Archive for the ‘presence’ tag
I have just spend two full days with one of my brothers here in Calgary. It was a day of shared memories, catching up on each other’s lives, and telling stories that were more fiction than fact as part of the way to fill the hours. It wasn’t what was said that was important and it has never been about the words. It was more about just being together for these hours. Knowing that the hours were limited, there was no desire to do much else that would take a few of these hours away. E-mail, social media. blogging, reading and even sleeping were limited so that we could have the fullness of the hours for “presence.”
Presence. We know that presence is vital and powerful in nourishing all of our relationships regardless of the depth of those relationships. But we rarely think about our relationship to ourselves and to our activities. Robert Heyward mentioned in a comment some time ago about the advice that it doesn’t matter what we choose to do; it matters only that when we have chosen, we need to invest ourselves fully in those choices “if you choose to be x, then be the best x possible. What is vital is first to choose then become fully present in that choice.
Two days ago I was reminded of the tale of Buridan’s Ass, a fable that looks at choice (you can read a great version of the fable here). In the fable, the donkey must choose between two appealing stacks of hay. Unable to make a choice, the donkey starves to death. Of course there is more to the fable, but for my purposes, it is instructive as a reminder to invest in making a choice and in doing so, fully invest in that choice. This is all about depths – depths of commitment, depths of relationship, and depths of self.
It wasn’t a surprise to me to hear this from a Jungian analyst and then to hear this echoed in the words of Chogyam Trungpa and the Dali Lama and other Buddhist writers and thinkers. Because I am in Calgary for an intensive immersion in Jungian psychology and Buddhism, I guard my time carefully so that I don’t get distracted and thus loose either time or energy or presence in the processes. Inviting my brother to come to Calgary meant that I would have to share some of that time. Would I do my “work” of the individuation process? Would I take the full time for presence in my Buddhist practice? Would I be present “enough” with my brother in the process?
When he walked in the door, the decision was instantaneous and decisive. For the next two days, presence with my brother was not distracted by other valuable options. I knew that if I was only partially present, I would hurt both myself and my brother, and in the process cause us both to suffer an unnecessary wounding. And, in making that choice, I discovered when the hours had passed and he began his journey back to his home that nothing had been lost in either terms of Jungian process or Buddhist practice being put on hold. Rather, both had been enhanced because of choosing and committing to that choice with the fullness of presence.
I was finding it hard to capture the real mauves and violet colours of this climbing bush, so I was pleasantly surprised at how this image turned out. Many of my photos are taken simply for pleasure, not with any particular psychological purpose for this blog. Flowers, scenes, places and people form the bulk of such “personal pleasure” photographs. It is my way of being “in the moment.”
That is something that many of us, myself of course included, find difficult to accomplish. I know that I want to be “over there” where the action is, doing something “vital and meaningful” for my family, country, community and mostly, for my ego. Yes, I admit it, I am often “full” of myself. The problem with wanting to be over there is that I miss what is here in front of my eyes. I lose the real opportunity for being vital and being authentic which in turn makes life meaningful.
My wanderings around this city with a camera provides me with an excuse to be present in my own quiet way. As I wander with the camera, I get surprised by others who then see me being curious and take that as an invitation to communicate, to connect. And so, I get drawn into a more vital presence.
Back in the apartment, with the doors closed, I often fall back into a less vital existence, at least until I visit my photos which kindle anew, the sparks of connection I experienced earlier. Slowly, I learn what it means to find meaning through the act of being present in life.
Another photograph of a photographer. I have to admit it wasn’t the only such photo taken in WuZhen. I’ve done some thinking, after the fact, and have come to the conclusion that such photos are pseudo self-portraits, a way of looking at one’s self. Just in case anyone is wondering, no, this isn’t a photo of me. My coat is blue and my umbrella is a checkered blue and black affair. Those two facts aside, yes, I do hold both umbrella and camera much as this man does when taking photos on rainy days.
In a way, it is a bit unnerving to see oneself in action, especially when the action is slightly dissociated and silent, set off from the others though not set aside. There is a relationship between the photographer and his or her subjects regardless if the subjects are animate or inanimate. There really is no fully objective distance in spite of what the photographer thinks. How often do I have my subjects looking at me as I take the photos? When I look at the photos afterwards, I can still feel their connection, their attention to my presence in spite of the camera that could be used as a screen to hide behind.
As I think more about this, I see that it isn’t only in taking photos that I see myself as separate from others, an interested and mostly silent observer. This is how I co-exist with my world whether it is in the classroom with my university students or at a family gathering or wandering down some narrow street or watery canal in a foreign country. That which is “me,” a private sense of self, is tucked away behind the scenes while I use an array of varying personae which I use to suit the occasion and the situation. For example, in my university classes, my students get to see a humorous and active teacher who is more about using a theatrical presence as a teaching style than about elucidating on academics that must be memorized or internalized depending upon the tasks at hand. There is a lot of laughter in the classroom. Yet, once outside of the classroom, the extravert is given a rest and a quiet person emerges, one who is content with being closer to the edge. Sometimes others would see me as aloof or perhaps even a bit of a cold fish.
The truth lies behind the various masks that I put on throughout the days and weeks in family and community. And that truth is vividly captured in this photo.
This was the scene outside of my apartment window this morning. The sun did rise though the air was murky. Some days, this is the best it gets. The promise of sunshine that quickly gets gobbled up by the elements leaving one in a gray world.
At moments like this, one wants to retreat from the world and lose oneself. Should it be playing a mindless game against a computer or should it be facing up to the task of navigating through the smog of life, taking on the responsibility of doing rather than being absent?
