Archive for the ‘symbol’ tag
It’s Easter Sunday morning in Puerto Morelos, Mexico. This means that in two weeks from today I will be flying home with my wife to Canada. But of course, there is more to Easter Sunday than a calendar reminder for me. I have chosen a photo I took two days ago, the view from behind the small church in Puerto Morelos, with a statue of Mary beneath one of the lattice windows of the church. I haven’t attended any Easter service since 1993 when I attended the service in Avignon, France. Somewhere along the way, I lost the connection with my French Catholic heritage. However, I never did lose the resonance with the mysteries of soul and spirit that certain days are able to evoke.
Today is the official day of a new season of life, for me, an annual resurrection like some phoenix bird arising out of the ashes of the old year. The warmth of the sun urges flowers to appear, stirs animals and birds to come together for unconscious procreative purposes. As I meditated this morning, I felt the stirring as well. What new manifestation of my self will arise from the tomb of who I was, what new consciousness will burst forth into the sunshine of rebirth.
Technically, Joseph isn’t supposed to be the father of the baby Jesus, at least that is what any God-fearing Christian would say. Jesus is the son of the creator, a deity Christians call God. But of course, we are all sons and daughters of that which we have a multitude of names, the creative force that gave birth to the universe. As I look at this image, a painting by Guido Reni (1640), I see myself as a father and as a grandfather with his son or grandson.
As I looked into the eyes of my own son when he was a newborn I was in wonder of the miracle of life. I had acted as a creator and what I had created with the participation of his mother, was immortality. As I looked at my infant son I saw that I had been saved from nothingness, that the human race had found yet another saviour who would follow in the footsteps of his father to create yet another gift of hope for humankind.
As I looked into the eyes of my grandsons upon their entrance into my universe, I was again amazed, not at anything I had done, but amazed at how the gift of life traces its course from the beginning of possibilities to some undated and unknown future when the cycle of birth, death and renewal. The promise of hope that each child gives us is the gift that is celebrated at Christmas, at the darkest time of year when we need the reassurances that there will be a new cycle to live, a new year of light to come.
Christmas is for children, Christmas is about children. The greatest gift of Christmas is the hope the children bring to the hearts and souls of adults who have become too close to the darkness, fearful of the darkness.
It’s early morning with dawn a few hours away. The Christmas lights are on in anticipation of a new day. I treasure the colours that emerge in the darkened house lit only by the Christmas lights on the fireplace mantle and on the tree. There is a warmth promised, an invitation extended.
The chair holds one, and that one could be you, would be you if you would allow yourself to be transported into this world of golden colour. The chair is old. older than me. I found this chair in a shed in the north country, a place of wildness, a place of broken dreams and dreams yet to be born. Restoring the chair took many hours of careful work, grateful work that helped filled long winter hours.
In this chair, children were held, fed and comforted. It is a chair that has known so many stories yet knows how to keep its counsel, to keep secrets. This chair has followed me from home to home knowing that it isn’t the four walls that build a home, but the hearts within those wall. So, for a moment, take a seat and feel the warmth of my home.
Sometimes it seems nature wants to make statements to humans. In the evenings in our town, just like in many other towns and cities in the modern western world, there is a dedicated effort to set out coloured lights to mark the approach of the Christmas season, or the approach of winter’s solstice. Regardless of all our efforts, it only takes a moment for nature to make a grand statement that dwarfs human efforts.
The moon is beginning to wane to begin its journey into darkness where it will be lost in the earth’s shadow before beginning another cycle of re-appearance. As the moon appears in the sky, whether in daytime hours or at night, both my wife and I are drawn to its appearance. For both of us, for perhaps different reasons, the moon has a numinous quality that says it is more than what meets the eye, more than a spherical hunk of rock in the orbit of the earth.
A descent isn’t always something that needs to be viewed with trepidation. If one is able to watch with a sense of mystery, one begins to understand that there is something to be gained in a descent into the unconscious realms. Wandering in the shadows allows us to find what would otherwise remain hidden treasures.
In a way, meditation is not much different. Each time I sit and enter into a meditative state I enter into a place where my ego is released from control. I enter into a state of unconsciousness, a journey that takes me to spaces of existence that somehow affirm who I am in a larger context, a being beyond the small controlling ego sense of self. As I return to my body self and my ego consciousness kicks back into awareness, I bring back some of what I have experienced, experiences which have slightly changed me.
