Archive for the ‘photography blog’ tag
I am writing today’s post from the airport in Toronto as I wait for the boarding call to ShangHai. I have been fortunate over the past two weeks to be with my grandson and his family. It didn’t take many days before I was the adult to go to for the little guy, especially as I got to care for him when he was ill and not able to go to playschool. The photo taken above is from yesterday morning. There is little question that the bonding went two ways and for that I am immensely thankful and blessed.
Relationship is vital and unavoidable. I often talk here of individuation and I wonder if some of my readers mistake individuation as being something that exists separate from relationship. Individuation is about getting to know oneself through interactions with others in the outer world, with objects in the outer world as well as the culture and place on the planet in which we find ourselves. Relationship must also consider an inner world filled with its own cast of characters and complexes and landscapes. What we discover about ourselves is only possible through our responses and our awareness of our responses to both inner and outer worlds.
One does not live in a bubble that excludes the inner and outer worlds. In absence of inner and outer world there is no sense of self, no sense of separateness, no sense of otherness. Two weeks watching my grandson expand his awareness of both himself and his grandfather has taught both of us, blessed both of us. And, as a result I leave his home a better man.
A walk through the morning market in any city is something that always yields a wealth of sights, sounds and aromas; it is also a great place to take photographs. This woman was one of the rare older ladies at the morning market in Phnom Penh as older women are not all that numerous in Cambodia. The history of wars has removed many people from the older generations, especially the wars surrounding the Killing Fields of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime.
I mentioned yesterday about the negative affect on life when the ego is submerged by the shadow, by the unconscious. The story of the years of the Khmer Rouge are a vivid testimony of this happening at the collective level. The possession of one’s ego by the unconscious allows the collective unconscious to emerge and find a voice in the outer world as the boundaries between the personal and collective unconscious are very permeable. As I understand it, the personal unconscious is held within the collective unconscious, a subset of the collective unconscious. When the collective unconscious is highly charged, energized; and a portal has opened, the power of the collective unconscious rushes to possess as many individuals as possible. The weakest of egos fall to the tidal wave of the collective unconscious. We see this every time there are mobs acting as if with one voice.
“. . . there is another danger which is not inconsiderable and may lead to complications, particularly with individuals who are pathologically inclined. This is the fact that the contents of the personal unconscious (i.e. the shadow) are indistinguishably merged with the archetypal contents of the collective unconscious and drag the latter with them when the shadow is brought into consciousness. This may exert an uncanny influence on the conscious mind; for the activated archetypes have a disagreeable effect – or I should perhaps say, particularly – on the most cold-blooded rationalist.” (Jung, CW 12, par. 38)
I mentioned the “weakest of egos” before the quotation from Jung’s Collected Works. The weakest egos aren’t necessarily the same as the weakest of minds. A brilliant mind can fall under the sway of shadow which becomes all the more powerful acting out in the outer world. Pol Pot, Hitler, and enough others serve as examples of the shadow exerting “an uncanny influence on the conscious mind.
It isn’t just the bright minds that are influenced by the shadow, dominated by the shadow. Many of the simple-minded are easily swayed via superstition into acting under the influence of the shadow, particularly adolescents which form the bulk of many “movements” which use terror to accomplish the tasks set out by masters.
I went looking for a photo in my archives, one that would suggest presence under the ego-self, and I found this one of fish swimming in one of the pools of one of the many parks in Changzhou. The idea I have in mind is one of “acknowledging” that there is energy beneath the conscious surface of our lives. I think that most of us “fear” that which is hidden in the murky darkness that lies beneath our conscious awareness of self. That fear prevents most of us from “connecting” with that inner shadow world. Many of us look to something to divert our attention from the shadow-land; television, exercise, sex, eating, travelling, work, drugs, alcohol – the list is endless. The objective is to hone in on the “real” world and hope that the shadows and the figures in the shadow-land disappear as if just a bad dream, a nightmare. Yet, a few dare to turn around and look back into the shadows and acknowledge the energy that lurks there.
“. . . the great god Fear, a god who holds sway over many a soul. Who cannot identify this god will end by being governed by it unconsciously. . . . To personify the god is to acknowledge that it is not only powerful but that one can come into some sort of conscious relationship to it. The god Fear, unacknowledged becomes a tyrannical murderer. To personify the god brings the possibility of assimilating the contents into consciousness and thereby removing their demonic power. When a person is in the grips of the demonic, and the crowd reinforces that energy, the ordinary individual has little purchase on consciousness.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 96)
Over the past two days a new story has come out of Arizona, or rather an old story that has taken on a new look. The god, Fear, erupted into presence as a number of people were killed and more injured in a politically charged arena. No one is listening as the rhetoric of polarity politics rages. The same god, Fear, is seen in the churches, in the government chambers, in the actions of nations “standing on guard” with weapons ready. The same god, Fear, has convinced people to give up freedom on thought and expression in schools in order to ensure that only the “right” words are spoken to our children, words that deny other ideas, other beliefs.