“The flight from suffering, from consciousness, from personal responsibility in the face of the immensity of the space we traverse, is understandable; we are all familiar with it. But when we examine the course our life demands, our own nature demands, we commit ourselves to it, then we are obeying the will of the gods, truly. Such obedience may bring little comfort or security, but it will bring a larger life.” (Hollis, Mythologems, pp21-22)
Yes, at times I want to escape it all, blame others for everything, have others be responsible for everything. Sometimes it is just too heavy. And at times, I just say the hell with it and abdicate all responsibility and do as little as I can get away with for a while. But then, something pulls me back into presence, into doing my part, into being responsible, at least for myself and my small space of the whole. At these times, it isn’t as though I have much of a choice, not if I am still to remain a man, a sane man.
Okay, so this isn’t a photo. This is one of my “works” that I scanned two days ago along with three other images that will find their way here. Two of the images are of mandalas and two of the images are taken from dreams. Before I drew this image, I had felt it building within me (I kept a journal which was updated periodically during the day with brief notes) and decided to let it “brew” within me before I actually sat down to let the image emerge. In reading my notes from that time, I saw that even when the image was completed, I still didn’t “know” what it was all about. It simply was something that happened.
Of course, it didn’t take much thought after the fact to see that the mandala was mostly about providing clues to the question, “Who am I?” The answer isn’t often very clear. What is clear though, is that it is in moments where there is tension, where there is conflict, that the inner aspects of self take on a bit more shape. Such was the situation when this image emerged. At that time, the very foundations of who I was was being assaulted, a fortunate occurrence as it unlocked me from my self-imposed straight jacket in which I forced anything that would disturb the status quo of my presence in the outer world into the darkness.
This image told me I was more than the outer collection of personae. It talked to me of hidden, denied roots. And in doing so, I began to feel again.
I have to admit that this photo is an old one, one that I took at the end of March this year while in Mexico. More often than not, the plain-looking birds get overlooked in favour of those which are more colourful and more “in one’s face.” The quiet plain-looking birds that sit on the sidelines, almost hidden are dismissed as though they don’t even exist. When pointed out, a quick glance soon turns to disinterest.
People are like that as well. I am like that, more inclined to sit on the sidelines away from the brouhaha that surrounds others. Every once in a while my presence on the sidelines catches someone by surprise as if to say, “Where did he come from?” This is by choice as it is about control – or so I thought. One of the disadvantages is that it not about being “present” in life, but being a passive observer of life. Now entering my seventh decade, I am “working” on being present. Of course, a few knocks on the head during the last decade have helped me gain some insight and perspective with regards to being “present” rather than being in the past or some alternate universe. Hear what James Hollis has to say about the topic:
Though we are historic creatures, that is, creatures of what fate and flawed choices have provided, much of what we do is on automatic pilot, genetically, cognitively, reflexively programmed. We need a rap on the head from time to time to bring us into the present, to be here, not en route from somewhere to somewhere. (Hollis, Celebrating a Life, 2001 p. 82)
Ouroboros – the lizard that feeds on itself, the tail devourer. I know, this lizard (iguana) is not exactly feeding upon itself. Yet, it seeing it, and taking its photo, I sensed something that was waiting, waiting to be seen and then said. One begins to trust to such instincts. I took several photos of this iguana. The others were much clearer, sharper in focus as far as the iguana itself was concerned. But, they didn’t have the sense of ‘dejà vu’ or ‘ah-ha’ that I wait for. In the past seven months I have taken four thousand photos. Needless to say, only some of them find their way here. And not all of these are powerful. Some are just photos.
So why this one? And why, is it in black and white instead of in colour? I wanted black and white as they speak more about polarity, about opposites, about light and shadow. The iguana, the lizard, is almost all white. This suggests a sense of the masculine to me. Yet, there are slight bands of black which speak of origins, of ‘otherness’. The head of the lizard is overwhelmingly suggestive of a penis, confirming the masculine aspect.
And, the lizard is in search, in search of the female. Before taking its photo, the pouch under his neck was engorged. He made quite a few bobbing of his head movements before noticing my presence. It’s the story of all life, the search for a mate, for survival of the species. Humans are no different.
The penis is drawn to a vagina, a dark and damp and warm retreat. And that vagina, a vagina, is the source of its origin. So, the penis is drawn back to its source, a circular journey. And it feeds that vagina. And then, for a moment there is a death, a lack of awareness of ‘self’. And in that instant, the head is feeding on the tail – the vagina as the head, and the penis as the tail.
It’s an ego thing. We build and we build and we build. This is the same for most humans whether we are building at a personal level or on a collective level. We build things in hopes of making our mark on the world and more importantly, in order to create a sense of important presence in the eyes of those who would then “see” us as being important. We need the affirmation of others in order to feel of worth.
I watch here in the Yucatan while wealthy foreigners build monstrous villas, their winter homes, beside the modest little casas and casitas of the Mexicans who are their neigbours. And these buildings which proclaim a sense of privilege and wealth to all sit for the most part, empty as their owners are busy with life in their home countries. For those few moments that they do find themselves here, they bring others to witness their superiority, their worthiness, their value. Yet, it is all to no end. For time has a way of leveling. Death will take the owners and nature will assert its right to be.
When I look at this image, I also sense that the tree is an inner self that refuses to be contained by the articial walls that we build to project our sense of self, an insecure self that will beg others for positive affirmation. Try as hard as one wants, cracks will appear in the facade, our insecurities will slip out as unconscious contents so that we aren’t even aware of the cracks. In the end, we wonder, “What the hell happened?”