Like the passing of days, of moon cycles, of seasons and years, I change with acquired experience and hard-won awareness of both myself and the world. I have learned that the darkness is a part of the light; and that the light is a part of the darkness. And so I treasure the magic and mystery of that white orb in the darkened skies for what she teaches me about my soul which is hidden in the darkness of my inner being.
The house is decorated for Christmas. We have put up enough of our traditional Christmas decorations to add a bit of that “light” felling that we associate with the years when our children were small and filled with the magical wonder of Christmas. This Christmas is different from the last Christmas we were in our home here in Canada as we will not be gifted with any of our children coming “home” for Christmas. We had thought not to put up decorations but soon tossed that idea out as there is more to the lights and the decorations than family. The lights and decorations are a statement to the darkness and cold of winter that we are alive. The lights and decorations are our protest against the deep sleep. And that is enough of a reason to welcome another Christmas season in our home.
With a shift in temperatures from above freezing to slightly below freezing and with the right amount of moisture or humidity in the air, I woke up to a fairy tale world, one in which fingers of frost had draped trees, bushes and weeds. I am always entranced by hoar frost and almost always stop to take photos of this phenomenon when it occurs.
It is as if old man winter has come out with his white beard to tell me that winter has truly arrived and that it is time for a deep sleep with deep dreams. I am then taken to another image, that of Father Christmas with his beard of white. This fairy tale world invites gods and goddesses to make their appearance. And with their appearance, we find ourselves beholding them with both awe and fear. Father Christmas is older than Christianity’s Saint Nicholas. He finds his roots in the pagan god Woden/Odin.
The frost also brings to my mind a trickster image, that of Jack Frost. As a trickster, he promises the graceful, fragile and delicate world while in truth he is using his arts to cover his darker intent of plunging the earth into a deep freeze of winter darkness. It is as though the hoar frost serves to invite us to enter into a form of death, to descend into the underworld.
The associations continue to build for me as I think of the invitation of an apple that lured Snow White into a deep sleep that could only be awakened by the promise of love, the promise of life. The story of being frozen in time and place again finds its way into our mythology with the story of the Snow Queen. In all of the associations, one thing emerges, that of rebirth, re-emerging into the world of sun, warmth and life.
With all of these stories in mind, I remain fascinated with hoar frost and wonder what winter has in store for me and the rest of the world.
Sunrise, the start of a new day. I took this photo following a night spent in Golinhac, France while walking on the GR 65. Most of the days of my walk along the GR 65 began just before sunrise which allowed me to be on the path when (and if) there was a sunrise to be seen and appreciated. These moments were treasured. Like humans from more primitive eras, I rejoice in the re-appearance of the sun. I am a sun worshipper.
In saying I am a sun worshipper, I don’t mean it in the sense of seeing and knowing the sun as a deity, a religion. Rather I would characterise it in alchemical terms, or even more simply, in terms of naturism. The sun gives warmth, heat, and light which feeds the animate world of plants and animals. That same sun works on water and land to force change, constant change through weather patterns. In human society, including the small town in which I live, the sun influences mental wellness.
The sun has been hiding these past few days and it seems as though life has slowed down. People I meet have less energy, are sleepier and a number of them are under the weather, so to speak with flu and/or cold symptoms. I can even sense that the lack of sunlight has lowered people’s spirits. With winter on its relentless journey to claim the northern hemisphere, there is a definite increase in incidents of depression in workplaces, schools, homes and even among the homeless. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a reality that counellors and therapists and medical doctors have to deal with on a regular basis during the darker months.
As soon as the sun breaks through the cloud cover, smiles emerge and there is a sense of the psyche waking up. The sun sets the blood to rising and the spirits lifting. It is as though someone has turned on the heat to thaw what has been put into a deep freeze. I know how my own spirit ebbs and flows with the appearance and disappearance of the sun during daylight hours. Knowing that, I am more conscious of my unconscious responses to daytime shadows and darkness. Rather than get overwhelmed by the lack of light, I counsel myself with the knowledge that the sun will come again, that it is a natural process and that it is okay to slow down and rest.
Everything and everyone has a story to tell, a unique story. Though we tend to think in collective terms for most things, there really isn’t a collective story, just an uncountable number of individual stories that link and network and circle around each other. We assume so much in our desperate attempts to understand ourselves and the world around us.
Take this shoe for example. If shoes have stories to tell, One would assume that a person wearing a pair of shoes would result in both shoes having the same story to tell. But, they don’t. Each shoe follows an individual foot, a foot that is almost always anatomically different from its mate. Each shoe is placed on the path in a different spot, feeling the effects of different obstacles. If a shoe could talk, it would have a different version of reality to share with its mate and wonder why that mate doesn’t see or know the world in the same way.
