, and in particular, consciousness and the unconscious. Michael has his moments when he is lucid to a certain degree. For the most part, he appears to be relatively conscious. It is only when one tries to engage him in conversation or activity when one discovers that consciousness is fading. Seeing his struggles, I get a better appreciation of my own relative “wholeness.”
“Without the experience of the opposites there is no experience of wholeness . . .” (Jung, CW 12, par 24)
Of course, I must admit that “I” experience the opposites as well. For the most part, my experience of the unconscious is through dreams. At other times, I bump into the unconscious through play and active imagination. And of course, I become aware of the presence of the unconscious “after the fact” when there is fallout from my speech and/or my actions while “under the influence” of the unconscious via archetypal presence.
When considering the opposites of darkness and light, I am immediately inclined to see darkness as “evil” and light as “good.” I fear the unknown, especially that unknown which foments conflict within me and conflict between myself and others. Since the unknown is hidden in darkness, I project that darkness outside of myself rather than admit that it simply more of my “self” which has yet to be made aware to my “ego” self. So where does this “belief” of darkness and light representing good and evil come from for me? Jung has an answer that seems to make sense,
“Christianity has made the antinomy of good and evil into a world problem . . .” (Jung, CW 12, par 25)
The threats of hell, of punishments – these were gifts given to me while being trained as a Catholic youth in catechism classes, ideas validated by parents and grandparents and teachers in the Catholic schools I attended. The light is good, and the light is God and Jesus. The dark is bad, and the dark is Satan. A was taught to beware of Satan who would do anything, to sin, in order to turn me into a bad person. And, if I did sin it was enough to “repent” during confession and God would take me back and give me another chance to earn a place in eternal light, in heaven.
Now? Well, I have come to see that the bad and dark stuff that I fear in the outer world is also within me. I have also realised that the good and the light stuff is also within me. And in realising this, I have come to some balance, a place of less fear of the darkness, and of less fear of the light.
I was walking along the sidewalk holding the hand of my four year old great-niece’s hand when I saw this seed pod that had landed in a puddle. We studied the seed and its wings for quite a while after I had taken its photo. Finally, with her curiosity satisfied, we continued walking in order to find our way “home.” I love seeing the universe along side small children who are fully absorbed in all of the small wonders that adults miss.
The floating feeling is one that I enjoy, feeling myself suspended between earth and sky. There is only a small problem for me, the fact that floating in water isn’t easy. Whenever I try floating, my feet drift downwards as though to pull me into the depths. To stay afloat I must gently move hands and feet. Regardless of the difficulty with floating, I enjoy the water, especially the sea. Rather than float on my back, I prefer looking down into the depths while wearing my snorkel and mask. I enjoy being in between two worlds.
Strange when I think about it, I have a fear of heights and a fear of depths. Both fears are about falling. When I feel “safe” such as in a plane, the heights have no fear factor. Being in the depths of a cavern heading even further down offers me no fear factor as well. The fear only surfaces when I sense a lack of control, being left at the mercy of others or fickle nature.
And in listening to Jung, I remember hearing “Where the fear, there is your task.” I need to listen more to CG Jung: ”Anyone who is afraid has reason to be.” What is it about the fear of falling from heights, falling into the depths that abides within me? Am I fearful simply because of personal environmental history or is there some psychological factors at work here?
“As a psychotherapist I do not by any means try to deliver my patients from fear. Rather, I lead them to the reason for their fear, and then it becomes clear that this is justified.”
There is a reason for my fear and I sense that it is more than simple childhood traumatic incidents, that it is more about the larger domaine of the unconscious where I find myself staring down into unfathomable depths. Rather, I would prefer to float between the heights and the depths, suspended. This isn’t an invented fear within me, this is primal.
“I can say this because I am a religious man and because I know with scientific certainty that my patient hasn’t invented his fear but that it is preordained. By whom or what? By the unknown. The religious man calls this absconditum “God,” the scientific intellect calls it the unconscious.”
The depths, the darkness, the unconscious – this is my fear. I dare not deny the fear, nor avoid facing this fear. I need to approach the fear, the unconscious though I quake in fear of that unknown. For it is only in approaching this darkness, this depth that I can find a bit more light to carry forward through my days and nights. And as I do this work, I find it a bit easier in trying to climb gentle hills and swim in deeper waters.