I have to admit that I am sorely tempted to join the activated and heated yelling in hopes that someone will listen and change their minds about the “right to bear arms” as those arms are used to kill, to punish, to threaten. But, I know that one can only hear when one is ready. To rail uselessly only provokes a demonic response. Read again the reports that came out of the medicare debates in the U.S.A. and you will see what I am talking about.
I see Fear working his magic here in China. This isn’t about one country, but about humans not acknowledging the shadow within and thus falling into the role of projecting the demon onto others. Mob mentality feeds on this. Watching the world, I am not the happiest of campers.
On one of my innumerable walks, I passed by a new housing community that featured about a dozen skyscraper high rises and a collection of two and three story complexes and homes. Standing at the edge of the community was a short two story building that was like a miniature castle. It wasn’t a home, though. I saw this tiny thing as quite pretentious in its location. One would have expected it to be the tallest of the structures rather than one of the shortest buildings.
The image taken and then left on the computer with other photos from the walk, it was soon forgotten. Then, while looking for a specific photo, I saw this one again and decided that it had something in it that merited another study. So, I cropped it to see what emerged. The first thing to stand out was the phallic symbol. Ah-ha, a photo for the series of posts that I want to do on the theme of the masculine. I then left the image on my desktop screen until I could place it in its appropriate folder that I have set up for the images that might be useful for the theme. yet, I never did drag the photo to the folder and it stayed on the desktop staring at me.
Today, I began to think of writing my blog post after checking my morning e-mail and reading my Twitter and Facebook pages in order to see how family and friends were doing. Before deciding on today’s topic, I somehow chose this image to be here.. I trusted that the words would find their way here. Besides, I could always change the image later. Then, I turned to Mythologems and soon found the reason why this photo belongs here:
“Looked at archetypally, a god is the image that arises out of a depth experience, an encounter with a mystery. For this reason, divinity is always renewing itself. How could it possibly be fixed? It is energy, not image. The image is only the transient husk of divinity. Divinity floods the husk, renders it numinous, and when the human ego seeks to fix it, worship it and constrict it in service to its own ego security agenda, the god “dies,” which is to say, leaves the husk to reincarnate elsewhere. This is the meaning of the “death of a god” motif, which may be found in the ancient mythologies of all peoples, long before Nietzsche’s mid-nineteenth-century pronouncement.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 91)
The phallic imagery in these words “fit” the image I have brought here. Of course, I don’t equate “god” with “phallos,” but I do see the metaphor of being filled and being emptied, about being a “husk” and about worshiping the image instead of the energy. It has to come back to the energy. The mating of self and other in which both are “filled” to create a holy marriage followed by a small “death,” that is part of the imagery. It isn’t the swollen membrane that deserves worship, if one must worship, it isn’t the holder of the energy be it a penis, Allah, Yaweh, Baha u llah, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius or whoever; it is the energy which gave rise to these holders of the energy that one must honour. For me, it is about honouring and not worshiping the energy that arises from the depths, a place where “self” and “Self” become one.
This is an early December photo from Hong Mei Gong Yuan (Red Plum Park) in Changzhou. This is a beautiful setting suitable for any god or goddess.
“We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal spectres, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed by autonomous as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders of the brains of politicians and journalists who unwillingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.” (Jung, Cw 13, par. 54)
“The gods have become diseases” . . . I guess that about sums it up. These words were written quite some time ago, yet it is as if C.G. Jung is looking at today’s world and events with these words. These words trigger a series of thoughts within me. What a statement to make, “the gods have become diseases”!
Or, could one say that those who re-discover the gods are themselves suffering from disease (dis-ease)? What it took for me to find a place for the idea of the gods, a recognition of the spiritual centre within “self” was a”breakdown” that allowed me to take “sick leave” for “treatment.” I had to be broken before I would allow myself time to think and feel again. Strange how midlife crises have become a dividing line between life externalised and life that includes “Self.” How many, like myself, have embraced a spiritual centre with the crisis of midlife bringing them to a halt in the outer world? I know that many have ignored the call to an inner self and respond to the crisis of midlife with affairs, new toys, fundamentalist adherence to some religion or political belief.
These words of Jung’s open up a huge world of questions for me. I will need to take time to think about these words a lot more if I am ever to find a way to express my response to them in some meaningful way.