One person commented to me today using a generalisation about people who shave off moustaches at the end of October as a symbol of support for the awareness of men’s health, particularly Prostate Cancer. It’s called “Movember.” There was a bit of heat involved in the comment. Of course, I am not immune to the ripples that flow from generalisations even if the generalisation would exclude me. The comment:
“I believe in supporting cancer, but supporting it by growing a moustache doesn’t help anyone, it does bring up awareness they say, but in my experience not one of the people who grow moustaches donate time or money to cancer. I found that its kind of a slap in the face, your simply making everyone think you support cancer when in reality you won’t do anything to help, even visit them in the hospital.”
I don’t know if this would actually describe even one person if we were to track each person through their lives. It is impossible for any of us to know another so completely as to “know” all they do, think and believe. Yet we do act in collectives that shift and change over time.
Movember is a collective of men and boys with a lot of support from the girls and women in our lives. I have taken part in this collective on occasion in the past and have decided to again be part of that collective thanks to my two eldest grandsons who will also attempt to grow a moustache. They issued the challenge though the challenge isn’t really about growing the biggest or best moustache. Being 14 and 16 years of age, they are just beginning to show signs of facial hair. The challenge is to be involved and to make a difference. So, like so many other men, I shaved off my moustache and became part of the collective.
I do understand how each of us often find ourselves resorting to trying to understand individual others through their collective associations and thus paint these individuals with that collective rather than seeing yet another puzzle piece that would help understand the individual. We do this in politics as we brand each other liberal or conservative, republican or democrat, capitalist or socialist. We do this in lifestyle and gender orientation. And in the process, we adopt a collective as our base identity. We see those groups who proclaim that only their group is the right group and that all others are damned, are the enemy. We blame these others for the woes of our society and our own individual lives. We resist owning our own lives, our own identity, our own shadows. It is incredibly hard being an individual when we are social animals that thrive in families, communities, churches, ideologies and special interest groups.
The Way of the Cross – Via Dolorosa. I have a different way of understanding this Catholic idea. For me it begins with one being condemned to life rather than death as is depicted in the first of the stations. And, it ends in death and reintegration with whatever one wants to call the One from which all arises, wanders and returns. I see it as a circle. This image of a cross which stands in front of the cathedral in Estaing, France, fits with my understanding how all is contained within. all is part of a whole.
The work of the second half of life is a work of uncovering and honouring the whole self. This is a work of making the unconscious, conscious – well as much as possible for there is always some things about one’s psyche that will remain a mystery, partly because the boundaries between the personal unconscious and he collective unconscious are porous. What do I mean by this? Well, to begin with, we are all connected in spite of our feelings and beliefs that tell us we are isolated from each other. Nature is a good teacher if one would listen. Our environment teaches us that all parts are interconnected; and when one part is suffering, all the parts suffer. We also see this in our families; when one member of the family suffers, all members resonate and feel that suffering and in the process, share that suffering.
The rise of eco-psychology is tied into this. We are all contained within the circle, all at home on this spherical planet. When we suffer, the planet suffers; when the planet suffers, we suffer. The latest severe storm to hit the north-eastern U.S.A. and eastern Canada is a good example of the earth hurting and humans then hurting in response. I have to add that when our environment suffers, we humans also suffer – polluted air, water and soil in turn pollute our bodies and depress our psyche.
The symbol for the Earth is also found in our spirituality – the circle and the cross as found above in the photo from Estaing. This same circle and cross is found in Celtic symbolism. All contained in one – the four seasons of the earth, the four seasons of humankind; the four directions, the four noble truths, the four virtues.
Halloween, All Hallow’s eve, Samhain – a deliberate remembrance of the cycle of birth and death of nature and of whatever it is that is our human spirit. I have different responses to this ancient remembrance. In its current form as Halloween, I am ambivalent. I detest the idea of it being trivialized through the media to the point where it loses meaning.
Yet, in spite of what it appears is happening, there is something else going on beneath the surface, something not so trivial. Life requires balance. What is lost in one place is found in another place. Birth leads to death and death feeds new life. The gods and goddesses seem to have disappeared only to change shapes and re-emerge in other forms. In spite of the commercialization, children sense the magic that is truly present, see what we can no longer see. And for a time, the dead gods and goddesses are reborn and live.