PS – Just a small note to say that most of these words of Jung’s cited here come from a letter Jung wrote to Fritz Buri in 1945.
“At the hour of dawn, before the sun’s rising from beyond the horizon, I sat in the middle of a field communing with Nature. At that hour filled with purity and beauty I lay on the grass, what time men were yet wrapped in slumber, disturbed now by dreams, now by awakening. I lay there seeking to know from all that I looked upon the truth of Beauty and the beauty of Truth.” (Gibran, “Lament of the Field,” A Tear And A Smile, p.66)
Before putting Gibran’s book aside, I decided to read a bit more.
“And when my reflecting had set me apart from the flesh, and my imaginings lifted the covering of matter from off my inner self, I felt my spirit growing, drawing me near to Nature and revealing to me her hidden things and teaching me the language of her wonders.” (ibid)
As you may well guess, I took a significant pause after writing these words of Gibran’s before daring to add my thoughts to this post. All that comes up for me is to finally be still with the moment and let the image and the words do their work of talking to my soul, and like Gibran, “set myself apart” in order to allow the spirit to grow.
I took another photo of the full moon late yesterday evening. I went through a full range of settings in hopes of getting an image that I would actually like because of the weak light situation of late evening before darkness fully sets in. The photo reminded me of a song I used to sing, one made popular by Cat Stevens:
Moon Shadow - Cat Stevens
I’m being followed by a moon shadow
moon shadow-moon shadow
leaping and hopping on a moon shadow
moon shadow-moon shadow
and if I ever lose my hands
lose my plough, lose my land
oh, if I ever lose my hands
I won’t have to work no more
and if I ever lose my eyes
If my colours all run dry
yes, if I ever lose my eyes
oh well …
I won’t have to cry no more.
. . .
and if I ever lose my legs
I won’t moan and I won’t beg
oh if I ever lose my legs
I won’t have to walk no more
And if I ever lose my mouth
all my teeth, north and south
yes, if I ever lose my mouth
I won’t have to talk
Did it take long to find me
I ask the faithful light
Ooh did it take long to find me
And are you going to stay the night . . .
moon shadow – moon shadow
The moon does have shadows as well as reflected light. I know because my camera tells me this. And when I think of the moon as the feminine aspect of self, I think of both light and shadows, just as the sun as the masculine aspect of self is all about light and shadows. Listening to the song, I think somehow of St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) and his song of joy to the night, and the light of the night. To me, this signifies a holy union of light and shadow, of soul and spirit, of masculine and feminine – all the polarities that exist within the self, those polarities that cause us so much grief and pain and suffering. C.G. Jung had it right when he counselled to hold the tension of the opposites until a new path emerged, one that didn’t lead to either pole, but to a state of being in which both are held with dignity.
I took this photo a few nights ago while looking out of my window. It wasn’t because I was simply being lazy, rather it was about wanting to “frame” the moon and the scene. I am again searching for ways to hint at what it looks like to be within darkness looking out at the world outside with which one wants connection. One a side note, I did go outside to get full photos of the moon for my archives.
“Whoever leads a solitary life, and yet now and then wants to attach himself somewhere; whoever, according to changes in the time of day, the weather, the state of his business and the like, suddenly wishes to see any arm at all to which he might cling – he will not be able to manage for long without a window looking on to the street.” (Kafka, The Street Window)
It’s actually interesting to watch where an image leads me. I first thought of my last posts about my brother-in-law, Michael and thought that this post and photo might be about him as well. Little did I realise that I was talking about myself. It’s strange how one can be in a group of people without feeling a part of the group, feeling like someone who peers out into a world of others, a world from which one feels disconnected even thought connections are present.
The journey of individuation does funny things to the world of relationship. Travelling this insular journey down pathways that are almost non-existent, one puts distance between self and others. And in the process, one is left in a state of tension. One part of self wants to be embraced by family, friends and community; while another part of self is itchy for the solitary path upon which incredible discoveries await. One is torn between the two poles.
This is where I often find myself. I cherish the moments of solitude and get upset when life demands too much presence from me, especially when I am in the active hunt, rummaging thought photos taken in the past, out with the camera in search of new photos, thumbing through books long read in search of another resonance, reading a new book with eyes-wide-open for something that might hint at a new-for-me idea, and when writing here.
And when the self is filled to saturation for the moment, it is at this time that I look through the street window of my own eyes into the world of other, craving connection and belonging.