I went to my photo archives for this photo. It wasn’t until after going through the archives for photos taken four years ago on this day, and selecting this photo that I made a connection with something that was hidden beneath the surface. Today is my eldest child’s birthday, a girl who is now mother to two boys. The first child changes one’s life in ways that one can never fully comprehend, a change that I don’t know can be ever understood at a visceral level by those who never have a child. Yet, for all the change that happens, one still remains “self.” It’s as though one simply walks through another inner doorway into another region of self, a place that has always been there.
Last night we went out to dinner at a new restaurant with our apartment neighbours where we met another couple, an American and his Chinese wife. During the evening conversation, I learned where they had bought a new apartment, a place not that far from our apartment. The photo I posted two days ago was taken not too far from their location. To get to their apartment, one has to cross two bridges over two canals. The photo above shows a bridge over the first canal that I cross when headed in that direction. Today that bridge is gone. Changes. Four years after the photo was taken, there is nothing that is the same at this location other than the fact that a canal is still present. Yet even the canal has changed. It has been dredged and a new wall has been built. The banks of the canal are now parkways, green spaces that edge high rise after high rise apartment buildings. The quality of life, from a materialistic point of view, has definitely improved for many Chinese people. But, at what cost?
I won’t answer that last question, it isn’t for me to answer as I would only be making statements based on almost no real objective information. That said, I can look at the images and see what “I” as a westerner have lost. Though I often focus on “self,” I know that I am part of a collective and that what is lost to the collective directly and indirectly impacts upon my “self.” The shift from the dirt and mud into a world of sculpted park has come at a cost. The loss of messiness is really a loss of gods, competing and complementing forces of the human soul.
“The banishment of the gods leads ultimately to a dreary, mechanistic universe. When the word spread throughout the ancient world that the great nature god Pan was dead, there was no rejoicing. He was replaced by the stern monotheistic gods of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic world, who were in turn replaced by the modern reigning deities of Positivism, Materialism, Hedonism, and most of all, the great god Progress. And so the world gets emptier and emptier, and the clients pile up in therapists’ offices, huddle fearfully in houses of ancestral worship, or numb out through television, drugs or even an obsessive preoccupation with health. The gods have hardly gone; they have simply gone underground, and they constantly resurface in the form of our various pathologies.” (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 89)
Here, in China, I can see this a lot more clearly. Religions and their gods really have no place here. China is racing towards modernism as fast as their newest trains which race from city to city at more than 300 kilometres per hour. There is no pretense – the gods of modernism are embraced with a will as all rush to get their small piece of “happiness.” And sitting here in China, I can more easily see those sitting back at home in Canada and the U.S.A. doing their part to get their small portions while wanting more as they didn’t get the promised happiness. The more that is owned, the more one is left empty. I don’t have answers. I only know that my soul is tired of being deceived and wants to find a home in this world. The home isn’t a place anymore, it is a way of being. And for me, that is the greatest change that has come out of midlife, a time where my children take their turns at being parents.
It was nice to see colour in the sky. Most of the time, the sky is bland, a curious range of very pale blue or soft gray smog. I took this at the end of the afternoon, yesterday. I was busy with entering the latest set of marks into its appropriate spreadsheet when I looked up and saw the colours. Over the next fifteen minutes, I took a few different shots so that I could have one that would be posted here. At that time, I didn’t know what the post was going to be about, but I did know that this was the photo that would be featured in this post. I go with intuition, instinct, gut-feelings more often than not. I guess you could say I just open the gate enabling whatever wants to come through in order to find a voice.
I looked up and saw colour, heard something that was beyond the range of my limited hearing. And like all humans before me, that act of looking up filled me with wonder and awe. I”knew” that something transcended the limits of my consciousness. Those colours appeared moments before light sifted into darkness and night. Those colours appeared as though a view of tension being held between night and day, between consciousness and the unconscious. And in that tension being held, the sense of transcendence into the “third” was highlighted. How can one not know that there is a God?
I am getting close to being finished with exam marking and doing all the administrivia that comes with wrapping up a term of teaching at the university. Most of the work should get finished today leaving another day of work for next week. Even though it means a good number of hours at the desk, I still take time out for a good walk when the weather is decent. I found this park-like setting along one of the canals that wend through the XinBei district of Changzhou, about two kilometres from my apartment. What is different about this park is the fact that it has almost no one in it. It will be about two years before this side of the river is developed enough for people to move in. The work has begun on a large number of new residential areas with the old residential areas finally removed save for a handful of older buildings that have somehow resisted the fall of the sledgehammers. A few are still holding out – holding the tension, trusting that in doing so, a new way will emerge, one that is not quite there yet.
I have walked through this park about a half dozen times already noticing how it suffers from waiting for people to be present. Already the park is looking worn on the edges, frayed and faded. It’s strange how something can be both new and old at the same time. Waiting does that to a park, and to a person.
Yes, I am waiting, but not quite sure what I am waiting for at the moment. There are some things that are on the surface such as a four week journey through IndoChina that begins in a little more than a week. There is tension in waiting for that trip to begin. There is also the smaller waiting for the last exam to be given to signal the end of another university term. A similar small tension is found in waiting for the next term to begin and the students who will become my extended family for the term. Each day is much the same; filled with the small tensions of waiting, of wondering what is coming.
Somehow, all these bits of tension seem to be insignificant now for me as compared to the past when these things would fill my life, keeping me on edge. I guess that comes with age. An old French expression comes to mind, “que sera, sera.” Now, there are bigger tensions that I hold: ”Will I begin the PhD program that I have often talked about? Will I really finish the photo book about Changzhou and get it published in China as a dual language book? Will I return to teach another year? Will I find a “home” in Mexico for winter months if I don’t return?” But, even these are not really all that significant in the big picture.
The biggest tension that I hold is hard to put into words. If anything, I guess I could say that it is about the will to authenticity. When? Where? How? I am searching for words to frame the questions that will mark who I am, and the purpose of my being here at this time and place. Until I find these words, I am waiting . . .
I woke up two days ago to a light skiff of snow coating the grass, cars and bushes. It is the first snow of the season. From the kitchen window as I looked out at this scene, there was a sense of the numinous, a sense of more than the content of the objective reality caught by the camera and my eyes.
That numinous quality points me towards something that defies being objectified, something that transcends as well as going under and into all that I know. It is at moments like this that I get a sense of what god could be. I know that a god has to be more than me, but it also must include me. I sense that it has to include everything, not just a select group of initiated members. The air, the water, the minerals, all animate and inanimate life must be encompassed by this god if that god is to fill my sense of god-ness.
“What can be said of the gods which has not been said? Who are they? Why does a relatively rational person even refer to the gods today? What can we say, if anything, about them? Are thy naught but our projections? Are they in fact the old parent figures in the sky which we inherited from tribal history, from when the heavens were “up there”" somewhere? Are they watching us with some large book, some doomsday accounting, the purpose of which is to frighten us into right conduct? Or, can a person who believes in the metaphysical reality of God A, his god, but not God B, his neighbor’s god, still find a way to listen rationally to all this palaver?” (Hollis, Mythologems, pp 82-83)
Yes, these are questions that don’t want to penned into a corner with answers that can be put into some text somewhere to serve as a new “bible” for “modern man.” As I read this in Hollis’ book, I thought of a song I have recently played as I practice with my new guitar, an old song from Bob Dylan called “With God on Our Side.”
“Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.”
I know that, even though I didn’t come from the mid-west, I came from the same belief system. I was a Catholic that had God on his side; and the Protestant kids were left out in the cold while I became a “soldier of Christ.” It didn’t matter if they called themselves Christians. It didn’t matter about the other religions lived by other kids on the street. Only I had a chance of going to heaven. As long as I believed and stayed true to the Church. That was a long time ago. In the sixties when I took up folk music and first played Dylan’s song, I was repulsed with the sense of exclusion that seemed to pervade religions. I had tried so many different versions of Christianity and had made some friendships with others who were Jewish, agnostics, or another as of that time unknown to me religion. Like Dylan, I said to myself:
“So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war.”
Today, I can’t lay the responsibility on God to stop wars, to stop global warming, to stop all of the geological and political and economic upheavals now headed our way. God is found in all of it, not outside of it.
“Suffering is the condition on which we live. And when it comes, you know it. You know it as the truth. Of course it’s right to cure diseases, to prevent hunger and injustice, as the social organism does. But no society can change the nature of existence. We can’t prevent suffering. This pain and that pain, yes, but not Pain. A society can only relieve social suffering, unnecessary suffering. The rest remains The root, the reality. All of us here are going to know grief; if we live fifty years, we’ll have known pain for fifty years. And in the end we’ll die That’s the condition we’re born on. I’m afraid of life! There are times I – I am very frightened. Any happiness seems trivial. And yet, I wonder if it isn’t all a misunderstanding – this grasping after happiness, this fear of pain …. If instead of fearing it and running from it, one could … get through it, go beyond it. There is something beyond it. It’s the self that suffers, and there’s a place where the self – ceases. I don’t know how to say it. But I believe that the reality – the truth that I recognize in suffering as I don’t in comfort and happiness – that the reality of pain is not pain. If you can get through it. If you can endure it all the way.” (Le Guin, The Dispossessed, p. 50)
The scenes I meet on the street are somehow captured in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel, The Dispossessed, which I am reading as an e-book. I generally read e-books borrowed from a library back in Canada for some diversion and as a way to fill some of the hours when not teaching, writing, walking or doing related school work.